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    Florida Open Wheel

    By Richard Golardi


    Remembering Marty Little – A Florida Racing Icon

     By Richard Golardi

     Martin "Marty" Little passed away 4/12/2014, at the age of sixty seven. He was an iconic short track auto racing announcer, journalist, and historian, and he was a Floridian.

    “Mr. Microphone. The Voice of Hialeah Speedway. A member of our racing family. A friend, mentor, and loved one to many. A great husband, father, and dear friend. You were like my racing father that I never had. The Florida Racing Community lost an icon and we lost a dear friend. A great guy and a great asset to racing. Everybody liked Marty. Marty was always an encourager and always made me smile. I will miss that vibrant smile and those great big bear hugs. Now Heaven has an announcer to work with that score keeper. Announcer, racing journalist and photographer Marty Little lost his battle with cancer. He was the historian and promoter of the racers and tracks in South Florida. RIP Marty. We all love you.”

    Those are a selection of the remarks made by some of Marty Little’s friends. He was a South Florida auto racing icon. Marty could be seen roaming the grounds, or sitting behind the microphone, at Palm Beach Fairgrounds Speedway, Miami-Hollywood Speedway Park or Hialeah Speedway. He also wrote for National Speed Sport News. His last article was on March 30, 2013 on the passing of Floridian Art Malone. In 2012, upon the passing of Chris Economaki, he recalled his 37 year history writing for NSSN, and also the day when Economaki asked him to join the team.

    Little had been writing a limited circulation late model stat sheet called South Florida Track Facts. It covered the local action at South Florida tracks, and listed feature victories, top five finishes, and other stats. When Economaki agreed that he should write a column for NSSN, South Florida Track Facts was an obvious choice for the name of his column in the country’s top weekly racing trade paper. He covered IndyCar Series races at three different places in the Miami area, and NASCAR series races at both Daytona and Homestead. He was proud of his association with NSSN and Chris Economaki, and that it earned him access to the top level racing events in Florida.

    The road to becoming a track announcer started at Miami’s Hialeah Speedway, where he also wrote the track results stories for 28 years until the track closed in August 2005. He was the main announcer from September 1992 until the track’s closing. Marty was planning to be an important part of next year’s planned Hialeah Speedway ten year reunion. “When you’ve got a good race, it’s easy to call,” Little stated at the first Hialeah Speedway reunion in 2010. “The tougher part is when you don’t have a good race, and you’re trying to make it sound exciting for the fans. That’s a little bit more of a challenge.”

    Marty’s race driving experience in his early years was limited to go karts. His first experience working on race cars was at 12 years of age, in Melbourne, FL (the current hometown of this reporter). Next, he moved to Fort Lauderdale in 1960, and his love of cars and racing continued. He now had a choice of different tracks to go to each weekend around the South Florida area, including Hialeah. In Melbourne, the only area track was Eau Gallie Speedway. “I went to Old Hollywood, and Medley. You had a selection of tracks in the area. It wasn’t just Hialeah at that point. Hialeah was club owned, and club operated from 1954 until 1995,” Little said, when asked what allowed Hialeah Speedway to outlast all of the other area short tracks. “What finally helped its demise were the property taxes,” he said.

    Marty started going to Hialeah Speedway as a spectator and a crewman. In 1975, his race team moved to North Carolina, but Little stayed behind in Florida. Danny Taylor, the Palm Beach promoter, asked him to write the weekly news releases. In 1977, the writer at Hialeah fell ill and never returned, so now he had the job of writing the weekly releases at Hialeah also. He held both jobs until the demise of both tracks, which came in 1983 for Palm Beach Speedway and in 2005 for Hialeah Speedway. He got his start in announcing in 1992 when the current Hialeah announcer, who lived in Palm Beach, decided he no longer wanted to make the 200 mile commute between his home and the track, and turned the job over to Marty. Little had limited announcing duties up until this point, but now took over as the main announcer at Hialeah.

    Another experience at Hialeah, a track that was a huge part of Marty’s life, allowed him to add “race car driver” to his resume. Around 1993, he drove a Cyclone at Hialeah and he had a blast.  In fact, the fill-in announcer interviewed him while Marty was still seated in the car on the track. The enthusiasm that he displayed that night for race car driving was unmistakable.

    Two things that made Hialeah Speedway special to Marty and many others were that it was an unusually flat track, and that it outlasted so many other South Florida short tracks. The track was so flat that it even seemed to have a negative 1% or 2% bank. It was that flat. Marty offered an explanation why the track outlived the others in South Florida. "A part of it and probably a big part of it was the club (GMRA - Greater Miami Racing Association). The club gave the whole place a real sense of ownership. Hialeah Speedway has outlived a lot of tracks.” Another thing that made the track special to Marty was that he would have his wife Janet (the track scorer) by his side in the booth.

    At the first Hialeah Speedway reunion in 2010, Marty was the Master of Ceremonies, and was busy with his duties honoring the first ten Hialeah Speedway Hall of Fame members.  He had prepared a short bio for each new inductee. What Marty didn’t know was that there were actually eleven new Hall of Famers, and he was number eleven. Marty was genuinely surprised when the reunion organizer began reading his bio, and announced that he was also a new Hall of Fame member.

    “I was completely surprised. I had no idea this was coming,” Marty Little said at the Hialeah Speedway reunion. He was presented with a plaque designating him as a member of the Hialeah Speedway Hall of Fame. “The other inductees that got it put the show on the track. I was just part of the support network,” he said, in his self-effacing manner. “I never in a million years imagined that I’d be an inductee.”

