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    Florida Open Wheel

    By Richard Golardi


    Shane Butler: Seasons of Change


    Story and Photos by Richard Golardi


    February 11, 2021


    Thirty-nine-year-old Florida businessman and sprint car driver Shane Butler, a three-time Florida state pavement sprint car champion (TBARA champion in 2002, ’10 and ’14), has undergone some changes in his chosen career and also his racing career in the last couple of race seasons. In early 2019, he made the change to concentrate on Florida dirt sprint car racing, after a late-season battle for the all-pavement 2018 Southern Sprint Car Shootout Series point title, which it appeared he would win, saw the point lead slip out of his grasp late in the season. The point title that year went to another driver, and Shane was second. The changes continued in 2020, a year that brought a change to how Shane spent the hours of nine-to-five during the workweek. With the new year, 2021 will be another season of change for Shane, with his entry into national 410 dirt sprint car racing, beginning this week with Bubba Raceway Park’s races on Thursday through Saturday with the USAC National Sprint Car Series.


    Shane has spent part of the fall and winter preparing a chassis and 410-cubic-inch engine for the arrival of non-wing national dirt sprint car racing, specifically with USAC, beginning today. Shane has dabbled in national series dirt sprint car racing previously. This year brings a bigger commitment and effort into this type of sprint car racing, now with his own team.


    Shane was primarily a Florida pavement sprint car racer for most of his racing career, at least up until the end of the 2018 race season. “Yeah,” Shane remarked. “Around 2008 … I think I ran maybe 10 dirt races. We put a car together and started out at East Bay during Speedweeks and broke a motor. Before that, I got the opportunity to drive a car for Kenny Mulligan and we went and ran two shows in Alabama with USCS. I might have run one or two shows before then with the dirt car and probably had 10 races on dirt. I was still learnin’ it and we didn’t put a Top Gun motor [limited 360-cubic-inch] together. My wife, Katrina, was pregnant with Landon when I first got the dirt car. We ran it a little bit in ’08, didn’t want to spend money on a Top Gun motor, so we sold the dirt car and then stuck with pavement up until 2018. I think the race with Wayne Davis [Southeastern Sprint Car Series] at All-Tech Raceway was our first race in a dirt non-wing sprint car. I took my ‘asphalt buddies’ with me, LJ and Devin McLeod, and my dad, and we were like a bunch of pavement racers who didn’t know what the hell to do, and just kinda winged it.”


    This was going to be a major change for Shane, a pavement racer, who now was taken by the dirt and wanted to inhale some fine dirt particles along with his usual race day fix of methanol fumes and burnt rubber. This was not unusual for the majority of Florida’s most talented sprint car champions, to race on both dirt and pavement and even in fendered race cars. Shane was merely following a tradition of Florida racers, going back to the late ’40s and early ’50s, who regularly raced sprint cars and stock cars on both asphalt and dirt. The dirt racing and pavement racing “specialist” is a modern invention, mostly seen in Florida in the ’90s and later. It didn’t use to be that way. “If it had a steering wheel, they drove it” was an often-heard refrain in Florida in prior years.

     Shane Butler and his son, Landon.

    Wayne Davis’ idea for a regional non-wing dirt sprint car series, based in the South, with an “open motor rule,” is what at first attracted Shane to commit to concentrate on dirt sprint car racing in 2019. He wouldn’t have to travel outside of Florida and nearby states, and wouldn’t need a limited 360 engine, required for Florida’s Top Gun sprint car series. He liked this plan and decided he’d race in this series. It lasted for a short time, and the at-first promising plans for a regional non-wing dirt series later fell apart and the series failed.


    “It was gonna be a good deal – open motors, and we had a 410 sittin’ here. I’m like, ‘Man that’s perfect.’ I can go get a dirt car, I can put a 410 in it, because Jimmy Brown owned it, and he’s like, ‘Whatever you wanna do, go for it!’ ” Shane decided to sit out the first series races in Hendry County, which he wanted to compete in but decided against after a job loss in the family – which was Katrina’s job. He then planned for his first race with the Southeastern Sprint Car Series at North Florida’s All-Tech Raceway on March 16, 2019. He nearly won it, or had thought he won it until a ruling by the series that he was not the winner. It would have been his first career sprint car feature win on dirt.


    “We had a blast,” Shane said, “and we were set to run more of his stuff, and we did. What attracted me was that I always wanted to run non-wing dirt sprint cars. I loved non-wing, period, whether it’s dirt or asphalt. I’ll still always love my pavement, but I really love the dirt too. The things I’ve learned, and the challenges that go with running a dirt car, with keeping up with the race track, and lane changes, it’s made it more enjoyable to try to figure out what to do next. It’s kind of a challenge, and it’s been an enjoyable challenge.”


    Shane’s third place finish with the Southeastern Sprint Car Series at Southern Raceway in the Florida panhandle, a race that included some of the Midwest dirt hotshots, fed his desire to keep up his effort in non-wing dirt racing. “I was like a kid in a candy store,” Shane recalled. “It was something I’ve always wanted to do, and we’re doin’ it, and we’re runnin’ good at it. The non-wing deal is pushed so much more in the driver’s hands.”


    The first dirt sprint car feature win was not long in coming. It occurred at the Don Rehm Classic on November 30, 2019, a race honoring the long-time Florida sprint car driver and promoter. It’s a non-wing Top Gun sprint car series race held annually at East Bay Raceway Park. Shane’s feature win, like the previous dirt feature that he initially was told he had won, came with some controversy. A failure of the transponder scoring system left officials to eyeball a close finish, and without a camera or official at the finish line, that eyeballing of the side-by-side finish with AJ Maddox was the subject of debate. Shane was awarded the feature win. He had his first career dirt sprint car feature win after 31 sprint car feature wins on Florida pavement tracks.


    A deal was made with Taylor Andrews in late 2019 to trade one of Shane’s pavement sprint cars for a dirt chassis for Top Gun winged sprint car racing in 2020, and Shane added three more dirt sprint car feature wins in Florida last year. Shane’s 2020 wins also included his first winged sprint car feature win on dirt. It was at East Bay Raceway in Gibsonton. Shane now sits in 18th place on the All-Time Florida Sprint Car Win List with 35 career sprint car wins in Florida, four of them on dirt.


    “Some people were mad at me,” Shane said of that first dirt sprint car win, “and I wasn’t scoring the race. The track was, and I’m not going to give it back. There were some pictures and some videos, and some questioned it. They made the call, not me! We took that one, and we came back this past year, 2020, started out at East Bay, and wasn’t going to run points, was just going to kinda hit-and-miss.” Another change was ahead for 2020, a career change.


    Steele Performance Parts, started by the late Florida racing legend Dave Steele, was going out of business in early 2020 and was going to sell its inventory of parts and other items in their Tampa race shop. The Butlers, Shane and his wife, negotiated to buy the parts inventory, and the shelving that held the parts, from the Steele family in January 2020. Shane then left his regular day job, and an employer he was with for 15 years, to concentrate full-time on building his speed shop business. They would not be purchasing the business name – “They didn’t want to sell the name,” Shane explained – and would also not be purchasing any race cars, engines, or business equipment. They did not purchase the Tampa building that housed the shop, as they planned to locate their speed shop in their Bushnell race shop in North Florida. They also had the advantage of being well-known in the Florida short track racing community and having many friends in the community. Many racers stop by for advice, as well as to make a purchase. Shane and his father, Stan, share their knowledge with these Florida racers, some of them young and inexperienced but willing to listen and learn.


    One of the sprint cars inside the race shop holds a clipboard with a neatly printed list of items needed to get the car race-ready. “Disassemble … fix nose wing mount … build new lower panels … paint Troy’s colors, etc.” That last item reveals the car’s future owner/driver – it’s retired sprint car/USAC champ car driver Troy Thompson. He’s about to get back into racing, with the help of the Butlers. Their speed shop, originally called TCB Speed South, has now been renamed Butler Speed & Supply as of January 1, 2021. “We wanted our name on it,” Shane explained. He and his wife, Katrina, are the sole owners of the company. The company logo uses red and black, familiar colors used by the Butler race team.


    Nearby sits another sprint car. It’s the black number 18, displaying Shane’s name as the driver and also the Butler Speed & Supply sticker. It’s the Maxim dirt car chassis Shane will use this week for USAC dirt racing, and its engine is installed, sponsor stickers are applied (Keene Services Inc., Cobb Glass Co. Inc., and others), and it is only in need of Shane’s hands to take the wheel, a track, some competition, and a push to get started. That happens on Thursday.


    For 2021, Shane has a desire to build his speed shop business – “The number one goal is to concentrate on the business,” he said – and that may involve a plan to “slow down racing a little bit.” He is undecided if he will race the complete 2021 Top Gun series schedule, but will be at the track for every one of the Top Gun series races with his speed shop trailer to make parts sales in the pits. His shop is also frequently open on weekends, when the weekend racers are often working on their cars and in need of parts and advice. The shop has opened its garage doors late at night for that last-minute, gotta-have-it part that a racer could not do without. Orders come in by phone and from in-person visitors to their race shop. Cars come in for maintenance and repairs. New racers have requested a car and engine be built for them to race.


    Next in 2021 is “what I’m really excited about,” as Shane stated. This week in Ocala will not be his first attempt to qualify for a USAC National Sprint Car Series race. That first attempt came in 2004, a pavement USAC sprint car race at Toledo, Ohio. Since he didn’t advance to the feature, Shane will be looking to qualify for his first USAC sprint car feature this week. He has two previous USAC national race starts, both in the USAC Silver Crown champ car series. Shane has a new 2020 Maxim dirt sprint car chassis with a Claxton 410-cubic-inch engine under the hood, and a sponsor group in place. The engine is the same one used by Shane in the 2020 Little 500 in Anderson, Indiana, and has not been used since then.


    Then, there’s the future of the Butler racing family, the 12-year-old son of Shane and Katrina, Landon Butler, who got his start in go-kart racing. “We’re gonna keep practicing [a dirt sprint car],” Shane replied when asked what was next for Landon. “His most recent practice was at The Bullring [one-quarter mile dirt oval in Ocala]. It’s perfect for him.” The small, flat dirt track gives a new driver a place to learn throttle control and the feel of a sprint car without any big banking or high speeds. It’s a tight, little track that fits Landon’s needs for now, while he’s learning. He’s already put in dirt laps both with and without a wing. “It’s perfect for what we’re trying to get him to learn. I can stop him on the race track and tell him some things that he can do a little differently, or ask him if he feels something wrong with the car or whatnot. I can stop him, talk to him for a second, and we can push him off, and he can go again,” Shane said. Landon’s sprint car practice laps have all been on dirt. Shane estimates he already has between 100 and 150 practice laps completed in four practice sessions at two tracks, and has had no throttle restriction after the first session.  His first sprint car race will be at a smaller track, no Florida half-miles yet. “He’s smooth,” the proud papa said.


    Look out, Florida short track racing, as another Butler appears to be closing in on his Florida sprint car racing debut (maybe this summer) and the seemingly inevitable trip to the winner’s circle and eventually into the Florida record books. He’s Landon Butler … remember that name.



    Q & A with Carson Macedo at Volusia Speedway Park

    Story and Photo by Richard Golardi

    February 9, 2021

    Q. What was the highlight of your 2020 racing season?
    A. We won the CBS race there at Haubstadt [World of Outlaws sprint car race broadcast live on CBS Sports Network on June 20, 2020, at Tri-State Speedway, Indiana, a race which was considered a thriller], really big race, obviously being on TV. That was pretty special. I feel that I learned a lot last year. I feel like I’m bringing that into 2021 here with JJR [Jason Johnson Racing]. Nice to have a fresh start with a new team [Carson has already won once during Florida Speedweeks, at Volusia Speedway Park with the All Star Circuit of Champions on Thursday].

    Q. So that’s the biggest change for you in 2021, with transitioning to a new sprint car race team?
    A. Yeah. Last year, I raced with Kyle Larson Racing in the number 2 car [a team that has been disbanded]. This year, I’m racing the Jason Johnson Racing number 41. I’m happy to get things rolling here with [crew chief] Phil Dietz and Nate and Clyde. We have some really good sponsors on board, and I’m really excited for 2021.

    Q. What is your primary racing goal in 2021?
    A. I just wanna win races, be our best. Our team – our very best, night in and night out. I don’t really have a whole lot of expectations for this year; I wanna win as much as I can. I wanna compete in the points championship in a respectable manner and just be our best every single night. That’s my goal, that’s what I’m looking forward to.

    Q. Are you competing in any other races other than the full World of Outlaws schedule for the rest of 2021?
    A. No, just the World of Outlaws series.

    Q. Are there any big World of Outlaws races that you haven’t won yet that you are especially determined to go out and win this year?
    A. We always wanna win those marquee events that pay big money. Eldora, the Kings Royal, there’s two of them this year, the Knoxville Nationals – these are all really big marquee events that pay really good money. There’ll all important to us.

    Q. How do you feel things have gone for you so far at Volusia Speedway Park?
    A. Not bad. We ran seventh on the first night [Wednesday with the All Star Circuit of Champions], and we were able to pick up a win on the second night at the All Star show, and then fifth at the first Outlaw show of the year [on Friday]. I think that’s three pretty respectable positions, and we’ll keep building on that and keep looking forward to the future [Carson had a sixth-place finish in Sunday night’s World of Outlaws feature after this interview was completed].

    Q. The World of Outlaws is heading for the Deep South states next, so I’m curious if you have ever raced at any tracks in these states in the Deep South – like Alabama, Mississippi, or Louisiana, for example?
    A. Never. No, that’ll be some new race tracks. We’ll try and tackle it the best we can.

    Q. So, it’ll be your first trip to race at a track in the Deep South. It should be fun.
    A. Yeah.

    Q. Thank you, Carson.


    Joey Saldana: The Full-Time Retired Racer Who Still Races

    Story and Photo by Richard Golardi

    Monday, February 08, 2021

    “Last year? Huh!” Indiana sprint car driver Joey Saldana replied when asked about his year in racing in 2020. It was almost as if he was somewhat shocked by the question. He hadn’t disappeared from dirt sprint car racing. Not hardly. He was there at Volusia Speedway Park for sprint car racing with both the All Star Circuit of Champions and the World of Outlaws. He just isn’t seen in the cockpit of a winged sprint car as frequently anymore.

    When interviewed on Sunday afternoon, he spoke of his son’s racing exploits in 2020, not his own. His 2020 racing highlight: “Probably watching my son win the first race he ran at Macon, Illinois in a micro. Then we went to the POWRi show a couple of weeks later and he ran third, so that was definitely the highlight of my year last year.” For himself: “I only dabble in it five times a year, so probably the coolest part for me is going to all the big races, making the shows, and at least being competitive for not racing but five, six times a year.”

    What about 2021 for Joey? “Actually, I wasn’t even going to come down here, but the times I have run this car for Charlie and James Fisher, we’ve had some engine failures, and they tried some different things, and wanted to come down here. This is always a good place to check your motor package to see how good you are. So far, we’ve been competitive all three nights. We had brake issues the first night, which took us out. For not racing in five months [the car and himself], to come down here with the quality of the cars and run eighth and tenth and be competitive, I’d say your motor program is pretty good.” Joey expressed some slight remorse that his team “could have maybe got a win,” if they had a top-notch, full-time driver in the seat. His Sunday night feature finish was 25th place.

    Despite completing his fourth race at Volusia Speedway Park in one week as a part-time, semi-retired racer, he felt like a retired racer. “I consider myself full-time retired,” Joey said. “People like yourself talk about it in weird ways. For me, I was a full-time World of Outlaws driver for 18 years.” Now, in 2021: “When you’re running five to ten times a year, that’s pretty much full-time retired when you’re accustomed to making a living and racing a hundred times a year. Yeah, I am really retired. I’m just out here having fun and it’s cool to get your adrenaline pumped up. These cars are the baddest cars to watch, to witness, to drive, so when you get an opportunity to drive one, I enjoy it because I know how lucky I was to do it at a high level for a long time. But, I consider myself retired. I guess I’m not ‘officially helmet on the shelf’ yet. But to me, I am.”

    This was Joey’s first time in Florida to race in three years. He has enjoyed racing here and recalled his previous Florida Speedweeks wins with a smile. Getting out of the Indiana winter weather for a brief Florida respite also is a perk, whether it comes with wins or satisfying finishes. “You may not see me again this year …,” Joey added, “or you might see me at the Kings Royal or the Nationals. But, I’d say if that’s the case, that’d probably be it [for his five or six annual races].”

    Aside from those races that his son enters, and limited racing in sprint cars, Joey has spent time building his own business as a part supplier to race teams, including many in the World of Outlaws. “I have an oil tank business [Saldana Racing Oil Tanks] I bought last year, and I do probably 80 percent of these guys out here, so they keep me busy. That’s kind of cool to have my name on Donny Schatz’s car, or Brad Sweet’s. There’s a little piece of me still out here, so I enjoy that. We do all the manufacturing and welding of the oil tanks. It’s a little part of a big piece, but you’ve got to have it to make that big piece function.”

    Joey’s father had a similar business, Saldana Racing Products. “It was a company my dad started a long time ago and then sold it,” Joey said. That put him in a situation that was “kinda weird,” as he previously found himself in competition with his father, but “my dad’s no longer involved in that.” Joey went ahead at speed to get as many teams as possible to use his oil tanks on their race cars and has found success.

    “The Saldana name continues,” Joey stated proudly. It can be found on the oil tanks of the World of Outlaws cars, and even in block letters on a World of Outlaws driver’s firesuit … but that’s something you’ll see only every once in a while in 2021. After all, he’s “full-time retired,” and he’s on a Florida racing vacation of the high-speed variety, enjoying how “it’s cool to see the Saldana name out on a race car.”



    Florida Pavement Sprint Car Racing Heading Toward Split in 2021

    Story and Photo by Richard Golardi

    January 14, 2021

    It last happened at the end of 2014. The Tampa Bay Area Racing Association (TBARA) had become disorganized and unable to put together a race schedule for 2015 and eventually dissolved. The conditions led to a season without a traveling Florida pavement sprint car series in 2015, the first time this had happened in Florida since 1980. Several tracks stepped in to have their own non-sanctioned sprint car races, including Showtime Speedway. By the end of 2015, the Southern Sprint Car Shootout Series was formed, an ambitious effort by several Tampa area racing concerns to keep the tradition of a Florida traveling series going for the state’s pavement sprint car teams. Overall, it has been a success, but is still bedeviled by low car counts.

    The continued success of the series will therefore be mostly dependent on keeping the car counts from falling any further, since there is already in place competent management, about 15 active race teams, a primary sponsor, and a small collection of pavement tracks that are happy with the racing provided by the series. In addition to keeping most of the management team from 2020, the BG Products Southern Sprint Car Shootout Series has also planned a 13-race schedule for 2021 across four Florida tracks stretching from North Florida’s Citrus County Speedway to 4-17 Southern Speedway in the state’s southwest corner. Although it lacks the high-speed punch offered by the bigger tracks like New Smyrna Speedway and the defunct Desoto Speedway, the series has managed to build their brand with name drivers, controversies, and races that sometimes become wheel-banging brawls that lack nothing but the pit fistfights.

    The limited racing and scramble for resources and sponsor dollars that emerged in 2020 may be partly responsible for what is coming in 2021: a split in Florida pavement sprint car racing. A glance at the 2021 schedule for the Southern Sprint Car series shows no races at their anchor track, Showtime Speedway in Pinellas Park. Track management there has decided to run separately in 2021 by having their own non-sanctioned sprint car races, both with and without wings. So far, three races have been announced (the first race is next week), although there were prior plans being discussed for twice-a-month sprint car races. Robert Yoho, leaseholder at Showtime Speedway, apparently is no longer associated with the Southern Sprint Car Shootout Series.

    The man with the unenviable duty to keep the car counts up for the Southern Sprint Car series in 2021 is series manager Rick Day, and I spoke to him at a recent race in Inverness. “We’ve got 13 dates already booked for 2021,” Day told me. “We’ll be at 4-17 Southern Speedway, Auburndale Speedway, back at Citrus County Speedway, and we are announcing that for the first time since 2013, the sprint cars will return to Orlando SpeedWorld in 2021 for two dates. We’re going full-bore, everything’s looking good, we’ve just got to work out a few details on some sponsorship stuff. 2021 should be pretty good.”

    At the time of this interview in November, it was known that BG Products would return as the series title sponsor, and Rick Day stated that there was still a desire to have some series races at Showtime Speedway “because of our sponsor, BG Products. That is their main market area, so we need to be there. Taylor Andrews is trying to work out with Robert [Yoho] to secure some dates there for 2021, but at this time, we don’t know for sure. Through this partnership with Dayton Andrews Dodge, that’s how we got the BG Products sponsorship to start with. That relationship is a long-standing relationship. The marketing partnership [both Dayton Andrews Dodge and BG Products] will continue in 2021.”

    The 2021 schedule has a sizable mid-season break that will last a little over four months, from May 15 to September 18. Winter season races now include the first 2021 race this Saturday at Punta Gorda’s 4-17 Southern Speedway, a return trip there in mid-February, and two December races that include a season finale at Orlando SpeedWorld planned for one week before Christmas Day. “We want to take the summer months off, that way, we’re not fighting the heat and the rain. It just makes sense, it’s better for the teams, and they won’t waste money on travel only to get there and we rain out. We’re just electing not to book anything in those four months.”

    Regarding the option of having a non-wing “Little 500 Warm-Up” race, as was considered recently, Rick Day stated, “We’re open to a non-wing race. We tried to do it a couple of years ago, but to be honest, with the sponsor commitments, they like having that great, big BG logo up there on that sideboard. They like the bigger decals. We’re not opposed to a non-wing race. Actually, I would welcome some non-wing races, especially before the Little 500, like a tune-up race that TBARA used to do back in the day. We’ve just got to work out some of the details with sponsorship and the race track.”

    If the non-wing Little 500 Warm-Up race is a possibility for 2021, the May 15 race date at Auburndale Speedway seems to be a perfect fit, maybe even make it the “BG Products Classic” to placate the primary sponsor. The pavement sprint car racing media members are already onboard as far as their support for such a race.

    Rick Day continued, “He [Robert Yoho] has indicated that he wants to do a Showtime sprint car class, but he’s only wanting to do 25-lap races. It might work for him, but I’m not sure what his plans are. He’s wanting to do a 25-lap, twice-a-month type deal over there. He’s wanting to run the second and fourth Saturday of the month, as to where we’re trying to work with him. We’ve tried to book most of our races on the first and third Saturdays of the month, to kind of stay off of those dates, to work with him just in case we do end up getting some Showtime Speedway dates.”

    A schedule of Florida pavement sprint car racing this ambitious (races on the first through fourth Saturday each month) would likely see high attrition of teams participating and the inevitable low car counts getting even lower. Whether this will happen during any month in 2021 is unknown as of today.

    “Unfortunately, there could be some months that sprint cars would be racing every weekend of the month. It’s actually probably too much,” Rick Day admitted. Weekly sprint car racing was successful at several Florida tracks in the past (Golden Gate Speedway in the ’70s, the Florida State Fairgrounds Speedway in the ’80s), but there isn’t much of a possibility that it could be successfully resurrected in modern times. There aren’t enough active teams to sustain it. “We’re going forward with our deal,” Rick Day stated. “This is our sixth year. There’s still a possibility of some Showtime Speedway dates.”





    Remembering Those in Florida’s Pavement Sprint Car Community Who Have Passed, 2019-2020

    Story and Photos by Richard Golardi

    Another superlative was needed … because calling Ralph Liguori a legend just wasn’t enough, it just didn’t describe the level of accomplishment seen in his auto racing resume, which covered the entire second half of the 20th century. Ralph’s “membership” in the Florida pavement sprint car racing community was also cemented by his one “official Florida sprint car feature win” in a pavement sprint car (supposedly there was a second win, according to Ralph, but I couldn’t confirm this), at Sunshine Speedway in 1979. Add more wins in NASCAR Short Track stock car racing, sprint cars, midgets, modifieds, late model stock cars, and even sports cars, which was in NASCAR’s SCODA division. They raced sports cars on NASCAR’s oval tracks.

    Ralph Liguori and his grandson, Joe Liguori

    In Raleigh, North Carolina, Ralph was given the name “the Fayetteville Yankee” during his NASCAR years. They even listed him as coming from Fayetteville, getting rid of his heritage as a New Yorker from the Bronx who later moved to Tampa. He set a Raleigh Speedway track record by winning six stock car features in a row and then earned the track’s stock car championship in 1954.

    Then there was “that race,” the one that Ralph loved to talk about. It was the 1970 Hoosier Hundred, a USAC Indy car dirt race in which Ralph had a late-race battle with A.J. Foyt for second place. It was all-so-memorable because Ralph saw A.J.’s car wiggle a little at the end of the back straight with two laps left, dove to the inside of him going into the third turn, and made the pass to take second place away from Foyt.

    “He finally did it!” exclaimed the network TV announcer. He knew what a big achievement it was, and how it was going to be a big deal to Ralph. There was one racer who received the biggest, most raucous greeting from the crowd after the race concluded. It wasn’t A.J. It wasn’t Al Unser, the race winner. It was Ralph. Although he never won an Indy car race, Ralph enjoyed that day as much as a win.

    Ralph said that he led a comfortable life after driving in his last race in 2000, a midget race in Ohio. He made a lot more money from his businesses and prudent investments in real estate than he ever did in auto racing. But when it came time to tell stories, his racing stories and those about his family that he loved dominated his memories. He was especially proud of mentoring and supporting the racing career of his grandson, Joe Liguori. He’d spend his summers up north to follow Joe on the circuit and be involved in his racing, right up to a few years before he died at age 93 on July 21, 2020. He and his wife, Jane, had four sons: Ralph Jr., Michael, Frank, and Nicholas.

    Upon learning that he had earned the 2013 TBARA Rookie of the Year title, Matt Alfonso remarked, “Special thanks to Jimmy Alvis and Sharon Riddle for letting me drive the car this year. I would also like to thank J.R.E. Racing Engines. To all that have helped me out this year, thank you.” I personally remembered Matt as having a quick smile and being easy to talk to at the track. A friend remembered, “He was a great guy. Always in a good mood, very funny, and never asked for a single thing. RIP Matt Alfonso, and thanks for the wild times we had growing up.”

    Matt Alfonso

    Matt undoubtedly had his best two years in sprint car competition during 2013 and ’14. In addition to the TBARA Rookie award, he had several top three finishes during that time. During our talks in the pits during this time, Matt spoke of the change in his appearance, as he had lost a lot of weight after the cancer diagnosis. He continued racing a sprint car until he was gone from the Florida sprint car circuit for a while, and then passed away due to cancer on December 11, 2020. He was 52 years old. On his Facebook page, Matt posted a background picture of tiny, colorful birds, as if he was finding great enjoyment from the little things in life during his last months. He also decided to give himself a nickname. It seemed like it fit him, as he never seemed to have another nickname at the track. Beneath his name, he wrote: “The Quiet One.”

    Steven Bradley

    Since he died on December 31, 2019, I have decided to include Steven Bradley in this remembrance, and to include him with others who passed away from December 31, 2019, to December 31, 2020. Steven won the non-wing sprint car feature at Citrus County Speedway on April 5, 2014. He also was a feature winner in the Checkered Flag Sprint Series in November 2009. He was 34 years old when he died suddenly last year, and is survived by his wife Amanda and four children.

    When he got his 2014 sprint car win, Steven told me that he had been out of racing for most of the past three years. It was the second race in his new car, and he already had a third place finish to go with the win. “I’m excited,” he stated, as the win came on his birthday. “I had some family problems and some stuff I had to take care of, and I ended up having a baby, a little boy. I had to help out at home, and didn’t really have the time to put in at the garage. We took a couple of years break, and now he’s old enough, and it’s not as hard on my wife. We’re back in the garage again, back at it. We stuck together a new car.” Steven thanked Jerry Stuckey for putting together the Hurricane chassis that he wheeled to the winner’s circle that night. “We’re real happy with it,” he added, smiling broadly.




    Danny Smith at Hendry County Motorsports Park, 11-21-2020

    A Dirt King’s Reign Concludes


    Story and Photo by Richard Golardi


    November 23, 2020


    Hendry County Motorsports Park, Clewiston, Florida, Saturday, November 21, 2020.

    If 63-year-old Ohio dirt sprint car racer Danny Smith won the Top Gun Sprint Series feature race, then he would extend his streak of getting a sprint car feature win into a 46th consecutive year. He could return to his Ohio home, satisfied with his accomplishment and feeling happy. What if he didn’t win? “Then I’d still go home feeling happy,” Danny Smith replied.


    And why shouldn’t he feel happy? He would head home knowing that his feat, 45 consecutive years with a sprint car feature win, was in the uppermost levels of difficulty during decades when names like Kinser, Swindell, and Wolfgang racked up countless wins, all during a time when sprint cars were far more dangerous and sometimes killed or crippled their occupants. A serious enough injury could have broken Danny’s win streak long ago. But it didn’t.


    Danny had a habit of steering around trouble, frequently winning, and garnering fans and friends, especially in the Midwest and Florida, and … don’t forget Australia. Along that long, winding trail came a big win on pavement, as a relief driver in the 1979 Little 500 (infamous for having a wild, unpredictable finish), a plethora of track championships (Ohio mostly), a status as an “honorary Floridian” due to his winning ways on Florida tracks and close friendship with legendary Gibsonton car owner Jack Nowling, and induction into the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame in 2015.


    Hendry County Motorsports Park, Clewiston, Florida, Friday, November 6, 2020.

    A last weekend of racing, that was Danny’s original plan. That Friday and Saturday, the 6th and 7th, were going to be his last two nights of racing for 2020. But he could stick around Florida for a little longer, I said convincingly (or so I thought). There were two more dirt sprint car races coming up in Florida through early December, I mentioned. But … he probably wouldn’t be interested. I couldn’t recall Danny entering a Top Gun series race previously. Plus, he’d need a limited 360 c.i. engine, which he didn’t have. He probably wouldn’t be interested. Danny shook his head slightly. That meant no.


    Funny thing though, mention more racing to a race car driver, and he’ll scheme to borrow, buy, or cajole his way into that extra racing. A phone call or two was made. Florida car owner Andy Cobb had a Racesaver 305 c.i. engine, an engine eligible to compete along with the limited 360s in Top Gun. If Danny Smith could arrange to borrow it, he’d have another chance to extend that amazing win streak into a 46th year. If not, Danny’s streak would end at 45 consecutive years, as his last win was in 2019. Andy Cobb gladly loaned the 305 engine to Danny. He’d make a last stand, one last effort to extend that streak into a 46th year, and it was planned for Saturday, November 21 at Hendry County.


    Danny was smiling and looking confident before buckling in and heading out onto the third-mile dirt oval in Clewiston. He was going to head home to Ohio after this race, win or lose, he stated. It was his last race of 2020. Passing rain clouds had mostly missed the track, drenching other parts of South Florida. Three-inch-long frogs were romping through the spectator stands, startling race fans as they sought out popcorn kernels and discarded hot dog rolls and providing entertainment by jumping into the laps of unsuspecting fans. If you heard a sudden “AHH!” then you knew what just happened.


    After the green flag flew, Danny fell back to somewhere close to mid-field shortly after the start of the 30-lap Top Gun sprint car feature race. With the flips and crashes that plagued the early laps, it was a smart move. He missed the spinning and crashing cars, including one that spun directly across his nose in the fourth turn. Then came the methodical stalking, passing, and trying different grooves until he came upon a couple of Top Gun dirt aces, AJ Maddox and Garrett Green. He passed them too. He was up to third place. Ahead were Tyler Clem and Danny Martin Jr.


    He stalked, he powered ahead, but those last two passes were a bit too far off. Clem and Martin both headed for the bottom groove as the track slicked up, and that’s the way they finished, taking first and second. It was Tyler Clem’s first win in two years, and he was smiling and thankful in his return to winning. Danny Smith was third.


    Danny Smith was through with racing, but just for this year. He’ll be back for 2021, he said. He’ll be 64 years old and he’ll still be a full-time race car driver. That’s what he liked doing, so he was going to continue doing it … at least for one more year. He knows that question about retirement will come up again, but not for another 12 months.


    You’ll just have to imagine Danny’s smile on the long trip home to Ohio. It was one of those smiles of satisfaction upon setting a goal, and then completing it, a well-earned, deep-seated satisfaction that you feel deep down inside of you. Then you reach your destination, pull into your driveway, and you’re back home, back with your family. It doesn’t get any better.


    Congratulations to Danny Smith on one hell of a 45-year run of success … and welcome home.


    Feature Race Highlights Video, Top Gun Sprint Series at Hendry County Motorsports Park, Saturday, November 21, 2020:




    Sunshine State Invitational at Hendry County Featured 360 Sprint Cars


    Story and Photos by Richard Golardi


    November 11, 2020


    When plans for two nights of USCS sprint car racing at Hendry County Motorsports Park, just south of Lake Okeechobee in South Florida, were scuttled by wind, rain, and a changing USCS schedule, promoter Ken Kinney moved swiftly to change last weekend’s plans. He replaced the USCS races with his own Sunshine State Invitational, an open 360 sprint car two-day event, with hopes of drawing some Midwest and Deep South teams along with the Florida teams that had raced with USCS in the past. The result was impressive racing, less than adequate numbers of paid race fans, and one race win each for the old (middle-aged?) pros and the teenage Florida dirt racing contingent.

     Andy Cobb at Hendry County Motorsports Park, 11-6-2020.

    That teenage contingent, the Young Guns of Florida, has seen past success with both USCS mini-sprint and 360 sprint car racing. One of their members, 16-year-old Conner Morrell, took to Hendry County’s dirt on the first night, Friday, to battle Danny Martin Jr. for the lead early in the race, only to drop back some when Martin put on his usual dirt racing clinic, deftly handling the slower traffic and the track’s sandy surface. Saturday night held greater success for Conner Morrell, and he won the feature for one of his most remarkable Florida wins yet.


    Garrett Green seems to have completely shrugged off the effects of a frightening flip in a wingless show at East Bay Raceway seven weeks ago, and the concussion and black eyes he suffered when the right rear corner of his sprint car’s roll cage was pounded down into the dirt by almost a foot. He pointed out the depth of the penetration on his car’s roll cage, which occurred on the packed dirt of East Bay’s fourth turn groove. He is foregoing the next weekend of Florida dirt racing, this Friday and Saturday in the panhandle at Southern Raceway’s two-day USCS season finale, to concentrate on the remaining Top Gun Sprint Series races. He is still in the running for the Top Gun series point title with two races remaining. The next series race takes him back to the Hendry County dirt on November 21.

     Danny Martin Jr. wins at Hendry County Motorsports Park, 11-6-2020

    Car owner Andy Cobb had a multi-car team at Hendry County last weekend. He had the number 18 car for teammate Shane Butler, and for himself, he had the 1 (Eleven) car, with an “Eleven” placed inside the numeral one. The number was a throwback to his family’s racing legacy and his own admiration for Jimmy Riddle, and the number 111 sprint car that he drove and the number 11 later fielded at the 2000 Little 500 for Jim Childers, who won the race. Andy told me that he has been gone from auto racing for the past seven years while he took a foray into drag boat racing during that time. “I came back to auto racing in the middle of this year,” Andy said. He is also back in sprint cars, with plans for 2021 that include racing in both ASCS and USCS 360 racing with a number 1C car, since the 1 (Eleven) doesn’t seem feasible, and there are other number 1 cars.


    Andy’s grandfather passed away this summer, so the family’s racing legacy has been on his mind lately. The family’s business, Cobb Glass Company Inc., is celebrating 50 years in business this year, and was involved in sponsorship at Golden Gate Speedway during the 1960s and ’70s. The Cobb Brothers Auto Glass cleanup crew was an iconic group at Golden Gate, running the push trucks, crash trucks, and sponsoring the race cars of various owners. They also sponsored Jim Childers’ first bomber stock car at “the Gate.”


    In the developing trend of grandsons of Florida sprint car legends getting involved in Florida short track auto racing, the latest addition is likely going to be 11-year-old Landon Butler, son of Shane Butler and grandson of Stan Butler. Landon has taken some practice laps on dirt in the family racing team’s sprint car at both The Bullring (Marion County Speedway, Ocala) and at Hendry County Motorsports Park. His grandfather told me that he looked smooth and had no problems during his practice sessions. His previous racing experience is in go kart racing. Landon joins Stephen Hartley, son of Bo Hartley and grandson of Sonny Hartley; and also Bryton Horner, who is Frank Riddle’s great-grandson. Both are currently racing Legend cars, recently at Auburndale Speedway and Citrus County Speedway.


    Danny Smith looked calm and confident, almost serene, prior to taking to the track at Hendry County Motorsports Park on Friday. The Friday and Saturday sprint car features were going to be his next-to-last chance to continue his current consecutive year sprint car feature race win streak into 2020. His last feature wins came in 2019, which marked his 45th consecutive year with a sprint car win. He plans one last weekend of 2020 sprint car racing at Southern Raceway, near Pensacola, this weekend with the USCS Outlaw Thunder Tour. That will be his last chance to get a win and mark his 46th consecutive winning year. If he doesn’t get a win during his November tour in Florida, and with no 2020 races planned beyond Florida, his win streak would end at 45 years.


    Danny has had some second and third place finishes this year, and his 410 cubic inch engine has gotten so well-worn from this year’s All Star Circuit of Champions and Ohio 410 racing that he just “shoved it under a bench” in his race shop for the present time. He has been concentrating on 360 racing for several months. He has missed more races this year at his usual Ohio home track, Atomic Speedway, than in the past several years, but has still competed in most of the races there. This year included more races with his 360 engine, in which he has gotten higher finishes.


    At Hendry County last year, Danny Smith won two feature races, in January and November. That last win included one comedic moment when he slipped and fell off the top wing while celebrating, fortunately avoiding injury in spite of the hard fall. Often the USCS 360 wins required defeating other “Northern Invaders” and nationally-known stars such as Tony Stewart and Mark Smith, who have also grown fond of USCS 360 racing in the past five years.


    Video: feature race highlights from Hendry County Motorsports Park, Clewiston, FL, Friday, November 6, 2020, from the Florida Open Wheel channel:




    Don Heckman: A Florida Pavement Sprint Car Racing Icon


    Story by Richard Golardi


    October 21, 2020

     Don Heckman

    Our story begins at one of those race tracks that used to attract Florida open wheel racing fans, but has been long gone. You might assume that it was one of those tracks somewhere in the Tampa Bay area, one of many tracks that used to host sprint car, midget, or even USAC Silver Crown races, as did the Florida State Fairgrounds Speedway. But it’s not.


