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    Florida Open Wheel

    By Richard Golardi

    Florida Speedweeks Dates Filling Up for 2016

    By Richard Golardi

    The dates are set for the All Star Circuit of Champions to return to Bubba Raceway Park and Volusia Speedway Park during February 2016 (see link below). The World of Outlaws sprint cars are set for their usual 3 race dates during the weekend prior to Daytona 500 weekend. The USAC national sprint car series will race at Bubba Raceway Park on Feb. 18-20. The East Bay 360 Winternationals sprint cars are set for the same dates, which are Thursday to Saturday, Feb. 18-20. The Lucas Oil ASCS race schedule has not been released, but there is no mention of the series returning to Florida next year from East Bay or any other Florida track. Top Gun has 2 races at East Bay during last weekend in January.

    Kerry Gilbert, 2015 East Bay Sprints sprint car champion at East Bay Raceway Park.

    The weekend of Jan. 22-24, 2016 is still open. With the Chili Bowl concluding on Jan. 16, this race weekend is still open for another series. The United Sprint Car Series and Davey Hamilton’s Southern Sprint Car Series have not yet announced their 2016 race dates. The 2016 USCS race calendar is anticipated to be revealed next week. For the Southern Sprint Car Series, a King of the Wing offshoot, a state of hibernation has set in with no news forthcoming of any progress or planned races. I did speak to Davey Hamilton earlier this summer and he informed me that he still intends to get the Southeast regional King of the Wing series started, but did not offer any specific plans.

    Changes to the 2016 Florida Speedweeks schedule that have been revealed so far are as follows:
    • The All Star Circuit of Champions race weekend at Bubba Raceway Park has been reduced to two days from three days in 2015. Speedweeks rainouts have been frequent for the past few years, which leaves Sunday as a rain date before the series moves to Volusia Speedway Park for Tuesday practice and Wednesday/Thursday races.
    • The Lucas Oil ASCS series will apparently not start their season in Florida. The series had begun their national race schedule in Arizona for three years before switching to Florida in 2015 with their sanctioning of the 2015 East Bay 360 Winternationals. The Saturday Winternationals finale at East Bay Raceway Park with the Lucas Oil ASCS drivers on Feb. 21, 2015 was chosen by this reporter as the best sprint car race of 2015 Speedweeks, so this was disappointing news.
    • There are no national sprint car series racing in February after the day of the Daytona 500 (set for Sunday, Feb 21). 2015 Florida Speedweeks had two series race then – USAC and Lucas Oil ASCS series.
    • No pavement sprint car race dates have been announced. The Icebreaker at Desoto Speedway in February included two sprint car dates and that event could return in 2016. The return of racing to Citrus County Speedway, which had one Speedweeks sprint car race this year, is in doubt. The current leaseholder has suspended racing at the track and the Citrus County Fair Association has been silent on when racing will return, if ever.

    Shane Butler, 2015 Citrus County Speedway sprint car track champion.

    Rain in the Tampa Bay area last weekend pushed the pavement and dirt sprint car racing finales for Florida to the same date, Saturday December 5. Both the sprint car track championship at Showtime Speedway and the Eagle Jet Top Gun Sprint Series driver championship will be decided that night. Top Gun also has one additional race at Bubba Raceway Park on Sunday, November 29. Shane Butler has a one-point advantage over Sport Allen going into the final winged sprint car race at Showtime, and car owner Troy Thompson has confirmed that Butler will be there to race his #15 car. Matt Kurtz and AJ Maddox are the favorites in the battle for the Top Gun driver title, and they hold the top two spots with Kurtz holding a slim lead. Kurtz has won the Top Gun title once before in 2012.

    Track championships for sprint car drivers this year have already been finalized at East Bay Raceway Park, with Kerry Gilbert as champion; Desoto Speedway, with Dave Retzlaff as champion; and at Citrus County Speedway, with Shane Butler being named as track champion after the final points tally. The TBARA was dormant this year, leaving no pavement touring series for Florida. The Eagle Jet Top Gun Series was the only dirt touring series in the state. The Top Gun champion, along with Showtime Speedway, are the two remaining 2015 champions yet to be named.

    Florida Sprint Car Race Date Calendar:





    One Year on the Dirt with Nicholas Snyder

    Story and Photos by Richard Golardi

    Sixteen year old Nicholas Snyder, from Marco Island, Florida, is the 2015 USCS Outlaw Thunder Tour Rookie of the Year. He won the title in his first full year of dirt sprint car racing on the national touring series, which races on tracks from Arkansas and Tennessee to the East Coast and down to Florida. He follows many Floridian racers who have achieved success in the series in prior years. The United Sprint Car Series national tour also had the distinction of propelling Morgan Turpen to a national sprint car series driver championship this year. It was the first time a female driver achieved this goal.

    One of Nick Snyder's supporters, who came to the track prepared for the Saturday race at Bubba Raceway Park

    Nicholas picked up his first USCS feature win at Travelers Rest Speedway on May 8, which was the highlight of his year, according to Nicholas. Another skill that he is working on developing is as a Pilot. “I’m working on getting my Private Pilot’s license. Actually, we’re supposed to be flying today, but I’m here racing,” Nicholas said. “Racing takes up the majority of my time. I can fly anytime that I want when I’m with Mr. Davis, my teacher. It would be a preferred career (as a Pilot) if I don’t make it in NASCAR or the World of Outlaws in racing.” He credits his parents and his sponsors for making it possible to race full-time on the United Sprint Car Series national tour this year. The family team keeps their Marco Island home base as their place to stay during the week, driving to the weekend race destinations.

    Next year, he wants to race in USCS and some other dirt sprint car series to get more experience and name recognition. “We’re still going to be racing in USCS, but just not full-time next year,” he said. The team did not miss a single race since the season started in March. He was in third place in the points at season end, and was getting noticed by the press and dirt racing fans. “I think I’ve made a name for myself in the series. I think I’ve opened up a lot of eyes, from last year running around in the back to this year now in the top three with Terry Gray and Morgan Turpen and everyone. Just competing against them is like the top level for me.” Nicholas would often go to Danny Martin Jr., who had 3 USCS feature wins this year, for advice on how to drive the tracks that were new. “I always talk to Danny. I’m always at his trailer and he has helped me at every USCS race that he has gone to.” Danny was the driver that Nicholas singled out as the one that was most helpful throughout his rookie year.

    Nick Snyder at Bubba Raceway Park

    Nicholas attends high school in Naples, and when they head out with the trailer and race car for the race weekend, most of the driving is done by his father and mother. That allows him to sleep during the trip and often wake up when they have arrived at their destination in Tennessee, or Arkansas, or in the Carolinas. Often, the family team would stay when a stretch of multiple races warranted staying up north. But they would always return to Florida. They sometimes will keep the trailer with a family member in Georgia, and drive home to Florida with just their truck. But the grueling trips of hundreds of miles across many states lasted for most of the spring and summer this year. The pace did not slow until after Labor Day. The series returned to Florida for the first time in at least five years for a pair of Ocala races in October.

    The first racer in the family was his paternal grandfather, who raced late models in the 80’s. His mother and father were both at Ocala’s Bubba Raceway Park, along with a contingent of family and friends who offered help and encouragement. One even had a homemade sign board that read “Go Nick.” Few Floridians have raced a full season in a national dirt sprint car series in recent years. The recent trend seems to be for dirt sprint car racers to race close to home, or move on to other series when the opportunity opens up. Collin Cabre is an example of the latter type of racer, who has a seat with Rev Racing in NASCAR and a 2015 race win in NASCAR K&N Pro Series East competition.

    Nick Snyder clinched the 2015 USCS Rookie of the Year honors in October.

    “I’m trying to compete against the best of the best and learn from them.” Nicholas spoke of his desire to move up to ASCS or World of Outlaws sprint car competition, and to get a chance to race against Joey Saldana and Donny Schatz. For now, another competitor was on his mind. “We struggled last night, but I’m hoping tonight we can compete against Danny Martin,” he said. Martin won the feature race during USCS night one at Bubba’s.

    Nick’s father Mike Snyder wanted him to “get into something with a roll cage” after Nick had gotten interested in dirt bikes, and wanted to race them. “We said no. So we looked it up and got into quarter midgets. Went from quarter midgets to mini sprints to big sprints. This is our first full season in sprints,” Mike said. There was some pavement sprint racing in Florida last year, and a couple of USCS dirt races at the end of the year. He got a micro sprint driver title in Florida in 2013. The dirt sprint car was being built last year while Nick raced a mini sprint. The quality of the drivers in USCS led them to choose to compete on the USCS national tour this year. “Johnny Gilbertson helped us get a ride for a few races on asphalt, and we tried it out on asphalt and loved that too. It’s good to race both. He has to learn the control of the cars on asphalt and dirt. He helps out with the setups. He’s going faster and faster as the year goes on. I’m still learning how to set the car up,” Mike Snyder said.

    Another family responsibility is paying the bills. There are some small sponsors, but they do not pay for most of the costs of racing. That cost is borne by Nick’s parents, Mike and Dawn Snyder. “We enjoy it, just as much as Nicholas. We have some sponsors … it helps. Every little bit helps. The rest is out of our pocket.” Mike works for the City of Marco Island, as does Nick’s older brother, who is 24 years old. “He’s into football, no racing. My hobby is just racing, full-time,” Mike said. It was a lifestyle of being “on the road. Going from track to track and back home and turn around and do it again.” He was smiling as he said this and confirmed, “I love it. We weren’t expecting to do this good this early.”

    Dawn Snyder described their routine of leaving after the school day was complete on Thursday, travel on Friday to arrive for a Friday or Saturday race about every other weekend, and then return on Sunday in order to be back for school on Monday. Then there is the racing itself. “They’re the best thing to ever watch out there on the track, the sprint cars. There’s nothing better in my world, but when it’s your child out there, you want to go out there, roll the car up in the trailer and he’s safe. We do everything in our power to have every safety thing that we can possibly do. I know that they’re safe. But when they’re out there they’re still your baby. And that’s if they were on the track or if they were playing football. It doesn’t matter. They’re your child,” Dawn Snyder explained. Would the level of apprehension that she feels lessen over time as she sees more races, and knows that Nick emerges safely at the end of each race night? “I’m hoping so. I think it will get better and easier. You just try to make them as safe as you can and let them live their lives and do what they want to do.”

    A pre-season goal of earning the USCS Rookie of the Year title and finishing in the top five positions in the points race has been achieved. “We were not expecting a win this year at all, so we’re very pleased,” Dawn said. “You have to keep up with the tracks, and figure out what it’s going to do, and we lack in that a little bit. But we’re still learning as much as he is. We’re very proud of him.” His parents also require that he is an A/B student to earn the right to go racing in a traveling series. Nick has hit that mark in the classroom. With a tough schedule of classes, he has met his family’s expectations in the classroom and exceeded expectations on the racetrack. The future looks bright for Nicholas Snyder.



    Wayne Reutimann Looks Back at the Inaugural Governor’s Cup Race 50 Years Ago

    Story and Photos by Richard Golardi

    Wayne Reutimann has retired from teaching. He retired in 2014 from his position as an Automotive Instructor as Zephyrhills High School, after teaching there for 34 years. But he won’t say that he’s retired from driving race cars, even though he is now 70 years old. His last races came in 2008, when the TBARA sprint car series made two stops at Orlando Speedworld and New Smyrna Speedway on a Friday and Saturday in June. He won the Friday night race in Orlando when he was 63 years old, driving the #00 Case Contracting car. It was his first TBARA race in a while, and only his second sprint car race of the year. “I never got another ride after that,” Wayne told me. “Actually, I never even had anybody contact me about driving their car.”

    Wayne Reutimann's 50th anniversary of winning the inaugural Governor's Cup race at Golden Gate Speedway on November 14, 1965, pictured at home.

    The All-Time Florida Sprint Car Win List still shows Wayne Reutimann’s name at the top of the list, with 97 sprint car feature race wins in Florida. You would have thought that another car owner would sweep in and put Wayne in their sprint car back in 2008. But it didn’t happen. Wayne thinks he knows why. “I guess the reason for that is age and maybe that I was driving for like 25% of what the car made if I won, 20% if I didn’t. And a lot of car owners, with expensive cars now can’t afford to pay a driver. So, you wind up with people that … kids and stuff, younger kids that want to make a name for themselves. They’ll drive for nothing. So, this kind of leaves you out. It’s strange. I thought I’d get a call from somebody to drive their car,” Wayne said. After all, he had just won a TBARA feature race.

    He wasn’t ready to quit in 2008. Loss of a sponsor put him in a position where he didn’t have a ride. Just don’t call him a retired racer. “No, I haven’t ever retired, basically. And I don’t know that I will. My Dad said never say you’re retired, because if you go back racing again, then you’re going to get hurt. Superstition – yup.” Even with turning 70 years old, this life event would not change the way he felt. “My wife will tell me,” he said, and then he laughed.

    Sunday, November 14, 1965 was a warm day in Tampa, Florida. It was race day at Golden Gate Speedway. The 1/3 mile asphalt track would soon come to life with the roar of late model stock cars. The 200-lap Florida State Late Model Stock Car Championship would be contested, and for the first time it would carry the title “Governor’s Cup.” Twenty year old Wayne Reutimann was entered, driving the #00jr Reutimann Chevrolet sponsored ’57 Chevy. His older brother, Buzzie Reutimann, would be in the #00 ’57 Chevy. The other Florida racing legends entered included Will Cagle, Frank Riddle, Dave Scarborough and Cush Revette. Bobby Allison was bringing his #312 ’56 Chevy from Alabama, but ended up missing the Saturday qualifying and would be forced to start back in the pack.

    Wayne Reutimann knew Golden Gate Speedway. He once won seven races in seven starts (heats and features) during one weekend of racing at Golden Gate, when the track had Friday and Saturday night racing. He knew the other Florida racers, and he had his father, Emil Reutimann, as a mentor and adviser. “It was a beautiful race track. Golden Gate was the prettiest, well-kept track in Florida,” Wayne said, while declining to say it was his favorite track.

    Race winner Wayne Reutimann's plaque for winning the inaugural Governor's Cup race at Golden Gate Speedway on November 14, 1965.

    During this time, Wayne worked as a mechanic at his father’s Chevrolet dealership in Zephyrhills, Florida. “My Dad sent me to the General Motors training center for five weeks of training. He sent me back for car salesman school and new product school, and then I’d come back and work in the garage.” He knew Chevrolet cars from bumper to bumper, including his own #00jr Chevy late model. He and his brother Buzzie were both car owners for the cars they entered for themselves. “Buzzie and I both built our race cars in that shop,” Wayne said, referring to the race shop at the car dealership.

    Bobby Allison was racing in Georgia on the night before the Governor’s Cup, when qualifying took place at Golden Gate. Allison and crew made the overnight tow down to Tampa with their '56 Chevy, making it to the track just in time to start last in his qualifying race, which he won.

    Wayne knew that his car would have a special need on race day, because it had a design with a long stroke. Every time that he would back off for the corner, his motor would draw oil up behind the piston ring and burn oil. His car was going to consume an excessive amount of oil on race day. “I knew that for 200 laps, it was going to need some more oil.” He would have to design a system that allowed him to add oil during the race, right from the driver’s seat.

    He took a one gallon metal paint thinner can, soldered a fitting to the bottom of the can and ran a hose to the motor. He filled the can with oil and mounted it on the Chevy’s dashboard so that it would be higher than the motor, and he could use gravity to get the oil to flow down to the motor. It had a valve that he could reach to turn the oil flow on or off. “Halfway through that race whenever a yellow came out, I reached up and turned it on and actually added oil to that motor while we were on the race track. Those ’57 Chevrolets had a pretty high dashboard. I knew I had to get it up high. I wasn’t sure it was going to work, but it did.” He also found that he could squeeze the can to get the oil flowing through the hose. “I’d kind of pump the side of the can a little bit trying to make sure it was getting down into the motor.”

    Bobby Allison would start in 21st position for the 200-lap race. He methodically worked his way through slower cars until he caught Wayne Reutimann's '57 Chevy around the halfway point. Reutimann battled Allison, the out-of-stater from Alabama, for the last 100 laps of the race. For almost 75 of those laps, the two cars frequently raced side by side, with Bobby on the outside lane, Wayne on the inside.

    Wayne believed that his dashboard-mounted oil can played a part in helping him get to the end of the race. Without it, he believed he would have likely run out of oil. Then he would have been forced to drop out of the race. Each time he’d back off to enter the corner, his car would let out a puff of smoke. Trailing closely behind Wayne through most of the race, Bobby Allison would see this happen twice each lap. Did he stay close behind Wayne for all those laps, just waiting for Wayne’s motor to blow up? We know that he stayed behind Wayne, or raced alongside him for much of the race.

    “He ran behind me damn near the whole race just about. Every time I looked in the mirror, I saw he was there,” Wayne remembered. Highlighting the skill of the two racers, Wayne recalled how he and Allison only touched one time during the entire 200 laps. “He was extremely clean, and he always has been. He was a real clean driver.”

    Coming out of the fourth turn on the last lap, Allison made a last effort to pass, but could only reach the back bumper of Wayne’s Chevy. “He was right there next to me, because I let my guard down coming off that last corner,” according to Wayne. Buzzie was already out of the race, and ran toward the finish line as the two battled to the checkered flag, celebrating his brother’s win by less than a car length over Bobby Allison. The exact moment was caught by the track photographer, and the iconic photo appeared on the cover of the 1966 Governor’s Cup race program. “That’s how close he was. It was really neat. That’s the race that I cherish the most because he was right behind me the whole race.”