    Ronnie Bacelo, a friend of Marty Little and race competitor and later manager of Hialeah Speedway, told me of his long friendship with Marty and Janet Little, and how they influenced his life. “In 1992, while trying to win my one and only Street Stock championship, I was being tested by the other drivers. If they ruffled my feathers, I could do something that would get me suspended. Marty pulled me aside and said, ‘listen here. You need to get a grip before this championship slips away from you. Get out there and do what you do best. Drive the damn car and stop with the bull____.’ I won the championship.”

    Ronnie Bacelo again. “One night up in the tower while managing the race track at Hialeah, I was telling stories and had Marty and Janet laughing while he was trying to announce, and she was trying to score the racing. I don’t remember what I said, but Marty turned to me and burst out laughing while eating popcorn. A popcorn kernel shot into my mouth and hit the back of my throat. I proceeded to cough and gag. I thought all three of us were going to be fired. The mic was silent, and they were asking Janet for the lineup of the cars, but nobody could talk. Those are memories I will never forget. Marty was a dear friend, mentor, and the racing father I never had.”

    Thanks to Rex Hollinger for stories of Marty Little at the Hialeah reunion and the Cyclone race at Hialeah. Thanks to Ronnie Bacelo for sharing his memories of Marty. These stories show that Marty Little has a very special place in the memories of all his friends, and that he will be remembered for a very long time. Thank you for all the stories that you told, Marty.




    Aaron Pierce Interview – Florida Racing Plans and More

     By Richard Golardi

     Earlier this year, I spoke to Aaron Pierce on a cool, clear night in Inverness, FL. Aaron had made the trip south in mid-winter to take advantage of the winter sprint car racing taking place at Citrus County Speedway. The regularly scheduled (once a month) non-wing sprint car racing at the speedway was new for 2014. Florida had transitioned to being the hot spot for year-round pavement sprint car racing, both with and without wings. Florida was now on track to have more pavement sprint car races during the year than Indiana. I had also learned that Aaron was considering the possibility of keeping one of his cars in the Sunshine State, to race during the cold weather months. I asked Aaron if he found it surprising to see Florida becoming a dominant pavement racing destination, with more 2014 pavement races than Indiana?

    “Yes, I do,” he replied. “We’ll be down for sure,” he said, referring to a return in the fall, when racing in Indiana winds down. “My friend, Matt Grimes, from down here, knows a lot of these guys. I called and asked if he knew anybody that might have a car available. He kind of turned me over to Johnny (Gilbertson). It was a lot cheaper to do this then bring my own stuff down, and so that’s what we did.” Pierce would race the black #22 car owned by two-time TBARA champ Gilbertson, and would win the first race of the new non-wing sprint car series at Citrus County Speedway in February. One month later, he was back in Florida to race the car again, this time with wings at Showtime Speedway. Pierce would finish in third place in the Florida State Championship race at Showtime on March 1st.

    Other than the annual visit to Pensacola with the Must See Racing sprint cars for the past two years, and a 2013 stop at New Smyrna Speedway for a USAC midget race, Aaron’s trips to Florida have been very limited. “I’ve only been here one time, and that was in ’98. I won the Legend car nationals down here. Long time ago! We’ve wanted to come, but over the last few years, TBARA hasn’t really had many races during February. I’d like to come down during Speedweeks, and there hasn’t been anything for a little while. If they can get that deal working, then we’ll definitely come down.”

    Aaron Pierce will make his 12th start in the Little 500 this year at Anderson Speedway. His family’s car dealership, Sam Pierce Chevrolet, is located nearby in Daleville, Indiana. This makes Anderson the closest thing the family has to a “home track”. He has two pole position starts, and three top five finishes during that time in Anderson’s biggest annual race event.

    Is this the year that you’re going to win the Little 500, I asked? “Not for sure – not saying anything,” he said, laughing. Are you starting to feel like Dale Earnhardt and Tony Stewart, and their ordeal to make it to the Winners Circle at the Daytona 500? “A little. I’ve been running that race since 2000, or 2001. And, I finished second a few times, and every other time that we went, we’ve been in a place where we should have won, and something happened. We were really good last year, and I just got impatient passing a lapped car that had new tires on, and we’d lapped him twenty or thirty times, you know. And, he didn’t give anybody any room. And, everybody remembers it, so…”

    “I’m going to run the USSA stuff (Pierce was 2013 USSA sprint car champion), and probably some AVSS. I’ll run every chance I get. I’ll probably drive for Joe Swanson with HOSS (which has since merged with AVSS) again, like I did last year a few times.” I also asked about his plans in USAC Silver Crown, and last year’s Silver Crown race at the Hoosier Hundred. “We qualified third at the Hoosier Hundred, and had the fastest car there, and I got a flat. I caught the back of the pack, and ended up seventh. We ran the Raceway Park race, and didn’t have much luck there. Any of that stuff that’s close like that, we’ll do. If they get that series turned around, we’ll do more of it.”

    As far as changes to his schedule this year, compared to recent years, Aaron told me, “Yeah, I may run the Redbud at Anderson (Redbud 300 ARCA/CRA late model race in June). We’ve got a car. I’ve probably run 50 or 60 late model races. I finished third at the Winchester 400, and I’ve finished third at the Redbud. I finished second at Plymouth – three times. We did really good in our late model deal. Didn’t win any of them, but we ran good every time we were there.”