    The track was in Southeast Florida – the Florida City Speedway, in Florida City, near Homestead. It became known as a haven for TQ midget racing, a class still popular in Florida today. One of the racers who could be seen taking a victory lap of the high-banked, asphalt speedway in one of the toy-like, little TQ midgets was Gary Smith. His entire upper body seemed to extend beyond the tiny car’s body, with a small roll bar that seemed more for decoration than protection in his number 88 TQ midget. Smith would bravely climb into the little race car, clothed in grimy, grease-covered pants, short-sleeve shirt, and bubble-faced helmet. He was a “hard-charging winner who deeply loved the sport … [who] raced in an era before roll cages and adequate driver protection. As a result …” Then the day of tragedy arrived at the tiny, one-eighth mile Florida City Speedway.


    Twenty-two-year-old Gary Smith was killed in a wreck at the track in 1969, just two weeks after his last victory lap at the track he loved. “As a result, Gary was the only fatality at the Florida City Speedway. After his accident, the track closed for a year, but when it reopened, his dad, ‘Smitty,’ stayed on as the starter.” Florida City’s reputation as a small track with reduced speeds, thereby supposedly making it a safer track, was damaged permanently. The track made a comeback in 1970 under the auspices of the SMRA (Southern Mini-Stock Racing Association). The club racers even cut the grass and maintained the track facility, and TQ midget racing was part of the comeback until ’74. Then the club closed it, and the racing was gone for good in ’76. Another asphalt race track, Homestead-Miami Speedway, was built about five miles away in the ’90s. NASCAR now ruled the roost in Southeast Florida auto racing, bringing their season-ending Cup Series race to their track in Homestead up until 2019.


    But Florida City Speedway was not gone and forgotten, thanks to those who helped keep the memories alive, such as racer Rex Hollinger. A Speedway reunion in 2002 leads us to the present day and news from October 2020. “I have just acquired my most prized materialistic possession,” wrote Gary Smith Jr., son of racer Gary Smith. Don Heckman’s family had reached out to Gary.

     Gary Smith after a TQ midget win.

    Don Heckman had a long and fabled career in Florida short track auto racing, both as a racer and sprint car owner. The local newspaper headlines in Miami/Homestead from 1971 would often read: “Heckman Wins Auto Feature (3-14-1971) … Heckman’s victory in the three-quarter midget 20 lapper was his second …” A third, and then fourth victory followed. Often, he was “the man to beat” in the TQ midgets, and also was a friend of Gary Smith at Florida City.


    Sprint car racer and TBARA Rookie of the Year Rex Hollinger went to Florida City Speedway as a boy. After the TQ midget racers bolted roll cages onto their cars, he did witness one shocking wreck there involving Don Heckman. “Don was very aggressive,” Rex recalled, “and very impatient. He was wild. In 1973, he went barrel-rolling on the back straightaway in a TQ midget, all the way to the wall in turns three and four, up and over the fence, and landed on top of a truck in the pits. They took him to the hospital, and he was back at the track later that night. He was kinda pissed-off because the EMTs had cut up his firesuit. He’s old-school tough as nails!” The two racers later became friends after Don helped Rex get his mini-stock car set up, and then they had a shared involvement in Florida sprint car racing and enjoyed reliving the good ole days back in Florida City.


    Heckman’s most successful period came while partnering with legendary Florida sprint car driver Wayne Reutimann. They racked up dozens of wins on Florida’s short pavement ovals, including winning multiple TBARA sprint car championships together.


    When Don Heckman first asked Wayne to drive his car in Anderson Speedway’s Little 500 in ’92, Wayne was somewhat surprised, but took him up on the offer. He was impressed with Heckman’s enthusiasm to win the race, and knew that he had a quality car. Still, he couldn’t understand why a car owner would take on the costs of driving to Indiana, and all the other costs, for a race where “the wear and tear on a car in a 500-lap race is unbelievable. And the chances of winning are almost as high as they are for winning the lottery.” The car owner from Miami was pumped to go to Anderson, wanted Wayne Reutimann as his driver, and wanted to win. That was enough to convince Wayne to say yes to his offer.

     Gary Smith Memorial Trophy, TQ midget at Florida City Speedway.

    Although that highly talented Florida duo of Heckman and Reutimann never won at Anderson’s “Lil’ Five” together, Heckman had one of his most enjoyable years at the Little 500 in 2008. That’s when Doug Heveron, then a Floridian, won the pole position in the number 22 Heckman Motorsports car. Even though they didn’t win the race, Don was still beaming with pride. Heveron had said that he was going to retire as a driver after the race, so Heckman decided that he would join him in retiring from racing.


    “He was as good as there is,” Don Heckman said of Wayne Reutimann’s racing expertise. “Wayne would very seldom mess up, he always raced a lap ahead of where he was. I had three TBARA championships through Wayne, I have five altogether.” Heckman praised Reutimann as a great person, a great family man, and “just a super driver.” What Heckman most admired about Wayne was his expertise at protecting his car, while still being fast enough to get to the front and win, which he did 97 times in Florida sprint car competition. That’s second on the All-Time Florida Sprint Car Win List, with only Dave Steele having more sprint car wins (101) in Florida. Lots of Wayne’s wins came in Don Heckman’s number 22 sprint car beginning in 1992.


    The reason that Don Heckman’s family was reaching out to Gary Smith Jr. was because Don had requested that Gary come to see him. They also revealed that Don was feeling under the weather. Florida City Speedway had begun a Gary Smith Memorial race after Gary’s tragic death, and a trophy went to the winner, inscribed “Gary Smith Memorial T.Q. Midget.” Don Heckman had the trophy. He won the inaugural Gary Smith Memorial race during his time as a racer at Florida City Speedway. Gary remembered that Don was “one of the six that walked my dad to his final resting place.” Don Heckman was special to Gary and the Smith family, and many other Florida racers who Don helped achieve success on and off the race track. The news about Don is disheartening. He is dealing with illness, and has not been feeling well lately.


    Gary Smith Jr. added his thoughts: “Don also told me he is right with the Lord, his family, and friends. The world needs more people like Don Heckman … #CANCERSUCKS.” Gary went to visit Don, calling it an “honor and a humbling experience that a person not feeling very well at all … would think of me.” Don presented the Gary Smith Memorial trophy to Gary as a gift. He wanted Gary to have it and keep it. Gary admitted that he was speechless and greatly honored by the gift. He also heard some stories about his father that he’d never heard before. Don Heckman had remembered the tragedy of that crash more than 50 years ago, the sadness of burying one of his competitors, and the fatherless little boy who was left behind, but not forgotten.


    The gift said a lot about the giver, Don Heckman. It said that he was worth remembering too.


    Thanks to Rex Hollinger (credit for the story idea), Don Heckman, and Gary Smith Jr.

    Rex Hollinger’s Florida City Speedway web page is here:





    Tim George and his dirt sprint car at East Bay Raceway, Sept. 5, 2020

    Tim George: The King of the East Bay Raceway Limited Sprint Cars

    Story and Photos by Richard Golardi

    September 30, 2020

    Even if one says that Tim George has dominated the 360-cubic-inch limited sprint car class at East Bay Raceway Park in Gibsonton, it’s still an understatement. You need a more powerful word or phrase, like “ruled,” “made a mockery of,” or maybe just say: Tim George is the King of the East Bay Raceway 360 Limited Sprint Cars.

    Tim George was at East Bay Raceway with his family and family-owned race team. Tim George was home. As he moved around the two winged sprint cars, stacks of tires, the race car hauler, various members of the race team, and other observers (along with one journalist), he seemed at ease. The sky seemed to be troubled, seemed to be threatening another summer downpour. The cars were pulled out of the hauler after he took a last look at the skies above East Bay and declared that he was ready for that night’s racing, which included the 360 limited sprint cars. The evening’s one interview was complete, and now it was time to go racing.

    A few drivers can be classified as one of the legends of East Bay Raceway, and Tim George is certainly one of them. A plaque just inside his race car hauler lists the years that Tim earned the title of East Bay Raceway Park limited sprint car track champion. Those years are: 2000, ’02, ’03, ’04, ’06, ’08, ’10, and ’11. That makes him an eight-time East Bay Raceway champion. He also earned the 2005 USA (United Sprintcar Alliance) Sprints series championship. “We were running asphalt with ’em. That was all-asphalt that year,” Tim said regarding that USA Sprints title. “And I won a championship with Top Gun, too.” That was 2010, when he earned the championship with the Top Gun Sprint Series, a Florida traveling dirt sprint car series.

    “My father did it [auto racing] when I was real young,” Tim explained earlier this month. “And I just picked it up from there. Everybody’s got to have bad habits! He was running down here then. Basically, SaraMana Speedway track, late models. Never did much good with ’em, never really put forth the effort. It was asphalt. That was all we had back then around here was asphalt. You had SaraMana, the old Punta Gorda track, right off of 41, and you had St. Pete. That was the first track I ran was the old Punta Gorda track, when I was 13, in a ’57 Chevrolet bomber. What year? I’m 61 now – do the math!” It was 1972. Tim classified his result in that first feature, in a bomber, as “not good. I only ran one late model race, and that was in Okeechobee. I started out in the Super Sixes here, at East Bay.”

    Tim George and his family racing team at East Bay Raceway Park, Sept. 5, 2020

    His transition to improved race results: “Around 1985.” The transition to being a winner: “Probably somewhere around 1990. The first win was around 1989 or ’90, that was in Southern Modifieds.” The Southern Modifieds became popular in Florida in the late 1980s and early ’90s, and looked remarkably similar to the sprint cars of that time. The series later evolved and morphed into the limited sprint car class at East Bay Raceway, and for some years, some still believed them to be modifieds. The statistician keeping the All-Time Florida Sprint Car Win List didn’t include the limited sprint cars in his sprint car win totals, considering them to be modifieds.

    Although his father helped him get into racing, another member of Tim’s immediate family was less enthusiastic about him moving into sprint cars. “My wife, Robin, told me if I got a sprint car, she’d divorce me. She lied! We’ve been married for 37 years. The first night she came, she called it ‘the stupidest thing she ever saw.’ She still comes to every one she can, she’ll work on the car, and she can change the gears in ’em, she’ll change tires.”

    Tim’s favorite track (a question with an obvious answer) is East Bay, of course. “I like this track. I like Volusia [his second-favorite track], but I like this track, too.” Tim believes his sprint car feature win total “is probably somewhere between 20 and 30. Other than in the sprints, I won one other feature race in the late model. I’ve won at probably two-thirds of the tracks in Florida.” Tim’s nine-to-five job: “I drive a tow truck. I’ve got six of ’em, which makes it hard to get away.” His company, Venice Wrecker Service, based in Venice, Florida, has a problem experienced by many employers: “People don’t like to work too much anymore.” He hopped behind the wheel of a tow truck to head to the site of a wreck by himself for the first time at age 13. The driver that he admired more than any other: “Probably Steve Kinser.”

    Tim would have liked to have headed out onto the World of Outlaws tour, as many legendary sprint car drivers did when Tim was a young man. “It might have been nice when I was younger, but when you get older, you just gotta take what you got and go on and try to be happy with what you got.” Going wheel-to-wheel with Steve Kinser, well, that “would have been fun to try.”

    “For 21 consecutive years, until I hurt my back, I was in the top three in points in that [class], the East Bay limited sprints. The worst I finished was in third, up to 2017. It ended two years ago when I had my back surgery. I kinda tried to go out of the park here. I’ve got nine screws, three cages, and two rods in my back. I caught the gate post about 15 feet in the air, and it stopped me. I came back onto the track. I flipped one a month later, and it got to where I could hardly walk. I was out of racing for about a year. I was still fielding a car with Billy [Bridges], my son-in-law. I came back at the end of 2018, when I ran two races. The first race I ran here in 2019, I won it. Last year, I ended up upside down on the front chute again while lapping somebody and took a left knee out. Now I have a ‘fake knee.’ It chipped a bone when I hit the steering box.”

    He had been avoiding the knee replacement surgery, but after the chipped bone, “I couldn’t put it off no more.” That surgery caused him to miss the first two races of this year at East Bay during the February Winternationals. Danny Sams took over a backup for the number 1* car for those two races. Another surgery is looming in December, this time the other knee is due for replacement surgery. It’s becoming one of the most common orthopedic surgeries, and Tim will soon have contributed to the statistics on two occasions.

    “This year’s been ‘up and down.’ I got the new car, it takes a little bit to figure ’em out and I had a few motor problems. We ran third the first night here, fourth last time we were here, that was the second race this year. They’re not getting the cars up here [for East Bay limited sprints], but they’re not wanting to pay no more money either. Money’s a big deal, there’s more of ’em runnin’ the Top Gun because Top Gun pays better. That’s just the way it works out. With the track being sold, and it’s not gonna be around, there’s not too many people for our class of sprint cars in Florida, which is basically a ‘bastard class.’ You can’t go really nowhere else and run that motor combination. You can run 305s just about anywhere, or the 360s, you can run them – ASCS or USCS. But with the motor rules that we have, basically they’re all on their own.

    “I mean, it’s a dying sport. Now, most kids would rather sit at home and play on their video games than do anything that takes manual labor – hot, sweaty work. When I was a kid, you didn’t have air conditioning, you had maybe three TV channels, if you were lucky. You went to the races on Saturday night somewhere. Now, there’s just so many things to do. The local racing, there’s just not much money in it.”

    Some cars were wrecked during the time that Tim sat out a year while recovering, and now Billy Bridges is driving what amounts to something like a “team car,” which travels to the track in Tim’s hauler, but which is owned by the Bridges family. The car driven by Tim is easy to spot, it’s the “one-star,” 1*. “We started out with a number 10, and we kinda crinkled the tank one time and my father just cut a star to cover the spot and it lost the zero. The star covered where the paint was gone and it stayed. Generally, the cars were yellow. This one ain’t, it’s white.”

    Tim recited the names of his family members, in addition to his wife, Robin: “I have four daughters: Brandi, Susanne, Rebecca (Becky), and then Cheyanne, the youngest. She’s 19 now. We basically adopted her, she’s my wife’s niece’s daughter, but we’ve had her since she was like two years old. I’ve raised her. Susie and Becky have run sprint cars with me. Brandi was into beauty pageants. Susie works for me, runs the office for me. Rebecca quit racing to show cows. She’s loved cows her whole life. It’s been a family affair with us. My mother’s here, my wife’s here, my daughter’s here.” Brandi may be most familiar to Florida racing fans as a trophy queen at Florida short track races, often at East Bay, and is a professional model, now doing marketing for a group of lawyers. There’s also one grandchild, a four-year-old girl.

    What’s the future for the East Bay limited sprints, and what about Tim’s future? “The series will [return]; me, I don’t know yet. I’ve done it a long time. I’m getting tired. My body obviously won’t handle me getting wiped out, and it’s got nothing to do with me, it’s just ‘right place, wrong time.’ When you run one of them, it happens. It can get violent – quick. And you gotta know that. I mean, it’s gotta be something you can’t get mad about. It keeps really workin’ on my body. I mean, my back, my knee. Ya just don’t heal the way ya used to – or at least I don’t. I don’t know what would be next. I’ve run this track basically since it opened in 1977, in one class or another. I still enjoy it. It’s cost me a lot of money, but it’s been a lot of fun. If I was bad at it, it’d be real easy to quit. When you’re not bad at it, it’s hard to quit when you still enjoy it,” he said with a laugh. “It’s kind of a catch-22.”

    Tim George had been thinking about making this year his last driving sprint cars. “Yeah,” he said, “back when I had my back surgery done, there when I was out for the year. My wife says I’m unbearable when I don’t go racing.” So, he went back and became “bearable” again. “I guess! So much that she can put up with me anyway, but you know how that goes.” When that question about retiring from driving race cars comes up, he responds: “I don’t know. I keep saying it over and over and every time I seem to come back, so I don’t know. It’s hard to quit. I always said when it quits being fun, I’d quit. And it’s still fun. It’s gotta be something you do for the love of the sport.”

    As he posed for a photo with his car at East Bay, a structure in the background loomed over the iconic Florida dirt track, the racer, and his race car. It was an ever-growing mound of phosphate waste from the nearby phosphate mines. Soon, like time itself, it would take over. The mining company had profits to spend and had contracted to buy the track by 2024. They needed the land for another mound of waste. Racing at East Bay, and Tim George’s time there as a racing legend, would both be coming to an end. The racer and his track had grown old together, but you can’t hold back time. It always moves on.



    2020 Florida Sprint Car Mid-Season Review

    Story and Photo by Richard Golardi

    July 21, 2020

    Kyle Larson, winner, All Star Circuit of Champions, East Bay Raceway Park, Feb. 11, 2020

    Florida sprint car racing has had its most difficult year in recent memory, with Florida now being identified by numerous media organizations as one of the “latest coronavirus epicenters.” In addition to putting a damper on fans’ enthusiasm to attend crowded sports events, the situation in Florida has seen a record number of new infections in recent weeks. The only bright spot has been that all February Speedweeks sprint car events were completed before the lockdown began in March. Some of the February feature race winners included Kyle Larson, Donny Schatz, Kody Swanson, Brad Sweet and Aaron Reutzel, and the racing was excellent. Larson’s Tuesday night All Star dominance at East Bay Raceway was especially impressive.

    The Southern Sprint Car Shootout Series had held two races since Memorial Day, and has canceled two races planned for Showtime Speedway in Pinellas Park, due to restrictions imposed by the coronavirus. Surprisingly, Troy DeCaire, who dominated in early season action, has not won a series feature race since early March, when the last race was held before the lockdown and restrictions on sports events by the State of Florida. Up to that time, DeCaire had won the first three points races in the 2020 season, with Kody Swanson winning the Dave Steele Non Wing World Finals (non-points race) in February. After his win at Punta Gorda’s 4-17 Southern Speedway last Saturday, John Inman needs one more feature win to equal DeCaire’s win total for the year. Inman, with top five finishes in all six series races this year, leads the current standings by 52 points over second place Troy DeCaire. The only other driver with a series win this year is Daniel Miller, winner at Punta Gorda in early June.

    Yesterday, Showtime Speedway leaseholder Robert Yoho stated that, “There will be no sprint cars at Showtime this week. Showtime is electing not to race again,” regarding the race planned for this coming Saturday, July 25 at Showtime. The next scheduled race is a return trip to 4-17 Southern Speedway set for August 15. The remaining races through early December are all at the two tracks already mentioned, save for one race at Citrus County Speedway in November. Races at Auburndale Speedway were canceled, and no races were planned for New Smyrna Speedway.

    That mirrors a similar situation for the Florida dirt series, the Top Gun Sprint Series. They also have found that their racing has been limited to a reduced number of tracks, as compared to previous years. After two races at East Bay Raceway Park in January and February, both won by Garrett Green (who got married during the lockdown), the only other track to hold a Top Gun race this year has been Hendry County Motorsports Park in Clewiston, the advertised “Southernmost Dirt Track in the USA.” A.J. Maddox has won two of the races held there in the vicinity of the Everglades, in March and May, and Shane Butler won the most recent race, on June 13. The track’s next race on September 12 has an advertised first place prize of a minimum $2,000. It is also being recognized by the series as the planned “biggest Top Gun Sprints payout ever.”

    In August, the Top Gun Sprints intend to resume racing at both East Bay Raceway (August 1) and Volusia Speedway Park (August 29). There are additional races scheduled at these two tracks through early December, when the season concludes at East Bay Raceway on December 5. Another notable event in Top Gun racing has been the “comeback tour” of Florida sprint car legend Stan Butler, who has raced with the series this year, in addition to his steady participation in DAARA and classic sprint car competition. Garrett Green, A.J. Maddox, and Shane Butler currently hold the top three places, in that order, in series points for 2020. Green is the only one of the three who is looking for his first sprint car series championship in Florida.



    Pavement Sprint Cars Highlight 2020 Indy Race Week, Plus Indy 500 and Little 500 Race Week Schedules

    Story by Richard Golardi

    May 22, 2020

    With the 2020 Indianapolis 500 scheduled for Sunday, August 23, and the usual races at Terre Haute and the one or two USAC Silver Crown races in Indianapolis and Brownsburg now off the schedule, the 2020 Indy Race Week takes on a new look. A major part of that new look is the prominence that pavement sprint car racing takes this year. They will be in the national spotlight for three consecutive days.

    Pavement sprint car racing will take place on the three nights prior to the Sunday, August 23 race date for the Indy 500. The Must See Racing Sprint Series visits the Indianapolis Speedrome on both Thursday, 8/20 (winged speed trials only) and Friday, 8/21 (winged speed trials and feature races). Then, the wings are off for both non-wing sprint car and midget races for the Night Before the 500 at Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis on Saturday, 8/22. The sprint car race will likely interest several Florida pavement sprint car teams, as it serves as an Indiana warm-up race for the Little 500, set for two weeks later on Saturday, 9/5.

    Here’s some news that definitely fits into the category of: "I didn't see that coming, but I'm not shocked at the development." USAC has quietly, without a press release, gotten back into sanctioning pavement sprint car racing, and pavement midget racing too. As of today, the pavement sprint car and pavement midget races at Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis on Saturday, August 22 are now USAC sanctioned races. They silently slipped them onto the national sprint car and national midget race schedules, listed as "SE," a special event with no points awarded.

    “New Look” Indy 500 Race Week Schedule:

    Pavement Sprint Car Races Scheduled, Indiana races only:

    • Indianapolis Speedrome: Thursday, August 20,
    Indyana Shootout, Must See Racing Midgets, TQ midgets, Ford oval,
    Figure 8, speed trials with winged sprint cars
    • Indianapolis Speedrome, Friday, August 21,
    Indyana Shootout, Must See Racing sprint cars (winged, Twin 50s),
    Must See Racing midgets, TQ midgets, Factory FWD, speed
    trials with winged sprint cars
    • Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis, Saturday, August 22,
    Night Before the 500, Pavement sprint cars and pavement
    midgets (both non-wing)

    Dirt Sprint Car Races Scheduled, Indiana only:

    • Bloomington Speedway, Bloomington, IN, Friday, August 21,
    Non-wing 410 sprint cars
    • Gas City I-69 Speedway, Gas City, IN, Friday, August 21, Twin
    20s, Non-wing 410 sprint cars
    • Lawrenceburg Speedway, Lawrenceburg, IN, Saturday,
    August 22, Dick Gaines Memorial, Non-wing 410 sprint cars
    • Lincoln Park Speedway, Putnamville, IN, Saturday, August 22,
    Midwest Sprint Car Series, Non-wing 410 sprint cars
    • Plymouth Speedway, Plymouth, IN, Saturday, August 22, All
    Star Circuit of Champions, Winged 410 sprint cars

    USAC Silver Crown Races Scheduled:

    • Illinois State Fairgrounds, Springfield, Illinois, Bettenhausen
    100, Saturday, August 22

    Little 500 Race Week Schedule:

    There are currently two USAC national series events on the same weekend (but a different date) as the current date for the 2020 Pay Less Little 500 Presented by UAW, which is Saturday, September 5:

    • USAC National Midget Series: Sept 4, Sweet Springs Motorsports Complex, Sweet Springs, MO
    • USAC Silver Crown Champ Car Series: Sept 6, Du Quoin State Fairgrounds, Du Quoin, IL

    Indiana sprint car races that same weekend, not including 9/5 (as of 5-22-2020):

    • Friday, 9/4: Bloomington Speedway, Midwest Sprint Car Series, Josh Burton Memorial
    • Friday, 9/4: Gas City I-69 Speedway, Non-wing 410 sprint cars
    • Sunday, 9/6: Kokomo Speedway, Non-wing 410 sprint cars
    • Sunday, 9/6: Tri-State Speedway, Midwest Sprint Car Series, Labor Day Weekend Challenge



    April’s Mixed Bag of (No) Racing

    Story and Photo by Richard Golardi

    April 10, 2020

    April’s usual mixed bag of sprint car racing in the Midwest and Florida has brought no racing in either locale this year. News about the immediate future of racing is another mixed bag of both good and bad news. I’ll get some of the worst bad news out of the way first, leaving the good news until a little later. Speaking of little, the Little 500 seems to be holding fast to its intended Memorial Day weekend race date of Saturday, May 23 (at least as of today, 4/10). This commitment has meant that an excellent alternative race day, Saturday, August 22, has already gone to Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis and their revival of “The Night Before the 500,” now with both pavement sprint cars and midgets. A decent purse structure seems likely to draw most of the major pavement sprint car teams. It remains to be seen if there will be enough midget teams to take their cars out of storage to race, but the date is a good choice for such a doubleheader. Crowds drawn to Indy for the next day’s Indy 500 make it so.

    A recent University of Chicago study reported by Scientific American (see link below) has detailed a fascinating find: numerous coronavirus “hidden hotspots” across the country. The reason that they are hidden is because they have not received much of any exposure in the press (that may change now with the study’s release). These are areas that are “disproportionally affected by COVID-19.” The researchers looked at infections per county, then made their adjustments. It revealed a significant number of locations in the South where the proportion of people who have COVID-19 is quite a bit higher.

    These hidden hotspots also show another disturbing trend, especially for those Florida sprint car teams intending to head north to Indiana in a little over a month for Indy race week and the Little 500. These hidden hotspots are concentrated right along the route almost always taken by Central Florida race teams to travel from the Tampa Bay area to Indianapolis and Anderson, Indiana, which is I-75, to I-24, and then to I-65. They include Albany, GA (bordering I-75), Atlanta (on I-75), Nashville, TN (on I-24), and then Indiana (I-65 bisects the state right up to Indianapolis). That “route most taken” from Tampa now leads through four of the nation’s COVID-19 hidden hotspots and puts those Florida race teams at increased risk of exposure to the virus twice, going north, and then heading home.

    2018 Little 500 Florida Driver Group Photo

    In addition, a just-released survey conducted by Seton Hall University on April 6–8 has found that a majority of Americans (72%) would not feel safe attending a sports event unless a vaccine for COVID-19 had been developed. Among those persons who identified as sports fans, 61% stated that they would not feel safe. Most Americans are not at the point where they feel safe and without fear of illness while at a crowded sports event.

    A readily available alternative for the Little 500, in fact probably the best alternative as of today, is to postpone the date of the race, and not just for the benefit of the Florida teams, but also for the benefit of the race fans who attend the Little 500, a group that includes a large percentage of over-65 seniors, a group identified by the CDC as “at higher risk for developing more serious complications from COVID-19 illness” (, 4-10-2020).

    There is one alternative date for the Little 500 that stands out, and it is the only date providing all these advantages: there are no competing USAC national races on this date, Kokomo Speedway has no race planned (but probably will have one soon), Lucas Oil Raceway has no oval race planned, there is a major daytime race being held in Indianapolis the same day (Brickyard 400), and Anderson Speedway will benefit from the fans already in Central Indiana looking for another race. That date, with all these advantages, is Sunday, July 5.

    Why this day? Because there are already races planned for July 4 for USAC and for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway (which has two races) in Central Indiana. That date won’t work. The “speedway” will probably run late into the day with their two races, and many families will have BBQ and firework parties, and will not be inclined to leave the beer and BBQ they plan to consume to go to a race. Little 500 qualifying could be held on Thursday and Friday, July 2 and 3, and the race on July 5. There’s another benefit: owners, drivers, and crew members that have non-essential jobs, and are now out of work and cutting back on all their expenses, have a greater likelihood of being back to work by July, and can therefore afford the costs of running a race team once again. In April and May, many teams have no way to gather funds to afford the cost of racing in the Little 500, which is estimated to cost several thousand dollars.

    A July race date for the Little 500 would also align the race with scheduling decisions made by the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, IndyCar Series, and MLB pro baseball, all of whom have no plans to hold events in occupied stadiums during April or May. The IndyCar Series will not hold their season-opening race until June. The speedway will not race until July. Other auto races planned for April and May are being canceled and postponed. That makes sense.

    Now, on to that promised good news: Both of Florida’s sprint car series, the Southern Sprint Car Shootout Series and the Top Gun Sprint series, have both expressed their intention to return to racing when stay-at-home orders have been called off and race fans may once again safely gather at Florida’s short tracks, both dirt and paved. Two of Florida’s legendary sprint car team owners, Jack Nowling and George Rudolph, have both recently celebrated their 80th birthdays, with George the most recent to turn 80 on March 30. Nowling and fellow Florida car owner Bob Gratton were also the Grand Marshals for the February running of the Dave Steele World Non-Wing Championship at Showtime Speedway in Pinellas Park. George Rudolph can still be seen in the pits, wrench in hand, in Florida and at the Little 500 to this day. Wrench on, George! Two early favorites for 2020 championships in Florida’s sprint car racing have already emerged, even though both Florida series have shut down since early March. Troy DeCaire has won three features with the Southern Sprint Car series, and seemed poised to resume that dominance when the season resumes. On the dark (dirt) side, Garrett Green, driving the No. 82 Hardy Maddox car, has taken the checkered flag in two of the three Top Gun series races this year, and is one of the few Florida racers to have multiple sprint cars wins on both dirt and pavement. He’s one of the early favorites to take his first sprint car championship this year with the Top Gun dirt racers, and would be a popular champion. On the pavement side, the next Florida race is tentatively planned for Saturday, June 27 at Showtime Speedway. Top Gun does not have a confirmed date to resume racing.

    Here’s the link to the Scientific American article on “hidden hotspots”:



    Jeff Walker – The Master Mentor of the Champions


    Story and Photo by Richard Golardi


    February 15, 2020


    The names and places were rolling off his tongue. Stories of sprint car races and sprint car places, all told by legendary sprint car team owner Jeff Walker, owner of Jeff’s Jam-It-In Storage in Noblesville, Indiana. Then there are the names – all those young hot-shots that he tutored and molded and made into consistent winners and racing champions. You can start with Dave Steele, a racer who he moved right into his office at his storage facility, and made it into a bedroom for the 22-year-old in May 1996. Then, add the following names to his list of drivers: Tony Elliott (for almost 10 years), Levi Jones, Dave Darland, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Kyle Larson, Brad Sweet, and “I can’t even think of all of them,” Jeff remarked.


    Jeff Walker has experienced loss, too. If you have been around short track auto racing as long as Jeff Walker, it has happened. He was close to Robbie Stanley, a USAC sprint car champion, who died in a sprint car at Winchester Speedway on May 26, 1994. “He was good at a young age,” Jeff said. “Him and I were pretty good friends. We had a pretty long talk, that day that he got killed. That was a pretty sad day for me. We sat in the parking lot there and talked. He wasn’t very happy with that car there at Anderson. We ran [Little 500] qualifying at Anderson that day, and then ran Winchester that night, and that’s when he got killed. I’ve been close to a couple of guys that got killed – and it’s hard. Luckily enough, it wasn’t in my car, so I’m glad of that. I haven’t had anybody really hurt in any of my cars, and we’ve run a lot of races.”


    Levi Jones, present at Bubba Raceway Park last night in his current position as USAC executive vice president, was another of those protégés of Jeff Walker who had success and multiple championships in a sprint car. He also won his last feature race, at Gas City Speedway, driving a sprint car owned by Jeff Walker. “Levi ran for me a lot too. He ran for me before [car owner Tony] Stewart, that was his first ride out of his family car, and he drove for me for a while. It was at the same time I was fielding two cars then, with Tony Elliott.”


    When Levi Jones made a decision about his future, a decision to leave race car driving, he came to Jeff Walker, and let him know, “Jeff, I’ve got three kids that rely on me.” It was when Jeff had just built a whole new race team. “I get it,” Jeff said to him. “If you want to throw in the towel, I understand.” Levi was concerned: “I don’t want you mad at me!”


    “I’m not mad at you!” Jeff responded. “I understand.”


    Jeff believes that the reason his cars have won so many races is because of the high level of talent possessed by his drivers. “Hire the right driver, and you’ll be a winning team,” he proclaimed. Of course, he is downplaying his mechanical genius at preparing his cars, and his ability to pick the future champions – those drivers that he could mold, mentor, and develop into champions, as he has done for decades. Frequently, they were USAC racing champions, who often went on to win their championships in later years, such as Dave Steele’s USAC Silver Crown titles in 2004 and 2005 driving Bob East’s champ car.


    “I’ve probably helped a few of them!” Jeff Walker said of his drivers over the decades. “And today, I’m here in Florida with a rookie out of Arizona, Sterling Cling.” Jeff’s rookie driver, competing for the USAC Rookie of the Year title, is considered one of the favorites for the 2020 sprint car division rookie title along with Anton Hernandez and Anthony D’Alessio.


    “I just started working for them [Cling family] last June,” Jeff said, “and they’re out of Arizona, so I’ve been out there all winter, building cars. Now we’re here, and we’re going to give it a go, and see how he does.” Jeff revealed that Sterling Cling is an off-road racing champion, and is an experienced race winner. Of course, learning sprint car racing “is way different: 800 horsepower in a 1,200 pound car. In 410 sprint cars, he’s had maybe 10–12 races. We ran last year. He’s got a 360, they call it Challenge Cup. We won one of those, a Challenge Cup race in Arizona a few weeks ago, and a third place last week.


    “They’ve hired me to run the whole team. They said, ‘We want you to do it all.’ That’s the only way I probably would have done it, because I didn’t really want the job. We’re going to run up until June with USAC, through Pennsylvania, and just see how we’re doing. Then, we’re going to reevaluate how we’re doing. If we’re not running well, and not staying up with them, then we’re going to run local races, and get some more experience, and then come back for USAC the next year. If we’re doing alright, we’ll keep running the USAC stuff.”



    Greg Wilson – The Long-Time Visitor


    Story and Photos by Richard Golardi


    February 13, 2020


    Ohio sprint car racer Greg Wilson, driver of the No. w20 car, has been a long-time visitor to Captain Jack’s place, the name often used for the home of Jack Nowling. It’s down at the end of a dead-end road in Gibsonton, Florida. It’s a location that becomes a gathering place for dirt sprint car racers during February Speedweeks, and especially during those three days of racing at East Bay Raceway Park for the 360 Winternationals, which begins today through Saturday. In fact, Greg has been coming to Captain Jack’s and his iconic “Cracker House” for 29 years, about as long as Captain Jack has been living in Gibsonton.


    Greg may just be the racer who is not only a long-time visitor, he may have been visiting for longer than any other racer. He recommended to fellow dirt sprint car racer Danny Smith that he should join him at Captain Jack’s during those weeks of racing during February. Danny joined him, as did many other racers, and has also been a regular visitor there for as long as many can remember. Of course, a highlight of their stay is visiting with that iconic, rough, tough, gruff, but extremely lovable, Florida sprint car team owner and owner of Jack’s Place: Jack Nowling. If you have been one of the visitors there, then you know there is one overwhelming emotion that everyone experiences. It’s that everyone loves Jack Nowling.


    Jack opens up his property, his home, and the social gathering place, The Cracker House, to this diverse group of racers from the Northeast, Midwest, and the rest of the country. Also, there is the bunkhouse, like something out of the Old West, and a fire pit, where racers can be found telling stories and spinning tales (sometimes truthful) of racing from decades gone by, and at race tracks that have met the developer’s bulldozers (Boo!). Sometimes, the story telling and the card games go on until the sun comes up. Greg Wilson has been there to greet the sun after the all-night games and stories have wound down, and believe it or not, that happened on days that the racers then headed over to East Bay Raceway to drive their sprint cars.


    For 2020, Greg Wilson told me that his main goal is to compete for the driver’s championship with the Ollie’s Bargain Outlet All Star Circuit of Champions. “And win some races,” Greg told me at Volusia Speedway Park. “We had a decent year last year, didn’t win some races that we felt like we should have. Kinda changed some things around over the winter time. Got a really good mechanic [Dean “Bonzai” Bruns] starting in April that will take some pressure off me, and hopefully that equals out to be some wins. He’s going to do the full All Star schedule for our points season. We changed some stuff around, worked on the motors a little bit, and just tried to fine-tune some things that we felt like we were starting to learn at the end of last year. So, maybe we won’t start so far behind this year.


    “You always do this to win races,” Greg added. “We do a lot of stuff for our partners, so we’ll be really busy doing stuff for Hercules Tire and all the people that are involved with our team.” Regarding the highlight of his 2019 racing season, Greg remarked, “I don’t know if there was one real highlight. I just felt like there was a lot of times that we started showing signs that we could win some races again. You know, we kind of went through “a low” being out on the road with the World of Outlaws, and not really having our ducks in a row. And we felt like, last year, we needed to work toward getting things simplified, and trying to figure out what it was going to take to get back to being competitive. We felt like there was times that we showed that, but we couldn’t quite get over that hump. Hopefully this year, we can get some wins.”


    In addition to running the full All Star Circuit of Champions schedule, Greg plans to race in about 20–25 World of Outlaws races, and another 10–15 weekly or 360 shows somewhere. This week, “If we’re ready, we’ll be at East Bay for the 360s, if not, we’ll be in Alabama the following weekend.” Greg revealed that he’s got his 360 engine with him, meaning that he’ll race, if that is the final decision this week to enter the 360 Winternationals. “We’re ready. Oh, yeah!” he remarked.


    “We like East Bay Raceway. It’s a cool place,” he said. “It appears it ain’t gonna be around forever, and we’d like to get us a big win there. But, we also have to do what’s right for our team.” Greg plans to reevaluate the teams’ status on Wednesday, a day without racing, and then make his plans for the rest of the week of racing in Florida. “And then we’ll go from there.”


    This happens, all while his anticipation grows about the coming reunion of racers over at Captain Jack’s place in Gibsonton. “We’re excited to be over at Captain Jack’s,” Greg stated. “I’ve been going there probably longer than any of “the clan” has been goin’ there. I started going there when I was 15 years old, and I’m 44 years old. So, he’s like a father. Jack’s been a huge part of my life, and we love the man, and he’s struggling right now with some health issues. We’re excited to get back there and spend some time with him this week. I actually started coming around right when “the move” [Jack’s move from Brandon to Gibsonton] happened. Right when he moved to Gibsonton, like the first or second year, I met him at the race track at East Bay. I was there.”


    And, that is what makes Greg Wilson “The Long-Time Visitor.”