    That wasn’t Wayne’s only Governor’s Cup win. “I won it twice. I won it once with Lewis Green’s car out of Orlando, the Amick Construction car. I won it one year with that, in 1973.” He would become the first Golden Gate Speedway sprint car track champion in 1969. Wayne’s sprint car success would continue, with a win in the 1979 Little 500 at Anderson, Indiana, and also many dirt modified and sprint car race wins in the Northeast in the ‘70s. He would also earn the TBARA sprint car driver championship in 1988, 1998 and 2001. Wayne was inducted into the Little 500 Hall of Fame, the Northeast Modified Hall of Fame and the DIRT Motorsports Hall of Fame.

    What was his favorite race win? “I’m real proud that I won the Florida State Late Model Championship race, the 200 lap race at Golden Gate in 1965. I think that’s the race that I cherish the most,” Wayne said.

    Golden Gate Speedway would host the Governor’s Cup race through 1978, and again from 1981 to 1983. It would close in 1984, a victim of government noise regulations and Tampa’s urban sprawl. The Governor’s Cup race survives to this day. It is still held on a Sunday in November in Central Florida. The host track is currently New Smyrna Speedway, which has hosted the Governor’s Cup race since 1988. The fiftieth anniversary of Wayne Reutimann’s victory in the inaugural Governor’s Cup race is on Saturday, November 14, 2015. The Fiftieth Annual Governor’s Cup race will be run on the next day, Sunday, November 15, 2015. The two-time Governor’s Cup race winner is still, as of this date, not retired. “I’ve often thought, boy it’d be nice to have a sprint car to race now. When I’m retired, I’ve got all the time in the world to go run it somewhere!”




    Steele Performance Race Shop Sweeps Races in Florida


    Feature races at Bubba Raceway Park on Friday night and at Showtime Speedway on Saturday night were both won by drivers and cars based in the Steele Performance Parts race shop out of Tampa. Johnny Gilbertson won his second Eagle Jet Top Gun Series race of the year on the dirt at Ocala’s Bubba Raceway Park, overcoming broken parts, brake failure and avoiding wrecks that felled his pursuers. Gilbertson is the Manager at the race shop that is owned by Dave Steele, located on Lois Avenue east of downtown Tampa. Steele won the winged sprint car race on Saturday night at Showtime Speedway, a pavement bullring just off Ulmerton Road in Pinellas Park. It was his second feature win of the month, after winning at Desoto Speedway two weeks earlier.

    After pulling in to the Winners Circle at Bubba Raceway Park on Friday, Johnny Gilbertson pointed to the broken left front shock, which he said occurred when he struck an infield tire. He said that his brakes had also failed. A little bit of luck helped get him there, as the second and third place cars had collided mid-race while battling for position, and an early wreck took out the cars that held the top two places in the series points battle. Gilbertson had earlier spent time in the pits helping other teams, and seemed to be spending more time under the hood of competitor’s cars than working on his own car. One of those cars was the number 3 car of Dennis Misuraca, who was back in a sprint car in Florida after breaking both feet when a driveshaft broke in his sprint car three years ago.

    Dave Steele, Showtime Speedway Sprint Cars feature race winner, Showtime Speedway, Pinellas Park, FL, Saturday, October 31, 2015, Richard Golardi Photo


    A wreck on the second lap of the Top Gun feature race took out the cars in first and second place in the points race when Matt Kurtz and AJ Maddox collided. Maddox limped away from his car with a bruised leg, and neither car could continue. The two racers are still the favorites for the Top Gun title this year, as they still hold the top two positions in the points race with three races remaining. Matt Kurtz will also be preparing for his wedding nuptials in late November, so could this give the advantage to Maddox? AJ seemed confident of his chance to take the title this year, telling me that he believes that Kurtz will choose to miss one of the upcoming races to go to a friend’s wedding.

    Dave Steele was in eighth place for an early race restart at Showtime Speedway on Saturday, after a couple of early cautions. As he has done many times in the past, he methodically moved through the field, using a low line entering the corner and braking later than his opponents to make the pass in the corner. Sport Allen and Mickey Kempgens used a similar technique to follow Steele through the field and take the next two positions in the feature race. By the last lap, Steele had a half lap lead on the second place car of Sport Allen, showing his domination of the race. Steele has not revealed much about his future plans beyond racing locally in Florida. I have learned that a 410 motor is being prepped for possible use in next year’s Little 500, a race he nearly won this year with a 360 motor.

    Johnny Gilbertson, Eagle Jet Top Gun Sprint Series feature race winner, Bubba Raceway Park, Ocala, FL, Friday, October 30, 2015, Richard Golardi Photo


    The number 39 car owned by Alan Randisi was driven by John Rosploch in the Showtime Speedway race, marking John’s return to Florida sprint car racing in October after 15 years. His 16 year old son joined him at the track, marking his first time to see his father race at the track since he was an infant. He does have some photos of himself at the track as infant, being cradled in the arms of his parents. The race was also the first time out for Clayton Donaldson in a winged sprint car race, using the wing from Mac Steele’s number 2 car. Larry Brazil Jr. is recovering from torn ligaments from a crash in the number 2 car at Desoto Speedway last month.

    The next three weekends showcase Florida’s pavement sprint car racers, with one pavement race each weekend. This Saturday is the final non-wing race of the year at Citrus County Speedway. The 14th will see the final Desoto Speedway winged sprint car race of 2015, and the final Florida pavement race of the year will be at Showtime Speedway on the 21st. Florida sprint car racing continues into December again this year, with the final race at East Bay Raceway Park on the first Saturday in December.

    The feature race video from the Top Gun Sprint Series at Bubba Raceway Park on Friday night is here:

    The feature race video of the Outlaw Winged Sprint Cars at Showtime Speedway on Saturday night is here:





    Deep in the Heart of Dixie with Sprint Cars – Pete Walton Interview

    By Richard Golardi

    The racing series primarily responsible for bringing winged dirt sprint car racing to the Mid South and Deep South states is the USCS – the United Sprint Car Series. But why race in these states? “Because that’s where we live,” USCS Founder and President Pete Walton said.

    Grits, Southern Fried Chicken and winged sprint cars slinging dirt – what could be more Southern? Mix in a group of sprint car drivers that speak with a Southern twang (most of them, at least), and you have the USCS recipe for success in the South. “We have a core group of people that want to race in that area and we have a good fan following in that area. A lot of race tracks … there’s no reason to go to Oregon for a race, you know?”

    Why race winged dirt sprint cars? “People in the Southeast, they don’t care about non-wing racing.” Walton concedes that there is a small group that likes non-wing racing in this area, but, “you couldn’t consistently sell tickets.” His target market and his southern fan base want something different. “They want speed,” Walton declared. “They want you to go faster than a super late model, because non-wing sprint cars don’t go faster than Scott Bloomquist. You know, he outruns them. The thing about sprint cars down here is speed. They want to see something that beats what they already see every week. They don’t want to see slow cars.”

    They do have fast cars, but the USCS national tour does have another area that is lacking. They don’t have a core group of young drivers that they’ve built into sprint car racing stars that they can motivate to stay with the tour. Twenty four year old Derek Hagar was dominant in 2013 USCS competition, winning 10 feature races that year. But he stopped competing full time on the tour at the end of his championship year. His original 2015 plans involved full-time racing in the Lucas Oil ASCS sprint car tour. Terry Gray has been the USCS driver to beat for many years, winning 11 of the last 18 driver championships on the USCS national tour. Gray is now 57 years old, and has not yet won a feature race on the USCS national tour this year. He intends to return to the USCS tour next year. “We’ll keep going for a while yet. I enjoy helping Morgan along,” Terry Gray told me.

    USCS President Pete Walton at the Saturday driver meeting at Bubba Raceway Park

    “Terry Gray hasn’t won any races this year. He probably has slowed down some. But he’s still most nights in the top three to five cars every night. He’s still second in the points. He’s very consistent. He’s always at the races and he’s capable on winning on any given night,” Pete Walton said. This could be the year that USCS builds one of its own young sprint car racing stars into a national star. Morgan Turpen, driving one of Terry Gray’s sprint cars, is at the top of the USCS national tour driver points standings. This places her in unique position with only a couple of weeks of racing left in 2015. She could be the first female driver to win a national winged dirt sprint car series.

    “That’s super-cool, I think,” Walton responded, when asked about the possibility of Turpen earning the title and becoming the first female national champion. “I think she’s probably got a real good shot at it. The only person that could unseat her is Terry Gray, unless she gets injured or something.” Pete Walton told how Turpen had submitted an application for the NASCAR Drive for Diversity program, but was not selected. “Terry Gray said that they had never had anybody apply with credentials like she had.” Turpen was the winner of the driver championship for the five race USCS pavement sprint car series in 2014. The twenty two year old racer has been on the USCS national tour for six years.

    USCS has another need, in addition to more young star drivers. They need a title sponsor for the series, and the cash infusion that type of sponsor deal could bring. “We need some real major sponsorship to really help our series grow any more than what it is. K&N is really our presenting sponsor. I don’t know next year what they’ll do, but they’ve been with us for about ten years. They give us some money and tons of products.” K&N is not yet signed to return next year as presenting sponsor. The 2016 national tour schedule is also not set, but is expected to be released around December 1.

    USCS Founder and President Pete Walton at the Saturday driver meeting for USCS race drivers

    The release of that 2016 USCS race schedule will answer an important question. Is the USCS national tour going to come back to Florida again? The tour used to race in Florida, at multiple tracks. That was before 2010, when Floridians like Danny Martin Jr., Kenny Adams and Red Stauffer regularly raced and won on the tour. Martin still races a partial USCS schedule, racing at tracks in Georgia and Florida, and has three USCS feature wins this year.

    The October two race stop at Bubba Raceway Park happened as a result of a phone call from track owner Bubba Clem to series owner Pete Walton. Clem has entered his thirteen year old son, Tyler Clem, in several national sprint car races this year when those series raced at his Ocala track. “I’m going to talk to Bubba, if everything goes good tonight (Saturday). I know Bubba from years ago, when Bubba used to come race with us, with Gene Lasker. Gene’s not the easiest guy to get along with, you know? But Bubba was always great. I mean, I like Bubba. He’s the one that called me up on the phone and said ‘Pete, I’d like y’all to come down here and race at my track.’ The kid (referring to Tyler) probably ought to stick with late models. That’s where the money is.”

    Why was the USCS tour absent from Florida for the past five years, when they used to race here regularly? “We haven’t come back because it seems like our relationship with East Bay kind of fell apart and they didn’t ask us back, for whatever reason. We used to race there every fall, every year. We’d go to Volusia, and then we’d go to East Bay usually. One year, we even went to Volusia, Putnam County and East Bay. We had three weeks down here,” Walton said. Eventually, that dwindled down to one weekend in Florida, and then none. The big fall race became a tradition at Riverside International Speedway in West Memphis, Arkansas. This November, the USCS Fall Nationals there will be a race weekend to benefit recently injured sprint car driver Kevin Swindell. Walton hopes to have Sammy Swindell, Jason Sides and Danny Lasoski in that race.

    Will USCS return to Florida next year, and will there be more than two races at one track, as occurred this year? “We’re looking at some ideas to maybe do more in Florida next year. This track (Bubba Raceway Park), obviously. Yeah, it’d be multiple tracks. Probably do two days at each, for a couple of weekends. Maybe in the early season, and the late season. Sometime during Speedweeks,” Pete Walton said. All-Tech Raceway in Lake City was a possibility, and Walton did place one phone call to them. In recent years, when asked about the lack of Florida races on the national tour, Walton would respond that there weren’t tracks that seemed to be interested. That’s now changed. Bubba Clem has drawn the All Star Circuit of Champions, USAC, Lucas Oil ASCS and the USCS national tour to his track since the year began. That may have changed the attitude of other track promoters and track owners in Florida.

    One factor that’s sure to boost the chances of a return to Florida was the strong showing of Florida cars and drivers. Fourteen of the twenty four drivers on the sprint car entry list for Friday were from Florida. Florida drivers won the feature and two of the three heat races on Friday. Danny Martin Jr., by winning on Friday and dominating again on Saturday (until a feature race tire failure), showed the quality of the skill among the Florida contingent. The racing excitement level was somewhere between good and great, even with a Saturday feature that labored though eight yellow and red flag periods.

    Attendance could have been better, but none of the Florida tracks that hosted a national sprint car event after Daytona 500 weekend this year have been well-attended. With the national press standing up and noticing the late January race weekend that the Top Gun series had at East Bay Raceway Park this year, perhaps the last half of January is better suited for those national events. If Florida doesn’t take those January dates after the Chili Bowl weekend, then someone or somewhere else will do it, and Florida’s chance will be gone.

    “I think if you came back, it will grow. ‘Cause people seemed to be enjoying themselves after the first night, at least anyway,” Walton concluded. He even opened the door to the possibility of a 2016 schedule with two Florida swings, one at the beginning of the year, and another in the fall season. Welcome back to Florida, USCS. Y’all come around again soon, y’hear? The smells of grits, biscuits and gravy, and fried chicken cooking and sprint cars spewing methanol fumes should be a part of the South (and Florida). It just feels right.



    USCS Sprint Cars Mark Their Return to Florida at Bubba Raceway Park

    By Richard Golardi

    AJ Maddox was in his car, upside down. And he was angry about how he had gotten there, with the rear end of his car on the second turn wall at Bubba Raceway Park. His car flipped after contact with another racer in the first of two nights of USCS Outlaw Thunder Tour competition in Ocala. The series had returned to race in Florida after being away from the state for at least five years. That night, 14 of the 24 starters were from Florida. A Floridian, Danny Martin Jr., won the feature race. Two of the three heat races would go to a Floridian. Florida showed up and had a strong presence for the return of the United Sprint Car Series. Their return to Florida in future years seemed assured. USCS will likely return to Florida next year, and it could be a series of races at multiple tracks.

    Danny Martin Jr., USCS Outlaw Thunder Tour feature race winner, Bubba Raceway Park, Friday, October 16, 2015

    AJ Maddox was trying to lap a slower car around the outside of turn one. “It was just a gaggle of cars,” he said. “You’ve got about ten fast cars on the track, and about fifteen cars that are about three seconds off the pace.” Things went wrong with a slower car that did not hold his line in the turn when AJ was lapping him. The way he viewed it, AJ did not see the driver having his car under control at any time during the race. “I just passed Matt, and I was all over the 47 (Eric Riggins Jr.) for third there. I mean, the car was flying. I think we would have had something for Danny. I was trying to lap him (the slower car) around the outside. Obviously the outside’s the groove. There’s a nice cushion. He slid right up into me.”

    The actions that followed ended up with Maddox’s winged sprint car upside down, with the roll cage badly bent directly behind the driver’s head from the impact with the second turn concrete. “We hit side to side and just jumped wheels and it’s over from there,” he said. “These tires are like basketballs. As soon as you touch, they bounce and you’re going in whatever direction it shot you. The first bounce, I thought I might be able to get it stopped, and it dug in too hard. Once the frame digs in and the rest of the car comes off the ground, it’s done. You better just close your eyes and hang on.” Maddox was hanging on as the car flipped several times, heading in the direction of the outside wall. At first, he feared that the car would continue flipping and end up in the woods outside the track. Instead, it came down hard on the wall, causing enough damage to the frame that car owner Ray Bolin assumed that the frame was ready for the trash. Although the car had now come to a stop, Maddox’s troubles were not over yet.

    Shawn Murray strikes the fence and flips at Bubba Raceway Park during the USCS sprint car feature race on Sat night

    He was upside down and realized that fuel was leaking from the fuel tank, which was now above and behind his head. It was now beginning to pour over him, soaking his driver’s suit. He wanted to get out of there fast, so he unbuckled his safety belts to escape from the wrecked car. Being in an awkward position, with the wing crumpled down around the roll cage, he could not get out. All he could do was hope for help to arrive quickly, since a fire at this time would put him in extreme danger. “It’s like my greatest fear, sitting there upside down. My suit’s all soaked. Oil and fuel pouring out of it. That’s a really bad feeling. I wanted to get out of there really quick. I made the mistake of pulling my belts off before they flipped me over and I kind of got trapped in there.” Maddox let the safety crew know that he had been soaked with leaking fuel, and he was finally able to escape the wreck after it was flipped back over on its wheels. He escaped unscathed, except for a headache. He still had another task ahead for 2015 – to win the driver championship in the Eagle Jet Top Gun Sprint Series. He is currently in second place in the points, and still had a backup car to race in the remaining races through December.

    On Saturday night, two young Floridians would celebrate their achievements, even though a Floridian would not win the feature race on Night 2. The win would go to Trey Starks, who had traveled from Washington to race in North Carolina car owner Jeff McCall’s car in fall season races in the South. He had won within the month in the Northwest, and was now ready to make his name known in the Southeast. Nicholas Snyder, from Marco Island, FL, would clinch the USCS national tour Rookie of the Year honor. The sixteen year old, in his first full year of dirt sprint car racing, had one feature win in USCS racing this year and was in third place in the points standings. Thirteen year old Tyler Clem from Ocala placed third in the Saturday night finale, holding off a late race charge by Danny Martin Jr. and getting his best ever finish in a national series feature race.