    Pierce has also raced a late model in the Governor’s Cup race at New Smyrna Speedway a couple of times, and was satisfied with how he ran there. “We came down for the week prior to that, where they run every night, and we ran in the top three every night that we were there. I was running second in the Governor’s Cup, and blew a right front tire and knocked the wall down. It didn’t hurt me. I like that place. And then we went back in the midget last year, and it was a lot of fun.”

    Will you have a teammate this year at the Little 500? “Not for sure. Could be a couple different people. I was talking to Mickey (Kempgens) a little bit earlier, and he’s going to get a hold of us, and we’ll see what we can do.” We also spoke about the hopes of Florida race fans for more Floridians to make it to the Little 500, and advance beyond the Florida series into the national series. “If they want to get their car count up, they need to figure out something to where the guys who have 410’s can come down. If they are going to restrict them, or whatever they want to do, and I know I would come.” A common argument is that it won’t work because car owners in Florida can’t afford the expense of buying a 410, I said. “Well, if you restrict it down, then no one has to buy a new engine,” he replied. “You can choke those 410’s down. You know – put a one inch two hundred restrictor in it. That’s what they did out in Utah, for the difference in the heads, and it worked fine. It’s a deal that’s definitely feasible, and you’ll have a lot more cars.”

    We also spoke about the pleasant surprise of seeing a sizable field of non-wing cars at Citrus County Speedway for the first race of a new series, and in the winter. “There’s a lot of cars here tonight, for a non-wing race in the middle of the winter down here,” Pierce said. It’s a novelty because it (non-wing sprint car racing) has not been done here in a long time, and there were a number of cars sitting on the sidelines, waiting for something like this, I stated. “Well, for the non-wing deal, you don’t have to have a big motor. We’ve done some things to this car to try to kind of tame it down a little bit. We were really good in the first practice, and I tried some stuff for the heat race, because I could change it back. We’ll just have to see what happens. We’ve got a good piece.”

    The equipment was good enough for Aaron Pierce to end his winter excursion to Florida with one win, and some new fans in Florida looking forward to his next visit. When will his next Florida visit occur? On Friday, he will be in competition with the Sam Pierce Chevrolet race team at Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola. The event is the season opening race with the Must See Racing Xtreme Sprint Series. The “Southern Shootout” ends the next day in Alabama at Mobile International Speedway, before the racers head north for the rest of the 2014 season schedule.

    The video of Aaron Pierce’s win from the Citrus County Speedway Wingless Sprint Series in February is here, on the Florida Open Wheel channel:






    Citrus County Speedway Sprints – April 5th Race Notes

     By Richard Golardi

     At Citrus County Speedway in Inverness, FL on Saturday, Steven Bradley scored a victory on a day that was his birthday. It was only his second start of the year after a three-year hiatus from Florida sprint car racing. The win in the Citrus County Speedway Wingless Sprint Series was not improbable, as Bradley had looked fast during his one prior start at the Inverness, Florida track. He had led early during the last race on March 1st, and went on to finish in third place. He told me that he had been concentrating on caring for his family, including a three year child, and that he felt ready for a comeback this year, choosing non-wing sprint cars at Citrus. He was hounded by the cars of Shane Butler and Dude Teate (subbing for an injured Mickey Kempgens in the #5 car), who later collided with each other, and were sent to the back. Butler would come through the field to challenge Bradley again, making one last attempt to pass at the finish, but failing to complete the pass. Bradley would win by one car length.

    Blake Rose

    Speedway promoter Gary Laplant told me that this year’s three nights of sprint car racing saw paid attendance that was about 40% to 50% greater than the nights without the sprint cars. During the feature race, there were times when cars involved in spins or collisions were sent to the back of the pack, and at other times, they rejoined the field in their old position. I asked for an explanation as to why this was done, and I was told that each incident was being considered separately, and a call was being made each time, base on observer’s viewpoints. The observers were stationed around the track, and were in radio contact with Laplant. This explains why cars that had spun or stopped did not always get sent to the back of the pack.

    Mickey Kempgens was smiling, and looking thinner, in the pits next to the car that he had driven to victory one month ago. To explain was he was not driving this night, he showed me an x-ray on his smart phone. The x-ray depicted a badly broken right collarbone, suffered by Kempgens three weeks ago. With his right arm still in a sling, he was greeting friends and customers, and was looking forward to his racing return. Dealing with pain and the pain meds apparently contributed to some of the weight loss. His planned return to the seat of the #5 sprint car will occur next month, at the next scheduled Citrus County Speedway sprint car race, on May 3rd. The seven-week layoff should be sufficient, as he was told to allow six weeks to heal before returning.

    Steven Bradley

    Part of the appeal of this new non-wing sprint car series has been the appearance of drivers and cars that had been sitting on the sidelines, waiting for the racing opportunity that felt right. Florida has also taken the lead as the place for young pavement racers to have access to year-round racing and practice. Troy Thompson had been racing in SCCA road races for the past 19 years, and had been out of sprint car racing for that time. He’s back in a sprint car now, due to the non-wing cars having their own series. He knew that his car may be underpowered compared to other cars, and was choosing the non-wing races to get the best competitive advantage for his car. He came back from a spin early in his heat race to complete the feature race and garner a 14th place finish.