    Terry McCarl – East Bay Time is Happy Time for This King of the 360s


    Story and Photo by Richard Golardi


    February 12, 2020


    In February 2019, Terry McCarl won another East Bay 360 Winternational Saturday finale, the Ronald Laney Memorial race. That’s the race with the biggest payday in 360 sprint car racing during February Speedweeks in Florida. It was the fourth time winning that race for the 55-year-old Iowa racer, which includes one race with a 410 engine, and the other three during the 360 Winternationals. His main competition for that Saturday finale this year may be another two experts on Florida dirt, Aaron Reutzel and Mark Smith. They have both won two feature races so far during 2020 February Speedweeks, Reutzel in 410 racing, and Smith in 360 racing.


    “Man, I just love East Bay Raceway Park,” “T-MAC” had said previously about the small, racy West Coast Florida dirt track. “We had our ups and downs,” Terry said about his 2019 season, “but [Knoxville] Nationals is always our biggest goal, and we had a bad Nationals, had some mechanical problems. We won six features in six different states. We won one at Texas Motor Speedway, one of the finales with the ASCS national group. Picked up our 59th win at Knoxville, we’re only one behind [Doug] Wolfgang on the all-time list. We’re inching up there, slowly but surely. East Bay was our highlight last year, that was our fourth one, the third with 360s, we won one with a 410. That was also our second in a row, only person to do that. Pretty proud, I love East Bay, I love comin’ down here, I love Florida, we’ve got a lot of great friends and have been comin’ down here for so many years. And of course, you can’t beat the weather, compared to Iowa. I’ve said this story a lot, but as a little boy, I used to listen to my dad’s stories about comin’ to Tampa, and racing at the Tampa Fairgrounds and all those places that you see in the history books. My dad was there for quite a few of those and it means a lot to me to come down here and put my name into the record books. I’m into the history of sprint car racing quite a bit.


    “We teamed up with Rick and Barb Rogers at Destiny Motorsports last year, it’s T-MAC Motorsports and Destiny Motorsports, it’s a ‘combo deal.’ They’re good folks, we’ve been friends a long time. They sponsored me for years with Destiny Motorsports on the front wing, and this last year, we combined more, we got their truck and trailer and all their goodies and put a deal together. We’re going to get bigger and better every year, I think, with Dick and Barb. I’m looking forward to being with them, they’re great people. And Mondak Portables, and that really helped us out to get back on track. We had a good year for our first year teaming up with those guys, and I’m looking forward to this year. Florida’s kinda tough, and it’s always been that way. Gary Wright and I always used to joke about it: ‘If you win every night in Florida, or lose every night, you still get to the Georgia line on your way out of town, and throw away all your notes, because they don’t work anywhere else.’ ”


    On Sunday at Volusia Speedway Park, Terry remarked, “I’ve dominated down here, and I’ve run bad down here, like this week. Florida’s a tricky, tricky place for everybody. I really enjoy it, I’m looking forward to being at East Bay this week.” Terry intends to race at all five sprint car races at East Bay Raceway this week, the two All Star series races, Monday and Tuesday; followed by the three nights of the East Bay 360 Winternationals, Thursday–Saturday. Then he heads home, with the possibility of getting in a USCS sprint car race on the way. The World of Outlaws sprint car dates through the beginning of April are also in his plans. Beyond April, it’s “kind of pick and choose,” and after speaking to Rick and Barb, “we might be at Knoxville weekly, I’m not sure. I live 30 minutes from ‘the best track in the world.’ I think we ran 60-some races last year, but we were there for all the weekly shows. What’s nice about where we live, and about Knoxville, is that it pays really well, their point fund is really good, but their season is very short. It lets us race with the Outlaws up until April, and it lets us race with the Outlaws after that [late August end of Knoxville’s sprint car season]. You never know where you’re going to see us, or where we’re going to be – 360s, 410s, we could be just about anywhere.”


    Terry mentioned that his son, Carson, we be racing at East Bay this year, and that he’s “excited about that. Hopefully, next year we can get Austin down here too, and have a ‘McCarl – Fest.’ Carson, my youngest, was the 360 champion at Knoxville last year, and will be racing a 360 at East Bay. Austin is kinda ‘crew-chiefing’ for us. He’s putting his own team, his own ride together with Brandon Ikenberry, they’re looking at doing some racing together. He’s a long-time friend of Austin’s and he’s worked for me for years and years, a great crew guy.”






    Daryn Pittman: Back with Roth Motorsports, Building on Last Year


    Story and photoo by Richard Golardi


    February 10, 2020


    Daryn Pittman, the 41-year old racer from Owasso, Oklahoma, has already won a World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series championship. That happened in 2013. He has a career win total of 85 feature wins with the Outlaws. But Daryn Pittman is looking to improve on his first season with Roth Motorsports last year, when he won four World of Outlaws races, half of which occurred during the February Speedweeks visit by the Outlaws to Volusia Speedway Park. Although he leaves Volusia without any feature wins this year, his speed and impressive car-handling on the last night, Sunday, when he was in contention for the win with Brad Sweet and Logan Schuchart, is a great start to more wins and improved consistency for 2020.


    Later in 2019, Daryn added another win in the Gold Cup Race of Champions at California’s Silver Dollar Speedway in September, and that put him on the way to a fourth place in the final 2019 point standings with the World of Outlaws. Back in the No. 83 Roth Motorsports sprint car this year in his 23rd year of racing, Daryn remarked that he was “glad to be back again. Definitely would like to get to victory lane a few more times than what we did last year, but obviously excited to be back and try to build on what we started last year.”


    Highlight of the year in racing for Daryn in 2019: “We started off awfully good,” he said. “But, honestly, I’d say the highlight for me, especially with how much I’ve struggled there, was running third at the [Knoxville] Nationals. Ran well, we started 10th and got to 2nd and contended for the lead for a few laps, and weren’t quite good enough. But that was really a pretty big step for me, and I think that was a really good effort by the team, and big improvement by myself, as far as performance-wise at that race. So, I actually think that might have been one of my highlights. Winning Gold Cup was obviously a pretty big win for us, as well, and being in Dennis’ [car owner Dennis Roth] back yard in California.”


    Main goal for 2020: “We’ve gotta win races. We only won four last year. I think a realistic goal is we’d really like to try to get close to double digits, if not, as close as we can. We’ve got to do a better job of winning more races and being competitive and contend for more “crown jewels” and be there again for Knoxville. The National Open [at Williams Grove Speedway] is one that’s been there on my radar, and one I’ve been close to winning for way too many years. So, we’d love to be able to click that one off. I’ve run second, five times now, I believe. You gotta go out there and win ’em, and earn ’em. It’s one that we’ve always been good at, and been close, and we’ve love to be able to finally check off the list. If we could be as good as we were at Knoxville this year, I definitely think that we can contend for that one, as well.”


    After Sunday night at Volusia Speedway Park, “We’re done until Texas,” Daryn said. They were not staying around for another two days of 410 racing at East Bay Raceway, as many of the other 410 teams were doing before heading back north for the rest of the 2020 season. “We’ll get ready for just the Outlaws races. We’ll probably run the Front Row Challenge at Oskaloosa, but other than that, no. The Outlaws schedule keeps ’em busy enough. We don’t need to seek too many other races.”


    A track that he’d choose to get a win in 2020: “Knoxville. Only race I’ve ever won in Knoxville is a World Challenge race, so I’d be happy with a July, or June, or whenever we go there, or any race in August, for sure. It’s definitely a track that I’d love to get a win at. Wins have been only the World Challenge race – I’ve won that three times, I think, but that’s the only race I’ve ever won there.”




    Jacob Allen Interview: “Try Again Tomorrow”


    Story and photo by Richard Golardi


    February 9, 2020


    It almost happened in 2019. Jacob Allen’s first feature race win in the World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series, that is. He was leading a race at the Stockton Dirt Track, one lap away from winning it, when a part failure took a “sure win” away. That makes the 25-year-old racer from Hanover, Pennsylvania want that first win even more this year. He took 12th place in the World of Outlaws points last year, after a best placing of 11th in Outlaws points in 2018. He is back with Shark Racing, a team owned by his father, Bobby Allen, in 2020, again with Logan Schuchart as his teammate. Jacob was a full-time “PA Posse” racer, racing full-time in Central Pennsylvania through 2013, and then went full-time in the World of Outlaws series in 2014 for the first time.


    Jacob’s main goal for 2020: “Just to have fun,” he remarked, “and to be a good teammate, and have a good attitude.” Highlight of the year for him in 2019: “In a weird way, I’d say, getting that close to winning my first Outlaw race. That was a heartbreak, but that was probably my highlight – just being up front, leading that race, and being fast on a track that we have struggled at in the past.”


    The definite main goal for 2020 is the effort he’ll put forth to get his first World of Outlaws feature win: “Yeah, that’s obvious, just to get that first Outlaw win.” Jacob plans to “just take one race at a time and do the best I can. I come to every race, and it doesn’t matter if I’ve won one Outlaw race, or a hundred Outlaw races, I feel like I’m always gonna treat that the same – one race at a time and try to win it.”


    If he could choose a track for that first Outlaw win, would he choose Stockton, California, or would it be a different track?: “I’ll take it tonight, here at Volusia. If it doesn’t happen today, I’m gonna try again tomorrow, and see how it all plays out. This [Volusia Speedway Park] is a fast race track. It’s pretty technical. After a few months of the off-season, you come right into a lot of speed and great competition, but that’s everywhere. It’s a pretty tricky and aggressive half-mile, but it doesn’t make me intimidated or anything like that. I just take that all into perspective, and I go out there and I give it the best shot I can.”


    Shark Racing plans to compete in the full 2020 World of Outlaws race schedule, and also has plans for the few weeks after the sprint car racing at Volusia ends on Sunday, February 9. “We’re going to go back home after we race here in Volusia,” Jacob stated. “We plan on racing in the Icebreaker, that’s at Lincoln Speedway [Saturday, February 22], and anything with the right scheduling that we have time to do and we’re able to race it, I know my dad is gonna want to race, and we are too. Back home, or wherever it might be. Back in Pennsylvania is where you can find us, if we’re not racing with the Outlaws. At the end of the year, if BAPS [Motor Speedway, Pennsylvania] has that race after the Outlaw season, we always do that one.”




    2019 Champion’s Interview - Aaron Reutzel, All Star Circuit of Champions

     Story and Photos by Richard Golardi

     February 8, 2020


     Aaron Reutzel was already on a roll coming into the Friday night season-opening race for the World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Cars. He had already won at Volusia Speedway Park this week, taking the Thursday night Ollie’s Bargain Outlet All Star Circuit of Champions feature race with impressive speed. Earlier this year, he also had a sprint car win in Australia on January 5, his first win “Down Under.” With 18 overall feature wins (16 with the All Star series) and his second consecutive All Star Circuit of Champions driver championship in 2019, what’s left for the 29-year old sprint car virtuoso?


    How about conquer Florida Speedweeks for a start? Aaron and his Baughman-Reutzel Motorsports No. 87 team plan to race in ten nights of competition in Florida this week, and all the way through to the end of next week. After Volusia, it’s off to East Bay Raceway Park on Monday and Tuesday, and that’s where he’ll stay for the rest of the week after the All Star series races on those first two nights. Out comes the 410 engine, replaced by their 360 engine for the East Bay 360 Winternationals on Thursday–Saturday. The rest of the year consists of attempting to win their third straight All Star series championship, while also including a major portion of the World of Outlaws sprint car schedule in their 2020 plans.


    “We’re gonna do the All Star deal again,” Aaron remarked at Volusia Speedway Park on Friday. “So, we’d like to win that again. Last year, I felt like it was a big one for us to win it again. When we won it the first year [2018], it was our rookie year. Last year, we felt like we needed to back it up to prove that we were the team that we were. That was good. This year, I think we want to back-up everything that we did, you never want to go backwards. Sixteen wins, that’s going to be hard to do; and then an Outlaw win, that’s going to be hard to do as well. If I have any goal, it’s going to be to at least get two Outlaw wins this year, and win the All Star championship again.


    “I would like to have a little bit more of a consistent year,” Aaron continued, “where we have a little less DNFs, and try to get more consistent – me as a driver, and also as a team together.” When asked about a track where he has not won, but where he’d like to be a winner, he was quick to respond: “I’d like to get Knoxville out of the way, I haven’t won there yet.” Highlight of the year in 2019: “Winning the Tuscarora 50.” Goal for this weekend at Volusia: “Try to win one of these next three [weekend races at Volusia], and go down to East Bay, I’d like to win the Ronald Laney Memorial [Saturday finale at East Bay Raceway], ’cause Ronald grew up about an hour from me and he was always “the hometown guy,” so, I’d like to win that race. I haven’t been there [East Bay 360 Winternationals] since 2015.”


    All the Thursday speed he showed was quite a contrast from Wednesday night at Volusia, when he struggled for speed. Not on Thursday, when he had speed in abundance, and a trophy. What happened? “I don’t know! At the end of last year, it seemed like it didn’t matter where we went, we were able to make speed and last night just wasn’t any different.” Any other big half-mile tracks similar to Volusia that he’s looking forward to in 2020? “I always enjoy getting back to Eldora, and definitely Port Royal,” which was the location of Aaron’s “favorite win” from 2019, the Tuscarora 50, at Pennsylvania’s Port Royal Speedway on September 7, which was a $52,000 payday for Aaron and his team, their biggest ever.



    USAC Rookie Interview – Anthony D’Alessio

    Story by Richard Golardi

    February 4, 2020

    When legendary Florida sprint car racer Frank Riddle competed for the USAC National Sprint Car series Rookie of the Year title in 1980 (he won it at age 51), he had three decades of racing experience behind him. He was hardly a “rookie.” When Floridian Anthony D’Alessio races for that same USAC Rookie of the Year title this year, four decades after Riddle’s try, he measures his sprint car experience in years, not decades. Next month will mark three years since his first sprint car feature win, in an East Bay Sprints race at East Bay Raceway Park on March 11, 2017. He went on to win another sprint car feature in Florida that year, a Top Gun Sprint Series race at East Bay. By the next year, the Apollo Beach resident had moved on and was racing in the Midwest. New tracks, new competition, and new goals were ahead for 2018 and ’19. Now, when he sits in his dirt sprint car and looks out over the car’s hood, ahead of him he sees 2020.

    Anthony plans to race in the full USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car Series tour in 2020, beginning with the season-opening race at Ocala’s Bubba Raceway Park on Thursday, February 13. He’ll still be a teenage racer, 19 years old. But that will change soon. On April 6, he’ll turn 20, leaving his teenage years behind, and also embarking on an arduous spring and summer tour of Midwest and Eastern race tracks, most of them new to him. He did race at a number of Indiana tracks last year; highlighted by a feature win at Lincoln Park Speedway during their “King of Non-Wing Sprints” event in August, and also a USAC heat race win at Kokomo Speedway in July during USAC’s Indiana Sprint Week. He raced at a couple other USAC events, and lots of weekly sprint car shows at tracks such as Kokomo, Gas City Speedway, and Lawrenceburg Speedway.

    During early 2020, he showed off the new car colors, with a flash of bright blue and black, on both social media and at a kick-off event held at a pub in Anderson, Indiana last Saturday. Anderson was a short hop down the interstate from where he currently lives, in Gas City. He raced the full season of races at Gas City Speedway in 2019, and will be back there in 2020 with USAC as an owner/driver in company with Parallax Motorsports and owner Joe Brandon. He’ll be driving the No. 01 DRC/ Claxton Mopar. Brandon stated that he decided to move forward with this united team effort after meeting Anthony, who immediately impressed him as “a genuinely nice young man.” Nice … and fast, that is.

    Anthony’s already got a history of success in winning Rookie of the Year titles, winning three of them in Florida before that move to the Midwest about 1 ˝ years ago. First came the Rookie of the Year designations in both the East Bay Raceway sprint car division, and the Top Gun Sprint Series in 2016 (his first full season in sprint cars), followed by a half-year of pavement racing and Rookie of the Year with the Southern Sprint Car Shootout Series in 2017. That came at the wheel of Johnny Gilbertson’s No. 22X. He led laps and got a top ten at the Frank Riddle Memorial race in October 2017. That pavement experience plays an important role in one of Anthony’s future goals – getting to race a champ car in USAC Silver Crown, which races on both dirt and pavement.

    But first, it’s time to gain experience in USAC competition on USAC tracks in a USAC sprint car. “When I moved to Indiana, it was always the plan to go USAC racing,” Anthony said. “Last year was my ‘build season,’ I like to call it. I wanted to get one good season of local Indiana racing under my belt before I went full-bore USAC racing, so I used last season to build my operation and just learn as much as I could.” His parents are “still down in Florida. I’m actually living up here by myself – all on my own.”

    Other racing plans for 2020: “If the time comes when we have a week off, and can go hit Kokomo, and any local Indiana track, I probably will. I’m just kind of going to play it by ear. My number one goal is to go out and have fun and that’s what I came here to do. This is going to be a learning season and there’s a lot of tracks on the schedule that I haven’t been to yet. So, I’m going to have to really buckle down, and learn all I can while I can – get my notebook together, I guess you can say, for the coming seasons. Most of the tracks on the schedule, outside of Indiana, I haven’t been to.”

    His family’s plans to come see him race outside of Florida: “They’re going to try to come to the majority of them. My mom’s kind of sick right now, and she can’t travel as much as she’d like. But, my dad is going to try to come to just about all of them. He wants to be there for me, to support me.”

    His opinion of his chance of winning USAC Rookie of the Year: “I think I have a pretty good chance. There’s some stiff competition for Rookie of the Year this year, but I feel I’ve put a pretty good program together, and can definitely be a contender for it. It’s going to be mostly about consistency, and who can make the most races, and right now, that’s all I’m focused on.” On the other two USAC rookie contenders, Anton Hernandez of Texas, and Sterling Cling of Arizona, Anthony said, “I’ve raced with them quite a bit. Anton Hernandez is a great shoe, and he’s got a great car owner, Kenny Baldwin, behind him this year, so I think he’ll definitely be stiff competition. Sterling Cling, as well, he’s also gonna be pretty tough. He’s got Jeff Walker behind him turning the wrenches, he’s one of the most notable [car owners] there is. It’s definitely going to be tough, but I hope I’ve put a good program together, so I can at least contend for it. I actually work over at Scott Benic’s speed shop right now; we also build for Baldwin’s team for Anton’s car. I’ve worked alongside Anton putting the cars together.”

    Would he want to do more pavement open wheel racing? “Yeah, I’d be interested in doing pavement, either at the Little 500, or pavement Silver Crown stuff. I’d love to get behind the wheel of anything on pavement. I’d never turn anything down, that’s for sure.”

    Racing plans beyond 2020: “I don’t know really – I guess it depends on the opportunities that arise. I love the USAC racing, I love the community behind it. I’d love to be able to drive in Silver Crown, and get behind the wheel of a midget. I’ve always said that wherever I go, I just want to be good at it. That’s what I want to do – whatever I race, whether it’s USAC sprint cars, Silver Crown, or midgets, or World of Outlaws, or if I’m lucky enough to make it to higher levels, like IndyCar or NASCAR, I just want to be good at whatever I do.”



    Champion’s Interview – AJ Maddox, Top Gun Sprint Series

    Story and Photos by Richard Golardi

    January 29, 2020

    Rounding the one-third mile dirt surface at Gibsonton’s East Bay Raceway Park for a last time on the night of November 30, 2019, AJ Maddox was in an intense battle with Shane Butler for the feature race win, a race that later was declared the season finale. Going into this Top Gun Sprint Series finale, he had a 20-point lead in the season-long points over second-place Keith Butler. AJ had just surpassed Butler in the series point standings earlier in the month, when Butler had a stretch of bad luck. As AJ and Shane Butler approached the front straight and the checkered flag, with a first or second place feature finish almost certain, AJ had the 2019 Top Gun sprint car driver championship firmly in his grasp. Keith Butler was just inside the top ten in the race, allowing AJ to gain points and sew up the title. That was his. One thing was left … win the race.

    With a win this night, AJ was going to earn his fifth Top Gun series feature race of the season. The four prior 2019 wins came at East Bay Raceway during Speedweeks (two wins), at Volusia Speedway Park in April, and also at East Bay in October. He had already established a record of earning the driver championship in Top Gun Series racing during odd-numbered years, going back to 2015, his first driver championship in the series. That was followed by championships in 2017, and now, 2019. These all came at the wheel of the No. 3A car owned by Ray Bolin. His car had now carried AJ into a tie with Danny Martin Jr. (champion in 2011, 2013 and 2014) for the most career Top Gun driver championships. Both drivers now had three titles.

    AJ Maddox at Volusia Speedway Park, 2016

    Let’s go back to that East Bay race on November 30: Earlier in the evening, race officials informed the teams that the transponders, an electronic device installed on each car for timing and scoring, would not be used, as the computerized system used in conjunction with the transponders had malfunctioned. Teams were informed to return the transponders. There was no system to capture a “photo finish” by a camera at the start/finish line, if one was needed in case of a close finish. The finish was going to be decided by race officials by eye.

    AJ and Shane were now side-by-side coming off the fourth turn on the last lap, and seemed to stay that way upon crossing the finish line. But, one of them was just slightly ahead. The race was now over. The arguing was just beginning. One view of the finish line, slightly askew from directly straight-on, appeared to show AJ and the No. 3A ahead at the line. But he was not declared the winner. Shane Butler was declared the winner, and got the honor of celebrating in the front straight winner’s circle at East Bay.

    AJ had a different opinion of that declared finishing order. He stated that if the transponders had been present and were functioning properly, that he, and not Shane, would have been declared the winner. “I chalk up the last race of the year as a win,” AJ said defiantly. “If we would have had transponders on the cars, I think the end results would have been a little bit different. There’s video evidence of the finish, at the finish line, and at the time, we couldn’t do anything about it, so I didn’t want to make a fuss. It was a Memorial Race for Don [Rehm], and his family was all involved. That’s the way it goes sometimes: sometimes the calls go your way, and sometimes they don’t!”

    About Top Gun Series racing: “It’s one of series where you have to run every race. You gotta support the series, and show up every week. Sometimes that’s difficult to do – life gets in the way, and you’ve gotta truly be dedicated to it. Luckily, every year that I’ve won the championship, it’s been one of those years where I’ve been lucky enough to make every race, and finish well, and have a good car underneath me. That’s what it takes to win championships. It takes dedication, and a good car, and good support.”

    About the oddity of winning his championships only in odd-numbered years: “Some of those years, we’ve been trying to branch out, and run some 360 stuff,” which for dirt racers in Florida, that often consists of the East Bay 360 Winternationals, and USCS national sprint car series races, which require an ASCS/USCS 360 engine to be competitive. Top Gun Series racing does not allow these engines, only limited 360 engines (and some others). “One or two of those years, I didn’t have a motor for some of the races, we had some motor issues” he added. AJ has had a goal to run more USCS races, and those “even-numbered, non-championship years” sometimes marked the time when his team had that goal in mind. USCS races in Georgia and South Carolina were sometimes within reach during the summer months, but the desire not to lose points in the Top Gun rankings often kept them closer to home.

    His goal for the 2020 race season: “Try to not run as much Top Gun stuff, but run a lot more 360 stuff. From 2012 to 2018, I did have a 360, and we ran quite a bit with the 360.” Engine builder Robert Delgado began the rebuild on his USCS 360 engine in 2018. After health issues delayed the rebuild and set back Delgado’s work timeline, car owner Ray Bolin decided to stick with Delgado and wait out the delay. Delgado’s engine work was worth waiting for, they decided.

    AJ Maddox, with car owner Ray Bolin, and Ashlynn Durden in 2015

    After missing last year’s East Bay Winternationals, they’ve got their USCS 360 engine back, and are now ready for more 360 racing in 2020. “It’s a bullet, for sure – came off the dyno with good numbers,” AJ said of his confidence in the rebuilt 360, which will be ready to race in the East Bay Winternationals in two weeks. His 2018 Winternationals results included getting a top six start to get locked into the feature on the final night, Saturday, February 17. Those top six qualifiers are often considered among the best 360 dirt sprint car racers in the nation.

    AJ’s highlight of the year in 2019 racing: “Honestly, it’s going to sound kinda selfless, but, helping Matt Kurtz during the 2019 360 Winternationals was kinda the highlight of my year, in racing. He didn’t make the show the first two nights, and kept workin’ at it, and he went on to start last in the heat race and win. Raced his way in, came from the back in the feature, I think he started 16th, or so, and drove right up to the front, got to second. I think he got a little tired there towards the end of the race; it’s certainly special when you get to do that with that kind of company – even workin’ on ’em and helping somebody else. Seeing an effort like that is really satisfying. We ran the Top Gun stuff, we won some races and it’s always fun to win the non-wing races. Other than the last race, according to the history books, I’ve won every Top Gun non-wing race at East Bay that they’ve held, heat and feature, since 2012. Probably one of the highlights of my career.”

    On Sunday, January 19, the Top Gun Series Annual Banquet saw Ray Bolin and AJ Maddox take the check and trophy for their 2019 series driver championship. I asked who gets the check, is it split between owner and driver? “Any money that is awarded goes to the owner of the car,” AJ replied. “I’m not sure what the amount is, they kinda keep going up every year. It’s between three and five thousand for the championships [driver and car owner both]. Ray will get that. That’ll help out for the following year, and we’ll keep on movin’. I get a picture, and a handshake, and a jacket [Hoosier Tire purple], and get to drive race cars for another year.” But … the check split? “Ahh – we don’t really have anything set in stone. I take care of the cars, and house the cars here. Ray lives in Orlando. He covers the cost of all the racing, I get to enjoy driving and working on the cars. That’s pretty much my payment of the whole deal. It costs a lot to keep these cars goin’. I don’t expect anything in return, honestly. Just get to drive them, and be around it, and live my dream is plenty payment enough.”

    AJ’s “thank yous” to all who helped him achieve another Top Gun Series driver championship in 2019: “First would be Ray Bolin, then his business is the sole sponsor of the car, as of right now: AMP Agri Machinery and Parts. And Robert Delgado Racing Engines, he’s always provided reliable, great power. That’s pretty much all we’ve got right now. And Ashlynn [his girlfriend], of course, for helping me work on it and maintain it.” Is she being assigned the “crew chief” title? “Oh, yeah, for sure,” he answered. “She’s usually got it washed on Monday or Tuesday, and on stands, ready to be worked on. She’ll do most of the work on it if I get hung-up at work, or I can’t make it over there, and she can. She can do full maintenance, and do anything and everything making sure that car’s ready to race.”

    That certainly makes AJ a lucky guy, many would say. “Yeah … I ought to marry her one of these days,” he stated. When I called AJ for this interview, there was the possibility that “home shopping” for he and Ashlynn might necessitate a change of day and time for the interview. They were looking for the perfect home – for the two of them. “Ashlynn and I are trying to get our first house, we’re in the process of that right now. Actually, we put an offer in on one today. I’m working pretty hard at my job [plumber/pipefitter], I’m doing at least 60 hours a week. Between moving, and that, and getting ready for the Winternationals, I’m a pretty busy guy.”

    Racing plans for the next month: “We’re going to do all the Winternationals stuff we can for the next month.” At most, that’s six nights of racing: possibly three nights of the Top Gun Series, limited 360 engine, on January 30, 31, and February 1; and “definitely” three nights of the East Bay 360 Winternationals, on February 13–15. Also – “The majority of the Top Gun stuff throughout the year, and whatever USCS stuff we can break-off and hit, we’re gonna do that. Usually, there’s 10 to 12 USCS races throughout the year that we try to plan on hitting. It doesn’t always work out that way, but we’ll at least try to hit that many. Most of the places are within reason [with cost considerations] – Georgia, and Alabama, or North or South Carolina. Try to look at it as a mini-vacation, just get outta town. We’ve talked about it a little bit.”

    Home plans, looking to the future, looking ahead to more championships, AJ was willing to say how he was putting it all together, his current perspective: “We are plenty excited about it, hopefully it all works out, and we can start another chapter of life here.” The house being considered, it’s “a little three bedroom, two bath, it’s got a pretty decent size shop in the back – plenty of room for us to expand, and get our race car hauler in and out of. It’s a good starter home, at least for now.” His own race shop, right next store to his home: “That was the idea in mind when we started the process. I haven’t been able to keep the race cars where I live yet, since I’ve been racing.”

    If you are wondering: did I ask about a wedding, and family, and children, and so on, in the future? Here’s the answer: No. I didn’t. I’d already demanded that the “ought to marry her” comment be on the record (pretty good – huh?). I decided not to press any further. I believe AJ will tell us what he’s thinking, and what’s he’s feeling. All that will happen … when the time is right.




    A Look Ahead – To 2020 February Sprint Car Speedweeks

    Story and Photos by Richard Golardi

    December 22, 2019

    The swift-approaching February Sprint Car Speedweeks in Florida will have a different look in 2020. The national series will hold their races during a condensed period of just 11 days during the first half of the month. Compare that to 2019 – when just one track, Bubba Raceway Park in Ocala, had national sprint car series races for three consecutive weekends during February. Of the three sprint car series that raced during those three weekends, only one returns to Bubba Raceway Park in 2020 – the USAC national sprint car series.

    Bubba Raceway will have two weekends of national open wheel racing in 2020, as they will once again host the USAC national midget series on the weekend prior to the arrival of the USAC sprint cars. But, the All Star Circuit of Champions and the USCS Outlaw Thunder Tour, the other two national sprint car series to visit in 2019, will both be absent from Bubba Raceway in February 2020. Rumors of financial difficulties for track co-owner Bubba Clem have been swirling all through this year, but the truth is that the track will be back with racing in 2020, although with a shorter Speedweeks schedule.

    Despite the announcement that East Bay Raceway Park will likely be sold and closed in 2024, long anticipated as the mound of phosphate waste that looms higher in the east with each passing year seemed destined to overwhelm and supplant the track eventually, the East Bay 360 Sprint Car Winternationals return. If the 360 Winternationals are held each year until the end (which seems sure to happen), then the 2020 edition will be followed by four more before the last ever 360 Winternationals in February 2024. East Bay management is hardly rolling over and waiting for the inevitable, however. They are bringing back national 410 sprint car racing for the first time in years with the return of the All Star Circuit of Champions, filling in the Monday–Tuesday gap between the Florida dates for the World of Outlaws sprint cars and the USAC sprint cars.

    With that “gap” filled in, which was a three-day gap without a national sprint car series race last year, there now will only be a one-day gap without a national sprint car series race during the week before the Sunday, February 16 date of the Daytona 500. In fact, beginning on Wednesday, Feb. 5, there will be a national sprint car race in Florida for all of the rest of that week, and almost all of the next week. The only day without a race will be Wednesday, Feb 12, and it will have national sprint cars on track, but just for practice, and not racing, in Ocala at Bubba Raceway. For an 11 day period from Feb. 5 to Feb. 15, the dedicated sprint car race fan can see cars from a national sprint car series on track for those 11 consecutive days, and all but one of them with racing.

    Despite the disappointment that came with their previous “Big Speedweeks sprint car race,” which saw a depleted car count, few cars with 410 engines, and sparse attendance in 2014, Showtime Speedway will make a try at another big February Speedweeks race, this time a non-wing, non-points race to honor the memory of Dave Steele. The race will be held on Thursday, February 20, at Showtime Speedway, and will be designated as the Dave Steele Non-Wing World Finals. The planned distance is 125 laps on the quarter-mile pavement oval.

    Feeling up to the challenge of going to the track for 11 consecutive days of national sprint cars on dirt? Well, then you’ll need the 2020 February Sprint Car Speedweeks schedule for Florida, and here it is:

    Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, 1/30 to 2/1: Top Gun Sprint Series, East Bay Raceway Park, Gibsonton.
    Wednesday and Thursday, 2/5 to 2/6: All Star Circuit of Champions, Volusia Speedway Park, Barberville.
    Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, 2/7 to 2/9: World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series, Volusia Speedway Park, Barberville.
    Friday and Saturday, 2/7 to 2/8: USCS Outlaw Thunder Tour, Hendry County Motorsports Park, Clewiston.
    Monday and Tuesday, 2/10 to 2/11: All Star Circuit of Champions, East Bay Raceway Park, Gibsonton.
    Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, 2/13 to 2/15: East Bay 360 Winternationals at East Bay Raceway Park, Gibsonton; and the USAC National Sprint Car Series at Bubba Raceway Park, Ocala.
    Saturday, 2/15: Southern Sprint Car Shootout Series, 4-17 Southern Speedway, Punta Gorda.
    Thursday, 2/20: Southern Sprint Car Shootout Series, Dave Steele Non-Wing World Finals, Showtime Speedway, Pinellas Park (special non-points, non-wing race).

    The 2020 schedule for the Southern Sprint Car Shootout Series, which does not include any race dates for New Smyrna Speedway, means that next year’s races will be lacking any high-speed, high-banked track. In fact, with a second race date added for Auburndale Speedway, that means that the 2020 schedule will be heavily weighted toward the tighter, slower tracks. No half-mile tracks are on the 2020 schedule. It is unknown if a national pavement sprint car series may be coming to Florida next year, but the only national schedule still open is the King of the Wing series.
    When asked to comment on the lack of New Smyrna Speedway races on their 2020 schedule, the Southern Sprint Car series management responded as follows: “It’s hard to get cars there and they didn’t ask us back next year. Not saying [we] wouldn’t go.”
    Florida’s 2019 sprint car racing champions are: East Bay Raceway Park limited 360 sprint car track champion; Joe Zuczek; Top Gun Sprint Series driver champion: AJ Maddox; Southern Sprint Car Shootout Series driver champion: Troy DeCaire.
    If Troy DeCaire’s new sprint car team for 2019, a team that he took to multiple wins in Florida, plus some visits to Mobile International Speedway’s victory lane, and finally to the championship in the state’s most prestigious pavement sprint car series, the Southern Sprint Car Shootout Series, sounded like a familiar achievement accomplished by a driver from a previous generation of Floridians, then you must be fairly old (or really knowledgeable about Florida sprint car racers). I state that because the last time that a sprint car driver from Florida accomplished something eerily similar was 50 years ago – in 1969.
    That’s when Wayne Reutimann’s 1968–1969 race seasons included a new team beginning in 1968 (with Florida car owner Sam Posey), then a trip to Mobile’s victory lane, a super modified/sprint car race win on April 28, 1968, followed by multiple Florida wins and taking the championship in Florida’s most prestigious pavement sprint car series at that time in 1969 – the Golden Gate Speedway sprint car track championship. November 2019, when DeCaire virtually locked up the Southern Sprint Car title, marked 50 years from when Wayne Reutimann locked up the Golden Gate Speedway sprint car title in November 1969.



    New Career Milestones for Two Florida Sprint Car Champions

     Story and Photos by Richard Golardi

     December 7, 2019

     Two of Florida’s pavement sprint car racing champions, who prior to last weekend’s Florida races had not had a single Florida sprint car feature win on dirt, have now reached, or will soon reach, career milestones in Florida racing. They are Shane Butler and Troy DeCaire.


    Shane Butler has been injecting greater variety into his Florida sprint car racing pursuits, including more dirt sprint car racing across Florida’s dirt tracks. He came close to getting his first career sprint car feature win on Florida dirt in the past year’s racing. That win finally came in the Top Gun Sprint Series season finale last Saturday, November 30, at East Bay Raceway Park in Gibsonton. That was his first dirt sprint car feature win in Florida to go along with 31 career Florida pavement sprint car feature wins.

     Shane Butler, feature race winner, Southern Sprintcar Shootout Series, Auburndale Speedway, 3-17-2018


    Both racers, Butler and DeCaire, are in the top 20 drivers on the All-Time Florida Sprint Car Win List. Shane has solidified his hold on the number 20 spot on the list with his most recent win, and Troy DeCaire made his own move into the top 15 drivers with his most recent Florida feature win on November 23 in Punta Gorda, Florida. That win put him into a tie for 15th place on the list with both Roland Johnson and Jimmy Riddle. DeCaire’s good luck talismans for this year have been the Statham Construction Racing team, a team he joined at the start of this season, and greater concentration on a full season of Florida pavement sprint car racing (and maybe even that “Florida orange” that recently appeared as his new car color). In the past several years, he has not launched a full-season assault on the Florida pavement sprint car champion title, as he has this year.


    Due mostly to that limited pavement racing schedule in Florida for a number of years, Troy DeCaire has not won a Florida pavement sprint car racing driver title in 10 years. His last Florida championship was the Central Florida Wingless Sprints driver title in 2009. He has not gone without a championship in a decade, just to be clear. He did garner the Must See Racing Series driver championship in both 2010 and 2011. But those were multi-state series titles, and considered by the racing community to be national driving championships. But as far as Florida racing is concerned, it has been a decade since his last Florida sprint car driver championship.

     Dave Steele greets Troy DeCaire prior to the start of the 2015 Little 500, May 23, 2015

    If Troy DeCaire is successful in winning the 2019 Southern Sprint Car Shootout Series driver title, which is anticipated to occur this evening (Saturday, 12/7) at Punta Gorda’s 4-17 Southern Speedway (with starting the feature race), this will be his fourth Florida pavement sprint car driver championship, putting him into a tie with Dave Steele for most career Florida pavement sprint car championships in a traveling series in the modern era (1969 to present). In addition to the 2009 Central Florida Wingless title, DeCaire also earned the TBARA driver championship in 2007 and 2008. Three of Dave Steele’s titles also came in the TBARA (2005, 2009, and 2013), with one Southern Sprint Car Shootout Series driver title in 2016.


    As a side note, although Taylor Andrews has four TBARA driver championships, all his driver titles came during a time when the TBARA competed on both dirt and pavement. Although this did put him into the category of four-time TBARA driver champions, and the only driver to earn that TBARA title four times, it does not put him into the category of four-time winners of a Florida pavement (only) sprint car driver championship. Of course, Andrews’ achievement only highlights his driving skill, as he had to show expertise on both dirt and pavement to win the titles.



    This column marks my 10-year anniversary of writing the Florida Open Wheel column on I have immensely enjoyed writing this column since it debuted in December 2009. I wish to dedicate this column to all my readers in the State of Florida and beyond, and hope that it has brought you some newsworthy Florida racing stories and also brought you reading enjoyment. I will continue in this pursuit, and continue writing this column, along with some new writing projects that will debut over the next year (yes, bigger and better!) … so stay tuned. Thanks again, and happy reading!




    Frank Riddle Memorial Returns to Citrus County Speedway on Saturday, 11/9

    Story and Photo by Richard Golardi

    October 31, 2019

    The Frank Riddle Memorial, which is scheduled for its ninth annual edition on Saturday, November 9, at Citrus County Speedway in Inverness, is being held to honor a man who is a sprint car racing icon and a Florida racing legend. This memorial race was held at Desoto Speedway three times previously, in 2007, 2008 and 2014; and at Showtime Speedway once in 2016; and also at Citrus County Speedway in 2013, 2015, 2017, and 2018.