    The Friday night feature race was enjoyable mostly because of it being a display of Danny Martin Jr.’s driving skill. As he deftly handled slower traffic, darting left and right down the front straight, fans would marvel at how Martin would seem to always anticipate the slower traffic, and knew where to place his car to advance. On Saturday, things got wild and weird. An early race crash on the front straight by Floridian Shawn Murray, tearing the catch fence and flipping his car, was one of two early race red flag periods. There were multiple wrecks and spins, bringing the caution period total to six, along with two red flag race stoppages. One driver tangled with track safety workers as he ran toward another competitor’s car to fling his steering wheel at his intended target. Danny Martin Jr.’s late race charge, after a blown rear tire took him out of the lead with six laps remaining, saw him advance to fourth place at race end, behind Clem in third. Michael Miller was in second place behind Starks.

    Michael Miller was in the news this week, after merging his Southern Outlaw Sprints, which races winged sprint cars in the Deep South and Florida panhandle, with ASCS to form the ASCS Southern Outlaw Sprints. The series has been using ASCS rules in its three years of racing. It is unknown if the series will expand beyond the current territory into North or Central Florida. Pete Walton has confirmed that the USCS National tour does intend to return to Florida, and could race at multiple tracks in the early season (January or February), or again in the late season. With Morgan Turpen currently in first place in 2015 USCS national points, the series may also claim the distinction of being the first national winged sprint car series to have a female national champion. With the series finale in mid November, we’ll know that outcome in a few weeks.




    USCS Sprint Cars Return to Florida for First Time in Years

    By Richard Golardi

    The winged outlaw sprint cars of the United Sprint Car Series national tour return to Florida for the first time in several years with two races planned for Bubba Raceway Park in Ocala for Friday and Saturday night. Some of the Floridians that are likely to race, who also recently raced in the East Bay Winternationals, are Danny Martin Jr. (2-time USCS feature winner in 2015), Gene Lasker, Matt Kurtz and AJ Maddox. Thirteen year old Tyler Clem, son of track owner Bubba Clem, is entered. Recent Top Gun Sprint Series winner Garrett Green is also entered, racing in a national winged dirt series for the first time. He is joined by another young Floridian, 16 year old Nicholas Snyder, who is currently in third place in the national series points, and has one feature race win in his first year on the USCS national tour. He seems certain to be the Rookie of the Year in the USCS national series this year also.

    Danny Martin Jr., current Top Gun Sprint Series champion.

    The name in Florida that is most associated with USCS racing is Kenny Adams. Adams, who has not raced regularly since 2008, still holds the number one spot on the All-Time USCS National Tour win list. Adams did have a racing comeback earlier this summer, racing in the “Legends of Central Pennsylvania Sprint Car Racing Night” event at Lincoln Speedway in August. Adams, from Malabar, and known as the “Malabar Missile”, led the first 10 laps of the feature race, losing a sizeable lead over Todd Shaffer and the field when the competition yellow came out at the half-way point. He eventually finished second in his racing comeback. Adams was also the 2003 USCS Asphalt Thunder Tour champion and he was named the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame Sprint Car Driver of the Year in 360 sprint cars in 2000.

    The USCS 600 Sprint Car Series, which races winged mini sprints, will race versus the FMSA winged mini sprints on both nights. The mini sprint showdown is sponsored by Todd's Tomatoes and pits the regionally touring USCS 600 winged mini sprints against their Florida counterparts from the Florida Mini Sprint Action series. Friday night's preliminary main event pays $500 to the winner. With the weekend’s racing dubbed the Florida State Sprint Car Championship, the Championship Final on Saturday night awards the Mini Sprint Champion with $1,000.

    Nicholas Snyder in his dirt sprint car, Dawn Snyder Photo.

    The USCS drivers entered include current national points leader Morgan Turpen from Tennessee, who is the highest ranked female sprint car driver in America. Her teammate and fellow Tennessean Terry Gray, an 11-time and defending USCS National Champion, is also entered. Gray is second in the national points standings currently. Eric Riggins, Jr. from Charlotte, North Carolina, who has five national series wins this year, is also expected to race in Ocala this weekend.

    Rookie points leader Nicholas Snyder from Marco Island, Florida, third in the national sprint car standings and fourth in the USCS Southern Thunder series points, had raced a sprint car in Florida previously. Returning to Florida racing after an almost one year absence, he had a previous micro sprint title in Florida in 2013. He started racing in Quarter Midget cars, racing under USAC sanctioning and was successful quickly. Moving up to a national sprint car series this year, Nicholas is fighting to keep his top three position in points to go along with the expected USCS Rookie of the Year title.

    Garrett Green, 2013 Little 500 Rookie of the Year, Anderson Speedway, IN.

    The USCS national series, dubbed the USCS Outlaw Thunder Tour, races on dirt tracks throughout the mid-South and Deep South states. They weigh 1,300 pounds, and are powered by 700 horsepower fuel-injected V-8 engines that burn methanol. The series had previously scheduled several Florida stops on their tour, but those Florida races were absent in recent years. Kenny Adams, Danny Martin Jr., and other dirt racers from Florida were regular participants. USCS past champion, Red Stauffer from Winter Park, Florida, was also a well-known Floridian who raced with the national tour.

    At one point in 2004, two teenagers from Florida chased Terry Gray and Kenny Adams in the USCS points race. The two racers were Danny Martin Jr., who was 18 years old and a recent high school graduate at the time, followed by then 16 year old RJ Johnson, who has been racing at Knoxville Raceway in recent years. Johnson has also competed with the World of Outlaws sprint cars in the fall, after the season at Knoxville concluded. Danny has won multiple sprint car racing titles in Florida. One reporter even dubbed them the Florida "Fountain of Youth Gang." Eleven years later, another small group of young Florida racers is again poised for recognition on the national dirt sprint car racing stage. “The New Florida Fountain of Youth Gang” takes to the stage on Friday in Ocala.




    The Frank Riddle Memorial Race Night

     By Richard Golardi


             Troy DeCaire was driving the Dode Mercer owned #10 sprint car for the third race since August at Citrus County Speedway. This was a car driven previously by Matt Mercer. In his first two races, he posted finishes of fifth place in August and third place in September. On this night, which was the running of The Frank Riddle Memorial, a race which he won in 2008, Troy had an off-track excursion early in the race and came back through the field for a fifth place finish. He still races in winged sprint car races in Florida in Lenny Puglio’s #91 car, and won the most recent Florida winged sprint car race.

     Jason Kimball, Frank Riddle Memorial race winner, with Riddle family members, Citrus County Speedway, Saturday, October 3, 2015


             Brian Gingras, driving his #1X sprint car, was entered in his first sprint car race since 2014, which was also at Citrus County Speedway in Inverness. He moved into the top three late in the feature race, and remained in third place as Jason Kimball and Dude Teate fought for the top position late in the race. These two drivers took over the top two spots after leader Mickey Kempgens drove over the rear tire of John Inman and was out of the race with crash damage after it looked like he was on his way to his first win in the memorial race. Teate pressured Kimball, who held on for his second straight win at Citrus County Speedway.


             While waiting for his sprint car’s motor to be rebuilt, Jason Kimball sat out most of the 2015 racing season in Florida. His first race back in 2015 was at Inverness in August. He went into Saturday’s race night hoping to, “just get a good heat race, since that’s how they line us up. Just don’t get tired after 40 laps. The last two races in August and September were 30 laps.” Kimball was in the Winners Circle at nights end, the fifth different winner of The Frank Riddle Memorial in five races.


    Billy Riddle, right, and his brother, Bryan Riddle, left, with Frank Riddle's 1984 and 1985 Little 500 winning sprint car

             The #11 blue and yellow sprint car brought to the track by the Riddle family was the same car that legendary sprint car driver Frank Riddle had driven to two wins in the Little 500, in 1984 and 1985. The Riddle family would split the driving duties between brothers Billy and Bryan Riddle, since the car was being raced in both the DAARA (Daytona Antique Auto Racing Association) vintage sprint car race and the track’s 40-lap non-wing sprint car race. Billy Riddle would drive first, winning both the DAARA heat race and feature race driving his grandfather’s car. He also was wearing the blue and yellow race suit worn by his grandfather in the 1993 Little 500, a race in which Frank Riddle crashed and caught fire, burning his hands and neck. The suit still had some visible discolorations caused by the fire, but was still intact and could be used for racing. Bryan Riddle drove the car in the non-wing race, but was out early. He joined the race’s other vintage sprint car in the infield, which was the #3x car driven by Chad Freeman.


             Chad Freeman’s restored red #3x car was driven in Florida sprint car competition by Jimmy Riddle, brother of Frank Riddle. Jimmy had a win in the Little 500 as a car owner, with his son-in-law Jim Childers driving the car to win the classic race in 2000. Chad drove from Kentucky to bring his car to race in this special event, and also to display it at this weekend’s Golden Gate Speedway Reunion, which takes place in Tampa on Sunday. “I came 750 miles for the race,” according to Chad. After a spin in the DAARA feature race, he said it was the result of “power steering fluid on the track from the 11. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. I have to work on the handling a bit.”


    Justin Appleby in the 14JR car at The Frank Riddle Memorial race


             Three drivers were racing in their first or second ever sprint car race this night. Clayton Donaldson was driving his second race in the Mac Steele owned car named “The Green Hornet”. I learned that the car was named after Mac’s favorite radio program from his childhood. Clayton built the car and motor under Mac Steele's supervision at his race shop. "Mac is making him the complete racer. Building the car, motor, and driving," his father Todd Donaldson said. The rookie driver was one of two 16 year-old rookies in the race. The other was Justin Appleby, driving his first sprint car race in a car owned by his stepfather, Richie Corr. Richie told me that Justin has had practice laps in the car at Showtime Speedway, and previous racing experience in go karts. The #14JR car is a Hurricane chassis that was driven by Richie Corr previously. He will now have a Shaw chassis paired with a Gaerte motor that he will race as the #14 car.


             The third rookie making his first sprint car start was John Inman, a 28 year-old racer who has run a dirt modified and also a pavement modified in Florida competition previously. In addition to being a new sprint car team owner, John just got married in August, and also has a baby on the way with wife Amanda. It was not his first race at Citrus County Speedway, as he has raced a modified at the track in the past. His new car is a Diablo that had never been run before race day on Saturday, not even for practice laps. The laps run this night in Inverness were his first ever in a sprint car. He does intend to race the car with a wing also, at both Desoto Speedway and Showtime Speedway.


    Rookie drivers John Inman, 59X, and Clayton Donaldson, 9, during hot laps at Citrus County Speedway

             Troy Thompson’s crash last month at Desoto Speedway meant that he had to do some fast-paced repairs to have his #81 sprint car ready for non-wing racing just two weeks after the crash. The car’s frame was replaced in the nose section, in addition to steering parts, brakes and wheels. “I put the 81 sprint car in the wall passing a lapped car in the feature. Racing happens! Never giving up! We will fix it. Do better next race,” he promised. He did, bringing the car to the checkered flag for an eighth place finish. The #15 team car driven by Shane Butler did not do equally well, as it was forced out early with crash damage.



    The photo album from The Frank Riddle Memorial race night is here:



    Videos from the DAARA and the Frank Riddle Memorial sprint car races at Citrus County Speedway will be on the Florida Open Wheel channel:





    Bob Long Memorial Race Winner Interview with Johnny Gilbertson

    By Richard Golardi

    Johnny Gilberston and son, Feature Race Winner, Bob Long Memorial, East Bay Raceway Park

    Q. Johnny, tell me how the feature race went tonight (Bob Long Memorial winged sprint car race at East Bay Raceway Park on Saturday, September 26, 2015, won by Johnny Gilbertson)?

    A. I actually thought we were in trouble the first couple of laps. I couldn’t gain on anybody. I think it was mostly just dirty air. Everybody was single file. When we got a caution, I could get underneath them and get some clean air and I could shoot underneath them on the restarts. I found a little moisture there in two and it worked out pretty good. I missed it every other restart, and then that one restart when I was running third I was able to get those guys. On the final restart, when I was running second, I thought I would just try to slide-job this guy, because it’s probably the only chance that I’m going to have. In dirty air, I was too tight and I couldn’t do anything. It worked out. I’m really surprised and very happy. I’d can’t thank everybody enough, including Steele Performance Parts, Boat Trailers Direct, Florida Hardwood Floor Supplies and Simpson Safety Equipment. Everybody, really.

    Q. When was your last feature race win, on either dirt or pavement?

    A. Man, I really don’t know. Two years ago I guess. (Johnny Gilbertson was the TBARA sprint car champion in 2011 and 2012.)

    Q. That long ago – two years ago? So you were due, or you could say overdue for a win.

    A. Yeah. Way overdue. I mean, I think we had a few of them where we really could have capitalized on it, but something silly would happen. You know, we’d get a tire going down or we’d blow a seal out of a shock. It was just silly stuff, and tonight we were able to put it all together.

    Q. That was a great run. Even the motor sounded like it was really producing horsepower. It sounded good. It sounded fast.

    A. Oh did it? Yeah, I might have been twisting it up a little bit too hard. But I really wanted to win this race and I knew I was starting so far in the back that I knew I had to push the issue a little bit tonight. We probably won’t turn it that hard the next time.

    Q. Well, I hope that you’ll be able to be back in the Winners Circle again soon.

    A. That’d be nice. I hope so. Thank you.

    The photo album from The Bob Long Memorial, East Bay Raceway Park in Gibsonton, FL, Saturday, September 26, 2015 is here:



    Troy DeCaire Takes Emotional Win at Desoto Speedway

    By Richard Golardi

    “They came in there at 1:30 (am) and told me it was time. By 1:45 she was gone, so I went right back and finished two more shocks and I was in bed by quarter to three,” Troy DeCaire said. “I was out in my little shock room working, and they asked me what I needed to do. I was like, I need to finish these shocks, because I’ve got to go race.” Troy’s mother, Sandi Phillips DeCaire, was a woman who was close to auto racing for most of her life, even serving as Miss Golden Gate Speedway (Tampa) in 1976. She later married well-known local late model racer Terry DeCaire. She had succumbed to cancer in the early morning hours of Saturday, September 19th. She was at the track for her son’s most recent race win, a winged sprint car race at Showtime Speedway on July 11th. That night, she stood in the Winner’s Circle with her son for one last time. Saturday was race day again, this time at Desoto Speedway. Troy was asked if he was still going to race at Desoto. He replied, “Hell yeah, I’m going racing.”

    Troy believed that his mother would have wanted him to race. “Not only that, today’s the first day that things are going to get better. Today’s the first day for the healing process. I could have run dead last today. It was just the process of being here. Not being at home and feeling sorry for ourselves. I was just trying to set the tone for my family. Look man, I know it happened today. I want people to see that I’ve got the same last name and she taught me business as usual. That was her thing. She was like, ‘just keep going Troy. You’ve got to keep going.’ It’s just how she was. When she told me she was diagnosed, I said do you want me to fly home? I’m like Forrest Gump. Momma’s sick, I’m jumping off the boat. She said, ‘no, don’t come home. You’re not a damn doctor. Keep doing what you’re doing. That will make me happy.’ That’s what I did, and tonight really worked out for me.”

    Top two cars of Kempgens and DeCaire stopped on track during feature race red flag period.

    “She was a low-key lady,” Troy said, when asked about his mother. “At the track, everybody would ask for her name. She’d always just say that she was Troy’s Mom. She was selfless. She was just that kind of person.” Looking at his personal pages on social media websites, Troy saw almost 500 comments and over 1,000 likes by Saturday night and felt overwhelmed by the support and outpouring of love. “I know I ain’t that cool. It was people that she touched everywhere. Up in North Florida they had a go kart race in Jasper, where my nephew was running. They lowered the flag and had a moment of silence for her. My nephew TJ raced there. He had a good night.”

    Troy also had a message to all those who had expressed their love and support through personal messages and social media. “I really do appreciate everything. Even though I can’t get to everybody and I can’t say everything that I want to everybody. I know everybody wants a one-on one.” Troy was amazed at the number of messages coming from those at the go kart event, and the numbers that came to Desoto Speedway that night, sensing that it would be a special night.

    Troy’s next task was now set before him, and it was to occur mere hours after his mother had passed. It was to prepare for race day, head to the track, and then win. The second heat race at Desoto Speedway included Troy’s #91 car owned by Lenny Puglio. This team was challenged by another two cars that would make up the fastest trio of cars that night. Those cars were the #5 car driven by Mickey Kempgens, and the #15 orange and green Troy Thompson owned entry driven by Shane Butler. That latter duo will be making their USAC Silver Crown Series debut next year, with Butler driving. Thompson had purchased a Beast pavement Silver Crown car to go along with the Hurricane dirt Silver Crown car acquired earlier. The heat race saw DeCaire make his usual high-side pass, this time passing Kempgens in the second turn. DeCaire trailed Butler to the finish line to take second in his heat race.

    On the first lap of the 30-lap feature race, Troy and Mickey Kempgens quickly moved to the front. It was evident that the battle for the win would be between these two experienced racers. Trailing the duo was Shane Butler. All three had multiple sprint car championships on their resumes. Kempgens had a stellar performance in this year’s Little 500, leading many laps, and Butler had won his third TBARA championship last year at Desoto Speedway. Neither would allow another driver to take an easy win. It would be an intense fight all the way to the checkered flag.

    Troy DeCaire, center; car owner Lenny Puglio, left; and crew chief Todd Schmidt, right; Desoto Speedway, September 19, 2015.