    Blake Rose was the newest sixteen year old racer to add his name to the ranks of young Floridians in pavement sprint cars. After practicing on Friday night at the speedway, getting his first practice laps in a sprint car, the Rose family felt he was ready to race. Three generations of racers in the Rose family were present, with Blake’s father and grandfather joining him in the pits. His father’s blueberry farm was a prominent sponsor listed on the car’s side panel. Blake raced through the chaos of that night’s race to bring the #56 family car to the finish line for a top ten finish in his first sprint car feature. Rose was joined by Ty DeCaire and Garrett Green as one of three drivers in the field that were sixteen years old or younger (Green turns sixteen later this year).

    Sprint cars lined up at Citrus County Speedway

    Team Green Racing leaves for Pensacola later this week, to enter their #3 car and Garrett Green in their first winged sprint race with the Must See Racing Xtreme Sprint Series. Despite being under sixteen years of age, Green was able to race this year, as he was reaching sixteen years of age during the season. A recent rule change brought this change, after series founder Jim Hanks had previously restricted racing to those drivers who had reached their 16th birthday. The team will race in the “Southern Shootout”, consisting of a Friday night race at Pensacola’s Five Flags Speedway and another race the next night in Alabama at Mobile International Speedway. In May, a return to Indiana and the Little 500 will highlight the team’s efforts.

    Shane Butler informed me that he is going forward with plans to bring a car to Indiana for the Little 500 next month, and is continuing efforts to raise the needed sponsor dollars. He may have two cars to take north in May for the Memorial Day weekend classic, but he will be the only driver entered. He will enter his #18 car for next week’s TBARA series race, at Orlando Speedworld (Saturday, 4/19), but will not commit to running the entire series schedule with the TBARA winged racers this year. He will choose some of the remaining races to run, but would not say which he would choose. The return of the TBARA series would see the two racers who fought to the finish of the last race at Desoto Speedway back on the track again. The two racers were Butler, and eventual race winner Joey Aguilar.

    The return of non-wing sprint car racing at Citrus County Speedway may also be partly to credit for renewed interest in running in the Little 500 in May. Dave Steele’s previously announced intentions to enter the Little 500 were later joined by a planned return to pavement sprint car racing for Collin Cabre with car owner Jerry Powell (Cabre’s first Little 500 effort). Troy DeCaire has a planned entry with car owner Dick Fieler, and has his first 2014 Florida race this Friday in Pensacola. Mickey Kempgens seems certain to return, and will be healed from his recent injury by May. Kempgens last raced in the 500 in 2012 in a Sam Pierce Chevrolet team backup car. Kempgens told me that he can’t commit to running an extensive schedule of races outside of Florida, as his growing business (Team MK Graphics) demands his time and attention. Team Green Racing will have one or two cars available, but will likely concentrate on Garrett’s efforts, as he wants his first top five Little 500 finish. This year’s Little 500 seems sure to have in excess of four Floridians racing, which was the 2012 and 2013 driver race count for Florida.

    The 2014 pavement sprint car race total for Florida now stands at 24 races, with seven non-wing races remaining in Inverness, and the three races planned for Three Palms Speedway now considered as cancelled (4/26), or improbable (10/31 and 11/1). TBARA will add an out-of-state venue for the first time in several years (Watermelon Capital Speedway in Georgia). Showtime Speedway soldiers on, in spite of the low car counts from their first two 2014 races, both in March. The two feature races in March both saw seven or fewer cars compete in the feature race (both won by Joey Aguilar). Their next sprint car race is scheduled for the Saturday after the Little 500 (5/31).

    The winning driver interview video on the Florida Open Wheel channel is here (Wingless Sprint Cars from Citrus County Speedway on 4-5-2014):






    Joey Aguilar Interview – Florida’s Newest Pavement Dominator

     By Richard Golardi

     What is it like to be behind the wheel of a race car? Is it similar to doing a high-wire act, without a net? Or is it more like being next to someone else doing a high-wire act who is trying to push you off the wire?

    Prior to the feature race at Desoto Speedway last month, a supporter admonished Joey Aguilar to, “Take it easy. Use your head. They don’t like winners. They want to crash them every time. They will take you out, just because they don’t want you to win.”

    After Joey Aguilar went on a tear through Florida’s trail of winged pavement sprint car races during the month of March (winning all four races), I wondered if he had felt like a high-wire artist. His answer? No. He didn’t really seem to feel the pressure, as best as I could tell. A recent TBARA fine and five-race probation did not seem to faze him. He was focused on driving in his next race, and other duties to promote his sponsors and get them exposure.

    Joey Aguilar and car owner Sharon Riddle

    He, along with car owner Sharon Riddle, had also had set their main goal for the year. It was to win the Safety-Kleen TBARA Sprint Car Series championship in 2014. Aguilar had finished second in the TBARA championship in 2013, a season that saw him make a comeback from serious burns suffered late in the season at Desoto Speedway. He didn’t miss a race due to the burn injuries, but could not overcome Dave Steele’s points lead.

    Two of the four race wins were in the TBARA series, giving Joey Aguilar the points lead going into the two remaining spring season TBARA races at Orlando Speedworld and New Smyrna Speedway. An April race that was planned for Three Palms Speedway has now been cancelled by the track, due to construction delays at the track. A two-race weekend has been added to the 2014 TBARA schedule, at Georgia’s Watermelon Capital Speedway. The July 25th and 26th race dates will be co-sanctioned with USCS’s pavement “Road to Atlanta” tour. The USCS series culminates with a Labor Day weekend race at Atlanta Motor Speedway in August. This race is one day prior to a TBARA race at New Smyrna Speedway, so teams will likely have to choose between one of the two dates.

