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    Florida Open Wheel

    By Richard Golardi

    AJ Maddox – Up Front and Checking Out

    By Richard Golardi

    “Meanwhile, up front it’s all AJ Maddox,” the TV race commentator said, describing the racing in the B-main at East Bay Raceway Park for the Lucas Oil ASCS Winternationals on Saturday, February 21st. “As we said earlier, a local driver here. He runs a lot of laps here at East Bay Raceway Park. He’s proven to be good here, as he checks out and picks up the win in our first B-main event,” he told the MAVTV viewing audience. In an earlier heat race, where a side-by-side battle between Maddox and Greg Wilson was described as slide-job city, Maddox was again described as “one of the local drivers.” But not this night. This night, he was one of the local drivers that went up against the best drivers from the Lucas Oil ASCS national sprint car series, and showed them that he was their equal, or better.

    AJ Maddox, Top Gun Sprint Series feature race winner at Bubba Raceway Park

    Although he finished in second place to Greg Wilson in the fifth heat race on Saturday, that race provided the most exciting and closest racing of the entire three days of Winternationals competition. “That was some intense racing. We were sliding each other and running wheel-to-wheel. That was a good show for the fans,” Greg Wilson said after the race. Maddox slid his car by the 2-time All Star champion through turns 3 and 4 without contact and without backing down, only falling back later in the heat race for the runner-up spot. Fans cheered and the messages of encouragement and pride were passed to the 23 year old racer for days afterward. One short clip in the MAVTV race broadcast showed Maddox being interviewed by veteran interviewer Dave Argabright. A track surface that looked to be racy for the feature race brought the question “What’s your read?” Maddox praised the work by the East Bay track crew for the Saturday race.

    “I’d never been on TV before. Got my little bit of fame. Sat at home on the couch and got to watch it. It was pretty neat. I got to see me and Matt Kurtz on TV, and some of the Florida boys. We all had a really good Nationals. I can’t wait ‘til next year. Hopefully it goes the same way.”

    AJ Maddox won a heat race, the Saturday B-main, and advanced to the feature race on all three nights of the East Bay Winternationals. “That’s kind of a cutthroat deal there that whole weekend,” Maddox told me. “Just go as hard as you can no matter what race you’re in and race like your life’s on the line. Had a lot of good luck and Robert Delgado put together a hell of a 360 motor and it showed it can keep up with the best. It helps a lot at that level. You’ve got to put a bullet in there to keep up with those guys. That and home field advantage, you know. Racing right in your back yard kind of helps. Turning a lot of laps there during the year helps.” The team did not have a Robert Delgado prepared motor for the Winternationals last year. Maddox also credited the Eagle Jet Top Gun Series racing at East Bay in January as helping him “to shake the rust off and to get tuned up.” He won the Friday night feature at East Bay in January, the first Top Gun race of 2015.

    Number 3A car of AJ Maddox at East Bay

    Why did he and other drivers from Florida have substantially better results in the East Bay Winternationals this year, compared to the last couple of years? “You’ve got to draw a good pill, and you’ve got to be able to pass cars. It’s just a lot of luck,” AJ replied. “The car was fast. There’s no doubt about that. Ray Bolin’s put me in a really good piece. Been running it for since about the middle of last year, and kind of got it figured out. I didn’t expect to do that well. I saw 67 cars show up, and I thought I was going to be lucky just to even make one of these things, and we made every night of the Nationals and the A-main here at Bubba’s with the ASCS (one week later). It was definitely the highlight of my career. I got to lead a few laps on Thursday night, started on the pole. Made a mad dash to the back after a while. But hey, I still had a big smile on my face. Just even thinking about it still makes me smile.”

    During the week, AJ is employed as a Plumber and Pipefitter, a job he has held for the past four years. “I got into the local union down in Tampa, and they put me to work and sent me to school. It’s a pretty good deal.” His work involves both commercial and residential plumbing work. “Luckily I haven’t had to drive anywhere further than Lutz from downtown Tampa.” Some of the welders and pipefitters from his union hall have traveled all over the country, but he avoids that type of travel to continue racing in Florida. His race team will be doing some traveling in the near future. They will compete in USCS winged sprint car races in other states in the South. “We’re hoping to hit at least a dozen USCS races later in the year,” according to AJ.

    What is his goal for the coming year? “Win some more races. I’ve never won a 360 feature before (Top Gun uses limited 360 motors). That’s why I was so tickled to get that heat win at the Winternationals. That was my first win in a 360. I’ve probably only run like a dozen 360 races in my life. It’s definitely a lot different.” He’d like to get a 360 feature race win, and continue doing well in Top Gun Series racing. “It’s just a local thing but sometimes it seems like it’s just as competitive as going anywhere else.”

    Maddox does admit that his racing style sometimes leads to a streak of several wins in a short period of time. “Yeah, I’ve noticed that over the last few years. I think it’s something to do with summertime. These tracks get hard and slick. Maybe I haven’t had the experience or done the right things with the car yet to figure it out. We’re good when the track’s fast, but so is everybody else. It always seems like I win races at the beginning of the year and the end of the year. We’ll figure it out. We’re getting there.”

    “It was slide-job city … These guys were going at it.” These were words used to describe the best two-car battle of Speedweeks, between Maddox and Greg Wilson at East Bay in February during ASCS competition. Often, the racing in Top Gun with limited 360 motors doesn’t involve a lot of slide jobs. That all changed at the last series race on Friday at Bubba Raceway Park. The track’s unusual configuration allows only one ideal place to get a slide-job pass completed. Dive low into turn one, slide up high into turn two.

    In the ten attempts to complete a turn one slide-job pass for one of the top three positions in last Friday’s Bubba Raceway Park feature race, three were successful. Two of the three successful slide jobs were by AJ Maddox, and one by Matt Kurtz. In contrast, the Top Gun Series race at Bubba Raceway Park on November 30, 2014 had no slide-job passes for any of the top three positions. Whether it was track prep, or racing skills honed by drivers during Speedweeks, or the intensity level of competition ramping up, or some combination of these factors, it bodes well for future Top Gun races matching or exceeding the intense racing seen last week. Maddox’s last turn one slide-job pass of the night catapulted him into the lead with two laps remaining, and he went on to win his second Top Gun feature race of the year.

    The feature race video from the Florida Open Wheel channel is here (Top Gun Sprint Series at Bubba Raceway Park on 4-10-2015):

    https://youtu.be/YxM9l6ZyHdE

     

     

    Helberg, Pierce, DeCaire Probable in King of the Wing Season Opener at Pensacola

    By Richard Golardi

    “I know my pavement cars like the back of my hand,” said 2014 King of the Wing series champion JoJo Helberg. “So, when I’m out there driving, I’m my own test driver. I’m thinking about what subtle changes do I have to make to these cars to make them essentially drive themselves around the race track. All I have to do as a driver is sit in there, hold it wide open, turn to the left a little bit and make my passes. My pavement operation has turned into pure strategy. It’s like a chess match. When I start out the race, I already know everyone is going to go to the preferred line in practice. So when I practice, like in hot laps, I don’t run the preferred line. I run the most messed-up line you can possibly run, because I know that’s the only choice that I have when the green flag drops to make passes.”

    Troy DeCaire at Five Flags Speedway

    JoJo Helberg might make his first winged pavement sprint car race of the year at the season opening race of Davey Hamilton’s King of the Wing sprint car series next week in Pensacola. The season opener at Five Flags Speedway was originally scheduled for today, but was delayed one week to Friday, April 17th due to the high probability of rain. The series will also race at Mobile International Speedway in Southern Alabama the next day, Saturday the 18th. These two races were sanctioned by the Must See Racing Xtreme Sprint Series last year, and move to sanctioning with Hamilton’s series this year. The races also carry USAC branding, now that both the King of the Wing series and the Auto Value Super Sprints Series have come under the USAC banner.

    The first two series races will also be the premiere races for the Southern Sprint Car Series, a regional series that comes under the King of the Wing pavement racing banner. I’ve learned that there have been some recent meetings for planning future races in Florida and the southeast, but no series schedule has been announced beyond the race in Alabama next week. A TBARA official did tell me that there was a plan to hold TBARA Series races this year, beginning in May. Desoto Speedway has scheduled another winged sprint car race for May 16th, one week prior to the Little 500.

    In outlining what he believes has led him to be so dominant in winged pavement sprint cars, Helberg stated that he tries to make his car “go around where nobody else dares to go. Then pretty much that’s my best shot at winning the race. That’s my best shot at passing people. I understand the physics of sprint cars now. That’s really what put me at the top of my game. I’ve been doing this pavement stuff long enough that I think this is where I had hoped to be.” Helberg stated that he will also return for the Little 500 in May, a race where he has finished close to the front, but has not won. He has two top three finishes in the last two years.

    Sprint cars at Five Flags Speedway

    Helberg has added winged dirt sprint car racing to his racing slate this year, including some World of Outlaws winged races in the west. What races or series will he choose to compete in his winged pavement sprint car? “I really just plan to dabble in all of them. I’m not going to commit to one, and I’m not going to avoid another. I’ll definitely be running way more dirt races than I will pavement races. I’m really happy with my pavement performance, and I’ve accepted a new challenge of running dirt and I’m not going to be satisfied with my performance until I do just as well on the dirt as I have on the pavement. It’s a new challenge, and I’ve got to take it on.”

    Will he make plans to travel to Pensacola and Mobile? “Well, I haven’t decided yet,” Helberg replied. He has not committed to running the entire King of the Wing or Must See Racing schedule, because of the plans to race more frequently on dirt. “Calistoga is just 30 minutes from me (referring to the California track with two World of Outlaws races). Traveling to Florida is 48 hours. I’m really considering going, just because I love those two tracks. I had a problem last year with some tire issues and completely dominating both races. I kind of feel like I need a little redemption.”

    Aaron Pierce is part of the Midwest contingent that is making the trip to Pensacola next week, along with Jacob Wilson. Both had wins in either Must See Racing or King of the Wing competition last year. Pierce won at Pensacola, and at Anderson (twice) and Jacob Wilson won the Little 500, and also the November race at Madera Speedway while racing in the two series. Among the Florida contingent, Troy DeCaire is entered in the #91 car owned by Lenny Puglio and Mickey Kempgens is in the PCS Racing #5 car owned by Doug Kenny. DeCaire has one win in King of the Wing competition, at Grundy County Speedway last year. He was the runner-up to JoJo Helberg in the two prior series races at Toledo Speedway and Winchester Speedway.

    Jacob Wilson still has his brother Clint as his crew chief, and a Beast chassis with a Claxton engine in his primary car for Pensacola and Mobile. “It’ll be the same guys. That motor has never actually let us down,” Wilson said. “That kicks us off. After that, we’re going to come back and run a couple of winged dirt shows. After the Little 500, we’re looking at chasing wins mainly and staying closer to home. I’ve always been known as a pavement guy so it was really nice to go out there and say hey, I can do this too,” Wilson said about his experience on the dirt miles with a Silver Crown car last year. He will return to race on the dirt with the USAC Silver Crown Series again this year. But first up are the half mile asphalt ovals at Pensacola’s Five Flags Speedway on Friday and then Mobile International Speedway on Saturday next week.

    “What Davey’s doing with that series, it’s pretty fun. You get to travel the country. I hope it stays the same even though it’s under the USAC banner now. I hope it kind of builds it. I’m happy to have Davey in there, because it’s a racer for racers,” said Jacob Wilson.

     

     

     

    Martin Devastates on Dirt, and King of the Wing Heads to Florida

    By Richard Golardi

    After winning a USCS winged sprint car race on dirt at Toccoa Raceway in Northern Georgia last Friday, car owner Doug Shaw, driver Danny Martin Jr. and crew made the overnight trip south to Volusia Speedway Park by Saturday afternoon to race again. They won again to continue Martin’s March hot streak, this time in an Eagle Jet Top Gun Series race. The two wins were his third and fourth wins of the month. The first scheduled race at Bubba Raceway Park for this year’s version of the Bubba Army Sprints was rained out on Friday.

    The Toccoa Raceway USCS event saw a multi-car wreck near the middle of the race take out several cars, and also involve Danny Martin Jr. He ran over two cars, was hit by another car, but was able to retain his lead and continue in the race, leading the entire feature race. He later credited Derek Hagar “for the shock help this weekend! 2 races, 2 wins!”

    Non-wing sprint cars return to Citrus County Speedway this Saturday, paired with the TQ midgets of the Florida Midget Racing Association, who make their first trip this year to Inverness. The 30-lap sprint car feature pays $1,000 to win. The last winged race at Desoto Speedway ten days ago paid $1,500 to win. The string of non-sanctioned pavement sprint car races in Florida ends next week, with the season opening race of the King of the Wing series at Pensacola’s Five Flags Speedway on Friday, 4/10. The racing scene moves to the South Alabama track known for its lack of outside walls on Saturday, Mobile International Speedway.

    Car owner Lenny Puglio has confirmed that the black #91 winged machine, last seen winning a TBARA feature at Desoto Speedway on November 1st, will be at Pensacola and Mobile next week. Desoto race winner Troy DeCaire will again be behind the wheel, as he will for the next King of the Wing Series races on 6/26 at Toledo Speedway and 6/27 at Winchester Speedway. Puglio said that he was uncertain about entering the third race of the June weekend, at Anderson Speedway on 6/28, as he was not enamored about winged racing in the confines of Anderson’s mile bullring. He does have one win as a Little 500 car owner, with Dave Steele driving in 2009.

    Defending King of the Wing Series champion JoJo Helberg told me that he is uncertain about making the 48 hour trip from California to Florida for next week’s pair of races in the South. Helberg has been racing his winged dirt sprint car, and told me that he intends to race in more dirt sprint car races this year than pavement sprint car races. He will still race in some pavement winged races this year, and will return to the Little 500 in May, where he has finished in the top three for two consecutive years.

    Lenny Puglio's 91 sprint car, with Troy DeCaire driving

    Two Hoosiers with multiple 2014 pavement wins have also confirmed that they will be heading to The Sunshine State next week for the Pensacola and Mobile races. They are 2014 Little 500 winner Jacob Wilson and Aaron Pierce, a nine-time winner last year. Both also intend to race on Friday and Saturday this week at Hickory Motor Speedway in North Carolina for the first 2015 races with the Must See Racing Xtreme Sprint Series. Series owner Jim Hanks, who had a heart attack and triple coronary artery bypass surgery in February, told me that he is doing well and that his recovery is proceeding well. He may possibly skip the Hickory Motor Speedway race this week, but intends to be at Anderson Speedway in May for the Little 500, a non-points race on the Must See Racing schedule.

    Last year, the April races at Pensacola and Mobile carried Must See Racing sanctioning, and saw 18 cars entered for Pensacola, followed by 17 cars entered the next day at Mobile. This year the sanctioning has changed, with King of the Wing replacing Must See, and new rules coming along with the new sanctioning. As series owner Davey Hamilton explained at a January meeting in Florida, the cars with 410 motors will be required to install an engine-equalizing device intended to make the cars with 360 motors as competitive as the cars with 410 motors. The device is a 1 and 7/8” minimum by 2” in depth restrictor.

    The two races next week are the only announced races for the regional King of the Wing series, which has been named the Southern Sprint Car Series (SSCS). I have learned that there have been some recent planning meetings for the series, but there are no announced races beyond April 11th. Rumored tracks that may see some SSCS races this year include Three Palms Speedway (once spectator stands are installed), Desoto Speedway and New Smyrna Speedway. There are no further updates regarding a possible TBARA race schedule for 2015.

     

     

     

    TBARA Plans to Get Back on Track, Florida Pavement Meltdown Averted

    By Richard Golardi

    The potential for a Florida pavement sprint car racing meltdown has been averted, at least for the immediate future. I have learned that the possibility of an internal power struggle for control of TBARA and the possibility of the group fracturing into several sub-groups have been averted. The events that occurred during the past week have led me to believe that the TBARA has reached a place of relative stability for the club and its members. TBARA President Jerry Mathis has informed me that the club is hoping to begin its 2015 racing season at Citrus County Speedway in Inverness in May.

    Sport Allen in Desoto Winners Circle

    The pavement sprint car calendar in Florida has already been filled by monthly racing at Citrus County Speedway on the first Saturday of each month (all non-wing races), and also by racing at Desoto Speedway on the third Saturday of most months (no races in April, July, or November). This leaves the second and fourth Saturday of the month as open dates for TBARA winged races, or the possible return of TBARA non-wing racing. Since early February, two Florida tracks have stepped in and run winged pavement sprint car races during the time that the TBARA has been on hiatus. The tracks are Desoto Speedway (2/8 and 3/21 winged races) and Showtime Speedway in Pinellas Park (2/27 and 3/1 winged races.)

    The three sprint car races at Desoto Speedway since February, which included one non-wing race, have all been won by the #88 car owned by Taylor Andrews. Two races during the Icebreaker weekend in early February were won by driver Dave Steele, subbing for regular driver Sport Allen while Sport was out of town. Allen won his first race back behind the wheel of the red #88 car this past weekend, making it three straight Desoto wins for car owner Andrews. The normally reserved 44 year old driver, known for being methodical on the track while avoiding taking unnecessary risks, underwent a personality change slightly reminiscent of the comic and movie character The Hulk. After spinning twice during the 40-lap feature race and avoiding damage to his car, Allen went on a rampage through the field, coming from the back of the pack twice to challenge for the lead by the race’s 29th lap. He later admitted that he got mad about spinning out, and said, “I was so mad that I spun out. It had me driving like a maniac.”

    Sprint cars at Desoto Speedway

    “I’m exhausted man. I was probably driving like a maniac. When I get mad, a totally different driver comes out. When I get determined, I’m not settling for last. No way,” Sport Allen said in the Winners Circle, soaked with sweat after carving through the fifteen car field twice for his first win of the year. “I was extremely, extremely jealous when I saw Troy DeCaire do it. When I saw him running up top, keeping on the gas, just riding the brake trying to make three lanes where there ain’t three lanes. I think I took a little of his skill with me tonight. This thing is awesome. Jerry Stuckey builds an awesome race car.” Sport also thanked car owner and friend Taylor Andrews, a car owner who previously told me that he doesn’t want to enter a car for a second driver in addition to Sport, despite having a fleet of numerous dirt and pavement sprint cars. “I’m loving it right now. What a way to kick off the season,” Sport added.

    The Dayton Andrews Dodge team will likely enter a car in the upcoming winged races in April in Pensacola and Mobile with the King of the Wing series, in an attempt to continue their pavement winged race success. As far as entering a car for Sport Allen in the upcoming Little 500, for which the team has the car prepared by Dave Steele for last year’s Little 500, that prospect now has a 50/50 chance of occurring, according to Taylor Andrews. The time needed to prepare the winged cars for Pensacola and Mobile, and a return to Desoto Speedway for the next winged race on Saturday, May 16th, will take much of the time needed to prepare the Little 500 car. The team’s dominant wins at Desoto Speedway over the last six weeks may have substantially lessened the probability of a Little 500 entry for this year.

    On the dirt in Florida, this weekend marks the first time in 2015 that Bubba Raceway Park has scheduled a winged sprint car race on a Friday immediately prior to a Saturday night Top Gun Series race at Volusia Speedway Park. This is the first of four 2015 weekends in Florida that will have a Bubba’s on Friday/ Top Gun at Volusia on Saturday pairing. Whether the race pairing will increase or decrease car counts for the two nights will likely be apparent after this first weekend. Danny Martin Jr. won his second Top Gun Series race of the month at the most recent series stop at East Bay Raceway Park last Saturday. Matt Kurtz won the prior week at Bubba Raceway Park.

    The video of the Desoto Speedway Winged Sprint Car feature race is on the Florida Open Wheel channel here:

    https://youtu.be/UfpEPu9J9Nk

     

     

     

    TBARA and King of the Wing and USAC – Florida’s Winged Sprint Car Cocktail

    By Richard Golardi

    USAC racing wasn’t always open wheel cars on dirt, as it is mainly viewed today. For nearly thirty years, the USAC Stock Car Division once rivaled NASCAR in popularity, racing mainly in the Midwest and Northeast. They raced on pavement tracks as well as dirt tracks and road courses. Winged pavement sprint car racing is USAC racing’s new venture, to be led by King of the Wing series founder and owner Davey Hamilton. It’s a major departure from non-wing dirt sprint cars, USAC’s core series. On Monday, Hamilton was announced as the new Executive Director of USAC Racing, effective immediately. He will retain his ownership of the King of the Wing series, which will now be USAC sanctioned. The previously announced eleven race schedule for the series, racing exclusively on pavement with wings, will be retained. A Florida race on April 10th at Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola will begin the 2015 season.

    Davey Hamilton holds the restrictor used by sprint cars in the King of the Wing series

    “King of the Wing will be run the same just under the USAC banner,” Hamilton told me on Monday. “I am full steam ahead with King of the Wing and it will be under the USAC banner and want to continue with the Southern Sprint Car Series,” he added. The Southern Sprint Car Series is a regional series for Florida, Alabama and Georgia, to be run under the King of the Wing aegis. The new series was announced earlier this year, when it appeared that the TBARA would not race in 2015 and two February TBARA races were cancelled by New Smyrna Speedway. Subsequently, a February TBARA member meeting was held, which resulted in the election of some new club officers and the stated intention to race this year. I spoke to both TBARA Vice President Josh Wichers and Davey Hamilton and asked about their plans for Florida, and if both series can co-exist in The Sunshine State.

    Davey Hamilton got a very positive response from all but one of the Florida track owners that he contacted regarding scheduling races this year under the Southern Sprint Car Series banner. Many remarked that they never had anyone offer to do co-promotion with them to try to build the series. He found that the track owners like sprint cars, but they know of the controversy and the discontent within the pavement sprint car ranks. He has been driving to each race track, to meet face-to-face with each track owner or promoter. Hamilton has also spoken to Josh Wichers about TBARA’s plans for this year.

    TBARA sprint cars at Punta Gorda in 2012

    “The Southern Sprint Car Series has points races scheduled at Pensacola and at Mobile, on April 10th and 11th. After that, if TBARA does decide to reactivate, then I’ll probably just stand back and let TBARA do their thing. If they do not decide to reactivate, then I’ll continue on going to Florida to schedule additional races for the year,” Hamilton said. But instead of 8 to 10 races in the Southern Series, would there be only half that number this year, because of the delay in the 2015 schedule being finalized? “My goal would be 7 to 10. I think that’s really doable. I talked to Three Palms (in Punta Gorda), and he talked about doing four races with our series. We need to start racing for better money. I think the opportunities are huge down there. You probably heard my excitement in the meeting. The opportunity is there to get a lot of additional cars down there during the winter months from up here in the north. I had some sponsors. Everything seemed to be really in the right direction. I’m not a controversial guy. I think I even said it – if you guys want me, I’m here. If you don’t want me, and want somebody else to do it, that’s great too, just as long as it’s going to happen, right?”

    “That’s why I talked to Josh,” Hamilton said, referring to his last phone call to TBARA officer Josh Wichers. “I asked him, do you intend on scheduling races and moving ahead, pursuing TBARA races at the same tracks as usual? He said yes. I said OK, if you’re going to do that, then I’m not going to step in your way. There’s no sense in me coming in there. I’ll support you in any way to make it strong. That’s kind of where I made the final decision. If he told me, ‘no I’m not even going to do it this year’, well I’m not even slowing down. I told them if anything changes, and you don’t think you’re going to be able to move forward, please give me a call and let me know. And then I’ll proceed on.I don’t want to have two series down there working against each other, because somebody’s always the bad guy in that. My hope is that Josh calls up and says you know what, we are going to put it on ice for one year to allow you to come and see what you can pull off down here,” according to Davey Hamilton.


    Winged pavement sprint car racing teams, drivers and fans may need to wait a couple of months with the holding pattern that has developed for Florida sprint car racing. Without an announced schedule for either TBARA or the Southern Sprint Car Series beyond April, will one of the two parties step aside and allow the other to be the sole winged pavement series for Florida this year? Will Florida tracks run their own winged pavement sprint car races to fill the void? Desoto Speedway and Showtime Speedway did exactly that during February.

    “He did call me and we did speak,” Josh Wichers told me, referring to his phone call with Davey Hamilton. “He asked what my plans were, and I told him that following our annual meeting that we planned on, as a series, moving forward. We are still going to run down here as TBARA with our 360s. He said that there’s not enough room for both of us, and I kind of concur. We talked about a lot of stuff. Some ideas back and forth. I wished him luck. I said that if you can come down here and run a few, it gives their guys a place to go run. For now, I think we’re just going to continue with our weekend warrior series.”

    Wichers said that he met with a track owner on Saturday, in his duty of developing a TBARA race schedule for this year. The track was Three Palms Speedway in Punta Gorda. The two parties plan to race at the southwest Florida track once the spectator grandstands are completed. Tentative talks have outlined three possible races at Three Palms, with one in the spring and two in the fall. Other possible tracks include New Smyrna Speedway and Citrus County Speedway, with a pair of races at each track. Auburndale Speedway was mentioned also, for a desired total of eight races for 2015. “If I can get eight races this year, I think I’ll be pretty satisfied moving forward, considering where we’re at right now,” Wichers said.

    Would it be best for Florida for TBARA to step aside, now that the King of The Wing has USAC sanctioning, and the possibility of greater media exposure, sponsor involvement, and prize money for its Southeast regional sprint car series? “Do I think that our guys are ready for something like that? I would have to say the majority are not,” Wichers responded. “Now don’t get me wrong. I feel that we have some of the most talented drivers anywhere in the country. But we’ve been running 360s for forty plus years. And for them to try to make the transition to 410s, I think it’s going to be a bit of a process for them. More than three years. I think it’ll take a lot more than three years to make that happen. As far as them coming down if that’s going to change anything that we’re going to do? I would say, not at this point. I don’t know what their plans are, but Jerry (Mathis) and I still plan on moving forward and doing our thing down here.” Jerry Mathis is the newly elected club President, elected during last month’s Sarasota club meeting. Ann Gimmler is the Secretary, and the appointed Treasurer is Ernie Teed Sr.

    “I hope we would hold our first race by mid-April.”A tentative race schedule readied by mid-April is also planned. “It’s going to be very difficult for a lot of tracks to maneuver their schedules around, trying to fit us in.” What if the King of the Wing series states that they will back out of their southeast regional plans if TBARA announces a 2015 race schedule for Florida? “We’re going to move forward regardless,” Josh Wichers stated emphatically. “Whether he’s in or not. We have to. We can’t sit on our hands any longer. We’ve been stalled too long. Our guys want to go race. The tracks are now doing their own thing and that’s going to diminish our product.”

    Could TBARA transform itself into something different for the future, perhaps going to non-wing 360 racing only, and thereby not competing with other winged pavement series planning to race in Florida? “I’ve always said change is inevitable. We have to transition with the times and we have to do what is best for our racers. We did discuss in our annual meeting about scheduling some non-wing races this year. And there was overwhelming support on doing that. I’m the Vice President of the TBARA, so I have to look out for what’s good for the members.”

    The most recent race video from the Florida Open Wheel channel, “USAC National Sprint Cars at East Bay Raceway Park, February 2015”is here:

    http://youtu.be/KKkBeGRdf2o

     

     

     

     

    East Bay, Showtime and Speedweeks’ Dramatic Day

    By Richard Golardi

    With the last of three USAC sprint car race dates at East Bay Raceway Park rained out on Saturday, the three Lucas Oil ASCS race dates the prior week were the only Thursday to Saturday run to go without a race cancellation during Speedweeks. Two prior weekends at Bubba Raceway Park with two national sprint car series (All Star Circuit of Champions and USAC National Sprint Car Series) had Thursday to Saturday runs moved to Friday to Sunday. With sprint car races rained out at both East Bay (USAC) and Bubba Raceway Park (Lucas Oil ASCS) last Saturday, the last sprint car race of the last weekend of Speedweeks was a pavement winged sprint car race at Showtime Speedway. This year, three Speedweeks weekends included pavement sprint car racing, none of it sanctioned by a traveling series. All pavement races were run by the local tracks, a newer trend emerging in Florida.

    Joey Aguilar in Winners Circle at Showtime

    The future of organized pavement sprint car racing in Florida, outside of races managed by local tracks, is in a “Pending” status. I will delve into this subject some more in my next column. Davey Hamilton’s King of the Wing series and a newly reorganized TBARA entity both had planning meetings in Florida since the beginning of the year. TBARA had two February races at New Smyrna Speedway that were cancelled. Florida tracks stepped into the void in February, with Desoto Speedway and Showtime Speedway both having winged sprint car races during the month. Non-wing races took place at both Desoto Speedway and Citrus County Speedway. The average car count for the five pavement sprint car races from 2/7 to 3/1 was 10 cars.

    The Sunday feature race at Showtime Speedway was won by Joey Aguilar, after a Friday night engine problem took him out of the race that night. Aguilar started in seventh in the ten car pack, and was in the lead by the 12thlap of the feature race. Aguilar told me that he intends to race at Desoto Speedway, King of the Wing races, and also at Showtime Speedway, if they schedule additional races.

    USAC sprint cars in turn 2 at East Bay

    Garrett Green posted two top three finishes during the weekend at Showtime, a little redemption for the 16 year old racer after a post-race tire inspection DQ took away a potential Speedweeks win at Desoto Speedway. Another teen sprint car racer, Carlie Yent, seen at Desoto Speedway last year in a non-wing sprint car, was racing in her first winged sprint car race. “I was just trying to stay out of everyone’s way. It was pretty exciting. It was my first winged race,” Carlie told me. “I finished ninth, which isn’t bad for a first winged race and third race in this car overall. It’s a good weekend for us.” She plans to race in the non-wing race at Citrus County Speedway this Saturday. Garrett Green made some in-car adjustments to improve his car’s handling prior to taking the race lead. At a restart he had Aguilar alongside him, and felt that he was getting crowded in the turns prior to getting passed by Aguilar for the lead. “What can you do, right? It’s racing,” Green told me later.