    Troy watched Kempgens from his second place position early in the feature race and could tell that Kempgens was a little loose. Troy was content to just keep at the same pace in the early laps, about two car lengths back. Lapped traffic was getting “a little hairy, but not so bad” early. “Then I crept up on him and I was just kind of waiting when all of a sudden I was about four car lengths back when I saw the time for the first pass. I don’t know if he had to jump off the gas, or what. But it worked out and so I got the lead.” It didn’t last long, as Kempgens regained the lead later that same lap in the middle of heavy traffic. Going three wide into the third turn, Troy said that “Mickey was trying to redeem himself so he hit the flat down in three and slid up into us.” That pass involved the two racers bumping each other side-to-side in the fourth turn. Later, during a red flag period caused by Troy Thompson’s hard crash in turn one, which also caused wing damage to Carlie Yent’s car, Troy and Mickey stopped next to each other on track.

    Were any words exchanged between the two while stopped during the red flag? “I just said, hey man, it’s coming. He told me that he was pushing, but I’ve never seen a car that was sliding sideways and was pushing.” Troy did add that Mickey was, “one of my good buddies.” It was also during this time that he realized there was a problem with the car. The wing slider was broken. If he could find a way to jam the broken part into place to stabilize it, the problem could be solved. If not, the wing would be pushed all the way forward, it could not be adjusted, and the car would handle poorly for the remainder of the race. The attempt to make a temporary fix from the driver’s seat failed. He would have to deal with a poor handling car and having the broken part banging against the side of his helmet for the remaining twelve laps.

    With two laps to go, Kempgens was slowed by lapped cars, and Troy saw his opportunity to pounce. He had noticed that the leader was also dealing with a loose race car. “I was about ten or fifteen feet behind him,” according to Troy. “It was the only chance I had, so I just threw it in there the best that I could.” It worked, and he made the pass for the lead just before the two to go signal. “Even all those cars in front of us, it seemed like it just kind of opened up for me those last two laps.” He kept the lead for the remaining two laps to take the most emotional win of his racing career.

    Then he drove a victory lap in reverse around the track. “Then I hit the Polish victory lap for my Mom there. It felt right.” It was not planned. He decided to do it at that moment, as a dedication to his Mom. Friends and fans that he had not seen in a while came to the race that night, including some that were not ardent race fans. They had sensed it would be a special night. They poured out onto the front straight to enjoy the moment and to greet Troy. “It turned out to be pretty damn special, you know? Special night. Special ending.” With instructions from his car owner to pick up their winnings, Troy walked off into the night, with one last interview to complete before he could absorb all that had happened and then rest.




    Garrett Green Interview – How I Did It

     By Richard Golardi

     It’s a question that Garrett Green, who races a winged dirt sprint car in Florida, has fielded many times since his two straight wins in Eagle Jet Top Gun Sprint car competition. How did he get so good in his first full year of dirt sprint car competition? The seventeen year old racer from Valrico, FL had mainly been known for his exploits in pavement sprint car racing, with several wins in Florida competition to go with his 2013 Little 500 Rookie of the Year award. That accomplishment came against one of the strongest ever fields of Little 500 rookies, which included Bryan Clauson and Bobby East. At the time, he was 14 years old with less than one year of sprint car experience. Now racing on dirt full-time, how did he manage to find success again so quickly? How did he do it?


     Garrett Green in the 28 sprint car

    “Racing’s one of those things, you know. It’s all where you start and the guys getting it set up right in the pits and the homework in the shop and all that,” Garrett replied. He credited Brian Maddox and car owner Hardy Maddox and fellow dirt racer AJ Maddox with helping him to get to this point. Garrett’s teammate in the #82 Hardy Maddox owned sprint car is Matt Kurtz. “I’m thankful for what I’ve done so far. I can’t thank those guys enough. Honestly, luck happened to work our way for two weekends in a row,” he added. His two wins in the past two Top Gun races came at Bubba Raceway Park on August 28th and at Hendry County Motorsports Park on September 5th.



    In that Hendry County race, a feature race battle between veteran racer Gene Lasker and himself was one of the highlights. “Gene was real fast and he got by me. I took a deep breath and kept my composure and just looked for another way to get back around him. I tried to do it as soon as possible and get around the top side. The car luckily stuck and I took the chance of going out there up on the high side off of four. It just happened to work that time. The car was right on the money,” according to Garrett.

     Garrett Green in the 28 car at Volusia Speedway Park

     Two years ago I wrote, “The maturity and poise that he demonstrated at the Little 500 in May, when he had a top ten finish and earned the Rookie of the Year award, will serve him well.” One of the challenges ahead in the fall and winter will be competing against drivers in two national dirt sprint car series when they return to competition in Florida. The first will be the USCS Outlaw Thunder Tour at Bubba Raceway Park on October 16-17. This will be the first Florida race for the USCS tour in several years. Next will be the anticipated return of the Lucas Oil ASCS sprint cars in February 2016 at the East Bay Winternationals. The Florida drivers had an impressive showing at that event this year, and Garrett hopes to be one of the Florida drivers gaining recognition on the national stage next year.



    In the near future, he may have a seat in this weekend’s winged sprint car race at Desoto Speedway. This race is receiving heightened anticipation after numerous Florida summer races were rained out. A larger field of cars in expected because of the long hiatus for winged racing in Florida. Next for Garrett Green will be the East Bay Sprints (East Bay Raceway Park) racing in The Bob Long Memorial race on September 26th. He anticipates racing in the remaining six Top Gun Series races this year too.



    Since he now has two Top Gun Series race wins in a row, how many more can he win? “I’m going to try my best. One thing I’ve learned in racing is that you can go from hero to zero and zero to hero real quick. You know, it’s great to win two in a row. It’s great to win one, let alone two. I’m just going to take it race by race and see what happens.” Green had disappointment this year along with his victories. In February, after crossing the finish line first in the Saturday night Icebreaker non-wing sprint car race at Desoto Speedway driving the Lee Cipray #7 entry, the car was disqualified at the tech shed and the feature race win was gone. I never was able to get a statement from the track regarding the reason for the DQ. Chaos and fights broke out in the pits. Perhaps it was a night that the parties involved wished to forget. Except for Dave Steele. He was the race winner.



    “Everybody asks me which one I like better, pavement or dirt? I’m more drawn to dirt because I’m not very good at dirt (laughing). I’m better at pavement than I am at dirt. I’m not doing the best that I think I can do,” he explained. “I want to keep doing it until I get better.” His first dirt sprint car race was a year and a half ago, and he has concentrated on dirt since early this year. But he’s definitely not done with pavement. His father Gary Green, who serves as his mentor and team owner of Team Green Racing, has discussed with him the possibility of returning for another run at the Little 500 in 2016. For him and his father, the Little 500 still has a special place in their racing memories, and they do want to return to race again. He was at the Little 500 this year, but it was to serve as the left rear tire changer for second place finisher Dave Steele.



    Father and son were both feeling a certain sense of disbelief after multiple race wins on dirt. “When we won our first pavement race, he told me, ‘it doesn’t feel real. It doesn’t feel like it happened.’ I said I know. It feels like we got second or third. It’s finally happened though, and we’re excited, but we’re not. We’re in shock.” The same set of emotions came flooding back for them with their first wins on dirt. 



    For the future, dirt is the thing. That includes another full season in the Top Gun Series next year. “I’m going to focus on dirt. A hundred and fifty per cent. I want to go run as many races as I can. See what we get out of it.” Based on his past accomplishments, he may be getting a lot. A lot of success, that is.



    The Hendry County Motorsports Park Top Gun Series feature race video, from the Florida Racing Connection channel, is here:








    Southern Sprint Car Series Has Tentative 2016 Start Date, Indy Short Oval Still a Go

    By Richard Golardi

    Davey Hamilton’s lunch meeting at a restaurant on Main Street in Speedway, Indiana on Tuesday with Doug Boles and Mark Miles covered a range of topics, including one that I had reported on previously. The Indianapolis Motor Speedway management team and Hamilton discussed the subject of using a temporary infield short oval at the speedway for winged sprint car racing with Hamilton’s King of the Wing sprint car series. The 3/8 mile flat oval would use a portion of the current road course near turn four of the big oval. A wide sweeping turn in the road course is located there. The new short oval would not make its debut during the month of May with the 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500. Instead, it may likely see its first race in June 2016, as part of the Midwest race weekend with the national King of the Wing Series.

    Davey Hamilton prefers this June race date, since the sprint car teams that participate in the national King of the Wing series will be in the area for the Midwest race weekend, previously three races in late June. All these teams, including some from California and the Northwest, will now also get to race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway short oval. The status of this short oval was unknown for a short time after Hamilton left the USAC management position he held from March to June this year. But he has assured me that the planning for this 2016 race is still moving forward. The history making sprint car race will see the return of larger front engined open wheel race cars at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the first time since the last front engined Indy 500 car started in the 1960s.

    With the TBARA on hiatus, and without a sanctioned race since 2014, Davey Hamilton appears to have the scenario in Florida that he had been waiting for since January. Hamilton had previously said that he did not want to directly compete with the TBARA in Florida by scheduling winged sprint car racing in the state if the TBARA was active. At a January 2015 meeting in Gibsonton, he declared that he did want to move forward with the King of the Wing regional series for Florida and the Southeast, later named the Southern Sprint Car Series. A winter series was identified as the most desirable time period, a desire further reinforced by the number of Florida race dates rained out this summer. With a November to late March race season, the Southeast regional series will race during the dry season in Florida, and during a time when the population swells with temporary winter residents.

    With Davey Hamilton preparing for the final 2015 King of the Wing race weekend in California in late November, there will not be enough time to set up a Southeast winter series this year. The tentative plan will be to begin racing in November 2016. This will still be during the three year period of transition which allows 360 motors to race along with restricted 410 motors (2015 to 2017). Hamilton stated that he will be flexible with this three-year rule, to allow the maximum number of Florida teams to participate with the sizable out-of-town contingent expected for a King of the Wing winter series. The series may have two races per month, beginning in November and continuing through March or April. It would include the traditional Pensacola and Mobile race weekend, which has been held in March or April in recent years. This weekend may be moved back to March, to allow those teams that brought a car to Florida for the winter to return home in time for their regular race season to begin.

    Hamilton did mention a recent discussion with Dave Steele in addition to the meeting with Doug Boles, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway President, and Mark Miles, the Hulman & Company CEO. This was the first time that I had spoken to Davey Hamilton since late June, during the King of the Wing Midwest race weekend. That race weekend is poised to get a great deal more attention next year with the likely addition of a race at the new infield short oval at the Indy Motor Speedway. Hamilton did not mention if this would result in one of the three Midwest tracks on this year’s King of the Wing schedule being left off the 2016 schedule.

    Hamilton was also aware that he had opened himself to criticism for putting Aaron Pierce in his yellow #1 sprint car for the Northwest King of the Wing race weekend in late July and early August, as this allowed Pierce to earn first place in points for the Northwest race weekend. It also allowed him to retain first place in points for the national King of the Wing ranking. There are three national races remaining on the 2015 King of the Wing schedule. They are in California from November 20 to 22. The Sam Pierce Chevrolet race team does intend to haul their car and team out to California for Aaron Pierce to race that weekend, as they did last year.

    Hamilton was pleased with the performance of those cars that raced with 360 motors during the most recent race weekend in the Northwest. That weekend also included a race at his family’s home track, Meridian Speedway in Idaho. He also expressed some surprise at the rumored price tags on some recent 360 motor purchases by several pavement sprint car teams, with some price tags over $40,000. Another team active in King of the Wing had lost a 360 motor, and decided to purchase a 410 motor to use in future King of the Wing racing. Hamilton is still committed to seeing the series use only 410 motors in future competition after the transition period.




    Rainy Days and Thursdays in Florida

    By Richard Golardi

    Florida is the place to go for year-round open wheel racing. Except not during the summer of 2015. Most of the sprint car racing scheduled for this summer has been rained out. This includes both dirt and pavement sprint car racing. The Eagle Jet Top Gun Sprint Series astutely only scheduled three races between August 1 and October 1 this year. Two races are before Labor Day weekend (8/28 at Bubba Raceway Park, 8/29 at Volusia Speedway Park), and the other race is just two days prior to the Monday holiday (9/5 at Hendry County Motorsports Park). Floridians are hoping for dryer weather this weekend, with the Bob Long Memorial planned at East Bay Raceway Park for East Bay Sprints, and non-wing pavement teams returning to Citrus County Speedway.

    SCCA racer Don Boughan at the start of the F2000 race at Daytona Speedway

    Daytona Rising Construction at Daytona International Speedway

    East Bay Raceway is even trying Thursday night racing this week. This is done to try to make up some of the lost racing since the deluge of rain began in July. By early August, the heavy rains seemed to have subsided, with Tampa having a total of about 12 inches of rain in July and one spot north of Tampa getting over 20 inches, all without a hurricane. As if that’s not bad enough, the area of Central Florida from Tampa to Orlando is known as “The Lightning Capital of the US.” But wait … there’s more. The height of Florida’s hurricane season is typically late August and September – the next 5 or 6 weeks. That certainly makes a Florida Winter Series seem very desirable.

    There is no new winter racing series on the horizon for Florida, as the TBARA and the Southern Sprint Car Series seem to have both gone into a state of hibernation. Hopes were high back in January, culminating with Davey Hamilton’s mid-January meeting in Gibsonton with Florida pavement race teams. Hamilton has since turned his attention to his national sprint car series, the King of the Wing series, which has completed three of its four weekends of racing. Another activity in Central Florida has drawn attention during this time when the short race tracks have virtually been shut down. That activity is sports facility construction.

    The biggest project with the highest price tag has been the Daytona Rising Project at Daytona International Speedway, weighing in at $400 million. This is followed by the $155 million newly redesigned soccer stadium in Orlando for the Orlando City team. The 25,500 seat privately financed stadium is planned for a September 2016 completion. Soccer has exploded in popularity in the Orlando area, mostly due to enthusiastic young fans. "Orlando will soon be the soccer capital of America", or so the Orlando Sentinel's theory states. The original design had 19,500 seats, and was later expanded to add another 6,000 seats. They are not adding seats at Daytona. In fact, they are downsizing. When the project is complete in time for Speedweeks in February 2016, the total number of seats at the “World Center of Racing” will go from 147,000 to 101,000, and the backstretch stands will be gone. There will be redesigned fan entrances, dubbed “Injectors”, wider seats, and more restrooms and concession stands, taking cues from many baseball park redesigns.

    There is a major open wheel racing event coming to Central Florida and Daytona Speedway well before the planned 2016 Daytona Rising completion. It’s the SCCA National Championship Runoffs, the year-ending championship races for Sports Car Club of America racers, scheduled for September 21-27. SCCA divisional champions and other teams are invited to compete for national championships in each class. The SCCA nationals are being held at Daytona for the first time since 1969. Open wheel racers include the Formula Atlantic, Formula Ford, Formula Mazda, Formula Vee classes and others. I got to witness a recent SCCA Central Florida regional event at Daytona earlier this month. Some of the top teams raced during this weekend, to prepare for the upcoming nationals in September.

    Even though the last major open wheel racing event at Daytona International Speedway was in 1959, when the USAC National Champ Car Series ran its last Daytona race, there has been open wheel racing going on in the intervening decades. The open wheel racers have been the little guys, not the big name racers from IndyCar or NASCAR. One of them is Don Boughan, an owner/driver who races his Area 51 Motorsports F2000 open wheel car in SCCA races at Daytona, Sebring and also Homestead-Miami Speedway. He told of a recent race at Daytona when he started in 28th place, and then proceeded to pass every car that started in front of him to win the race. His exploits on Central and South Florida road courses give credence to the age-old axiom that the best racing isn’t in the big national series at the big tracks. It’s at the small ovals and road courses spread out throughout the country.

    The feature race video from the Florida Open Wheel channel is here (Daytona Speedway SCCA F2000 Race, 8-8-2015):

    Photo Album - "Daytona Rising Construction Progress, August 2015":



    Cush Revette – Racing on Tampa’s Lost Speedways

    By Richard Golardi

    They used to be called big cars. That was the name used at Speedway Park in Tampa from 1948 to 1954. They were about the same size as a sprint car. The drivers at Speedway Park included a trio of drivers that still live in the Tampa area today. They are Cush Revette, Ralph Liguori and Pancho Alvarez. There were two categories of big cars at Speedway Park. There were the “National AAA Big Car Races”, carrying national sanctioning from Triple A, and also “State Big Car Races”, using the same cars but without national sanctioning. For the trio of Tampa drivers, their racing days are over, as they are all in their late 80s. Cush Revette is 87 years old. His memories of racing at Speedway Park, and also at Plant Field and Phillips Field in Tampa, are still crisp and vibrant. His stories from days and nights spent at those tracks are wild and exciting.

    “Those were also the days before the roll bars – back when it was open cockpit racing, wheel-to-wheel, radiator-to-tailpipe with spiked tires that made things dangerous and thrilling,” said longtime Plant Field promoter Al Sweeney. Sweeney would go on to head National Speedways, which raced the 17-state wide International Motor Contest Association (IMCA). Revette would later race at some of the fairgrounds dirt tracks in the Midwest on the IMCA circuit. A fellow Floridian that he would compete against on the circuit was Pete Folse, who would gain fame as a three-time IMCA national sprint car champion. Folse would win the IMCA national title for three straight years from 1959 to 1961.