    “It’s always been in three areas – like a triangle,” Joey told me, when asked how he managed such an impressive succession of wins in the month of March. He credited his car owners, and the equipment they supplied to him as the first part of that triangle. “The second part of that triangle is my crew chief, Tra Pissott. He’s the one that twists the wrenches on this car. Me and him are like brothers. We’ve been with each other for so long. We both know each other. He’s a big part of the way the car is running right now. The third part of that triangle, to make the team that I have right now, is my sponsors. It all starts with long-time sponsor Simpson (Safety Products), and a relationship that just started last year with the Robinson Family. There’s a brand-new relationship that we just started with Desoto Speedway. We’re going to do a lot of neat things on promoting that race track this year. I love to promote. I wish I could do it for a living. Another brand new sponsor of mine is Sweet Manufacturing. They do the steering components, the steering boxes, and the power steering pumps, and the hydraulics for the race car wings.”

    Joey Aguilar and Mrs. Brazil.

    Aguilar has power from JRE Racing Engines, which is a Florida based company. He was told that the engine that they supplied for this year’s races was an improvement over last year’s engine. He was skeptical at first, but no longer. “We ran it five times, and won four races with it,” Joey told me (the only race that wasn’t a win was February 1st at Citrus County Speedway, where he finished third).

    George Rudolph recently revealed to me that he is Joey Aguilar’s uncle. Aguilar has never driven the iconic purple #68 car that Rudolph fielded for decades for a litany of legendary Florida sprint car drivers. The car was seen just last month for the Larry Brazil Memorial Race, a race won by Joey. Aguilar was close to Larry Brazil, and considered him to be a mentor. “This is for the old man. He’s a big mentor of mine,” Joey said after winning the memorial race. “He treated me like I was his own son. I drive just like old man Brazil,” he added.

    Joey told me that he was recently asked if he was glad that David Steele was not racing right now. Steele has not completed any Florida pavement races yet this year, after entering one race at Showtime Speedway, and going out early with a mechanical failure. Steele has announced plans to go for his third Little 500 race win next month in Indiana. “I miss David Steele being here racing,” he replied. “When you race against one of the best sprint car drivers in the country, it’s fun to race against a guy like that. You go to the track to race against guys like that. You go to race against competition.”

    What do you think of the penalties that you received from TBARA last week ($250 fine and 5 race probation period)? Do you think they were fair, or were they not fair? “I’m going to have to let the owners handle this one,” was Joey’s succinct reply. The pass for the win at Desoto, where he appeared to have had two tires below the yellow line, was a chance he would take again. If the penalty might be protested, he would leave it to the owners to decide, he said (the penalties were for Winners Circle conduct).

    The #11 team will be at all the TBARA races this year, in their attempt to earn the TBARA championship. As far as other Florida pavement races (Showtime and Citrus County Speedway), they will not commit to running all those races. The team will sit out this Saturday’s race at Citrus, preferring to participate in a community event to promote a primary sponsor, Desoto Speedway. Their next race is at Orlando Speedworld on April 19th. With national series Must See Racing making their annual visit to Florida next week (4/11 at Five Flags Speedway), I asked Aguilar if we might see him racing in Must See Racing’s “Southern Shootout”?

    “I’ve got some phone calls in, and I’m just waiting for the return calls,” Joey said in response. “Driving for a well-established team,” he added. He would not reveal any names, but seemed positive about his chances to show off his driving skills outside of Florida racing series. He had driven in a Must See Racing event previously, with a car entered by Floridian Shane Miller. It was a race at Salem Speedway a few years ago. He also raced at Toledo and Anderson Speedway during the trip north with Miller Motorsports, a team name that is still seen on his driving uniform to this day. He has good memories of racing with the Miller Motorsports team.

    Aguilar did express some remorse about the events that transpired in the Winners Circle of Desoto Speedway immediately after his TBARA race win in March. “I will personally apologize to the Desoto Speedway fans when we go there next time. I shouldn’t have thrown the trophy. Even though the situation happened, two wrongs don’t make a right. When we park it in Victory Lane when we go back there, we’ll make sure that we let the fans know that we love them, and that we are sorry. We are sorry for the way that we acted.”

    Can he win a fifth straight race, and then a sixth race, I asked? “Right now we can be confident. We are beatable,” he added. “We can go undefeated for the year. That’s what we’d like to do. As long as we stay focused, and do what we’re doing, we’ve got a team that can do it.” Joey did tell me that he did win three races in a row previously, when he drove for Todd Smith. “Right now, I’m very confident. I’m driving very confidently. But, I’m not conceited. I know I can be beat. I know it’s going to be tough to try to win.”

    I did meet Joey’s 18 year old son at Showtime Speedway last year. The 43 year old racer runs a warehouse for a carpet company during the week. After winning the Frank Riddle Memorial Race last year, driving a Frank Riddle memorial car, this most recent win at Desoto was equally special for Joey. This was the Larry Brazil Memorial, and Joey spoke of the cars that Larry drove, in addition to the famed George Rudolph number 68. His admiration of Larry Brazil was evident, and Joey spoke of the enjoyment he gets out of seeing pictures and hearing stories of Florida’s legendary sprint cars, and the men who drove them. A little bit of their spirit seems to linger on to this day whenever Joey Aguilar takes to the track somewhere in Florida, somewhere in time.