    East Bay Raceway Park, which hosted the month’s most intense night of dirt sprint car racing on Saturday the 21st, also brought back the USAC National Sprint Car Series to the Gibsonton track during the month. The USAC non-wing sprint cars last visited the track five years ago. Robert Ballou joined Dave Steele, Daryn Pittman, Aaron Reutzel and Kerry Madsen the only drivers with more than one sprint car feature win during the month as he won on the second night at East Bay (Madsen had the most wins – 3). Kevin Thomas Jr. was the first night winner, his first USAC sprint car win since 2013. Highlights from the two nights included Ballou brushing the wall on the last lap on Friday, getting passed briefly by Dave Darland, and then holding off Darland for the win.Kody Swanson and Trevor Kobylarzhad a vicious crash that night when Swanson made a mistake coming down from near the wall and caused both cars to flip several times. Thomas Jr. dominated the feature on Thursday, exclaiming how great it felt to be back in a car that he was familiar with, and also to be back in the Winner’s Circle.

    Sport Allen at feature race start at Showtime Speedway

    A single day stood out from the rest during Speedweeks. It was Saturday, February 21st. The drama and intensity of Speedweeks reached its height on this day. At East Bay, the Lucas Oil ASCS sprint car drivers were competing to crown the King of the 360s and win the $10,000 first place prize in the Ronald Laney Memorial.A total of 67 sprint cars competed in eleven heats and features on Saturday, with the groove moving a little higher with each race of the night. Leaders were exchanging frequent slide jobs, prompting some to call it a slide job fiesta. By the end of the night a cushion of dirt, something not seen at East Bay for many years, was within a couple of feet of the wall in the fourth turn. Racing got so intense that cars bounced off the walls and shredded banners.

    At the same time on this dramatic day, disaster would strike the Kyle Busch Motorsports team. Daytona International Speedway was the location for the Saturday afternoon running of the NASCAR XFINITY Series race. Kyle Busch would likely plan to head south to New Smyrna Speedway on Saturday night, after missing the prior two nights while he was at Daytona. His #51 super late model car was racing at New Smyrna Speedway with 20 year old sprint car and midget phenom Christopher Bell behind the wheel. In the Saturday XFINITY Series race, Busch's car slammed head-on into a wall along the front straight not protected by a SAFER barrier. His right leg was badly broken and would require surgery, forcing him out of racing for months.

    As Kyle Busch was being readied for surgery at the hospital in Daytona Beach, a showdown was looming for Christopher Bell and Harrison Burton in the last super late model race of Speedweeks at New Smyrna. Bell had the extra incentive to get good news delivered to Busch in his Daytona Beach hospital room. Burton, the 14 year old son of former NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Jeff Burton, already had two super late model wins during the month. Bell was only racing at New Smyrna for three nights and had two finishes in the top four the first two nights. He still wanted his first NASCAR super late model race win. He started tenth in the Speedweeks late model finale, moved toward the front quickly, and then reached Burton’s rear bumper.

    “I was just trying to learn where I had to make my move. And then we got late in the race and I started to pressure him more and more," Bell said. He made his move on the 80th lap. He took the lead and then pulled away from Burton in the closing laps. He won his first NASCAR super late model race for car owner Kyle Busch, who was in the hospital recovering. The open wheel racer with a long list of dirt track victories had beaten the young driver from a famous NASCAR family. Both seemed destined to have many more NASCAR wins. Both had displayed skill and poise during the month, and could hold their heads high and be proud of their Speedweeks achievements.

    The video of the Showtime Speedway Winged Sprints, Feature Race, 3-1-2015, can be seen on the Florida Open Wheel channel:

    http://youtu.be/1ugYTNjv39s

     

     

     

    Florida’s Newest Oval Track Under Construction at Bubba Raceway Park

    In a discussion last weekend, Bubba Raceway Park co-owner Tom Bean confirmed that the mile dirt oval race track under construction on his property will be intended for karts, mini sprints and also micro sprints. The construction of the track, begun in 2014, was suspended during Speedweeks to allow the track staff to concentrate on track prep for the race events during Speedweeks. Now that those events are concluding this weekend, the construction will resume. Some have referred to the track as “Tulsa South” (a name not embraced by the management), as it was originally intended to resemble the dirt oval in Tulsa known for hosting the Chili Bowl midget race each January. The current track shape has deviated some from being a copy of the Tulsa track, as it has longer straights and tighter turns. The biggest deviation from Tulsa is that it’s not an indoor track.


    With the commitment to race on Friday nights this year on the “big track”, the 3/8 mile dirt oval that hosts the stars of the national winged and non-wing sprint car series each February, the new track may find Saturday night as its niche in the schedule. The kart, mini sprint, and micro sprint races that are planned for the new track will use the same pit area used by the big track. A gate at the rear area of the pits leads directly to the new track. The dirt surface and banks of the track have taken shape, but there are no walls, catch fences or spectator seating constructed yet. The track layout somewhat parallels the layout of the big track, with turns one and two at the southwest end.

    With the mini sprints having their own nationals event at the Tulsa Expo Center just prior to the Chili Bowl Nationals, this provides Bubba Raceway Park the opportunity to develop their own marquee mini sprint racing event in December as a preliminary to the Tulsa event in late December. With an active mini sprint community in Florida, the event could attract racers from the north and Midwest, as well as Florida. There is another similar track nearby that has traditionally hosted mini sprints and micro sprints, and that is Marion County Speedway. It is a 1/5 mile dirt oval located 1.6 miles south of Bubba Raceway Park.

    With disappointing spectator attendance at some of the races during this last weekend of five weekends of Speedweeks racing, I asked Tom Bean if the move to Friday night racing this year could also result in a similar situation. The track has raced on Saturdays since being purchased by Bean and radio personality Bubba Clem in 2011. Bean replied that the Ocala track had traditionally raced on Friday nights for many years in the past, and that he believed that Friday nights will benefit both the racers and fans. He remarked that the track’s central location in the state, and proximity to major highways, allows a major portion of the Central Florida population to have a two hour or less drive to get to Bubba’s. Bean is not concerned about a drop in attendance for Friday night racing this year. Nearby Volusia Speedway Park will continue racing on Saturdays.

    The new track does not have a name yet, but it appears to be a part of a new phase of development at Bubba Raceway Park. Also under consideration are additional stands in a new turn two seating area that would not be connected to the pits or the other seating along the front stretch. This area would allow coolers and food, as opposed to the main seating area, where it is not allowed. This section would be somewhat self-contained, without a walkway around to the pits off of turn one, where a wooded area is located today. Another area being considered for additional seating is along the front straight near turn four, where a gap in the stands is located today.

    There is no planned completion date or race dates for the new dirt oval track, but it has already gotten some hype on social media. Some racers are looking forward to embracing the track as their new home track. It is also desired that the new facility will be a family destination for those racing karts, and then moving up to micro sprints or mini sprints. Florida’s next generation of open wheel racing winners will have a new track soon, and maybe even a few future sprint car drivers will be nurtured there.

    The photo album of my photos of the new oval track under construction at Bubba Raceway Park is here:

    https://plus.google.com/u/0/photos/105092965792373343944/albums/6120631617091570689





     

     

     

    Bryan Clauson Interview – Shifting to Winged Sprints and IndyCar

    By Richard Golardi

    Shortly after confirming that he is no longer with Tony Stewart Racing for 2015, Bryan Clauson announced that he would transition to winged sprint car racing this year. Also, he has an IndyCar waiting for him to race in the 2015 Indianapolis 500 with the Jonathan Byrd family. He has one prior entry in the Indy 500 in 2012 when he was credited with 46 laps and 30th place. For the 2015 season, the Elk Grove Ford Motorsports/Cole Wood Racing #17w team will put Clauson in their winged sprint car. His race schedule will include the National Sprint League and Knoxville Raceway, as well as some World of Outlaws races. “Obviously, I’ve made a shift and want to focus more on the wing stuff this year,” Clauson said previously.

    Racing in the SST Motorsports #41 sprint car for the first six races of the USAC season in Florida, he was forced to a back-up car on Friday and still earned the hard charger award that night. By Sunday, both the primary and back-up cars were now broke, and he watched the Sunday night feature race from the stands. “This deal came together sometime in December. I was always going to come down to Florida for these races. They don’t really conflict with any 410 stuff,” Clauson told me on a cold Friday night when temperatures dropped into the 30s. “I just wasn’t sure what I was going to be driving. These guys gave me a call. It felt like a good fit just to come down here and have some fun. Just these six races for now (in Florida during February). There’s a chance maybe we can do a little bit back home. But with the winged stuff I’ve got going, I’m not going to have a whole lot of time.”

    “I’m only planning on running ten or twelve non-wing races anyway. There’s ten in Indiana, and I’m going to try to run the West coast stuff, so that’s another six.” Clauson also plans to run 22 to 25 midget races and about 60 to 70 winged sprint car races during the year. “Obviously, that’ll be the main focus. Then take two weeks off in May for the Indy 500.” Clauson and the Byrd family, the owners of the IndyCar that he’ll drive this year, have talked about running in the IndyCar Series beyond the Indy 500. There are two other 500 mile oval races on the IndyCar schedule this year, at Fontana, CA in June, and at Pocono, PA in August. Although this year is likely to be an “Indy only” year for the team, they are looking to expand their program beyond Indy in the future. “They’re all about it. The key to a sustainable program is not moving too fast. We’re excited to be back at Indy, and the next step would be to run the Triple Crown. But not this year,” according to Clauson.

    Jonathan Byrd’s, the family restaurant business, will be the main sponsor on the IndyCar. “It makes more sense to get to Indy, focus on Indy, have a good run there hopefully, and build on it for next year.” The sprint car team is aiming to make Las Vegas their first race this year with the World of Outlaws in early March. “We’re shooting to be ready for Vegas, but I’m not sure. I think you’ll see us sometime out there on the West coast swing with the Outlaws. We’re going to try to get to Vegas. If not, we’ll try to get to Tulare. We just want to get out a little bit before the NSL stuff starts back up in April, and get our feet on the ground as a team, and be ready to hit the ground running at Burlington (referring to the season opening National Sprint League race at 34 Raceway in West Burlington, Iowa on April 11th).”

    As for his chances of having better results in winged sprint car competition this year, or even competing for a championship, Clauson feels that it wouldn’t be that hard to improve due to not having many prior winged races. “I think from the beginning of the year until the end of the year, we’ll have big improvements, not only myself but as a team. It’ll be hard to win the championship. I’ve got to miss two or three races with the 500. Obviously, I already committed to that. Weather could come into play, and rain a couple of those out. You’ve got guys like Brian Brown and Danny Lasoski, those guys chasing it. I’m not sure we’ll be able to compete at a level, full-time straight out of the gate, with those guys. But obviously the goal is to, by mid-summer, to be at that level and be able to look towards next year.”

    The feature race videos from two of the USAC National Sprint Car Series nights atBubba Raceway Park are on the Florida Open Wheel channel:

    http://www.youtube.com/channel/UCSdPdgmUo6WfkfR6Eo__QBA

    The photo album from the USAC National Sprint Car Series at Bubba Raceway Park, February 2015 is here:

    https://plus.google.com/u/0/photos/105092965792373343944/albums/6119487796977899361




     

     

     

    East Bay Raceway Park Concludes the Best Winternationals in Years

    By Richard Golardi

    The return of the Lucas Oil ASCS sprint car series as the sanctioning body for the East Bay Raceway Park Winternationals for the first time since 2008 seemed to have invigorated Florida’s 360 sprint car drivers. Their performance was markedly improved over the showing from last year, which was disappointing. Several drivers were making the feature race consistently each night and winning heat races, including AJ Maddox and Matt Kurtz.

    Danny Smith at East Bay

    One of the most exciting races of all of Speedweeks this year occurred in the fifth heat race on Saturday night, the final night of three at East Bay for the Lucas Oil ASCS racers. AJ Maddox and Greg Wilson put on a titanic battle, often racing side by side inches apart as they slid through the turns on East Bay’s 1/3 mile oval. The outcome of the heat race was uncertain for many laps as the racers battled intensely for the heat win. Wilson pulled ahead later in the race and took the win ahead of Maddox, as the crowd cheered the two open wheel warriors at the race’s end. Maddox’s friends were left exclaiming their amazement and pleasure at seeing the young driver get some well-deserved attention at a national level, as MAVTV was recording the race for future broadcast. AJ Maddox went on to win a B Feature that night, and Matt Kurtz won a heat race also to solidify the Floridians’ solid performance.

    The Saturday feature race saw Floridians Kurtz, Maddox and Danny Martin Jr. in the field, with Martin Jr. getting the race’s hard charger award by advancing eight positions during the race. The feature race win and the winner’s $10,000 check on Saturday’s running of the Ronald Laney Memorial race went to a member of the PA Posse, Mark Smith.

    Cushion in turn 4 at East Bay Raceway Park

    With 67 sprint cars competing in eleven heats and features on Saturday, the groove would move a little higher with each race of the night. Leaders were exchanging slide jobs to make passes. By the end of the night a cushion of dirt, something not seen at East Bay for many years, was within a couple of feet of the wall in the fourth turn, and cars were bouncing off the wall in that turn, tearing the banners affixed to the wall, and dislodging some of the wooden boards.

    One of the cars competing bore the colors and stickers of the Quickload Racing Team, a legendary sprint car team owned by “Captain Jack” Nowling. The names on the list of drivers of the Quickload Racing Team read like a virtual who’s who of American open wheel racing. One of the names not present on the list was recent National Sprint Car Hall of Fame inductee Danny Smith, a good friend of Jack Nowling. He had not driven a Quickload Aluminum Boat Trailers car previously, but that changed this weekend. Earlier in the week, Smith brought Jack’s friends and family together, and led him into a darkened race shop to unveil the car, a blue #66 with a sticker on the hood reading “Owners – Jack and Kathy Nowling”. The tears of joy began to flow. Danny Smith’s name could now officially be added to the list of the members of the Quickload Racing Team. Smith’s best performance of the week came on the first night of racing, with a tenth place finish in the feature race on that night.

    Hood of the 66 Quickload Racing Team car

    Cold weather during the week held down the attendance numbers on the first two nights, as sub-freezing temperatures on Friday morning hindered the ability to view the racing action comfortably. With pleasant daytime conditions and temperatures in the 70s returning on Saturday, the finale would see the biggest crowd of the week, and the most intense racing action. Track conditions received praise from the racers and fans both on the first two nights, followed by some doubts on Saturday that the track appeared to be overwatered. The quality of the racing action later that evening proved that the doubters were wrong. Some expressed that this was the first time they had seen a cushion at East Bay since the 1980s. The cars that were brushing the wall in the fourth turn appeared to be opening some gaps in the wooden boards, which brought out a front-end loader to reposition some boards during a red flag period.

    Saturday feature race winner Mark Smith

    The Lucas Oil ASCS cars return for two more race dates later in the week at Bubba Raceway Park in Ocala. That track concludes their stint with the USAC National Sprint Car series today. With the huge car counts, high quality racing action, ideal track conditions, and professional management of the racing by the track and ASCS sanctioning body, one can only hope that the Lucas Oil ASCS series will make the addition of the East Bay Winternationals to their race schedule a permanent fixture. The teams, drivers, car owners, and fans all were left saying, “wow – I can’t wait ‘til next year.”

     

     

    Sprint Car Drivers in NASCAR Racing Debut at New Smyrna Speedway

    By Richard Golardi

    The two sprint car drivers making their first NASCAR K&N Pro Series East start on Sunday at New Smyrna Speedway were Floridian Collin Cabre and Californian Rico Abreu. Both were coming from open wheel racing, Cabre racing a sprint car on dirt and pavement in Florida and the Southeast, and Abreu getting national recognition from his 2014 USAC National Midget Series title and 2015 win in the Chili Bowl. He also was signed to a Chip Ganassi Racing driver development deal after his two most recent accomplishments. Cabre had been working with the NASCAR Drive for Diversity program for the past couple of years, striving to get a full season late model ride with the Rev Racing team. After two pavement sprint car racing wins in 2011, he had been racing a sprint car mainly on dirt in subsequent years. His selection as a member of the Class of 2015 with the NASCAR D4D program came in January 2015.

    Collin Cabre 2 races Rico Abreu 98 at New Smyrna Speedway

    Abreu’s month of racing in Florida was exclusively in a late model car at New Smyrna Speedway, with seven super late model races, and the one K&N Pro Series East race. He had dozens of sprint car races planned for the rest of 2015, but none in Florida. Cabre would only have the one K&N Series race at New Smyrna in February, in addition to the remaining thirteen K&N Pro Series East races in 2015. His family owned sprint car team also plans to run more dirt races this year. Although both drivers took different paths to reach the first NASCAR race of their careers, they were both striving for the same goal: moving into the upper levels of NASCAR racing.

    Cabre only had one prior late model race in a Rev Racing late model car. The upcoming races at Iowa and Dover would be his first on high speed tracks of about one mile. These two races would be new experiences for him. New Smyrna was familiar, as he had raced a winged sprint car on the track previously. Cabre’s qualifying time would place him mid-field for the 150 lap race on Sunday night, and Rico Abreu would start closer to the front despite a spin in his first afternoon qualifying attempt. During the race, Collin Cabre would pass Rico Abreu twice under green flag racing conditions, and then pass him a third time near the end of the race immediately after a wreck. Another racer suffered a blown tire and impact with the wall directly in front of Cabre early in the race. Another multi-car spin and wreck, again directly in his path in turn two, forced him into a half-spin to avoid damage to his car. Later in the race, a following car collided with him and caused rear end damage, and the need for a pit stop to remove a dragging part. He avoided the last multi-car crash that collected Rico Abreu to finish the race in 15th place.

    2 car shows damage at end of race

    Rico Abreu finished in 17th place after qualifying 6th at New Smyrna Speedway for his first NASCAR series race. He had previously said that his main goals were to get a better feel for the track and for the car and to avoid all accidents. He was also looking forward to another five super late model races in the next four days. His first Florida late model racing experience will end on Saturday night. The next K&N Pro Series East race for the two sprint car drivers is on April 4th at Greenville Pickens Speedway in South Carolina.

    “We were junk on the bottom, and when we would restart up top we were pretty good. The car wasn’t quite where we needed it to be in order to be up front. This track is very difficult to pass on, especially with these cars,” Collin Cabre told me in the pits after the race concluded. “It was just tight going in and then it would catch a little loose off if I throttled up too hard. I was just kind of having to baby it for about a hundred laps, just biding my time, and then with the last couple of cautions we got caught up in a late race wreck. Somebody started wrecking and we all started checking up down the back stretch and somebody got in the rear of me and turned me around.”

    Collin Cabre at NASCAR K&N Pro Series East race

    For Cabre, the highlights of his race were making it to the end of 150 laps and whetting his appetite for more racing, and to improve his finishing position in future races. “We’ll get the car dialed in a little bit better for Greenville. Eventful would be the correct term for tonight’s race. That was a crazy race. A lot of guys were getting into each other, and spinning each other out. There was a lot that you had to keep your head up for. I’m proud that we were somewhat fast and that we finished.” Collin did see the white #98 car of Rico Abreu when approaching the car on the track, and admitted that “there was a little extra vibe to go after that. Time to attack,” he thought, passing Abreu twice under green flag race conditions. Having multi-car pile-ups happen on the track in his path was a new experience for him, as it rarely happens in sprint car races. “With these cars, once one spins then it’s like a chain reaction.”

    There was one early race pit stop for Cabre, as the car needed an adjustment to handle better. They put a round of wedge in it, to help the forward drive a little bit. He felt the car handle better after that adjustment, and then began making passes and gaining positions. His goal for the next race is a top ten finish. After passing Rico Abreu three times, maybe even pass him multiple times in the next race? “Yeah, exactly!” There was one moment when he feared he might tag the inside wall when he made the half-spin to avoid a multi-car wreck, but he skillfully kept if off the wall and away from wrecked cars.

    Photo Album - "Collin Cabre at NASCAR K&N Pro Series East, New Smyrna Speedway, 2-15-2015":

    https://plus.google.com/u/0/photos/105092965792373343944/albums/6116890252921570657?sort=1

    Video from the Florida Open Wheel channel of Collin Cabre at NASCAR K&N Pro Series East, 2-15-2015:

    http://youtu.be/GQSBiMjl9C0

     

     

     

     

    Danny Lasoski Enters Florida Racing With Lasoski Motorsports Car for Ben Fritz

    By Richard Golardi

    At 56 years old, Danny Lasoski is at an age when many men are winding down their careers, and possibly preparing for retirement within the next 5 to 10 years. But, Danny Lasoski won’t be doing that anytime soon. He was in Florida racing the #2L car owned by Tod Quiring at Volusia Speedway Park, after having already won a race in 2015 in Arizona and the Winter Heat Sprint Car Showdown series there in January. He was also preparing to field a Lasoski Motorsports car for former TBARA driver Ben Fritz to race on the dirt in Florida this year. Fritz had won winged pavement sprint car races recently at Showtime Speedway and in TBARA competition. He has never driven a sprint car on dirt before, and will get his first practice laps in the new car within the next month.

    2L car driven by Danny Lasoski at Volusia Speedway Park

    The team plans to race the car in the Top Gun Series and also at Bubba Raceway Park with Fritz behind the wheel, but not until Lasoski makes the determination that Ben is ready. The Triple X chassis was recently brought from Missouri to Florida. A motor from the engine shop of Danny Martin Jr. will be matched with the car for limited 360 racing in Florida. The chassis has only seen one or two races in Midwest racing. Ben will be bringing K&N as one of the car’s sponsors, and the other sponsors and car number are not determined as of today. Danny Lasoski will be racing in the National Sprint League and at Knoxville Raceway beginning in the spring, so he will be out of town for most of Ben’s races in the spring and summer. With a home in Ocala, Lasoski will be available for coaching Ben’s test sessions during the week before Thursday, and later in the year for Florida races from October to mid-December.

    The new car for Lasoski Motorsports marks the first time that Danny Lasoski will be putting a friend, instead of a family member, in a car that he owns. Ben Fritz was in the pits with Danny Lasoski for Florida Speedweeks last year, and then made the trip to the Knoxville Nationals to work on Lasoski’s car during the summer. Shortly after, this deal came together for Ben to get in one of Lasoski’s cars for Florida dirt racing.

    “I thought when my racing career was winding down, which it’s not, I always wanted to give back to somebody that I thought was deserving enough and had the heart like I did when I started out, because all I wanted to do was race,” Danny Lasoski said. “When I met Ben and his Dad, I said if he decides to get off of pavement I would put a car together for him and see if he can adapt to dirt. I kind of wanted to be a driver coach one of these days. Right now, Ben listens to everything I tell him, but listening and applying it to the race track is two different things. It’s going to be a learning experience for him. It’s kind of a challenge. In my career, there’s no way I could have gotten where I’ve gotten if people didn’t help me. I kind of like giving back. Seeing it’s a family operation is kind of what intrigued me to do it because my father is my best friend. He still to this day works on my race cars back home, and that means the world to me.”

    After winning the National Sprint Tour title in 2006 (that series was dissolved after its first year), I asked Danny Lasoski if the situation with the new National Sprint League feels similar to that year, where he is again one of the favorites to win the title with a new sprint car series. “It’s hard to compare that, because in 2006, we traveled all over the country and this NSL series is basically going to be in the Midwest. We would love the same results. That’s what we’re shooting for. We’re shooting to be the NSL champion as well as the Knoxville points champion. Every race we run is like a practice race until that week in August when the Knoxville Nationals comes around. At the end of the day that’s the only race that really matters, for me” Lasoski remarked.

    Who will be listed as the car owner for the new car? “My wife Debbie is the car owner. If Ben doesn’t do a good job, she can fire him. No, I’m messing with him,” he said, looking toward Ben for his reaction. “The potential is there. We’re going to see what he’s made of. I plan to go testing with him to straighten out his learning curve as quick as I can. Whatever I can do to help him, that’s what I’m going to do. This is going to be entertaining for me. This is going to be something that’s going to bring him and his Dad closer together. Any maybe win a championship – who knows? At the end of the day, I’m just very glad that I could help out. I’m the luckiest guy in the world to be able to do this for a living. If Ben and his Dad go out and have fun, and have a little bit of success, my job’s complete.”

    Danny Lasoski wants Ben to have a no-pressure season this year racing in Florida, and wants him to set goals for himself during his first year on dirt. Ben has raced a kart on dirt before, but has never raced a car on dirt. Could Ben be a potential teammate on dirt sometime in the future? “That would be a dream come true,” Lasoski said, revealing that Ben has made some statements about being fast. “We’ll buckle up together and see how fast he goes.” Is this a difficult transition for Ben, after racing on pavement for so many years? “No. A race car driver is a race car driver; it’s just how much work that you want to put forth and how much drive you have.”

    Ben is planning for a first race at Bubba Raceway Park in March, with testing at that track up until that time. Two days of practice and testing is planned for next week, with a couple of hundred practice laps planned. “I haven’t been on dirt for 17 years. We’ll run Top Gun and BRP, maybe a couple of East Bay, depending how the season goes and how I’m running. My ultimate goal would be to go to the limited, to the 360s to a 410,” Ben Fritz told me. “I feel very blessed. I mean, it’s a World of Outlaws race car. Danny gave me the best equipment there is out there. Now it’s me catching up to the equipment. I can’t thank Danny enough, his Dad George and his family. They kind of took me under their wing. I’m 32 and I’ve been racing for 25 years and I’ve never had an opportunity like this. I’m very fortunate and blessed, and I can’t thank the Lasoski family enough.”

     

     

     

    Caleb Armstrong and Taylor Ferns – Might As Well Call Them Teammates

    By Richard Golardi

    Nineteen year old Taylor Ferns and twenty two year old Caleb Armstrong, pitted side-by-side at Bubba Raceway Park last weekend for the All Star Circuit of Champions races, agreed that they feel like teammates this year, even though their two winged dirt sprint cars have different owners. They share the same crew chief, Kevin Besecker from Ohio. “My Dad owns my stuff, his Dad owns his stuff, but we share the same crew chief, so all of our stuff runs out of the same shop,” Taylor Ferns told me. “Pretty much teammates,” Caleb interjected. “Yeah. I make it more complicated,” according to Taylor. They consider themselves to be on the same team this year, a year that will be spent on the dirt.

    Usually, the new teammates will head to the track together, except when Caleb is busy at the farm, and can’t get away from his farming duties. Taylor will have some races with a 360, whereas Caleb will be racing only with a 410 motor. Their 2015 plans include some local Ohio tracks and All Star series races, which are concentrated in the Midwest after this week in Florida. Caleb will be racing 410 dirt winged races only in 2015. He had raced in USAC last year, which included a Four Crown Nationals debacle that saw Caleb cross the finish line first in the USAC Silver Crown race, celebrate in the Eldora Speedway Victory Lane, then have the race win taken away later for changing a tire that was not flat. “It is what it is, and I guess rules are rules. The only thing that bothered me was that they waited so long to do something about it,” Caleb said. He is also looking for a USAC midget ride for this year.

    “We’ll do mostly the 410 stuff, but whenever there’s an off weekend we’ll race. We’ll bring the 360s out. I don’t plan on doing any USAC stuff at all,” Taylor revealed. She last raced in Florida two years ago, when the USAC National Midget Series raced at New Smyrna Speedway. In 2014, she got her first winged sprint car feature win (in June at Southern Ohio Speedway) and ran her first World of Outlaws sprint car race. This was her first time racing at Bubba Raceway Park. With her teammate planning another trip to Anderson Speedway for the Little 500 in May, I asked Taylor if she might be interested in a rookie effort this year for the 500. “I think so. I’ve always wanted to race at the Little 500. I had a non-wing pavement sprint car of my own a few years ago, and we raced at Spartan Speedway and won a bunch of races. When I wanted to get into the winged stuff, my Dad said you have to get rid of something. I was like - I want to go winged racing, so sell whatever we have to sell.”

    There is no 2015 schedule of races for the duo, as they are waiting to see the All Star race schedule, which is due this week. A normal year for Taylor Ferns would be 50 to 60 races, she said. “Mine will probably be a little less, because I work on a farm too,” Caleb remarked. “When it comes to the spring and the fall, I kind of have to sit it out. That’s the part that’s hard for me. We have a family farm. We farm about 8,000 acres. My Dad and Uncle own it. I work over there, and we farm corn and soybeans.” During the week, Taylor Ferns is a full-time freshman college student, with an 18-credit course load this semester. She crams her class schedule into the first three days of the week, to allow her to have Thursday and Friday for racing. She commits to studying each Monday to Wednesday, to allow her to be at the shop as much as she can on Thursday and Friday. After moving to Indiana last summer, she is studying at Ivy Tech Community College and wants to major in Business. Next fall, she plans to transfer to Indiana University – Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI).

    With an extreme schedule demanding most of her time during the week, plus travel and racing on the weekend, I glibly remarked to Taylor that she must have no social life of any kind whatsoever. “Ah – basically no. None at all,” she said, somewhat sorrowfully. And what about you Caleb? “Actually, single at the moment. Life’s a little bit too crazy for me right now to be tied down. I’ve got a lot of work to do, and I work on my own stuff too. You really don’t have any free time. You’ve got to be dedicated to this. I like to take it serious, because I like to win.” Caleb ran about 15 winged sprint car races last year, which was his first time in a winged car. Last year, his team concentrated on the USAC Silver Crown schedule, except for the last race at Syracuse in October. Caleb feels that the switch to winged racing only this year will be a learning experience for him, and that he’ll get better with more seat time. “I’m hoping for big things this year, but we’ll see.”

    Taylor feels like 2015 will be a transition year for her also, but she feels like she is getting the hang of racing a dirt sprint car. “I feel like last year was our learning year, and we got the bugs all worked out. This year, we’re definitely going to make it count and go for it as much as we can.” They were undecided about staying in Florida for another two All Star series races at Volusia Speedway Park this week or possibly going back north to get the 360 car for Taylor to race in the 360 Winternationals at East Bay next week. “Everything that we’re doing now is just kind of up in the air,” according to Taylor. The teammates do not intend to run the entire All Star series schedule, but will pick and choose the races that interest them in the Midwest. “No, we’re not points chasers,” she added.