    Frank Riddle at Golden Gate Speedway 1975

    Who is Frank Riddle, you may ask? He was a family man, a working man, a businessman, and a racer. Frank Riddle was inducted into the Little 500 Hall of Fame in 1996, and also the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame in 2010. This last honor came three years after he died in 2007, at age 78.

    Frank is known for winning the Little 500 twice in the 1980s when he was in his mid-50s. The Little 500 is known worldwide as one of the most prestigious and grueling auto races. It is a test of both man and machine. Frank had always wanted to race and win in the Midwest. In his first attempt at the Little 500 in 1978, he started fifth and finished in fourth place, earning Rookie of the Year. In just his fourth try in 1984, he qualified on the pole and won the 500-lap race. He came back the next year and repeated the same feat, this time at age 56. In his first five attempts through the 1980s, he was the fastest qualifier each time. In his career at Anderson Speedway, he had sixteen starts in the Little 500, with two wins, five top ten finishes, and seven top five starting positions.

    Frank Riddle’s status as a fierce and talented race car driver was initially earned in Florida while competing at tracks around the Tampa Bay area. These tracks included Phillips Field, Speedway Park on Hillsborough Ave., and the half mile dirt oval at the Florida State Fairgrounds. Early in his career, Frank raced stock cars, modifieds, and supermodifieds, which ran with wings back in the 1960s, well before their use in Formula 1 and Indy car racing. He would run two or three supermodified races a week, frequently ending his night in the winner’s circle. During this time, Frank also raced all over Florida, from the Southeast coast to Pensacola, and also in the Deep South. Some of the races would be as long as 300 laps, and Frank would show his expertise at taking care of his car and making it to the checkered flag.

    2018 Frank Riddle Memorial Feature Race Winner John Inman and family, Citrus County Speedway, Inverness, FL

    When sprint cars replaced the modifieds at Golden Gate Speedway in 1969, car owners sought out Frank to drive their car, as he had already shown his abilities at “the Gate” and in IMCA sprint car races at the Florida State Fair dirt track. When the Tampa Bay Area Racing Association was formed, Frank was a regular sprint car competitor on both the dirt and pavement with his fellow Bay area racers. He had 95 lifetime Florida sprint car feature wins during his years of racing in the Sunshine State, which places him third on the overall winners list, behind only Wayne Reutimann with 97 wins and Dave Steele with 101 wins.

    Tall and lanky, Frank’s friends called him “Bones,” or “Old Bones,” and when he raced at Golden Gate, he called himself “the old man around here.” The press called him “Old Pro,” and “the Flying Trainman,” and “the dean of Florida sprint car racers.” His facial wrinkles always made him look at least 10 years older than his actual age, and he used that to his advantage. He’d lull his opponents into thinking he was too old, and past his best days, and then he’d go out and beat them. During the 1980 season, he ran the USAC National Sprint Car Series in the blue and yellow number 11 J.W. Hunt Produce car owned by Harry Campbell, and earned the Rookie of the Year title at 51 years old. At that time, it made him the oldest ever USAC Rookie of the Year.

    A popular story from Frank’s career involved a frightening crash and fire at Anderson Speedway in 1993. His car caught fire after coming to rest in turn one, where a fan crawled under the fence and ran to the car to tell Frank, who appeared to be stunned from the crash, that he was on fire, and to get out. Frank would meet with the fan when he returned to Anderson to race, remembering the good deed for many years after that fateful day. After he retired from his job as a CSX railroad engineer in 1987, he spent his time farming when he wasn’t at the track.

    After starting his racing career in 1948 and getting his first feature race win on March 3, 1951, at Tampa’s Phillips Field, Frank Riddle racked up 250 feature wins over the next 49 years. His wife, Margaret, and his family, and a small farm in Thonotosassa became his life after he retired from racing in 1997 at age 68. That year was his last trip to Anderson to drive in the Little 500. To this day, he is credited with being one of a group of racers from Florida to begin the tradition of making an annual trek to Central Indiana and the Little 500 in the ’70s. Each year, the highest finishing Floridian at the Little 500 earns the Frank Riddle Award. This is why the Southern Sprint Car Shootout Series and Citrus County Speedway are honoring Frank Riddle, naming the race the “Frank Riddle Memorial”.

    The Southern Sprint Car series has announced that the Frank Riddle Memorial this year will pay the winner of the feature race $1,600. Series sponsor BG Products is providing sponsorship of the sanctioning body, the Southern Sprint Car Shootout Series, as they have since taking over the sanctioning of the Frank Riddle Memorial in 2016. A former Frank Riddle Memorial winner (2014), Shane Butler, who is going for his first series win of 2019, will be one of the favorites to win. Other drivers to watch will be two drivers who have series feature wins this year: Joey Aguilar, and Sport Allen in the car owned by a former TBARA champion, Taylor Andrews.

    With only four races remaining in the series schedule this year, the driver point race is still fairly close. Two drivers appear to be positioned to have the best chance to win their first Southern Sprint Car series title, and one is a former TBARA champion: Troy DeCaire. DeCaire has won the TBARA driver championship twice, in 2007 and 2008. He has not won a Florida sprint car series championship since 2009. DeCaire (five series wins in 2019) has a 35-point lead over Daniel Miller (one series win, eight top-10) going into the November 9 race, one of the closest point contests for the series in recent years. DeCaire has not confirmed that he will compete in all four remaining races, which could tighten the point battle over the next month, with the 2019 finale on December 7 in Punta Gorda.

    The Frank Riddle Memorial Race,
    Race Winner History

    1) 9/29/2007, Desoto Speedway, Winner - Dave Steele
    2) 9/27/2008, Desoto Speedway, Winner - Troy DeCaire
    3) 10/19/2013, Citrus County Speedway, Winner - Joey Aguilar
    4) 10/18/2014, Desoto Speedway, Winner - Shane Butler
    5) 10/3/2015, Citrus County Speedway, Winner - Jason Kimball
    6) 10/29/2016, Showtime Speedway, Winner - Dave Steele
    7) 10/14/2017, Citrus County Speedway, Winner – Mickey Kempgens
    8) 11/10/2018, Citrus County Speedway, Winner – John Inman

    (NOTE: the race was not run from 2009 to 2012.)

    Next running of The Frank Riddle Memorial is at Citrus County Speedway on Saturday, November 9, 2019. Racing begins at 6:30 p.m., and the main event is a 40-lap feature race.



    2019 Florida Fall Sprint Car Season Preview

     Story and Photos by Richard Golardi

     October 10, 2019

     Florida’s traveling sprint car series launch the busiest portion of their fall season this weekend, with both the BG Products Southern Sprint Car Series and the Top Gun Sprint Series in competition in Central Florida. Southern Sprint Cars will take to the high-banked half-mile at New Smyrna Speedway on Saturday, and the Top Gun Sprint Series will have one of their non-wing races at Gibsonton’s East Bay Raceway Park, also on Saturday.

     Keith Butler gets ready to take to the track for Top Gun Sprint Series competition at Bubba Raceway Park

    Both series have had one race each since the fall season began, which took place on Saturday, September 28. The Southern Sprint Cars had a marked improvement in their car count on that date, after rain and race cancellations imposed an unwanted four-month layoff in series racing. Their first race back after that layoff, on August 24, had 12 cars start the feature race; followed by the first race after the layoff outside of the Tampa Bay area (Punta Gorda), which drew only eight cars for the feature on September 14 (won by Troy DeCaire). Two weeks later, they were back to 12 cars for the September 28 feature. Race officials’ calls during the August 24 feature angered driver Troy DeCaire, who was very vocal after the race about how displeased he was with the decisions of series officials, and vowed, by way of social media, not to race at Showtime Speedway in the future.

     Top Two in 2019 Southern Sprint Car Points - Troy DeCaire, left, and Daniel Miller

    That may put Troy DeCaire in a precarious situation in protecting his lead in the Southern Sprint Car driver point standings, which is currently a 41-point lead over second-place Daniel Miller. One of the remaining five races in 2019 is at Showtime Speedway, and it would be impossible at this point to know if he could afford to “give up points” by skipping that race, and still win the 2019 driver title. DeCaire has frequently raced in partial seasons in Florida during the past decade, and has not won a Florida state sprint car driver championship for more than a decade. His last was the TBARA driver championship in 2008, a time when cars owned by George Rudolph won most of the Florida pavement titles.


    The Top Gun Series, now run by members of the Rehm family after the death of Don Rehm mid-way through the 2018 season, has seen an influx of new teams, and impressive car counts in their recent races (18 cars started the most recent feature, won by Harley Zimmerman). The non-wing race scheduled for this Saturday carries sponsorship from a retired Florida sprint car racer, Carlton Calfee, and his company, Boomtrux Inc. According to the series website, Keith Butler is the current point leader, with six races remaining on the 2019 schedule.


    The Top Gun management has shown a commitment to having several non-wing races for the past several years, and has one special event, also a non-wing race, remaining in 2019, the 2nd Annual Don Rehm Classic at East Bay Raceway, on Saturday, November 30. There is also one special event planned for the fall for the pavement racers, which is the Frank Riddle Memorial Race at Citrus County Speedway in Inverness, on Saturday, November 9.


    East Bay Sprints, the limited 360 sprint series at East Bay Raceway, has had a limited race schedule this year, and has two races remaining at the Gibsonton track, on Saturday, November 2, and on Saturday, November 16, the Bob and Marge Long Memorial race.


    The only national sprint car series visiting Florida during the fall season will be Pete Walton’s USCS Outlaw Thunder Tour, which will be racing at three tracks: Hendry County Motorsports Park (11/1 & 2), Bubba Raceway Park (11/8 & 9), and concluding with the USCS season’s final races at Southern Raceway in the Florida Panhandle (11/ 15 & 16). Mark Smith has the most feature wins in Florida this year, with four USCS feature wins back in February and April. Veteran racer Terry Gray is the current driver point leader, with Floridian Tony Agin in third place in the driver point tally. The points earned in the Florida races will be pivotal in determining the 2019 USCS driver champion. The Bubba Raceway Park and Hendry County races usually draw the largest number of Floridians, with most Florida dirt 360 teams based out of the Tampa and Jacksonville metro areas.


    There is one special distinction that is currently held by Florida for one of its fall season races. The Southern Sprint Car Shootout Series is planned to have the last scheduled 2019 North American sprint car race, set for 4-17 Southern Speedway in Punta Gorda on Saturday, December 7 (Source: That distinction has been held by Florida for several years.




    Remembering Cush Revette

    Story and Photo by Richard Golardi

    September 13, 2019

    April 30, 1955. Phillips Field, Tampa, Florida.
    Cush Revette, “the husky, heavy-footed racing star,” was joining some of his local Tampa racing competitors for the usual Saturday night stock car races at Phillips Field in Tampa. You could always describe Cush as husky, he’d just always been that way.

    Summer, 1955. Phillips Field, Tampa, Florida.
    “I’ve always weighed 200 pounds,” Cush said in a July 2015 interview. He was also a near-perfect personification of the “tough guy race car driver.” At Phillips Field in 1955, the engine exploded in his Ford Model A. His crew had gotten a little too exuberant when adding nitro to his car’s fuel tank. As the flames blew back in his face, his raised one arm, then the other, in an attempt to deflect the flames away from his face. He hadn’t slammed on the brakes. Not yet. There was still a race to win. But the flames were searing his arms. He had no intention of giving up on the race until the flames got too intense, so that’s when he decided to dive out the window of the Model A. He needed to act quickly, so out he went. One potential problem with that decision was that he was about to risk some broken bones, in addition to the burns that he had already suffered. That was because his car was still going about 50 mph.

    July 2015. Cush Revette’s Home, Tampa, Florida.
    “Well, it was on fire! There wasn’t much time to do anything else,” Cush exclaimed. He was within days of his 87th birthday. His wit and memory were both still intact, still sharp as ever. I was at his home to interview Cush for a story that I had been seeking for about a year, that of “American Sprint Car Drivers in Cuba.” He was the last surviving member of a small contingent of sprint car drivers from Tampa (one driver, from Pennsylvania, only spent his winters there) that had traveled to Havana in 1951 to race their sprint cars. They had brought their cars with them in the cargo hold of a Cuban-owned Curtiss C-46A transport aircraft. Over the next couple of hours, the story he gifted to me was a grand adventure of young Americans in search of hijinks, racing excitement, and wild escapades, with good Cuban rum and beautiful Cuban women thrown into the mix. This once-in-a-lifetime memory would never leave him for the rest of his life. When I left his home later that day, I felt my head reeling. Could it be possible that I had just been given the best racing story that I’d ever heard? Could it really be that good?

    Summer, 1955. Phillips Field, Tampa, Florida.
    “No!” Cush bellowed in protest. His friends had gathered around him when his body had stopped tumbling through the infield at Phillips Field. OK, he was still alive, they thought. That’s the first thing you checked back in those days. You didn’t ask, “Are you hurt?” Nobody asked that. They all knew that you’d be hurt, injured in some way. Instead, they first checked to see if you were still alive. Flinging yourself out of a race car going 50 mph could result in a broken neck. That didn’t happen to Cush – no broken bones this time. But both his arms were burned. It may be a while before the pain really kicked in. Didn’t seem so bad, at the time. It was hardly Cush’s first time getting hurt at the race track. He could reel off the list of a career of pain and broken bones: neck broken twice, back broken twice, both arms and legs broken. What’s the pain of some burns, in comparision?

    They’d better go to the hospital, just to get his burns checked out, his friends argued. Cush didn’t feel any pain, it hadn’t kicked in yet, but his arms were red and they were obviously burned. They needed to convince him to go – for his own good. Not feeling any pain, he had no intention of being taken to the hospital. Tough guys didn’t do that. They gritted their teeth, they ignored the pain. Just ignore it – maybe it will go away – who knows?

    Even though he didn’t feel pain, Cush did feel something else. It was thirst. You could easily see the sign from Phillips Field. After all, it was right across the street, appropriately named Stadium Inn. That night’s races at Phillips Field, a college football stadium, hadn’t ended yet. They could beat the post-race crowd at the bar. And the taste of an ice-cold beer would taste pretty good after that night’s harrowing experience. Well, maybe to an ordinary person, with normal fears, it might have been a harrowing experience. But not to Cush. He convinced his friends to give up on trying to persuade him to go to the hospital, as he had another destination in mind.

    “There was a joint right across the street,” Cush recalled. “It was named Stadium Inn. So we all went over and checked me out and had a few beers. Back in them days you had to be tough. If you went to the hospital, blood had to be running out of you!”

    July 27, 1951. Speedway Park, Tampa, Florida.
    If some of the other stock car or sprint car drivers at Speedway Park felt some jealousy toward Pancho Alvarez, it’s possible that it could be traced back to that Tampa Tribune article that screamed, “Pancho Alvarez, Star Stock Car Pilot, is Latest Idol of Tampa Feminine Fans.” It claimed that Pancho was “a nice, polite chap,” but that was only when he wasn’t in his race car. Behind the wheel at Speedway Park or Phillips Field, he had a different persona. He was “a rough and reckless daredevil … that makes girls fight over him.” Lucky guy, that Pancho.

    They had all seen it and had been talking about that article written by Bob Smith. Cush had seen it too. He and Pancho had already risen to the top of the Tampa stock car ranks and were destined to be rivals. Their most enjoyable wins came when racing against each other, when they could seize the winner’s trophy out of the grasp of the other guy. By September, it wasn’t just a rivalry any more, it was a feud.

    September 12, 1951. Speedway Park, Tampa, Florida.
    “New Alvarez-Revette Duel Carded Tonight – New Rivalry Breaks Out.” Other than the month of February at Plant Field, the Florida State Fair track, Tampa’s half-mile dirt oval at Speedway Park was the most popular race track in the Tampa area. The locals fought it out on the quarter-mile or half-mile dirt tracks during the summer, and many stars of the Midwest circuits joined the locals for weekly racing during the winter. The locals had all year to find their biggest rivals, and the newest dueling duo of the dirt was sure to find each other on the dirt most race nights. They were Cush and Pancho Alvarez.

    The feud was likely to “burst into full bloom in tonight’s races” the newspaper declared. There had been a string of one–two finishes for the pair; they just seemed to rise to the top each Saturday. “Now it is Revette that is sharing the spotlight with the little Pancho.” The previous Saturday, there had been some fender-bending in the stock car feature race. Cush shook loose of his rival and won it. As was expected, Pancho was second. It seemed like it was going to go on that way for a while, but neither of them were going to totally dominate their rival. The track management certainly wouldn’t allow it. If one of them won all the time, that might hurt attendance. Expect the rivalry to go on for a while. “Apparently Revette is to be the new foil for Alvarez.”

    And the rivalry did go on – through to the end of Speedway Park in 1954, through several more race tracks and an ever-growing stack of crumpled fenders, and even into the 1960s at the track that eventually replaced Speedway Park as Tampa’s most popular – Golden Gate Speedway.

    Friday, May 18, 1962. Golden Gate Speedway, Tampa, Florida.
    On the second weekend of racing at “the Gate,” Friday night was chosen as the night for Golden Gate Speedway’s first late model feature race. One popular myth from Cush’s racing career is that he won at the Gate on the track’s opening night, but that’s not true. He first won at the Gate on the track’s second night of racing, May 18, 1962, Friday of the track’s second week. That was the night when he won everything in sight on the third-mile asphalt in his late model.

    Cush had already established himself as a winner, and track champion, at Sunshine Speedway, another asphalt track that had opened two years earlier over on the other side of Tampa Bay. This spate of asphalt short track construction had been spurred on by the recent success of another Florida asphalt track – Daytona International Speedway.

    That Friday at the Gate started off with a bang, thanks to stuntwoman Dolores Carroll, “the Human Bomb.” Thankfully, Cush avoided adding a second explosion to the night’s entertainment after his fuel tank started leaking during the late model feature. He had already won a heat race and the late model semi-final. He had succeeded in getting the brand-new track figured out and knew the fastest way around the still-slick shiny new asphalt. With the leaky fuel tank, Cush later admitted that he shouldn’t have raced in the feature. But he did anyway – as any tough guy racer would. A little leaking fuel at speed was hardly a fearful circumstance. Plus, he was confident he could win the late model feature, which he did easily, becoming the first late model feature race winner at Golden Gate Speedway.

    Summer, 2019. Tampa, Florida.
    Eight years had passed since Cush’s last late model feature race win. That had happened in March 2011 at Lake City, Florida, a DAARA Blast from the Past race day. He was 82 years old, and beat some other race car drivers who were decades younger than him. He drove the car he loved, the classic red and white “Crown 7” 1957 Chevy late model, with Revette Racing in block letters on the fender. He was proud of that car, and on the day of my 2015 interview, took me to his garage so we could take a look at it and admire it. He had a mobility cart for getting around on his property. Those decades of racing, and the crashes, had taken a toll on his body.

    Cush celebrated his 91st birthday this summer. Sadly, it was his last. Harold “Cush” Revette, who got his nickname from his Tampa motorcycle riding buddies, died on Wednesday, September 11. He will be laid to rest in Tampa on Sunday.

    Rest easy now, tough guy. So long Cush.




    Troy DeCaire after winning at Showtime Speedway, March 23, 2019


    Troy DeCaire Nears Top 15 on All-Time Florida Sprint Car Win List

     Story and Photo by Richard Golardi

     August 20, 2019

     There hasn’t been much movement on the All-Time Florida Sprint Car Win List since the remarkable achievements of Dave Steele in 2016–2017. This was a time when Steele surpassed Wayne Reutimann’s win total of 97 wins to take over the number one spot on the list. He later became the first sprint car driver in Florida history to earn 100 wins on Florida dirt and pavement tracks since the inception of the list in 1969.


    But there may be an upcoming event that will change that (with the proviso that there’s no way to predict the future). If he continues his current winning ways, Troy DeCaire will be on the verge of moving into the top 15 on the All-Time Win List. He currently has 34 wins, up from his total of 30 wins at the beginning of the year. With his four Florida wins so far this year, he has moved from 20th to 18th place, surpassing both Donnie Tanner (33 wins) and Shane Butler (31 wins). His Florida pavement win streak, four straight Southern Sprint Car Shootout Series feature wins, will be on the line this Saturday at the next series race at Showtime Speedway in Pinellas Park. DeCaire needs three more Florida wins to move into a tie for 15th place on the win list with both Roland Johnson and Jimmy Riddle (37 wins).


    DeCaire’s nationwide pavement sprint car win total this year is at seven wins, with two wins at Alabama’s Mobile International Speedway (6/29 and 7/27) and one in Washington State (5/11), but none in Florida since April. Florida’s only pavement sprint car series, the Southern Sprint Car Shootout Series, hasn’t held a race since April 27, partly due to rain and races that were canceled by the series for various reasons. There are eight races remaining on their 2019 series schedule, culminating with the series finale on December 7 in Punta Gorda. With the end of Florida’s rainy season in about a month, the shortage of sprint car racing in Florida should soon change. Since the beginning of the summer, there has only been one sprint car race in the state, a Top Gun Sprint Series dirt race on August 10 won by Matt Kurtz.


    Other changes in the All-Time Win List this year included a new name moving into the top 30, which was Joey Aguilar, who moved into a tie with Johnny Gilbertson and Jim Haynes for 30th place on the list with 18 Florida wins. His win in Punta Gorda on January 19 was Aguilar’s 18th Florida win. A veteran Florida racer who has been ranked highly on the list for decades, and was also the TBARA champion in 1986 and 1987, had his first win in a while. It was Robbie Smith, who maintains his hold on 21st place on the list with 30 career wins in Florida. He won a Top Gun dirt race at East Bay Raceway Park on May 18.




    The Indy Race Week Diary

     Story and Photos by Richard Golardi

     May 30, 2019


    Sunday, May 19

    Saturday, May 18 was a travel day to the Eastern Museum of Motor Racing in York Springs, Pennsylvania, where I was scheduled to speak on Sunday on two of the chapter subjects in my new book, Racers in the Sun, Volume One. I was speaking on the Reutimann brothers and Ralph Liguori, based on the chapter on Ralph, and also the Wayne Reutimann chapter. This was my first speaking engagement to promote the book, planned for release in June. The next several planned speaking dates will be in Florida, with a schedule released soon. I’ve always had a great affection for this museum, as it has a great emphasis on sprint car racing, and is right in the middle of “PA Posse” territory in South Central PA. Also, it has Lynn Paxton, who is great fun to work with and has been a great help to me in my research for the book.

     2019 Little 500 Florida Driver Group Photo, L to R, Mickey Kempgens, Johnny Gilbertson, John Inman, Shane Butler.

    Monday, May 20

    Travel day to Indiana. Level of excitement builds – the “Week of Indy” is coming, and it will consist of race dates from Thursday to Monday. At least that’s the way it will be for me. I am heading directly to Anderson, Indiana, my “main base” of operations for my Week of Indy. I am trying to ignore the weather forecasts for Central Indiana. They are daunting – lots of rain predicted.


    Tuesday, May 21

    Meeting day and photo editing day. I met with the photo editor for a future book project, David Sink, to edit and choose photos for an upcoming book, planned for release later this year after the release of Racers in the Sun.


    Wednesday, May 22

    Practice day at Anderson Speedway, preparation for Saturday’s Pay Less Little 500. Wasn’t able to catch much of it, as I completed my last (ever?) day of research at the Anderson Public Library, a place at which I have now spent about a week of my life conducting research for three different books. They’ve got all the Anderson newspapers on microfilm, so it’s a researcher’s dream spot, if you are researching the Little 500 and the racers who have been part of it, and racers from Florida have been an important part of it since the ’60s.

     Kody Swanson on pit road prior to the 2019 Pay Less Little 500, May 25, 2019.

    Thursday, May 23

    At Anderson Speedway, this is the day during which I conduct all the interviews needed for my annual Little 500 pre-race article, the one I write for my column, Florida Open Wheel on

    George Rudolph is always a delight to interview. It is guaranteed that he’ll be a little ornery, a little gruff, and that he’ll give you some great quotes and some great one-liners, and that he’ll never refuse to be completely open and honest. He also seems to be aware that his life is about to change, as the world gets to examine a detailing telling of his life history in his authorized biography, included in Racers in the Sun.

    His car, and his team, at this year’s Little 500 is the number 68 PCS Racing entry, and he’s the crew chief for car owner Doug Kenny and driver Mickey Kempgens, the driver with an impressive history of getting his car to the finish of the race each year, without fail.

    “Better than I thought it was going to look,” George said of his team’s chance – “as good as anybody starting” – to win in 2019. “We’re starting a lot further forward than we did last year. I’m happy with that. All we need to do is win it now – that’s it.” Their car was a Hurricane chassis that they’ve used for several years at Anderson, one of the few Hurricanes in the field that’s dominated by the Beast chassis. The chassis is actually George’s, with engine and parts from car owner Doug Kenny.

    “Mickey’s good in the race,” George added, saying his race craft skills were better than Mickey’s Little 500 qualifying results. Mickey is a driver talented at making his car last, being there at the end, and saving himself and his car for a late race rally, passing others as they tire in the last 50–100 laps. Since George has closely observed all the legendary sprint car drivers from Florida, and had them drive his cars for decades, I asked the question about which Florida sprint car legend Mickey most resembles, with his skills at preserving himself and his car, and coming on strong at the end.

    “Bill Roynon,” George answered after a short pause, with a slight knowing laugh. Reminds you of him? “Yup,” he added.

    The last (gasp!) Hoosier Hundred at the Indiana State Fairgrounds, Indianapolis, on Thursday evening. Or is it? It’s the last champ car race at the 1-mile oval at the fairgrounds, that’s for sure. All week, it was promoted as the “last ever” Hoosier Hundred, only for a marketing backtrack to occur on the day of the race, with a declaration of “the Hoosier Hundred will be back next year, we just don’t know where it will be run.” Whether the first or second statement will be true is a guess for now, there is no other Indy-metro area dirt track that is appropriate for dirt champ cars, and Terre Haute is a long haul from Indy, the place where most Week of Indy fans are based. Hopefully, promoters will keep the tradition alive and not trample on the Little 500 Saturday night race timetable.

    The fairgrounds track has always been woefully inadequate as far as protecting front straight spectators. The front straight catch fence is about four or five feet high, and should be about three times that height. Thursday’s race featured a terrifying crash within feet of this catch fence, with Chris Windom walking away from his twisted champ car without being injured, or so it seemed. I spoke to him the next night about the crash.

    Kody Swanson’s ability to dominate dirt miles in a USAC champ car may be diminished this year, as the DePalma Motorsports team car he previously used to humble the competition on USAC’s dirt miles has been retired. Not Kody – he’s still there, behind the wheel of Gene Nolen’s number 20 car, which didn’t seem to allow him to put on his usual “post-lap 55 push to the front, pass for the lead, and then win at lap 100” routine in 1-mile dirt oval races. Kody was in third, from which he didn’t mount his usual advance to the lead to win. He finished in third, still smiling in the top-three finishers photo, as he always does – “the Unflappable Mr. Swanson,” levelheaded and composed, as usual.

     Mickey Kempgens, 2019 Pay Less Little 500 8th place finisher, Frank Riddle Award winner as highest-placed Florida driver, May 25, 2019.

    Friday, May 24

    A special day and night for Floridians, as it is the day that USAC, and the entire open wheel racing community, pays homage to a Florida open wheel racing legend, Dave Steele. He’s been gone for two years now, and it’s the second annual Dave Steele Carb Night Classic (USAC Silver Crown Series) at IRP. OK, OK. It’s not IRP anymore. It’s the Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis, which explains why old-school fans will still call it IRP, instead of trying to remember that other convoluted name.

    I spotted Chris Windom standing near his USAC champ car, waiting for the start. I assumed that he’d be mobbed by reporters, asking about his grinding, hard hits in two open wheel crashes in the past 24 hours, but Chris stood alone, looking over his car without emotion. Earlier on Friday, a spinning Indy Lights car at Indianapolis Motor Speedway had taken him out during the Freedom 100 Indy Lights race, and pushed him into the SAFER barrier at high speed. His car looked as if a giant had grabbed it and ripped it in half. Again, he emerged unhurt. It was a wreck he described as being just as hard a hit as the flipping, cartwheeling crash at the Indy fairgrounds the night before.

    When his USAC champ car came to a stop in the middle of the Indy fairgrounds track on Thursday evening, I wondered if he had turned his head to see the entire field bearing down on his now stationary car, a sight that had to be terrifying for a race car driver. Next to fire, that’s probably the biggest fear of race car drivers – coming to a stop on the track while other cars approach at speed, some unable to see the stopped car on the track ahead.

    I had seen that Chris appeared somewhat limp in his car when it came to a rest, with his left arm slumped down along the side of the car, as if the seat had been shifted in one of the grinding impacts.

    “No,” Chris replied. “I didn’t close my eyes, either. I couldn’t see anything, actually.” Chris described experiencing temporary total blindness after the flips ended, but only for about 30 seconds of total blindness. It is an injury that is less frequently experienced by modern-day open wheel racers, with the advent of safety measures such as the HANS device, and it ability to limit head movements.

    But Chris saw nothing but black. After 30 seconds, his vision came back, just like those old-style 1950s TV sets, which would show a dot in the center of the screen when first switched on, which would then expand to the outer edges of the screen to take up the whole screen. That’s how Chris’ vision returned. Then he climbed out of his twisted, wrecked car, and walked away.

    There was a third wreck that Friday night for Chris Windom, a third wreck within a period of 26 hours. His car lost an engine, lost traction, and the skid marks left a trail of evidence that his car made hard impact with the turn one wall at IRP (sorry!) that night. He was able to climb out, walk to the ambulance, and declare, for a third time, that he was uninjured. Another track, another crash, another race the next night – the Little 500.


    Saturday, May 25

    Little 500 race day, also known as the day that all pavement sprint car racing fans look forward to all year long. It’s the biggest, most coveted race title for pavement sprint car drivers to add to their list of victories. Florida drivers have done it nine times, and there were four drivers from Florida this year (Shane Butler, Mickey Kempgens, Johnny Gilbertson, and John Inman) that will attempt to be the sixth driver from Florida to accomplish the feat. This week also brought the 10th anniversary of Dave Steele’s second Little 500 win in 2009.

    The highest-finishing driver from Florida was again Mickey Kempgens. In five out of the seven Little 500 starts that Mickey has earned, he has been the highest finisher from Florida. Those other two times when he was beat by another Floridian? It was Dave Steele who beat him for a higher finish, in 2015 and 2016. Mickey’s streak of being the highest finisher from Florida is now three years long. All that’s left is a top-three, then a win. It seems inevitable that it will happen – some day.

    Kody Swanson’s long-expected Week of Indy domination arrived tonight, with his only win of the week, in glorious, give-the-rest-of-the-field a butt-kicking fashion. He’s still the current king of asphalt at Anderson during this week (with three Lil’ Five wins). Just seven more wins, and he’ll be able to beat the all-time king of asphalt there, the nine-time Little 500 winner, Eric Gordon. Chris Windom had a chaotic race, ending in fifth place after 500 laps.


    Sunday, May 26

    It’s the day of the Indianapolis 500, and my own personal celebration of being a fan of American open wheel racing for 55 years, since the day of the tragic ’64 Indy 500. While it’s a virtual certainty that an American driver will win the Little 500 each year, not so for the Indy 500.  You just don’t know who will win during this era of spec cars and loads of talented racers. The era of a few American drivers winning all the 500s has been over since Rick Mears said goodbye to Indy car racing several decades ago.

    The race was won by a foreign-born driver for a third consecutive year, victory for Simon Pagenaud, and the disappointment of defeat for American Alexander Rossi, who took second.

    I didn’t plan on going to Kokomo Speedway for the first time in a few years on Sunday night. Of course, that Sunday delight of seeing Bryan Clauson do “the double,” racing in both the Indy 500, followed by the Sunday night sprint car feature race at Kokomo, is gone. I decided to skip Kokomo this year – no matter, the Sunday race got rained out anyway.


    Monday, May 27

    Instead of Kokomo Speedway, I planned to go to that race that I believed had often wound up being the most exciting race of the entire week, the World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink sprint car race at Lawrenceburg Speedway in the southeast corner of Indiana. It’s not so far from the Indy area, and an easy drive from there. This year, I decided not to miss the race with the potential of being “the most exciting of the week.” Dirt, high banks, winged outlaw sprint cars, a non-NASCAR race day with some NASCAR stars present, and with the usual Outlaws stars (meaning D. Schatz) mixed in – this was certainly a race with a high potential to please.

    It didn’t disappoint. NASCAR drivers, and dirt sprint car aces, Chris Bell and Kyle Larson started the feature race on the front row. Ahead were 35 laps of broadsliding the high banks of Lawrenceburg by two of the most talented young open wheel racers in the nation. Larson dropped back early in the race, got his rhythm by mid-race, then caught up to the leading car of Bell, who was looking to give Kevin Swindell his first WoO feature race win. Bell had pulled away from the rest of the pack at each restart, and seemed to be on the way to a sure win. Not so fast.

    Hold on – here comes Kyle Larson. He passed Bell, and seemed to set up an anticipated seven-lap shootout to the finish between him and Bell. Despite the announcer’s statement that they “came together” (they didn’t), the cars of Bell and Larson both drifted up to the edge of the cushion in turn one, leaving Bell with no room. He went over the cushion, into the wall, and out of the race. After several races with close finishes between the two racers (Turkey Night Grand Prix, Chili Bowl, both in midgets) that resulted in victories for Chris Bell, Kyle Larson had his turn. His moment of joy came next. He got to celebrate in the Lawrenceburg Speedway winner’s circle with his young son in his arms. What a fitting end to an exciting, satisfying “Week of Indy.”

    “I’ll be back next year,” I stated. Definitely.




    2019 Little 500 Florida Driver Post-Race Report

     Story and Photos by Richard Golardi

     May 27, 2019

    Florida driver finishing positions in the 2019 Pay Less Little 500 Presented by UAW, May 25, 2019, Anderson Speedway, Anderson, Indiana:


    Mickey Kempgens: 8th place, 495 laps completed

    Shane Butler: 17th, 264 laps

    Johnny Gilbertson: 18th, 238 laps

    John Inman: 21st, 185 laps


    John Inman:

    “Little 500 was good, man. Bob East builds an awesome race car. The Claxton motor in it was awesome. Started 21st, we drove up and we were inside the top-five. Come down for a pit stop, they pulled the right rear off and the right rear bird cage bearing failed on us. It just self-exploded on its own. There’s nothing they could do, they did an awesome pit stop. Tightened up the right rear wheel, dropped it down, and it was no go. They said to get out, so I got out. It was just a parts failure. We’ll try again next year. That’s what we keep saying. Awesome race car – I was really happy with it.

     John Inman and his number 59 car, 2019 Little 500, May 25, 2019.

    “For the next 12 months, I have a lot going on at work. This [the Beast chassis] is a ‘Little 500, Anderson car.’ I plan to be here with the Beast only at the Little 500. Maybe some races here and there to get a little bit more speed out of it, so we can compete inside the top ten. The Diablo chassis is strictly for winged stuff, I just brought it this week as a spare. It did its job, just as it was supposed to do, it was ready to go when it needed to go. We’ll come back to the Little 500 in 12 months.”


    Shane Butler:

    For Shane, the answer to the question of how his race went was, “Not worth a s---. Nothing seemed to work out right. I screwed up and got into the 88 car there getting into one and spun out and caused two guys to crash. Got restarted and the car was pretty good, actually. By that time, we were a couple of laps down. Went underneath another car that was more laps down than we were, and he decided not to give me any room, and it cut the right front tire when we made contact in the fourth turn. We pitted, and the right rear was flat too, we had two flat tires at the same time. Put some tires on it, and the car was really good. When Hollingsworth was leading, just before half-way, we were running with him.

     Shane Butler and number 95 car, 2019 Little 500, May 25, 2019.

    “The car was good pretty much the whole race, just no good luck. Whoever lost the left rear tire off of four, everybody got on the brakes, and somebody tagged me and spun us out. We got slowed down, and somebody else didn’t. Got back going, the car was good again, and then the motor starting making a fluttering sound, like a mag went out on it or something. It wasn’t worth it to keep running it, so we just parked it.


    “That’s the way it goes – we’ve got 360 days to work on it and get it ready for next year. We don’t give up. I don’t know if you heard, but last Friday we came here to test, and this car [black number 95] broke a motor and then we got my car out to run some laps in it and the push truck ran it over and tore the nerf bar off of it, and bent the front axle, and some other damage. We got that fixed, but it’s been a rough week, it’s been a long week. Ran some laps Friday night, and last weekend we decided to put the motor in this car, and this is the car we decided to run. We definitely had the speed; the guys are always good on the pit stops. I think if we can just get a little bit of luck during the race, I think we’ll be in good shape. We’ll work on it and get it ready for next year. We don’t quit. We’ll be back.”


    Johnny Gilbertson:

    Regarding his car’s handling during the race, Johnny commented, “Yeah, it was pretty wicked at the beginning. I think it was tires. I thought I was getting the black flag, and evidently it was for somebody behind me, and that kind of screwed us for about 20 laps. So we came in and changed tires, and I went out there and it was a totally different race car, and I could run with the leaders. I was just trying to be careful to not mess them up because I was already 20 laps down. When we lost the wheel, right before I hit the wall in turn two, the car was actually pretty good. We had issues with the wheel nut when we changed our tires, and then we put it back on, and the wheel came off. I don’t know if the nut might have broken, that’s the only thing I can think of.

     Johnny Gilbertson examines crash damage on his car after the 2019 Little 500, May 25, 2019

    “I did a full 360 and then nosed into the fence, messed it up pretty good. I’ll have to replace the rear axle, front axle, a couple radius rods, a front bumper, and a couple panels. Other than that, it doesn’t look like it bent a shock. It could have been a lot worse. My initial reaction was that it was toast.


    “We struggled for two days, then we struggled at the start, and when we came in on lap 120, or whenever it was, we went back out, and man, I could drive it, and it was fun. Actually, I thought to myself, under the caution right before we had the wheel come off, if I just played my cards right, and people kept having mechanical problems, I could gain some laps on them and we might get a top-ten. Starting 32nd, and running like that at the end, and struggling like we had the last two days, I’m excited for next year.”


    Regarding plans for Florida racing for the next 12 months, Johnny does not have any plans to include Florida pavement racing this year, as he has “sold all my winged cars,” adding, “I don’t have any. This [Little 500 car] is the only pavement sprint car I have. I have one dirt car now, and this one here.”