    Cush Revette in a Big Car at Tampa's Speedway Park in 1952

    “Phillips Field was a football field, and it had bleachers. It was right on the Hillsborough River,” Cush Revette said. The mile paved track at Phillips Field was known for being so close to the river that cars that missed the sharp east end turn would frequently end up in the river. “Yeah, I seen a couple guys take a swim. Across the street was a half-mile track over there that was built for horses (Plant Field). One was on the north side of the street and Plant Field was on the south side. The track at Phillips Field was outside the football field and it was like a jogging track. It was black pavement.” A promoter from up north named Jake Kedenburg rented Phillips Field to run stock car races there, and brought a number of stock car racers from up north with him to Florida. “All the local people went crazy. Man, they filled up them grandstands. They never seen cars bang each other and all that, and fighting to win them races” Revette said, recalling the Phillips Field stock car races in the 1950s.

    “At Phillips Field, the motor in my car exploded because they put too much nitro in the fuel and that caused it to explode. And of course, that’s right in your face. So it burnt some of my hair off, and burnt my arm. I came out of that window of that Model A, so there wasn’t much room. I’ve always weighed 200 pounds, and I came through there like a bullet. They took the picture after I dove out the window, and the car was still going probably 50 miles per hour,” Revette recalled when looking back at a dramatic night of stock car racing. “Well, it was on fire! There wasn’t time to do anything else.” He suffered some burns, but no broken bones. He did feel another sensation, however. It was thirst. “It made me thirsty for beer.” Revette did not ask to be taken to the hospital to treat his burns, as he had another destination in mind. “There was a joint right across the street. It was named Stadium Inn. So we all went over and checked me out and had a few beers. But in them days you had to be tough. If you went to the hospital, blood had to be running out of you.”

    Cush Revette and his Crown 7 stock car at the 2013 Golden Gate Speedway Reunion, October 2013

    “The people in the stands would drink whiskey and beer, and if they didn’t like a driver, they’d throw their beer bottles at his car as he drove by. It was pretty rough racing back then. It was very seldom that a race was ever completed that somebody didn’t get in a fight or a couple of fights. They’d get out of them cars and slug it out right there on the football field in front of the crowd,” Cush Revette recalled. “Back then, they let them duke it out.” Revette cut through the Phillips Field infield in his stock car one night to see if he’d get away with the ruse to gain positions on the track. It worked. The scorers missed his shortcut, and scored him with a full lap, despite the obvious shortcut. “I didn’t care. Man, I was a wide-open young’un. I drove a sprint car on Sunday afternoons at Speedway Park.” This track was located on West Hillsborough Avenue, and had a mile dirt track inside the lager mile dirt oval. Tommy Hinnershitz and Bill Schindler were two of the winners of National Big Car races at Speedway Park that were sanctioned by Triple A.

    Revette also won a few races at Plant Field, including some during the IMCA Winternational Sprints, held each year in February. Those races would be a highlight of the Florida State Fair each year in Tampa. He remembers racing a sprint car for the first time at Plant Field, even before Speedway Park was built in the late 1940s. When starting in sprint cars, he remembers that he “drove junkers like you wouldn’t believe. I wouldn’t think about sitting in anything like that now. I run them things hard and won a few heat races and started getting attention from car owners. Little by little, I got stepped up a little bit and got better cars and got to where I could win races.”

    Cush Revette, big car driver at Speedway Park, Tampa, from Speedway Park Photo Album, 1952

    “I drove a stock car for Frank Dery, the owner of Golden Gate Speedway (an asphalt 1/3 mile oval on Fowler Avenue, open 1962, closed in 1984). By the way, when they opened that track, I won the heat race, semi-final and feature for stock cars on opening night. He had fired me way back in’51because Fireball Roberts came down and I tried everything I had to outrun him, because he was nationally known. And I blew the engine. The car owner, Frank Dery, blamed me for blowing the engine. And I told him, ‘I don’t build the engines, I just drive.’ And he said, ‘well, you’ll never drive this car again.’ I said, ‘well fine.’ He had three stock cars.” But the story of race driver Cush Revette and car and track owner Frank Dery wasn’t over yet.

    The two Tampa racing icons would clash over the purse for his wins on opening night at Golden Gate Speedway. Revette went to the payout window to collect his winnings. He was handed a total of $150 for his race wins. He thought that $500 was fair for his wins that night. Once again, they would disagree. This time, it was over money instead of a blown engine.

    A broken back knocked Cush Revette out of racing for a whole season once. “My back’s been broken twice. My neck’s been broken twice. Both legs and both arms have been broken.” Since he is retired from driving now, he looks back proudly to his last race win in 2011, in DAARA (Daytona Antique Auto Racing Association) stock car competition with classic and antique race cars. Cush raced his classic red and white “Crown 7” 1957 Chevy stock car, with Revette Racing in block letters on the fender. “It was at Lake City, the pavement track. I won my last two races. One was at Inverness, and the other was at Lake City.” He won the last race that he entered, at age 83. He retired by taking the race win and beating the competition, many of them younger by decades. He was behind the wheel of his stock car, roaring down the front straight, smiling as he saw the checkered flag first. What a way for an old racer to retire.




    Florida Speedweeks Could Use a Dose of Champ Car Racing

    By Richard Golardi

    The USAC Silver Crown Series should come to Florida for a weekend of racing during February Speedweeks next year. There are now two dirt half mile tracks in operation in North Florida, reducing the one way distance from Indianapolis to less than 840 miles. With the preferred Silver Crown track size restricted to a half mile or greater, and both tracks having a dirt surface, teams would bring one car, their dirt track car.

    The two race weekend would be as follows: Stop # 1) All-Tech Raceway, Florida's newest dirt track in Lake City, 1/2 mile dirt track, previously Columbia Motorsports Park; followed by Stop # 2) Volusia Speedway Park, 1/2 mile D-shaped dirt track, home to World of Outlaws sprint car and late model races in February.

    All-Tech Raceway in Lake City, half mile dirt track, previously Columbia Motorsports Park

    This accomplishes two things for the USAC Champ Cars. Point 1 – the need for a longer race season, which would begin in February instead of May. The 2015 season began on May 1 with a race at Toledo Speedway. This was a very late start to the season. Point 2 – this would add 2 more dirt tracks to the schedule. The 2015 race schedule has more mile dirt tracks than mile dirt tracks. Two recent USAC Silver Crown races on mile dirt tracks showcased close racing, with lead changes, wrecks, flips and all kinds of excitement crammed into 50 or 100 laps. These two races were at the Four Crown Nationals in September 2014 at Eldora Speedway, and the July 2 race at Terre Haute, IN, which received national TV exposure on MAVTV. I expect that teams and fans alike will call for more Silver Crown races to be broadcast on MAVTV in the future.

    When I had asked Jason McCord of USAC about this previously, he told me that the Silver Crown car owners didn't want to come to Florida because the round trip to Florida and back to Indy was too far and too expensive. Since this interview with McCord, the cost of diesel fuel has come down, and USAC added 2 weekends of USAC sprint car racing for February Speedweeks. USAC drivers are now here in Florida for 2 weekends in February. USAC at Volusia Speedway Park could be a tough sale, because World Racing Group (DIRTcar) owns the track. But, I’d like to believe that someone should "stir up things a little bit", and propose some changes. Maybe the Silver Crown teams would like to come to Florida. Most of the drivers are already here for the weeks of USAC sprint car competition. All that’s left is to bring the Silver Crown teams and their cars down to Florida.

    Four Wide Lap at Volusia Speedway Park

    There is one Silver Crown team, a newer team, that won’t need to make a trip south for this proposed two race stop in North Florida. That’s because the race shop being used by car owner Troy Thompson is in the Bushnell area, in Central Florida. Thompson recently purchased a Hurricane branded Silver Crown car for his race team. “It was owned by the late Mr. Moore, the frame is a Hurricane. It was built for Sport Allen to drive. As far as I know it's the only Dirt Champ Car built by Jerry Stuckey,” Thompson said. He also confirmed that the drivers would be Shane Butler and himself, and that a Gaerte engine is being acquired. The team has a goal to race the car in 2016, possibly in the Hoosier Hundred in May. “Our goal is that when we go to Anderson (for the Little 500), we’ll take it with us.

    “I think it only ran two times. The first time Sport drove it. He qualified like twelfth, but it kept popping out of gear on him. They had the wrong clutch in there,” according to Troy Thompson. “For the second race, they had a different driver, and it ran at a different mile track.” This was likely in 2008, as the car still had a 2008 USAC inspection sticker on its side. “I want to let Shane drive it. I’m going to take a couple of laps in it. I want him to race it the first time, before I decide to race it. We’re just going to do a few shows. We’ve got a lot of learning to do.” The team’s new venture includes getting used to big tracks, since the mile dirt tracks will be new to them. Also, they will need to find and use a starter, instead of push starting, and get used to a much heavier race car.

    Could Troy Thompson’s team be ready by February 2016 if USAC adds Florida races to its schedule? Thompson told me that the team needs sponsors and that the car itself is done and just needs to have the engine put in and plumb it and get the final set-up ready. “In the future, we are thinking about buying a pavement car because there is another one available. Taylor Andrews has it at his house. He told me I could buy it if I want it. It may be the last car I’ll buy. I have four sprint cars right now. Actually five, I’m having one being made, a Hurricane. I’m a little overextended now.”

    Thompson is a supporter of the proposal to start the USAC Silver Crown season with two mile dirt races in Florida. “Yeah, that’d be great. I think that would be a good idea for USAC. During Speedweeks there’s a lot of people here from up north for all the races. I think it’s a good idea. I think you should pursue it. There’s a lot of history there. A lot of people are transplants from up north anyway, and I think they would make the trip to see it.”




    Bruce Durden Interview, “Jacksonville Racers – We’re Like Family”

    By Richard Golardi

    Bruce Durden is smiling. He’s back at the track with his dirt sprint car. When I spoke to him earlier this month at Bubba Raceway Park, he was at ease and was happy to be back to dirt racing, surrounded by family and friends. As an elder member of the Jacksonville Crew, the sprint car owner/driver was part of one of the state’s two main groups of dirt racers, the other group being centered on the Tampa Bay area. Jacksonville was once a hotbed of short track racing, with multiple short tracks in the area. Every one of the short tracks closed and faded away, a fate that matched the scenario in Southeast Florida. The Miami-Dade area once rivaled the Tampa Bay area’s short track activity. When USAC looked for a Florida location for their superspeedway project in the early ‘70s, Florida International Motor Speedway, Jacksonville seemed sure to be a front-runner for the two and a half mile Pocono tri-oval clone. But the panhandle area got the nod over Jacksonville. The entire project was later scrapped. NASCAR’s influence later came into play, and Florida got its second superspeedway, with the Homestead-Miami location purposefully far from Daytona Beach.

    What remains in Jacksonville are the racers. They include Mark Ruel Jr., Shawn Murray, Matt Kurtz, Darren Orth, Terry and Tanner Witherspoon, AJ Parrish and also Bruce Durden. “We’re like family, all the Jacksonville racers. We all kind of help each other out,” Bruce Durden told me. “I’ve had a lot of help. Matt Kurtz loaned me his trailer. Terry Witherspoon loaned me his best motor.” They are still there in the Jacksonville area, without a local home track. They are a small group, when compared to the Tampa Bay area racers. “So we have a lot less rumors. We all mess with each other. We have like racing meetings, and we all go to Hooters. We all kid each other and laugh at each other.” They travel to Volusia, and Ocala and the Tampa Bay area for dirt racing. When Hendry County Motorsports Park is on the Eagle Jet Top Gun Series schedule, the Jacksonville area racers have a 10 hour round trip to make it the track just southwest of Lake Okeechobee. Some make the trip, and some stick to the tracks closer to home.

    During the week, Bruce Durden is a professional Land Surveyor. In fact, it’s something that he’s been doing since he was 12 years old. He is a third generation Land Surveyor at Durden Surveying and Mapping, Inc. “My grandfather started in 1944. There’s a lot of history in land surveying. I never thought I would like history, but now that I’m getting older it’s something that’s more interesting to me, now that I follow what my grandfather did.” Not only did his ancestors not have modern electronics used by present-day surveyors, Bruce wasn’t using them when he first started. He wanted to race motorcycles, and the summer surveying work earned him enough money to pay off his motorcycle.

    “I’ve raced everything,” Durden said. “I’ve raced boats. I’ve raced late models. My very first race car was a dirt late model. That was back when they had the wedge cars. That’s how I met Dale Nettles, who helps me a lot financially.” His first win came at Palatka in 1983. He also raced mini-sprints, but felt differently about sprint cars. He was “scared to death of sprint cars. I thought those guys were idiots. When we were racing late models I was like, they drive with that driveshaft between their legs?” After tiring of boat racing, the money from the sale of his race boat motor went to buy a mini-sprint. He met Dude Teate at that time, who served as a driver coach upon his entry into open-wheel racing. “Back then the mini-sprints were real primitive. It was junk. I won thirty races with that car the first year. When I look at the pictures now I’m like, man, I’m one of those old guys!”

    Full-size sprint car racing came next, in 1993. “I was Rookie of the Year with the Tampa Bay Area Racing Association back then (1993). They were dirt and pavement, but all I ran was the dirt, though. But I still got Rookie of the Year.” He’s raced on asphalt twice in his entire sprint car racing career. “I got fourth the first night, and won the second night at Punta Gorda. That was fun. I won 36 races with that car.” His next goal is to get more seat time, after his time away from sprint car racing while concentrating on business. He is considering both the Top Gun series and USCS racing, which makes a return to Florida in October with two nights of racing at Bubba Raceway Park.

    “The cool thing about starting over? I don’t have any pressure. I don’t care if I run bad. I’m having a good time,” Bruce surmised. The last time that he stopped racing, it was because of money. “I’ve always loved it. I just quit because of money. Ran out of money, and just let the car sit. It’s been sitting for two years,” he explained. “The last race, I only ran 12 laps and blew that motor up while leading the whole thing.” He estimates that he’s had 200 to 300 wins over his lifetime in all forms of racing. What about injuries, or any time in a hospital? “No. I’ve never been hurt. I’ve never wrecked as much as I have the last two weeks.” He did get a concussion from hitting the wall driver-side in a late model, when his head struck the roll cage.

    “It’s not worth it to have grudges.” That’s the “Durden Principle”, Bruce Durden’s outlook on racing and competition. “Tommy Denton, the one who built the car, we used to hate each other when we raced mini-sprints together. And we became friends from that. We got into a fight, and then the next thing you know, we were best buddies,” Durden said. That comment brought a laugh from those listening, which included Bruce’s daughter Ashlynn. She was at the track supporting both her father and boyfriend AJ Maddox, who had won the previous Top Gun sprint car race at Bubba’s. She recalled the first time that her father and AJ met. It didn’t go well. “The first time he met AJ, they fought. They argued,” Ashlynn revealed. What happened? “I think he thought that I chopped him,” Bruce responded. All is well now. “And now they like each other,” Ashlynn said. Thankfully, the Durden Principle is in use and being applied.



    MAVTV – The Best of Motorsports TV Now

    By Richard Golardi

    SPEED Channel’s demise saved motorsports TV. The three big motorsports TV players are cable affiliates—NBC Sports Network, Fox Sports1 and CBS Sports Network. That is the hypothesis of writer Marshall Pruett, writing for in an article entitled “How the Death of SPEED Channel Saved Motorsports TV.” In the article, he heaped praise on the three aforementioned cable TV entities, since they took the motorsports TV mantle that Speed Channel vacated. He singled out NBC Sports Network for his greatest praise (NBCSN currently airs NASCAR, Formula 1, IndyCar, Indy Lights, and Rally racing), stating that they are “winning the war with diversity” and that “open-wheel, for the most part, lives on NBCSN.” Everything is perfectly fine with just these three cable networks, and no other networks are newsworthy, or are even worth mentioning in his column, according to Pruett’s article.

    Wrong. There is another network that needs to be mentioned. Heck, it even deserves to be praised for its efforts and encouraged to continue on its current path. That network is MAVTV. The reason that it is worthy of praise is because it focuses on that segment of motorsports that the “Big Three” mostly ignore – short track auto racing. Short tracks are frequently where the most exciting motor racing can be found, and not at a NASCAR event. Rules changes, “aerodynamic modifications” (to avoid another follow-the-leader Brickyard 400), and high-drag packages are being instituted by NASCAR to address their greatest modern-day challenge, which is that their races are boring.

    Why is MAVTV deserving of praise? They bring together dirt-slinging late models, midgets, sprint cars, and even USAC Silver Crown cars (today’s “Dirty 30” weekly half hour racing program had the USAC champ cars at Terre Haute). The result is that you get some of the most talented racers, riskiest slide jobs, slick production, in-car camera views, and non-stop racing action that can be seen on cable TV today. The network has also brought some of the most talented open wheel announcers and interviewers to their team. Earlier this year, MAVTV was present for the ASCS Lucas Oil Sprint Car Winternationals finale at East Bay Raceway Park on February 21st. The race was a slide-job fest, with side-by-side racing and passing throughout the night’s racing. It was the best race in Florida (of any type) this year. MAVTV’s production team did an excellent job, and deserved every bit of praise they received.

    Even that down-on-its-luck, but showing signs of a comeback, segment of short-track racing, pavement sprint car racing, has found a home on MAVTV. Must See Racing, with winged pavement sprint car racing centered in the Midwest including the Little 500, has a deal to air eight events on the weekly Dirty 30 program. Davey Hamilton’s King of the Wing series also had a deal to air their national series races on MAVTV, but that deal was scuttled when Dish Network dropped MAVTV from their channel lineup, and an advertiser for their TV deal jumped ship in turn. Hamilton continues to try to get a TV deal for next year, and a series title sponsor for the national series next year too.