    On the opening night of the All Star series weekend in Ocala, Caleb took the lead on the first lap of the Friday night feature race, and already had a substantial lead over the second place car until meeting the wall in the treacherous turn four. His chance of winning was done before lap two was over.Taylor Ferns had her best finish of the weekend on the first night, finishing in eighth place. She had two eleventh place feature race finishes on the next two nights. Caleb finished right behind his teammate on Saturday in twelfth place, and was in sixteenth place for the Sunday night finale.

    On the pavement over at Desoto Speedway, a two night stand saw the track schedule non-wing sprint cars on Saturday, followed by a daytime Sunday race with wings. The result was the same for both nights, with Dave Steele taking the feature race win driving the Taylor Andrews #88 car usually driven by Sport Allen, who was out of town for the weekend. On Saturday, Garrett Green was first across the finish line driving the Lee Cipray #7 car, but was DQ’ed in the tech shed. There was some chaos and fights in the pits on Saturday night. I could not find a statement from the track regarding the reason for the DQ. The team did state that their tire had the tech inspector’s paint mark but upon tech inspection, the inspector claimed it wasn't the same mark they had applied to the tire.

    The video of the Desoto Speedway Icebreaker 50-lap feature race from the car of Mickey Kempgens is here, on the Florida Open Wheel channel:

    http://youtu.be/21bHnmgII7s

     

     

     

    2015 Florida Speedweeks Preview



    By Richard Golardi

    Here are some of the stories that I think will be significant during Speedweeks in Florida this year. The schedule of sprint car racing this year now extends beyond the running of the Daytona 500 on February 22nd, a traditional end point for Speedweeks. There will be two national sprint car series that are running at Florida dirt tracks on the weekend following the Daytona 500. They are the USAC National Sprint Car Series and the Lucas Oil ASCS sprint cars. Short tracks and the Speedweeks promoters and sprint car series are positioned to take advantage of Florida’s population boom, and surge of dollars coming with the newcomers. Florida’s population is surging again, a sure sign of the state’s economic recovery, and a positive indicator that Speedweeks will be a major factor in American open wheel racing for a very long time.

    • Tony Stewart has acquired the All Star Circuit of Champions Sprint Car Series, which will race at Bubba Raceway Park on Thursday (for the first of 3 nights), marking Stewart’s first race as the owner of one of the oldest traveling sprint car series in the country. Will Stewart race his own sprint car in the series? "I think it's going to be a long, long time before you see me back in one," he said. "Obviously, the last few years of my life, I wouldn't mind forgetting," Stewart added.


    • Jeff Gordon will race in what will likely be his last Daytona 500, a race he has won three times. The four-time Sprint Cup champion, who is in third place on the all-time Cup win list, has made the decision to step away from full-time NASCAR racing after the 2015 season. He was a leader of the group of USAC open wheel racers that moved on to NASCAR fame, a group that included Tony Stewart, Kasey Kahne, Ryan Newman and Kyle Larson.
    • Chase Elliott, the 19 year old son of NASCAR Hall of Famer Bill Elliott, will take over driving the number 24 Hendrick Motorsports car after Gordon vacates the seat at the end of this year. Elliott will drive in five Cup races this year (the first on March 29th) in Hendrick’s number 25 car, and also will drive for one more season in the XFINITY Series. He was the champion in that series last year as a rookie, and will be entered in the XFINITY Series race at Daytona on Saturday, February 21st.
    • The first young sprint car racer from Florida to take his initial step into late models with a goal of making it to the upper level of NASCAR is Collin Cabre. With a full-time entry into the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East, Cabre will use his selection in the Class of 2015 NASCAR Drive for Diversity program to prove his driving skills in a late model. The first of his fourteen K&N Series races this year is at New Smyrna Speedway, FL on Sunday, February 15th.


    • Rico Abreu will be one of Cabre’s competitors at New Smyrna Speedway in the K&N Pro Series East race. Both drivers will be making their first series start that night. That race will be only one of eight late model races that Abreu has planned at New Smyrna during the month of February. After competing at multiple tracks across Florida in a sprint car during 2014 Speedweeks, Rico has no sprint car races in Florida this year. From the 13th to the 21st of February, his eight late model races at New Smyrna will include the one K&N Pro Series East race and seven super late model races.
    • One year ago, Steve Kinser told me that he dreaded the thought of leading a retired lifestyle, relaxing in a recliner at home. He will successfully avoid the dreaded “R” word for another year, with 40 races scheduled for the year with Tony Stewart Racing. He won’t be racing the full World of Outlaws schedule, but he will be at Bubba Raceway Park this week for the team owner’s foray into race series ownership. After five All Star series race this week and next at Bubba’s and Volusia Speedway Park, the World of Outlaws is up next. The Outlaws have their 2015 season debut at Volusia on Friday the 13th, the first of three nights at the super-fast half mile in Barberville.
    • Although Donny Schatz and Steve Kinser (Tony Stewart Racing’s dirt duo for 2015) will be racing in their car owner’s series this week and next, those All Star series races will not count toward the season points. After scrambling to complete the purchase of the All Stars and the Renegade Sprint Series before the first race on February 5th, some racers are not ready for that early season start. The solution was to run all Florida races under the All Stars banner, but with no points toward the championship. Tony Stewart has his cars entered in the races, and track owner Bubba Clem has proudly proclaimed, “Come out and see and say hi to Tony.”
    • STP won’t be back as the title sponsor for the World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series. They were unable to obtain a replacement title sponsor, and the new series logo merely has the series name on a plain maroon background. It is rumored that STP has also left as primary sponsor of the #15 car of Donny Schatz. The car will supposedly have a new sponsor and a new look this week when it arrives in Ocala.
    • Over at Kasey Kahne Racing, Brad Sweet’s two sponsors will mean that he can run the full World of Outlaws season, but Cody Darrah is not in a similar situation. He will be in Florida this week, but the team does not have the sponsor dollars for Darrah to run the full season. He has no set schedule as of today. Daryn Pittman also returns after following up his 2013 World of Outlaws championship with a second place points finish last year, behind 2014 champion Donny Schatz.
    • Bryan Clauson has confirmed that he is no longer with Tony Stewart Racing for 2015. He is transitioning to winged sprint car racing this year, and does have an IndyCar waiting for him to race in the 2015 Indianapolis 500 with the Jonathan Byrd family. The Elk Grove Ford Motorsports/Cole Wood Racing #17w team will put Clauson in their sprint car for the 2015 season. His race schedule will include the National Sprint League and Knoxville Raceway, as well as some World of Outlaws races. “Obviously, I’ve made a shift and want to focus more on the wing stuff this year,” Clauson said.
    • With this year’s Florida Sprint Car Speedweeks expanded to five weekends of dirt sprint car racing, the Eagle Jet Top Gun Sprint Series wisely took the last weekend of January to keep the Florida sprint car spotlight to themselves. The first two winners of Sprint Car Speedweeks are AJ Maddox (Friday) and Matt Kurtz (Saturday) in races at East Bay Raceway Park this past weekend.
    • Desoto Speedway is the location of two of the three pavement sprint car races during Speedweeks this year. The two races include a non-wing race this Saturday and a winged sprint car race on Sunday, which will be a 50-lap feature paying $3,000 to win. Non-wing sprint cars return to Citrus County Speedway for a second year on Saturday, February 14th for the first of ten races at the asphalt bullring in Inverness.
    • CANCELED: Two TBARA sprint car races in February at New Smyrna Speedway, after the 2015 TBARA season was effectively canceled by a vote of members in January. ADDED: Lucas Oil ASCS sprint cars will once again sanction the three nights of the East Bay 360 Winternationals, and add another two races at Bubba Raceway Park the following weekend. ADDED: East Bay gets its three nights of USAC National Sprint Cars during the last week of February, a deal which had been in the works since 2013. USAC sprint cars race six times in Florida this year, after the Florida race total was stuck at three races since 2010.
    • At Daytona International Speedway, the iconic track is in the midst of its most extensive renovation project since its construction in 1958. The Daytona Rising project, to be completed in January 2016, will completely renovate and change the look of the front stretch seating area, and eliminate the back stretch stands. The $400 million project will result in 101,000 permanent seats compared to the current 147,000 seats, a significant downsizing for NASCAR’s crown jewel race track. Sections of the back stretch stands are destined to end up at small tracks in the US, one of them in Plymouth, Indiana.
    • While Daytona Speedway is downsizing, Florida’s Sprint Car Speedweeks moves in the opposite direction in 2015. There will be five weekends of racing, with 24 sprint car races at five Florida race tracks over a 30 day period. Beyond Speedweeks, Florida is poised to retain its distinction as a prime location for both winged and non-wing pavement sprint cars, with 18 non-wing races scheduled and Davey Hamilton’s plans for a new winged pavement series.

    The Sprint Car Speedweeks Preview: Florida 2015 video from the Florida Open Wheel channel is here:

    http://youtu.be/lphifH1O-RI

     

     

    Hamilton Moves Forward With 2015 Plans for Florida King of the Wing Races

    By Richard Golardi

    Davey Hamilton spoke at the Sunday meeting with Florida’s sprint car racing community in Gibsonton, FL. "I'm doing it then. I'll tell you right now I'm doing it," he stated after hearing support from the racing community. During the meeting, no one openly urged him not to go forward with his plans. The new Southeast regional winged pavement sprint carseries would operate under the banner of the King of the Wing Series. "I am going to start working on it immediately," Hamilton stated. There were 16 Florida pavement sprint car owners present at the meeting, which came to a little over half of the number of entrants for The Frank Riddle Memorial in October (which had 31 entrants).

    Davey Hamilton speaks at Florida meeting

    Hamilton brought one of the restrictors that would restrict the 410 engines in King of the Wing competition to show the meeting attendees. He also revealed some additional details about the possible locations of the three Southeast races that would take place over the course of one weekend, and be a part of the national King of the Wing series. The three tracks were Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola, Mobile International Speedway in Alabama, and Montgomery Motor Speedway in Montgomery, Alabama. These three tracks would be used for one weekend of racesfrom Friday to Sunday in the order listed.These plans are not final yet, and contracts are still pending, as are the race dates. They would be aired on MAVTV, with a guarantee of two plays on the channel for each race.

    For the seven to ten races in the Southeast outside of the national series, Hamilton proposed that the name of this regional series should be “Southern Super Sprints”. It would operate under the banner of the King of the Wing Series, and be managed by them. Officials and tech inspectors would be provided by the series. These regional races would not be aired by MAVTV. As many as eleven tracks were contacted by Hamilton to stage races for this series. Hamilton did state his desire to stage a majority of the races during the fall season to early spring when Florida’s fan base is supplemented by snowbirds, and racing is shut down in most of the country. He hopes that strategy will attract drivers from the north to come to Florida to compete.

    At the meeting, Davey Hamilton explained that he had been a race driver since 1979, and that his family had owned a race track for 19 years. He stated that he had a lot of experience as a driver, car owner, and series owner. “There is a need for direction. So how do we both make money? You guys race for less money than any winged pavement sprint cars anywhere else in the country. That’s not right. We’ve got to get together to make it better. We’ve got to be a professional group, and I can bring that too,” he said. Hamilton estimated that a 22 car field racing for $2,000 to win and $500 to start would be an approximate total purse of $14,900. He contrasted that to a purse of $7,500 for a TBARA show at New Smyrna Speedway in February, and $70,000 for a K&N Pro Series East show at that same track on the same weekend.

    Hamilton said that after completing his research, he found the rules in Florida to have an unusual distinction. “I couldn’t find the motor rules that you guys have anywhere in the world. When you go to rebuild a motor, it doesn’t cost much if it’s a 410. To save you guys money, a 410 will cost less.” He went on to reiterate that he wants King of the Wing cars to be using only 410 engines after three years. The restrictors being used are only intended to be a temporary option to allow 360 and 410 engines to race together for the next few years.

    Winged sprint cars at Five Flags Speedway

    In the Northwest, the tracks that were named included Meridian Speedway and also Evergreen Speedway in Monroe, Washington, using both the 3/8 and 5/8 mile tracks. In the Midwest, the tracks that were mentioned included Winchester Speedway, Toledo Speedway, and a third track that would be announced on Tuesday. For the three Southeast racesat those racks listed previously, the points earned will count for both the national and regional series. Rules are detailed on the KingoftheWing.net website. In closing, Hamilton told the attendees, “I’ve got a lot of ideas.”

    In other news, it was announced today that 21 year old Floridian Collin Cabre, a dirt and pavement sprint car racer from Thonotosassa, was selected for the 2015 NASCAR Drive for Diversity Class. Collin will be racing for a full season in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East in his first year racing a late model with Rev Racing.His first K&N Pro Series East race will be on February 15th at New Smyrna Speedway.After first being selected for the 2012 NASCAR Drive for Diversity (D4D) Combine at Langley Speedway in Hampton, VA, Collin knew that he was presented with a golden opportunity. He was one of only seventeen that were chosen from over fifteen hundred applications in 2012. Today, he is a member of a more elite class, a six driver roster looking to transition into the sport’s national series spotlight. Rev Racing is the program’s competition arm for NASCAR Drive for Diversity, the leading development platform for female and multicultural drivers and pit crew members.Collin had two sprint car feature wins in 2011, one in Florida and one in Indiana.

     

     

     

    Decision Point Looms for Florida Pavement – Davey Hamilton Interview

    I spoke to Davey Hamilton shortly after he had left the Southern California video production facilities of MAVTV in Corona. The meeting concerned plans for the airing of the 2015 King of the Wing sprint car races on MAVTV. After conducting six races in 2014, the series will expand to twelve races in 2015, and Florida will be included for the first time. But Davey Hamilton’s plans for Florida go beyond one weekend of racing with three Florida races. He has planned a meeting for this coming weekend in Gibsonton, and has invited the entire Florida sprint car racing community to attend.
    The following interview will serve to provide a summary of the points that Hamilton plans to present at the meeting on Sunday.

    Q. Why bring the King of the Wing Series to Florida, and what are your intentions with bringing the series to Florida?

    A. I want to keep the King of the Wing as a national tour, and we hope to race in Florida. We have nine races confirmed, and we’d like to make it a twelve race series, which would be four weekends, twelve races. We want to be in the Midwest, we want to be in the Southeast, we want to be in California and the Northwest. We’ve got everything but the Southeast taken care of. To kind of clarify – the King of the Wing, that is the national races. Now Florida, that would be under the King of the Wing banner. I haven’t completely come up with a name, because I’m not going to move forward until after the meeting on Sunday to make sure that everybody’s on board with my plan. Without the racers and without cooperation, I’m nobody. I need support. I’m doing the regional series in California. I’m doing the regional series in the Midwest. The Northwest has called about me coming up there and taking over their regional part. I’m trying to get every sprint car that runs on pavement with a wing on the same rules package.
    I spent over a year reading everybody’s rule book, and dissecting it and seeing where the differences are. The difficult part was the engines. Some were 360s, some were cast iron, there were 410s, I mean it was just all over the place. I had to put them on dynos, and then the chassis dynos, just to make sure that at the end of the day we had the same numbers. Now that that’s worked, and we’ve been able to prove that it’s worked, it’s allowed us to do the regional type programs where no matter what kind of engine you have, you could participate. You could get the car count up, and make it much less expensive at the end of the day.
    To make the series stronger as a whole, I’m willing to come down to Florida and work directly with the promoters. A lot of the tracks told me that they are behind the concept. Without the racers, we don’t have anything. It’s like I’m going to explain to the racers – without you, I’m nothing. I’m going to make the best decisions possible for you guys, because it’s my money on the line. I don’t want to lose it. This is a very important meeting on Sunday. As a club, when they had their club meeting, I wasn’t invited to the meeting because I’m not a member and I didn’t race with their series.

    Winged sprint cars at Showtime Speedway in 2014

    Q. You are referring to the TBARA meeting that was held earlier this month?

    A. That’s correct. At the meeting, they basically decided no one wanted to run it anymore. Dave Steele said the checkbook was like a hot potato. Nobody wanted to hang onto that darn thing. So they made a decision that let’s have Davey come in and tell what he has to offer, and let’s just put TBARA on hiatus for a little while, just to see if this is a better program. Here’s who I’ve invited to the meeting on Sunday – I’ve invited owners, drivers, sponsors, promoters, media, fans, whoever.

    Q. So the meeting is open to everybody?

    A. That’s correct. It’s open to anybody and everybody. There’s no hidden agenda. There’s no tracks scheduled. I talked to all of them and told them my idea. Everybody’s invited to this meeting, to hear what I have and so that I can answer questions no matter what side they are coming from.

    Sprint cars in turn three at Showtime Speedway in 2014

    Q. Are we looking at two separate entities here? One is the national series, where you are adding one weekend of Florida races, to go along with the other three weekends in other parts of the country. Would there then be a second entity? Would this be a Florida only series for the rest of the year, not including the one weekend that is part of the national series?

    A. No, I talked to Tim, I talked to Mobile, and we talked to Watermelon Speedway up in Georgia. In that region, for sure. Not far out of the Tampa or Orlando area. Obviously New Smyrna. It may venture out of Florida, but not far. I talked to three outside of Florida (Montgomery & Mobile, AL and Cordele, GA) that could be part of the program.

    Q. Have you spoken to the owners, promoters and leaseholders of all the pavement race tracks in Florida?

    A. Yes. I think there were eleven tracks in total that I contacted. I think I’ve spoken to nine of them. I have messages to all of them. I had to do a lot of calls just to find the promoters.

    Johnny Gilbertson, left, and Davey Hamilton, right, at Showtime Speedway in 2013

    Q. For the Southeast series that is separate from the national series, is it going to include 360s, 410s, or what engines are you allowing to run in these races?

    A. All of the above. If you have a 360 twenty three degree head motor, which is what TBARA rules are, you just run those. If you have a 360 open-head motor, you are still able to run with them but you have to run with a two one-hundredth fuel injection restrictor. Then, if you want to run a 410, you are welcome to runa410 with us as well. But if you want to run a 410, you’ve got to run an inch and seven eighths restrictor. For the TBARA guys, I’ve given them a 50-pound weight break over the open-head 360s and the 410s, and they get to be an inch wider. If you ran TBARA in the past, your rules stay exactly the same. They don’t have to change one thing.
    If Aaron Pierce wants to come down with his 410, he’s going to be 50 pounds heavier, he’s going to have an inch and seven eighths restrictor, and his right rear is one inch off, I’ll go 43 and TBARA is 44. What’s going to happen is that the 360s are going to have an advantage. The TBARA guys will have an advantage and more than likely they’re going to beat the other combinations. I want a three year plan to where we all end up getting into the 410s. Just straight out.
    You call any engine builder, and if you are buying a new motor, it’s the same cost whether you are buying a 360 or a 410. There are plenty of 410s out there. My own personal motors are used 410s, that I bought for fifteen to twenty five thousand. They last me for a long time, and they’ve got good power. I used that as my research on what engine to go with, and where we need to be. For the first three or four years, you can’t just change that overnight to get the 410s. That’s the way the King of the Wing nationals is right now. We ran thirteen races with this rules package, and seven of them were won by 410s, and six were by 360s. So it’s pretty darn even.

    Q. For the three Florida races in the national series, would it be in one weekend, and what month of the year, and at what tracks?

    A. That’s the million dollar question. We’re working with six tracks down there. I’m waiting on an answer that I hope to have within a week. We’re looking at April to early May this year. The Florida dates are the only ones left to be finalized for the national schedule.

    Q. Will there be two separate champions for these races in Florida, one as a component of the national series, and then a second champion for the Southeast regional series?

    A. Yes. How I did it last year is I had the Midwest champion, which JoJo Helberg won, the West Coast champion, which JoJo Helberg won, and then an overall champion, which JoJo Helberg won. He did a great job. We’re going to have a regional Florida champion. Every region will have a regional King of the Wing champion.

    Q. Will there be a TV deal for the national series only? It seems like you already have a working relationship with MAVTV. Will they be the TV broadcast partner for this year, and could this TV deal be expanded to include the regional series races?

    A. At this time, no TV for any of the regions. Just working on the national only at this point. I was in a meeting with them all morning. That’s one of the reasons why I was out here. I was at MAVTV all morning. The three races that were televised from out west last year were a big success for everybody, including MAVTV. I’m working to get all national events on TV. Being behind the scenes putting things together is kind of a learning curve for me, but it’s definitely doable.

    Q. What about tires? Will you use Hoosier, or American Racer tires, or what can you tell me about tires at this point?

    A. Maybe I just open it up. You run kind of what you want to run. The deal is, but I’ve got to do some more research to make the best business decision that I can for everybody, but I’m still thinking about just leaving it like that. Run whatever tire that you want to run, Hoosiers or American Racer. The tire money goes into the purse; it doesn’t go into my pocket. The first thing that we’ve got to do is get the prize money up. The goal is to make it $2,000 to win and $500 to start.

    Q. Is that for the national series, or the regional series, or both?

    A. That’s for the regional series. The national series pays $3,000 to win and $750 to start. That’s the pay that we did last year.

    READER SUBMITTED QUESTIONS FOLLOW.

    Q. What can the car owners and drivers do to help now?

    A. One thing that I think is needed is positive energy. When I talk to some of the racers down there, it’s nothing but negative. They’re telling their neighbors that, and they’re telling their sponsors that. Why would a neighbor want to come out and watch you race after you threw down on the race track or the other racers or the series? We’ve got to grow this together. You need to go out and be positive – saying, “Hey man, you’ve got to come out to the races this weekend!” Winged sprint cars are badass. They’re the fastest short track cars in the world, and you’ve got fantastic race drivers. For the owners and the drivers, whether I do this program or not, just be positive.

    Q. How many races will there be during the year for the Southeast regional series?

    A. I think my first year, my goal would be seven to ten. The winged sprint cars are not a weekly show anymore. We’re a specialty show. We’re the main event. We’ve proved it. There was one promoter who wasn’t on board at all. But the majority of them are at least willing to talk and to sit down and move forward.

    Q. So you only got a negative response from one Florida promoter, that’s all?

    A. At this point, just one Florida promoter has been negative.

    Q. OK, I have one somewhat comical reader’s question, just to lighten things up a little bit and not be too serious. Will there be girls in Victory Lane?

    A. I hope there’s some girls in Victory Lane. There is more than one I’d like to see there, and one is Sierra Jackson (sprint car driver from Idaho, who finished second in the West Coast regional King of the Wing points). I’d love to see her in Victory Lane after winning a race. We do need to put the show back in it. We used to have trophy girls. If I can get the proper partners to do that, it is something that is interesting. But it’s family entertainment, so first of all it’s got to be presentable to families.
    If I do more races in the wintertime, obviously not this year, but in the future try to get some regional races down there in the winter, then Sierra and myself, and my son and others, they’d go down there in the wintertime.

    Q. So you would want the Southeast regional series to have their races concentrated from the months of November to early April?

    A. That’s very accurate. That’s exactly right. I’m jealous of Florida right now, but when it comes to June, July, and August, I don’t want to be anywhere near that place. Why not go when it’s beautiful weather and everyone wants to be out? During that season, you also have over a million people that are coming down there – the snowbirds. They are looking for things to do.

    Davey, that’s all of my questions, and thank you very much for your time.


     

     

     

     

    Bubba Raceway Park’s Ambitious 2015 Schedule is Complete

    By Richard Golardi

    The All Star Circuit of Champions, USAC National Sprint Car Series, Lucas Oil ASCS Sprint Cars, Eagle Jet Top Gun Sprint Series, Bubba Army Sprint Series, and the USCS Outlaw Sprint Series. That’s a listing of the six different sprint car series scheduled to race at Ocala’s Bubba Raceway Park in 2015. It is the most ambitious schedule of sprint car racing for any Florida track, and a sign of track owner Bubba Clem’s great love of sprint cars. The controversial radio show host, broadcasting from Tampa during the week, has an RV at the track for weekend stays. His 12 year old son Tyler has raced at the track in a sprint car since 2013, starting at 11 years old.

    Track prep at Bubba Raceway Park, January 2015

    While Bubba Clem is the most well-known personality connected to the track, the person behind the scenes managing the daily operations at the track is Scott McAllister, the General Manager. McAllister has been the GM at Bubba Raceway Park since May 2014, after serving as the Director of Marketing and Communications at Racecar Engineering for three and a half years. Two of the major changes being overseen at the track this year by McAllister are the switch to Friday night racing, and the return of the track’s own sprint car series, the Bubba Army Sprint Series. That series will race on four Friday nights during the year, with all four races preceding a Saturday night Top Gun Series sprint car race at Volusia Speedway Park in Barberville, 56 miles away. Another challenge that lies ahead for McAllister is an intense five weeks of racing during the 4th Annual Bubba Army Winternationals, with a total of fifteen race nights from January 28th through February 28th.

    “If you want to run two nights of sprint car racing, and you’re already going over to Volusia, then you can run here on Friday night, and elsewhere on Saturday night,” Scott McAllister told me, when discussing the new Friday night schedule of sprint car racing. “I am thinking 100% that it is the limited Top Gun type (not ASCS/USCS 360 engine rules).” And the series name? “I don’t know, but they are calling it, the spreadsheet he sent over to me said ‘BRP Sprints’, but everything else at this place is ‘Bubba Army’ this, or ‘Bubba Army’ that, so … But yeah, it’s going to be Top Gun rules, I’m sure. We’re calling this ‘back to grass-roots racing’. You know, going back to Friday nights, and that encouraged the owners to make the call to USCS and say that these guys were here before, and that’s what worked for us before, and let’s try and bring them back.”

    The two USCS Outlaw Sprint Series races scheduled in October mark the return of the southern 360 sprint series to Florida after an absence of several years. The series used to schedule several races a year in Florida, but had recently been racing only in the Deep South and Mid-South states. Their return comes along with the reappearance of the Lucas Oil ASCS sprint cars, which last raced in Florida in 2008.

    “We want to try the USCS series back out again here on Friday night and Saturday night, and see what happens and if we can revive that. It’s more of a try it out just one show for 2015 and then perhaps move forward with more dates in 2016. Bubba is such a strong sprint car advocate. He’s just hardcore on it. He wants to give it every opportunity to try to succeed and do what he can to keep that entire division and series going. He’s all about it, where I think a lot of the people have kind of abandoned it here in the Southeast. He’s just not going to let go. You know how he is, once he gets a hold of something he’s a bulldog. He’s not going to quit until he’s exhausted every resource,” according to McAllister.

    This month, 300 truckloads of clay have been dumped on the track, and are being blended into the racing surface in anticipation of the upcoming Bubba Army Winternationals. Recent news of Florida’s population growth and migration of money to Florida gives renewed justification to efforts like those at Bubba Raceway Park. “Best race track in Florida. This is the track I told you about. What’s the address – I’m new in town? I want to go there – I heard about that track!” That’s a sampling of the messages on social media about the track known as ‘Bubba's’.

    “We brought back the Top Gun Series with six dates. We’re doing the BRP Sprints. We’re doing the USCS show. Obviously, a lot of sprint car racing in the Winternationals. We’re all going to give it our utmost effort to promote this class and make sure that people are aware of it. There’s a lot or retirees here that have come down from up north. They’re used to seeing a lot of sprint car racing where they came from, whether it’s New York or Pennsylvania or wherever they retired from up north. I think that there is a market for that here in Ocala. Especially since we have so many retirees, or as I like to call them ‘mature adults’, since I’m nearing that age myself.” In addition, just down the road is The Villages, with 100,000 residents over the age of 55. Maybe The Villages Motor Racing Fan Club just found someone new to add to their list of potential monthly speakers.

    Scott McAllister remembers playing a round of golf at The Villages when it was mostly cow pastures with some mobile homes, whereas now “it’s an entire city unto itself,” as he described the current retiree metropolis. He described the GM job at Bubba Raceway Park as something that he always wanted to do, and right in his own hometown. It was his opportunity to help progress the sport of auto racing in his own city. “It’s a steep learning curve. Unless you’ve been in this specific industry, you’ve never done anything like it. Unless you’ve dealt with race car drivers, and food vendors, and clothes vendors, it’s such a specific industry that it is a learning curve for everybody.” An earlier message from McAllister included the words, “Let me get off this tractor …,” showing he was a hands-on type of manager willing to get his hands dirty. With hundreds of truckloads of clay to spread, he was in the middle of the activity with his crew.

    Scott McAllister

    “I’ve been to hundreds of race tracks, and seen literally thousands of races, but with all this experience I’ve had, none of it prepared me for what goes on here on a daily basis. On a race night, the best laid plans are many times thrown out the window.” McAllister admitted to feeling a little overwhelmed at first, when it seemed like something new broke every day, and new problems cropped up daily. “Now I’m able to cope with it a little better. At first, every day was a calamity for me. Now I just shake my head, and kind of go with the flow.” Who did he turn to for advice? He sought out General Managers and owners at other tracks. They all confirmed that they all go through the same things that he was experiencing. “No – it’s madness,” they said.

    The large blue tarps that appeared earlier this year, intended to cover the entire track surface in order to prevent rainouts, will not be reappearing. It was an idea that was tried, and did not offer a long term solution once dry-rot set in, and the tarps became unusable. McAllister thought that with some more design work, it was an idea that could be sold to every track in the country. There are also no plans to bring back the mobile big screen TV that appeared during the USAC sprint cars races several years ago. McAllister did not mention any plans for major construction projects at the track, as the main focus now is on bringing in the best possible racing entertainment for the coming year. Sprint car racing and dirt racing fans are in for an exciting year, as Scott McAllister and everyone at Bubba's have put together a race schedule that would be the envy of any dirt track in any state.

    The2014 Speedweeks compilation video of sprint car racing from Bubba Raceway Park, titled “Speedweeks & Sprint Cars at Bubba's” is here:

    http://youtu.be/Ak3vDrg3C7Y

     

     

     

     

    2015 Florida Speedweeks Schedules

    By Richard Golardi


    For those considering a trip to Florida for a mid-winter dose of sprint car racing, I have two schedules to recommend. One schedule I will list as the “Short Trip”, and the other as a more ambitious “Ultimate Speedweeks Vacation”.