    Johnny stated that his current Florida racing plans involve racing in the winged USCS dirt races, but, “I’m not ruling out going back to the winged stuff in Tampa, I just need to concentrate on the business right now. We sold three Diablo chassis’ in the last month, and I have to assemble a couple of them for the customers, so I’m going to concentrate on the business and do that and get the chassis brand back out there.”




    “Mr. Reliability” Mickey Kempgens Always There at Little 500 Finish

     Story and Photos by Richard Golardi

     May 27, 2019

     “Mr. Reliability” should be his new moniker. He’s the Florida driver who’s always there at the finish of the Little 500, it seems. Year after year, when the checkered flag drops at the Pay Less Little 500 Presented by UAW, Mickey Kempgens is there. For five out of the past seven years that he’s been in the race, he’s been the highest-finishing Florida driver at the classic race at Anderson Speedway. His goal of a top-three finish (his best finish so far is fourth, last year) will have to wait ’til next year, as will that goal of being the sixth sprint car driver from Florida to win the race. He can’t be any more determined or motivated or prepared to win. With one added factor, good luck, it seems inevitable that he’ll be a winner.

     Mickey Kempgens, 2019 Little 500 8th place finisher, Anderson Speedway, May 25, 2019.

    That purple number 68 car has been in the Little 500 winner’s circle twice before – twice with owner George Rudolph and driver Jim Childers in 1992 and 1994. For a little added luck, this year his car, owned by Doug Kenny, was a purple number 68. And the crew chief – it was George Rudolph, that maker of Florida racing champions for decades. One more Little 500 win as a crew chief would sure be a topper for his storied racing career, which stretches back to the ’50s in Florida.


    At this year’s Little 500, Mickey was the only Florida driver left in the race after the 300-lap distance, and was the highest-finishing Florida driver, taking an eighth place finish, his fifth top-ten finish. He’ll be back next year, he says. So will the team.

     PCS Racing team at the 2019 Little 500, L to R, crew chief George Rudolph, driver Mickey Kempgens, and car owner Doug Kenny, May 25, 2019.

    How can he be so reliable at this track, at this race? “I honestly don’t know,” Mickey replied. “I had quite a few chances to wad the car up tonight. I don’t know how I made it through a couple crashes, but I did. Car was really good from the start of the race to the first pit stop. We were fourth when we came in to pit, because a couple people pitted. Put right side tires on [first pit stop] and it just was so loose that I couldn’t drive it. It was absolutely awful. We put right sides on. We needed to put rears on.”


    From lap 200, ’til lap 350, was the period of dealing with a loose-handling car. “So, everything I made up first half of the race, I lost. I’ve got blisters on my hands, and I’ve never had blisters in a race car – ever. And then, came in at 350 and put rear tires on and went back out, and it was fast, sitting right with Kody [Swanson]. We were just as fast as Kody at the end of the race – I was glued to his bumper, and we were just going through traffic.

     Mickey Kempgens, afternoon warm-up session, 2019 Little 500, Anderson Speedway, May 25, 2019

    “It was just that middle section. Between the first and second pit stop, last year was really loose. This year, was really loose, and then we pick it up after the last pit. It sucks finishing eighth, at least we finished again. That middle section, when the car’s just junk, you just gotta just keep it straight and try not to get in a wreck. If someone hits you in the bumper, just let ’em go. Aaron hit me quite a few times and I waved him by, Windom hit me, but at that point, I just let ’em go. I couldn’t race ’em, the car was so loose. You gotta know when to go, and know when to conserve. I kind of had to cruise for 150 laps, which got us behind the eight ball. I was only five laps down. Last year, I finished fourth, and was five laps down. It was a fast field this year.


    “Another year … another finish … that’s seven for seven,” Mickey said, determined and steadfast in his desire for success. When other drivers have spins or crashes in front of them, and are in the wall, or into another car, and out of the race, Mickey seems to be able to avoid trouble that others can’t avoid or can’t steer around. “It’s weird. I see it happening before it actually happens. So, like if I’m going down the back stretch, I’m looking into turn three at guys racing each other, and I’m like, ‘They’re about to crash!’ And, guess what? And soon as they get into three, they crash. So, I’ve already got it into my head to start maneuvering. It’s weird to say I can see it happening, but I look far enough ahead. I don’t drive one car ahead. I drive five cars ahead.”


    His closest call in the race? “Every bad crash,” Mickey replied. “I was in the middle of it. Somehow got through it all. I don’t know how I do it. Every year, at the start, I think this is going to be the year that I’m going to be taken out, and I’m not going to finish, and at the end of the night, I’m still here.”


    “Here” on this night, Mickey Kempgens was in a now quiet infield at Anderson Speedway after the roar of 33 sprint cars had been silenced, for this year. He turned and walked away to pack up and head home, another race and another year in the books, but “Mr. Reliability” will be back next year. You can rely on that.


    2019 Little 500 race highlights, Anderson Speedway, Indiana, Saturday, May 25, 2019:





    Two Floridians Inducted into Little 500 Hall of Fame

    Story and Photos by Richard Golardi

    May 26, 2019

    Two Florida sprint car racing legends were inducted into the Little 500 Hall of Fame on Saturday at Anderson Speedway in Anderson, Indiana. The inductees were Bob Gratton of Homosassa and Jerry Stuckey of Spring Hill. A third legend of the Little 500, Tony Nosal of Michigan, was also inducted on Saturday during the 2019 induction ceremonies held at the track on the day of the 2019 Little 500.

    Jerry Stuckey, 2019 Little 500 Hall of Fame Inductee.

    Bob Gratton is best known for the cars he entered for fellow Little 500 Hall of Fame inductee Dave Steele. This pairing of two legends resulted in three Little 500 pole positions. Gratton’s entries earned three top-five finishes, the highest finish was second place in 2001 with Steele driving. Even though they led four races for a total of 762 laps, this was during a time when Eric Gordon dominated at the Little 500, and won the race for five consecutive years from 2001 to 2005. Dave Steele was likely his toughest competitor during this time. Bob Gratton also entered cars in the Little 500 for Kipp Beard, Stan Butler, and Wayne Reutimann.

    Bob Gratton, 2019 Little 500 Hall of Fame Inductee

    Jerry Stuckey’s name will forever be attached to the Hurricane sprint car chassis. That’s the chassis that he designed and still builds for pavement sprint car racing clients in Florida and nationwide. The chassis performed best in its early years at the “Lil’ Five.” In its first year, Dave Steele drove the orange and white number 14 car owned by Jack Nowling, with an engine supplied by Harold Wirtjes, to the winners circle. It was the first Little 500 win for all three men, and for car builder Jerry Stuckey, too. A second win for the Hurricane happened in 2000, when car owner Jimmy Riddle entered a car driven by his son-in-law, Jim Childers. Jim’s win that day, his third, set a record that still stands, for most Little 500 wins by a Florida driver. Jerry Stuckey’s Hurricanes have won the Little 500 pole position five times and raced to seven top-three finishes, in addition to countless wins at Florida tracks.




    Johnny Gilbertson at the 2019 Little 500 pole day, 5-23-2019

    Smiles and Trials for Floridians at 2019 Little 500 Qualifying

    Story and Photos by Richard Golardi

    May 24, 2019

    Shane Butler was smiling and laughing as I spoke to him after he qualified in 10th place yesterday at Anderson Speedway during Little 500 qualifying. He was very satisfied with his best-ever Little 500 qualifying position. Johnny Gilbertson felt differently, and had a one-word description for his day in Little 500 qualifying: “S----y.” He had a third-turn spin during his first qualifying attempt on Pole Day, the first of two days of qualifying. He later went out and put four laps “on the board,” so that he post a qualifying time, and could see where he stood among the 36 cars to make an attempt. His Thursday time was 33rd fastest, and he was not locked into the field. Shane Butler was, as he was in the top 15 qualifiers, and was in the field. Gilbertson had a long day ahead of him on Friday, day two of qualifying, and on the agenda was plenty of sweat and straining to get every last ounce of speed out of an uncooperative car. At 3:30 p.m. on Friday, qualifying would end, and he’d either be in … or not.

    These two Floridians were only two of the four from the Sunshine State to complete four laps and post a qualifying time for Saturday’s 500-lap test of man and machine, won by Floridians nine times, the Little 500 pavement sprint car race. Mickey Kempgens and John Inman, two Floridians who each have one Florida pavement sprint car championship on their resumes, also qualified, but are not yet locked into the field until the end of Friday qualifying. Kempgens had the 18th fastest time and John Inman was 20th – fast enough, but not locked into the field yet, as of Thursday.

    Shane Butler at the 2019 Little 500 pole day, 5-23-2019

    Shane Butler was waved off on his first four-lap qualifying attempt, it “wasn’t quite where we agreed to be,” he said. After his team made some adjustments (chassis work, gear change, three new sticker tires), then he “went back out and drove the hell out of it for four laps. Everything we did made a big difference, we made all the right adjustments. It was a lot better from where we were the last two days. We’re just ecstatic with a 10th place start – we’re pretty happy. This exceeds our expectations so far, this 10th place start is by far my best start for the Little 500. Who knows? Maybe Saturday night’s our night.”

    When asked why his team’s performance had seen such an improvement this year, Shane credited car owner Chuck Castor and his team, saying their combined effort “just added up. Chuck Castor has a lot of years racing with Tray House, and Tray House was always the number 95, so last year they had a couple numbers threes, so he [Castor] decided to change the number to 95. It is the same car as last year.”

    Same car … but whole different attitude … and Shane was unable to contain his joy and laughed easily. “This is nice,” Shane stated. “For once, we can enjoy our Friday. The beer’s gonna taste really good tonight! I’ve given my crew the green light to get drunk tonight.” Not too drunk, of course, because on Friday, they would spend the day working on race set-up, and take the car out with a full fuel load, allowing them to know what the car will do and how it’ll handle with their Saturday night set-up. Then comes the big test for the team – 500 laps of intense racing.

    As to why his car was “S----y,” Johnny Gilbertson replied, “I don’t know. We can’t find it. We were really good at the beginning of yesterday. We tested some tires all day and we were pretty consistent and now today we’ve got a totally different race car, and I can’t find out why. We’re stripping it down tonight, and start all over tomorrow morning.”

    John Inman at the 2019 Little 500 pole day, 5-23-2019

    The cause of the spin was because “the right rear’s not on the race track at all, none of the tires are really on the race track. I feel like I’m on black ice out there. Yesterday, I was very, very confident, and today, it’s like I don’t know what happened. We got something somewhere, and I gotta find it in a hurry. They’re kicking us out of here, so we’re going to do whatever we can here this afternoon, so we’ll be back first thing in the morning. We’ve already started making some changes, so tomorrow, we’re going to reset all our ride heights and we’ve already changed some springs and some shock adjustments, and we’re going to put some different tires on it, and see what happens.”

    “As long as we’re in the top 20,” Mickey Kempgens remarked, “I’m OK with that. Obviously would like to be a little further up, but, top half of the field – I’m happy with it. Last year, we were 28th, so we’re a lot better. The year before, we were 16th. It’s not ideal, but …

    “All the speeds are down this year,” Kempgens continued. “Except for Kody [Swanson], he’s just in a world all his own. We just haven’t been able to get any speed this week, but we struggle with that every year, and then come race time, we’re fine. I think we’ll be OK for the race.”

    As far as Mickey’s known talent for conserving the car and conserving his energy, and then coming on strong near the end of the 500 laps in the race, he said, “It’s a fine balance between conserving and still being aggressive. I’ve somehow kind of figured that out for this race. You gotta run like 95 percent, but at all times. But that 5 percent – you gotta conserve. The car’s very consistent, I’m consistent, that’s why we race really good. I can run the same speed the entire race.

    “We ran fifth two years ago, fourth last year, so hoping for a third or better this year,” Mickey said. “But I’d be happy to come out of here with another top five. The race is extremely hard, anytime you can come out of here with a top five, you’re doing good. We’ve got an incredible pit crew, our pit stops are great. I’ve just got to have the breaks go my way.”

    Mickey’s car also carries the purple paint scheme and number 68, reminiscent of crew chief George Rudolph’s two winning cars in the Little 500, in 1992 and 1994, with Florida pavement ace Jim Childers driving. Mickey himself has turned into a Florida pavement ace himself. Though he still lacks that Little 500 win, his consistent improvement year-by-year appears to place him on a path to an eventual win in the Anderson Speedway classic either this year, or soon.

    John Inman was confident. He had a Beast chassis and a 410 c.i. engine for this year’s Little 500 and had speed he didn’t have last year. His black number 59x car had him ahead of his speed output and starting spot for last year’s Little 500, his rookie year. As a second-year driver this year, things were looking up. He was working on his “backup car” when I spoke to him in the pits on Thursday. That backup car was for him, and he didn’t intend to put another driver in that car for a Friday qualifying attempt, he said. His team was going to be a one-car team, as it was in 2018.

    “We brought a Beast and a 410 back,” John Inman said, “and I’ve got to thank the Steele family, they got on board and we’ve got a 410 for that car. We struggled a little bit this week. It’s the first time I’ve ever sat in a Beast and we had a good run going there – I messed up a little bit. We know we’re solidly in the show.”

    Inman was thankful to have the Beast chassis/Claxton engine combination, a potent, speedy pairing for Saturday night. His Beast chassis, with the gold 59x numbers, had the Claxton 410, and he also brought his Diablo pavement chassis, which had the yellow numbers, and the 360 c.i. engine used in Florida racing. That’s the backup car for him. The Beast chassis (“just frame and body, built it from the ground up, it’s never been raced before”) was purchased about two months ago in Indiana, taken to Auburndale Speedway for a shakedown run, and then Inman decided to bring both cars to Indiana for the Little 500.

    “Better than last year,” John Inman said of his qualifying result. “The car’s a lot more drivable. It’s awesome in race trim.” He had “no plans” to put a driver in his backup car on Friday, but would take it out to see if it might have more speed than the primary car, the Beast chassis. “No intention to put another driver in the car,” he stated.

    Video of all Florida driver qualifying attempts for the 2019 Little 500, Anderson Speedway, Indiana, from Thursday, May 23, 2019:




    New Book on Florida Sprint Car Racing to be Released in June

    Story and Photos by Richard Golardi

    May 22, 2019

    I am proud to share the title and book cover of my first book, a collective biography on Florida's sprint car racing legends. The title is Racers in the Sun, Volume One. This book is the first volume of two, and will be released in e-book and paperback in June on The complete list of chapter subjects and titles will be released shortly before the book’s publication date.

    Included are the authorized biographies of two National Sprint Car Hall of Fame inductees, Pete Folse and Frank Riddle; three Little 500 winners from Florida; and NASCAR, Indy car, and open wheel legend Ralph Liguori. Also included is the story of American sprint car drivers in Cuba, which has been untold for 68 years.

    The biographies of six Floridians inducted into the Little 500 Hall of Fame are included in the book. They are Frank Riddle, George Rudolph, Jack Nowling, Wayne Reutimann, Dave Scarborough, and Robert Smith. All are authorized biographies, with the exception of Dave Scarborough. Several more biographies of Little 500 Hall of Fame inductees will be included in volume two, including Floridians Jim Childers and Stan Butler.

    Dave Steele's number 33 car at the Eastern Museum of Motor Racing on May 19, 2019


    I had the pleasure of speaking at the Eastern Museum of Motor Racing, in York Springs, Pennsylvania, this past Sunday on the racing careers of a couple of subjects in my new book, Wayne Reutimann and Ralph Liguori. This was the first speaking engagement at which I spoke about my new book.

    I wish to thank museum curator Lynn Paxton for arranging for me to speak, and for his help during the presentation that day. Lynn located the roll bar from the car that Ralph Liguori crashed at the 1960 Trenton Speedway USAC champ car race. While I was still speaking about that day, and that crash, Lynn brought the worn-through roll bar, evidence of the violent crash that Ralph called his “worst-ever,” to the front stage to allow everyone to see a piece of Florida open wheel racing history on display at this amazing Pennsylvania museum.

    The museum also has Dave Steele’s black number 33 pavement sprint car, raced by Dave in Florida pavement racing competition, and several other cars raced in Florida in history-making events. A USAC champ car driven by Robert Smith, the orange number 18 Joe Conroy owned car, is also on display.

    As I was examining and taking photos of Steele’s number 33 car, a young race fan sat on one of the car’s wide racing tires, and then turned toward me and asked about the treadless tires, and why these tires were used on this car. I talked to him about the tires, the car, and its driver, Dave Steele. I believe that young race fan may have left the museum that day with a new appreciation of American open wheel racing’s history, and one of the brave drivers that raced a car with the number 33.



    Jim Hanks Begins Pivotal Year for His Must See Racing Sprint Series

    Story and Photos by Richard Golardi

    May 1, 2019

    When the 2019 Must See Racing Sprint Series begins their season at Indiana’s Anderson Speedway this Saturday, May 4, it will be one of the most pivotal years for the series and also for Midwest pavement sprint car racing. A sweeping change was occurring this year in the Midwest, with significantly more non-wing pavement sprint car races scheduled. But winged pavement sprint car racing was hardly going away, and all of the races on this year’s Must See schedule, assembled by series founder and owner Jim Hanks, will be winged races, with the exception of the Little 500 on May 25, a non-point, non-wing series race. The final race count for their 2019 schedule is 13 races across seven states.

    Joe Liguori with his grandfather Ralph Liguori, 2016 Hoosier Hundred, Indiana State Fairgrounds, Indianapolis, May 26, 2016

    There’s another big change coming for Must See Racing this year, at least as far as Florida sprint car racing fans are concerned. There will be a Floridian racing regularly in the series – it’s Tampa’s Joe Liguori. Of course, that’s his hometown, with his current residence in Lebanon, Indiana. This year is a transition year for Joe Ligouri, but it’s hardly his first foray into winged pavement sprint car racing. Back when he was a Florida resident, he raced a winged pavement sprint car in Florida’s TBARA sprint car series, with backing from his grandfather, Tampa Indy car and open wheel racing legend Ralph Liguori. Up until the end of last year, Joe Liguori was mainly a dirt racer, racing a non-wing sprint car and USAC champ car on dirt, with some USAC pavement champ car races thrown in too. There were wins in the dirt sprint car, and Joe had some top-ten finishes in USAC Silver Crown champ car racing. Joe will attempt to earn the Rookie of the Year honor in the Must See Racing Sprint Series this year.

    “Well, we’ve added some new tracks,” Jim Hanks remarked, when asked about changes for the 2019 schedule. “The reason we do it is we like to keep things new and different and fresh. Actually, we’ve had more tracks contact us than we’ve got time for. We’re going to Lake Erie Speedway in Pennsylvania, and another new track we’re going to is called Hillside Buffalo Speedway, that’s the old Holland Speedway, up in the Buffalo, New York area. They will have a full race, full purse on Friday; and full race, full purse on Saturday. That’s going to be an exciting event.

    “A tradition, we’re going back to Anderson Speedway, we’re going to sanction the Little 500 and televise it again, and we have two races at Berlin Raceway [Michigan], which we’ve done every year, and Birch Run Speedway in Michigan, a first-class speedway. Then, we’re returning to Jennerstown Speedway, where we had a very successful race to wrap up our season last year. We had 6,000 people in the grandstands, 500 in the pits. It was a home-run, no doubt about it. And then, we are going to wrap the season up as part of the National Short Track Championships, this has been at Rockford Speedway in Illinois for almost 60 years. We’ve been there several times. That’s a two-day show, but not a full race on Saturday. We’re going to have a speed-trial, with elimination rounds, right down to when the last two cars do a shootout.”

    Jim Hanks, left, with previous Must See Racing sprint car champion Brian Gerster, right

    After this interview was completed, a 2019 Must See Racing schedule revision moved some races scheduled for a spring season Southern tour to the fall season, with Ace Speedway in North Carolina hosting their double-event on October 18 and 19. An August 25 race at Ohio’s Sandusky Speedway was added. These two tracks are both new venues for the Must See Racing tour.

    “It’s a strong schedule, it’s built for the fans,” Jim Hanks added, “and it’s built for the race tracks. It’s pretty much every other weekend – we have three double-events here, so that when we travel, it’s affordable for the race teams, because our purses are going to be up a little this year. Traveling to New York, it starts pushing the envelope of the limits of our travel area. It’s no secret, everyone’s struggled with car count.”

    Proof of Hanks’ observation is seen the low car counts that some other pavement sprint car series have had in their recent races: the King of the Wing national series had 10 cars starting their recent Southeast tour feature races in Pensacola and Montgomery in mid-April; and the Southern Sprint Car Shootout Series had 13 cars, below the usual average car count, at their most recent race in Pinellas Park, Florida on April 27.

    That’s the reason for the “double-events,” as Hanks called them. He sees the following benefits in these races: it allows teams to race more without adding more travel, and they “do financially better than racing at their local track.” Hanks had multiple teams, including some new teams, express their support for this concept, and also assure him that they intended to race in all the 2019 series races. “We had 49 registered teams last year,” he said, adding that he believes that car count for his series will be up in 2019, after hitting an average of 17.5 cars per race for the 2018 season. “We certainly had our best year ever last year, in all aspects of the business, which means we’re going in stronger than we ever have.”

    One standout event from the 2018 season was the race at Jennerstown Speedway on September 15. “Our first time there, magnificent job of revitalizing that race track by the ownership,” Hanks said. “The attention to detail at that track is second to none. I’m telling you, they make sure that every blade of grass points in the same direction. I mean, it’s that meticulous. It’s a great racing surface, it’s a great facility, and the owners have done a great job bringing in all the fan base. They get pretty good crowds all the time.”

    The Jennerstown race was also seen on a MAVTV program that partnered Must See Racing with Speed Sport’s cable TV production team. In 2019, those partners will produce five hours of broadcasts, all seen on MAVTV, including a two-hour delayed show for the 2019 Little 500. When Must See Racing was begun, their original concept was to televise other series’ races. Hanks then started his own sprint car series to insure the quality of the racing entertainment that he was going to televise.

    Would the increased amount of non-wing pavement sprint car racing in the Midwest benefit the groups racing winged pavement cars, including Must See Racing? “Well, absolutely,” Jim Hanks replied. “Must See is a 410 series, and the more things change, and in this case, grow, we’re not becoming an island, but people are doing other things because of our success. I think it’s a good fit. It doesn’t serve any purpose to have five winged sprint car series – that’s too many. Competition is good for all of us. It creates a better product. I’m happy right now with our product. I’m proud of our product. It’s all about the quality of our race teams, and we certainly have got them.”

    Hanks related that it wasn’t like baseball, with three strikes allowed before you’re out. “You either deliver, or you’re done,” he said emphatically. “That’s the simple, cold, hard business truth. We haven’t struck out, we have delivered, and we’ve got a good, entertaining product.” Hanks then pointed out a convention display in front of where he sat in the Engine Pro booth at the PRI Trade Show in Indianapolis. It was a winged sprint car that raced in his series. “We’ve got some really good race teams, we’ve got some really good owners, and we’ve got really good race tracks. It’s all about good people, and we’ve got a really good crew all the way around. I think the excitement’s back – I really do.”




    Notes from Showtime Speedway, March 23, 2019

    Story and Photos by Richard Golardi

    March 26, 2019

    When the red No. 36 sprint car, which was previously the red No. 91 owned by Lenny Puglio, crossed the finish line at Showtime Speedway on Saturday, 33-year-old driver Troy DeCaire still had three obstacles to overcome to get his car to the track’s winner’s circle and to be declared the official winner of the feature race. The car owned by Ken and Theresa Statham with Statham Construction sponsorship was bounced around in the pinball-like scrum in turn four on the last lap, after which it sped off at an angle toward the infield, apparently crossing the finish line below the yellow line, in the infield grass. A pre-race warning to the drivers told them that going below the yellow line would result in a penalty. But if another car pushed Troy DeCaire and the No. 36 machine into the slide toward the infield, any penalty would be waived, making DeCaire the Southern Sprint Car Shootout Series feature winner as the first car to cross the finish line.

    Clayton Donaldson with Mac Steele No. 1 car and firesuit worn by Dave Steele

    Crossing the asphalt of the infield X, Troy was approaching the first obstacle, one that might prevent him from getting his car intact to the nearby winner’s circle. It was a light pole at the end of a large patch of grass, now moist with evening dew. After accelerating toward and over the finish line, he’d have just a few seconds to slow, maintain control on the slick grass, then come to a stop (and avoid the light pole). He did all those things successfully, even doing a little bow for the fans after getting out of his car, causing him to later claim, “I’m no Rowdy Busch … so sometimes you gotta dance. I knew I won, I just wanted to let Mickey [Kempgens] know I appreciated him helping me across the line.”

    Obstacle No. 1 was overcome, which involved accelerating across the finish line and avoiding a collision with a light pole and other infield impediments.

    Even though Troy was certain of his status as the feature winner, that was not the view shared by others. Mickey Kempgens’ No. 5 car was the first to be pushed into the winner’s circle, only to be pushed back out and replaced by the red No. 36 driven by Troy.

    Troy described the scenario in that last lap pass for the lead: “Mickey caught me in the tail … and I wanted to beat him to the line … so I floored it and as soon as I got across a couple of those bumps in the figure 8 there, I knew I had crossed the line.” Race officials, including series president Rick Day and tech inspector Danny Kramer, ruled that the No. 36 car had been forced below the yellow line by contact in turn four on the last lap, and that crossing the finish line below the yellow line would not result in a penalty.

    Troy DeCaire and winning car No. 36, Showtime Speedway, 3-23-2019

    Obstacle No. 2 was now overcome – Troy could celebrate in the winner’s circle with his car owners, crew, family, and friends. That gathering included his former car owner, Lenny Puglio, now wearing a T-shirt bearing the name of Troy’s new team. Puglio had sold the majority of his racing equipment to the Statham team, with the exception of a Spike chassis “Little 500 car,” and a Dave Steele-driven show car on display in Pennsylvania that is eventually bound for Knoxville, Iowa and the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame. Puglio rejected being given a title of “consultant/adviser” to the Statham team, but did not offer an alternate title despite his visible presence on race day along with crew chief Todd Schmidt, now part of a “blended crew” of old and new teams.

    A third obstacle to the race win loomed, something sure to be seen in the post-race inspection. I had noticed members of competing teams peer into the cockpit of the red No. 36 car during the pre-race autograph session, then turn away, shaking their heads. I did not learn what they saw until later, after speaking to series official Danny Kramer. In the post-race inspection, the car was found to be missing a required driveline “scatter shield,” a metal part which covers the driveshaft and is designed to protect the driver when a driveshaft breaks or fails. The ensuing discussion between Kramer and Rick Day resulting in the following decision: the rules infraction did not result in a competitive advantage for the car, but was instead a safety issue, and would therefore not result in a penalty. Kramer explained that the car was only racing in the series for the second time, and was not inspected earlier in the season when all cars were inspected more closely. The car will be allowed to race again, as long as the shield is installed.

    Obstacle No. 3, the last remaining obstacle to winning, was now overcome. Troy DeCaire and the Statham team could breathe easy and celebrate their win.

    NOTES: The Showtime Speedway race was the second 2019 race for the Mac Steele brown No. 1 Hurricane chassis. It was driven by Clayton Donaldson, who was wearing a firesuit owned and used by Dave Steele, his name still placed on the waistband. The chassis and its new driver debuted at Citrus County Speedway earlier this month. The tail of the #1 car will remain painted black. Mac Steele told me that is a tradition for his sprint cars for now.
    * Friends Phil Haddad and John Inman were in a playful mood during the evening autograph session, with John requesting an autographed driver card from his friend, then playing the part of his biggest fan, proudly displaying his autographed card of Phil and his #42 car.
    * The Taylor Andrews owned car No. 88 will soon be all yellow and black, but for now just the top wing shows the new car colors, with Dayton Andrews Dodge sponsorship and with Sport Allen driving.
    * Car owner of the No. 5 winged sprint car Doug Kenny has confirmed that he will enter a No. 68 non-wing car for driver Mickey Kempgens in the 2019 Little 500. The second Floridian to have filed an early Little 500 entry is John Inman, for his No. 59x car. Shane Butler confirmed that he plans to file an entry for the Little 500 also.
    * Five-year old Nicholas, in his down-sized engine-less version of the No.11 sprint car driven by Joey Aguilar, posed for photos wearing his driver suit and a big smile. He's about two years away from getting behind the wheel of a vehicle with an engine, go kart racing is next, I'm told.
    * I have learned that Troy DeCaire and the Statham team may be heading north for Auto Value Super Sprints or Must See Racing series races, possibly with a 410 cubic inch engine on loan from Lenny Puglio. It won’t be with the Spike chassis that was modified and nicknamed “Half Breed,” which he drove in the 2015 Little 500, as that car has been sold by Puglio to another car owner. It likely will be with the sticker currently on the car, a sticker with the nickname that was seen for the first time on his car at Anderson Speedway in 2015: Troy “the Rocketman” DeCaire.
    * Second-generation open wheel racer Steven Hollinger won his first Florida TQ midget feature race on Saturday at 4-17 Southern Speedway in Punta Gorda. He is the son of sprint car racer Rex “Boneman” Hollinger. Congratulations to Steven on his first win.



    Rick Day on Current Status and Future of Southern Sprint Car Shootout Series

    Story and Photo by Richard Golardi

    March 21, 2019

    There were two persons who had the greatest influence on the BG Products Southern Sprint Car Shootout Series during their first year in 2016. They were the man who has been the president since inception, Rick Day, and the racer who would be crowned 2016 season champion, Dave Steele. Rick Day guided the series through their first season of competition, which included 17 race events with four different race drivers winning a feature race. Dave Steele was the only racer to win more than two features, with 13 wins.

    After completing their highly successful first year, the series had its most trying ordeal just a few months later. Dave Steele was killed in a series race at Desoto Speedway on March 25, 2017. Almost two years after this tragic day, the series has endured, continuing to race across a variety of Central and Southwest Florida pavement tracks, and achieving a level of parity among its racers that has resulted in multiple race winners and their first championship title fight late last year.

    The series is also continuing to change and revise their operating ideology, planning their first non-wing race since 2016, and looking to add their first race outside Florida as early as this summer. Rick Day is still the guiding force behind these changes, as he has been since the original plans for the series were laid out in late 2015. I spoke to him this week as the series prepared for their spring season races, which include three races over the next four weekends, starting with Showtime Speedway this Saturday. The following two races are at Auburndale Speedway (3/30) and New Smyrna Speedway (4/13).

    “It’s pretty strong,” Rick Day said of the current status of the Southern Sprint Car series today, “but we’ve always got room to grow. We’re happy with the level of competition – three races, three different winners. Car count’s been real good, so we’re pleased in that aspect.” With nearly two years having passed since the death of Dave Steele, Day commented, “Well, David will always be missed. He set the bar for the level of competition for everybody to strive for and he was an intricate part of the series – as a sponsor, somebody to look up to, and as a friend. So he is definitely deeply missed, and it’s hard to believe he’s been gone two years now.

    “We have some well-known drivers that could go back to run on the national level – Troy DeCaire, obviously, Shane Butler, Joey Aguilar, Mickey Kempgens – and with the right team and the right circumstances, could be competitive and win. Dave Steele was on top of sprint car racing, and everybody that shows up now knows that they do have a shot to take that checkered flag home at the end of the day.”

    Special events for 2019 includes next month’s non-wing race at Showtime Speedway, a “Little 500 Warm-Up,” to better prepare Florida’s racers for that race in May, and the Frank Riddle Memorial in the fall season. Beyond that, Rick Day mentioned that “we may end up doing the Senator’s Cup again, we’ve got a few details to work out on that, and we’d like to do some bigger money races. We’ve got a pretty heavy schedule, right now there’s 18 races. Citrus County is possibly talking about taking another one. Crisp Motorsports Park [Cordele, Georgia] has contacted us, they are interested in a date, and we are in negotiations with them at this time to do a race possibly in August this year up there in Georgia. I’ve talked to the PR guy up there a couple of times about bringing sprint cars back to their facility.”

    This would be the first race the series has held outside of Florida, and there may be even more being considered. “Oh yeah, we’re always open to branch out,” Day remarked. “It involves sponsors in order to compensate for the travel expenses, especially for our guys that come out of South Florida. We’re open to branching out into Alabama and Georgia and wherever we could go.

    “Davey Hamilton has contacted us, wanting to do a co-sanctioned event with the April 13 date, that weekend, Pensacola and Montgomery, but we have a date already scheduled at New Smyrna, and we have asked about rescheduling that event, but nothing has been done. We’re waiting on New Smyrna to tell us what they want to do. We have talked to Tim Bryant at Pensacola, and I have talked to Davey Hamilton about it. But as of right now, nothing’s been solidified yet. If New Smyrna agrees to reschedule the event, we would ascertain going to Pensacola as a co-sanctioned race with the King of the Wing. But as it stands, we have given that date to New Smyrna, and I’m not going to just take it away. They’ve supported the series now since the inception, and I’m not going to take something away from them that we’ve already promised them and agreed on terms for them to have the event. I gave them an alternate date, if they’re interested. It’s up to New Smyrna whether they want to give up the date or not.”

    As of today, the series will still be racing on April 13 at New Smyrna Speedway. If that changes, Pensacola (4/12) and Montgomery, Alabama (4/13) would be added as points-paying regular season events if New Smyrna’s date is moved. It seems unlikely that any more Florida pavement tracks might be added. Bronson Speedway seems to be in a position where they can’t afford the cost of a race, according to their own prior statements to Rick Day, and there was no further effort to add them.

    “I would love to do one,” he responded to a question about the return of a Florida 500, or 400, last held at Desoto Speedway in December 2007. There are no current plans to try to organize a Florida sprint car endurance race, as no sponsors have emerged to make it financially feasible, and most currently active tracks such as Showtime Speedway don’t have an apron, making for a dicey safety issue with push trucks going on to the track with cars at speed. There won’t be a Florida 400 or 500 coming, as least not for the near future.

    Is it too early to talk about the series’ potential for long-term success? TBARA had a history of success that spanned more than four decades of dirt and pavement racing, and the Southern Sprint Car Shootout Series is in its fourth season with stable leadership, bankable widely-known racers, and committed track owners, sponsors and suppliers. Fan interest and attendance has remained stable, and has the potential to greatly improve with the influx of people and money coming into Central Florida.

    Comparing the TBARA’s time of success to current conditions, Day said, “Our industry is a whole lot different than it was then. In my opinion, we need to find a way to build a new fan base that wants to and can associate with a sprint car. We need to find a way to get the muscle-car people back involved with it,” he said, with hopes to get more “kids that are more into the ‘fast and the furious’ street-racing, and don’t know what a sprint car is. We’ve got to figure out a way to build our brand again in the near future. We’ve got to figure out how to get the kids back involved in the sport.

    “We’re definitely interested in, and look forward to growing our brand. BG Products is stepping up a little more, BG corporate has now stepped up to the plate a little bit, and we look to promote their brand nationwide, rather than just inside the State of Florida. That’s what we’re looking at.”




    Shane Stewart Talks About His New Team and Retirement Plans

    Story by Richard Golardi

    February 28, 2019

    Paul Arch Photo

    I spoke to 42-year-old dirt sprint car racer Shane Stewart earlier this month at Volusia Speedway Park, at the time when he was preparing for his first World of Outlaws race of the year. It was the season-opening race with the Outlaws on Friday, February 8. The Oklahoma native racer already had one Florida Speedweeks win at Volusia with the All Star Circuit of Champions on February 6. It was his first visit to the winner’s circle driving the No. 5 CJB Motorsports sprint car. Prior to 2019, he had been driving the No. 2 Kyle Larson Racing sprint car in World of Outlaws competition.

    “It’s going good,” Shane replied when asked how his Speedweeks races had been going so far. “You know, I think as good as it could go with a new team. Everything’s new for me – the mechanics, the crew chief, the car, the motor … chassis, everything. I think it’s going pretty good. It just goes to show just how tough these races are. All in all, I’ve been pretty happy. We’ve had good speed, we had good speed in Ocala as well.”

    Main goal for 2019: “Win the championship, that’s my main goal. This team’s capable of doing that. Barry [Jackson] and [driver David] Gravel have proven that the car’s been fast for several years. I’m really looking forward to racing with Barry. Barry’s one of the veterans of our sport when it come to crew chiefs, and I’m looking forward to it.”

    I also asked if he thought his win total for 2019 would improve this year now that he had a completely new team. “Well, I only had one Outlaw win last year, so I better. My goal is to get to double digits, and I think we’re capable of doing that. I’ve never won double digits with the Outlaws, I’ve been close.” Shane added that he has been into double digits in the win column with other sprint car series (and has won two ASCS sprint car championships), but he wants to do that with the World of Outlaws tour this year. “To win double digit Outlaw wins is tough to do. I expect us to do that. We’re capable of doing that. We’ve just got to put each night together and concentrate on this particular night, and not worry about the next night, and not worry about last night. I think that’s how we need to approach it.”

    Paul Arch Photo

    With a new team that had 18 World of Outlaws feature wins in 2017 with driver David Gravel (and five in 2018), and having already put his new team in the winner’s circle once during Speedweeks, and his determination to get many more wins this year, Shane was smiling – and he seemed happy with the promise that a new race season brought.

    “Yeah, I’m happy,” Shane remarked. “I’m happy where I’m at. I hope I can retire with this team, and just do a lot of good for Chad and Jennifer Clemens and of course, Barry [Jackson]. It’s Barry’s baby. It’s more or less his team. He works really hard, so that gives me a lot of confidence.”

    Since Shane had brought up the “R word,” (retire) it seemed like the appropriate point in the interview to ask if he had made any plans for eventually retiring from racing, and if he knew how much longer he’d be racing. I was somewhat taken aback by his answer, as he had already made some plans.

    “Five years,” Shane said. “I would like to stay around with this team for another five years. That would mean I’ve been out here for eight or nine years, and that’s a long time. But I hope I can put together five really strong years.”



    Brady Bacon is Home Again, Back with Hoffman Racing

    Story and Photo by Richard Golardi

    February 22, 2019

    Back behind the wheel of the renowned white, green and orange Mean Green No. 69 USAC sprint car, 29-year-old Brady Bacon had that feeling of being “home again.” The Hoffman Auto Racing team car was the one he drove to USAC national sprint car series championships in 2014 and 2016. He left the team after the 2016 season. Hoffman Racing got a second place in the USAC points and seven wins last year with Kevin Thomas Jr. driving, after which the team and driver parted ways. With Brady’s rehire, he was back at Bubba Raceway Park for the season-opening races with the USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car Series, which is where I spoke to him last week.