    The best of MAVTV’s motor racing coverage this year has included the finale of the Chili Bowl Midget Nationals, with Rico Abreu’s win, and the East Bay Raceway Winternationals from February, along with the content aired on the Dirty 30 program. This program is produced by Sean Buckley and Jackslash Media, Inc., his production company. The best episodes of this program are yet to come during the second half of 2015, including USAC sprint car and midget races, with races from both the Indiana Midget and Sprint Weeks. Buckley described MAVTV as, “going one hundred percent into motorsports.” Also yet to be aired are the six races from local Indiana dirt tracks that will comprise the Indiana Sprint Car Series, also scheduled for the Dirty 30 weekly program. One of those races has already been run, on July 5th at Kokomo Speedway.

    Is there anything motorsports related that I hope to see MAVTV do that it is not currently doing? Oh yeah. I know exactly what I’d like to see them do, starting this winter. In fact, I already made this recommendation in a conversation with an executive from MAVTV during an informal meeting. I’d like to see the “Winter Sprint Car Series from Florida”. With the current emphasis on Midwest open wheel racing, the network’s TV programming is heavily loaded with sprint car and midget racing during the second half of the year. During the first half of the year, there’s the Chili Bowl and East Bay Raceway races, and a few others. The MAVTV open wheel racing schedule is heavily lopsided; sparse in the first half of the year and overloaded in the second half.

    It’s a dilemma with an easy solution – with tracks in Florida going full bore while Midwest tracks are snow covered. It could be dirt or pavement. I would favor pavement, for three reasons. First, dirt racers may have their attention diverted elsewhere with Winter Heat Series races in Arizona, and the Chili Bowl. Secondly, Florida’s got some great pavement tracks with built-in variety, from Showtime Speedway’s bullring to the high-speed, high-banked New Smyrna Speedway. Thirdly, pavement sprint car teams currently have nothing going on during the winter that draws their attention. Desoto Speedway had a doubleheader sprint car weekend with both winged and non-wing sprint cars in February. This event could be easily folded into a Winter Series. Showtime Speedway, Citrus County Speedway and New Smyrna Speedway all have hosted sprint car races in the past 12 months.

    Was Marshall Pruett’s bias showing when he heaped praise on NBC Sports Network, and never even mentioned MAVTV? Yes, of course. Several writers for Road and Track and Racer magazines have close ties to NBC and the “Big Three” TV motorsports networks, or even have contracts as on-air commentators (Robin Miller is one). Was my bias showing when I praised MAVTV and specifically highlighted their short track racing coverage as “The Best of Motorsports TV Now?” Maybe.

    I don’t dislike the major US motorsports series. I have attended 17 Daytona 500 races (easy for me, as I live in East Central Florida). Since 2005, I go to the Indy 500 every year, and sit in my usual seat on the front stretch (except for the 2 years that I had media credentials). I also covered the IndyCar Series for 3 years for another website, before my current stint with began in 2009. I do enjoy all American Open Wheel Racing. MAVTV deserves to be included with the Big Three networks when listing those who have taken over the TV motorsports mantle upon Speed Channel’s demise. That event created the opportunity that MAVTV has stepped into, and their motorsports coverage has been superb, so far. Keep at it, MAVTV.



    Danny Martin Jr. Goes Pavement Late Model Racing

    By Richard Golardi

    Danny Martin Jr. is going pavement racing. Pavement late model racing, that is. But he’s not giving up dirt sprint car racing quite yet. In fact, he was at Bubba Raceway Park in Ocala last Friday and was a front runner once again, eventually finishing in second place in the sprint car feature race. His two late model races, both at Desoto Speedway, were part of a program involving the Top Gun Sprint series title sponsor, Eagle Jet International and Rick Gabor. It was announced at the Eagle Jet Top Gun awards banquet in January that Danny Martin Jr., as the 2014 Top Gun Champion, would be invited to the Phase1 Motorsports race shop in New Smyrna Beach. He would go there to prepare for a test and practice session with their car, a 2014 Ford Super Late Model. After completing the practice day, then he would get the chanceto race the car at a later date for a one race deal.

    Danny Martin Jr. in Winners Circle in April 2014

    Danny subsequently signed with Phase 1 Motorsports as a Development Driver for the NASCAR Xfinity Series team JD Motorsports. During this process, Rick Gabor played a big part in getting the deal done. He is President of the largest airline First Officer training company in the world, Eagle Jet International in Miami. When Gabor got pneumonia and was very ill earlier this year, it looked like his illness might keep him away from the track and lessen his involvement. I have learned that Gabor has since recovered from his illness, and is doing better physically. After testing the late model once at New Smyrna Speedway in late 2014, Martin has raced in two late model races on May 23rd and June 13th. He had finishes of 14th place and 7th place in those two races at Desoto Speedway.

    The late model races have occurred when Danny had a Saturday night off from dirt track racing. “It’s totally different. I’m struggling a little bit in turns three and four trying to get the car to turn,” Danny admitted just prior to the first race in May. “We’ve been working on it. The crew – I’m probably not giving them the best feedback. So they’re doing the best to work with me, and I’m doing the best to work with them. They’re doing an excellent job and we’re having fun. I’m very thankful for the opportunity,” Martin said, thanking Rick Gabor and Doug Elliott, the Phase 1 Motorsports CEO, for giving him the late model ride.

    Danny was uncertain about the date of his next late model race, but was certain to be seen in the #24 Doug Shaw owned dirt sprint car in Florida, and possibly some Georgia USCS races too. His sprint car feature win total for the year is seven wins, putting him close to the top five in nationwide open wheel race wins. He has won the Eagle Jet Top Gun Sprint Series driver championship for the past two years. In one year of relentless dominance on dirt in 2011, Danny Martin Jr. earned three driver championships, and won an amazing 16 of 18 races entered, for a .889 winning percentage. He raced to championships in the Top Gun Sprint Car Series, the Top Gun Sprint Cars BRP Series (Bubba Raceway Park), and Volusia Speedway Sprints. He also faced down charges of cheating from other competitors (his motor was torn down, and no infractions were found), and in October lost his seat in the car that he had driven to dominance for most of that year.

    Danny Martin Jr. at Desoto Speedway, Photo by Tyler Sontag, SpeedRacer Photos

    Danny was also a father again earlier this year. He daughter Paisley was born in January. Early in the year, he was somewhat frustrated when the race wins were not coming, and then getting a new car ready, his daughter’s birth, and helping his car owner move were demanding his time. “It’s been a rough year so far. Hopefully we’ll get things turned around,” he said early in the year. In short order, the race wins came. He also knew he must be ready when the call came that his car was ready at the Phase 1 Motorsports shop. In addition, “I’m trying to help her a little bit at night when I can, and then go to work, and then go work on the race car at night, and come home and make dinner,” Danny said, in describing his everyday duties at home and work.

    Racing on pavement is not new for Danny, as he raced in some USCS pavement sprint car races, and also TBARA pavement races. “Pavement late models are a whole different animal. It’s big and heavy. We tested really well though, and I get along real well with the crew.” The original plans were to run 8 to 12 late model races during the year, but that was before Rick Gabor’s illness. “They want me to do a three-year deal with them. The first year, we’ll just run 8 to 12 shows local to get some seat time. And then they want to go up into the Carolinas and run some of the bigger shows if we do well.” So you must have had some pretty good lap times from that test if they wanted to sign you to a three year deal? “Yeah, we were right there with everybody else. The car owner just really seems to like me, and he thinks we’ll do OK,” Danny said.

    Danny has spoken to the team about turning some laps in one of the team’s Xfinity Series short track cars, but that opportunity was missed during February Speedweeks. The team was busy with Landon Cassill’s entry in the Xfinity Series race at Daytona that week. “It just didn’t come about. I know the car owner (Johnny Davis) – he’s busy.” Danny hopes to race the late model car as much as possible this year in Florida. “Run that, and then try to run as much 360 stuff as we can. When we’re not doing that, we’ll run Top Gun.” Rick Gabor has been following the series, since his company is the title sponsor for the Top Gun Series. He knows Danny Martin Jr., and he knows his prowess on the track in open wheel racing. It’s easy to understand why he’s ready to take Danny to the next level in his racing career.

    Last week’s feature race video from the Florida Open Wheel channel is here (Top Gun Sprint Series at Bubba Raceway Park on 7-3-2015):




    Back Home Again in Florida

    By Richard Golardi

    Troy DeCaire’s Back

    Troy DeCaire confirmed that he was moving back to Florida, and that he was looking for employment in the Tampa area. DeCaire had been living in the Indianapolis area for most of his twenties, and is now 29 years old. This will likely be good news for his fans, as they will see him racing more frequently in Florida. The Sunshine State was where Troy earned his first wins and championships, most notably winning the TBARA driver title in 2007 and 2008. After the move to the Midwest, he garnered titles in winged pavement competition with the Must See Racing Xtreme Sprint Series. At a memorable race with the Must See Racing series at Bristol Motor Speedway in October 2011, Troy went into this event with a very small points lead, looking for his second consecutive Must See Racing series point championship. DeCaire was forced to start in last place, 22nd position, when motor problems caused him to miss qualifying. Then he went to work, methodically picking off cars almost every lap and thrilling the onlookers. On the last lap, a pass that DeCaire completed at the finish line got him second place and the MRXSS 2011 championship. DeCaire and car owner Lenny Puglio have already tested at Showtime Speedway, and appeared to be preparing for Florida races at Showtime and Desoto Speedway.

    Water-logged Winchester Speedway on Saturday


    New USAC Silver Crown Team from Florida

    Car owner Troy Thompson recently announced the purchase of a Hurricane branded Silver Crown car for his race team. Thompson has recently raced in Florida sprint car competition with cars for himself and Shane Butler. “It was owned by the late Mr. Moore, the frame is a Hurricane. As far as I know it's the only Dirt Champ Car built by Jerry Stuckey,” Thompson said. He also confirmed that the drivers would be Shane Butler and himself, but that a motor is still needed. The team has a goal to race the car in 2016. Since Floridian Dave Steele won the USAC Silver Crown title in 2004 and 2005, Floridians’ involvement in USAC Silver Crown competition has been minimal. There have been no Florida tracks on the Silver Crown schedule recently. The series dirt tracks have included the Indy mile, and the mile tracks at Springfield and Du Quoin in addition to Terre Haute and Eldora Speedway.

    King of the Wing heat race at Anderson Speedway


    Back in Florida after King of the Wing Weekend in Ohio and Indiana

    The weekend’s competition on three tracks in three days for the King of the Wing Sprint Car Series morphed into two races in three days with the cancellation of the Saturday race at Winchester Speedway in Indiana. I made the trip to Indianapolis on Thursday, planning to make a stop at the Anderson Public Library for research, as they have decades of Anderson, Indiana area newspapers on microfilm. This is a valuable resource that is not available online. After arriving late to Toledo Speedway for the Friday night event, I learned that Aaron Pierce had already set a new track record at 147.3 mph. Canadian Ryan Litt won the feature race for his first King of the Wing trophy, holding off challenges from several drivers. Kyle Edwards brought out a red flag on lap 4 after a hard crash, and was uninjured.

    Top three finishers at Anderson Speedway on Sunday; Pierce, Blonde and Gerster


    With no drivers from Florida, I did spot a little bit of Florida in the race in the form of two Hurricane chassis race cars for the team of Mike Stutsman and John Turnbull Jr. The team was new to sprint car competition, having competed in late model racing most recently. I found them working on their cars in an Anderson motel parking lot on Sunday morning. The restrictor rule for 410 motors was abandoned for the weekend, although there was no official announcement from King of the Wing officials. It came from the Auto Value Super Sprints, who co-sanctioned with King of the Wing and made the announcement that the restrictor rule would be waived. This was done two days before the races in an attempt to increase car count for the weekend. There were 19 cars in the feature at Toledo on Friday, and 16 cars for Anderson Speedway on Sunday. Davey Hamilton had a change of heart about racing in his own series and raced on Sunday at Anderson to increase car count.

    Having never seen a sprint car race at Winchester Speedway, this was the race that I wanted to see the most. The only Winchester race held during the weekend was for the ARCA stock cars on Sunday afternoon. The 2 pm start at Winchester allowed for a 5 pm Sunday arrival at Anderson. The only sprint cars to take to the high banks of Winchester were vintage sprint cars. A wet track and large pool of water covering the apron and infield in turns 3 and 4 were the main culprits. There was light rain that delayed the ARCA practice until 5:45 pm. They were finished by 6:48 pm Saturday. Although all the pits were filled with ARCA cars, I observed a lack of rain and a dry track that would have allowed the King of the Wing race at Winchester sufficient time to be completed, albeit with almost empty stands. The ARCA event was given priority, with a CBS Sports national TV audience and greater buzz.

    Feature race start Davey Hamilton Jr


    It felt as though the sprint cars were being treated like the unwanted ugly stepchild. The glass slipper was never offered, and they were not invited to the gala ball, being forced to pit in downtown Winchester and track access roads. I spoke to series owner Davey Hamilton the next day, and he explained that he supported the decision to cancel, which was made in consultation with Winchester track management. Clearing the pits (beginning sometime after 7 pm), then running sprint car practice and qualifying and a feature, all while weepers in turns 3 and 4 were dampening the track, and then finishing at a reasonable hour became an impossible task. Back in Florida by Monday morning, I felt exhausted but grateful to see races at both Toledo Speedway and Winchester Speedway (ARCA) for the first time. Thank you to all the tracks and to the King of the Wing series.


    Aaron Pierce’s Record Setting Toledo Speedway Lap:

    Anderson Speedway King of the Wing Sunday 6-28-2015 feature race:

    Davey Hamilton Jr. at Anderson Speedway, 6-28-2015, GoPro Camera:




    Florida Open Wheel Summer Race Report

    By Richard Golardi

    Danny’s Domination With his seventh sprint car feature race win of the year, Danny Martin Jr. is one win away from moving into a tie for fifth place on the national win list. His most recent win occurred at Volusia Speedway Park last Saturday, a Top Gun Series race. The other Floridian showing on the list is Matt Kurtz, with four wins in 2015 (Source: Garrett Green had another heat race win that night and seems to be moving closer to his first dirt feature win. Green made the transition this year to race primarily on dirt, and only occasionally on pavement. Matt Kurtz, AJ Maddox, Gene Lasker and Danny Martin Jr. are closely grouped near the top of the Eagle Jet Top Gun Series point standings at mid-year. The next series race is at Bubba Raceway Park on Friday, 7/3.

    Anthony Cataldi

    Desoto’s Down The winged sprint car race scheduled for last Saturday at Desoto Speedway seemed to be shaping up as one of the best Florida pavement sprint car races so far this year. But it was not to be, as it was rained out. After heading up I-75 and I-275 to the St. Pete area (Pinellas Park’s Showtime Speedway), I found that an impromptu sprint car exhibition race was added to the night’s schedule when Troy Thompson, Shane Butler and their combined teams showed up the mile track at Showtime. Using the opportunity to hype the upcoming winged sprint car races at Showtime and show off the cars, a short sprint car exhibition preceded the night’s main event with Super Late Model race cars. Davey Hamilton was reported to be in town for the race at Desoto Speedway, as he had recently recommitted to working to build the King of the Wing series. There are no other sprint car dates on the schedule at Desoto Speedway for the remainder of the summer.

    Anthony Cataldi Making the Move to Open Wheel? Anthony Cataldi, the nineteen year old super late model racer who most recently raced at Showtime Speedway, has told me that there may be an upcoming opportunity to race for a local pavement sprint car owner. Nothing is finalized yet for the former kart and Legend racer. I have learned that there may be some upcoming practice sessions in two weeks, and he may know more about the new opportunity by the end of July.

    Sprint car exhibition at Showtime Speedway

    Florida’s Summer of Dirt With only two pavement sprint car races confirmed for the rest of the summer in Florida (Showtime Speedway on 7/11 and 8/29), the rest of the summer will be dominated by dirt racing. East Bay Raceway Park is ramping up their racing while other tracks slow their activity. There are eight Florida dirt sprint car races on the schedule between today and Labor Day (Monday, 9/7). Four of the races are at East Bay, and two are at Bubba Raceway Park, and one race each at Volusia Speedway Park and Hendry County Motorsports Park. The next race is on Thursday, 7/2 at East Bay Raceway Park for the East Bay Sprints.

    Florida Dominates the Indy 500 Floridians have now won the past three Indianapolis 500 mile races, and four out of the past five races. Juan Pablo Montoya, 2015 winner (Miami resident), was preceded by Ryan Hunter-Reay, 2014 winner (Fort Lauderdale resident), who was preceded by 2013 race winner Tony Kanaan (Miami resident). With Dan Wheldon’s win in 2011 (Dan and family resided in St. Petersburg), the only non-Floridian to win in the past 5 races was Dario Franchitti, who won in 2012 (and 2007 and 2010). Franchitti moved to Scotland after retiring from auto racing in 2013, and had lived in Tennessee when he was previously married to Ashley Judd. Hunter-Reay’s win in 2014 was the first for an American driver from Florida since Jim Rathmann’s 1960 Indy 500 race win. If you found yourself behind a car with a Florida license plate that read “JR 500” while traveling the Melbourne Causeway between Melbourne and Indialantic, that was likely Jim Rathmann behind the wheel. Rathmann owned and operated Jim Rathmann Chevrolet in Melbourne for decades.