    Short Speedweeks Trip

    Friday, Feb. 13 – WoO Sprint Cars, Volusia Speedway Park – Barberville, FL
    Saturday, Feb. 14 – ARCA Racing Series (Day) & The Sprint Unlimited - NASCAR Sprint Cup (Night), Daytona Int’l Speedway, or Non-wing Sprint Cars at Citrus County Speedway (Night) – Inverness, FL
    Sunday, Feb. 15 – NASCAR K&N Pro Series East, New Smyrna Speedway, or WoO Sprint Cars (Night), Volusia Speedway Park - Barberville, FL
    Monday, Feb. 16 – ACT (American Canadian Tour) Late Model Series, New Smyrna Speedway

    Ultimate Speedweeks Vacation

    Friday, Feb. 13 – WoO Sprint Cars, Volusia Speedway Park – Barberville, FL
    Saturday, Feb. 14 – ARCA Racing Series (Day) & The Sprint Unlimited - NASCAR Sprint Cup (Night), Daytona Int’l Speedway, or Non-wing Sprint Cars at Citrus County Speedway (Night) – Inverness, FL
    Sunday, Feb. 15 – NASCAR K&N Pro Series East, New Smyrna Speedway, or WoO Sprint Cars (Night), Volusia Speedway Park - Barberville, Fla.
    Monday, Feb. 16 – ACT Late Model Series, New Smyrna Speedway
    Tuesday, Feb. 17 – Off Day (Beach Day!), or New Smyrna Speedway (same as Monday)
    Wednesday, Feb. 18 – Modifieds and Super Late Models, New Smyrna Speedway
    Thursday, Feb. 19 – Twin 150 Qualifying Races, NASCAR Sprint Cup (Night), Daytona Int’l Speedway, or USAC National Sprint Car Series (Night), Bubba Raceway Park, Ocala
    Friday, Feb. 20 – ASCS 360 Sprint Car Winternationals (Night), East Bay Raceway Park, Gibsonton
    Saturday, Feb. 21 – NASCAR XFINITY Series (Day), Daytona Int’l Speedway, then USAC National Sprint Car Series (Night), Bubba Raceway Park, Ocala, or ASCS 360 Sprint Car Winternationals (Night), East Bay Raceway Park, Gibsonton
    Sunday, Feb 22 – Daytona 500 (Day), NASCAR Sprint Cup, Daytona Int’l Speedway

    NOTE: This longer vacation may be extended out even further, for those who want to include another round of the USAC National Sprint Car Series (Feb. 26-28 at East Bay Raceway Park), or another two nights of Lucas Oil ASCS sprint cars at Bubba Raceway Park (Fri. & Sat. Feb 27-28).

    Florida Sprint Car Race Date Calendar:

    https://www.google.com/calendar/embed?src=gc3bg4n941p1mlck9f24232mpc%40group.calendar.google.com&ctz=America%2FNew_York

     

     

     

    The End of the TBARA?

    By Richard Golardi

    Certain moments in time stand out as definitive moments in Florida racing history. The elimination of the supermodified division at Golden Gate Speedway in the late 60s, and their replacement by sprint cars is one such moment. This directly led to a class of sprint car drivers from Florida who went on to dominate in nationalsprint car events, winning nine Little 500 races from 1979 to 2009. Another moment in time is the late 1970s. This period included a track construction boom that saw the building of East Bay Raceway Park and Desoto Speedwayand also included the first forays by Floridians into national events like the Little 500.
    Today, Saturday January 10th at 12:07 PM was another such moment. That time marked the conclusion of a TBARA Officer Election Meeting held in Tampa. The meeting lasted a little over one hour, but apparently will herald major changes for all pavement sprint car racing in Florida. By a vote of fifteen to two, the members present at this meeting voted to cancel the 2015 TBARA racing season, putting all TBARA racing on hold for now. Earlier in the meeting, the members were asked to nominate prospective new club officers for the 2015 race season. Of the two names placed into nomination for a new officer position, neither member wished to accept the position. An initial report I received stated that all current TBARA club officers had resigned prior to the meeting. In a later email message to club members, club Vice President Josh Wichers stated that he did not resign as VP of the club, and that he would not resign.
     

    Davey Hamilton at Showtime Speedway, January 2013

    There is a surplus of funds in the TBARA coffer as of today, and a likely scenario that was presented at the meeting is that the funds will be dispersed to the remaining members (about 34 on the member list today) in one year from now, if the club will be disbanded at that time. Does this development mark the end of winged pavement sprint car racing in Florida? No. Far from it. In fact, it may mark the beginning of a new era, with sorrow due to the series of events that led to TBARA’s 2015 season cancellation and tenuous state.
    I have learned that a phone call was made immediately at the end of the meeting to an interested out of state party. That person was Davey Hamilton. Hamilton is the organizer of the King of the Wing pavement sprint car series, which held six races in 2014. In a recent interview, Hamilton was quoted as saying that he saw the demise of USAC pavement sprint car racing as an opportunity for him. “It left the door open. We put wings on them, and made them World of Outlaws cars on pavement,” Hamilton said. “We put some restrictors in the 410s, and it worked,” he added. Several cars that raced had 360s, along with the majority of cars with 410 motors.
     

    TBARA Sprint Cars at Citrus County Speedway in 2013

    In December, Hamilton said that his plan at that time was to have 12 races in 2015, spread out over four weekends, with three races each weekend. He was obviously looking toward Florida at that time, mentioning that the series goes where there is an inventory of cars and drivers, to include Florida and its TBARA racers. That may have changed after today’s developments.
    My source, present at the meeting, has informed me that some pre-planning has already occurred for a King of the Wing Southeast Series, to include five tracks, and as many as two or three races at each Florida track. The tracks mentioning included Three Palms Speedway (Punta Gorda), Desoto Speedway (Bradenton), Showtime Speedway (Pinellas Park), Citrus County Speedway (Inverness), and New Smyrna Speedway (New Smyrna Beach). New Smyrna Speedway already has two Speedweeks races scheduled in February, ready to be reassigned to a new sanctioning body.
    It appears that several Floridians have already been involved in the planning process with Davey Hamilton, and have announced an intention to meet in Florida with interested parties in about two weeks from now to discuss the new series. That would leave only three weeks until the race weekend at New Smyrna to complete the pre-race preparation. Part of that preparation involves the readying of Midwest race teams who were part of the Midwest and California races in 2014, and would be part of the Florida races in 2015. These races would now include both Midwest teams with 410 motors, along with the Florida teams, most of whom have 360 motors. There may be three or four 410 motors spread among a small number of Florida teams.
     

    These developments are an improvement for Florida sprint car racing in several ways. It will bring a new series that will bring more sponsors and money (reportedly a $2,000 to win, $500 to start purse), and more national level drivers. It will bring national cable TV exposure to Florida sprint car racing, which has been sorely lacking. MavTV recently broadcast all three California King of the Wing races in December. Another possible improvement, being debated in the Florida sprint car community now, is that it may be time to move beyond the “club structure that has failed to keep pace with increased costs by raising purses and has no TV deal”. TBARA may be on sound financial footing, but is it an outdated mode of organization? If the club is unable to elect new officers, and no members come forward to serve, then the club’s fate is sealed and the answer to this question is of no consequence.
    Mixed emotions come with the realization that TBARA’s fate has been sealed. A recent club t-shirt proclaimed “41 seasons of ground pounding action!” The series was started in 1973, had a break in action from 1975 until it’s rebirth in 1982, and has operated continuously since that year. Other than the East Bay Sprints at East Bay Raceway Park, it is the longest running sprint car series in the state.
    I have only been following the series since 2007, but many Sunshine State race fans have been following the TBARA drivers and their exploits on dirt and pavement race tracks for decades. The list of TBARA champions includes the names Dave Steele, Troy DeCaire, Sam Rodriguez, Wayne Reutimann, Robert Smith, and Taylor Andrews. TBARA champions have won seven Little 500 races, two Governor’s Cup late model races, two USAC Silver Crown series titles, and two Must See Racing Xtreme Sprint Series titles. They have raced and won open wheel races in midgets, sprint cars, and Silver Crown cars on dirt and pavement from coast to coast. Their exploits, and the remarkable racing history of the Tampa Bay Area Racing Association, will forever be a part of the extraordinary history of Florida sprint car racing.

     

     

    Jack Hewitt and The Villages

    By Richard Golardi

    Jack Hewitt is speaking in The Villages on Wednesday evening. You know, it’s that place in Central Florida near Wildwood, with over 100,000 residents over the age of 55. It’s sometimes called the fastest growing city in America, with 11 AM happy hours and over two thousand “Resident Lifestyle Groups”. Living there has been described as being on permanent vacation, a chance to have fun and enjoy life after a lifetime of working hard to be able to afford one of the $200,000 homes. The place is huge, spread out over 32 square miles and three counties. I got lost my first time there, and had to ask for directions at one of the security checkpoints at a subdivision entrance. The guard was very polite and quickly got me pointed in the right direction.

    One of the more popular resident groups is The Villages Motor Racing Fan Club. It’s a group of fervent auto racing fans that has embraced local racers, tracks, race teams, and even this reporter. I had the opportunity to speak to the group in October at their monthly meeting, held on the first Wednesday of each month in one of the community’s recreation centers. Two things surprised me – the size of the club and the number that came to the meeting to hear me speak (about two of Florida’s legendary sprint car drivers), and their acute knowledge of and desire to take in short track racing. They could often be found at Citrus County Speedway, sitting in a group with their yellow club shirts along the front stretch. They had chosen Citrus County as their home track, placing a club sticker on a wall above the track at one point.

    Citrus County Speedway promoter Gary Laplant spoke to the group in late 2013 as a means to connect with the group and promote the upcoming 2014 race season. Later in 2014, Florida sprint car legend Stan Butler regaled the group with stories from his racing career from Florida to the Little 500. Jack Hewitt, who lives in Florida during the cold weather months and is now a Floridian (as stated on a certain government-issued state ID), is coming off an eventful year highlighted by his return to the USAC Silver Crown Series at Eldora Speedway in September. The 63 year old National Sprint Car Hall of Fame inductee expressed a slight bit of trepidation about his January speaking duties when I interviewed him at Eldora in September.

    “I’m going to have to find out from you how it is, and if they butchered you are not,” Hewitt said after I informed that I’d be the monthly speaker at The Villages just a few months before his speaking engagement. “No, no,” I replied. “Stan Butler was there in July, and supposedly they loved him, and I’m October, and then they’ll have you, and I’m sure they will love you,” I said, mentioning all the sprint car racing related speakers. By the time my short interview had ended, my recorder captured the sound of several bystanders laughing uproariously, as Jack had managed to find the absurd and humorous side of any initially serious discussion about racing. Once Jack Hewitt started to tell a racing story, you had better prepare to laugh.

    I asked Jack Hewitt for his reaction to the recent expansion of USAC and ASCS involvement in Florida Speedweeks, with the series adding races at East Bay and Bubba Raceway Park. “With USAC, what’s happened in Ocala is that it’s one little killer non-wing race track, and it’s brought the racing back. We know East Bay, we ran there without the wings years ago. It’s better racing. I’m not bad-mouthing the wings, but it’s so expensive. If you want to watch a parade, you watch a Macy’s day parade on Thanksgiving. The 360s, they’ve brought it back to where they’re competitive, with ASCS with the wings. I’m not bad-mouthing World of Outlaws, but there’s just not a lot of passing. It’s called racing, it’s not follow the leader. I drove ‘em both (wing and non-wing). Money will win with a wing, where money don’t dominate non-wing racing. I mean, you still got to have good equipment, but a decent motor will win you a race.”

    I also asked about the expansion of Speedweeks to five weekends of sprint car racing, and if there was a danger of this being too much expansion that will over saturate the fan base. “I got to worrying about the week after Daytona, because a lot of the race fans have left. But, I think the fans may want to come down later to get some warmer weather. At first, I thought it might be a bad deal, but I really think it’s going to be better. Rather than come down for the World of Outlaws and the All Stars to watch, if they’re a 360 fan, they’ll just come down and do those two weekends (referring to the last two weekends in February). If they’re USAC, they’ll plan their vacation around the races that they want to see. There are a lot of cars coming. Before, they were coming down for three races, now they’re coming down for six. So now it’s worthwhile,” according to Jack.

    USAC had originally expressed their desire to have five or six races in Florida over the course of a six or seven day period. The final schedule showed a marked departure from this plan, with a four day stretch of no racing between race dates in the last week of the month. “Well, you got to have it. The tracks are taking a chance even on the weekend. Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday is not going to be a really good date down here. Sunday’s the problem. They have to have a rain date. He wanted Sunday for a rain date (referring to Bubba Raceway Park owner Bubba Clem), and you kind of got to give them what they’re needing to stick their neck out and do three,” Jack said.

    Hewitt gave special praise to Bubba Raceway Park in Ocala, which has been the only Florida track to host USAC sprint cars in the past few years. Track owner Bubba Clem is a dedicated lover of sprint car racing. “Ocala – that is one of the number one non-wing race tracks in the country,” Jack Hewitt proclaimed. “Now, I’m not just talking Florida. I’m saying in the country. I’ve never seen a bad non-wing race down here. It just amazes me how it just suits it so good. Right now, we’re talking to them to see maybe we can bring the two-seater and be involved with it that week. So, that would be something special.”

     

     

     

    TOP FIVE STORIES OF THE YEAR IN FLORIDA SPRINT CAR RACING

     

    Intense racing, close finishes and deciding the season champion at the year’s last race is enthralling racing entertainment, but it resulted in a only a slightly larger audience for Florida sprint car racing in 2014. Now that Florida is the third most populous state in the union after California and Texas, and has experienced dramatic population growth and influx of money, should a corresponding dramatic growth in the short-track racing fan base have occurred during 2014 and recent prior years?

     

    Here are my “Top 5” stories of the year in Florida sprint car racing, and the readers’choice for the 2014 Florida Sprint Car Race of the Year.

     Joey Aguilar and Crew in Winners Circle in March 2014

    1)    Rise of Non-wing Pavement Sprint Car Racing

    Citrus County Speedway in Inverness was the first to schedule a full season of non-wing sprint car races and was largely responsible for the reappearance of sprint cars on pavement sans wings. Promoter Gary Laplant thus became the most prominent sprint car innovator of the year, followed by Robert Yoho, promoter at Showtime Speedway. Yoho followed Laplant in scheduling non-wing sprint car races, and added his own innovative feature by promoting double feature sprint car nights, with both a winged and non-wing feature race. Citrus County Speedway held eight non-wing feature races, consistently drawing twenty plus cars through most of the season, and also larger spectator crowds than several other pavement tracks. Non-wing races at Citrus and Showtime were accompanied by several more races at Desoto Speedway. Desotoalso saw first-time sprint car winners later in the year (Garrett Green and Jason Kimball).

     

    2)    Turmoil on the Tarmac, Tires Too

    The beginning of Florida’s year of turmoil for pavement sprint car racing could be traced to early season domination by Joey Aguilar. This period of domination included skirmishes with other racers and TBARA series officials. After receiving a five race probation and small fine for unsportsmanlike conduct (an identical fine and probation was also conveyed to fellow TBARA racer Shane Butler), another incident at Orlando Speedworld in April resulted in Aguilar’s suspension from TBARA racing for the remainder of 2014. He had won the first three TBARA races of the year at Auburndale Speedway, Desoto Speedway and Orlando Speedworld, and appeared to be on his way to dominating the remainder of the season and cruising to the TBARA championship prior to being sidelined. He later won races at Showtime Speedway and in USCS competition in Southern states, capping off his year with a marquee event win at Atlanta Motor Speedway in August. His win total for the year was eight winged races. He’ll be back in 2015 with a new team, and the same car he used to win at Atlanta.

    A switch to American Racer tires by Citrus County Speedway and TBARA was made to reduce tire costs. Feature race winners at Citrus County Speedway on 6-7-2014 (Jimmy Alvis, Citrus County Speedway Sprints) and 7-26-2014 (Mickey Kempgens, TBARA) were then disqualified due to accusations of tire prepping and results of a post-race tire hardness test, respectively. At Desoto Speedway in August, another round of disqualifications removed two of the top three finishers from the race order. They were second place Mickey Kempgens because of the angle of the cylinder heads, and third place Collin Cabre because of the right rear wheel offset.

    With the tire hardness rule bringing a lot of frayed nerves and discontent, a change was made at Desoto Speedway and TBARA to have only a pre-race tire durometer test, in place of the post-race test. There were nodisqualifications for tires or other reasons after August, and the fans knew who won when they left at subsequent races.

     Heat race start at sunset at Desoto Speedway

    3)    Florida Speedweeks Continues Growing

    The February Speedweeks sprint car racing schedule now has five weekends of dirt sprint car racing in 2015, compared to just three weekends in 2014. One more weekend of USAC sprint car racing was added, as well as two weekends of Lucas Oil ASCS series racing. Pavement sprint car racing returns to Speedweeks with two weekends of racing in 2015, compared to one in 2014. The two main Florida series, Eagle Jet Top Gun Sprint Series and TBARA, both return in 2015 with Speedweeks races in January and February, respectively.

    The World of Outlaws sprint cars are back at Volusia Speedway Park, which was expected due to the track’s owners (World Racing Group) being the same as the organizer of the series. The 3 nights of USAC sprint car racing added for East Bay were expected ever since this news was revealed by USAC in 2013. The most recent revelations were the ASCS sanctioning added for the East Bay 360 Winternationals and two additional ASCS race nights at Bubba Raceway Park on the last weekend in February. Of these series, the World of Outlaws has been drawing the stoutest car counts and greatest fan popularity. USAC has had lower 2014 car counts, and was just hit with the loss of Tony Stewart Racing’s team cars. They hope to rebound with the recent doubling of their Florida Speedweeks race nights from three to six nights. Total ASCS and USAC races during Speedweeks go from three scheduled races in 2014 to eleven races in 2015.

     Shane Butler at 2014 Little 500

    4)    Florida’s Pavement Aces are Dominant Nationwide

    Florida is widely recognized as the home state of some of the best pavement sprint car drivers in the nation, who sit near the top of the national ranking of drivers and the national pavement sprint car win list.Three Floridians are in the Top Four of the PavementSprints.com 2014 Final Power Rankings by way of having outstanding years that included dominating wins. They are Troy DeCaire (6 wins), Shane Butler (6 wins & TBARA Champion), and Joey Aguilar (8 wins).The Frank Riddle Memorial, a TBARA race held at Desoto Speedway on October 18, 2014, ended with a dramatic last lap pass by Shane Butler, who clinched the TBARA driver’s title two weeks later at the same track, after a mid-race incident nearly put him in the wall.He won races on dirt and pavement and was the car owner for Citrus County Speedway sprint car champ Herb Neumann Jr. Troy DeCaire won in four different series across four different states, and reunites with car owner Lenny Puglio for 2015 races. The talented Tampan looked impressive in late season TBARA action, and must be considered one of the 2015 Little 500 favorites with his entry in the car nicknamed “Half Breed”.

     Danny Martin Jr. in Winners Circle in April 2014

    5)    Dirt Sprint Car Racing’s Course: Steady, Workmanlike Progress

    The future of dirt sprint car racing in Florida looks promising. The evidence for this statement is as follows. See #3 above. Additionally, the Florida dirt sprint car racing split is over, with all dirt racing under the Top Gun Series aegis (East Bay Sprints continue intact, racing only at East Bay). This year saw Top Gun bring Bubba Raceway Park back into the fold, with their races replacing the Bubba Army Sprint Series races held in 2013. Bubba’s and East Bay continue to stage some of the most exciting sprint car races each year, with stable management and heightened efforts to bring national dirt series to their tracks in February. The Eagle Jet Top Gun Sprint Series returns with Don Rehm’s steady hand at the controls, assuring another year of racing with professional management. Danny Martin Jr. returns in 2015, after earning the Top Gun Series driver championship and solidifying his prevailing champion status on dirt in 2014.

     

    The race that was selected in a reader poll as the 2014 Florida Sprint Car Race of the Year is The Frank Riddle Memorial, a TBARA race at Desoto Speedway. The drama-filled race and Shane Butler’s last lap pass were combined with pits that overflowed with cars. The Frank Riddle Memorial was later recognized as the race with the greatest number of entrants for a winged sprint car race in all of 2014 (Source – Pavementsprints.com). In the second year of the event’s rebirth, it also received recognition from the writers of that same website as one of the nation’s “Marquee Events”, and the only such event in Florida.

     

    2014 Florida Sprint Car Race of the Year (as selected by the readers of Florida Open Wheel, poll conducted from 12/19 to 12/29/2014):

     

    The Frank Riddle Memorial, Safety-Kleen TBARA Sprint Car Series, Desoto Speedway, Bradenton, FL, 10/18/2014

     

    Race video:  http://youtu.be/ZrvRrc4KNCk

     

    Sprint cars at Bubba Raceway Park in February

    Top Five Florida Open Wheel Most Viewed Videos of the Year (2014 Races):

     

    1)         “USAC National Sprint Cars at Bubba Raceway Park, Feature Race, 2/20/2014”, 2/20/2014, 11,751 views,  http://youtu.be/sk_9VHvQ_Y8

    2)         “Rico Abreu at Volusia Speedway Park”, 2/14/2014, 4,840 views,  http://youtu.be/4cZObE-diCo

    3)         “Jac Haudenschild at Bubba Raceway Park, Part Two”, 2/9/2014, 4,169 views,  http://youtu.be/LJNWC5pSMe4

    4)         “Jac Haudenschild at Bubba Raceway Park, Part One”, 2/9/2014, 3,454 views,  http://youtu.be/X6C9ZtlV2Q8

    5)         “CCS Wingless Sprint Cars at Citrus County Speedway, 2-1-2014”, 2/1/2014, 2,643views,  http://youtu.be/25UX9rMPLIE

     

     

     

    Jack’s Place – A Saturday in December in Florida

    By Richard Golardi

    The invitation to attend Jack Nowling’s 75th Birthday Party, clearly the Florida open wheel racing community’s social event of the year, came from both Jack and his daughter Dorothy after my initial interview with “Captain Jack” earlier this month. My interview, and also the Saturday night birthday party, would take place in The Cracker House on Jack’s residential property at the end of a dead-end road in Gibsonton, Florida. Nearby are Bull Frog Creek, known for its fishing, and East Bay Raceway Park, known as a favorite track of a generation of sprint car drivers from Florida. Many of the best drivers from the most recent generation have driven one of Jack’s sprint cars, and thereby have the privilege to be listed as one of “Names of the Quickload Racing Team”. The names are enshrined under a thick layer of varnish on a tabletop near the house’s entrance, along with photos from the tracks where Jack’s cars have raced. The listing of the names reads like a virtual Who’s Who of American open wheel racing.

    The Names of the Quickload Racing Team.

    The annual party serves a dual purpose, as both an event to celebrate Captain Jack’s birthday and his life in racing, and also as the year-end Florida social event for all of Jack’s friends to get together and talk about open wheel racing all night, or at least until the lights go out in The Cracker House at about midnight. It is also a time for congratulations and back slapping for those who have achieved milestones in their careers and in their lives, on and off the track. Many of the partiers fit into this category, as they are recently retired, nearing retirement, or winding down their racing careers. Captain Jack himself is now a retired car owner, having sold the last of his race cars.

    Jack Nowling’s aluminum boat trailer business, which once employed dozens under the Quickload Aluminum Boat Trailers banner, is now reduced to some occasional boat trailer work at his workshop, which is lined with long shelves of racing trophies. Jack had worked as a boat captain in the waters off Florida, and was also a track promoter at the Florida State Fairgrounds Speedway in Tampa (the “new Fairgrounds”) back in the 1980s. One of his best known race wins as an owner came at the 1996 Little 500 sprint car race at Anderson Speedway, Indiana. His driver was Dave Steele, who would later earn multiple USAC Silver Crown and TBARA sprint car titles, in addition to USAC wins in all three national series, and a second Little 500 win in 2009.

    Jack Nowling and his drivers - Left to right, Dave Steele, Joe Melnick, Jack Nowling, Jimmy Cope, Bobby Alexander, and Jack Hewitt.

    Nowling told me that Steele arrived at Anderson Speedway in 1996 on Little 500 race day with knees that were swollen and painful from a wreck earlier that day at the Indiana State Fairgrounds in Indianapolis. That track was the site of the Hulman Hundred Silver Crown race(which was later retroactively renamed as the Hoosier Hundred), where Steele had wrecked and banged up his knees. The Hulman Hundred was originally scheduled for the night prior to Anderson’s Little 500, but a rain delay moved it to the same day as the Little 500, which was a night race. Steele arrived at Anderson ready to race, but in pain. Jack Nowling had a solution to relieve the pain and swelling. He sent a guy out to get big bags of ice at a nearby store. They arrived at the track shortly thereafter, and now Steele would have some time to rest, with big bags of ice on top of both knees, prior to the early evening start time of the Little 500 pre-race ceremonies. Steele would start on the pole position as one of the race favorites, having had good top five finishes in the 500 three times previously. At the end of the night, Steele would be smiling through the pain on the podium along with Jack Nowling, finishing two laps ahead of his nearest rival for the first win in the Little 500 for both men.

    The Saturday night birthday party isn’t the only annual event at Jack’s Place that draws a crowd. There is another annual event that draws a fleet of RVs and race trailers to Captain Jack’s Gibsonton property. The racers will be gathered around the fire pit until late in the evening, telling stories during February Speedweeks. It’s a short hop to Jack’s Place from East Bay Raceway Park’s 1/3 mile dirt oval, and many of the racers will have made the trip to Florida to race in the East Bay 360 Sprint Car Winternationals in mid-February. Some will even be racing in the other dirt racing events in Ocala and Volusia during Speedweeks.

    During the time spent with Captain Jack, I learned that he was very loyal to those who worked hard and raced hard for him. Wrecking one of his cars could be a forgivable offense, with one condition. “I always told everybody I don’t care if you crash, as long as you’re going to the front. If you’re in the back and crash, you’re fired. It’s that simple,” Jack told me. He also told the story of the team that came together for the 1996 Little 500, with Harold Wirtjes offering Jack and Dave Steele a set of three brand new motors to use for one year, as long as he painted the car orange and gave it number 14, the same number used by AJ Foyt. The trio formed the team that took a ten year old car to the Little 500 winners circle, but Jack made it clear that Harold Wirtjes was not a co-owner that year. “Oh, hell no. He never could win the Little 500. He always thought a motor won the Little 500. We was good friends, and I kept telling him, Harold it takes four things. It takes a good car, it takes a good driver, a good crew, and a whole bunch of luck. I said that’s what wins it. That motor don’t win it. But you couldn’t convince him of that.”

    “When that Quickload trailer pulled in there, that’s the car to beat. Especially down here, but up north too.” Nowling did drive a sprint car in the Midwest prior to moving to Florida. “I could have been either probably AJ Foyt, or six foot under, one of the two. You never know.” He did later take his sprint car out for hot laps in Florida, and also a USAC champ car for hot laps up north. “My second or third wife, or whatever it was, she didn’t want me to race. She said you could have all the race cars that you want, as long as you don’t race. So I had a bunch of them,” he said, letting out a hearty laugh.

    If Jack Nowling grabs your arm while telling a story, it will be a good one.

    It wasn’t until after leaving Jack’s Place for the first time in early December that I realized that there was something special about Jack. There was something unique. I did not see it at first, but the unique aspect of Jack Nowling was finally clear after Jack’s 75th birthday party on December 13th. It was that everybody loved Jack. He was a little ornery, he had strong opinions, and there was a slight gruff edge and a cloud of cigarette smoke around him, but you couldn’t help but love him. Dave Steele and many others saw that Jack Nowling had a selfless heart, and would do anything to help others. The list of open wheel drivers who credit Jack with helping advance their careers is long, and includes many storied names.

    One of the best expressions of love was written by Jack’s daughter Dorothy, who told me about going boating with her father. While on the boat, he would reach out and put his arm around herand say, “Let’s just look out over the water for a little while.” As her expression of love for her father, Dorothy Nowling wrote, “Poppy, did you know about the safest place in the world? It's by your side. I want to thank you for everything you've done for me and my girls, every hug, every smile, every boat and golf cart ride, and your unconditional love. You are simply the best! ‘Long story short’ … we love you.”

    At the bottom of the list titled “The Names of the Quickload Racing Team,” a parting note from Jack Nowling is printed. It reads, “Thank you for the memories and the good times!! Captain Jack.”

     

     

     

     

     

    Year on Dirt: Winding Down the 2014 Season, and Looking to 2015’s Speedweeks

    By Richard Golardi

    The tracks are covered with snow. The front gates are padlocked, with a sign hanging forlornly on the gate. The sign states “Closed – See you here in 2015.” That may describe a large portion of the nation, but not Florida. Florida is the only state in the nation to have an open wheel racing points championship that is stillundecided. The Eagle Jet Top Gun Sprint Series will hold its decisive Florida dirt sprint car race on Saturday at Bubba Raceway Park. It will determine whether Danny Martin Jr. or Mark Ruel Jr. will be the 2014 Top Gun Series driver champion. The two are currently separated by 24 points, with Martin having the advantage in the points tally, and also on track with wins in the last two races.

    Upon completing the 2014 Florida dirt racing year on Saturday, the dirt racers will have only seven weeks to rest and prepare for 2015. The beginning of 2015’s year on dirt and the opening sprint car event of 2015 Florida Speedweeks is at East Bay Raceway Park on Friday, January 30th, the first of two days at the Gibsonton track. An extraordinary expansion of dirt racing for next year’s Speedweeks sees Florida dirt tracks hosting five weekends of dirt sprint car racing, up from three weekends in 2014. The most recent addition, for the Lucas Oil ASCS sprint cars, is at Bubba Raceway Park for Friday and Saturday, February 27th and 28th. Most national sprint car series now include a Florida race date on their schedules. USCS (which has held races in Florida previously) along with the recently organized National Sprint League are the exceptions.

    Here are the Speedweeks racing plans for several of the teams competing in the Top Gun Series, which recently added a FebruarySpeedweeks out-of-state two day event at Golden Isles Speedway in Waynesville, Georgia:

    Car # 24 – Danny Martin Jr.