    TBARA Comes Roaring Back – High Speeds and High Stress at Desoto

     By Richard Golardi

     On Saturday, March 22nd, the Safety-Kleen TBARA Sprint Car Series had its second race in two weekends. The high speeds and close competition on the track at Desoto Speedway did get slightly overshadowed by tempers flaring and harsh words after the feature race was completed. This tension had been brewing since the prior weekend’s race at Auburndale, when the driver’s meeting was a flashpoint. Joey Aguilar’s feature race win was his third sprint car win in a row, this time in the Larry Brazil Memorial Race. Brazil’s family attended en masse, wearing purple shirts emblazoned with the number 68. George Rudolph, Larry Brazil’s long-time car owner, was also present with a Rudolph family-owned purple #68 car, which had Brazil’s name on the side. This car would be driven by Garrett Green, as the Green family was not running their familiar #3 car for Garrett.

    The fines and penalties levied as a result of incidents during Saturday’s race at Desoto Speedway (Source: TBARA):

    ·         Shane Butler – (1) $250 fine, for rough driving after completion of the race, under the caution flag; (2) Five race probation period

    ·         Joey Aguilar – (1) $250 fine, for unsportsmanlike conduct during Victory Lane ceremonies; (2) Five race probation period

    Larry Brazil tribute car

    The impetus for the flaring tempers after the race could partly be traced to a pass for the lead during the next to last lap of the 30-lap feature race. Shane Butler was being closely pursued by the #11 car of Joey Aguilar in second place. As Aguilar dove low on the back straight to attempt to pass Butler in the third turn, his car had both left side tires below the yellow line upon entering the turn and the two cars had tire-to-tire contact in the turn. Aguilar completed the pass and went on to cross the finish line in first place. Butler made contact with the rear bumper of the #11 car after the checkered flag, and the two drivers went face-to-face after stopping on the front straight. The Winners Circle was chaotic, and track officials seemed anxious to end the post-race ceremonies, explaining that they had another feature race to run.

    Garrett Green, L, and George Rudolph, R.

    The race itself was likely the best pavement sprint car race so far this year in Florida, with four to five cars in the lead pack, and multiple lead changes with no certain winner until the last lap. This was also the first time in the past three TBARA visits to Desoto Speedway without a driver injury, as last year saw drivers suffer broken bones and third degree burns in separate incidents (both TQ midget and sprint cars). Shane Butler continued his steady progress so far this year to now compete for the race win. At the same time, Aguilar appears to be the favorite to continue his winning ways and compete for his first TBARA driver championship. Dave Steele (2013 TBARA champion) has sat out the first two TBARA races of 2014. He did show at one Florida pavement race this year, earlier this month at Showtime Speedway. A broken camshaft kept him out of the feature race on March 1st.

    TBARA heat race at sunset

    Problems with the steering box on the #68 Rudolph family car did not permit Green to be competitive in the feature race, but he did get to lead the field during the pace laps to honor Larry Brazil. Team Green Racing is directing their efforts during the next three weeks to Garrett’s entry in his first winged sprint car races with Must See Racing (Pensacola on 4/11 and Mobile on 4/12). It won’t be his first Must See race, as last year’s Little 500 was a part of Must See Racing’s 2013 schedule. He also has experience with high-speed half mile tracks, from competing last year at New Smyrna Speedway with TBARA (Pensacola and Mobile are both banked half mile tracks).

    The final feature race results were not released until 1 AM on Sunday morning, as the TBARA officials reviewed race video files and huddled to discuss the race finish and possible driver penalties. A question that needed an answer was if the final pass for the lead was legal if the car attempting the pass had two tires below the yellow line, but might have been forced below the line by the car defending the lead. Different camera angles (hand held and GoPro cameras) appeared to show either two or possibly three wheels below the yellow line. The details of the fines and penalties were not released until Monday. No changes were made to the final finishing order, and no driver or owner points were docked.

    Heat race start from 11 - Joey Aguilar

    Ben Fritz had his first podium finish of the year, in third place, after driving with a chunk of metal wedged under his accelerator pedal. Contact between Chris Gimmler and Matt Alfonso on the first feature lap sent Alfonso’s car into the air, and he came close to flipping. He was allowed to exit to change a flat rear tire, and to resume racing in the feature, finishing in eighth place. Car owner Lenny Puglio told me that he will enter a car for the upcoming Must See Racing weekend of racing in the South, and also other Must See Racing dates during the year. He has been fielding numerous calls from drivers interested in a seat in his car this year, as he told me. Davey Hamilton competed in his car at Showtime Speedway this month, and will be back in the car at Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola.

    George Rudolph had the response of the day at Desoto Speedway, when asked about the long relationship between Larry Brazil and himself as car owner and driver. When asked what made Larry Brazil so good during those thirteen years driving his car, Rudolph had a two word response. “I did,” he said. “He just was a great racer. I won a lot of races with him. He drove for me for thirteen years,” Rudolph added. Larry Brazil was honored for the first time with a memorial race named for him, after he passed away in 2011. In addition to winning the first ever sprint car race at Desoto Speedway, Brazil was the winner of over 80 sprint car races during his career, and is ranked fifth for overall sprint car wins among Floridians.