    “It’s a little different circumstances this time,” Brady said, “but it was great when I was there before, and I anticipate it being great this time around. Richard [Hoffman] is a great guy and has had a lot of success, and we both like to win, so it’s usually a good combination.” When asked what was left of the team that earned two USAC sprint car championships earlier this decade, he responded, “The driver and the owner, pretty much. We have the same chassis brand, Triple X. We had Triple X for the full four years I was there. Different shocks, and some other things. Obviously, things have changed in those two years, but a lot of things are the same, more than they have been in the last couple of years for them.”

    Concerning his crew chief and crew, and if any were returning from the two championship years, “No – different,” Brady replied. “[Former crew chief] Rob Hoffman, Richard’s son, is retired from racing. Matt Hummel, with FK Shocks, is the crew chief now. I’ve been together with Matt for three or four years. For me, it’s comfortable. We got some momentum at the end of last year, so we’re hoping to kind of build on what we learned last year, and have a good, solid year this year.”

    Outside of USAC sprint car racing: “I’m going to run all of the dirt Silver Crown races for Bob East and Terry Klatt; and in midgets, I’ll run about eight races for the No. 76M [FMR Racing] that I drove the last few years, the bigger money races, and maybe a handful for a couple of other people here and there, and then about 20 winged races.”

    That winged race total is about the same as last year for Brady. But it will be a change in his midget race total, since he ran the full USAC midget schedule last year, and has a limited midget schedule for this year. That means that Silver Crown racing takes on greater importance for Brady in 2019. Last year, Brady had five Silver Crown race starts on the dirt tracks, and had one top ten finish with a total of 28 laps led while driving the Terry Klatt Enterprises car with crew chief Bob East. In 2017 Silver Crown racing, he had two top five finishes in 3 series starts, and earned the “Hard Charger of the Race” award in the last race at Eldora Speedway. Brady is seeking his first USAC Silver Crown race win in 2019, and already has multiple wins in sprint cars and midgets with USAC. One of those midget wins was undoubtedly his biggest race win last year – at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Dirt Track on September 6. He also had four USAC sprint car feature wins in 2018.

    “I’m not running for points in midgets this year,” Brady said. “We’ll do some local sprint car stuff, and I run 120 races a year usually, so I might just try to back it down a little bit and maybe not race quite so much. I have three kids, and you gotta kind of balance it out, and I own my winged sprint car. You can race as much as you want, but at the end of the day, someone’s gotta pay the bills. Overall, about a hundred races this year. Our plan is to try to cut back a little bit – that’s what I told my wife, at least.”

    Main goal for 2019: “Win the USAC sprint car championship, that’s our goal.” When it was pointed out that his prior USAC championships were in even-numbered years, and it seemed to establish a pattern, he responded, “Yeah, but … we’re hoping to change that.” So, make it an odd-numbered year championship win, and take whatever part superstition played in his past championship years, and throw it out the window?

    “Yeah,” he replied, superstition be damned. It’s an odd year, and he’s determined to win it anyway. Brady had that “championship feeling” once again. “Yeah, just kind of picked up where we left off,” he concluded.



    Justin Grant – Same Guys, Same People, New Sponsor for 2019

    Story and Photos by Richard Golardi

    February 20, 2019

    California racer Justin Grant, now an Indiana resident, has a new primary sponsor for 2019, and it is the energy drink company that has been generous with its sponsorship dollars in American open wheel racing this year – NOS Energy Drink. “New primary sponsor, same race team – TOPP Motorsports,” Justin told me during last week’s visit by USAC to Ocala’s Bubba Raceway Park. “Same guys, same people are all involved, we just had NOS come board on as the primary, and we’ve got a lot of other great sponsors that have come on board as well. Really excited to be carrying NOS Energy Drink as the primary, and I’m excited to be back with TOPP Motorsports for another year. Same crew chief, same crew, just different stickers.”

    After winning five of the last eight 2018 USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car Series races in the No. 4 car, Justin was poised to be one the top contenders in 2019. He had a third place finish in the season opening night of the USAC sprint car series on Thursday at Bubba Raceway Park. Then Justin put his new primary sponsor in the winner’s circle there on night two, winning the Friday sprint car feature, his 14th USAC national sprint car win. It was a night of surviving a slick, tire-killing track for 30 laps. The winning driver not only had to advance to the front, but make his tires last. Several drivers didn’t make it, including Chris Windom, leading until two laps to go, when he had a tire deflate. Justin took over the lead, didn’t punish his tires, and took the checkered flag first, putting the NOS sponsor stickers in the USAC winner’s circle for the second time in two nights.

    His main goal for 2019: “We’re here to win races, so that’s goal number one, and if you win a lot of races and run well, then add ’em up, and you can win a championship at the end of the year. We’re here to do the best job we can every night, if it shakes out in our favor at the end of the year, then we’d like to pick up a big check and a trophy at the banquet as well.

    “We’re going to focus on the USAC national series and we’ll run a little bit here and there, maybe a little Kokomo now and then, just to stay sharp and stay racing and have some fun. I, myself, will run a limited USAC midget schedule and then the full USAC Silver Crown schedule, dirt and pavement both. The Silver Crown cars will be from Hemelgarn Racing, pavement and dirt; and then the midget will be RAMS Racing; and then the sprint cars, obviously TOPP Motorsports. I did the pavement and dirt in Silver Crown with Hemelgarn for the past two years [one Silver Crown win, fourth place in points, 2017; and one win, second place in points, 2018]. The sprint car will be the only one we race outside of USAC. There’s so many great race tracks in Indiana, and right around the Indianapolis area. We’ll run Kokomo on Sunday nights, probably, and hit and miss if something pays good, or something’s cool and we want to go run it, we’ll go run it, but no major commitments outside of USAC’s schedule. We’ll just pick ’em up when we feel like it.”

    Pavement sprint car racing, specifically the Little 500, where he has yet to qualify for his first 500, is on his list of desired races to run in 2019. “Ahh – yeah, probably,” Justin replied. “I’m working on some stuff there, making sure nothing conflicts, but hopefully, I’ll be there as well.” When pressed for a team or Little 500 car owner name, Justin said, “Not yet, we haven’t locked anything down for sure yet. Still making sure the schedules will work, and everybody can do it. I think it looks good – yup. I’ve run at Anderson a couple of times, but never for the Little 500.”

    Video – feature race highlights, USAC national sprint cars, Bubba Raceway Park, Ocala, Florida, Night #2, Friday, February 15, 2019:



    Chris Windom Drives New Energy Drink Sponsor into Victory Lane

    Story and Photos by Richard Golardi

    February 16, 2019

    Their blue and orange colors were highly visible up and down pit road at Bubba Raceway Park this week. NOS Energy Drink has been pouring substantial sponsorship dollars into American open wheel racing, having signed on as the title sponsor of the World of Outlaws sprint car series and USAC national midget series, and also primary sponsor of three sprint cars in the USAC sprint car series. The Goacher Racing No. 5G car was one of those three cars, driven by Chris Windom. The energy drink company has made a substantial investment in his 2019 racing efforts.

    “NOS Energy Drink came on board for the sprint car and midget full-time for me this year,” Chris said. “I’m fortunate for that. New team here at Goacher Racing – I brought Derek Claxton, my crew chief from last year with me over here. A lot of the same, but definitely new team and new faces and we came out of the gate and qualified well, so we’ve got to keep plugging away the rest of the night to make it a good first night.”

    And they did just that. On Thursday night at Bubba Raceway Park, opening night for the USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car series, Chris made a last lap pass in the feature race and got a win on the first night out with his new team. It was the first time in a USAC winner’s circle for Goacher Racing in the past 27 years. He was looking for his second win in two nights on Friday in Ocala, but tire punctures seemed to be the gremlin biting a lot of the front runners that night, and it got Chris Windom’s car too. He was leading Friday’s feature race with two laps left when he had a tire let go and had to get off the track. Justin Grant took over the lead for the last two laps and won, in another NOS Energy Drink car. Grant called it a “rubber race,” referring to the need to preserve tires, as well as get to the front, in order to win.

    Chris Windom in USAC winner's circle at Bubba Raceway Park, 2-14-2019

    Crew chief Derek Claxton was about the only familiar thing for Chris Windom’s new sprint car team. “Yeah, everything else is new,” Chris said. “We’re running the same type of car, same engine. They’re Mopar, that’s what I’ve run in the years past. A lot of it’s the same, just new people, and new owners.” Goacher Racing was not a brand new team for Chris, as he had raced with them previously in the Little 500, and had his most recent Little 500 win with them in 2015, beating Florida legend Dave Steele to the finish in a late-race battle. He has only raced on pavement with Goacher Racing in the past.

    “They ran a few dirt races here and there,” Chris said of his new dirt racing team. “But we started this full-time dirt program this year. Joe Brandon with Goacher Racing is a big part of this deal too. I’m thankful for that.”

    Chris’ main goal for 2019: “Win the championship – all three: sprints, midgets, and Silver Crown. I think we’ve got three really good race cars to do it. We got a decent start in the midget last week [finishes of 3rd and 9th in two Florida USAC midget races]; we’ll see how this weekend goes with this. You know, I’ve won the sprint car and Silver Crown titles, so I’d really like to win the midget title this year to make it a ‘triple crown,’ but I’m out here looking to win all three.” In USAC Silver Crown racing, he’ll have Matt Goodnight as car owner and Scott Benic as crew chief. They’ve been racing with Matt driving in USAC Silver Crown, but this was new for them to hire Chris to drive a second Silver Crown car.

    “Everything – all three. Every single race,” Chris replied when asked which USAC national series races he’ll be in this year. He’ll attempt to win all three national USAC titles in the same year, a feat which hasn’t been done in a while. As to whether he’ll have time to do anything else, “It’s going to be tough. That’s about a hundred races right there just with those three. We’re going to have our work cut out for us. I’m going to run the Little 500 [which he has raced in for five straight years], and the Freedom 100 at Indianapolis in Indy Lights. That, and probably run Eldora in the truck race, and a few local shows when we can.

    “I’m looking forward to it,” he said, as he didn’t perceive the loaded race schedule of 100-plus races as daunting. “It gets tiring after a while, but when you’ve got a great group of guys to work with on all your teams, it makes it a little easier. It’s what we’re here for, and it’s what we love to do, so I guess the more races, the better.”



    Carson Macedo Teams with Kyle Larson in 2019

    Story and Photo by Richard Golardi

    February 14, 2019

    Earlier this month, California dirt sprint car driver Carson Macedo explained his reason for being at Bubba Raceway Park in Ocala. He and his team were getting ready for the upcoming World of Outlaws sprint car season, due to start the next week at Volusia Speedway Park. The Kyle Larson Racing-owned No. 2 winged sprint car team was due to compete in the entire 91-race World of Outlaws tour with the 22-year-old driver, beginning Friday, February 8. Carson will be racing to earn the Rookie of the Year title in Outlaws racing this year.

    “It’s a little warm-up before we go out and do the World of Outlaws tour. It’s a long season, obviously, and you want to get tuned in, have your stuff right, and be sharp for that first race in Volusia. The KLR team is working really hard to get me comfortable. It’s not my first sprint car race of the year, because I spent some time racing in Australia, actually just came back a week and a half ago.” The racing he did down under in Australia meant that he missed the Chili Bowl in January.

    His main goal in 2019 World of Outlaws racing: “Our goal is to have speed, win races, and do the best we can. I think night in and night out, if we can just be the best team we can be, and always be there at the end, we’ll try to win races and see where we can put ourselves. The more nights we can get under our belt before we actually get to race over there [Volusia Speedway on February 8] is a good chance for us to not only get our car right, but just get me comfortable in the car, and the team working well together, and it’s all really important.”

    His biggest accomplishment from 2018 that led to being offered one of the “prime seats” in sprint car racing with Kyle Larson as his car owner: “I think we just had a pretty successful year all around, myself and Joe Gaerte together in the No. 3G car, and I was able to win some races, win a few All Star races, and do pretty well night in and night out, and then to get in the No. 41 JJR [Jason Johnson Racing] car and win that prelim night at the Knoxville 360 Nationals, and come just short of winning that final night at the 360 Nationals. And then to have a good 410 Nationals … I don’t know, I think there’s a few things – jump in Tony’s car and run the 360 at Osky [Southern Iowa Speedway in Oskaloosa, August 7, in a Tony Stewart Racing car] and won that race. I think that’s what it’s all about – you’ve just got to win races and the doors will start opening.”

    When learning that he was going to be in his current race car, the No. 2 car driven by Shane Stewart in 2018 World of Outlaws racing, he was “super-excited. It’s one of the elite teams on the World of Outlaws tour, and hopefully I can do it justice, do a good job.”

    During his four nights of Florida Speedweeks racing with the All Star Circuit of Champions, Carson Macedo had feature race finishes of 21st, 10th (Bubba Raceway Park), and 8th, 15th (Volusia Speedway Park). With the World of Outlaws during the final Speedweeks weekend of 410 winged sprint car racing, Carson had feature race finishes of 9th and 10th (final Sunday night at Volusia was rained out). He also won heat races on both nights of World of Outlaws racing at Volusia Speedway Park.




    Daniel Miller: Florida Pavement Sprint Car Rookie is Ready

    Story and Photo by Richard Golardi

    Daniel Miller, and his father Robbie Miller, with their No. 00 sprint car

    February 9, 2019

    “I’ve been racing for 17 years,” Daniel Miller said at the most recent Southern Sprint Car Shootout Series race in Punta Gorda in January. The 22-year-old rookie sprint car driver from Tavares, FL, who is behind the wheel of his team’s No. 00 car (yes, they are fans of the racing Reutimanns), added, “We’ve raced quarter-midgets, mini-cup, Pro Challenge, and we were in pro late models last season on asphalt at New Smyrna. This is actually Dude Teate’s old sprint car, which is very familiar around here, the zero car. It’s been off the track for a year or two. We acquired it – and first race out.”

    Daniel, who works as a tractor mechanic during the week, admitted that the car had some problems in the January 19 practice session at 4-17 Southern Speedway in Punta Gorda, but the team, which includes his father, worked through them. He then raced to a fifth place finish in his heat race, and had a 16th place finish in the feature, a race that included two other 2019 series rookies: Phil Haddad and Chaz Hambling.

    “Pro late models were just getting out of hand with money,” Daniel explained. “It’s supposed to be an economical series, and you’ve got all the big guys coming down and spending millions of dollars.”

    That’s why his family-owned team made the switch to sprint cars for 2019. Pavement sprint cars are still very much alive and well in Florida, and that’s the race car type he’ll be driving this year. His next race will be on Sunday, February 10 at New Smyrna Speedway with the Southern Sprint Car series. Sunday will be a race day that the pavement sprint car series will share with the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East stock cars on the high-banked, half-mile track. It’s the fastest track in Florida that the pavement sprint cars visit.

    Daniel has spent many hours in the pits with Dude Teate and has “grown up around him. I’ve known him since I was five years old, when I was racing quarter midgets. I’m in a few winner’s circle pictures with him. I drove a sprint car once before, last season for Stan Butler in the No. 18 car, the last race of the season, just to get seat time. We did pretty good, for the first time out. We’re going to go full-time this season. Robbie Miller, my father, is the car owner. It’s just me and him, and we’ve got Rob Mercer helping us. It’s our first time doing it on our own – just get some wins under our belt and do the best we can.”

    The car, previously the No. 0 owned by Ronnie Van Den Brink and driven by Dude Teate, is now the No. 00, and is painted a blue that may be considered to be close to the “Chevron blue” that has appeared on cars driven by the racing Reutimanns for years, but that was not an intentional color choice. The No. 00 – that was a deliberate choice, to proclaim their kinship with and admiration of the racing Reutimann family.




    Logan Schuchart Wants to Win a “Big Race” in 2019

    Story and Photos by Richard Golardi

    February 8, 2019

    The five Ollie’s Bargain Outlet All Star Circuit of Champions races already completed in Florida this month were not the first sprint car races of the year for 26-year-old Shark Racing team sprint car driver Logan Schuchart. “I raced a couple of weeks ago in Australia,” Logan told me during a recent interview at Bubba Raceway Park on their Thursday opening night. “We had a couple of good races over there – we actually won the Scott Darley Challenge in Sydney before I left. But this is the first race for Shark Racing/Team Drydene over here in the U.S. We’re racing with the All Stars, so we’re excited to get the 2019 season started.”

    Logan might just be the racer who is at the top of the list of “drivers who have shown steady progress through Florida Speedweeks racing, and may be the next to win.” He had a strong performance in the last Florida All Star series race of Speedweeks on Thursday, finishing second in the feature to Brad Sweet. That matches his steady improvement all through the 2018 race season, his sixth season racing a 410 winged sprint car, when he won two World of Outlaws feature races: the Ironman 55 in Pevely, Missouri on August 4, and at Fulton Speedway in New York on October 6. That gave him eight career World of Outlaws feature wins so far since getting his first series win in 2016. Logan took sixth place in the 2018 Outlaws point standings, his best point finish yet.

    For 2019: “Main goal – we want to take away DNFs. That’s something that’s been a goal since we started is to get better about that every year, and have a better maintenance program and get rid of our DNFs, gain in the points, win races, and the rest will show. I’d like to win a big race this year. We won the Ironman 55 last year, but I’d like to get some numbers as far as wins go, and win a big one. I think we get better and better every year.”

    Shark Racing, with Logan in the seat of the white and red No. 1s Drydene sponsored entry, will compete in the full World of Outlaws race schedule, which begins tonight at Volusia Speedway Park, and continues on Saturday and Sunday. That is the same as last year for the team, in addition to “running them all here in Florida,” a total of eight Speedweeks races through Sunday. A track where he has won before and would like to win at this year is Knoxville, but this time he’d like that win to be at the Knoxville Nationals. “For sure,” he stated.

    “King’s Royal, National Open – I’d like to win a big race. Any of those that would be up there in that list that you consider a big race as far as 410 sprint cars go, part of the World of Outlaws, I want to win one of those, if not all of them in my career. But to be able to win one of those this year – that’s the goal.”

    Logan also has a valuable asset in his team who’s overseeing things in the garage and in the pits, and that is Pennsylvania sprint car racing legend Bobby Allen, his grandfather. The two-car Shark Racing team competing in the World of Outlaws has Bobby’s son, 24-year-old Jacob Allen, driving the other team car, the white No. 1a. Last year could be described as a breakout year for Jacob. He got nine top five Outlaws finishes during the year, compared to only two top five finishes during his first four years on the Outlaws trail.




    Paul McMahan’s 2019 Goals: Win Races, Have Fun

    Story and Photo by Richard Golardi

    February 7, 2019

    Paul McMahan is back to race in the Ollie’s Bargain Outlet All Star Circuit of Champions for the full 2019 schedule, including tonight’s final Florida series race of 2019 at Volusia Speedway Park. The team behind the 48-year-old Nashville resident in his quest for the All Star championship is the same, with a new addition to the team – a new chassis.

    “It’s the same team as we had last year,” he said on Friday night as the All Star series raced at Bubba Raceway Park. Paul, the 1999 All Star series rookie of the year, got two All Star feature wins in 2018 with this team. “The same guys are back, we switched to Triple X chassis this year, Ti22 came on board to take care of all our bolt-on parts for the race cars, and they are our main sponsor. We’re going to go out and run the All Stars, and hopefully have some fun.” The car owner of the No. 13 sprint car is Tom Buch, the same car owner as he had last year. The car colors are new, the chassis is new, and “a few new parts and pieces.” The new primary sponsor, Ti22 Performance, provides sprint car parts such as bolt-on parts, rear arms, radius rods, steering arms, hubs, spindles, and “all that good stuff,” according to Paul.

    Paul’s goal for 2019 is to “go win races and have a lot of fun. Last year we ran good, we won a couple of races, won the Ohio Speedweek championship last year, and finished second in All Star points on the owner’s side. I missed a few races and was able to get up to fourth in points. It was a good season for us, the first year for a team that wasn’t even planning on racing the whole All Star deal at the beginning of the year. To come out and do as well as we did, we were pretty happy. Aaron [Reutzel, 2018 All Star driver champion] was better than us and we’ve just got to step up our game a little bit and try and get ’em this year.”

    Tom Buch, who was a first-year car owner in the All Star series last year, has far greater experience as a car owner overall, and had another driver fill in when Paul missed two series races last year. The team made every 2018 series race, and that earned the car owner a second place in the owner points. “We gave ’em hell, but just came up a little short,” Paul explained. The team will again race in all the 2019 All Star series races, with some World of Outlaws races mixed in to their plans for this year.

    “King’s Royal, Knoxville, anytime the All Stars ain’t racing, we’ll be at a race track somewhere racing.” When asked if he had his eye on any of the “big races” and which sprint car race he would pick to win if he could choose one, Paul replied, “Every one of them. We’ve been fast at places, we’ve struggled on the bigger tracks last year a little bit, but hopefully we learned a lot last year, and hopefully going into this year we’ll be more competitive at the big races.”

    Paul McMahan and his team plan to be here for “all Speedweeks,” meaning that they will race in all five All Star series races, running from last week through tonight, and also the three weekend World of Outlaws races that begin with the 2019 season-opening World of Outlaws race tomorrow, Friday, at Volusia Speedway Park.

    “Last year at Volusia, we ran really well,” Paul remarked. “Just had a little bit of bad luck and got a cut tire while we were leading and ran second. We learned a lot … so we hope to improve on what we did last year. We’ll go out to Texas and Las Vegas and run those Outlaw shows, and I think we start back up with the All Stars in April.”



    Spencer Bayston Will Chase a Championship in 2019

    Story and Photo by Richard Golardi

    February 6, 2019

    Spencer Bayston is in the third year of his transition from non-wing midget and sprint car racing to winged sprint car racing. The 20-year-old racer from Lebanon, Indiana, who won the 2017 USAC national midget series championship, discussed his comfort level during each of the first two years of his transition, and also a goal he has set for 2019, his “big year three goal.”

    “I’m starting my third year in a winged sprint car,” Spencer said during a Friday night race at Bubba Raceway Park last week. He was driving the sky blue No. 70X sprint car. “I spent my first whole year [2017] just trying to get acclimated. Last year, I felt like we were actually finally competing, and then this year, I’m looking to hopefully chase a championship. So, getting comfortable here in Ocala – different car, different crew chief, so we’re building, we’re working on it, getting myself better, and hopefully have a good night tonight.”

    He’s looking to improve on his 2018 racing results, after spending the last two seasons in a Keith Kunz-owned midget and Kevin Swindell’s No. 39 winged sprint car. “I really didn’t have a good year last year,” he said. “I won a sprint car race, I won a couple midget races. I felt like we competed in the front of a lot of big winged races with the sprint car. I felt like we were fast all year, but it never really showed with our results. Hopefully this year we can have a better year, pick up a lot more wins, and hopefully get that championship.”

    The low point of the year for Spencer in 2018 was likely on August 23. That’s when he broke his right leg at Grandview Speedway. A large chunk of dirt shot through the lower panel on his car and struck his leg, breaking two bones. He had surgery the next day and recovered quickly.

    That championship that he’ll be striving for in 2019 won’t be any of the non-wing open wheel championships. That’s because he will be racing full-time in a winged sprint car this year. “I’ll be full-time in a winged car, running for Pete Grove. We’re running the full All Star schedule, then working in as many Outlaw races as we can.” He was adamant when asked if he’d try to squeeze in any USAC races, or any non-wing races. “Full-time in a winged sprint car,” he replied, leaving no doubt of his mind-set or goal for the year. He was heading away from his non-wing past, and would set his mind toward becoming a winged sprint car champion. For this year, it would mean running the full All Star Circuit of Champions race schedule, which resumes tonight and Thursday night at the big half-mile D-shaped oval at Volusia Speedway Park.

    “I went ‘back and forth’ last year,” Spencer remarked. “This year, I’ll be full-time in a winged car only.” He’ll leave an opening to a run for a Chili Bowl title: “Hopefully – Chili Bowl would be good.”

    With his goal to win the All Star championship this year, Spencer said he is “confident of my crew chief, Andy, and I think we’ve got really good equipment, so it’s just a matter of us clicking well together and me doing a good job behind the wheel.

    “Definitely,” he replied when asked if his first all-winged racing season was something he had been looking forward to with anticipation. “I’m looking forward to focusing on one car, one class only, and I think it’ll be good. Last year I struggled a little bit going back and forth between the two, so now that we’re focused on just one – it’ll be good.”

    Video of Spencer Bayston’s Friday night (2-1-2019) qualifying laps at Bubba Raceway Park with the All Star Circuit of Champions is here:




    Sonny Hartley at his final race with his No. 3X car, Punta Gorda, January 19, 2019.

    Sonny Hartley’s Final Sprint Car Race … Maybe

    Story and Photo by Richard Golardi

    January 29, 2019

    Three generations of Hartley family racers were there. The patriarch – 73-year-old Sonny Hartley, the 1983 Sunshine Speedway sprint car track champion, was there. His son, Bo Hartley, the 2006 TBARA sprint car driver champion, was there. And there was the grandson, Stephen Hartley. He’s the youngest generation, 13 years old and moving up to Legends car racing this season, about to graduate from a six-year stint racing quarter midgets into his first race car. They were there at 4-17 Southern Speedway in Punta Gorda, Florida to celebrate Sonny’s final sprint car race, after getting started in sprint cars 48 years ago.

    Except, Sonny will tell you that the Southern Sprint Car series race on Saturday, January 19 was going to be his final sprint car race before retiring from driving race cars … maybe. His yellow No. 3X sprint car was at the track, after a hiatus of five years away. Sonny’s last race was 4 ˝ years ago. In addition to the 1983 Sunshine Speedway championship, he also co-drove with Floridian Ronnie Smith to a second place finish in the Little 500 that same year. He started in the Little 500 seven times between 1986 and 2008, with one top ten finish from those starts.

    Sonny’s current plan (which he admits may be revised) is to return to Florida racing with the same No. 3X car, but with Bo behind the wheel. Bo has also had a recent hiatus from Florida pavement sprint car racing and Florida short tracks, where he won his TBARA championship thirteen years ago against such drivers as Dude Teate, the Butlers, Dave Steele, and Troy DeCaire.

    “I last drove the yellow car for Dick [Fieler], the No. 27 in 2013,” Sonny told me earlier this month. “My last race was in 2014 in Stan Butler’s car, and went out of the park [over the turn 2 wall] at Inverness. This car I have now replaced the one that I destroyed at New Smyrna during late 2012 when the rear axle broke in half, and into the wall we went. We ran it once here, ran up north twice, and then the car was brought back down here and it was run at Showtime twice, once with Davey Hamilton, and once with Troy DeCaire [the yellow No. 68]. And then they put it in the PRI Trade Show and Dick asked me if he could leave it in my garage for 30 days, and it’s been there ever since.”

    Sonny’s reason for making a racing comeback now is because “the car was there in my garage, and Dick called and asked me to send the engine up to him, so I took it out and sent it. Then he wanted the headers. Dick Fieler has Bobby Santos III driving his cars now. He tried to sell it, and nobody was interested, so he and I made a deal on it. I tried to get it together to have one of my very best friends, Dave Shotsberger, in it. He was the rookie of the year in the TBARA in 2007 or ’08. He had contracted ALS, and I wanted to get it ready for him to drive before he got to where he couldn’t, and I didn’t make it [in time], and he’s very sick right now.”

    On his car on January 19, along with the number 3X, the same number as on the sprint car he drove back in the 1980s, was a driver’s name. But Sonny didn’t put his name on the car. The driver’s name on the car read: Dave Shotsberger. It was done to recognize Dave for all his work in helping to get the car ready, even while suffering with the symptoms of ALS. Three days after the race, Dave Shotsberger died on January 22, 2019 in Orlando. He was 57 years old. He was remembered as a kind, selfless man, “Grandpa David,” whose smile will live on forever.

    “So we got it finished,” Sonny said of getting the No. 68 car renovated and renumbered as the Hartley Racing No. 3X car, but not without a lot of “teething problems.” He then thought that “the car is faster than the driver, to be honest with you.” On the 19th in Punta Gorda, Sonny raced to a 15th place finish in the feature race. “Whatever abilities I had 10 years ago … I think they’ve departed,” he said with a chuckle. “But it’s fun, and that’s why I want to do it. I want to have a little fun with it, and if I don’t race it anymore after this myself, Bo will drive it. We don’t have a high-dollar engine, and with those wings up there, it takes a lot of horsepower to pull ’em around the race track. We know that, at best, we can be reasonably competitive. But I don’t think we can be consistent front-runners.” Bo hasn’t driven a sprint car since 2013, according to Sonny.

    “It’s Sonny’s swan song. It’s going to be Sonny’s very last sprint car race of his entire career,” the pit row pundits were saying at Punta Gorda on the 19th. “Well, that’s the plan,” Sonny said in response. “I never did admit to retirement before, and it’s really kind of hard to do. But, I am going to have this fun, and I’ll reevaluate it after the races, and think about it, but I think that this will be the last one.” Another comeback race was not planned. “Most likely, not.”

    “They’re not cheap to run,” he added, “and like I say, I’m not going to kid myself and think I can run with these kids out here, you know what I mean?” Stephen was nearby, listening to his grandfather declaring that his near half-century sprint car racing career was about to end that night. The 13-year-old proclaimed that he needed “about another year,” and then he’d be ready for a sprint car. After all, Sport Allen, who was racing the No. 88 sprint car that same night, had started his time at the wheel of a sprint car when he was only 13.

    “Not Stephen – no, he’s not ready yet. It’ll be a while,” grandfather said to grandson. “Nope … not yet,” he added, meaning the teenage racer was going to spend the season in a Legends car, not a sprint car.

    Stephen was readying for his first Legends car test session next month. “He’s never even sat in a car with a clutch in it. The Legends – they’ve got a motorcycle transmission and all that, so you’ve got to clutch it and change gears. So, we’ve got that learning curve first, before we can go out and try that,” Sonny said, motioning toward the family sprint car. Stephen had the last word, though, insisting that he already had experience shifting gears, while playing video games. Soon, he’d get to try the real thing, and the next generation of Hartley family racers would head out onto the track in Florida.



    Pete Walton and USCS Expand Presence in Florida

    Story and Photos by Richard Golardi

    January 25, 2019

    Pete Walton and his USCS Outlaw Thunder Tour, a 360 c.i. engine dirt winged sprint car series that tours in the Deep South and Southeastern states from the Carolinas to Florida, have expanded their presence in the Sunshine State for 2019. That begins tonight, Friday night, at the one-third mile dirt oval at Hendry County Motorsports Park in Clewiston. The series will also race on Saturday in Clewiston as part of its 10-race “Winter Heat Series,” then will move on to races at Bubba Raceway Park in Ocala, and Southern Raceway in the panhandle near Pensacola.

    Pete Walton of USCS at All-Tech Raceway FL on April 1 2016.

    This marks an expansion of their Florida racing plans, and means that their races in Florida will be a larger percentage of their race schedule this year than any recent year. The race at Hendry County tonight also marks the first time that a national sprint car series has raced in South Florida since the World of Outlaws sprint cars raced at Charlotte County Speedway (Punta Gorda) on pavement on February 11, 1992. That’s nearly 27 years ago.

    After Hendry County, a midget/sprint car doubleheader will be next on the schedule, with USAC’s NOS Energy Drink Midget National Championship Series running along with the USCS sprint cars at Bubba Raceway Park on February 8 and 9. This will be the first time that the USAC national midget series has raced in Florida since February 2013, when they raced at New Smyrna Speedway. The last two Winter Heat Series races are at Southern Raceway in Milton on February 22 and 23.

    “We’re going to a few new tracks,” 70-year-old USCS founder and president Pete Walton told me recently, when asked about the 2019 schedule. “We also have a lot of existing tracks we go to every year, a lot of the same tracks again. We don’t have any Saturday nights left, we kept one or two weekends open for rain dates. We’ve got about 60 races, again. We’ve got some new facilities that want races, and I’m trying to figure out where I can put them. There’s a schedule right there – it’s finalized,” he said in early December.

    Tony Stewart celebrates a USCS feature win at Bubba Raceway Park, Nov. 9, 2018.

    “There used to be a lot of tracks down there, didn’t it? Hialeah, and all those places,” he said of the former Southeast Florida racing community, with multiple short ovals, mostly pavement. One of the two remaining South Florida short ovals (none in Miami/Dade) is dirt, which is where the USCS sprint cars will begin their season tonight.

    New tracks for USCS: “East Alabama wasn’t on our schedule last year, they’re coming back on,” Walton said. “We’re going to Hendry County for the first time. We’re going to Chatham Speedway in Chatham, Louisiana, first time ever. We’ve been going to Southern Raceway for only one year, we went there before, but we had a long absence. We’re going back Travelers Rest Speedway this year. We hadn’t been there in about three years. We weren’t on Smoky Mountain Speedway’s schedule last year, and we’re going back there. We’re kind of shuffling our regions around a little bit, to include the Florida races and the Deep South region and move that a little further south.”

    Then there’s the effort to add more Florida races to their 2019 schedule: “Well, there’s quite a few cars down there that would like to race with us more, and just trying to give them the opportunity to be a little more involved with our series.” His biggest 2018 racing accomplishment: “I’d say, just growing the series, maxing out what we can actually accomplish as far as the schedule. I don’t think we can do any more races than we’re doing, do you? We’re out of weekends, right? Unless we race in December – or do indoors somewhere.”

    How would Pete Walton rate getting Tony Stewart more involved with and seeing him win with the USCS series in the past two years? “I think that’s a 10! I think that’s one of our proudest achievements that Tony feels like he can come race with us and enjoy himself. I was talking to David Gravel, it’s the first time I ever met him, and he said, ‘Tony’s been racing with you quite a bit, ain’t he? Man, he’s doin’ OK, he’s getting his groove back, isn’t he?’ I said, ‘Yeah, he won two out of the last three races.’ He said, ‘Man, that’s really good for your series. He’s helping draw people, right?’ I said, ‘Yeah.’ People walk up to me and say, ‘Aren’t you that guy that Tony Stewart races with? You got to feel pretty good about that!’ I said, ‘Tony Stewart’s a good guy! He’s done a lot for racing.’ ”

    And yes, Pete still feels the same about what he would like to be remembered for: “Being a great papaw (Southern for grandpa). That’s my number one goal, and that my grandsons admire me and never forget me … and know I’ve been a good influence on them – my children and my grandsons. That’s more important than the racing, that’s for sure.”



    Troy DeCaire Starts Anew with a New Team in 2019

    Story and Photo by Richard Golardi

    January 24, 2019

    Troy DeCaire, who had his 33rd birthday this week, has multiple Florida pavement sprint car championships (TBARA, 2007 and 2008; and Central Florida Wingless Sprints, 2009) and multiple national pavement sprint car championships (Must See Racing Sprint Series, 2010 and 2011). All were big challenges, with Florida’s TBARA loaded with pavement racing talent, and the Must See series attracting the best from the Midwest and elsewhere.

    Troy DeCaire at 4-17 Southern Speedway, 1-19-2019.

    He has a new challenge for 2019. He has lost his ride with a trusted and well-liked sprint car team owner, Lenny Puglio, who has apparently made plans to sell his pavement sprint car team equipment and retire from being a car owner. That means he must adjust to competing in 2019 with a new team (Ken and Theresa Statham owned Statham Construction team), a new car, and a new car number (36).

    “All of a sudden Lenny [Puglio] just woke up one day and said, ‘Man, I think I’m out.’ First they were teaming up,” Troy said, referring to his current car owners, Ken and Theresa Statham, and his most recent former car owner, Lenny Puglio, whose black number 91 sprint car Troy had most recently driven, and won in, during 2018. “They were going to run a car down here, with me, and a car traveling, and then whenever that wasn’t happening, they were going to run the [car number] 66 with Ray [Bragg], from what I understand. And when Lenny woke up one day, and said, ‘Hey, Ken – come buy everything.’ And we’re in the process of working all that out, us getting everything that Lenny has, so that we can run that Mobile deal, some of the King of the Wing, and I’ll run full-time down here. It just all came together in the last month. Lenny is going to be on as support. Todd Schmidt – he’s going to be coming to the track with us. I’ve got Big Mike here with me, who was with me on the 91. Big Mike’s my guy, he’s my ‘comfort zone.’ He traveled with me with Ron Koehler, he traveled with me with Dick Fieler.

    “It’s just me, Big Mike, Kenny, and his son, and we’re doing it right now,” Troy said, referring to the team at Punta Gorda on Saturday for the season-opening race with the Southern Sprint Car Shootout Series. “Lenny and Todd will be around,” he added. Troy was adamant about his claim that he was not “replacing” Ray Bragg (or “taking his ride”) in the team car he drove on Saturday. In fact, it was renumbered as number 36 for Troy (last year it raced as number 66, with one win), leaving open the possibility that there might be another number 66 team car for Ray Bragg to drive at a later date. Bragg was out of town on Saturday, “so I was going to run it anyway,” Troy said. The drivers and number of cars that will be raced by the Statham Construction team this year are still pending, as is the deal for Ken Statham to purchase all of the cars currently owned by Lenny Puglio. Troy has confirmed that he will be driving the Statham Construction number 36 car for a full season with the Southern Sprint Car series. In his debut with the team on Saturday, he won his heat race, even stating that he backed off when the second place car dropped back, and then he finished in fifth place in the 40-lap feature race.

    For the immediate future, Troy was predicting, “For New Smyrna, I think you’ll see a big change. I can’t really speak on it yet …” Plans for the Little 500 in May were uncertain: “I don’t know. We’re talking about doing some Must See [Sprint Car Series], and I’m still talking with Wayne Stickney, the 99 up in Michigan. He wants me to run some of the King of the Wing.

    “So … here we are!” Troy exclaimed after his Saturday heat race win. “Got a little bit of a fuel issue, got it ironed out. My dad sold the 41 to Ken, so he also owns that. Depending how things shake out with purchasing Lenny’s equipment, which is a pending total buy-out, but there’s things that Ken wants, and doesn’t want, and there’s a lot of stuff there [referring to Puglio’s Tampa race shop]. There’s three cars, seven motors, 86 wheels, there’s like $15 grand in titanium bolts. There’s a pit box, a four-wheeler.”

    So Lenny was “wavering” for a little while, and then he decided to sell everything? “Yeah. Hey – it’s Lenny. He’s sold out two or three times in the last 10 years, so…”

    Since there were tentative 2018 plans for Troy to race in both Florida and Midwest winged and non-wing pavement races, later abandoned, he laughed slightly when confirming that his team’s plans for 2019 were close to those originally outlined for him for 2018. What’s changed is his car owner. This new team is not wavering on their plans for 2019, and is not thinking of selling everything and getting out of racing.