    The car that won Saturday’s race at East Bay Raceway Park will be raced in the ASCS race events with a 360 motor (both East Bay Winternationals and Bubba Raceway Park). The team will have a new car to run in the Top Gun Series races next year, beginning with the East Bay and Georgia races in January and February.

    Car #5 – Hayden Campbell

    The team previously told me that they intend to run the full Top Gun Series schedule in 2015. They do not have the 360 motor to run the ASCS races in February.

    Car # 9 – Billy Boyd

    Boyd was back in the car after missing the last three months of racing. He still managed to garner the East Bay Sprints championship during this time, which saw the last series race of the year get rained out in November. The team does not have an ASCS 360 motor right now, but did not want to rule out the possibility of a deal to get one and race with ASCS in February.

    Car #82 – Matt Kurtz

    His team will run at the Bubba Raceway Park ASCS dates, but not at the ASCS East Bay Winternationals. They will run Top Gun and East Bay Sprints races also, including the East Bay Top Gun races on January 30th and 31st.

    Car #3A – AJ Maddox

    More than likely he will be running the ASCS 360 East Bay Winternationals and the ASCS races at Bubba’s the next week, as his team does have an ASCS 360 motor. The team will also enter the Top Gun races at East Bay in January.

    Car #55 – Kerry Gilbert

    He doesn’t have an ASCS 360 motor and doesn’t intend to race in the ASCS races. He will race in the Top Gun East Bay races during the last weekend in January.

    Car #22 – Shawn Murray

    Shawn is an active duty US Navy pilot, flying the P-3 Orion out of NAS Jacksonville, where he is currently stationed. The four engine turboprop aircraft is used by the US Navy for patrol, recon and anti-submarine warfare. Shawn may be deployed overseas on January 25, 2015 for 6 to 7 months, after which he wants to race in the last couple of USCS and Top Gun races at the end of the year. He is waiting for orders for his deployment, and will know soon. If he’s not deployed, then he’ll remain in Florida and has an ASCS motor that he’ll use for both the East Bay and Bubba Raceway Park ASCS races. These races will be in addition to racing in the Top Gun Series races at East Bay in January.

    Car #83 – Mark Ruel Jr.

    The team will have two complete cars, and another that can be cannibalized for parts. They also have an ASCS motor and will run in both the East Bay Winternationals and Bubba Raceway ASCS weekends in February. This will be in addition to running the Top Gun races at East Bay and in Georgia, but they will be using a different car than the one used for the ASCS races.

    Car #36 – Ken Laureno

    The team does have an ASCS 360 motor for him and does intend to enter the two ASCS races at Bubba Raceway Park during the last weekend in February. They will not enter the East Bay 360 Winternationals, which is also an ASCS Series race for 2015.

    Car #38 – Tony Agin

    Tony has an ASCS motor that he anticipates will be delivered to him in January. Once delivered, he believes he will likely use the motor to race in both the ASCS weekends in February. He does intend to race in both the Top Gun Series races that are planned for East Bay in January and in Georgia in February.

    Car #17C - Aileen Collins-Love

    She doesn’t have an ASCS motor, but Aileen (who is recently married) does intend to race in both the Top Gun weekends already announced for East Bay and at Golden Isles Speedway in mid-February.

    Car #12C – Collin Cabre

    The team does have an ASCS 360 motor, as Lou Cabre told me on Saturday. They will be racing in the ASCS races at both East Bay and at Bubba’s in February. The team does have a 410 motor, but does not intend to race in the USAC events in Florida in February. They will instead concentrate their efforts on the ASCS Series races, now expanded to two weekends of racing in Florida. Collin recently participated in the NASCAR Drive for Diversity Combine in Virginia in October, and is awaiting word on his further participation in the NASCAR program.

    A Florida sprint car racing tidbit that Hardy Maddox (grandfather of Top Gun racer AJ Maddox) told me last Saturday is that the Maddox family (with AJ’s father Brian) is the only family to have three generations of winners in sprint cars at East Bay Raceway Park. Thirty years ago, Hardy Maddox had a front row starting spot in the 1984 Little 500, along with another legendary Floridian named Frank Riddle, who started on the pole position and won the race. He retired with two top five finishes in six Little 500 starts and a best finish of third placein 1982.

    The video from the Florida Open Wheel channel is here (Top Gun Sprint Series at East Bay Raceway Park on Saturday, December 6, 2014):

    http://youtu.be/tb7WsNlTT9I

     

     

    Notes from Florida – Nearing the End of the Season

    By Richard Golardi

    A dirt sprint car driver from Australia named Will Carrollis in the states from March to December this year racing the red number 81 late model race car. His results in NASCAR Whelen All-American Pro Late Model Series racing at New Smyrna Speedway show that he took three wins and the 2014 Championship. Earlier this year, he was autographing and handing out a glossy magazine spread showing him in his sprint car on the dirt in Australia. He told me of the tracks that he raced down under. Carroll made a daring late race pass for the lead on the half mile track that night and was first to the checkered flag.

    Danny Martin Jr. and 'Joe Dirt' Linebarier

    Will Carroll is moving on, and moving up next year. No, he’s not returning to Australia. He’s going to be racing in the ARCA Racing Series with Team BCR Racing. Next year, it’s a limited ARCA schedule, followed by a run for Rookie of the Year and the full race schedule in 2016. His schedule of ARCA races for 2015 hasn’t been set yet. But he hasn’t left the world of open wheel racing behind. He told me that he was looking for any available seats in a dirt sprint car in Florida, and wanted to get in some Florida dirt racing in the future.

    The Sunday race at Bubba Raceway Park, a regular season Eagle Jet Top Gun Sprint Series affair, was won by Danny Martin Jr. in dominating fashion. The feature race top five finishers also included two rookies in their first full year of sprint car racing. Twelve year old Tyler Clem drove a steady race to a fifth place finish, and Hayden Campbell added a fourth place finish to the heat race win earlier in the day. Both drivers carry names with a degree of notoriety in Florida racing circles. Clem is the son of Bubba Clem, also known as radio personality Bubba the Love Sponge, and the track owner of Bubba Raceway Park. Eighteen year old Hayden Campbell told me that, “We went to sprint cars because it’s been really big in my family.” His great-uncle is Harry Campbell, a Florida sprint car racing legend who died earlier this year. Harry was a master car builder and mechanic.

    AJ Maddox feature race start

    Also present at Bubba Raceway Park was recent Desoto Speedway feature winner Garrett Green. The family run team was moving forward with plans to run more dirt races in the coming months. The number 01 car being raced was owned by Jim Brinkley Jr., and operating out of the Team Green Racing shop in Valrico. Green has run a limited dirt schedule this year, including some earlier races in another car that was destroyed in a wreck at Volusia (Green was not driving that night). Garrett will be in the number 01 car again on Saturday night at East Bay Raceway Park, as they take advantage of Florida’s extended racing season. The Top Gun Series will end its race season one week later at Bubba Raceway Park on December 13th.

    At one time, Showtime Speedway took the lead as the prime innovator for Florida open wheel racing. Some of the innovations included a Winter Series which included sprint car racing in 2012-2013, a Thursday Night Thunder race (subsequently rained out after a Tampa TV station ran a morning promo with a live exhibition sprint race), and Doubleheader Sprint Car Feature nights, with both a winged and non-wing feature on the same night. With Showtime recently canceling plans for another doubleheader sprint car night this coming Saturday, and with no sprint car racing on its 2015 race schedule, it seemed as if Florida’s age of open wheel innovation was over.

    Top Gun cars at Bubba Raceway Park

    Enter Bubba Clem and Bubba Raceway Park in Ocala. After ending the Bubba Army Sprint Car Series earlier this year, the track ran all sprint car races under the auspices of Top Gun in 2014. The big news hit the airwaves one day earlier than planned, courtesy of Bubba’s Monday morning radio commentary. Bubba Raceway Park management confirmed that they will be moving to Friday night racing in 2015 for their weekly series. This does not affect the February Speedweeks events already set. Some of those sprint car races are on Thursday and Saturday in addition to Friday, which includes the All Star Circuit of Champions weekend and the USAC National Sprint Car weekend.

    Pavement sprint car racing returns to Florida’s February Speedweeks in 2015, with races at Desoto Speedway and New Smyrna Speedway. This recent news came after the addition of another three USAC sprint car races for Florida during the last weekend of February. This deal had been under negotiation since 2013 for the USAC sprint cars to return to East Bay Raceway Park, where they last raced in 2010. The three East Bay race nights are Thursday 2/26 to Saturday 2/28/2015. Florida will always hold a special place in USAC racing history, as it was the location for the first ever USAC sprint car race in 1956. The 2015 Florida Speedweeks will now have five weekends of dirt sprint car racing, up from three weekends of dirt for 2014.

    One happening that won’t return for Speedweeks is the Battle at the Beach at Daytona International Speedway. The race was canceled by ISC after plans were finalized for front stretch spectator stand construction, which will continue through 2015 Speedweeks. The updated plans also revealed that the back stretch stands will be disassembled and removed, leaving no spectator stands for any future races on the back stretch. NASCAR is now building up the full week of racing at New Smyrna Speedway as the place to go for race fans in town for Speedweeks. The Tuesday night prior to the Daytona 500, dominated the last two years by the Battle at the Beach race events, will now feature the ACT (American Canadian Tour) late models at New Smyrna.

    The feature race video from the Florida Open Wheel channel is here (Top Gun Sprint Series at Bubba Raceway Park on 11-30-2014):

    http://youtu.be/wjnZ59NvJzQ

     

     

    Troy DeCaire Interview – “Next Year I’m Going to Back It Down”

    By Richard Golardi

    Troy DeCaire had a six win season in sprint cars in 2014. But he wanted more. “This very easily could have been a 10 or 12 win season for us. I predominantly drove for DJ Racing and they gave me all the opportunities to win as many races as they could,” he told me earlier this month. His 2015 plans do not include racing the full season with the Dick Fieler owned DJ Racing team. He will continue driving for Floridian Lenny Puglio’s LP Motorsports, as he did in the last few weeks of the 2014 racing season in Florida. The number 91 sprint car owned by Puglio took the win in the final TBARA race of the year this month, with DeCaire behind the wheel. Troy DeCaire will be back in the car again in February for the TBARA races scheduled at New Smyrna Speedway during February Speedweeks.

    The biggest change for Troy DeCaire that lies ahead in 2015 is his decision to step away from racing full-time. He will be a part-time racer and work full-time as crew chief for Kevin Thomas Jr. for his winged dirt sprint car team. His pursuit of his first Little 500 win will continue in May when he teams again with Lenny Puglio in the car nicknamed “Half Breed”. He last drove this car in the 2012 Little 500.

    Car owner George Rudolph and Troy DeCaire

    “Next year I’m just kind of going to back it down, because I don’t really have the ride options that would please me. I’m going to scale back. I’m going to crew chief a winged dirt car. We’re going to run some Outlaws and All Stars. He’s got 55 or 60 races on the schedule, so I’ll be pretty busy with that. It gives me a chance to step back and facilitate a guy like Lenny who only wants to run part time. So, I’ll run Speedweeks, the Little 500 and probably Winchester and we might run some of that Davey Hamilton stuff (referring to the new King of the Wing Series),” Troy told me.

    “Next year is going to be more drive when we can and more show up to win and have fun. Not really worry about running anything full time.” Troy remarked that he is able to “arrive and drive” the number 91 car, and not be involved in preparing and maintaining the car. That job is done by crew chief Todd Schmidt in the Tampa race shop. There may be a week during the middle of the year when Troy is off, and the car and crew are ready, so they will go racing. “I can arrive and drive and still compete for wins, which is an extreme luxury,” according to Troy.

    The number 22A DJ Racing car that Troy drove this year will now be driven by Bobby Santos, starting with the series of three California races this past weekend. “Dick expressed to me that he wants me to race every chance I get. But I committed to this winged dirt deal to crew chief because it’s going to pay me more. It’s for Kevin Thomas Jr. from Cullman, Alabama. He and I are roommates and I started working for him, and I build shocks, and he and I started hanging out. He said you know your way around a car pretty good, so help me. I started helping him and we had a little bit of success and he just asked for me to work for him full-time.”

    Troy DeCaire in Winners Circle

    Car owner Dick Fieler told Troy that he wants to run two cars at some tracks, like Salem and Berlin and Toledo. It will be an unusual year for Troy DeCaire, as it will be the first time in the past 12 years that he will not be racing full-time. He may run only 15 races next year, compared to about 40 races this year, and 55 to 60 races in past years.

    What about your fans that would like to see you race more frequently? Won’t they be disappointed to hear this news? “Maybe it will attract a big-time sponsor who wants to come out and get me on the track more. I’ve been struggling running on the road a lot. I’ve won a bunch of races and six championships. I’ve done what I set out to do, and as far as doing anything else, it’s going to require money. If it’s not going to come, I’ve got to worry about my livelihood and making a living, so that’s why I took the opportunity to go work,” Troy revealed.

    “I don’t really feel like there’s a whole lot left to prove on the winged pavement or on the pavement side in general. If I can maybe reinvent myself by going on the dirt winged deal, or sitting out a little bit may help entice somebody to go, ‘man, I really like watching that kid drive, let’s pick him up’. I’m looking to go next year and do the job that I have to do and come back and win as many races as I can. Fortunately, even though I’ll only be running 15 or so races with Lenny and Dick, I can still probably win eight or so.” Troy made it clear that his working relationship with Dick Fieler is still very strong, and that he always enjoyed having him as his car owner. Dick Fieler also is exploring racing in the USAC Silver Crown Series, where Bobby Santos has experience. Troy’s race schedule is not yet set for next year, and he does not know which winged pavement races he will be free to enter and race.

    Half Breed in the Tampa race shop

    When will he know his race schedule and work schedule for 2015? Most likely, that won’t be until after the schedules are out for the dirt sprint car series. “As far as nailing down a schedule, I don’t see that happening until after PRI, when all the dirt schedules come out and I can figure out what we’re racing. Probably January, Chili Bowl, I’ll probably know what I’m doing.”

    During a visit to Lenny Puglio’s race shop earlier this month, I saw Half Breed sitting in a back corner of the race shop. Nearby, another car and various engines and parts sat, quietly waiting for Speedweeks and the start of another racing season. All that was left was to assemble the various parts to get the cars race ready for next year’s races. One important part of the lineup was ready and eager for the next race. I am referring to the driver. His name is Troy DeCaire.

    Troy DeCaire race videos from Desoto Speedway, FL on 11-1-2014 (Troy DeCaire at Desoto Speedway, Parts 1 & 2) are here on the Florida Open Wheel channel:

    Part 1: http://youtu.be/KK8Z-_FtBZo

    Part 2: http://youtu.be/Z6gUgr18xu0

     

     

     

     

    Desoto Speedway Concludes the Year of Change for Pavement in Florida

    By Richard Golardi

    Desoto Speedway was the venue for the last pavement sprint car race of the year in Florida. The race on Saturday night was the first sprint car race for 17 year old Carlie Yent, and it also marked the racing return of Dave Steele. Steele had sat out most of the year, content to concentrate on his family and his business. In fact, he told me that those two concerns are the most important things in his life now. Carlie Yent, behind the wheel of the number 63 sprint car raced for the past year by Terry Taylor, was making the move from mini-sprints to a full size sprint car. She had one prior practice session in a sprint car, which took place when her family had rented Showtime Speedway. She was confident and looking forward to her first competitive laps in a sprint car when I spoke to her on Saturday afternoon.

    Dave Steele 3rd Place Finisher at Desoto

    The race would also mark the culmination of a transformative year for pavement sprint cars in Florida. Citrus County Speedway would be the first to announce monthly non-wing sprint car racing for 2014, joined later in the year by Desoto Speedway. Desoto has scheduled a series of eight sprint car races for 2015. The trend for Florida tracks to sanction and manage their own pavement sprint car racing was begun in 2012 by Showtime Speedway, who joined the non-wing racing fray this year. Showtime continued their pathway as an innovator for Florida racing, bringing back a Winter Series in 2012, and doubleheader sprint car nights in 2014. These nights debuted in the spring with both a winged and a non-wing sprint car feature during the same night.

    The feature race on Saturday was won by Jason Kimball in the black number 79 sprint car that he owns. In May, Kimball made his second career TBARA race start (and first ever start at New Smyrna Speedway) in the car. He had just acquired it in a trade with the Reutimann family. The car had previously raced in Florida as the white #00 Case Contracting car, with Wayne Reutimann, Jr. at the wheel. Kimball had traded a dirt late model car for this sprint car. Wayne Jr., known as Pookie, had raced in sprint cars and USAC Silver Crown cars previously.

    Jason Kimball in Winners Circle

    “The car was a little loose, but obviously it was good enough to come from fifth to win it,” Jason Kimball said after the race concluded. Kimball was quick to credit friends and family for the part they played in his first win with the car. “I couldn’t do it without the Butlers, and Jerry at Hurricane and Dad and everybody that helps.” Did he think that he would get his first win just six months after his first race in the car? “I’ve been around racing for over twenty years, so winning races ain’t really new to me. Without the Butlers showing me everything that they could, I wouldn’t be here,” Kimball remarked. It was his first sprint car win, with his most recent prior race win coming in a kart race. Regarding the last restart, with Sport Allen and Dave Steele directly behind him, Kimball saw when Allen got a nose under him in the turn, “but just kind of held it straight, and it was good enough.”

    Carlie Yent, the high school student and racer from Tampa, was eager for her first sprint car competitive laps. She had raced USAC quarter midgets starting in 2007, and continued in the series for three years. She had been racing mini-sprints in Florida since 2012, and her and her family decided the time was right to step up to sprint cars. She had a mini-sprint win in a Young Gun race (18 and under), but had not raced as frequently as she wanted because of some on-track incidents. “We took time off since we had been racing since 2007, and it got too overwhelming. But we started back this year. I got into two bad wrecks in the mini-sprint at Bubba Raceway. Twice there, during Winternationals and during the first race of the season. So, we haven’t been racing the mini-sprint since March. I went to the hospital twice, and I got two concussions from both wrecks,” Carlie told me. The wrecks and injuries did not dissuade the family team from making the move to sprint cars.

    First lap feature race crash from Dave Steele car

    “It scared my Dad and my Mom. But my Dad’s a big supporter, and the same with my Mom,” Carlie explained. She had just tested her mini-sprint at East Bay Raceway the prior night. Johnny Gilbertson was present at the test night at Showtime Speedway, and got in the sprint car for test laps, in addition to coaching Carlie that night. “The second time out, I was driving it as hard as I could and I spun it. My Dad thought it was great for me to spin it, because I was driving so hard. I learned on asphalt. Dirt was a little hard for me to get used to.” Her preferred racing surface was asphalt, but she’d still see some dirt racing ahead in her mini-sprint. The family was looking forward to non-wing sprint car racing in 2015. “I’m excited, but I’m a little nervous,” she said, when asked about her upcoming heat race. Her night would end with a collision with another car in the heat race which left her with a sore shin. The team looked over the damage after another car struck her left front corner, and they planned to make repairs and return for next year’s non-wing races.

    Dave Steele’s last race was in March at Showtime Speedway. Originally, he had not planned to be out of a race car for that long, as he had prepared a special car for his return to the Little 500 during Memorial Day weekend in May. After multiple tests with a troublesome engine that leaked oil, he changed his plans and withdrew from the Little 500, a legendary sprint car race he had won twice previously. “Came up a little short. We just ran into a couple of little motor problems at the last minute. It was time to load up and head north, and we were still battling motor problems, so we didn’t want to battle the problems up there,” Steele told me. He subsequently sold all his sprint cars, dirt and pavement, to Taylor Andrews. I asked about that choice to sell, in light of his new plans to return to racing in Florida next year with newly built cars.

    “Sometimes you just liquidate and start from scratch. We own a speed shop so we sell race car parts, whether they’re attached to a race car or not.” How has business at the race shop been this year? “It’s been pretty good. This is our slow season. They’re not really thinking about next year until next year.” What made him choose to race this night at Desoto? “The last race of the season, so may as well get another in here. Well, Larry (Brazil Jr.), the main driver here, he’s on vacation. So I’m just filling in.” And if he wasn’t on vacation? “Then I’d be walking around with a tape recorder interviewing people,” he joked, implying a new career was ahead. He then smiledslyly. What about next year and are you still semi-retired? “Yeah. I’ve never officially retired, or un-retired. We’ve got some cars we’re putting together. We’ll probably come out and race a little bit,” Dave Steele revealed. His plans do not include racing outside of Florida, but he was non-committal about making another attempt at the Little 500 in 2015. “Hopefully they’ll have some races around here. Yeah – Florida only. That’s pretty much all we’re geared up to do right now.”

    So business is doing well, and your family and your business are your priorities? “Ah – there you go,” he replied. Then Dave Steele turned his attention to his sprint car, and the night of racing yet to come. If racing was moved down a few notches, and now ranked lower on his scale of life’s important activities, Dave Steele seemed content with his priorities.

    The feature race video from the Florida Open Wheel channel is here (Desoto Speedway Non-wing Sprint Cars from Bradenton, FL on 11-15-2014):

    http://youtu.be/pvNrWkVtGOI

     

     

     

    Florida’s 2015 Speedweeks Expanded to Five Weekends of Dirt Racing

    By Richard Golardi

    It is a sign of sprint car racing’s assured future success in Florida. The 2015 February Speedweeks in Florida has now been expanded to five weekends of dirt sprint car racing. Four of those weekends involve nationals sprint car series, and the fifth weekend includes the Eagle Jet Top Gun Sprint Series. This series is currently a Florida-only dirt winged sprint car series. The Speedweeks wing / non-wing ratio is 3 wing / 2 non-wing weekends. With no pavement sprint car racing in this year’s Speedweeks, a two-night stand for the TBARA winged sprint cars has been confirmed for 2015 at New Smyrna Speedway. The dates are unknown, but are rumored to be a Sunday and Monday.

    Yesterday’s announcement that the USAC National Sprint Car Series was adding another 3-day stand to its February schedule (2/26 to 28) at East Bay Raceway Park was not a surprise. The announcement has been anticipated since December 2013, when USAC’s Jason McCord informed me that USAC had attempted to strike a deal with East Bay for February 2014 race dates. The surprise was that the three East Bay dates were set for the weekend following the weekend that USAC raced at Bubba Raceway Park in Ocala. That left four off days with no racing between race dates. That was not the preferred schedule, according to Jason McCord.

    USAC sprint cars at East Bay Raceway Park in 2010

    “The goal would be to have 5 or 6 races in 6 or 7 nights. Maybe one night off in between to give guys a chance to work on their cars. But, you can’t take too many nights off because a lot of the guys that are traveling down there have full-time jobs. You can’t ask them to take off too much time,” Jason McCord said in 2013. This was not the race schedule desired by East Bay management, according to McCord. “I was in talks with Al Varnadore over at East Bay to try to get something going for this year (2014) to try to put a second part of the swing together for the sprint cars, and hopefully get 5 or 6 races in. He was open to doing it the following weekend, but to keep teams here for a week would have been too problematic,” McCord said. The final 2015 race dates seem to indicate that East Bay management got what they wanted.

    Will USAC sprint car drivers and crews fly back north during the four day layoff? The layoff may be shortened to three days for those teams that take advantage of the Wednesday night practice session at East Bay. The anchor event of Speedweeks, NASCAR Sprint Cup racing at Daytona International Speedway, will have already packed up and headed north. The Daytona 500 race date is Sunday, February 22nd. Many race fans making the trek south from northern states will have already gone home too. I had previously postulated that the most likely ideal dates for USAC sprint cars at East Bay were Sunday and Monday, 2/15 & 16, allowing for a rest day on Tuesday and a total of five races in seven days (Wednesday 2/18 is a Bubba Raceway Park practice day).

    Shane Hmiel at East Bay Raceway Park in 2010

    One missing piece of the puzzle for Florida’s sprint carschedule is a live or tape-delayed TV broadcast. MavTV announced a new 2014 year-end schedule of sprint car races, all from California and Arizona. East Bay Raceway Park’s race schedule is packed with sprint car racing in the last two weeks of the Winternationals, seemingly making it an ideal broadcast site. The track had a MavTV live broadcast event last February, for the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series. The race broadcast was aSaturday night feature race. None of the Speedweeks sprint car venues have announced an intention to have a live or taped TV broadcast, other than internet-based PPV broadcasts, which generally do not reach a wide audience.

    A Speedweeks sprint car event that was attempted in 2014 and which will not return in 2015 is a large-purse heavily promoted pavement sprint car race. Such an event was held at Showtime Speedway in February, offering a $5,000 first place prize. It was a major disappointment, as it drew only seven cars for the 75 lap feature race, and a dismally small crowd. No promoter has come forth to attempt a “360 Pavement Winternationals” in Florida, likely due to the failure of the event attempted at Showtime. Florida’s Speedweeks is now heavily dominated by dirt sprint car racing. The three weekends of dirt sprint car racing in 2014 have now grown to five weekends of dirt racing for Speedweeks in 2015.

    Bryan Clauson at East Bay Raceway Park in 2010

    Juxtaposed against this disappointing showing for pavement sprint cars in February is the widely-recognized success of monthly non-wing pavement sprint car racing in Florida. Citrus County Speedway in Inverness regularly attracted fields of twenty of more non-wing cars for most of the year, and Desoto Speedway will attempt to do the same in 2015. Despite a successful Winter Series at Showtime Speedway two years ago which included winged sprint cars, no track has attempted to duplicate the short schedule of races for November through January. The Winter Series race at Showtime Speedway in January 2013 attracted a crowd that was the largest I had seen at the Pinellas Park track. Showtime had scheduled a single sprint car date on December 6thwith both winged and non-wing sprint cars, but that race date was later canceled.

    The new Florida Sprint Car Race Date Calendar is here (public calendar listing all Florida sprint car race dates for all Florida tracks, dirt and asphalt):

    https://www.google.com/calendar/embed?src=gc3bg4n941p1mlck9f24232mpc@group.calendar.google.com&ctz=America/New_York

     

     

     

     

    Shane Butler Drives to the Championship at Desoto Speedway

    By Richard Golardi

    Shane Butler’s year included six sprint car feature wins, a TBARA championship, another championship as car owner for the Citrus County Speedway sprint car track champion (Herb Neumann Jr.), and most sprint car feature wins and second place in points at Citrus County Speedway. It also included a dramatic drive to regain positions lost in a mishap near the midpoint of Saturday’s season ending TBARA race at Desoto Speedway. Going into the season finale with a small point lead over second place Ben Fritz, Butler needed to finish within 8 positions of Fritz’s place in the feature. That night, the feature race win seemed to be safely in Troy DeCaire’s control. He had methodically moved through traffic and advanced to the front in a fashion reminiscent of the race two weeks prior. By the conclusion of the 40 lap feature race, he and car owner Lenny Puglio would celebrate their first win together since 2012.

    Shane Butler, 2014 Safety-Kleen TBARA Sprint Car Champion

    Ben Fritz did everything that could be expected to win the TBARA championship. After 21 laps, he made the pass to move into second place behind DeCaire. That would be as far as he would advance, as no one would deny DeCaire the win that night. Shane Butler seemed to have the points lead safely in his grasp, holding onto fourth place behind the #21 car of Matt Alfonso. If he just held this position, it would be enough to assure him the championship when the night was over. The race restart on lap 18 would be a crucial turning point for Butler’s strategy.

    “We were doing alright passing cars, and we got to fourth there behind Matt Alfonso,” Shane Butler told me on Saturday. “I think we were 17 or 18 laps in and it was like he was going to leave the bottom open. He was staying up pretty high. I went to go for the hole that was there at the time, and as I got there he decided he would close the hole up. I just couldn’t get stopped in time, and I ran over him. My right front went over his left rear. It was nothing intentional. In the position I was in, that’s the last thing I needed was to make contact. I just barely tapped the wall up there.”

    “I went to the back, and I started counting spots. I knew I needed 8 spots behind Ben to win the championship. I just knew I had to start passing cars. I was just taking my time, one by one, picking them off. It got toward the end, and I could see on the scoreboard that Brazil was running third. I finally found Brazil. I knew where I was running. It was about seventh or eighth at the time. Laps were going and I was still passing cars. We ended up with a fourth, which was enough. We were back to Brazil’s bumper at the end of the race. It ended up being a pretty good deal,” Butler said, describing his run to the Championship in the last TBARA race of the year.

    Troy DeCaire in car

    Shane Butler did have a brief moment of despair as his car was heading up the track toward the wall in Turn 1. He thought he had blown his shot at taking the championship. The safety crew looked at his right front, and told him that nothing was wrong with the car. He was pushed away from the wall, and rejoined the race at the back for the next restart, moving up ten positions over the remaining 22 laps. It was enough to earn the 2014 TBARA championship.

    I asked Shane to tell me what was next for him and his race team? “As of right now, I think we’re going to call it a year. We’ve done pretty good this year, and everything’s in one piece. I think we’ll call it a year, and we’re probably going to park the sprint cars next year and go back to running the modified again.” Shane admitted that the reason for his decision was because of the climate in Florida sprint car racing this year. “Too much drama this year. Between tires, rules, guys trying to get you thrown out for different … basically guys trying to win races in tech and not on the race track. The bad thing about the whole deal is with winning six races, I should be ecstatic. We’ve had a great year. But a lot of it, I have not had fun. When it’s not fun, it’s time to do something else.”

    “I want to concentrate on my son’s go kart this year. We ran three races with him this year. That is number one. Number two is the modified,” Shane Butler said, outlining his race priorities for next year. “Then the sprint car. Hopefully, this winter we can maybe put something together for the 500.” He had already made the decision not to run any full sprint car schedules, and that included TBARA and Citrus. “Points racing just gets so stressful. Sometimes it kills you more mentally than it does physically. It can be very stressful and no fun.”