    The videos from the Desoto Speedway TBARA race are on the Florida Open Wheel channel here:




    Two New Faces On the Scene with TBARA – Howard Jacobs and Bud Howell

     By Richard Golardi

     Auburndale Speedway, Auburndale, FL, Saturday, March, 15, 2014

    Bud Howell

    “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.” I know 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 you would of 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.

    Howard Jacobs

    Jacobs, aka “Fastrack Howie”, is a Safety-Kleen corporate man by day, in his position as a Territory Account Manager with a company whose slogan is “Make Green Work”. He was asked to be the full-time TBARA Announcer for 2014, as the club knew that he was experienced at being a DJ, and had many hours behind the announcer’s microphone. His newer duties with Safety-Kleen Motorsports made it a perfect fit. I had seen Jacobs at the track more frequently in recent months, including during February Speedweeks races.

    “As you know, Safety-Kleen is one of the big sponsors of the TBARA,” Howard told me. “I got to going around to some of the tracks with Buff (Fritz), and he found out that I MC’ed several events, and DJ’ed several events, and he said, ‘you know, we’re looking to take this to another level.’ He said, ‘we want to have our own flagman, and we want to have our own announcer. When you look at other successful groups like the World of Outlaws, they will bring in their own crew.’ And I agreed with him. He offered me this job, and I thought about it for about two days, and I called him up and said, let’s do it!”

    “This is a new challenge for me. I’ve been in front of lots of people, doing all different things, but I’ve never done anything like this. It’s exciting. I’ve been around the race track since I was a little kid, sleeping on the stands. I go way back. When I had this opportunity to do this for the Safety-Kleen TBARA Series, I jumped all over it. We want to make this thing bigger every year. That means more races, more purse for the drivers, and more cars here.” Howard Jacobs told me that this was the first time for him announcing an auto race. He felt that his performance improved over the course of the evening, including interviews with fans and drivers on the front straight during the TBARA autograph session. “I think it’s only going to get better as time goes on,” he remarked.

    What are some of your other duties involving Safety-Kleen and motorsports? “I go around and help a lot of the tracks handle their environmental needs, and disposal of their waste oils. I put in cleaning equipment for the drivers that they need to wash their parts, with our parts cleaners. We set up tents and displays, just like we do at NASCAR. You know, Safety-Kleen is huge in NASCAR, and NHRA, and Monster Trucks. I play a big part here in Central Florida with the small tracks, getting these guys on board, and showing them what it takes to be environmentally friendly, and all that.”

    Did he like the announcing duties enough that night that he was looking forward to it, and wanted to do it the full year? “I’m all in. And there’s a good chance that I might sign and be around next year if we can come to an agreement on everything.” So Safety-Kleen’s going to keep you around for a while in Ocala as your base of operations? “I have been with Safety-Kleen 26 years, 4 months and 15 days today. And, I counted every day after twenty five. I’ve moved eight times with the company. My original plan was to leave here, and go to Tampa. But, after being in Ocala for a few months, I decided that’s going to be my home, and that’s where I’m staying. People in Central Florida are wonderful. So, yes, I am here for the long haul. This is where I want to be. I’m excited to be here, and excited to be the Announcer for the Safety-Kleen TBARA series.”

    Videos from the Safety-Kleen TBARA Sprint Car Series so far this year on the Florida Open Wheel channel:




    Notes from TBARA Season Opening Race at Auburndale

      By Richard Golardi

     Tommy Nichols started on the front row for the Safety-Kleen TBARA Sprint Car Series feature race, with an excellent chance for a top three finish at Auburndale Speedway. By lap 12, he was out with a blown engine, which happened in the first turn with the cars of Shane Butler and Joey Aguilar directly behind him. Aguilar did make slight contact with the #55 car of Nichols and damaged his front wing, but continued in the race. A line of oil was left on the track from the end of the front straight all the way over to turn two, which forced a race stoppage to clean up the oil. A pool of oil was left in the infield where the car was left for a minute. “I’m done,” Nichols said, waving off the safety crew in the infield. “You’re done. You got oil all over the place,” they shouted. “OK,” he replied, before climbing out of the car.

    Tommy Nichols in Heat Race

    Joey Aguilar would shake off the minor wing damage, and continue his tear through the field when the race was eventually restarted. He was looking for his second straight win after taking the Florida State Championship for Winged Sprints earlier in the month at Showtime Speedway. He was also proud to show off two new sponsors on his car. These were new sponsors that he had hinted about previously, but could not name until the deal was final. The new sponsors were Desoto Speedway, the site of the next TBARA race this Saturday night, and also Sweet Manufacturing. His crew was wearing brand new red Desoto t-shirts, and car owner Sharon Riddle was spotted wearing a big smile. Her driver would take the win at Auburndale, giving her #11 car two straight wins to top off the recent sponsor signings.

    Ben Fritz and Shane Butler would also make their charges through the field, with Fritz taking fourth place. Butler would overtake Dude Teate with a pass through the turn one grass for second place. Fritz overcame a first lap tangle with the #9 car of Matt Alfonso to pick his way carefully through slower cars to finish in the top four. Dude Teate held the lead until lap 19, when Aguilar made his last pass of the night, and he was in third place in the final running order.