    “I’m one week at a time right now,” Troy said cautiously, not wanting to put too much confidence into plans for 2019, as he did for 2018, only to see those plans slip away. “The only difference between the last two years and this year is I’m on board. I said, ‘I’ll drive. I’ll go – we’ll run the whole year and do what y’all want to do.’ ”

    There is a family relationship with Ray Bragg, the driver who put the Statham Construction car in the winner’s circle in May 2018 at 4-17 Southern Speedway. Troy explained: “My brother married Ray’s mom’s sister’s daughter. So … how ’bout that?” If your head is spinning just about now, Troy offered this: “Ray’s mom has a twin – her daughter’s married to my brother. Me and Ray are family; I’ve known him my whole life. I’m not here ‘taking Ray’s ride,’ ” he said emphatically, expressing his displeasure at the pit road rumors that tried to claim he had done so, and had “taken Shady’s ride.”

    “This is supposed to be a team deal. I didn’t go in there and take nobody’s ride,” he declared stridently. The number 36 was chosen by the car owner – it matches the uniform number that Ken’s son wears when playing baseball. “It’s going to be a combination of Classic Corvettes [Lenny Puglio team] and Team Statham [Statham family team], Big Mike will be the car chief, me and Kenneth will do the maintenance. Ken and Theresa [Statham] are the sole owners.”

    And those are Troy DeCaire’s pavement sprint car racing plans for 2019, pending the unknown and the always-present variables of fate and luck. If present plans (and the presence of luck) are realized, you’ll likely be seeing him on track (and in the winner’s circle) more frequently this year.



    Florida’s (and America’s) First Sprint Car Race of the Season is Saturday

    Story and Photo by Richard Golardi

    January 15, 2019

    Florida has the first North American sprint car race of the new year, and appropriately, it is a pavement sprint car race, with the BG Products Southern Sprintcar Shootout Series on January 19 at Punta Gorda’s 4-17 Southern Speedway. The series just ended its 2018 season six weeks ago at that same Punta Gorda track, with Johnny Gilbertson earning the 2018 series driver championship. It was his third title as Florida state pavement sprint car champion. He had previously won the TBARA driver championship in 2011 and 2012. Shane Butler dominated the win column in 2018 Southern Sprintcar series racing, taking six feature wins during the year. Three of those wins were consecutive during August through October, and he won three of the four races at New Smyrna Speedway.

    Top Three Finishers in 2018 Southern Sprintcar Points - 1 - Johnny Gilbertson, left, 2 - Shane Butler, center, 3 - Dylan Reynolds, right 9-29-2018

    There were four first-time winners in series competition during 2018: Joey Aguilar, Ray Bragg II, Johnny Gilbertson, and Tommy Nichols. The feature win by Aguilar in the season finale on December 8 was his first sprint car feature win since 2015. The late Dave Steele still sits atop the all-time Southern Sprintcar win column with 14 wins, and is trailed by Shane Butler with eight feature wins. Steele also is in first place on the All-Time Florida Sprint Car Win List, and may stay there for many years to come. Most of the drivers near him on the list are either retired or deceased. The active driver who is nearest to Steele on the All-Time Win List is Sport Allen, who is in eighth place with 74 career Florida sprint car feature wins.

    I recently confirmed that the Daytona Antique Auto Racing Association (DAARA) series directors have approved the inaugural "Florida Vintage Sprint Car Classic," to be held at Citrus County Speedway in Inverness on Saturday, November 9, 2019. This is the night of the Frank Riddle Memorial Sprint Car Race, making this night a doubleheader of two sprint car feature races, one with the current cars (Southern Sprintcar Shootout Series), and one with vintage/classic cars (DAARA).

    If you are like me, you remember the nights when this same sprint car doubleheader made for some exciting racing at both Desoto Speedway and Citrus County Speedway in the past, and are looking forward to its return this year. Stan Butler is sure to be one of the favorites in the DAARA sprint car feature, as he has won several recent races in the number 0 “Mac Steele Auto Craft” car.

    On the national pavement racing scene, the King of the Wing national sprint car series recently announced that they would return to Florida and stage a Southeast regional racing weekend in April. Originally announced to have three races at three tracks, the weekend series now has two races. The Florida race is at Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola on Friday, April 12, followed by a Saturday, April 13 race at Montgomery Motor Speedway in Alabama. The previously announced race at Mobile International Speedway has been removed from the 2019 schedule. Mobile has released their 2019 race schedule, with eight sprint car races at the half-mile, banked track that was known mostly for stock car racing before the debut of a monthly winged sprint car series in 2018. Only three of their 2019 races conflict with races on the 2019 Southern Sprintcar schedule, so it is likely that some Florida racers (likely small in number) may go to Mobile with cars in tow, as they did in 2018.

    The first sprint car races of Florida Speedweeks will be on the weekend of January 25 and 26, when the USCS Outlaw Thunder Tour goes to Hendry County Motorsports Park in Clewiston for two races. Then on January 31 to February 2 (Thursday to Saturday), the Top Gun Sprint Series will race at East Bay Raceway Park in Gibsonton, and the All Star Circuit of Champions will have three races at Bubba Raceway Park in Ocala. That visit by the All Star series will be the first of three national sprint car series to visit the track in February, followed by the USCS Outlaw Thunder Tour (paired with the USAC NOS Energy Drink National Midget Series) and the USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car Series.



    With Return of Midgets, USAC Now in Florida with Two National Series

    Story and Photos by Richard Golardi

    December 20, 2018

    With the confirmation that USAC was adding Florida dates to its 2019 NOS Energy Drink Midget National Championship Series, at Ocala’s Bubba Raceway Park on Friday and Saturday, February 8 & 9, 2019, that meant that two of its national series will soon be racing in Florida during February Speedweeks. USAC’s AMSOIL National Sprint Car Series had earlier been confirmed for three race dates at Bubba Raceway Park the next week, the traditional “Daytona 500 weekend,” on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, February 14-16, 2019.

    The weekend before the Daytona 500 weekend was used by the POWRi national midget series and the USCS Outlaw Thunder Tour sprint cars at Bubba Raceway Park in February this year. Next year, the USCS national sprint car tour will return, and will be paired with the USAC national midgets on that weekend. USAC isn’t the only one to have expanded its participation in February Speedweeks racing, as USCS head honcho Pete Walton also recently announced a 10-race “Winter Heat Series,” with the first six races all in Florida, beginning on January 25 at Hendry County Motorsports Park in Clewiston. That race will make some Florida open wheel racing history as the first national sprint car series race in South Florida in nearly 27 years, since the World of Outlaws raced at Charlotte County Speedway (Punta Gorda) on February 11, 1992.

    The USAC national midgets will be racing in Florida for the first time since 2013, when they raced for two nights on the pavement at New Smyrna Speedway on February 10-11, 2013. The significance of those races to Florida fans is that it marked Dave Steele’s last two USAC national series races. There’s no pavement this time around, as the USAC midgets are now a 100% dirt series, as are the USAC national sprint cars. It’s no surprise that they are going to Bubba Raceway Park’s dirt, as track co-owner Bubba Clem is a big fan of dirt racing and sprint car racing, and makes a habit of loading his February race schedule with national sprint car racing – he’s got the All Star Circuit of Champions, USCS national sprint tour, and USAC national sprint cars coming to race at his track. That’s eight nights of February national sprint series racing (the next closest – Volusia Speedway Park with five nights).

    USAC has made a significant change to its national racing schedule with a big expansion of its national midget series schedule for 2019. With 34 events at 28 tracks in 11 different states in 2019, this compares to last year’s announcement of a 2018 USAC national midget schedule of only 23 events. In comparison, the 2019 USAC Silver Crown Champ Car Series is only adding one race to its total, compared to the 2018 series schedule.

    Bryan Clauson in the USAC winner's circle after his sprint car win at Bubba Raceway Park February 18 2016.

    I recently spoke to USAC Race Director Kirk Spridgeon at Indy’s PRI Trade Show, with the USAC national series schedules freshly printed and being viewed by drivers and car owners nearby. As we discussed the 2019 schedules, he was feeling very upbeat about the schedule release and that there was even more USAC national series racing coming in 2019.

    “Sprint cars – almost identical,” Kirk said about the 44-race USAC national sprint car schedule. “We have the same race tracks, the same amount of races, big event at Knoxville which is two days and $20,000 to win, Grandview bumping up, just a few places bumping up purses. We’re still working with Ocala [Bubba Raceway Park] on building up the sprint car portion more, building up those three days at Ocala.” You mean making it something bigger than what it has been in the past? “Right. This will be our ninth year straight at Ocala, so they’re kind of wanting to ramp it up a little bit.

    “Silver Crown – Phoenix obviously is out for ’19, possibly back for ’20, we don’t know yet. Memphis is the addition on the pavement side in March – new management trying to get things going again, trying to get some new races there. And then Williams Grove is back – from sprint car back to Silver Crown again, so they swapped back. There is an idea of swapping year to year – we’ll see how that goes from here. We did just Silver Crown in ’16, we did both for a year [sprint cars and Silver Crown in ’17], and then we did just sprint cars last year [2018]. And part of that too is that we ran six straight nights of sprint cars – it was pretty brutal. So now, it’ll be five races over six days, with Williams Grove in the middle, as a Silver Crown race. Eastern Storm will be five sprint car races and one Silver Crown race now. Twelve [2019 Silver Crown] races – six pavement, six dirt. Last year was eleven.

    Chase Stockon at Bubba Raceway Park, USAC sprint car series, February 19, 2016.

    “Kody Swanson is with a new team, Chris Windom with a new team, there will be some others bouncing around. Justin Grant is kind of the only guy, at least the only one in the top three, that stayed firm with what he had. Guys from every corner of motorsports would like to try it [Silver Crown], ’cause it’s cool and different. I’d love to get Terry McCarl in one – we’ve talked a lot. We thought we had Joey Saldana in, at least for the Indy mile, but we haven’t gotten that done. I thought he was going to do it. Those are guys that have been around a long time, and have watched their dads race. When I was a kid, Silver Crown races were kind of like an ‘All-Star game.’ You had Ron Shuman, Leland McFadden, and you had Jeff Swindell and Dave Blaney, or Sammy … That really is the next step for Silver Crown is for more of those characters, and more of those ‘name drivers’ from ‘parts unknown’ to come in. We had Stewart Friesen run Syracuse, and he was great. Guys like that – from all different areas.”

    Maybe Silver Crown once was like this, and can get there again, to be that gathering place for champions and legends from many different types and classes of racing? “Yeah – it’s getting there. For sure, that’s the goal, for Silver Crown especially,” according to Kirk.

    Concerning the 2019 USAC national midget schedule: “And then the midget schedule is up quite a bit, it’s grown substantially. We added the two in Florida, we added Western World as a midget race with the sprint cars in Arizona, we added Placerville, California for two days before Turkey Night, we added Granite City, Illinois and Pevely, Missouri will now be doubleheaders with sprint cars in May. And then we added Haubstadt, Indiana for a midget race in October; we added Joliet, Illinois is on their Cup weekend at Chicagoland Speedway. And then we added one to our Pennsylvania midget week to make it five races now, it was four before. We’re going to add a rain date, because rain’s been rough out there on us. All together, that’s 11 added, so that’s 34 now for the midget schedule – up from 23.”

    Why such a huge increase in the number of USAC national midget races? “A lot of interest in midget races,” Kirk replied. “We had quite a few tracks interested in midget races that we couldn’t make it work, also. Just midgets are popular right now, kinda ride that wave. This will be the biggest midget schedule since 1997. Sprint car schedule these past two years has been pretty similar – the past few years and 2019 are all similar size.

    “We’ve had a lot of places ask for midget races outside of our core there in Indiana, but obviously, this is a pretty big jump in one year. Just a few years ago, there were not as many places interested in midget races. It was honestly a struggle to piece together a midget schedule, I would say four to five years ago, we had maybe 20 races, and some of those were on the fence. For whatever reason, the tide’s turned on that. It goes hand-in-hand with the influx of competitors. Our midget car counts have been up steadily the last few years, especially the full-time competitors. For whatever reason, midgets are kinda riding a wave. Some of the ones we weren’t able to work into that schedule, just too far out of our circle, especially at this point when we’re trying to link two or three races together for anything we add.”

    I asked Kirk Spridgeon about what he is personally looking forward to seeing in 2019? He mentioned this year’s title fight for the USAC sprint car driver point title between Kevin Thomas Jr. and Tyler Courtney (Courtney won it), which went down to the last regular season race at Perris Auto Speedway, California during the Oval Nationals.

    “Especially how guys chased championships,” he said. “It’s always a little bit different when you run for points. I think we saw that this year, especially on the sprint car side, with coming down to the last race and ending in a tie. It is an interesting situation, we had two guys racing for the sprint car championship this year that hadn’t won a championship before, hadn’t really been close before. To watch people go through that, to watch teams go through that over the course of the year as they’re trying to chase that is always interesting, to me, because it is such a test on people. It was pretty cool to see that, both of those guys.”

    I got the sense that it was the intensity of the competition in this year’s USAC national series racing, and the display of high levels of racing skill, that Kirk Spridgeon remembers as a highlight of the year for him. For him, this was epitomized by that fight for the national sprint car driver championship, and that is what he hopes to see again in USAC racing in 2019.

    2019 USAC NOS Energy Drink National Midget Schedule:

    2019 USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Series Schedule:




    Conner Morrell’s Year as a Traveling Sprint Car Racer

    Story and Photos by Richard Golardi

    December 4, 2018

    When a then 13-year-old Conner Morrell posed for a photo in April 2017 with three other members of a small group of dirt open wheel racers from Florida who had met with success racing in USCS, they were dubbed “the Florida Young Guns of USCS Racing.” Sixteen-year-old Danny Sams III, from Englewood, FL, the 2016 USCS Sprint Car Rookie of the Year; and Conner, from Bradenton, FL, the 2017 USCS 600 Sprint Series driver champion in the mini-sprint division are teammates.

    “We’ve been driving together for a long time. We’re good friends and we’re teammates,” Conner said in November 2017. His USCS mini-sprint races that month were planned as his last in a mini-sprint, and 2018 was planned as his year to move up to sprint car racing, again in a car owned by his father, Allen Morrell. Now 14 years old, Conner has a full season of sprint car racing under his belt, topped off by lining up on the front row and racing against Tony Stewart (and holding his own against him) in a USCS national sprint car feature race at Bubba Raceway Park last month. He finished in eighth place in that race on November 9, which Tony Stewart won.

    Florida Young Guns of USCS Racing, L to R, Conner Morrell, Danny Sams III, Tyler Clem and Nicholas Snyder, 4-1-2017

    Most of Conner’s first year of sprint car racing took place outside of Florida, as the Morrell family team, along with family team of Danny Sams, headed north to race during the summer with the Great Lakes Super Sprints (GLSS), a Michigan-based 360 winged dirt sprint car series that ended its racing in mid-October. In the 2018 final series points, Danny Sams was ranked fourth and Conner Morrell was 13th in his number 28M car.

    “His first race was at I-96 Speedway (Grand Rapids, Michigan) in the spring this year,” Allen Morrell said. “We worked out of the Amalie Motor Oil racing shop, out of Terry McMillen’s shop in Elkhart, Indiana. That’s the reason we were able to do ‘the Northern stuff.’ If it wasn’t for those guys, we wouldn’t have been able to do it.” Conner’s year ended with the 2018 USCS finale at Bubba Raceway Park on November 9 & 10, his first sprint car races in Florida.

    “Couldn’t pick a harder race to come to – there’s a lot of good talent here tonight,” Allen added. “We were qualifying for most of the [2018 GLSS] features and he got a couple of top five finishes and a couple of top ten qualifying times. Up there, you qualify not through heat races, you qualify on time. His best feature, he got a fifth place, and Danny came in sixth (Hartford Speedway, August 3). It was a good night for him, because he beat his teammate. He did great at Thunderbird Raceway, in his heat he was second (August 18). We had a great time – he did fantastic. Both of them did fantastic, all year round. We had a lot of fun.”

    Plans for 2019 racing aren’t finalized yet, other than plans to race in February’s 360 Winternational Sprints at East Bay Raceway. “After that, I’m sure we’ll run some USCS stuff,” Allen said. “Where else? I don’t know.” The family teams did race with USCS throughout the Southeast before 2018, and may possibly do the same again in 2019. GLSS and NRA Sprint Invaders races in the Midwest may also be added to their 2019 race schedule, to allow them to remain with 360 racing.

    Prior to Conner’s first GLSS sprint car race, “I didn’t have any experience in a sprint car,” he said recently at Bubba Raceway Park. Without prior sprint car practice laps, “I just hopped in it and went, and I won my B-main first time and I did pretty good this year. I came 13th in points out of 30-some cars, which is pretty good for a first year in a sprint car and I improved a whole bunch. Right now, I’m starting next to Tony Stewart on the front row.”

    Conner did miss “a couple of days of school” for the traveling required to follow the GLSS tour, and once school was out, racing took priority. “After the races were done, my dad flew back [to Florida], me and Danny and ‘Big Danny’ stayed back and worked on the cars, finished and went home on Monday, stayed there the rest of the week, and whenever we had to go back up, we went back up and finished whatever we needed for the next race. That’s basically what we did for the whole summer, which was really fun.

    Conner Morrell at Bubba Raceway Park with USCS sprint car series, 11-9-2018.

    “We didn’t want to run a lot of races, we just wanted to get me and Danny a little bit more experience with some really good cars, and we saw this series – GLSS. They only had like 28 races, which was pretty good for my first year.” The shorter warm weather racing season in the far North also meant that the GLSS had a compressed racing season, which pushed most of their racing into the summer, perfect for an out-of stater like Conner who didn’t want a series that raced far into the school year.

    “We didn’t want to go overboard, and push me too far,” Conner said. “We ran pretty much like all of them, except for three at the beginning of the year, ’cause we had a little bit of motor problems.” But his first time behind the wheel of a sprint car was on his first race night. Whatever limited hot laps he got that night were all he had to prepare for his first sprint car competition laps.

    Conner is a high school freshman at Braden River High School in Bradenton. He would like to go to college to study engineering, but “if NASCAR gets in the way, hopefully I’ll make it to NASCAR,” which he thinks could change his plans for college. He has the advantage of a more-experienced teammate by teaming with Danny Sams, who is two years older and two years further along in his progression through the open wheel racing ranks.

    Conner’s goal for next year is “to win a race, hopefully come top five in points, and finish every race without wrecking. I almost got a heat race win; I won a B-main.” Since he’s won a USCS mini-sprint feature previously, getting a sprint car feature win certainly seems like an attainable goal for Conner Morrell in 2019.



    December Races Decide Florida’s Sprint Car Champs

    Story and Photo by Richard Golardi

    November 28, 2018

    The driver championships for all three of Florida’s sprint car championships – the BG Products Southern Sprintcar Shootout Series, the Top Gun Sprint Series, and the East Bay Sprints track champion (limited sprints) – will be decided during upcoming races in the month of December. Two races on Saturday, December 8 at East Bay Raceway Park and 4-17 Southern Speedway will also be the last sprint car races nationwide.

    The Southern Sprintcar driver champion, racing in a series that this year consisted of all pavement races with wings, will be decided with a 40-lap feature race on Saturday, December 8 at 4-17 Southern Speedway in Punta Gorda. The championship will be decided by two drivers, both of whom have already earned multiple TBARA championships: Shane Butler (2002, 2010 and 2014) and Johnny Gilbertson (2011 and 2012). Neither has garnered a Southern Sprintcar series championship. Going into the final race, Gilbertson has a 13-point lead over Butler, and also has the advantage of having gone into the last race of the season at Punta Gorda in a points showdown once previously, and coming out the champion (2012 with the TBARA). Butler’s advantage: he’s been very fast this year and consistently ends his night in the winner’s circle, which he has done six times this year in series competition, compared to Gilbertson’s two wins. There have also been some on-track meetings this year between the two fierce competitors.

    Johnny Gilbertson, left; and Shane Butler, center; (with Dylan Reynolds) at a recent Southern Sprintcar Shootout Series race on 9-29-2018.

    The Top Gun Sprint Series will hold the Inaugural Don Rehm Classic at East Bay Raceway Park this Saturday, December 1, honoring a sprint car racer, sprint car racing promoter, Top Gun series founder and owner, and small business owner who worked tirelessly to promote and build Florida sprint car racing. The race will be a 25-lap non-wing race sponsored by, which is owned by Carlton Calfee, a former Florida sprint car racer and close friend of Don Rehm. This last race of the 2018 season will pay $2,000 to win. Although the series website has not updated their point listing, Hayden Campbell is the likely current point leader, and the only series driver to have finished in the top three in each of the past three feature races. Hayden’s 2018 season win total sits at eight wins (seven with Top Gun) after his most recent win on October 20 at East Bay Raceway Park. His consistency may well reward him with his first Top Gun series driver championship when Saturday’s race is done.

    East Bay Sprints, the East Bay Raceway sprint car track championship using limited 360 cubic inch engines, will conclude their season on Saturday, December 8 at the Gibsonton one-third mile dirt oval. Joe Zuczek has a comfortable point lead going into this race, with 381 points over second-place Dylan Colding with 307 points and third-place Frank Beck with 297 points. Billy Boyd leads in 2018 feature wins with three followed by Dylan Colding with two wins.



    Danny Smith: 44 Years of Winning … and Counting

    Story and Photos by Richard Golardi

    November 20, 2018

    His friendship with legendary Florida sprint car owner Jack Nowling is something that has lasted decades. Danny Smith has been coming to Florida for just as long, staying at “Jack’s Place,” down at the end of a dead-end road in the working-class town of Gibsonton. It’s a town that’s the winter home of the carnies, as well as the home of East Bay Raceway Park and Nowling’s home, with its “Cracker House,” a place where racers like Danny gather each February for East Bay’s sprint car Winternationals. Danny has been coming there for so long, each February and many other months of the year, that’s he’s practically a Floridian (even though he actually lives in Ohio).

    Danny Smith was back in Florida in mid-November, to see his Florida friends and to race at Ocala’s Bubba Raceway Park for the last weekend of USCS national sprint car series racing, also his last weekend of racing in 2018. Except for those few weekends of the Winternationals and racing with the USCS series in Florida and a few other states, Danny spends the rest of the year racing in Ohio. Atomic Speedway in southern Ohio is his home track. He was the sprint car track champion there this year, his third consecutive year as track champion. It was also his 44th consecutive year with a sprint car feature win. He’s 61 years old now – do the math and that’ll tell you that he was a teenager when that annual tradition of winning began.

    Danny Smith in his car painted as a tribute to Jack Nowling's Quickload team car February 2015.

    And it is showing no signs of ending in the foreseeable future. Danny Smith intends to be back in Gibsonton in February 2019 to start another year of sprint car racing. He’ll be back at East Bay, and he’ll be back at Atomic, and all those other tracks that he likes and where his fans like watching him throw dirt.

    And those 44 years of winning – it makes him feel good. “It’s good, it’s a feather in your cap. Not many people that can say that, so ... I’ve been blessed to always be in some pretty good equipment over the years, and winning’s what it’s all about, so that makes it a lot more fun.” He’s been racing his own equipment for “the last 15 years, plus maybe a few wins in the years before that. About 15 years in my own car.” Track championships earned in his career? “I don’t know, but …”

    It’s more than a dozen, probably less than two dozen. It’s safe to say there are a lot of them.

    “I know I’ve got six at Chillicothe [Atomic Speedway], one at Lawrenceburg, one in Australia, Champaign, Illinois, and Skyline a couple of times, and an All Star championship – owner’s. Car owner’s, yeah. I missed the driver’s [championship] by two points in 2007. Around a dozen, probably. Next year? Probably just pick and choose, do what we’ve been doin’. Just go where we think we can have the most fun and win a race now and then.”

    At Bubba Raceway Park on Friday for the first night of two with Pete Walton’s USCS 360 sprint car series, he described the odd-shaped three-eighths mile surface as “a tough little track to get around. I’ve been coming here since ’78-ish, on and off. Best I’ve run is second – it’d be nice to get a win here, to add to my list. I think we have 109 different tracks that we’ve won at (including East Bay and Jacksonville in Florida).”

    His time racing at Ocala goes back to when it was Ocala Speedway and it was dirt, before it was covered with asphalt, and before it then went back to dirt. The guys racing had longer hair, and the track had less banking. Danny’s seen it all in the world of sprint car racing in those decades, including one pavement race win that will forever tie him to Florida racing history: he was the co-winning driver of the Little 500 in 1979, the year that a Florida sprint car driver (Zephyrhills legend Wayne Reutimann) finally, after many Floridians came close, won the “Lil’ Five” for the first time.

    About Atomic Speedway: “Yeah, home town track, suits my style, always loved the place even before I married Steph and moved over there. So, it’s always been one of my favorite tracks. Won some All Star races there, a lot of weekly shows. It’s one of the ‘fun tracks.’ It’d be my favorite track – yeah.”

    Danny Smith at Bubba Raceway Park, Ocala, November 9, 2018.

    Can retirement be in the near future, or will he strive to be the “ageless racer,” with many more years left? “Oh, I don’t know,” Danny replied. “We’ll just take it a year at a time and see how it goes, you know. As long as I can stay healthy, it’s just going to depend on the desire, and how long you want to do it. As long as you can be competitive and win a race now and then, I’ll keep going and … sky’s the limit.”

    Could he find happiness with retired life – a recliner to relax in, with a TV remote in one hand and a cold drink in the other? “Ahh – yeah, that’s my life now, just add in a few races,” Danny said, laughing. “We’ll see – not right now, no. Definitely not next year. You know, I’ve thought about that a lot in the last year or two and people want me to go work for them, and I’m sick of workin’ on ’em. I’m sick of all that stuff, but still, the driving part is the part you enjoy and it makes it fun.

    “There’s nobody that’s going to tell me when I have to quit, it’s just gonna be up to me and when that day comes, I’ll know it, and everybody else will too. I wouldn’t mind the recliner right now, with the remote … and some racing!”



    Notes from the Frank Riddle Memorial Race at Citrus County Speedway


    Story and Photos by Richard Golardi


    November 13, 2018


    Car owner Lenny Puglio arrived with a new Hurricane chassis sprint car, intended to be his winged pavement car for driver Troy DeCaire. With its first race on Saturday at Citrus County Speedway for the 8th annual Frank Riddle Memorial sprint car race, it was the second new sprint car that he debuted this season. Lenny arrived at Anderson Speedway earlier this year with a new car designed for non-wing racing and the Little 500.

     John Inman and family, Frank Riddle Memorial race winner, Saturday, November 10, 2018.

    Still No. 91, the new Hurricane chassis had a bright red body (instead of the usual black) and it was new to Troy DeCaire, who took his first laps in the car on Saturday. In his heat race, while fighting for position with the No. 18 car of Shane Butler, he reached for his brake bias adjuster, only to discover that it was mounted differently than what he was used to. After turning the knob, a surprise was waiting for him when he braked for the next corner: he had just turned the brake bias in the opposite direction than the one he desired. It produced a tense on-track moment for the two all-out racers, but all was OK later in the pits when Troy offered Shane his explanation of what happened. They smiled, shook hands, and hugged it out.


    DeCaire took to the quarter-mile track and garnered a second place finish in both his heat race and the 40-lap feature race, which was won by the 2017 BG Products Southern Sprintcar champion, John Inman. It was Inman’s first feature win of the year, a year in which he also made his rookie start in the Little 500 and ran a partial schedule of races in Florida. Leading every lap of the feature, it was John Inman’s first victory in the Frank Riddle Memorial, and he shared the winner’s circle with his wife Amanda and his young son. Series officials took tire samples from all top three finishers upon the completion of the feature.


    Prior to the night’s main event, Shane Butler accepted the come from the back challenge, to attempt to win the feature from the back of the field for a $500 bonus from BG Products. The feature race started with a multi-car crash on lap 2 that sent Sport Allen’s car across the track and into the turn two tire barrier. He was uninjured. The cars of Keith Butler and Johnny Gilbertson got locked together while racing down the front straight a few laps later, and Butler continued without a front wing to end the race in fourth place. DeCaire pressured leader Inman, but never was able to make a pass, as Inman always kept low in the turns and seemed to have better power coming out of them. He was second to Inman, with Shane Butler in third.

     Riddle brothers, Frank Riddle Memorial Sprint Car Race, Citrus County Speedway, Saturday, November 10, 2018.


    Shane’s top three finish allowed him to overtake Johnny Gilbertson in the Southern Sprintcar point race by 20 points with two races remaining: Saturday the 17th at Showtime Speedway and the season finale at 4-17 Southern Speedway in Punta Gorda on Saturday, December 8. Gilbertson did clinch a driver championship at that Southwest Florida track previously, back in 2012 when it was called Punta Gorda Speedway and the pavement sanctioning body was the TBARA.


    In the winner’s circle, Inman gave the credit to his engine builder for the horsepower on display in the feature race. “I’ve got to thank everyone that stands behind me,” he said. “Phil Gressman really put a motor on this thing – wow! It could have went faster. It was awesome to run with the 91 and the 18 there at the end of the race.”


    His share of the purse was $2,300, with $800 of that coming from Ronnie Van Den Brink of Mammoth Machines Racing. Ronnie told me that he will be entering a car for driver Carlie Yent in the near future, one that will have the No. 63 that Carlie used earlier this year. Carlie was injured (not seriously) in a Little 500 qualifying crash and missed the classic race last May, and has not raced in a series feature since then.


    After race day, news from the Southern Sprintcar series confirmed that the 9th annual Frank Riddle Memorial Race will be held on Saturday, November 9, 2019, again at Citrus County Speedway. It is hoped that the DAARA sprint car division will also return for a “Vintage Sprint Car Classic” that same night, as was done previously at both Desoto Speedway and Citrus County Speedway. A proposal was made to the organizers of the Golden Gate Speedway Reunion to hold their annual reunion on the same weekend as these “sprint car nostalgia” races. Some out-of-area racers travel to Florida for the reunion, and also prefer to race in the vintage sprint car race, if held on that same weekend. At the time that this story was sent to be published, a reply had not been received from the organizers of the reunion, but the proposal appears to be gaining support.


    Video of the Frank Riddle Memorial heat races and offer to the heat race winners to take the BG Products come from the back challenge, November 10, 2018:



    Video of the Frank Riddle Memorial 40-lap feature race held at Citrus County Speedway on Saturday, November 10, 2018:






    Frank Riddle Memorial Returns to Citrus County Speedway on Saturday

    Story by Richard Golardi

    November 7, 2018

    The Frank Riddle Memorial, which is scheduled for its eighth annual edition this Saturday at Citrus County Speedway, is being held to honor a man who is a sprint car racing icon and a Florida racing legend. This memorial race was held at Desoto Speedway three times previously, in 2007, 2008 and 2014; and at Showtime Speedway once in 2016; and also at Citrus County Speedway in 2013, 2015, and 2017.

    Who is Frank Riddle, you may ask? He was a family man, a working man, a businessman, and a racer. Frank Riddle was elected to the Little 500 Hall of Fame in 1996, and also the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame in 2010. This last honor came three years after he died in 2007, at age 78.

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

    Frank is known for winning the Little 500 twice in the 1980s when he was in his mid-50s. The Little 500 is known worldwide as one of the most prestigious and grueling auto races. It is a test of both man and machine. Frank had always wanted to race and win in the Midwest. In his first attempt at the Little 500 in 1978, he started fifth and finished in fourth place, earning Rookie of the Year. In just his fourth try in 1984, he qualified on the pole and won the 500-lap race. He came back the next year and repeated the same feat, this time at age 56. In his first five attempts through the 1980s, he was the fastest qualifier each time. In his career at Anderson Speedway, he had sixteen starts in the Little 500, with two wins, five top ten finishes, and seven top five starting positions.

    Frank Riddle’s status as a fierce and talented race car driver was initially earned in Florida while competing at tracks around the Tampa Bay area. These tracks included Phillips Field, Golden Gate Speedway, and the half mile dirt oval at the Florida State Fairgrounds. Early in his career, Frank raced stock cars, modifieds, and supermodifieds, which ran with wings back in the 1960s, well before their use in Formula 1 and Indy car racing. He would run two or three supermodified races a week, frequently ending his night in the Winner’s Circle. During this time, Frank also raced all over Florida, from the Southeast coast to Pensacola, and also in the Deep South. Some of the races would be as long as 300 laps, and Frank would show his expertise at taking care of his car and making it to the checkered flag.

    When sprint cars replaced the modifieds at Golden Gate Speedway in 1969, car owners sought out Frank to drive their car, as he had already shown his abilities at “the Gate” and in IMCA sprint car races at the Florida State Fair dirt track. When the Tampa Bay Area Racing Association was formed, Frank was a regular sprint car competitor on both the dirt and pavement with his fellow Bay area racers. He had 95 lifetime Florida sprint car feature wins during his years of racing in the Sunshine State, which places him third on the overall winners list, behind only Wayne Reutimann with 97 wins and Dave Steele with 100 wins.

    Frank Riddle's plaque awarded for the 1980 USAC Rookie of the Year title, sprint car division, Richard Golardi photo

    Tall and lanky, Frank’s friends called him “Bones.” During the 1980 season, he ran the USAC National Sprint Car Series in the blue and yellow number 11 J.W. Hunt Produce cars, and earned the Rookie of the Year title at 51 years old. At that time, it made him the oldest ever USAC Rookie of the Year.

    A popular story from Frank’s career involved a frightening crash and fire at Anderson Speedway in 1993. His car caught fire after coming to rest in turn one, where a fan crawled under the fence and ran to the car to tell Frank, who appeared to be stunned from the crash, that he was on fire, and to get out. Frank would meet with the fan when he returned to Anderson to race, remembering the good deed for many years after that fateful day. After he retired from his job as a CSX railroad engineer in 1987, he spent his time farming when he wasn’t at the track.

    After starting his racing career in 1948 and getting his first feature race win on March 3, 1951 at Phillips Field, Frank Riddle racked up 250 feature wins over the next 49 years. His wife, Margaret, and his family, and a small farm in Thonotosassa became his life after he retired from racing in 1997 at age 68. That year was his last trip to Anderson to drive in the Little 500. To this day, he is credited with being one of the first racers from Florida to make an annual trek to Central Indiana each year to race in the Little 500. Each year, the highest finishing Floridian at the Little 500 earns the Frank Riddle Award. This is why the Southern Sprintcar Shootout Series and Citrus County Speedway are honoring Frank Riddle on Saturday, naming the race the “Frank Riddle Memorial”.

    The Southern Sprintcar series has announced that the Frank Riddle Memorial this year will pay the winner of the feature race $2,300; with an additional $500 available to the winner if they accept the “come from the rear challenge.” This bonus from series sponsor BG Products is available to the heat race winners who agree to start from the rear of the field in the 40-lap feature race. In a recent series race at Showtime Speedway, Shane Butler accepted this challenge and then won the feature race and the bonus. Shane will be one of the favorites to win on Saturday, as will his brother Keith in the number 7 entry owned by Lee Sisson. Other drivers to watch will be Johnny Gilbertson in the number 22 car out of the Steele Performance race shop in Tampa, and two drivers who also have series feature wins this year, Tommy Nichols in the number 55, and Ray Bragg in the number 66 car.

    With only three races remaining in the series schedule this year, the driver point race is a close one. Two drivers appear to be positioned to have the best chance to win their first Southern Sprintcar series title, and they are both former TBARA champions: Shane Butler and Johnny Gilbertson. Gilbertson (two wins in 2018) has a two-point lead over Butler (five wins) going into Saturday’s race, the closest point race in the three year history of the series.

    The Frank Riddle Memorial Race,
    Race Winner History

    1) 9/29/2007, Desoto Speedway, Winner - Dave Steele
    2) 9/27/2008, Desoto Speedway, Winner - Troy DeCaire
    3) 10/19/2013, Citrus County Speedway, Winner - Joey Aguilar
    4) 10/18/2014, Desoto Speedway, Winner - Shane Butler
    5) 10/3/2015, Citrus County Speedway, Winner - Jason Kimball
    6) 10/29/2016, Showtime Speedway, Winner - Dave Steele
    7) 10/14/2017, Citrus County Speedway, Winner – Mickey Kempgens
    Next running of The Frank Riddle Memorial is at Citrus County Speedway on Saturday, November 10, 2018.
    (NOTE: the race was not run from 2009 to 2012.)




    “Little 500 Warmup Race” is Back in Florida in 2019


    Story and Photos by Richard Golardi


    October 12, 2018


    BG Products Southern Sprintcar Shootout Series president Rick Day confirmed late Thursday that the series would revive a race that had been a traditional part of Florida pavement sprint car racing for many years, the “Little 500 Warmup Race.” This non-wing race will be held in late April, prior to the Memorial Day weekend classic race. The race will take place at Showtime Speedway in Pinellas Park, Florida on Saturday, April 27, 2019, four weeks prior to the Little 500 at Anderson Speedway, Indiana, which is set for Saturday, May 25, 2019.

     Non-wing race at Showtime Speedway in April 2016

    This “warmup race” will be the only non-wing race currently planned for the 2019 Southern Sprintcar season, and will be a regular season, points-paying race in the series. In the 2017 and 2018 series races, a decision was made to run all the races with wings. There has not been a non-wing race in the series since 2016. This was done to satisfy the race fans, who wanted the higher speeds and excitement that racing with wings produced, as Rick Day stated previously.


    “It will be a non-wing race, a 40-lap deal,” Rick Day said. “It’s a tradition to help our guys get ready to go hopefully dominate like they used to, in the old days.” When asked if any of the tentative dates listed in the just-released 2019 race schedule might be an additional non-wing race, Day replied, “As of right now, no. The only non-wing race we have planned is the April 27th race.” And this race is a non-wing race so as to help Floridians get non-wing competition laps at a track that has similarities to Anderson Speedway, and help them prepare for the Little 500?

     Sport Allen at a Showtime Speedway race in May 2014.

    “Yes, right,” Rick Day said. “Specifically for the Little 500 – for the Florida drivers. It’s a tradition [in Florida], yes. My father was best friends with David Smith and Robert Smith and worked on their cars. I was five or six years old, and I remember him going to the races with David Smith, and then to the Little 500 for years. That was always a tradition, and my dad always said that that’s probably one of the biggest and best races he’s ever been to as a sprint car fan. He worked on the cars – so for me it’s a tradition and a family thing, the whole nine yards. I have never gone, but my dad always went. I have never been to the Little 500. I want to go, and I never made it, but I definitely want to go. I want to try and go next year.”