    Troy DeCaire early in feature race

    Butler was not ruling out the possibility of running some sprint car races next year, and said he definitely wanted to race at the Little 500. He also was not entering a sprint car for Herb Neumann Jr. next year for non-wing racing. Desoto Speedway has announced their plans to have monthly non-wing sprint car racing in 2015. It is unknown if the non-wing series held at Citrus County Speedway will return in 2015. I was told that Neumann is making plans to return to racing his modified next year, as the seat in a Butler Motorsports sprint car was for one year only. The team’s goal was for Neumann to win the Rookie of the Year at Citrus County Speedway, and he went on to become the 2014 track sprint car champion.

    “If anything, I really want to run non-wing. If I do run, whether it be Desoto or wherever runs non-wing, I might show up. I enjoy the non-wing. I enjoy what it takes to win a non-wing race as far as the driver having to drive the car. You don’t need a whole lot of horsepower. It’s easy on engines,” according to Shane Butler. During the night at Desoto Speedway, I spoke to several other drivers that expressed an interest in running more non-wing races next year in Florida. Could Florida see the same group of drivers that fought it out for winged race wins this year competing on the same tracks with non-wing sprint cars next year?

    Looking ahead to 2015, the first announced pavement non-wing race is at Desoto Speedway on Saturday, March 21, 2015. The pavement sprint car year starts at New Smyrna Speedway in February with two nights of TBARA racing. It seems likely that Florida will again have more pavement sprint car races during the year than Indiana. There will be either one or two tracks having monthly non-wing sprint car racing, and the TBARA seems poised to have as many tracks as 2014, or possibly add some tracks. There could be one North Florida track added, in addition to the return of open wheel racing to Southwest Florida at Three Palms Speedway in Punta Gorda. That track is making some painfully slow progress with catch fence installation, keeping the Southwest Florida fans and racers hopeful for the New Year.

    The race videos from TBARA at Desoto Speedway on 11-1-2014 (Troy DeCaire at Desoto Speedway, Parts 1 & 2, and the feature race video) are here on the Florida Open Wheel channel:

    http://www.youtube.com/channel/UCSdPdgmUo6WfkfR6Eo__QBA

     

     

     

    Mark Ruel Jr. Takes His First 2014 Win at Bubba Raceway Park

    By Richard Golardi

    “This is the first one,” Mark Ruel Jr. replied, when asked about feature race wins during the 2014 season in Florida. It came during a cool, clear night at Bubba Raceway Park. The slick, dry track was praised as the best track conditions this year. The Eagle Jet Top Gun Sprint Series was moving into its last 2 months of competition, which would extend to within 2 weeks of Christmas Day. The 2014 season marked the series return to Bubba Raceway Park in Ocala, a track that had run its own Bubba Army Sprint Series the prior year. The series recently announced that it would be a part of the East Bay Raceway Park Winternationals in 2015, racing for 2 nights during the last weekend in January. That would give teams an abbreviated off-season of only 7 weeks to prepare for the new year of competition.

    Panoramic view of sprint cars at Bubba Raceway Park

    The return to Bubba Raceway Park also saw 12 year old Tyler Clem, son of track owner Bubba Clem, back behind the wheel of a winged sprint car. Clem had also raced at Volusia Speedway Park earlier this year. On Saturday, he had the misfortune to have a feature race spin in the fourth turn in front of a pack of approaching cars. Two of the cars struck his car, and the car of rookie Hayden Campbell was out with front suspension damage. Clem would continue and eventually finish in 4th place in the feature, behind the top three of Ruel, Danny Martin Jr., and Matt Kurtz. Danny Martin Jr. and Mark Ruel Jr. continue their close battle for the 2014 points championship, with Martin leading Ruel by a mere 16 points at the top of the standings with 5 races remaining. The season finale is at Bubba Raceway Park on Saturday, December 13th.

    “We finished second a lot, and third a lot. We just haven’t broken through for a win until tonight,” Mark Ruel Jr. said on Saturday. He told me that the team had been following the same strategies as last year before decided to try some new things on the car, which then brought the success that they desired. The slick, rubbered-down track on Saturday gave him the difficult task of finding a way to pass after easily advancing to second place early in the feature race. “Brett O’Donnell was out front and it was going to be hard to catch him. He went down into three and four and just kind of washed up the track with some lapped cars and I was able to sneak underneath him. I knew if I could keep it on the bottom in one and two, and three and four, it was going to be hard to pass us. We’ve got so much more experience here at this track. That’s the main thing. It’s knowing where everyone’s going to go. It’s knowing what the track’s going to do.”

    Sprint cars line up for Top Gun Series hot laps

    “We were leading the points and we went to Volusia and bent a valve. It really, really put us behind. Danny’s hard to beat every night. When he’s winning, and you’re finishing second, you’re still losing points. To be able to come out here and at least get 4 points on him, we’re carving away at it.” Mark was hoping to keep the points race close and end the season with a championship celebration for him and his team. What about 2015 plans? “Probably won’t be running the full Top Gun Series. Actually, we got a 360 and we’re going to be running the Winternationals to start with, in the limited and in the 360. Hopefully, we’ll be able to put in some USCS shows next year. That’s really what our goal is. We’ve been running limited stuff for about 8 years now. We finished second in points a lot. I think we’ve done it 4 times now. We’re really trying for a championship this year, but if we can’t pull it out, we’ll go into next year. We’ll run some more 360 shows, and get out of here a little bit,” Mark Ruel Jr. said.

    With the MRR Racing team being based in Jacksonville, the USCS races in Georgia are not that far away. In fact, the travel time to the Central Florida tracks is about the same as to the Georgia USCS tracks. “It’s only about 45 minutes to get to the Georgia border from my house. Savannah’s only like two and a half hours, so it’s like coming here for us. If we can run six, seven hours away (travel time to USCS race), we know it’s feasible for us as a team to go that far.” They need a Jacksonville Speedway again, I remarked. Several North Florida dirt tracks that previously saw dirt sprint car racing are now defunct, including Putnam County Speedway Park, JAX Raceway (New Jacksonville Speedway), and St. Augustine Speedway. “I don’t know if they’re ever going to let a race track back in Duval County. I’ve heard from a lot of people that Duval County’s just not allowing race tracks anymore. I heard they’re opening Putnam back up next year, from a pretty reliable source,” Mark said, relaying the good news about a possible North Florida track comeback.

    Tyler Clem at Bubba Raceway Park

    In other sprint car news from The Sunshine State, the inaugural Citrus County Non-wing Sprint Car track championship was won by Herb Neumann Jr. in his first year of sprint car competition. The race on Saturday night was won by his car owner, Shane Butler. It was Butler’s fourth win of the year at his home track, bringing his 2014 sprint car feature win total to six. Neumann had previously won multiple championships at Citrus County Speedway in other classes. The TBARA points champion will be determined on Saturday night at Desoto Speedway, which has become the season finale after the cancellation of the November race at Three Palms Speedway. The Punta Gorda track could not complete construction of fencing and stands by the race date, so it may be seen again on the TBARA schedule next year. The only Winter Series dates for Florida pavement sprint car racing are at Showtime Speedway in December, which has one night of both wing and non-wing racing set for December 6th. The track had previously set multiple dates for winter sprint car racing, but it is unknown if they will plan to do the same this coming winter.

    The feature race video from the Florida Open Wheel channel is here (Mark Ruel Jr. at Bubba Raceway Park on 10-25-2014):

    http://youtu.be/kNdtM2_IZxA

     

     

     

     

     

    Mark Ruel Jr. with announcer Joe Linebarier

     

     

     

    Improbable Win for Shane Butler at The Frank Riddle Memorial

    By Richard Golardi

    An improbable win occurred on Saturday night at the running of The Frank Riddle Memorial at Desoto Speedway. The Safety-Kleen TBARA Sprint Car Series race, held to honor and remember the 2-time Little 500 race winner and National Sprint Car Hall of Fame inductee, was returning to Desoto for the first time since 2008. Shane Butler’s feature race win seemed improbable, due to the bad luck he had prior to the feature race that day. After breaking a left rear birdcage in hot laps, a fuel pump loosened during Shane’s heat race. In addition, all of his feature race wins thus far this year had come in non-wing races at Desoto and Citrus County Speedway. The race itself had been hyped as “the biggest pavement sprint car race of the year in Florida”. After its completion, many were labeling it as “the best pavement sprint car race this year in Florida”.

    Feature race pass for lead by Shane Butler

    Troy DeCaire’s return to Florida sprint car racing for his first race since 2013 came in the Lenny Puglio black #91 entry, which had not been raced in Florida since March. Puglio had taken a step back after mechanical failures at Showtime Speedway in March, and now could match a fast car with a driver returning from Midwest racing. Puglio had told me that he does intend to enter the car with DeCaire driving for the remaining TBARA winged races, but not the non-wing races (there are 3 non-wing races remaining in Florida this year). DeCaire started near the back after a broken pushrod left the team scrambling to retrieve a replacement part from a nearby shop. By midrace, DeCaire had carved through the field to challenge polesitter Mickey Kempgens for the lead. After using lapped traffic to his advantage to dive under Kempgens and take the lead, a fluid covered track in turn three caused multiple cars to spin. After spinning, DeCaire was left sitting stationary next to the turn three wall and his chances to get back to the front were dashed. Another near spin later in the race, and he would settle for a fourth place finish.

    “Growing up watching the old man, it was always pretty cool to watch him. To win this race, his memorial, it’s pretty cool,” Shane Butler told me. Butler told me that his race strategy involved keeping in mind that he had 40 laps and that there was plenty of time to move toward the front. “I was still trying to pass cars, but not taking any unnecessary chances. I didn’t think we had a car to win there, especially with Troy out front. On the restart, Mickey kind of pulled away a little bit, but we reeled him back in. He left the bottom open getting into one on the last lap, and I took the hole.” Regarding the points chase with two races remaining, Butler had lost some advantage with the problem in the heat race, but made it up with the feature race win. Ben Fritz, second in points prior to Saturday, finished in sixth place in the feature race.

    Heat race start at sunset

    “I never made contact with anybody all night long. It was close racing. We both respected each other (referring to Mickey Kempgens), and gave each other plenty of race track,” Butler said, when asked about the late race duel with Kempgens. Butler would pull alongside Kempgens on the back straight on the last lap, and complete the pass in the last turn of that lap to top off the thrilling feature race. “We gave each other plenty of room. No harm, no foul. Everything was good.” Can he repeat in the two races that are left? “You never know. I’m not saying that we can’t. If things happen right, I mean we have a good enough car.” With DeCaire building a sizable mid-race lead, and a trail of troubles earlier in the day, a win looked improbable for Butler. Then things happened right, as they have done for most of the last half of this year for Shane Butler.

    Scotty Adema was stopped in the middle of the track in the third turn, which turned into calamity corner at Desoto on Saturday. “Went down into turn three, went to the outside, nothing but oil, got it a little bit sideways and then I hit one of Desoto’s lovely potholes,” Scotty told me. “It’s hard to get a car that sits two inches off the ground to go through a four inch deep hole. I spun. I tried to get the car in line with the race track, so that I wasn’t crossways, T-bone style. Unfortunately, Chris (Gimmler) was trying to pass somebody and couldn’t see me until the last minute. He got wrapped up in it.” The two cars collided nose-to-nose in the center of the track. The impact left Gimmler with a sore neck, and feeling thankful that the HANS device protected him from further injury. He hopes to have another car ready for the next race in November. Adema was uninjured, and felt safe in the knowledge that he has always kept safety as an utmost concern. He later expressed doubts that his car could be repaired, due to the chassis damage.

    Shane Butler in Winners Circle

    Mickey Kempgens entered the race as one of the favorites, with a team that had seen success from its first race together earlier this year. Assured of a pole position start in the feature with a decent heat race finish, he won his heat race and then led early in the feature race. With DeCaire’s misfortune near the middle of the race, it seemed as if he might be able to back off and wait for a final push in the last laps.

    “On a restart, it would go five or six laps like a rocket ship, and then just progressively get tighter and tighter. I kept moving the wing forward. Then Troy got by me, and I thought I’d just cruise for a little while,” Kempgens remarked. “And then on the restart, with 13 or 14 to go, I moved the wing forward even more and the car was good for 5 or 6 laps. I was pulling away from Shane, and then it just kept getting tighter and tighter. On the last lap, I rolled down into one and all of a sudden it decided to push up a quarter of a groove. It just took off up the hill. It gave Shane enough room, and he passed me clean. So, that was it. I ran second.” Next, the team will run the two November TBARA races, and come back to Bradenton for a third race in three weeks on the 15th, without wings this time.

    To celebrate his victory, Shane Butler climbed into the flag stand, where Bud Howell had stood previously during the last TBARA visit in March, and raised the checkered flag over his head. Howell had loved his craft and loved his time with the TBARA racers, and the one moment spent by a single racer to honor him seemed to sooth the frayed edges of a racing community, if only for one short moment in time. The TBARA drivers and teams are back to the track next week.

    Remaining 2014 TBARA Races:

    11/1 - Desoto Speedway, Bradenton (Wing)
    11/8 - Three Palms Speedway, Punta Gorda (Championship Night, Wing)

    The feature race video from the Florida Open Wheel channel is here (The Frank Riddle Memorial at Desoto Speedway, 10-18-2014): http://youtu.be/ZrvRrc4KNCk

     

     

     

    2014 TBARA Fall Season Preview

    By Richard Golardi

    Event – The Frank Riddle Memorial, a Safety-Kleen TBARA Sprint Car Series race at Desoto Speedway, Bradenton, FL, on Saturday, October 18, 2014. This race will honor Frank Riddle, a two-time Little 500 champion and Florida auto racing legend. It will be a 40 lap race and will pay $2000 to the feature race winner. It is the first of three fall season races which will conclude the 2014 season for the TBARA:

    Finish of Heat Race with Bud Howell, TBARA Flagman at New Smyrna Speedway

    10/18 - Desoto Speedway, Bradenton (Frank Riddle Memorial, TBARA, Wing) 11/1 - Desoto Speedway, Bradenton (TBARA, Wing) 11/8 - Three Palms Speedway, Punta Gorda (Championship Night, TBARA, Wing)

    Driver Name / Car # / Owner Name; for Saturday, 10/18 at Desoto Speedway:

    Mickey Kempgens debuts new graphics on car, and new firesuit in July

    Mickey Kempgens / #5 / Doug Kenny – Mickey has confirmed that the engine is being put in the car tonight, and that they are in the process of preparing the car for Saturday night. They will know in the next 24 to 48 hours if the car is ready and will be raced on Saturday. Right now, they are working toward that goal. Mickey told me that he is assured of the pole position in the feature race on Saturday, as long as he has a heat race finish of fourth place, or better.

    Dave Steele / Unknown / Unknown – Dave Steele will not be racing in the TBARA race on Saturday. This was confirmed by a call to Steele’s race shop today, Tuesday.

    Johnny Gilbertson / #22 / Johnny Gilbertson – Johnny confirmed that he will be entered in his own black #22 winged sprint car. Gilbertson was the 2011 and 2012 TBARA points champion, but has run a limited schedule of races this year.

    Sport Allen / #88 / Taylor Andrews – Taylor Andrews confirmed today that he will enter only one car for primary driver Sport Allen, and shot down the rumor that he would enter a second car for Dave Steele. Andrews had previously told me that he was not making any plans to race a second car for another driver, and confirmed today that those plans have not changed.

    Troy DeCaire / #91 / Lenny Puglio - Troy DeCaire had previously confirmed an entry this weekend in a scheduled TBARA race at Citrus County Speedway (now being run at Desoto Speedway) in the #91 Lenny Puglio owned car. I was unable to reach him today to reconfirm this commitment.

    Collin Cabre at Langley Speedway for NASCAR D4D Combine

    Collin Cabre / #41 / Terry DeCaire – Terry DeCaire confirmed earlier this week that he was entering a single car for Collin Cabre. Cabre was participating in the NASCAR Drive for Diversity Combine at Langley Speedway, Virginia for three days this week. He was then returning to Florida to race in the winged sprint car race at Desoto Speedway on Saturday.

    Garrett Green / #3 / Team Green Racing – Green, the most recent pavement sprint car winner in Florida, will be entered in his family’s black #3 car. This car was the winner, with Garrett behind the wheel, of the most recent Florida non-wing sprint car race earlier this month at Desoto Speedway. Garrett has shown steady progress this season, with one win and three top three finishes at Florida tracks.

    Shane Butler / #18 / Butler Motorsports – Shane goes into the final three races of the 2014 TBARA season with an eight point lead over second place Ben Fritz. Shane already has three wins in Citrus County Speedway sprint car racing this year, and another win at Desoto Speedway in a non-wing race in August.

    Ben Fritz / #16 / Tommy Rice – After a second place finish at New Smyrna Speedway in the last TBARA race in August, with points contender Shane Butler right behind him in third place, this year looks to be Fritz’s best chance yet at a TBARA championship. In the last TBARA race at Desoto in March, Fritz finished in third place, while Shane Butler was in second place. With so many finishes close to the front, it appears that the year-end championship fight will be contested by these two racers.

    The race scheduled for November 8th at Three Palms Speedway (previously known as Punta Gorda Speedway) will require a stepped-up construction timetable, to allow for the catch fencing to be completed, and spectator stands installed. The last TBARA race at the track, in October 2012, was under a different track leaseholder when the track still had catch fencing and stands. After a successful series of races with sprint cars prior to its closing, the fencing and stands were removed. With a small enclave of TQ midget teams located in the Southwest Florida area, and a ready base of open wheel race fans, the reopening of the track for oval racing has been a much-anticipated event. At this date, the current leaseholder still intends to reopen the oval track in a little over two weeks from now.

    Citrus County Speedway was the original setting for The Frank Riddle Memorial race, now rescheduled for the same date at Desoto. After originally announcing a cancellation of the remainder of their 2014 schedule, Gary Laplant has instituted a limited schedule for this year, with a planned return to a full race schedule next year. An October 25th non-wing race at the track will determine the 2014 track sprint car champion. Teammates Herb Neumann Jr. and Shane Butler are currently in first and fourth place in the points chase, with 19 points separating first place Neumann and second place Dave Retzlaff.

    TBARA is apparently heading back to New Smyrna Speedway for 2 nights in February 2015, marking their return to February Speedweeks in Florida. I spoke to New Smyrna Speedway Vice President Andrew Hart earlier this week, and asked about the possible dates for the two Speedweeks nights at the track for the TBARA. Could those two dates be the Sunday and Monday of the week prior to the Daytona 500 weekend, as in prior years (2/15-16)? Hart told me that the track had not yet set a date in February for the TBARA races.

    The big unanswered question from the recent 2015 East Bay Winternational schedule release was, where's USAC?Could there be a conflict with an early week visit to East Bay on the same days as the possible two day run at New Smyrna for the TBARA? I was previously told that USAC would add East Bay to their 2015 sprint car schedule for Speedweeks, and that may be still in the works. The 2015 USAC sprint car schedule will likely be released at the December PRI Trade Show. East Bay’s schedule still shows Sunday 2/15 to Tuesday 2/17 as open dates.

    The Frank Riddle Memorial race is returning this year to its original home, as the race was held at Desoto Speedway in 2007 and 2008. This race will also mark the first TBARA series race since Flagman Bud Howell died in a tragic accident at the track in September. Bud was known for his big smile and positive attitude about the sport he loved. TBARA President Buff Fritz recently wrote that, “Bud loved practicing his craft of flagging, and he was certainly a faithful supporter of our club. I hoped we would all grow old racing together, but things just went so wrong.”

    I had the pleasure to share the flag stand with Bud Howell in May at New Smyrna Speedway for one heat race, and also watch some races together with him at East Bay during the summer. I join his friends in stating that he will be greatly missed.

     

     

    Interview - Danny Martin Jr. at Volusia

    By Richard Golardi

    Reviewing his last race at Hendry County Motorsports Park, Danny Martin Jr., who is one of the favorites to win the Eagle Jet Top Gun Sprint Series championship, said that a little mishap in the heat race can lead to a big setback in points. “One mishap in the heat race – I got into somebody’s right rear and we got together and the car hit the wall, and it destroyed the car. I didn’t start the feature and lost a hundred points. I didn’t realize it was like that. I learned real quick that this deal can be taken from you. The heat races are important to qualify, but you’ve also got to be real cautious,” Danny Martin Jr. told me. The car could not be repaired to get back into the feature race at Hendry County that night, and that brought on the loss of a hundred points.

    After the most recent Top Gun Series race on Saturday at Volusia Speedway Park, Danny Martin Jr. retains the points lead with a 20 point advantage over second place Mark Ruel Jr. Martin had a second place finish in that race which was won by Brett O’Donnell. O’Donnell remarked after the race that he and Martin had, “a little bit of a mix-up last time, you know. I went and talked to him tonight. He’s a good guy. He knows what he’s doing. He’s a very good racer. About the race? I started on the outside pole, and was able to lead every lap. I’m alright with it!”

    “What if you lose a motor in the heat race?” Danny Martin Jr. knew the points lead was tenuous. He knew that things could change with about two months of racing left in the 2014 Top Gun season. The season finale is set for December 13 at Bubba Raceway Park. How has your year gone so far? How would you rate your year? “Good. We won every race (prior to last Saturday) except the Hendry County crash. Then at East Bay, I was leading and I entered the bottom, and there was two cars sitting there and I got into them, and I got on my side. I got sent to the rearand in ten laps I came back up and we still almost won it. So, we’ve been good. I’m pretty sure we won every race except for two of them. The car owner let me build a new motor this year. It’s running good. I designed my own piston and cam. It’s perfectly legal, and it works, and I’m happy with it,” Martin told me.

    Danny Martin Jr. admitted that he did not know if they had picked up power, as the team did not have a dyno. “Of course I’m going to say yeah, yeah, we picked up a whole bunch,” he said slyly and laughed. The motor that he built was in the car that night at Volusia. It was probably just a little lighter, he said. Durability was still an unknown factor. “I don’t know how long it’s going to last.” The season was started with “our old motor”, on which the team ran two races. The new motor has been under the hood since then, and has been consistently successful. “The car has been fast every night, motor wise,” he told me.

    Danny told me that he did one three-day stretch of races with USCS this year. It was not a run that included a trip to the Winners Circle, as frequently happens for Danny. He found the track at Lavonia to be wet and sloppy on the bottom. It was a follow-the-leader type of race, and nobody was passing. Then, the next two nights got rained out. There was another planned USCS race at Senoia, but the team was unable to make that trip. But, Danny was putting his mind on the remaining Top Gun races for the rest of the year. “The sixty points to show up, and the hundred to start – you better be there, and you better start the feature.”

    “I’ve got a lot going on right now,” Danny admitted. “Work’s been good and bad, up and down. My girlfriend and I, we just found out that we’re having a baby girl. So I’ve got a lot going on in my life. The car’s been fast, so I’ve been trying to be not so serious at the races, and use this as my fun, hobby time. Normally, at the races I’m so stressed and so worried and everything. I’m trying to have fun here and tonight we started last in the heat and won. So, I guess that’s a good sign.”


     

     

    Loss and Renewal – One Race Day in Florida

    By Richard Golardi

    On race morning last Saturday, one could wonder if there was any good news that would be forthcoming for Florida sprint car racing. The remainder of the 2014 season had just been canceled for Citrus County Speedway by its promoter, Gary Laplant. He had been one of the most adamant supporters of Florida pavement sprint car racing since taking over the reins at Citrus. Rain had taken its usual summer toll on racing, with multiple race cancellations. The return of oval track racing to Southwest Florida, at Punta Gorda’s Three Palms Speedway, was still in doubt due to the slow construction progress of catch fencing and spectator grandstands. As of today, the only photos released by the track show the installation of a flag stand, but only minimal progress on fence installation.

    It has also been a tough year due to those who have been lost. The Smith family losing three of its members has been particularly devastating. After interviewing 1974 and 1984 TBARA Champion Robert Smith last July, he survived for another four weeks after the interview was completed. I felt fortunate to take part in remembering him with a YouTube tribute video, and also with work on a book chapter that deals with his life, part of an upcoming book. Remembering the good times always seems to have an analgesic effect when dealing with pain.

    Hayden Campbell in the 5 car at Volusia Speedway Park

     

    Out of this sense of loss and longing for good news comes the story of two young sprint car racers, racing at two different tracks last Saturday evening. Their names are Garrett Green and Hayden Campbell. One raced on asphalt, while the other raced on dirt. I had been following Garrett’s progress behind the wheel of a sprint car since the summer of 2012 at Showtime Speedway. 2012 brought his first sprint car race, followed by his first sprint car heat race win in the summer of 2013. A sprint car feature win seemed sure to follow in due course. During this time, he earned the 2013 Little 500 Rookie of the Year honors and the USSA Rookie of the Year award in competition at Anderson Speedway. He impressed onlookers who watched him race at tracks around Florida and in the Midwest. A third place and a second place feature race finish in non-wing competition at Citrus County Speedway foretold that the first feature win was near.

    Desoto Speedway in Bradenton took on the duty of promoting and supporting non-wing sprint car racing after the demise of the 2014 season at Citrus. They scheduled three non-wing races for October and November, in addition to taking over the TBARA race originally set for Citrus County Speedway on 10/18, The Frank Riddle Memorial. The first of three non-TBARA races was held last Saturday. Garrett Green survived the turn one contact with race leader Shane Butler (which caused Butler to spin) to move out to a comfortable lead, while Sport Allen made a late race charge to the front. Garrett Green held off Allen, the veteran Florida sprint car campaigner, to charge to his first sprint car feature race win on the 3/8 mile asphalt at Desoto. “Well I got my first win last night, but it just doesn't feel real. I'm just glad all this hard work paid off. Thanks for everyone's help last night,” the sixteen year old racer remarked after soaking in his first sprint car Winners Circle celebration.

    Hayden Campbell

     

    After missing some Eagle Jet Top Gun Sprint Series races during the summer due to rainouts and other race conflicts, I had not seen the new driver racing in the #5 red and white sprint car. His name is Hayden Campbell. His great-uncle is Harry Campbell, a Florida sprint car racing legend who died earlier this year. Harry was a master car builder and mechanic who had a long list of Florida racing legends sit in his cars. Eighteen year old Hayden Campbell had been racing late models and modifieds on dirt in Florida before moving up to sprint cars this year. “All my career’s been on dirt. This is my first year in a sprint car. We went to sprint cars because it’s been really big in my family,” Hayden told me. “My great-uncle’s side of the family, Harry Campbell, he was really big on asphalt sprint cars. Dad raced sprint cars a little bit on asphalt, and we wanted to try something different. We got away from the late model and modified stuff, and decided to build a new sprint car.”

    The car looked new, as did the paint and sponsor stickers. The newness of the car matched the driver’s experience in dirt sprint car racing. The race suit had the name of another Campbell family member across the front. “Yes – The Harry Campbell. That’s Hayden’s great-uncle, his grandfather’s brother,” Hayden’s family explained to me. “We had a little bit of a rough start, but we have everything squared away now. We’re going to have a great rest of the year, and come back next year and try to go for the points championship,” Hayden told me. Does he hope to live up to that type of legendary status, and to rise to that same level of achievement like Harry Campbell? “Of course I would love to. I would love to keep up the Campbell name. With my Dad following in his footsteps and he’s done great. My grandfather, Steve, he’s actually still racing now. Hopefully we keep going with the sprint car and hopefully we’ll have good luck for the rest of the year.”

    Garrett Green after a Top Three finish at Citrus County Speedway.

     

    His team plans to run the rest of the Top Gun sprint car schedule this year, which continues until mid-December. They may also add some East Bay Sprints races during the Top Gun Series off weeks. For 2015, they plan to run the entire Top Gun Sprint Car schedule, which will begin in January 2015 as part of the East Bay Winternationals. It was announced earlier today that Top Gun will start their season next year with two races at East Bay on the last weekend in January. That leaves the series with only a seven week off-season before the 2015 season launches. The three days of the East Bay Winternational 360 sprint car races will now carry ASCS sanctioning again in 2015. “You’ll be seeing a lot more of us next year,” Hayden Campbell remarked.

    Video from the Eagle Jet Top Gun Sprint Car Series feature race at Volusia Speedway Park on 10-4-2014:

    http://youtu.be/LTXAydLDuGw

     

     

     

    Step Right Up to Florida’s Amazing and Constantly Changing Pavement Sprint Car Race Schedule

    By Richard Golardi

    Step right up! Step right up! Step right up to Florida’s Amazing Traveling Carnival and Side Show Extravaganza (with added Pavement Sprint Car Racing). You sir! Yes you sir! Come on in! It’s only a few dollars (more or less)! Come see the Wild Wings! Come be amazed by high speeds and high risk! What’s that sir? Yessir, all the daredevils of the speedway will be there! No sir, he won’t fix all the problems in Florida pavement sprint car racing (which are many), but I guarantee you will see pavement sprint car racing at some Florida tracks between now and the end of 2014!

    You sir and miss! I can tell you’re a couple of classy, intelligent types from the sprint car racing caps and t shirts that you are wearing! Come on in, try your hand at Race a Sprint Car and win your lady a prize (may cover cost of fuel, parts and tires, but probably not)! It’s what separates the men from the boys! Do it sir, and I promisenot to tell anyone that you took time off from following NASCAR Sprint Cup racing! Come on in! Just a small sum of money (not much more than a movie ticket)! I promise you won’t be disappointed in the following incredible, stupefying, confounding 2014 Florida pavement race schedule!

     

    The hectic day of schedule changes (too many to count occurred on Tuesday, September 30) is done, so it’s time for a list.
    Remaining 2014 Pavement Sprint Car Races in Florida (as of 9-30-2014):
    10/4 - Desoto Speedway, Bradenton (Non-wing)
    10/18 - Desoto Speedway, Bradenton (TBARA, Frank Riddle Memorial, Wings)
    11/15 - Desoto Speedway, Bradenton (Non-wing)
    12/6 - Showtime Speedway (Both Wing and Non-wing)
    TBD - Possible additional wing races added for TBARA

    Step right up lads and lassies! Fun for the whole Florida sprint car racing community! Step on up one and all! Come see the implosion of Citrus County Speedway’s remaining 2014 race schedule, which was cancelled today! Race track leaseholder and promoter extraordinaire Gary Laplant explains that he is forced to cancel the remainder of this year’s schedule due to personal reasons. Once the dust settles, come have your fortune told! Learn what the future holds for you, if you dare (future race winners and race results excluded)!