    Sprint cars at East Bay Raceway Park

    Anderson’s Mystery Man From the ’93 Little 500 Do you know this man? He’s from the Anderson, Indiana area. He’s a part of Florida sprint car racing history, even though he’s known for his unselfish actions at an event held far from Florida. The location was Anderson Speedway in Indiana during the running of the 1993 Little 500. He climbed under the fence that year at the Little 500 to step onto the track at Anderson Speedway to signal Frank Riddle that he was on fire. He stood beside the car, with Riddle still strapped in, even when the car was engulfed in flames. He then helped Riddle get out of the flaming wreck. I am working on a book on Florida's sprint car legends, and I am trying to locate and interview this man regarding this incident. I'll be in Anderson, Indiana on Friday, and at the track next Sunday, 6/28 for the King of the Wing race. If you know his name or how to contact him, please let me know. There’s a photo of him on the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame Facebook page, and my page too. Here’s my email address:




    The Future of Pavement Sprint Car Racing in Florida – 2015 Edition

    By Richard Golardi

    An uncertain future for pavement sprint car racing in Florida was a plight unforeseen during the latter half of 2014. TBARA appeared to have weathered its troubles, and few believed that an end could be near for the venerable Sunshine State mainstay. After all, they had been racing since the 1970s and the feuds that frayed member’s nerves were hardly a new development. A new player was visible on the horizon – Davey Hamilton and his King of the Wing Series. Although Showtime Speedway produced an initial 2015 race schedule with no sprint car racing, both Citrus County Speedway and Desoto Speedway later committed to monthly sprint car racing for at least a portion of the year. Showtime later added sprint car race dates, as they had done in the two prior years.

    Davey Hamilton holds the restrictor used by the King of the Wing Series

    A new track approached the point of being ready for sprint car racing, and then retreated each time they seemed close to reaching that goal. Three Palms Speedway in Punta Gorda has had their reputation tarnished by an employee scandal, charges of unpaid bills for fence construction and utilities, and charges that they are not in compliance with their lease. I have learned that the Charlotte County Airport Authority’s Airport Director, Gary Quill, has directed their attorney to make sure that the Haase family (the current leaseholder) is in compliance with their lease.

    “From our perspective, we are the landlord, and we are charged with making sure they are in compliance with the lease,” Gary Quill told me earlier today. “We are aware of a water bill that has not been paid. As of right now, they are current on their rent. We have some other concerns. We have asked him (referring to Mr. Haase) to provide proof of insurance. We have required, in lieu of the bond, some capital improvements including the grandstands. These improvements have not been completed. That’s a concern,” Airport Director Quill stated. I have confirmed that a fence contractor who appeared at the Charlotte County Airport Authority’s meeting last Thursday stated that he had not been paid for the catch fence construction that he completed at the speedway. The contractor was told that he would have to take up this matter with his own attorney if he is owed money by the leaseholder, the Haase family. “From our perspective, that’s not involved in our relationship (as a landlord),” Quill told me today.

    The meeting minutes from last week’s Airport Authority meeting will not be available for several weeks. The names of the persons who spoke at the meeting would be revealed by this document. It may also give a clearer view on the possibility of the Haase family having their lease revoked in the near future. The attorney for the airport authority has not delivered a public report as of this date. No sprint car racing bodies have expressed a desire to race at Three Palms Speedway in their current state, lacking spectator seating. The FMRA (Florida Midget Racing Association) has raced their TQ midgets at the track. Most of the TQ midget community is based out of the Southwest Florida area near Three Palms.

    The Tampa Bay Area Racing Association had planned to have races this year. Their choice of potential race venues has been dwindling. They remain committed to winged pavement racing. Three Palms Speedway appears to be in an unstable position, and has no stands. Citrus County Speedway has temporarily stopped racing, with plans to resume racing late in July. Showtime Speedway and Desoto Speedway have moved forward to schedule their own sprint car races, both with and without wings. New Smyrna Speedway has no sprint car racing scheduled. The King of the Wing Series emerged as a rival for Florida pavement sprint car racing at the same tracks where TBARA had raced. This occurred after a January 2015 meeting between Davey Hamilton and the Florida racing community. Hamilton emerged from this meeting to declare, “I'm doing it then. I'll tell you right now I'm doing it," after hearing support from the racing community.

    TBARA heat race start at sunset at Desoto Speedway

    During the meeting, no one urged him not to go forward with his plans. Hamilton proposed that there be a Southeast regional series, operating under the banner of the King of the Wing Series. "I am going to start working on it immediately," Hamilton stated in January. Subsequently, there have been some planning meetings, but no announced progress toward a Southern Sprint Car Series (the name of the Southeast regional series) race schedule for 2015. The King of the Wing national series race held at Pensacola’s Five Flags Speedway in April was also the inaugural Southern Sprint Car Series race. Floridians Troy DeCaire and Dave Steele looked strong in this season-opening race, and should be considered as contenders in the remaining nine national races.

    TBARA Vice President Josh Wichers informed me that the club is still attempting to build a 2015 race schedule, but has no confirmed race dates. Earlier this year, Citrus County Speedway promoter Gary Laplant stated that he was approached to schedule two TBARA race dates for 2015. Wichers told me that both he and TBARA President Jerry Mathis have been talking to tracks regarding 2015 race dates. “All of the tracks already have their schedule set for the season and it’s kind of hard for them to insert us when they already have a full slate pretty much for the rest of the year,” Josh Wichers said. So there may be no 2015 TBARA season? “I wouldn’t say that yet. We’re both still working pretty diligently to make it happen.” There are many supporters of The Frank Riddle Memorial Race, held in October, that would still like to see that race happen, I stated. “Absolutely. That’s one of the priorities on my list too,” Wichers said. “I’d like to at least get four or five on the book this year. That’s my goal. Just to let everybody know we’re still alive,” he added.

    Regarding the possibility of a future effort to launch the Southern Sprint Car Series, with 410s allowed to race with restrictors along with unrestricted 360s, Wichers remarked that “they know that they can’t be competitive even with the restrictors. There’s still a lot of hesitation out there. I don’t think a three-year plan is realistic for a lot of the guys down here.” King of the Wing and Davey Hamilton announced their intention to use restrictors on 410 motors for the next three years before transitioning to using 410 motors exclusively. This would force Florida car owners to purchase a 410 motor or give up racing with King of the Wing, either nationally or in the regional series. “I expressed that concern to him when he told me. These guys are on a budget down here and it’s hard for them to plan on buying another $30,000 motor in three years,” Wichers said, recalling his conversation with Davey Hamilton. Monthly sprint car racing with 360 motors in Florida seems to have reached a certain level of stability for fan interest and car owner participation. The most recent pavement race in Florida had fourteen cars in the feature race.

    “I didn’t come down there to step on anybody’s toes, first of all,” Davey Hamilton said reassuringly in a recent interview. “TBARA is a strong series, and I know that there’s some people down there that have passion for it. I made the race down in Pensacola a Southern Sprint Car event to see how much support I got from the racers in Florida because that was a key element of trying to make it happen down there. And unfortunately, I only had a handful of guys that are really supporting the series because there’s a 360/410 situation.” This was the first time I had asked Hamilton about the number of Floridians that showed for the Florida King of the Wing race in April, and the first time he had expressed disappointment about that number.

    What about the fact that TBARA has no races scheduled for 2015? Would that encourage you to move the timetable forward for starting the current Southern Sprint Car Series race season? “Yeah, that’s part of it. I’ve contacted some sponsors, and unfortunately haven’t been able to get them to call back. That’s a big part of getting the proper purse structure. There’s a lot of negativity floating around there unfortunately, and I hate that. I don’t know that area that well and it seemed like the majority of the racers, they’re just scared of the 410s with restrictors and 360 open combination. I need everybody to support it, or not do it.” Hamilton admitted that he could have to spend a considerable amount of his own money in Florida to assure success, but he’d have the chance to make his money back long-term with continued success in the state.

    “As for this year, I just don’t feel the support financially from the parties involved to go forward with races,” Hamilton admitted. “I’m not going to come down there to be a second series. It got to be that I was on, then I was off, and then I was on, and then I was off. Every time that I was off, I got a little more discouraged because they said, ‘hey, TBARA is going to fire up again.’ As long as you guys stay healthy, King of the Wing is nothing. Nothing, without TBARA, Must See, Auto Value, Western Super Sprints, and the Northwest Race Association – healthy. I need all five of those divisions healthy, or King of the Wing is nothing. I would just as soon it be the TBARA, and do all I could do to help them, I guess, and try to get them in the same direction as all the other groups are going, except for Florida. I just can’t get my arms around what I have to do to make sure the racers believe in this, and want to see it grow and move forward.”

    Hamilton said he was surprised to hear what a Florida car owner spent to purchase a 360 motor, and knew a decent 410 could be bought for half the money. He had hoped that more Florida car owners would have raced with a 360 motor in Pensacola, as he believed that they would have been very fast. “I’m not giving up. Don’t think I’m giving up on it,” he reiterated. “But on the other side of the coin, I’m not going to make a rash movement to come down there and schedule a few races and not have the proper funding behind them and not have the proper strategy with the race tracks. Like I said, I’m not going to give up, but I’ve got to think long and hard about how we do it to have a 90% chance of being successful.”

    The next pavement sprint car race in Florida is this Saturday. It will be a non-sanctioned winged sprint car race at Desoto Speedway. Then Showtime Speedway is up next a few weeks later, with winged racing again. For now, that’s the status quo in Florida. All the major dirt sprint car racing series show up in Florida in February during Speedweeks. Pavement sprint car racing does not have anything equivalent to this, other than a single race during the early spring season. After then Florida is on its own, with an uncertain future for pavement sprint car racing.

    The Indy 2015 video, a retrospective of the 2015 Indianapolis race week in May 2015, is here on the Florida Open Wheel channel:



    Showtime Speedway – Restart Cone or Restart Zone?

    By Richard Golardi

    Showtime Speedway Promoter Robert Yoho, who leases the track property from the State of Florida, signaled for Dave Steele to go to the back of the pack during last Saturday’s winged sprint car feature race. A single cone at the exit of the fourth turn, where Yoho stood, marked the spot where drivers were to begin accelerating on all starts, or risk the penalty of being sent to the rear of the pack immediately. Yoho decided that Steele had begun accelerating too early (the only such penalty during the feature race), and swung his arm in a wide arc to signal to Steele that he must fall back to the rear, after leading for multiple laps midway in the race.

    Dave Steele at Showtime Speedway

    The winged sprint car race, coming one week after the Little 500 in Indiana, could be viewed as a type of “Consolation Race for Non-Little 500 Starters”, assuming that the three Floridians who made the trip to Anderson, Indiana the prior week would take the weekend off from racing. Car owners Lenny Puglio and Doug Kenny, with drivers Troy DeCaire and Mickey Kempgens, did not race. Dave Steele, who placed second in the Little 500 after battling Chris Windom to the finish in an attempt to win his third Little 500, was back at the track. Steele was sure to be at his usual level of maximum intensity at the track, possibly even raised to a new level by missing out on winning the prior week. He’s not used to finishing second.

    As he had in the prior two years, Robert Yoho had added several sprint car race dates to the track’s schedule, after an initial 2015 race schedule showed no sprint car racing. All of the initial added dates were winged sprint car race dates, likely due to the paucity of winged sprint car racing in the state. Cancelled race dates at Citrus County Speedway, which held monthly non-wing sprint car racing on the first Saturday of each month, led Showtime to add a non-wing date for this Saturday. Desoto Speedway added winged sprint car racing, with no TBARA race dates planned for the year. They race sprint cars on June 20th, take the rest of the summer off, and then resume monthly winged race dates again in September.

    Promoter Robert Yoho speaks to drivers

    The feature race saw another car from the Steele Performance stables out of Tampa lead early. It was a car that was previously numbered 33, and driven by Dave Steele. It was now number 22, still painted white, and driven by Johnny Gilbertson. Another early leader was the current Showtime Speedway track champion, Sport Allen. Allen had made some initial plans to race at the Little 500 this year, and later changed those plans. The team will try again next year, which would mark 31 years since the last time that Allen raced in the Little 500 as a 14 year old racer. Shane Butler, racing his own #18 car, explained that he would return the next week for the non-wing race, but would be driving Troy Thompson’s vibrantly colored green and orange #15 car, in which he won a Citrus County Speedway non-wing race this year.

    In my discussions with car owners, officials, and drivers last Saturday at Showtime Speedway, none of them expressed support for the decision to penalize Dave Steele for “jumping the restart” by accelerating too early. Many stated that they thought it was unfair and unwarranted. An unanswered question remained as to whether there would be any change to the method of using one cone to mark the “restart spot” in turn four. Does the cone placement demand that both drivers, in a double-file restart used at Showtime, accelerate together at the exact spot where the cone is located, a near-impossible task to accomplish? Would the track consider a “restart zone”, however small, instead? Two cones, placed a short distance apart, would make the task of restarting in a specified area much more within the range of human ability. A demand that restarts be at an exact spot, with a one-foot wide cone marking that spot, and no second chances, could be viewed as too harsh, and may drive away talented teams and drivers (rumors swirl as to whether Dave Steele will be back).

    Sport Allen in Winners Circle at Showtime Speedway

    After the penalty to Dave Steele late in the feature race, Sport Allen resumed the lead. Steele made his oft-seen charge through the field to finish in second place for the second weekend in a row. Allen expressed doubt as to whether he would have been the one in the Winners Circle if Steele had not been penalized. “Had a lot of luck,” Sport Allen said. “The restarts were getting weird. I thought the starts were acceptable, honestly.” You don’t think that either Gilbertson or Steele jumped the start? “No, I don’t. I mean, I was right next to them. I didn’t think they jumped. Both of them had pretty good forward drive and this one, I was just spinning the tires and it just wasn’t taking off the way I wanted it to. We were even at the line. He may have got me by a wheel. It just looks exaggerated if his car settles down and drives forward that much better, and I’m just sitting here spinning my tires. It looks more exaggerated, like he jumped the start.”

    Allen expressed that Steele was “long gone” during the mid-race green flag stretch, and that he wouldn’t have been able to catch him and compete for the race win. “I would have never reeled him in. He was long gone,” Allen said. What would he propose if the current one cone, double file restart system is not working fairly? “Honestly, I don’t agree with sprint cars doing double file restarts. That’ll fix a lot of it. If we’ve got a single file going by the cone, you can be right on the guy in front of you, and we’re bumper to bumper and there’s no issues. Just like on the dirt. We have to go by a cone on the front straightaway. That would police it somewhat. No row jumped another row, because you’re one behind the other. On the flip side of that, back in the eighties, everywhere we raced, when the green was out, it was green buddy. Let’s go. When the green is out, it’s out, or we have to over police it, and be single file. These double file restarts work good for stock cars. It doesn’t work for sprint cars. I think restarts should be single file.”

    Sport was happy to get the win for sponsor Dayton Andrews Dodge, and he also had people from BG Products who were present at the track to witness his feature race win. “I don’t want to be accused of getting a gimme. Maybe a gimme. I don’t know. But, if somebody walked up and gave you a hundred bucks, would you take it, or no?” His next race? “Non-wing here next week, I believe.” He considers it likely that they will also race in the last winged sprint car race of the summer at Desoto Speedway two weeks later, on June 20th.

    The feature race video from Showtime Speedway on Saturday, May 30, 2015 can be seen here:




    The Floridians Are Back at the 2015 Little 500

    By Richard Golardi

    Thirty years ago, on Saturday May, 25, 1985, the Little 500 at Anderson Speedway was dominated by drivers from Florida. Frank Riddle, a Tampa resident, won the race after a late race battle with a driver from the Midwest, Bob Frey. This was the second of three straight years with a Floridian in the Winners Circle at the Little 500. Thirty years later, the number of Floridians making the trek to Central Indiana for the Little 500 has been reduced substantially. Thirty years ago, the starting field included thirteen Floridians. This year had three Floridians. But, all three have multiple sprint car racing championships.

    Could this year see a repeat of the scenario seen in 1985, with a driver from Florida and one from the Midwest battled it out for the race win, with the Floridian taking the win? It would be a shocking coincidence if it actually happened, coming just two days prior to the 30th anniversary of the 1985 race, The Year of the Floridians.

    2015 Florida Driver Group Photo at the Little 500

    This year had already seen one national sprint car event with Floridians doing extraordinarily well. This occurred at the East Bay Winternationals in February, a Lucas Oil ASCS race at East Bay Raceway Park. It could happen a second time this year at the Little 500, as the talent level of the trio of Floridians was very high, and the equipment that they brought to this year’s race had taken a leap forward in quality. Dave Steele showed no signs of slowing with age, despite being almost two decades older since his first win in 1996. Steele had multiple race wins in Florida in 2015. Troy DeCaire and Mickey Kempgens were both in their twenties and at the height of their skill levels.

    The trio from Florida all qualified in the middle of the pack, but did not seem to be too concerned with their qualifying plight. They had worked on their cars since the Thursday qualifying round, and any problems that popped up seem to have been conquered. Crews and car owners that roamed the pits on Friday seemed to be quietly confident, almost subdued. As a two-time winner returning to the race for the first time in six years, Dave Steele drew the most attention. Mickey Kempgens, well known in Florida for his tenacity and race wins, had made it to the finish at 500 laps in both his prior race starts. He was still mostly unknown in the Midwest. “Mickey Kempgens? Who is this guy” Have you heard of him before?” Those were words overheard in the spectator stands on Saturday night. Kempgens was getting noticed. He had sliced through the field from his 19th starting spot, and was in the lead of the Little 500.