    Day confirmed that the series intends to make this an annual event held in late April at Showtime, just a single non-wing race event held a month prior to the Little 500, so that all teams will have almost a full month to repair any crash damage before leaving for Anderson. This year, seven cars and drivers from Florida arrived in Anderson, and six made the field for the 500-lap race on May 26. The qualifying results were less than satisfying, as four of the six cars started in the last two rows.


    In the past, Florida tracks and promoters made an effort to schedule one or more non-wing pavement sprint car races in the weeks prior to the Little 500. Many of the Little 500 Warmup races were also won by drivers who were Little 500 winners, such as when Frank Riddle won the Little 500 in 1984 and 1985, and then won the 1986 Little 500 Warmup race at Citrus County Speedway on May 10. Drivers from this time also had weekly pavement sprint car racing at Golden Gate Speedway during the 1970s. Then the Little 500 Warmup race and the track at Golden Gate both disappeared from Florida.


    That’s about to change with the return of the Little 500 Warmup. “We don’t run that many non-wing races down here,” Rick Day said, “so this gives them at least one race to prepare and shake cars down.”



    The Florida Superspeedway That Never Happened (Fortunately)

    Story by Richard Golardi

    October 11, 2018

    The Florida International Motor Speedway was planned to be built in Fort Walton Beach, Florida, which is about halfway between Panama City and Pensacola in the western Panhandle. Opening in October 1972, it was to have a 2 ˝ mile superspeedway that mirrored the recently built Pocono Raceway, with a triangular shape and three turns. It was also going to have a road course, drag strip, and of interest to Florida sprint car and short track racers, a small oval, likely a half-mile or three-quarter mile asphalt oval. To show off their meticulous planning, the track investors announced in early December 1970 that they had signed long-term agreements with USAC and the International Hot Rod Association (IHRA) for four major annual events: a 500-mile USAC Indy car race, a 500-mile USAC stock car race, and Spring and Fall IHRA three-day national drag racing events.

    They even had some big names at the press conference that day in Fort Walton Beach. Tony Hulman, president and owner of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, was there, as well as race car drivers LeeRoy Yarbrough and Jim McElreath. They had everything going for them – the right people, the right circumstances, and the right location, along “the Miracle Strip,” which is between Pensacola and Panama City.

    Tony Hulman seemed especially happy about the project, and said that he thought there wasn’t a better spot in the world to build the track. Of course, the project had its critics, whose major concern seemed to be that the USAC Indy car series didn’t need a fourth 500-mile race on the schedule so soon after the second 500-miler was added (Ontario Motor Speedway, California in 1970), followed by the third (at Pocono Raceway, Pennsylvania in 1971). The investors were all Northwest Florida businessmen, and they seemed capable of handling any criticism or roadblocks they might encounter. It seemed a sure bet to succeed.

    Then they encountered some problems. A referendum in Santa Rosa County in November 1971 was going to allow the voters to decide if they wanted to back revenue bonds to build the track. An interest in the speedway was sold to an investment group, and an effort was made to try to move the track to Alabama, which would be negated by a clause in the contracts with USAC and IHRA that the track be located in Northwest Florida. The effort to build the track in Santa Rosa County was abandoned, the referendum never went on the county ballot, and everything just seemed to go downhill from there, including the effort to move it to Alabama. The track was never built.

    Maybe that was a good thing – especially with what happened later along that part of the coast of Florida, the Panhandle. Add this: the fact that too many race tracks were built or renovated during the track building boom of the late 1960s and early ’70s. Ontario Motor Speedway, Langhorne Speedway, and others later disappeared, and the Indy cars later left Pocono and Michigan International Speedway, two tracks built during this time. Indy car owners, drivers, and fans had a change of heart about racing at big, fast ovals and those races were limited to just a few each year. Four 500-mile races each year wouldn’t have lasted for long. And that location near Fort Walton Beach, with no major cities nearby, might have had a big struggle with filling up the 60,000 seats at the track.

    At the time the track was in the planning stages, there hadn’t been a major hurricane (Cat. 3 or higher) that had made landfall in the Panhandle since 1950. The planners just weren’t concerned about hurricanes. Why would they be concerned? It seemed to be a non-issue. Why worry the investors or the voters who needed to vote for the bonds? If the track had opened in 1972, here’s what they would have faced: the first in a string of major hurricanes to make landfall in the Panhandle arrived in 1975, Hurricane Eloise. Here’s what would have happened to the track: major damage to structures such as light poles, buildings and grandstands (only three years after they were built), because the hurricane struck Fort Walton Beach with a direct hit and had devastating effect.

    But Hurricane Eloise was just the beginning. Then came Opal in 1995, another devastating major hurricane that struck close to Pensacola; and Ivan in 2004, another Cat. 3 major hurricane with landfall just west of Pensacola; and Dennis in 2005, again a major hurricane, and again with a landfall near Pensacola in the western part of the Florida Panhandle. Every one of these four major hurricanes caused major damage after striking the western part of the Panhandle, right where the Florida International Motor Speedway would have been built.

    Maybe that’s a fortunate thing that it wasn’t built. The track would have faced a lot of problems, and being in a place that was about to get struck by one major hurricane after another wouldn’t have been helpful to its ability to succeed. In addition, USAC later left sanctioning stock car racing, and Indy car racing too, after the mid-’90s. The track’s success was heavily tied to the success of these two USAC series. Hoping that it could be “the South’s Greatest Auto Racing Spectacle” wasn’t enough. It needed a suitable location safe from major catastrophes too, and the western half of Florida’s Panhandle wasn’t that place. There’s no way to know if the track, if it had been built, would have survived after getting pulverized by the first of the hurricanes in 1975, or to know if the investors would have bailed out later after the big hurricanes starting arriving with chilling frequency. Perhaps things worked out for the best …

    To bring this story up to the present day, yesterday’s latest in the list of major hurricanes to make landfall in the western half of Florida’s Panhandle (just barely in the western half), and the first Cat. 4, was named Michael. It caused varying degrees of damage to some of the nearby auto race tracks:

    Possible Moderate Damage: Crisp Motorsports Park (aka Watermelon Capital Speedway), Cordele, Georgia;
    Possible Minimal or No Damage: Southern Raceway, Milton, Florida (track came through storm in awesome fashion, they stated), and Five Flags Speedway, Pensacola, Florida (which became a staging area for power company work trucks)

    With no tracks located in the central Florida Panhandle area, or in the Tallahassee / East Panhandle area, there is only one track in South Georgia which might have significant damage done by Cat. 1 winds.



    Notes from Showtime Speedway, September 29, 2018

    Story and Photos by Richard Golardi

    October 3, 2018

    • With four pavement sprint car races in the South and Midwest during October, and only one of them in Florida, some of Florida’s pavement sprint car racers are heading out of state to participate in two of those races. Shane Butler is going to start the mini-exodus this week by heading to Anderson Speedway in Indiana to race in the Tony Elliott Classic, a 125-lap non-wing race this Saturday, October 6. The car he will drive, the Chuck Castor and Buddy Lowther owned black No. 3 car, is the same car that he drove in the Little 500 in Anderson on May 26. After the visit by the BG Products Southern Sprintcar Shootout Series to New Smyrna Speedway on Saturday, October 13, the last of the four races will be at Baer Field Motorsports Park, Indiana on October 20, and Mobile International Speedway in Alabama on Saturday, October 27. The story leading up to this Alabama race goes back to early this year, with the announcement by Mobile that they (specifically the father/son owner/promoter team of Charlie and Kody Lyons) would have a track-run winged pavement sprint car series this year, which seemed odd due to the severely limited number of pavement sprint car racers based in the deep South states. That’s an area that has had its sprint car racing heavily weighted toward the dark (dirt) side. The Lyons have tried to recruit teams and drivers from Florida to come to Mobile (a 1,070 mile round-trip from Tampa) to race in their series, so far mostly unsuccessful. Charlie and Kody Lyons then showed up at Showtime Speedway last Saturday, the day of a Southern Sprintcar race, to try to stir up interest in their season-ending sprint car race. This time, it appears likely that they will be successful in convincing Floridians to go to Mobile, mainly due to one reason – a guaranteed $5,000 first place prize. In addition, the engines in use in Florida, the “TBARA 22-degree 360 c.i. engine,” are legal for Mobile. I was told that at least one Midwest racer inquired about a different variety of 360 engine, used in USAC sprint car racing up north, and was told that this engine is not legal for Mobile. This increases the likelihood that a racer from Florida, where the drivers have a great deal more pavement racing experience (but haven’t won at Mobile yet this year), will be a winner on October 27.

    Shane Butler, feature race winner, Southern Sprintcar Shootout Series, Showtime Speedway, Pinellas Park, FL, Saturday, September 29, 2018    Top Three Finishers: (1) Shane Butler, center; (2) Johnny Gilbertson, left; (3) Dylan Reynolds, right Richard Golardi photo

    • After finishing first and second in both their heat race and the feature race at the prior series race at New Smyrna on August 25, brothers Shane and Keith Butler seemed destined to renew their rivalry at the front again at the next race. With Keith starting fourth in last Saturday’s race at Showtime, and Shane starting at the rear of the field (by way of winning a heat race, and taking the “come from the rear challenge” to earn a $500 bonus with a feature win), followed by Shane’s methodical drive through the field to second place behind his brother, who was in Lee Sisson’s No. 7 car (a new ride for Keith this year), the critical point of the race was reached – Shane would have to pass his brother to win. On the last feature race lap, both brothers moved toward the same piece of the Showtime Speedway back stretch asphalt, bumped, and only one reached the last turn and passed under the checkered flag – younger brother Shane. With both cars stopped on the front stretch, Shane leaned into the cockpit of his brother’s car to offer his apology, as he didn’t want to win the race by a bump that spun out his brother’s car and dropped Keith to a sixth place finish. Keith’s reply: “I understand.”

    Dude Teate (left) and Mac Steele at Showtime Speedway, 9-29-2018

    • The most significant reunion of Saturday’s race was the one with car owner Mac Steele and driver Dude Teate, who teamed up to win the TBARA championship in 1999. Although they did race together in later years, that was their only championship year together. Dude’s later TBARA driver championships (2003 and 2004) were earned behind the wheel of George Rudolph’s sprint car. Mac “bought three new skins (tires)” for his No. 2 Beast chassis sprint car, had recently renovated and wrenched on the car and motor, and as a final step, put Dude in the seat for Saturday’s race, their first race together in 16 years. “That is a long time. Sixteen years ago. It feels great … so far,” Dude exclaimed on Saturday. “He’ll tell you more after the feature,” Mac added (they had a fifth place feature finish). “I’m happy to be back out, period,” Dude stated. He was back racing in the series after sitting out for a while without a ride. “Dude’s a professional,” Mac stated with a smile, as driver, owner and crew laughed and joked in their trailer, at ease being back together at the track. Next stop – New Smyrna Speedway, a place where Dude won the feature when he last raced there.
    • Sixteen-year-old Steven Hollinger, son of Southern Sprintcar owner/driver Rex Hollinger, had his most impressive open wheel race night at Showtime on Saturday when he raced in his third TQ midget feature race. In his prior two feature race starts, both at 4-17 Southern Speedway, his best feature race finish was a third place. In Saturday’s 20-lap “Florida Outlaw midget” feature race, he led the first eight laps and impressed the fans and his fellow TQ midget racers with a second place finish, and now seems to be on the verge of getting his first open wheel racing feature race win in the near future. Most of Steven’s prior racing experience was in Space Coast area go kart racing.
    • Phil Haddad returned to pavement sprint car action with his No. 42 car, which arrived at Showtime with new vinyl numbers but lacking a primary sponsor. He had current Southern Sprintcar driver champion John Inman as his crew chief on Saturday, who seemed to be hinting a return to racing his own sprint car in the near future.
    • With four series races remaining, which include the season finale on December 8, a close race for the 2018 Southern Sprintcar driver championship appears to be happening between two drivers: Johnny Gilbertson, who is in first place with 530 points and two wins, and Shane Butler in second place (four wins), only eight points behind Gilbertson. Both drivers have multiple TBARA driver championships.
    • An upcoming video on the Florida Open Wheel channel, recorded at the track on Saturday, will involve each of the Butler family racers. They each brought a helmet to the pits on Saturday, and told the story of how that helmet played an important part in their racing careers, along with showing their “old school helmet,” and the helmet they wore in Saturday’s race.

    Video of feature race from Showtime Speedway, Southern Sprintcar Shootout Series, Saturday, September 29, 2018:

    Florida Open Wheel channel (for other videos from Saturday at Showtime Speedway):




    The Lost TBARA Champion

    Story by Richard Golardi

    September 19, 2018

    Larry Brazil in the winner's circle.

    It was “Florida’s sprint car series” – the Tampa Bay Area Racing Association (TBARA).

    Through the 1960s and ’70s, it was a group that had a habit of forming, fading away, and then reforming. During this time, it wasn’t always solely organizing and promoting sprint car racing (“TBARA early model division” stock cars raced at Golden Gate Speedway and Winter Haven Speedway) – that came later. After the first sprint car champion of Florida’s modern era (1969 to present day) was crowned, which happened when Wayne Reutimann won the 1969 Golden Gate Speedway sprint car track championship, the TBARA later changed to exclusively promoting and sanctioning sprint car racing.

    When the Tampa Tribune had articles in December that reviewed the year in sprint car racing, which was done up until the 1990s, or named a Driver of the Year, which was done up to 1992, they sometimes printed a list of “TBARA Point Champions.” This list was included in a year-end article in 1990 (Source: Tampa Tribune, “Rodriguez Caps Sprint Season with TBARA Championship,” December 7, 1990) that reviewed Sam Rodriguez’s domination of the 1990 TBARA racing season. This list showed the 1973 and 1974 TBARA champions, followed by a gap of no named champions from 1975 to 1981, and then resumed with a listing of the TBARA driver champions from 1982 and later (the last TBARA champion was Shane Butler, 2014 champion).

    This list of TBARA champions was reprinted in other publications, and also uploaded to the official TBARA website, which was active until 2015. The TBARA website also showed (in 2015 and earlier years) the champions from those same years as the December 7, 1990 Tampa Tribune article, with no champions listed for the years 1975 to 1981, and then resuming the listing of driver champions from 1982 onward.

    Unfortunately, this widely circulated list failed to recognize that a TBARA driver champion was named in 1981, and in addition, this was the only TBARA championship that this driver won during his career. This lost TBARA champion, whose championship achievement that year seemed to have disappeared from Florida’s sprint car racing history, and who won the 1981 TBARA driver championship with six series feature race wins, was Larry Brazil (Source: Tampa Tribune, “Brazil the Champion of Racing Association,” December 3, 1981).

    This was Brazil’s only TBARA driver championship, but was only one of the sprint car driver championships that he won (he was Golden Gate Speedway sprint car track champion in 1973, 1974 and 1976 to 1978). I can’t offer an explanation for why he was left off the list of champions, other than the tendency for reporters, statisticians, and promoters to use and reprint the information released in prior years, and the Tampa Tribune had a history of accurate reporting of Tampa Bay area auto racing. It was not a common occurrence for this newspaper to make this kind of mistake. But the mistake did deprive Larry Brazil of decades of the recognition he deserved for what may have been his most significant and hardest-fought battle for a major sprint car championship.

    Brazil won the 1981 TBARA championship by only 10 points over second place point finisher Hardy Maddox, who won two features at Golden Gate, and one feature at Sunshine Speedway in Pinellas Park. In Brazil’s 35 TBARA series races in 1981, all of which were at Golden Gate and Sunshine, he won two features at Golden Gate and four at Sunshine Speedway. The group of drivers and teams that competed for the 1981 championship was rich in racing legends: Brazil drove the legendary No. 68 sprint car of car owner George Rudolph; and defeated Hardy Maddox, Sonny Hartley (3rd in 1981 TBARA points), Stan Butler (4th in points), Robert Smith (5th), Jim Childers (6th), and Frank Riddle (7th).

    Larry Brazil’s greatest racing skill was his ability to learn the tracks and competitors in Florida pavement sprint car racing, and then rack up consistent wins and championships during a time when the Tampa Bay area had weekly pavement sprint car racing, which was the 1970s and early ’80s. Many pavement sprint car racing legends emerged from Florida during this time, and this group garnered seven Little 500 wins between 1979 and 2000 (Wayne Reutimann, 1979; Frank Riddle, 1984 and 1985; Dave Scarborough, 1986; and Jim Childers, 1992, 1994, and 2000). Although Larry Brazil never had the level of success that these other legends had in this annual gathering of the nation’s best pavement sprint car drivers, his achievements in Florida sprint car racing have earned him his status as one of Florida’s greatest sprint car racing legends, and a rightfully earned entry on his racing resume as a TBARA driver champion.

    He is no longer Florida’s “lost TBARA champion.” He is Larry Brazil, TBARA champion



    Credit Davey Hamilton for Getting Short Track Oval Racing in Indy’s Infield

    Story and Photo by Richard Golardi

    September 4, 2018

    As I walked down the sidewalk on Main Street in Speedway, Indiana on Tuesday, September 8, 2015, I observed Davey Hamilton crossing the sidewalk as he headed toward his parked car. Next, I watched as the Indianapolis Motor Speedway management team of Doug Boles and Mark Miles exited a restaurant on Main Street. They had just completed a lunch meeting at the restaurant with Hamilton, during which they discussed a range of topics, including one that I had reported on previously.

    Davey Hamilton holds the restrictor used by sprint cars in the King of the Wing series, January 2015.

    The IMS 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 was going to 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. At that time, Hamilton wanted the new short oval to have its first race in June 2016, as part of the Midwest race weekend with the national King of the Wing Series.

    Therefore, when you enjoy the USAC dirt oval racing at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s new open wheel racing short track this week, remember the person that put that idea into the speedway management’s heads – Davey Hamilton. He was the first person to make a formal proposal to speedway management to hold open wheel racing on a short oval in the speedway’s infield. It was his idea.

    Remember to give Davey Hamilton the credit for being the first one to come up with the idea.

    Earlier in 2015, Speedway President Doug Boles had revealed some details about his talks with Davey Hamilton while he was at an informal Q & A session in Crawfordsville, Indiana during a community event. Boles revealed that he and Davey Hamilton had been discussing the possibility of using the infield roads at Indianapolis Motor Speedway to construct a temporary short oval for pavement sprint car racing. Boles made it clear that racing winged sprint cars on an infield short oval was a possible future event, and that he liked the idea and was considering it, and that Davey Hamilton had spurred the idea to make it happen.

    Davey Hamilton gave me some more details in 2015: “Doug and I spoke for maybe eight or nine months on this subject. The new road course for the Indy cars was just finishing up. I went in there just as a driver to give some input on the track – where the curbing should go and the design of it. While I was doing that, I accidentally found a perfect semi-oval race track. Three eighths of a mile long, it’s super wide. So I started driving around it, and I went and grabbed Doug [Boles] and a few other folks at the speedway and we all went down in my truck. I said, ‘I found a perfect short race track. You don’t have to do anything.’ And so we made some laps, and the discussion started. We continued the discussion with Mark Miles, and especially Doug. He’s really looking forward to trying to put this program on. I’d like to do it next year [2016], obviously because of the 100th Indy 500 race. I’m proposing to run King of the Wing there.

    “It’s part of the old Formula 1 road course, and the new IndyCar road course,” Davey continued. There is a big, wide oval-type turn that if extended out, it looks like it could be made into an oval about one third of a mile in length.

    “It’s actually exactly three eighths of a mile. It has some uniqueness to it, which is always good for a race track. The front straightaway and the back straightaway are absolutely parallel,” he added. The logistics of constructing a temporary short oval seemed daunting, but Hamilton was determined to see the race event on the speedway’s schedule for 2016.

    In the subsequent months and years, several events happened that appeared to lessen the possibility of a pavement short oval being constructed, and also resulted in the eventual construction of a dirt oval with dirt open wheel racing.

    First, Davey Hamilton left the USAC management position he held from March to June of 2015. The status of this Indy infield pavement short oval was unknown for a short time, but Hamilton later held the lunch meeting in September 2015, and then assured me that the planning for this 2016 race was still moving forward. The King of the Wing pavement national sprint car series still had a Midwest race weekend at this time, planned for three June races (this year, the series didn’t have any Midwest races).

    Then, Davey Hamilton revealed on May 30, 2016 that he had sold the King of the Wing series, stating on Twitter: “Bittersweet selling the King of the Wing but knowing the new owners will take it to the next level makes it all good.” It was later revealed that Tom Hartsell Jr., of the Auto Value Bumper to Bumper Super Sprints, along with three others, had purchased the series from Hamilton. Not only did it appear that the possibility of pavement sprint car racing at the speedway had stalled, but Davey Hamilton, the driving force behind it, had exited the business of promoting pavement sprint car racing.

    As the popularity of pavement sprint car racing diminished in the Midwest, dirt sprint car racing grew stronger, with USAC eliminating pavement racing from both its sprint car and midget national racing series. USAC, Tony Stewart, World Racing Group, and various media organizations that openly favored reporting on dirt sprint car and midget racing, and seemed to almost ignore pavement sprint car racing, helped accelerate this trend. Several dirt events like the Chili Bowl and Knoxville Nationals have received attention that seemed closer to worship than it did to unbiased reporting.

    If there was ever going to be a short oval in Indy’s infield for open wheel racing, it now seemed like it was going to be a short track with the Midwest’s favorite form of open wheel racing – the kind on dirt.

    In 2016, IMS built a temporary dirt track in the turn three infield area to honor the final NASCAR racing season of Indiana racing legend Tony Stewart. They ran midgets around the small track during an exhibition that year. NASCAR had been struggling to draw fans to the Brickyard 400 at IMS and needed to make some changes to attract more fans. Their ideas for 2018 were to move the Brickyard 400 to September, and host a USAC national dirt midget race at a new quarter-mile dirt oval to kick off the NASCAR weekend, now on the weekend after Labor Day.

    So, do you like the idea of short track oval racing finally making it to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and a national open wheel series throwing some dirt there this week, starting on Wednesday? Then give some credit to the guy who made the first push to make it happen – Davey Hamilton.




    Notes from New Smyrna Speedway, August 25, 2018

     Story and Photos by Richard Golardi

     August 28, 2018

    Shane Butler at New Smyrna Speedway, 8-25-2018.

     ·         Shane Butler’s demonstration of speed with the Southern Sprintcar Shootout Series on Saturday night at New Smyrna Speedway began with the second heat race, when he started in the last row, passed the other five cars on the front straight at the start, and took the lead going into the first turn of the first lap. After winning that heat race, he took the lead in the feature race on lap 10 and then led the last 20 laps to win by a straightaway over the second place No. 7 car driven by his brother Keith.

    ·         Lee Sisson, owner of car No. 7 and also owner of Knights Air Conditioning in Riverview, confirmed that he has replaced driver Clayton Donaldson with Keith Butler for the remainder of the 2018 races with the Southern Sprintcar series, through December. Keith has recently been concentrating on dirt sprint car racing in Florida, but has considerable pavement race experience and pavement wins. He finished in second place to his brother Shane in both the second heat race and the feature, and showed good speed with a motor that Lee told me has upped their horsepower numbers from their previous motor.

    ·         I asked series President Rick Day if the disqualified original listed winner of the feature race on August 11, Jason Kimball, had any recourse to appeal the series decision to take away the win due to a tire test, conducted by Blue Ridge Labs for the series, which showed that his tire sample did not conform to the benchmark from Hoosier Tire. I was told that Jason may request a detailed copy of the test results, but there is no appeal process for a series decision of this type. His DQ, and the decision by the series to award the race win to Tommy Nichols, can’t be appealed.

    ·         Although tire samples were taken from the cars that finished in the first three positions at Citrus County Speedway on August 11, this will not necessarily be the procedure used by the series in all future races. Rick Day informed me that the series may take a tire sample from any car, finishing in any position in the feature race, and a car suspected of using “tire prep” may be included in this group. The previous method used in Florida, when a durometer was used to test tires, along with the good ole “sniff it and note if the tire smells strange” method, is no longer used in pavement sprint car racing. On Saturday at New Smyrna, only the winning car driven by Shane Butler had a tire sample taken to be sent to the lab.

    ·         Shane Butler, who had a frightening high-speed crash destroy his car during the last series race at New Smyrna Speedway in April, had a rebuilt car and used it to win the next race at the track that had caused him so much trouble four months ago. It was his first feature race win since that wreck; he had two early season wins in February and March. “We’ve been struggling the last four races with this car that we had to put together,” Shane said, “but we found something after the last race, the gearbox was gone on it. We needed this after destroying that race car.”

    ·         Ray Bragg’s day got off to a bad start when a push truck went over the back of his car with enough force that it went airborne and struck the top of his wing somehow. He had been trying to signal the push truck driver that he was stopped, but the driver apparently did not see his signal. He had a backup wing ready and went on to win his heat race in impressive fashion, as well as take a fourth place finish in Saturday’s feature race. “The car wasn’t firing on all cylinders,” Ray said, “as we were only running on seven but still managed a fourth place finish. Tough day for Team Statham, but we got through it as a team …”

    ·         Not only will sprint car racing be missing from New Smyrna Speedway’s Governor’s Cup late model championship weekend in November (a sprint car race originally set for Saturday, November 10 has been moved to October 13), but so will Ty Majeski, who has won the last three straight Governor’s Cup races. He has a NASCAR race scheduled with Roush/Fenway Racing at Phoenix (ISM Raceway) in the XFINITY Series. That means he’ll miss the Friday and Saturday practice and qualifying days, and that will leave him out of a chance to get into Sunday’s championship race. With Majeski’s talent behind the wheel of a stock car, it seemed inevitable that he’d eventually leave his days of late models and the Governor’s Cup behind and head to NASCAR.

     Top 3 finishers 1st -Shane Butler center 2nd - Keith Butler left 3rd  Sport Allen right Southern Sprintcar Shootout Series New Smyrna FL 8-25


    Video of feature race from New Smyrna Speedway, Southern Sprintcar Shootout Series, Saturday, August 25, 2018:



    Video of heat races from New Smyrna Speedway, Southern Sprintcar Shootout Series, Saturday, August 25, 2018:




    Rusty Marcus Brings Smiles to New Smyrna Speedway, Part 2

    Story and Photos by Richard Golardi

    August 24, 2018

    Rusty Marcus, now living and working in New Smyrna Beach, is the new track manager at New Smyrna Speedway. He was close to Kim Brown, the track’s General Manager who passed away in late February. “I came down to help during the World Series,” Rusty said, “but then I went back home to Texas on a Tuesday, and on Saturday I got the call that Kim had passed away. I was talking to Jane and Robert [Hart], and they had been trying to get me to come back. It never seemed right – I told them I didn’t want to come back just to fill a position.”

    That’s when the Harts ratcheted up the intensity of their effort to get Rusty to return to Florida and work for them. There had been another big change for the track shortly before Kim’s passing. Robert Hart had announced at the Living Legends of Auto Racing banquet in Daytona Beach on February 14 that he was retiring from active management of New Smyrna Speedway.

    Dave Steele at New Smyrna Speedway, on 2-18-2013 with USAC National Midget Series.

    “Here’s the thing,” Rusty said. “God puts you in places, and if you’d have told me a year ago that I would be back here, I’d probably have said, ‘Yeah … not so much,’ because I want to make sure anywhere that I go that I can make a difference. I couldn’t see where I could make a difference here, all the positions were filled. I’m not here to step on anybody’s toes.”

    When things at the track changed, Rusty made his decision in late March, told the Harts that he was returning to Texas to tie up some things, and by April he was in his present job at New Smyrna Speedway, and has been there ever since. This weekend’s sprint car race is the second there since his return and expect more next year, according to Rusty.

    “I’ve always been a race fan … always,” he said. “On Sundays when I was a kid, we lived in a rural area down in West Palm Beach, and we’d go to Palm Beach Fairgrounds Speedway. Every Sunday afternoon, that was our family thing in the mid-to-late ’60s. Then Palm Beach decided to go from Sunday to Friday night, well I was born and raised Seventh-day Adventist, which means from Friday night sundown to Saturday night sundown, you don’t do anything. So I lost racing altogether except for one race a year, and that was the Orange Blossom 100. That was at Palm Beach Fairgrounds Speedway, they held it on Sunday in January every year. That was the one race I got to see each year. The Orange Blossom 100 is now here.”

    After that race went dormant for a while, he brought it back to Orlando Speedworld during his time managing that track and now it’s at New Smyrna, and he gets to enjoy a happy memory from his childhood and his part in reviving a decades-old Florida late model racing tradition. The Orange Blossom 100 now has a home at the track he calls home.

    Winged sprint cars at New Smyrna Speedway.

    Moving to Okeechobee for a job with the state in the South Florida Water Management department in the 1990s, he opened a car lot at the same time. After becoming friends with a mini-stock race car owner, he put his business name on his friend’s car, and they’d go to Bradenton every weekend to go racing. He had a new racing habit – but this one was weekly, not limited to just once a year. That led him to buy his own race car, now that a dirt track had opened in Okeechobee. “It was called Thundercross. I bought a ’73 Dodge Charger. Very consistent – dead last every time we took it out,” he said.

    A ’77 Dodge Aspen was added later, and so was some track marketing, promotion, and announcing experience to add to his resume, sometimes wearing the brightest, craziest fluorescent colors that he could find, again at Thundercross. People came to the track “just to see what he was going to do next.”

    The lesson learned was that “every position at a race track, it doesn’t matter if it’s the flagman, the concession people, or the front gate guy, everybody here is part of the show, and that’s the way that it needs to be. People need to go, ‘Hey, that’s the corner worker. He’s great because he puts a lot of energy into it.’ That’s what we need. We need that high-five energy all over the place.”

    Rusty was at Orlando Speedworld, during his tenure as manager, for one of the last major USAC pavement racing events in Florida, the PRI Sprint & Midget Classic, which was held in 2005 and 2006 in conjunction with the PRI Trade Show when it was based in Orlando. “Orlando has its problems, it doesn’t drain real well,” Rusty said. “I said, ‘You’re going to think it’s a little hokey.’ ” Then he told the PRI Trade Show management about his track-drying idea. They were concerned about rain and standing water necessitating a race cancellation. Not to worry – it was time for “Rusty to the rescue.”

    He had an idea, one that would probably only work in Florida. He had some fear that after “comin’ down to redneckville” that they might look upon his idea with doubt. He told them, “I’m going to do something a little hokey, but it’s going to work, or I think it will work. So he [PRI show head honcho Steve Lewis] said, ‘You do whatever you got to do.’ So, I called a bunch of guys with airboats, I’d seen it done at Palm Beach. You leave the airboat on the trailer, you fire it up, and it dries the track. At 10 minutes ’til 10, I went to him and said, ‘Steve, the track will be yours at 10 o’clock.’ It was race-ready.” The most redneck of all redneck methods of track drying had saved the day, and the Orlando Speedworld PRI Show races were a big success.

    Rusty also spoke about a possible big change coming for New Smyrna Speedway, something that would dramatically change the appearance of the track facility. “I’ve got to get some engineers here,” he said, “because I’m looking at putting a smaller track here, and we have a verbal agreement with U.S. Legend Cars that if we build the small track here, the Legend Winternationals will move to New Smyrna Speedway. The size is going to be three-eighths or less, because they can’t run anything bigger. We’re trying to figure out the configuration. The Winternationals are held at the same time as the World Series of Asphalt, two huge shows, we fold those shows together. Legends, Bandoleros, super lates, modifieds, all right here. Either use the existing backstretch, three, four, front stretch, and then make a new one and two connecting – the corners are going to be different than the other two corners. Because it’s going to go down there by the quarter-midget track, it won’t have the banking that three and four have. Eventually, we will put the small track in.”

    Rusty’s proposal (nothing has been engineered or designed yet) means that a new turn one and two, plus the entrance and exit off of the existing half-mile, would need to be designed, approved and constructed for a future February Speedweeks, likely not until 2020 or later. It’s one of Rusty’s long-term projects for the track: first the new smaller oval is constructed, and then Legend and Bandolero racing are brought back and made a major part of the February Speedweeks racing.

    The kids and families involved in Legend and Bandolero racing will always his pet project, and Rusty spoke of those racers who he helped through the ranks of those series, and who then made it to the big leagues of auto racing (including NASCAR Cup racing). “Anywhere you run the Legends Winternationals, there will be a hundred plus cars out there. You can be eight years old to get in a Bandolero, and if you’ve got experience, you can get in a Legend car at 12. They’re great cars, they’re safe cars, but they teach the kids so much,” he said, his eyes beaming.

    Overseeing several generations of racers, seeing them move up the ladder of success … somehow, Rusty Marcus seems to be in the right spot. He’s right where he needs to be.



    Rusty Marcus Brings Smiles to New Smyrna Speedway, Part 1

    Story and Photos by Richard Golardi

    August 23, 2018

    Rusty Marcus, track manager at New Smyrna Speedway since April this year, seems to be perpetually happy and always in a good mood. Why? Well, he gets to be at a track that is a special place to him, he loves racing (which is apparent in every story that he tells), and his spiritual faith – something he doesn’t talk about in an interview, but discusses in social media posts – is also important to him. You can tell that he loves racing and seeing fans enjoy their time at the track – “What did you think of the racing?” he’ll ask – and it motivates him in all he does.

    The small administrative offices at New Smyrna Speedway, consisting of several cramped rooms and located right behind the main stands, aren’t necessarily where you will find Rusty Marcus, and neither are the control tower or spectator stands the place to find him on a race day. He’s going to be everywhere – even roaming the pits, talking with owners, drivers, and crew. Need to track him down for an interview? – Best just look everywhere.

    Rusty Marcus at New Smyrna Speedway, August 4, 2018.

    “My job duty here is track manager, which means you do a little bit of everything,” Rusty Marcus said. “I started back here in April, I was with the Hart family [owners of New Smyrna Speedway] for years before with their Orlando track and ran it for a number of years down there.” In 2008, he left Florida for a track management position in Monroe, Louisiana, after he felt that he had taken the Orlando track as far as he could take it. Other positions in racing management followed, some involving Legend car racing with U.S. Legend Cars, located in Charlotte, North Carolina. They needed a manager to take over their Texas branch, and he was off to Texas Motor Speedway, where he stayed for six years until January 2018, when the Texas branch closed.

    “The Harts had been trying to get me to come back since I left, nine years ago,” Rusty said. “I would come back and help them with the big shows and we talked all the time. Here’s the thing – I don’t burn bridges. We’re like family. They’d fly me in, and I’d come down here and do whatever needs to be done. I’ve worked for them for so long, and they know what to expect out of me. You have to get the show on for the fans; you can’t be a prima donna at the race track. You’ve got to be ready to do anything and everything. They [Hart family] kept wanting me to come back. When U.S. Legend Cars closed down the office at Texas Motor Speedway in January, I had already planned on being here for the World Series in February.”

    New Smyrna Speedway’s popular and personable General Manager, Kim Brown, passed away in February 2018 due to a long illness. The Hart family wanted Rusty to come on as the track manager, and he took a couple of months off after returning to Florida in January and working at the track’s World Series in February. He accepted the job offer in March, began in April, and it was like he was a member of the Hart family once again, or rather, like he had never left, and he dove head first into his new job managing New Smyrna Speedway.

    Sprint cars at New Smyrna Speedway, April 28, 2018.

    Rusty Marcus is also a supporter of Florida sprint car racing, and the half-mile high-banked track at New Smyrna will once again host pavement sprint car racing on Saturday with the Southern Sprintcar Shootout Series. It will be the third visit by the series this year, and since the shutdown of Desoto Speedway last year, it plays an important part as the only high-speed, high-banked track left, rounding out the mix of bullrings, intermediate tracks, and high-speed tracks used by the series.

    “Whether you like ’em [sprint cars] or not, it’s very important,” Rusty said. Even though he had earlier referred to New Smyrna Speedway as “a stock car track,” he acknowledged that sprint car racing was important to his track and to Florida racing. “There’ll probably be more [races] next year,” he added. “The fans love ’em. It doesn’t matter how anybody else feels – you do stuff for your fans. I want people to look at New Smyrna Speedway, and have it be the beacon that everybody’s shooting for. I don’t think New Smyrna needs to be a chaser. New Smyrna needs to be a leader.” Rusty wants to have four or more sprint car races at the track again next year, and also into the foreseeable future.

    Rusty spoke about his time at Orlando Speedworld, working with TBARA in 2008 and earlier years, when he felt that sprint car racing had a “purse that was very high, and we had a lot of start-and-parks, back in ’06, ’07, they would bring 20 cars, and five laps in, you’d have 10 cars. It lost its luster. It went through a little lull, and the purse was so high.” Now he wants to keep sprint cars as part of February Speedweeks, because “there’s people that look for that, and we’re looking to add more stuff for February Speedweeks.” Regarding the Southern Sprintcar series race originally set for Saturday, November 10, the night before the Governor’s Cup late model championship race, he said, “We moved that up, because we had too much stuff on Governor’s Cup for Saturday and Sunday. It was so heavily loaded, and none of those classes are cheap. We talked to the sprint group, and they said, ‘It’ll work better for us if we move it,’ and it was moved to October. He [Rick Day] was all in agreement with it, and I was like, ‘Hot Diggity!’ But here’s the thing: the sprint cars always bring their own crowd. Sprint cars aren’t a sideshow.”

    The Southern Sprintcar series race originally set for New Smyrna’s Governor’s Cup weekend on Saturday, November 10 was moved to October 13. That left an opening on that date that has now been filled with a second date for Citrus County Speedway, which held its first sprint car race of the year two weeks ago. That series feature race on August 11 was originally credited as a win by Jason Kimball. His win was later rescinded when a tire test, conducted by Blue Ridge Labs for the Southern Sprintcar series, showed that his tire sample did not conform to the benchmark from Hoosier Tire. That resulted in the feature race win being awarded to Tommy Nichols, his first series race win of the year and first with the Southern Sprintcar series.

    Rusty Marcus has plans for the future at New Smyrna Speedway, he’s just not going to divulge all of them right away: “We’re working on some things, and I don’t know if they are going to come through, but if they do, it’s going to be great. Stay tuned … I can’t tell ya! I don’t know if it’s going to work out yet or not, but if it does … I guarantee you there’s a lot more coming.”

    More of the Rusty Marcus interview coming tomorrow in Part 2.




    E-mail  Richard Golardi


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