    Evening officer, nothing to see here, nothing to see. Come back later in the pits to see if all drivers, crew and assorted fans and friends are playing Go Fish in a kind and sharing manner while they share a Root Beer. You’ll be entertained and amazed! Trust me sir, you haven’t lived until you do! Just hold onto your glasses, GoPro cameras, and your BBQ sandwiches.

    Come see side by side racing with open cockpits and open wheels! All the way from exotic Thonotosassa and also Riverview and Bushnell! Desoto Speedway, Showtime Speedway (and other possible hosts) have brought them straight to you! Last chance mister, I hear they’re due to begin the winter off-season any day now! This could be it, your final chance to see them! Only a small sum between one dollar and a hundred dollars (including beer, popcorn and a program)!

    Step right up, step right up! This week only (on Saturday), a race that at one time was taking place at Citrus County Speedway, is now going to be thrilling race fans at Desoto Speedway! In the course of a few hours today, the weekend of racing at Citrus (for Friday and Saturday 10/17 and 10/18)was replaced by one day of racing with the fine young men from TBARA on Saturday, 10/18 at Desoto Speedway. The amazing feats of Showtime, The Wonder Speedway (Pinellas Park) will also be on display with a rescheduled sprint car racing extravaganza. The date will be Saturday, 12/6 with both wing and non-wing sprint car racing (until the next time it’s cancelled, which has happened once already) No nets here folk! You’d never believe an open wheelrace car could reach such speeds!

    Hello sir, hello ma’am! You look like you’ve seen it all. I can tell from that Jac Haudenschild cap that you’re wearing. Well I promise you, you haven’t seen anything like the possibility of more TBARA winged sprint car racing later this year! Who knows where the winged warriors will choose to do battle? Bronson Speedway? New Smyrna Speedway? We’ve got it all: Car with wings, racers returning from their race seasons up north, racers with the first name of Troy, racers with the name Aaron who said they’d be back to Florida in the fall season. Come marvel at the sight of men wearing a pink item of clothing to get $5 off their race ticket! Everyone says that they will get some weird looks in the 7-11 if they thought they had to wear pink from head to toe. Are you brave enough to see what Florida sprint car racing holds for you?

    Rides? Of course we’ve got rides! We’ve got Look Out for That Hot Exhaust Pipe and Try Walking Up the Stairs Holding 4 Beers and 5 Hot Dogs (I dare you)! Better than any Merry-Go-Round or Ferris Wheel! And you thought the Strawberry Festival was fun? You sir, are about to see real fun!

    Come for the funnel cake, stay for the Wild Man of Gibsonton! We’ve got Florida Swamp flavored soda pop and Gator Jerky! Boiled peanuts and Hamburgers from an old Golden Gate Speedway recipe! Come one come all! Limited time engagement (ends 12/6)! No refunds, exchanges,or complaints allowed (social network complaints excluded)! What you see is what you get! Only a headache or two away and a ride down fear-inspiring I-75!

    Step right up, you ladies and gentlemen! Step right up, you boys and girls! Some weekends only! Florida’s Amazing Traveling Carnival and Side Show Extravaganza (with added Pavement Sprint Car Racing). It’s been going on in Florida since the 1960s. Upon looking into my Crystal Ball, I can tell you that it will continue its wild and wonderful journey for some time yet (just don’t ask if it’ll rain on Saturday)! Step right inside and get ready to be entertained!

     

     

    Jack Hewitt - The Legend is Now a Floridian

     By Richard Golardi

     Jack Hewitt, in his native State of Ohio for the USAC Silver Crown Series race at Eldora Speedway, was making his comeback to the “Big Car” series. It would be his first Silver Crown race in the past 12 years. Jack would spend much of his weekend greeting fans and admirers, posing for photos, and soaking in the love and approbation. Eldora Speedway seemed to be the appropriate location for Jack’s return, as it was the site of his amazing 1998 domination of the 4 Crown Nationals. In one night, he won the USAC Sprint, USAC Midget, USAC Silver Crown, and UMP Modified features at the track. That same year, he made it to the pinnacle of American open wheel racing, the Indianapolis 500. He finished in 12th place. This was followed by induction into the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame in 2002. He currently is in first place on the USAC Silver Crown Series win list with 23 wins.

     

    Jack Hewitt also spent time granting interviews to the gathered press, and I was one of the fortunate few to get to interview the legendary race car driver. I had heard a rumor that Jack now lived in Florida (near Palatka) year round, making him officially a Floridian. Jack is easy to find during Speedweeks, as he can be seen sitting in his favorite spot on the front stretch at Bubba Raceway Park during the USAC Sprint Car Series races. While in Florida, he gets to enjoy his favorite fishing spots and avoid the cold and blizzards up north at his Ohio home. The rumor about Jack being a year-round Florida resident turned out to be false, as he does spend his summers in Ohio. He then retreats to Florida during the cold weather months. A certain state-issued ID card in his possession does have the words “Florida The Sunshine State” at the top, making him a Florida resident. The Florida sprint car racing community may now claim him as one of their own.

     

    “No, I’m a Buckeye, born and bred, but I don’t like cold weather. I don’t even want to see snow on a postcard.” So, you’re just a snowbird? “Yeah, I go down from November until April. I’m actually there a little over half a year, and that way I can get my license down there. I only have to renew it every six years.” So you have a Florida driver license, which makes you a Floridian. “I’m a Floridian, but Buckeye bred. Yeah – I’m not a Gator fan.” So we can say that you are a Floridian? “Yes, I’ll buy that. I’m a Buckeye who lives in Florida full-time. I’m one of them damn Yankees. Because I live down there, and get to bug them more now.” So we’ll see you down there in the winter, and back at Bubba Raceway Park for Speedweeks? “Oh, absolutely. I follow the sunshine.”

     

    Jack Hewitt did have a warm-up session at Waynesfield Raceway Park in the Silver Crown car, to prepare for his Silver Crown comeback race at Eldora. “We went and did eight or ten laps over at Waynesfield last week, just to try and get the gas pedal and things like that set. I was out there by myself. Tonight I’ll have the kids around me. This is something that I’m going to try tonight that I never did in racing. I’m going to try to be smart.” Did he have any other races in other cars since 2002 I asked? “Well, I got into a couple of cars (sprint cars), and made the shows, but that was about it. For an old man that’s broke up to get in a sprint car with these kids, it’s pretty rough. I figured that when we get in the ‘ole Silver Crown car, the ‘ole girl will treat the old fellow a little nicer.” You called them ‘kids’, so how old are you now? “I’m sixty-three. Just like the car I drove last night (a vintage sprint car with #63).”

     

    Are you going to return for more Silver Crown races after this weekend at Eldora? “It’s about like my wedding. I’m going on my honeymoon tomorrow. No, this is Eldora Speedway. I’m home, I’m sixty-three years old and I’m bent up a little bit. Anything that I can do when I get on the track is a bonus tonight. I’m already living the dream again. I don’t think I’ll need any Viagra tonight. I think we’re good to go. The racing will do that. Now we’re at Eldora Speedway. Duke probably said it the best when he said, ‘that’s when men were men, and women were glad of it.’ Well, Eldora has that same effect.”

     

    What are your expectations for tonight’s Silver Crown race I asked? “Like I said, I’ve already won the feature. Just being here and seeing my fans, I just don’t want to let anybody down. If I go out, and I don’t feel comfortable, I’m not going to do it. I’ve got nothing to prove. I’m here to have fun, and I’m having that. If I go out, and I’m alright, and I’m not in anybody’s way and I can run smooth and consistent, I’m going to race. If not, we’ll go find a new driver. But at least I’m giving her a shot.”

     

    Jack revealed to me that he was going to be a guest speaker at a meeting of The Villages Motor Racing Fan Club this winter while he was in Florida. I told Jack that he would be following me, as I was the scheduled guest speaker at the club’s meeting on October 1st. Stan Butler had spoken to the club during a meeting earlier this summer. “That’s pretty cool,” Jack replied. “I’m going to have to find out from you how it is, if they butchered you or not.” I assured Jack that it was a pretty cool group of guys, and that I’d already met several club members at the track. Since he was following Stan Butler and me, I remarked that I thought the club would be ready for more exciting open wheel racing stories. They should also be ready to laugh, as Jack’s friends and admirers did as they listened to his stories (some of which were not fit to print, but were still hilarious).

     

    “Thank you, buddy,” Jack said after I thanked him for his time. I felt like I had arrived at a new level of recognition in the world of American open wheel racing. I had shared a few laughs with Jack Hewitt, and he and I would share some more memories and good times again, somewhere down the road.

     

    The video of Jack Hewitt at Eldora Speedway, 9-20-2014, is here on the Florida Open Wheel channel:

     

    http://youtu.be/xK_preV52Ko

     

    Photo Album of "Jack Hewitt at the 4 Crown Nationals, 9-20-2014" is here:

     

    https://plus.google.com/u/0/photos/105092965792373343944/albums/6061930178775783345

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Remembering Bud Howell

    By Richard Golardi

    Interview with Bud Howell conducted at Auburndale Speedway, Auburndale, FL, on Saturday, March, 15, 2014

    “I am the Flagman for the TBARA, and my job is to make sure it’s safe on the track and put on a show for the fans and the drivers,” Bud Howell told me. I know that you flagged TBARA races before, and that you have 30+ years of experience flagging at short tracks, is that right? “Correct. I’ve flagged pretty much all over the United States. I started at Toledo Speedway, and it progressed on to other traveling series. I did flag at Eldora for a little bit for Earl (Baltes), before Tony took over. I moved down here in 2002, and now I’ve been flagging at all the short tracks here in Florida.”

    I asked Bud Howell if the move was because he had retired, or if something else brought him to Florida? “A change in career. I love the weather, and I’m happy to see short track starting to get better for the TBARA.” Were you still flagging up to last year? “No. I had two and a half years of enjoyment,” Bud Howell said, artfully avoiding the word retirement. “I missed it. I was going to a lot of different tracks, kind of nice because when you work for one track, you don’t get to see anything else. I got to enjoy going to other tracks, and when they called and asked me, I told them that I would be very happy and delighted to be their Flagman. I will be at every race that they have. I hope they get some more added in.”

    What were you doing for those two and a half years of retirement, when you weren’t flagging? “Yelling at other Flagmen from the stands (laughing).” Did you like doing that or would you rather have had flags in hand? “I would have rather been in the perch, is what we call it. It’s funny when I think of how many people pick on me when I’m up there. You see everything, because you’ve been up there. When you sit in the stands, you’re bored because you’re used to being in the action, making the calls, and waving the flags. It drove me crazy, and that’s why I’m happy to be back in it.”

    What were some of the most exciting things that happened over those 30+ years? Have you ever had a car come into the flag stand when you were up there? “I’ve had the top of a car come in, and knock me out. I’ve been knocked out three times. The best was that I got to flag all the NASCAR boys for qualifying at Michigan International Speedway. So, that was really a highlight, and also doing Eldora was a plus, flagging all the top dogs there.” So, nothing worse than being knocked out? “No, I’ve been on fire. Thank God, that’s pretty much been it. It’s a dangerous sport. Those wings put off so much draft that my flags got me a couple of times in the face tonight.” Bud even had a small wound on his nose, a testament to how he put everything he had into his flagging duties that night at Auburndale Speedway.

    Bud Howell lost his life at the track on Sunday, September 14, 2014, when he was struck by a vehicle in the infield while flagging a spectator participation race. Without the dedication of brave Flagmen like Bud Howell, the racing never starts.

    The following video is from the flag stand at New Smyrna Speedway for Safety-Kleen TBARA Sprint Car Series Heat Race #3 on Saturday, May 10, 2014 with Flagman Bud Howell:

    http://youtu.be/AzV9sX3NknE

     

     

     

    Billy Boyd Rolling Toward Repeating as East Bay Track Champion

    By Richard Golardi

    After winning on the dirt of East Bay Raceway Park for the sixth time this year in a winged sprint car, Billy Boyd was quick to credit his car owner and team for doing whatever it takes to go fast. “These guys spend a lot of money on this car, and they ask a lot of me,” Billy told me after his most recent win on Saturday night. “We like it to be perfect. There ain’t no in-between for us. This is my second full year for these guys (Jerry Amans and Amans Motorsports). I ran for them at the end of 2011, and ran a couple of races and we won a few. We won pretty much everything last year, the first full year with this car owner. This year here, we’ve racked up six already. He likes to win races, and I like driving fast race cars,” he remarked.

    After winning the East Bay Sprint Car track championship in 2013, Billy Boyd seems to be assured of winning the championship for the second time. There are two series races remaining in 2014, and the finale is set for November 8th. “My goal was to win one. Two is going to be fantastic. I’ll probably be with these guys for as long as they keep me around, and as long as we’re winning races, they’ll keep me around.” A blown radiator hose near the end of that night’s race did not prevent him from winning, despite having to deal with a cloud of steam blowing directly into his face. Boyd backed off for the remaining three laps, and was pressed by the second place car of Dylan Colding near the end of the twenty lap feature race. He later reported that the engine did not suffer any damage from the loss of water, and the escaping steam and water seemed to subside after about one lap.

    “I watched the temperature on it, and made sure the temperature was OK. When you lose water out of a motor like that, the temperature usually could spike up. I kept an eye on the oil pressure. Three to go, and I dropped into conservative mode and I wasn’t sure where Dylan Colding was, because he was pretty fast. I went to the bottom, and got off the gas a little bit,” Boyd said. His lead near the end was enough to allow him to back off, and still keep a seven car length advantage over second place Colding at the checkered flag. “I kind of maintained a safe speed. I backed off for the last three laps. It covered my shield, and I had to rip all the tear-offs away to be able to see. I had to take care of the motor, and make sure we still won it.”

    I asked if this year’s six feature wins was the most ever for him in sprint car competition. “Well, last year I think we won six or seven. We’re pretty much on even keel from last year,” he remarked. Could he be on his way to his best year yet racing sprint cars? “It looks to be that way. We’re happy. These guys work hard, and the results show. It was a good night, and I enjoyed it,” Boyd said with a confident smile.

    The video of Billy Boyd at East Bay Raceway Park on Saturday, September 13, 2014 from the Florida Open Wheel channel is here:

    http://youtu.be/_Be12Q1QTAI

     

     

     

    RJ Johnson is the Lone Floridian at Knoxville and the Rookie of the Year

    By Richard Golardi

    Upon Roland Johnson’s retirement from racing at the end of 2003, his son RJ Johnson’s sprint car racing success became his priority. By the next year, RJ was the USCS Series Rookie of the Year, followed by a 2007 East Bay Raceway Park sprint car championship. Florida has had a recent dearth of racers start their careers with dirt sprint car racing success in their home state, and then move on to success as a weekly dirt racer out of state. RJ Johnson has now broken that trend, with the recent news that was confirmed by Brian Stickel, General Manager/Promoter at Knoxville Raceway. He confirmed that the 2014 Knoxville Raceway 410 Sprint Car Rookie of the Year is RJ Johnson from Tampa. RJ had raced 360s at Knoxville Raceway for several years before moving up to 410s this year.The 27 year old racer finished 16th in 410 points, ahead of two other rookie competitors who finished 19th and 21st in the 2014 Knoxville season point standings.

    Roland Johnson, who holds 14th place on the All Time Florida Sprint Car Win List, now lives in Knoxville for most of the year and serves as RJ’s car owner. With the weekly racing completed at Knoxville Raceway for the year, the team plans on competing in some upcoming World of Outlaws races in the coming weeks. The team will return for another full season of racing on theKnoxville dirt in 2015, sprinkling in an expanded World of Outlaws itinerary in addition. In 2016, the extended outlook for the team sees it competing in 40 to 50 World of Outlaws Series races that year. They will still keep Knoxville as their base of operations in the coming years. The last time that he competed on the dirt in Florida was at the East Bay 360 Winternationals in 2012. Since then, he has been at East Bay during the Winternationals to help other teams.

    “I helped my Dad, and when he decided to quit, I just carried it on, and that’s where we’re at now,” RJ told me earlier this week. “I’ve been racing our stuff ever since. The last full season that I raced in the Southeast was 2007, and we won the East Bay track championship, which I think was 16 or 18 races. We were also second in the USCS Southern Region that same year. So we had a pretty good year actually, and then we decided to come up here the next year. In 2007, I had been to the Knoxville Nationals with T.J. Winegardner, who we lost this year. He kind of got me interested in doing the Knoxville thing. We talked about it all the way home back to Florida. So, he went to Pennsylvania and I came to Knoxville the next year. Me and my Dad kind of lived in our toter home and raced that summer, just kind of a trial deal to see how it went. We haven’t ever left after that,” RJ Johnson said.

    The team will get in some ASCS Series races early in the year before the Knoxville season starts, in addition to the Outlaws races that they plan for late year. December and January remain their off months, when team owner Roland Johnson is back in Florida. During their first full time Knoxville year in 2008, they started in 360s with one engine and two cars. “We really didn’t have our stuff together. We thought we knew what it took to run really well, and we were fast in the Southeast, but it was a whole different ball game up here. We basically got our butts handed to us until probably 2010 is when we got competitive. That’s when we could run in the top five in Knoxville. The 360 thing was just so tough. It took a while to get going. We just kind of came up here with what we had. We needed a lot of horsepower, and we were really behind in that area. Once we got our engine program picked up, we were pretty fast. When we first came up here the 360s were 40 or 50 cars every week (only 20 would start the A main at Knoxville). It was insane. I didn’t make my first A main until like 6 or 8 weeks into the season. It got better from there, as far as our performance. It got to where we won a couple of races, and 2012 we won another one and we moved up to the 410 thing this past year.”

    RJ told me that the car counttotals for the 360s have fallen off from prior years, and purses have not risen in recent years. The bigger purses in the 410s attracted them to make the switch this year, and plan for more 410 racing outside of Knoxville. The team has raced only 410s this year for the first time, and has raced a couple of Outlaws shows during the year. “We’re headed to Outlaws shows this weekend at Spencer, Iowa and Deer Creek Speedway in Minnesota. So, it’s just been all 410 stuff, and that’s pretty much it for right now,” he explained. Without a press release from the speedway about his Rookie of Year season, RJ has not gotten much notoriety from his achievement yet. “We don’t have our awards banquet until the week before Thanksgiving. We knew what it was, because we were racing for it all year. We monitored it all year, because that was our goal. We knew we had won it.”

    I mentioned that I had noticed names from Australia and New Zealand and all over the country on the drivers list at Knoxville. “It has been awesome. We’ve had guys who fly out from California to race here every week, and fly home. Jason Meyers did it for a little while. It’s pretty much a heaven for sprint car racing for April thought September. There’s no better weekly field in the world,” RJ remarked. RJ was the lone Floridian competing at Knoxville this year.

    He had some bad luck in the Knoxville Nationals last month, getting caught up in a wreck, and flipping the car. He was uninjured in the wreck. “I was rolling up through there pretty good, and a kid from Ohio spun out in front of Jason Sides, and Jason spun to avoid him. I had nowhere to go, and I ran over Jason and flipped and destroyed the car. So we decided not to even come back on Saturday, because it’s a points-based system. So, it wasn’t a very good Nationals at all. We had a better Nationals last year, that’s for sure,” RJ said.

    RJ does sometimes get confused for another young sprint car racer, also named RJ Johnson, who races non-wing dirt sprint cars. I had even mentioned a recent win at another track, thinking that it was RJ in the car. It wasn’t. It was the other RJ. “He wins a lot of stuff without a wing, so sometimes it gets confusing because I do winged stuff, and he does wingless stuff, and we have the same name.” He admitted that he was used to getting congratulated on race wins that were actually won by the ‘other RJ’. “It happens a lot actually. Actually, I know him. He’s a really nice kid, and he’s won a heck of a lot of races. It’s the same thing for him I’m sure. You won a winged race at Knoxville last week? No - that wasn’t me!”

    After the coming weekend, the team is skipping the Eldora World of Outlaws race the next week, but will be back for the National Open at Williams Grove Speedway during the first weekend in October. He admitted that he was unsure how much longer his family might wish to field a car for him, as it is an expensive operation. “We’ve kind of picked out some bucket list races that they as owners want to do over the next year or two, or beyond. The one we’ve picked this year is the Williams Grove National Open. So, it’s $50,000 to win, and I’ve got a really good friend, Lucas Wolfe, that races and lives around Williams Grove. So, we’re going to go out, and hang out with him. We’ll just have a good time, and get to run at one of the most famous race tracks in the world. I’ve never raced there. This will be a first for me. There’s got to be 60 cars there. It would be a big accomplishment just to make the A main my first time out there racing. I’m really looking forward to it.”

     

     

    Feature Race winner Larry J. Brazil Jr.

    Larry Brazil Jr. Takes Flag to Flag Win at New Smyrna

    By Richard Golardi

    Larry J. Brazil Jr. returned to the TBARA Winners Circle on Saturday night in dominating fashion, after an absence of a few years. He led all thirty laps at New Smyrna Speedway in the Labor Day weekend visit by the Safety-Kleen TBARA Sprint Car Series. “I think it was when I was driving for my parents, probably I’d say three years ago,” he said, when asked about his last TBARA win. “We came pretty close here with Crafty (car owner Mac Steele) two races ago. We led like 25 laps of it, and then kind of gave it up at the end. The motor went a little south on us.” Second place finisher Ben Fritz stated that he felt he could have given Brazil a run if he had a few more laps. Fritz made a pass to take second place after 27 laps. Current TBARA season points leader Shane Butler took third place.

    Even though he led every lap of the feature race, Brazil said that he did have a few tense moments involving slower traffic. “Those lapped cars, man they get the move over flag and then they decide to pass each other. It’s a tough track, and then the lapped cars kind of crowd you. There was a couple of incidents where it was pretty hairy. There were some close calls. I come to find out I had a pretty good lead, but you don’t know,” Brazil said. He added that he wasn’t considered one of the favorites coming into this race, and that other teams had better equipment than what he had available.

    Heat Race battle - 9 of Matt Alfonso and 16 of Ben Fritz

    Brazil thanked his parents and his wife for their support, and then mentioned car owner Mac Steele, who he said, “I don’t think he’s won a race in fifteen years, ten years. It’s been a long time since Mac Steele won a race. It was a good night overall. Kind of the underdog going in. There’s a lot better equipment out there and we were at the right place at the right time, and got lucky.” Mac Steele, father of Dave Steele, is a Tampa, FL car owner with thirteen entries in the Little 500 from 1985 to 2006. His cars got three top five finishes there, and he was inducted into the Little 500 Hall of Fame in 2013.

    Jason Kimball held onto second place through most of the feature race, in one of the best performances of his first year as an owner/driver. He faded only at the end of the 30 lap race, losing second place to Ben Fritz on the 27th lap, and then third place to Shane Butler on the next lap. He was credited with a fourth place finish. After starting in 12th place, Sport Allen had advanced to fifth place by the end of the feature race. He did have one incident, brushing the wall on the front straight on the 27th lap, sending up a cloud of dust at the point near the end of the front stretch. The race ended without the yellow flag being displayed, followed by an equally smooth post-race inspection. There were no penalties, and no DQs.

    Heat race start from car of Sport Allen

    A vote by the TBARA car owners turned down a proposal to eliminate the “punch rule” of durometer tire measurements, and left the current rule in place. This rule requires that rear tires are durometer tested prior to the heat race only. If a tire fails the test, the team may change the tire prior to the race. In addition, the rule bans the soaking, treating, or altering of the American Racer tires. The post-race inspection may also involve dismounting tires to inspect for tire prepping. The obvious intention of this rule was to remove prepped tires from the competition, and allow for the race winner to wheel his car into the Winners Circle with tires that had already been durometer tested and approved for race use. The possibility of a race winner losing his win in post-race inspection seemed to be remote. It did not happen at New Smyrna, and this seemed to reduce tension and leave more competitors with smiles all around. I did not hear of any competitors stating that they were not coming back to compete with the TBARA because of displeasure with the current rules relating to tires.

    A video production team, led by Geared Up Productions ace video producer Chase Cabre was at the track for the purpose of producing a half hour race video to submit for cable TV airing. There is no contract in force currently, so the production team hopes to impress a potential network with their production and editing skills. The race was covered by a total of eight cameras, five of them on the track mounted to four different cars. The other three cameras consisted of one wall-mounted camera at the finish line to serve as a speed shot camera, and two hand-held cameras. One was located in the first turn, and a second was located on the roof of the scoring tower. Two of the cars with roll bar mounted GoPro cameras finished in the top three (Fritz and Butler).

    Robert Smith was honored during the break prior to the start of the TBARA feature race. The audio from the “Remembering Robert Smith” YouTube video was played by track announcer Dave Westerman, along with a reciting of Smith’s career highlights. It was announced that an upcoming TBARA schedule change will move the next scheduled race at Desoto Speedway to Saturday, September 27th. The season will tentatively end on Saturday, October 18th with the Frank Riddle Memorial race at Citrus County Speedway. That leaves only one remaining pavement sprint car race in Florida during 2014. It will be the last regular season non-wing race at Citrus on November 1st.

    A sprint car race previously scheduled at Showtime Speedway in December has subsequently been removed from their 2014 schedule. Their 2015 schedule shows no sprint car dates during the entire year for Showtime. The track did add sprint car race dates during the past two years, and was originally committed to sprint car racing. It is unknown if track management has had a change of heart regarding hosting sprint car racing.

     

     

     

    Remembering Robert Smith

    By Richard Golardi

    Joe Melnick -
    “Robert Smith was probably the best sprint car driver to come out of Florida. They would be hot lapping for the feature and Robert Smith would be unloading his car and start dead last and win the feature. I don’t know how he did it. It didn’t matter if it was dirt or pavement. He was the best. It was just natural talent. He could build it, drive it, and fix it. He wasn’t always on time, but he could pretty well do anything. Robert Smith - he just had it, man. I’ve watched him win and win and win. When it was his time, you couldn’t beat the guy.

    He’s my ex-brother in law, but that’s not why I’m saying it. That’s just the way it is. I was married to his sister, a long time ago. I was in the family. I raced against him, but I didn’t really get to race with him until the end. I didn’t have sprint cars back when he was doing all the winning. When I finally got one, he was kind of getting out of it. We were teammates for C.T. Earle. We had two sprint cars. I’d go to East Bay one night, and he’d go somewhere upstate or he’d go to another state to race. He liked to travel. He kind of got out of racing, and he would work on my car for C.T. Earle. He could weld it, build it, and put the motor together. You name it. He was one of the best.

    We had our fights, but he was good to me. He was a good guy. When he worked on my car, he’d come over Saturday afternoon and look at the car, and he goes, ‘don’t touch nothin’. I’ll be back in a minute. I’ll set it, and then load it up.’ We used to sit around the shop until like four or four-thirty, and then start panicking. We’d go, ‘where is Robert Smith?’ All of a sudden, he’d pull up and say, ‘now load it up and go to the race track.’ We’re like, ‘Robert! We can’t do like that, you know?’ But, that’s the way he did it.”

    Taylor Andrews –
    “Robert was racing when I got into it. Robert was probably one of the first people to help me out. He’d help anybody out. What I remembered about Robert was that we’d all be at the race track, and it’d be about 6 or 7:00. He’d go, ‘don’t look like it’s going to rain. I guess I better start working on my car and bring it up over.’ He’d get here about 7 or 8:00, wouldn’t practice or do anything, and go out and win the feature. Robert’s forgotten more stuff about sprint car racing than all of us combined. Robert probably beat me most of the time.

    One time, we were all up in Savannah racing, and it rained out and we were going back to the hotel. I remember that I saw Robert over there, and he’s got a sign that he’s holding up that reads, ‘will work for beer.’ He was waiting for all of us to get back there. We all sat around and drank a lot of beer, and didn’t do much work. Robert ran dirt and pavement both, and was super-good on both surfaces. He was one of the few guys that could run on both surfaces. Robert lived a great life, as far as a racing life goes. He was as good as a racer could get.”

    Sport Allen –
    “He used to help us out some, and point us in the right direction on what to do to the car. What to do to make the car safer and more drivable for me. The first car we had was a crossover car. We used to run it on the dirt and pavement. He used to drive it – the Alfater car. He knew exactly what to do to get it around there, because he won races in it.

    He was never in a big hurry to do much. He didn’t get too excited. We were there at the Tampa Fairgrounds, and warm ups were fixing to start. Here comes Robert Smith, hanging off the side of the open trailer, still bolting the headers on. He never got in a hurry to do it; he may have even won that night. He just had natural ability, and knew what to do to the car. He never really got too flustered, because he has that knowledge bank of what to do. He would just hustle it around there. I’m sad he’s passed. That’s a lot of talent there. He was one of the original Outlaws, and a lot of people don’t know that.”

    Kurt Taylor –
    “He was good on dirt and pavement. He could run either one. He was just a racer. He was amazing. Robert was just a down to earth human being. Between him and Charlie Alfater, you couldn’t beat them. Him and Robert got together, and when he settled Robert down, Robert would go racing, buddy. And you could see it. When Robert would go to the race track, he was ready to race. He was always late getting there. That was the funny thing. He would come after warm ups and go out and win the feature.

    He loved drinking beer, and I drank many a beer with him. He was a diehard racer. I don’t care what it was – midget, sprint car, late model. He’ll drive it. Robert was just a good ole boy. It’s a shame we lost him. It’s going to be hard to replace him. I used to go and work down there, and he and Round Daddy (Robert’s father) would get into arguments. He would say, ‘Robert, you need to do this the next time you go racing.’ He’d say, ‘Round Daddy’, he would always call him Round Daddy, and he would never call him Dad. I’d say, uh-oh, this ain’t good. All of a sudden, we’d go to lunch, and it was like nothing ever happened. It was just neat working with them. That’s about all I can tell you about Robert. He was one of a kind.