    Troy DeCaire on the pace lap at the 2015 Little 500

    “We needed a left rear tire. We came in at around 300 and couldn’t get the left rear off,” Mickey Kempgens said. “That left rear’s slap worn out. If we had a left rear and right rear on lap 300, they wouldn’t have caught us. We were real good, but it just got way too loose towards the end and at lap 400, the restart when I was leading it, the motor started breaking up a little bit. Honestly, I was just trying to salvage – I was running fourth. Don’t think anyone could have got to me, but passing a lapped car, guy’s an idiot and turned right on me. Tore the hell out of the car. I was on the outside, lapping him for like the twentieth time. He hit the gas and drilled me in the left rear. Spun me around.” In the late race wreck, the lapped car then climbed over the top of the car of Kempgens, with its tires bouncing over the top of the roll cage, without striking Kempgens. Mickey had put up his hands initially, but then drew them back as the lapped car climbed over his. A tire did get inside the cockpit, and was about six inches away from him at the closest point.

    “It was a handful those last fifty laps,” Kempgens said. After the turn 2 wreck, Kempgens got pushed off again, and reentered the race with damaged parts. “Right front shock’s broke, front axle’s bent, panhard’s bent, draglink’s bent, body’s destroyed.” How was he still able to drive it around in that condition? “Very carefully,” he replied. “David (Steele) was fast. Real fast. I was hoping we were going to run one-two. They knew we were here. We had a good night. Led over a hundred laps. Ran top five, basically all night. I’m happy. Well disappointed, but I’m happy with what we did. We’ll come back next year.” The laps that he led came after the disastrous pit stop, when the crew could not remove the worn left rear tire. He held off the field with an extremely worn rear tire, led many laps, and finally brought it to the finish line in eighth place. The car was badly bent and had the same left rear tire that was on the car at the start. “Who’s this guy?” Those are words you likely won’t hear from the stands next year.

    Troy DeCaire and crew at the 2015 Little 500

    The team was reunited, and they were back. They were car owner Lenny Puglio, crew chief Todd Schmidt, driver Troy DeCaire, and a car built specially for this race, nicknamed “Half Breed.” The team had won in Florida in late 2014. They looked fast at Pensacola in April for the season opening King of the Wing series race. DeCaire’s status in this year’s Little 500 was somewhat similar to Mickey Kempgens and his car owner, Doug Kenny. Both drivers have car owners that are willing to spend the money necessary to win, and have high quality equipment available for their respective drivers.

    DeCaire’s night ended early, as smoke began pouring from the car’s motor at the first caution period, after only a few laps of racing. He pulled into the pits, and Todd Schmidt and crew peered down into the cockpit for a minute before Schmidt signaled for DeCaire to get out of the car. “Half Breed” would not turn another lap that night, and spent the rest of the evening on a small patch of infield grass as other cars sped by for several more hours.

    Dave Steele and Troy DeCaire greet each other prior to the race

    “The u-joint hit the buckley joint and the buckley joint rubbed the driveshaft up into the torque tube and broke our driveline early,” DeCaire explained. “I guess on the bright side we didn’t wear out the rest of the car waiting on the driveline to break. That’s the Little 500, right? We’ll come back next year. Lenny Puglio gives me a hell of a race car. Everything’s brand new on it, so you can’t complain about that. It’s just sometimes man-made parts break.” DeCaire described how all of the parts in the driveline were new, and the preparation for the big race was meticulous. Sometimes bad luck intercedes, as it did this night for Troy DeCaire and crew. “It’s a shame,” Troy lamented. “Lenny will fix it and we’ll be back. There’s always next year. I’ll be here somehow. You can count on that.”

    After 181 laps, Dave Steele was in fourth place, after starting in 18th place. At the 350 lap mark, he was in third place, one lap down to Mickey Kempgens in first place and Chris Windom in second. Lap 372, same situation. Then Steele was moving forward, making passes. He is right on the bumper of the #68 car of Kempgens, and passes him on the 403rd lap to get back on the lead lap. With Kempgens slowed by a worn rear tire, he is passed by Windom, and then Steele, who are now in first and second place. A crash with the #36 car in turn 2 on lap 449 ends any chance that Kempgens has of winning, but he gets back into the race with his damaged car.

    The last run to the checkered flag started on lap 459, with Windom in first place. Steele was now right on his rear bumper. The battle to the finish would take place between these two drivers, one from Florida and one from the Midwest. It was just like 1985, except that the Floridian was trailing the driver from the Midwest. Dave Steele had been in this situation many times before. The usual outcome involved Dave Steele making the pass and winning.

    Dave Steele in his car prior to the race start

    Steele moved to pass Windom’s car twice during the last run to the checkered flag, reaching the side of Windom’s car in traffic each time. He could not make the pass. There would be no repeat of the scenario from 1985, when the driver from Florida battled the driver from the Midwest and won. Windom would win the 2015 Little 500, his second win in the race. Dave Steele would finish in second place.

    “I knew we were going to have to be dead even going into the corner. Leading this thing, nobody’s going to give it up that easy,” Dave Steele said. “Just came up a little bit short. Crew did a good job. Car’s in one piece, have to settle for second. He was fast at the end. We were maybe the same speed, but you’ve got to be a little faster to pass him.” Steele revealed that he did come close to being caught up in one of the early race wrecks in turns one and two that took out many cars. He did not reveal whether he intends to return next year. Maybe if the scenario from 1985 had been repeated, and a Floridian was the one drinking the milk in the Winners Circle, Dave Steele might have revealed his plans. Or, maybe he would have kept everyone guessing. One thing is certain. The Floridians are back.



    Three Floridians Make the Field for the 2015 Little 500

    By Richard Golardi

    All three of the Floridians in the field for Saturday’s 67th running of the Pay Less Little 500 at Anderson Speedway have multiple sprint car racing championships. It would be plausible to say that Florida has sent some of their best pavement sprint car racers to the Little 500 this year. Along with Mickey Kempgens and Troy DeCaire, two-time race winner Dave Steele is back on the grid this year. It is the first time back in the Little 500 for Steele since his race win in 2009. He also won the race in Jack Nowling’s sprint car in 1996. That win came when Steele was in his 20s, and the second when he was in his mid 30s. He is now 41 years old. In practice at Anderson today, he posted the fastest practice lap.

    Mickey Kempgens applies the new car number to his car in preparation for tomorrow's Little 500

    When asked if he thought he was as physically fit now at age 41, as when he had his two Little 500 wins, Steele replied, “probably not.” What is his chance of winning his third on Saturday night? “Well, it’s as good as anybody. Our starting spot isn’t as good as we’d like.” In addition, Steele told me that the motor problems that they had earlier in the week have been fixed. “Lack of practice time because of the motor,” was how he described the other problem encountered during the week.

    Mickey Kempgens’ situation for this year’s Little 500 appears substantially different than last year. Again, George Rudolph is guiding activity in the pits. There is a new car owner, Doug Kenny, and there are younger crew members, including Fueler and Hoseman LJ Grimm and Devin McLeod. The money that has been spent for this effort is evident, from the transporter to the car and engine. The confidence levels are high, the car looks good (now renumbered to #68, George Rudolph’s car number), and the smiles on the face of crew, owner and driver were easy to see today in the pits. This team is mounting a serious effort that will be Mickey’s best chance yet to win the race.

    “We’ve been struggling all week long, from the time we unloaded until just this morning,” Mickey told me, while we sat in the team’s RV near their pit work area. “Brand new car. Still haven’t found that sweet spot yet. But we’ve been working all week, and thought we had it pretty good Wednesday morning.” That was the point in time when the team switched their attention to their winged car, and the Must See Racing 60-lap race at Anderson on Wednesday night. Upon returning to the Little 500 car on Thursday (pole position qualifying day), the car was “not good … again. Made a bunch of changes, went out to qualify and we were just way too tight. I couldn’t get back in the throttle and we didn’t qualify very well.” After a couple of rounds of major changes to the setup, the car was back to handling the way the way he wanted by Friday afternoon. They were ready for Saturday. “We should be good to go for tomorrow.”

    Troy DeCaire's new 'driver nickname', appearing on his car for the first time at Anderson Speedway

    Will he win on Saturday night? “We’ve got a really good shot at it,” Mickey Kempgens replied. “The car’s real good in race trim. We’ve got a hell of a crew this year. I think we can go win it. George is crew chief, Richard is tire guy, Charlie, Jimmy and Frasier are changing tires. LJ Grimm and Devin McLeod are doing fuel (both of them modified race drivers from Florida). And Dad (Ted Kempgens) is spotting.” Kempgens agrees that one of the skills that he brings to this race is his ability to make it to the end of a long race by avoiding trouble, and avoiding causing damage to the car, while still pushing hard during the course of the race.

    Dave Steele prepares his car in the pits at Anderson Speedway

    Troy DeCaire is back. Troy “the Rocketman” DeCaire. That’s the new sticker with a new nickname seen for the first time on his car in the pits at Anderson Speedway today. The car has a nickname too. Yeah, this team seems to like nicknames. “Half Breed” is the car’s nickname. Car owner Lenny Puglio and Crew Chief Todd Schmidt tell me that they gave this nickname to Troy, and decided to put it on the car this week. “That's what he looks like when he takes off at the start of the race." That was the explanation offered by car owner and crew chief, when asked how the new nickname came to be placed on the car. What about “Half Breed?” That one is a little more confusing, but involves a Spike Chassis that isn’t really a Spike Chassis, because it’s been modified to some degree. So, don’t believe the Spike Chassis sticker on the car.

    The team that is reuniting for their first Little 500 race together since 2012 includes DeCaire driving, car owner Lenny Puglio, crew chief Todd Schmidt and Half Breed, with included nickname stickers for car and driver. The car was running in second place during the 500 that year, before dropping out later. They have won winged sprint car races together in Florida in subsequent years, in another car. They will run more King of the Wing races together, including the races in the Midwest next month (Toledo, Winchester, and then back to Anderson).

    Troy DeCaire and crew chief Todd Scmidt observe the handling of his car while watching the video file from the GoPro camera.

    “There’s probably like fifteen or twenty guys that can win this thing. It’s one the toughest fields I’ve ever seen,” Troy DeCaire observed. “Look at the front row – Bobby Santos, Kody Swanson, guys who didn’t normally get a chance to run this race. It’s getting more and more intense every year. You’ve kind of got to respect this race a lot more than others.” Can he win on Saturday? “I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t think that I could do it. It’s really up to me. This race car – there’s nothing low key on it. It’s top notch from front to back. In their mind, they put a top notch driver in it and I just hope I live up to that. You know, with a little bit of luck and some help, we could definitely be the guy to beat and hopefully I am stopping out there on the front stretch at the end of the race.” At twenty nine years old, this is Troy DeCaire’s tenth attempt to win and add his name to the list of Florida drivers who have won the Little 500.

    Track owner Rick Dawson is feeling very upbeat about the race this year, and the upswing in the race’s popularity in the past few years. “The cars that have qualified are some of the best that you’ll ever see anywhere. Any of twenty to twenty five cars that I can name are very capable of winning that race. It’s going to be fast and it’s going to be exciting. Every year for the past three or four years, I’ve said that the quality of the field is the best that I’ve ever seen, and this year is no exception.”





    Frank Riddle at Golden Gate Speedway in 1983, Bobby Day Photo

    1985 Little 500 – The Year of the Floridians

    By Richard Golardi

    The 1984 Little 500 at Anderson Speedway in Indiana was a special race for the drivers from Florida. Frank Riddle set new one and four-lap track records during qualifying to win his third pole position in as many starts. The race was important to Riddle, as it’s widely recognized as the premier pavement sprint car race in the nation. Floridians would fill the front row, with Robert Smith and Hardy Maddox beside Riddle. Smith and Riddle completely dominated the race, leading 499 of the 500 laps. At one point in the race, Robert Smith looked like he could be on his way to his first Little 500 victory. But his tires were badly worn. Riddle caught Smith, made the pass, and won. He led for 188 consecutive laps at one point in the race. He won by almost a full lap over Jim Haynes, another Floridian who finished second.

    Jim Haynes had won more sprint car feature races, a total of fifteen, than any other driver in Florida in 1984. The future had looked bright for Haynes. Both NASCAR and the IndyCar Series would soon reach the height of their popularity, and new stars would be needed to drive the sport into the '90s and beyond. His boyish good looks, blond hair, and blue eyes, in addition to his fierce competitive spirit on the track, could take him far into the upper levels of American auto racing. In February 1985, Haynes raced his Charlie Ledford owned sprint car during a USAC Copper Classic race on the Phoenix oval. With the high speeds and stresses on car at the one mile Arizona speedway, a suspension piece dislodged and struck him in the helmet. With Haynes unconscious, the car hit the outside wall head on. He was still alive after the huge impact, but was just clinging to life and passed after three days. He was remembered with a Jim Haynes Memorial sprint car race at Sunshine Speedway and other tracks for the next eighteen years.

    Stan Butler in Mac Steele's sprint car outside Hardy Maddox, off turn 4 at Golden Gate Speedway in 1983, Bobby Day Photo

    A few months later in May that year, the achievements of the Floridians in the 1985 Little 500 would surpass everything that was achieved in prior years, including 1984. The Little 500 that year, run on May 25, 1985, will always be remembered as the Year of the Floridians. Riddle again set new one and four-lap track records during qualifying. There was also an all-Floridian front row, 13 Floridian starters (39% of the grid), Floridians taking 3 of the top 4 finishing positions, and a Floridian race winner, Frank Riddle. This was the second year in a row with an all-Floridian front row, and Riddle's second consecutive Little 500 race win. Despite his fame, with two straight wins and three straight pole position starts by 1985, the Anderson Daily Bulletin identified him in the race results as "Bob Riddle".

    The all-Floridian front row consisted of Frank Riddle on the pole, Bill Roynon in the middle in George Rudolph’s purple #68, and Stan Butler on the outside in the orange and white #14 Harold Wirtjes car. Bob Frey was the only non-Floridian to finish in the top four positions that year. Frey would take second place, while Butler would take third, ahead of Roynon in fourth. There had been a Floridian one-two finish the prior year, when Frank Riddle won and Jim Haynes came in second. To this day, that was the only one-two finish for the drivers from Florida.

    After winning the Little 500 for a second time, Riddle revealed a little bit of his strategy for winning the race. The key to winning was consistency, he said. “What you try to do in a 500 lap race is find a comfortable speed that you run at the whole time. If someone passes you, they pass you.”

    Jim Haynes

    Floridian Sport Allen raced in his first Little 500 in 1984, setting a record as the youngest race starter at 13 years old. His second and last Little 500 was in 1985. Thirty years later, Allen is still racing and winning in sprint cars in Florida. Now 44 years old, he has won on both dirt and pavement in a sprint car in Florida in the past year, the only driver to have accomplished that feat in Florida in the past year.

    Although the starting lineups for the next two Little 500 races in 1986 and 1987 had a higher percentage of the starting field composed of Floridians, with 14 Floridians (42% of the starting grid), there was never another year like 1985. Never again did the Floridians dominate the qualifying, taking all three front row spots, and also dominate the race by taking most of the top four finishing positions with a Floridian winning. The 14 Floridians in the 1986 and 1987 fields were the most ever for a Little 500 starting field. The starting grid never had another 40% Floridian field again after 1987. By 1996, the number of Floridians dropped to six starters, and by 2003 there were only two from Florida on the grid.

    In sixteen career Little 500 starts, Frank Riddle had two wins, four top five and five top ten finishes. He was on the pole position again in 1986, his fifth pole position. Riddle grew to be a favorite of the race fans in Anderson and ran his last Little 500 in 1997 at 68 years old. He grew to love the race, loved the track and the experience of racing in the Midwest. In the 1993 Little 500, he crashed and his car came to rest in the first turn and then caught on fire. A fan crawled underneath the catch fence, ran up to Riddle’s car, and frantically signaled that he was on fire and to get out of the car. Riddle learned who that fan was and met with him on a regular basis when he would return to Anderson. “I fell in love with Anderson,” Riddle said. “The people up here treat me real well.”

    Frank Riddle at Golden Gate in the '80s, Bobby Day Photo

    Frank Riddle won over 200 open wheel features during his 48 year career, and was inducted into both the Little 500 Hall of Fame and the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame. He finally retired from his railroad job in 1987, but continued to race sprint cars on both dirt and pavement until 1997. Riddle passed away in 2007 at age 78.

    Floridians won the Little 500 a total of nine times from 1979 to 2009, a 29% winning percentage for that 31 year period. Jim Childers, with wins in 1992, 1994 and 2000, still has the record for most wins in a career by a Florida driver. Frank Riddle and Dave Steele both have two wins, and Wayne Reutimann and Dave Scarborough each have one win.

    Monday, May 25, 2015 is the 30th anniversary of the race that came to be known as The Year of the Floridians. It’s very unlikely that there will ever be a return to the glory days of Little 500 dominance for drivers from The Sunshine State. The Florida Class of the '80s had Golden Gate Speedway and their regular Saturday night “How to Win in Sprint Cars” class in session on the track. When you had to claw your way around and through the nation’s best sprint car drivers every Saturday night just to win the sprint car feature race at Golden Gate Speedway, winning the Little 500 may have seemed simpler in comparison.

    Jim Haynes at Golden Gate Speedway in 1983, Bobby Day Photo



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