    Robert Smith in George Rudolph car in 1984 at Sunshine Speedway Courtesy Chad Freeman

    Robert got to driving for Butch Hall, in the Black Deuce. He won a lot of races in that. Robert was a natural. He could work on them, put them together, and make ‘em go. He did it all. He’d haul them to the race track. He went out to Knoxville, Iowa for the Knoxville Nationals. He qualified for that race. He went up to the Little 500, and he run second up there and he about won it. He always supported that up there. God bless him. I know he’s up there racing. I hope he does good up there. The Good Lord has got him a good one up there.”

    Pancho Alvarez –
    “One distinct memory that comes to me is when he was racing on the East Coast of Florida, and he was racing Frank Riddle. And they were see-sawing back and forth and I said, I remember this guy when he was just a kid, and was hanging around with my kids. And I said, look at this. And he won the race finally. He just persevered, beating Frank Riddle. I think Frank Riddle had just won the Little 500.”

    Randy Alvarez –
    “In Gibsonton, he was an idol. He raced for a living. He had his speed shop. I’d go there after work, and help them, building torsion arms and radius rods. He was the original Gambler dealer down here.

    1986 Little 500, Anderson Speedway, Anderson, IN, May 24, 1986
    Robert had a compression fracture during the Nationals that year. He calls me, and he says, ‘Cuban, I don’t know if I can last this far or not. Why don’t you go ahead and be my relief driver?’ I was also going to be David’s relief driver, if he needed it. So, I was suited up, and we were over there on the number three turn. All of a sudden, a guy blew an engine in front of Robert, and he hit the wall in the middle of the one and two turns. The rear end turned around and popped up, and he didn’t have a bladder in the tank. And that car just went up in flames. We took off in a run from the number three turn and they had it on ESPN, and you can see me in my orange uniform running to the number two turn. And when we got there, Robert asked me, ‘did you pull me out of the car?’ No. You got out of the car by yourself. I pulled you out of the fire. He made it to the left rear tire. And I grabbed him, and yanked him off the tire, and pulled him into the infield.

    The ambulance was there, and they took his uniform down. Well, he had these second and third degree burns all over him, especially on the back of his legs. He had gotten that far out of the car, but he couldn’t get any further. I was so close to the fire that it singed my eyebrows and the front of my hair. That’s how hot it was. I did get burned a little bit. It was like a sunburn-type burn. When he got to the left rear tire, I grabbed him and yanked him off the car. About four months ago, he asked me if I pulled him out of the car. I said no, you got out on your own. I got you out of the fire. He was maybe three-quarters of the way out of the car. He made it to where his ass was hitting the left rear tire. I grabbed him and snatched him the rest of the way. They were there quick. This happened within seconds. That was my best friend. I wasn’t going to let him die.”

    Robert smokes the rear tire on the dirt, from Robert Smith Collection

    Conclusion –
    I did have the opportunity to interview Robert Smith on Saturday, July 26, 2014. He died just 4 weeks later, on Saturday, August 23, 2014. I had never been to the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, just outside Tampa. Robert suggested that we meet there, and have lunch at the sandwich shop. I found that I had parked in the wrong garage for the Casino, and had managed to walk toward the Smoke Shop, which had no direct walkway over to the Hotel and Casino. My cell phone rang, and it was Robert. “No problem. I’ll be right over there, and pick you up,” he told me. Robert had just been discharged from Tampa General Hospital the prior day. I was concerned about the stress of an in-depth interview, but Robert insisted that he wanted to meet that day. He bragged that his weight had dropped from 263 pounds down to 239 pounds, and that he was feeling good.

    We did squeeze his life story and racing career into an eighty two minute interview over lunch that day. I asked Robert if he had any regrets about living that lifestyle of a racer, with having to endure the risk, the danger, and the pain of his injuries. “No regrets. None whatsoever,” he told me. “I wouldn’t change it for nothin’.”

    The video from the Florida Open Wheel channel, “Remembering Robert Smith” is here (highlights of Robert’s racing career are also listed in the video description):

    http://youtu.be/LG3RoLS6eIA

     

     

     

     

    Don Rehm Interview – Winging Into the Second Half of 2014

    By Richard Golardi

    The Eagle Jet Top Gun Sprint Series has had a satisfactory season this year, according to owner and founder Don Rehm. Just don’t look for them to join the Florida non-wing sprint car racing resurgence anytime soon. They are definitely keeping the wings on for the foreseeable future. The series is also considering a rule change requiring a driver to remain in his car until released by track safety personnel. It may resemble the most recent rule change adopted by NASCAR, but the penalty for violating the rule change is still under consideration. An incident in the most recent Florida sprint car race, at Desoto Speedway last weekend, did see a driver exit his car to express anger toward another driver. This occurred before the track’s safety crew arrived at the place where the cars were stopped in turn two.

    Don Rehm at Volusia Speedway

    Don Rehm did have recent knee surgery, and told me that he is up and walking around, and no longer using a walker. He is getting around by using a cane, and intends to be at East Bay Raceway Park on both Friday and Saturday for sprint car practice and racing. The next Top Gun Series event will be at Bubba Raceway Park on August 30th, the first series visit to Ocala since May. “I’m doing extremely well,” he told me. He was looking forward to getting out of his house, and becoming more mobile.

    How has the 2014 Top Gun Sprint Series season gone so far, I asked? “I’m very pleased with it,” he replied. “For whatever reason, it seems like it always starts out slow, and car counts are down a little bit, and then the car counts pick up. We’ve had good races, and I’m really pleased with the turnout, and the amount of cars that we have, and everything else. I don’t really have anything negative to say about it.” There were two summer races at Bubba Raceway Park that were cancelled, but you are back there next week, and have more races in the coming months. Is there still a good relationship with that track and the track owner? “Oh, absolutely. The reason that the races were either changed or cancelled was because there was a conflict with some other traveling series. They asked me if we could drop a race. At the beginning of the year, they actually asked for more races than I felt like we needed to have there anyway. It’s kind of worked out to everybody’s satisfaction. There was no problem as far as the relationship with them.”

    Top Gun sprint cars at East Bay

    The series does not have a minimum age limit for drivers, and has seen 12 year old Tyler Clem race with the series earlier this year, when he was 11 years old. Don Rehm informed me that they make a judgment call, based on their own observations, and then decide whether to allow a younger driver to compete. “Right now, we do it on a case-by-case experience,” Rehm said. Clem has driven at both Bubba Raceway Park and Volusia Speedway Park, as they do not have a minimum age for drivers. He has not competed at East Bay Raceway Park, as Rehm has informed me that East Bay’s insurance carrier has required that all racers be at least 16 years old for sprint car competition. Rehm has spoken to the track’s insurance carrier, and they are unwilling to waive the age minimum for any driver. Tyler is still eligible to race at the remaining Bubba Raceway Park and Volusia races this year. His father is his car owner, and also an owner of Bubba Raceway Park in Ocala. Recently, Bubba Clem has been vocal about his support for Tony Stewart, who is a close friend.

    The series has had a good safety record this year, without any serious injuries to its drivers. There have been some more serious wrecks, including some at Volusia Speedway Park, the track with the highest speeds. “You know – they get banged up. But as far as injuries – no. We haven’t had any injuries that would hospitalize them, as far as I know,” Don Rehm said. In the June race at Volusia, Bryan Eckley got together with another car and flipped violently down the front stretch, but escaped uninjured. “He got banged up pretty good. That’s probably the most severe. Last time we were there, AJ (Maddox) took a pretty good tumble also. But, in talking to both of them, they were sore and stiff, but no injuries per se.”

    Is there any rule right now concerning getting out of the car while on the track prior to safety personnel getting there? “We are working on an amendment or an addendum to the rule. It’s very easy to say you can’t do this, but what happens if you do it? That’s where we’re trying to come up with something that’s the correct answer for that. You say – OK, you’re disqualified for the night. Well, if you’ve crashed, you aren’t going to come back and race anyway. We’ve got to derive something that will address that part of the situation. As far as getting out of the race car, that’s easy to state and write a rule to do that. It needs to be a fairly severe penalty, I feel.” The current Top Gun Rule Book does not have a penalty for getting out of the car on track prior to safety crews arriving at the scene.

    What are you looking forward to the most in the remaining competition this year? “Good, even competition amongst the members and good car counts at the race tracks. Having good car counts leads into the next year and what race tracks want from you as far as number of shows. There’s some things that we’re looking at, maybe go out of state next year. Maybe once, maybe twice. I’ve had an out of state race track contact me. Right now, that’s about all I can say about it. Like I told the gentleman that owned the race track, I only get one chance to make an impression on him. So, I want to go and make a good impression. So, I need to have good car count. That’s the biggest thing, getting participants to travel and participate. He wanted to have a show this year. I told him we had all the shows that we could justify at that time. He asked if he could be considered and put on the list for next year.”

    Rehm feels that dirt sprint car racing is on an upswing in Florida. There are a number of new cars, and he mentioned some cars that showed up in mid-season that had slowly gotten assembled. There were also cars that hadn’t been at the track in a while that had recently returned to competition. What about the resurgence of non-wing sprint car racing in Florida? Is it possible that non-wing racing may return to the dirt with Top Gun? “At the present time, no.” The last time I had asked about non-wing races in the Top Gun Series, it was the drivers and car owners that objected to it. Is that still the same? “Well, exactly. That’s still the main opposition that in the past when we tried to do it, they all told us they would be there, and when it came time to race, it was, ‘oh, I don’t want to do that, all it does is tear up race cars.’ We try to put together what people want, and it don’t always work out that way.”

    Rehm told me that the Eagle Jet International is on board again as the series title sponsor next year. They have also agreed that if another potential series title sponsor comes along that is offering a bigger sponsor package to the series, then Eagle Jet will be satisfied with being a presenting sponsor. Right now, they are the intended series title sponsor in 2015. “Don’t stop taking on sponsorship, is what he said,” according to Don Rehm. Top Gun seems fortunate to have Eagle Jet International as a very dedicated sponsor during a time when sponsor dollars are in short supply.

     

     

    Thunderstruck – Disqualifications Strike Again in Pavement Racing

    By Richard Golardi

    At Desoto Speedway on Saturday for the non-wing sprint car race, another round of disqualifications removed two of the top three finishers from the final feature race order. The second place car of Mickey Kempgens was disqualified because of the angle of the cylinder heads. The third place finish of Collin Cabre, in his first race in the Jimmy Alvis owned #21 car, was wiped out because of the right rear wheel offset (Source – Desoto Speedway race official). After an extraordinarily long post-race tech inspection, which involved track owner Jimmy Cope being called to the tech area, the measurements of cylinder head angles allowed Shane Butler to retain his feature race win. I next witnessed a race official call out “twenty one point six”, after making a measurement on the #5 car of Kempgens. He would not retain his second place finish.

    Feature Race Winner Shane Butler

    With the cars of Kempgens and Cabre now disqualified, second and third place in the finishing order now went to the #88 car of Sport Allen, and the #19 car of Keith Butler. These cars had been in the inspection line at the tech shed, and had been released and left the area. I had asked about the method used to inspect the American Racer tires (now required on all four corners), and was told that the durometer measurement was done prior to the race, when the tires were cold. I was also informed that the tires were dismounted and inspected after the race, for those cars at the inspection shed. This procedure was in contrast to the method used at Citrus County Speedway, and by the TBARA, which had both done post-race durometer measurements. Both Citrus and the TBARA had 2014 feature race winners that were disqualified for tire prepping (Citrus) and failing the tire hardness test (TBARA).

    Collin Cabre

    With the cars of Allen and Keith Butler now moved into the top three in the order, would they be recalled to the tech area to have their cylinder head angle measured? The car of Sport Allen remained at the track, and was available to be inspected. Keith Butler’s team had left. I was told that the reason for the inspection of the #88 car of Sport Allen was because other car owners and teams had protested and requested this inspection. This was the third car that I had observed having the angle of the cylinder heads measured.

    The rule being followed was from the TBARA rule book, after a previous verbal statement from Desoto Speedway that they would incorporate the TBARA rule book into their track rules. From 2014 TBARA Rule Book, Revised January 4, 2014: “No heads other than original twenty-three (23) degree valve angle heads are allowed. All heads must remain within one (1) degree of twenty three (23) degree valve angle heads. This rule pertains to small block Chevy; however, any engine may be used after approval of the TBARA.” At a stated 21.6 degrees, and using tenths of a degree, this was the reason given by the speedway race official for the disqualification of the #5 car, which crossed the finish line in second place.

    Feature Race Pace Lap at Desoto

    I have learned that there will be a request for a vote of the members at next week’s TBARA series race at New Smyrna Speedway to change to a “no punch rule”, and eliminate the use of the durometer. I do not know if there will be a vote to eliminate the post-race durometer test, and instead have only a pre-race durometer test. This procedure resulting in no DQs for failing the tire hardness rule at the last Desoto Speedway non-wing race. It seems likely that one of these two alternatives will be chosen by the members at next week’s race, as the tire hardness rule has brought a lot of frayed nerves and discontent. In prior years, when Hoosier Tires were used, there was not a corresponding high level of DQs and disgruntlement. This year is the first year with widespread use of American Racer tires in Florida sprint car racing.

    Why does pavement sprint car racing in Florida have such a high number of DQs for various reasons (many relating to tires), when other pavement series (mainly in the Midwest) do not have a similar dilemma? The Midwest-based Must See Racing Xtreme Sprint Series has not had a similar rash of DQs, and has also used American Racer tires this year. The Little 500 was another stellar show, and attracted a star-studded field of short-trackers this year, without DQs. The fans knew who won the race when they left the track, and it was the same driver who sprayed the champagne and raised the trophy in Victory Lane. Florida sprint car racing fans deserve the same, as do all the car owners, drivers, crew and sponsors.

    The videos from the Desoto Speedway Non-wing Sprint Car race are on the Florida Open Wheel channel here:

    http://www.youtube.com/channel/UCSdPdgmUo6WfkfR6Eo__QBA

     

     

     

    The Life of a Florida Sprint Car

    By Richard Golardi

    The setting sun lights up the sky with shades of pink and orange as Richie Corr wheels his winged sprint car out on the track at Citrus County Speedway. The # 14 pavement sprint car has the Hurricane logo, known as the most popular chassis make in the Sunshine State. The fun-loving Corr has chosen the team name Blue Balls Motorsports after painting the car with a blue and black color scheme. His racing comeback this year, after thirteen years out of the driver’s seat, has seen a best feature race finish of third place in a non-wing race. He also has struggled to make repairs after several mechanical failures. On this night at the TBARA mid-summer race in Inverness, FL, he would drop out late after another failure, a broken lifter and rocker arm.

    1985 Gambler dirt sprint car- original version of car

    His car has not always been blue, and did not look like the current Hurricane chassis in its prior reincarnations. It was a blue #17 dirt car at one time, and raced on Florida’s dirt tracks. The car owner was James Donaldson, father of current car owner/driver Todd Donaldson. The list of drivers to drive the car on Florida’s dirt and pavement tracks includes the names Todd Donaldson, Todd Schmidt, Tommy Nichols, and Richie Corr over its thirty year life. It started life as a 1985 Gambler dirt car raced at East Bay Raceway Park, with the Donaldson family. When they tired of running on dirt, it was converted to a pavement car, to run in TBARA series races in Florida. It stayed in this iteration for about 15 years, racing on pavement tracks such as Sunshine Speedway, Desoto Speedway and Orlando Speedworld until 2010.

    After the car had been unused for about a year, Corr bought it from his uncle, James Donaldson at the end of 2012. “When I bought it, it was in bad shape, after sitting for about a year,” Richie Corr told me. It still had the low, sloping wedge-shaped front end, a style that was popular with car builders in the 80s and 90s. The car had a TBARA win at Lake City, and numerous other top three finishes. Corr had driven the car twice during this time, for car owner Donaldson.

    The car began its life as a blue #17 Gambler dirt car, before being converted over to the red #17 pavement car with the wedge shaped front body work. Today, the car has 2013 Hurricane chassis updates, and looks very much like all the other Hurricane labeled cars that it races against. “The updates were done by Jerry Stuckey, right here in Lecanto, Florida – builds all the good race cars,” Corr remarked. Why was it changed to the wedge-shaped type car from the Gambler dirt chassis? “My uncle (James Donaldson) is old school, he’s an older guy. He likes the look of the old sprint cars, the cars driven by Frank Riddle and the old school guys. The whole deal with the car is that it’s been in the family for almost thirty years. My uncle owned it, my cousin Todd owned it, and now I own it. It’s never going anywhere. That car’s going to be around for a long, long time,” Corr said proudly.

    Pavement sprint car - second version of the car

    Corr wanted the car to look new, with an updated appearance. It was taken to Jerry Stuckey, car builder at Hurricane Race Cars. “I told him that I want it to look like the brand new Hurricane. Do the body, whatever you’ve got to cut off the chassis to do the updates, do it. Spare no expense. It has been ‘Hurricanized’,” according to Richie. He explained that the updating makes it handle better, and improves the aerodynamics. It’s safer and more stable. Corr believes the car has the potential to be a front-runner, with or without wings. “Since I’ve owned that car, if it hasn’t broke, with every non-wing race in that car, I haven’t finished less than fifth place. It’s a really good non-wing car.”

    The team operates on a small budget, with a small crew made up mostly of family and friends. Long term goals include adding sponsors to assure the team can continue racing. The business that Corr owns and operates is listed as a sponsor on the car now, which is RDC Restorations. “We want to keep making improvements, and eventually bringing that thing into Victory Lane.” What about the driver, I asked? Is he as skilled as he was in prior years? “I took about a thirteen year hiatus from racing. February 1st this year was my first race back since November or December of 2000. It goes to show you that you can just wipe the rust off, and keep on trucking. I’m about the same weight that I was whenever I raced the last time, but the 30 lap and the 40 lap races – they’ll get to you. We wear the fireproof underwear and the Sparco three-layer suits, and man, it’s brutal,” he said, talking about racing in Florida during the summer heat.

    The car rebuilt at Hurricane Race Car shop in May 2013

    Richie Corr feels that the car performance has improved over the years, and that it is now a consistent top five car. It did previously have a small number of wins as both a Gambler dirt car and as a pavement car. Corr did have a chance to drive in the Must See Racing Series during the April races in Pensacola and Mobile, driving Johnny Gilbertson’s #15 car. He does want to consider races outside of Florida, in addition to winged and non-wing races in Florida. “After we work a few more of the bugs out, we’d like to travel. So that is my goal for April of next year – if we have a good enough motor. They will let you run the 360s with the 410s for car count. I have another car that I am building that is strictly for big tracks – like New Smyrna and Bradenton,” he said, jokingly calling the project “top secret” after revealing some details to me. A photo had also “leaked online”, showing a car-sized object hidden under a tarp. “It’s big enough to go 410, and if I could find a 410 for that car, I will take it to Pensacola and Mobile next year.”

    Completed car 29 years later - 2014 version driven by Richie Corr

    “If I start jogging, and trying to get in shape now, I could probably finish that race,” he said, when asked about trying the Little 500. “But Rich, I bet you I couldn’t go seventy laps right now. If I had to go seventy laps right now, I would need oxygen and a paramedic. I’m in shape, but I ain’t in no kind of endurance shape to go run 500 laps, I can guarantee you that. Those guys that go run the Little 500 – they are machines.”

    “This beautiful race car has been involved in the Florida racing scene for thirty years, and I hope that it has another thirty years. Because my stepson (Justin) is fifteen, and within the next year, we’ve got a car at the house that we’re putting together for him. We’re going to do non-wing only, at first, when he turns sixteen. So, my stepson can carry on this family tradition of this particular car that we all love so much. Maybe his kids one day can have this car around when you and I are seventy years old,” Richie said, looking over to a blue winged sprint car, sitting quietly after the night’s task was done. He had a look of contentment on his face, and smiled.

     

     

    Odds and Ends – Of the Dirt and Pavement Variety

    By Richard Golardi

    Only one Floridian is listed on the pre-entries for the Knoxville Nationals in Knoxville, Iowa this week - car # 71A of RJ Johnson, hailing from Tampa, FL. His qualifying night is Wednesday night on the half mile dirt track. His ultimate goal will be to make it to the final night’s feature race, this coming Saturday. In comparison, in this year’s Little 500 in Anderson, Indiana (a race considered by many to be the year’s biggest pavement sprint car race), there were four Floridians among the 33 qualifiers. Granted, it appears to be an easier task to qualify for the Little 500, as this year saw 34 cars attempt to qualify. The list of pre-entries on the Knoxville Nationals race website shows 108 cars attempting to advance through Wednesday and Thursday qualifying rounds.

    Why are there so many Floridians that make it to the top level of pavement sprint car racing in the US, but so few dirt sprint car racers that make it to the top level? You may consider the World of Outlaws, All Star Circuit of Champions, ASCS and USCS in this group. They all lack any significant number of drivers who list a town in Florida as their home town. The height of domination for the pavement sprint car drivers from Florida was reached in the mid-‘80s, when forty percent of the Little 500 starting field was composed of Floridians, and Floridians won the 500 from ’84 through ’86. There are Floridians who have seen success on dirt outside of Florida. Kenny Adams has over 100 wins on both dirt and pavement with the USCS Series.

    Collin Cabre

    I have learned that Eagle Jet Top Gun Sprint Series founder and owner Don Rehm is recovering from knee surgery done earlier today. I will follow up with Don next week, to do a mid-year interview as the dirt sprint car series moves into the second half of its 2014 season. Don has told me that he currently plans to be at the next scheduled Top Gun race at Bubba Raceway Park on August 30th, as long as he is fit. Dirt sprint car racing does have one other major event during the month of August. Coming up at East Bay Raceway Park on August 23rd is the Bob Long Memorial Race for the East Bay Sprints series.

    I was pleased to see Chase Cabre dive back into the video production business last weekend, producing a YouTube video of the most recent Citrus County Speedway Sprints race from Saturday, August 2nd. Chase has been diligently studying video production, and it showed in his smartly stylish video, with graphics and voiceover that he produced. He even risked the Citrus front straight camera stand, with its rotting plywood under foot. I jokingly told him that he would only fall about six or seven feet if the plywood gave way, to a lower level building’s roof. I still have hopes that we’ll see an upcoming TBARA or dirt race from Florida on the MAVTV program schedule in the near future. Hopefully this will happen before the Citrus camera stand plywood gives out and causes a “crash on Saturday, wake up on Monday” moment.

    I spoke to Florida’s own legendary photographer Max Dolder earlier today, who is in Knoxville for his 35th year of photographing the Knoxville Nationals. He has a family reunion to go to this week, so he is not attending all of the nights of the nationals from Wednesday through Saturday. As of today, he will be at the track on Thursday and Friday. He had already covered the 360 Nationals, and said he had not spoken to RJ Johnson, the lone racer from Florida, but had spoken to his father. I’m looking forward to seeing some of Max’s work at Knoxville later in the week.

    I have confirmed that Collin Cabre will be in the Jimmy Alvis owned black #21 car for two pavement races in August. The Collin Cabre Motorsports team had previously sent out a teaser photo of Collin’s seat sitting in the car, with no car number visible. Collin had been running a limited schedule of both dirt and pavement sprint car races so far this year. The family owned #12 dirt car had run in Georgia recently, and Collin raced on pavement at Anderson Speedway early this season. The first of two confirmed pavement races is next week at Desoto Speedway for the track’s own non-wing sprint series (8/16). Then it’s on to Atlanta Motor Speedway’s short track for the Friday, August 29th USCS Road to Atlanta season-ending race for the series that calls the Deep South home. The #21 team apparently has no plans to enter any TBARA or Citrus County Sprints races, and may limit its late season racing to Desoto and Showtime Speedway.

    A late model race at New Smyrna Speedway last Saturday night was won by a dirt sprint car driver from Australia named Will Carroll. He is in the states from March to December this year racing the red #81 pavement late model car. As he autographed and handed out a glossy magazine spread showing him in his sprint car on the dirt in Australia, he told me of the tracks that he raced down under. Rex Hollinger and I got to speak to him for a few minutes while he waited for the command for the drivers to go to their cars. Carroll made a daring late race pass for the lead on the half mile track, and looked smooth all night long. He also remarked that he was looking for any available seats in a dirt sprint car in Florida, and wanted to get in some dirt racing in Florida this year.

    On sad note, I have learned that Joe Renna, the father of the late IndyCar racer Tony Renna, passed away in DeBary in July. Joe was 74 years old, and was a friend of legendary Florida racer Ralph Liguori. Tony Renna was killed in an IndyCar practice crash at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in October 2003, shortly after being added to the Target Chip Ganassi Racing driver lineup. He seemed destined to be the first American driver from Florida to win the Indy 500, an honor that went to Ryan Hunter-Reay earlier this year.

    The feature race video from the Geared Up Productions YouTube channel is here (Citrus County Speedway Sprint Series from 8-2-2014):

    http://youtu.be/la2qxHMelms

     

     

     

     

    The Wild World of Pavement Sprint Car Racing – Tires and Testing

    By Richard Golardi

    The term durometer is often used to refer to the measurement of a hardness of a material, as well as the instrument itself. The basic hardness test requires applying the force in a consistent manner, without shock, and measuring the hardness. The tire durometer used at tracks in Florida is a small, hand-held mechanical device. Many consider it to be a reliable tool for measuring the relative hardness of racing tires. It may help a team decide when to replace a used tire. The device is rolled over the surface of the tire until it is flat, and a reading is taken immediately. Temperature can play a part in tire hardness. A higher temperature equals softer rubber. And softer rubber can create a problem for a pavement sprint car racer in Florida.

    Feature race winner Tommy Nichols

    In June, Jimmy Alvis pulled into Victory Lane and was interviewed as the winner of the Citrus County Speedway Sprint Series race in Inverness (race date 6-7-2014). In July, Mickey Kempgens pulled into Victory Lane and was interviewed as the winner of the Safety-Kleen TBARA Sprint Car Series race, again at Citrus County Speedway (race date 7-26-2014). Both smiled for the cameras, and held a checkered flag or trophy in their hand. Neither of the drivers is listed as the feature race winner in the official results. After completion of post-race tech inspection, their cars were disqualified. Car # 21 of Jimmy Alvis was disqualified for tire preparation, or "tire-softening", as it was called by an official. Car #5 of Mickey Kempgens was disqualified because it failed the tire hardness test (as was told to me by TBARA officials.)

    Spin in turn four from the 16 car of Ben Fritz

    “No prepping – that’s my rule,” Citrus County Speedway promoter Gary Laplant told me earlier this year. “They wanted rules – strict rules,” he added. TBARA officials used a tire durometer to measure tire hardness after the completion of the feature race, and those cars that were outside of the prescribed guidelines were disqualified. Car #5 (Kempgens) and car #92 (Dave Retzlaff) were disqualified because they failed a tire hardness test (done by TBARA officials). I was also told that many cars had tires that failed the tire hardness test earlier in the day, during the height of the midday sun. The high temperature that day in Inverness was 91 degrees.

    Sunset at Citrus County Speedway

    Does the disqualification of a race winner result in confusion and dissatisfaction for the race fan – the “end customer” for Florida sprint car racing? Is the race tire manufacturer (American Racer Tires) able to guarantee uniformity in its tires sent to Florida such that they will not fail a tire hardness test after 30 laps in the Florida summer sun? The most recent feature race at Citrus County Speedway pushed off under the setting sun, and began with the last rays of the setting sun visible over the second turn wall. That meant that the track surface still retained a great deal of heat from the sun and air temperatures in excess of 90 degrees. Lastly, will the teams continue to race in those series and at those venues if they are dissatisfied with the current rules and tire testing procedures? The Doug Kenny owned #5 team was originally scored in first place and given the trophy on Saturday. The car was acquired so that it may be raced as a winged car in Florida. All of the remaining winged pavement sprint car races in Florida this year are TBARA sanctioned events, save for one race at Showtime Speedway in December.

    Is it possible that one or more teams that were disqualified did not use tire softening agents on their tires? I did not survey all of the competitors that were disqualified, but one of these teams insisted that they did not do any tire prep or tire softening, and were still disqualified at the June race. If the teams are dissatisfied and withdraw from racing, then will the fans return in sufficient numbers to maintain the new found interest in sprint car racing in Florida? Two of the best attended races last year (not involving a national series) came after mid-October, at Citrus County Speedway in October, and also at New Smyrna Speedway in November. The answer to this question may involve checking back later in the year.

    Mickey Kempgens with new graphics on car

    Many have offered their opinions and recommended solutions to assist in reducing the number of disqualifications, and keeping the racing fair and unbiased. I offer a sampling of those opinions here, without an attempt to reveal the identity of the person making the comment:
    • Submitted a rule change last week to get voted on at our next race to have no punch rule (referring to TBARA).
    • It's concerning and a bit scary thinking you could lose a race because a durometer isn't used right or a tire did something different.
    • Then let's all go back to Hoosiers and ban chemical prep and be done with it.
    • Must buy tires the day of the race at the track.
    • Speaking from a spectator point of view, you need to try and work out your differences. If you keep losing cars and end up with only a handful of cars showing for the races, the spectators will stop showing up too.
    • Do away with durometer.
    • That is the reason tracks and series have gone to the punch rule. They can't enforce the prep rule, so they allow the prepping, as long as the tires punch legally. I don't see a better way of enforcing it.
    • My issue is the duro gauge. It's never been designed or endorsed as a tech tool because of its inconsistent results either by user or environment.
    • There is too big of a grey area, Florida sprint car racing isn't strong enough to throw guys out for tires.

    A TBARA official later stated that all of the top five cars were initially checked well after the feature was complete. Three of those cars passed the durometer test, and two others did not. He added that all five were initially checked within a two minute window, and that the winning car did not pass. Upon the disqualification of the #5 car, the feature race win went to Tommy Nichols. It was his second TBARA feature race win within the past twelve months. Nichols was challenged by Shane Butler for the race win on the last restart with one lap remaining, but held him off by one car length. After the race concluded, Nichols remarked to Butler, “I knew you were coming!”

    The videos from the Citrus County Speedway TBARA race are on the Florida Open Wheel channel here:
    http://www.youtube.com/channel/UCSdPdgmUo6WfkfR6Eo__QBA

     

     

     


    E-mail  Richard Golardi quickterm@yahoo.com


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