    Bud Howell, L, and Howard Jacobs, R

    One frightening incident involved the # 3 car of Garrett Green, who pulled his car to a stop in the infield grass of turn three when there was a flash of fire. The hydraulic fluid line to the wing had sprayed fluid on the hot exhaust, causing a brief fire. The hot fluid sprayed Green on the lower half of his body, and he was seen sitting in the infield grass near his car, patting down his legs. He received some minor first degree burns on his leg due to the hot fluid contact. Driver Richie Corr, waiting in the infield near his disabled car, dashed over to the stricken driver, and was the first person to reach Green, who hopped up shortly thereafter. Green walked over to take a look at his car, but could not continue. I have confirmed that Green plans to race this Saturday at Desoto Speedway.

    The field of fourteen cars was slightly smaller than expected, as the two pavement non-wing races held in Florida this year had both drawn more than twenty cars. There are some other cars that are awaiting repairs, or may be entered shortly for later races. The size of the crowd was estimated to be larger than the usual crowd for a Saturday night of stock car racing at the Auburndale track. In addition to the first TBARA race at the track in ten years, a new pre-race fireworks display was debuted for the crowd. The drivers were warned in the pre-race drivers’ meeting that this was a short track that could bring more contact, and they were urged to keep cool and be steady. Some tempers did flare in the meeting itself, and the race was fairly calm in comparison.

    Joey Aguilar and Crew in Winners Circle

    The Auburndale TBARA race was the first of nine straight weekends with a pavement sprint car race in Florida. The races stretch from South Florida’s Three Palms Speedway (4/26) to Pensacola’s Five Flags Speedway (4/11), which is more than 500 miles away from Central Florida. The last of nine races is at New Smyrna Speedway (5/10), which saw some of the largest crowds for pavement sprint cars last year in Florida.

    I spoke to Must See Racing Owner and Promoter Jim Hanks earlier today, and he is confident that Pensacola and Mobile will be a successful weekend (4/11-12), with 23 teams planning to race. Showtime Speedway also has a race during this stretch (3/29), hoping for a comeback after the small field of cars for their race earlier this month. This race will allow teams with Hoosier Tires in their tire racks to use up their remaining Hoosier Tires, as other Florida series all transition to using American Racer tires. TBARA will be racing exclusively on American Racer tires after this weekend’s race at Desoto.


    ·         A new TBARA black screen print T-shirt was on sale, receiving praise for the stylish design

    ·         Some media restrictions were lifted by track management for this race, allowing media members to take and share still photos and video of the sprint car competition

    ·         Safety-Kleen’s Howard Jacobs had his first race at the microphone as the new full-time announcer for the 2014 TBARA season.

    ·         He was joined by Bud Howell in his first race as the new full-time TBARA Flagman. I was fortunate to get a joint interview with these two men after the night’s racing was completed, which I will include in a later column.

    ·         Dirt racing legend Danny Lasoski was spotted in the pits of Ben Fritz, helping his friend and fellow Ocala resident for the evening (Fritz was a Lasoski crew member during Speedweeks races in Florida)

    ·         The TBARA Series moves on to Desoto Speedway on Saturday night, the first race at the track since it was renamed and new owners took over the helm. It is the first of several races at 3/8 mile tracks, a more familiar turf for the winged sprint cars.

    The Photo Album for TBARA Sprint Cars at Auburndale Speedway on 3-15-2014 is here:

    The feature race video from the Florida Open Wheel channel is here (Safety-Kleen TBARA Sprint Cars from Auburndale Speedway on 3-15-2014):




    The Long Survivor – 2014 TBARA Season Preview

     By Richard Golardi

     Florida has seen its share of sprint car series come and go. One series stands out as a long term survivor in its efforts to gain interest, sponsor dollars and fans. Formed in 1973, the Tampa Bay Area Racing Association (TBARA), which once raced on dirt and pavement, now races as a winged pavement sprint car series. The series has twelve races at six different tracks scheduled for this year, an expanded schedule that includes two tracks not on the 2013 race schedule (Auburndale Speedway and Three Palms Speedway in Punta Gorda). In addition, TBARA President Buff Fritz has informed me that an out-of-state venue may be added to the schedule for the first time in several years. Watermelon Capital Speedway in Cordele, GA, with a USCS sprint car race weekend on June 20th & 21st, may see those two races become TBARA co-sanctioned races.

     TBARA Driver Group Photo

    While TBARA begins its season at Auburndale Speedway’s ¼ mile bullring this Saturday night, and visits Desoto Speedway the following weekend, Citrus County Speedway has already begun an ambitious ten race sprint car season. The speedway, located in Inverness, has already held two races, both of which had in excess of twenty cars entered. In contrast to TBARA, the Citrus County Speedway races are all non-wing races. While racer’s interest in a Florida non-wing series is now acknowledged, how many of these racers will desire to race in both series is an unknown. In addition to twelve TBARA races, and ten at Inverness, Showtime Speedway has four races scheduled, and there is one race at Five Flags Speedway. That makes a total of 27 pavement sprint car races scheduled in Florida this year, compared to 17 pavement sprint car races scheduled in Indiana (as of 3/11/2014).


    “I’m looking forward to getting the 2014 season going again, and glad to be back at Auburndale Speedway. We haven’t been there in ten years,” Buff Fritz remarked. “We never could get a race date that was good for both parties. We finally got the terms worked out and now we’re back on the schedule. Now we’re back at every pavement track in the State of Florida that’s open.” What caused the schedule turnaround with all these races added, I asked? “It’s a total team effort,” he replied. “It’s every single member and partner and official, and the whole deal. It’s fans, and everybody that helps support TBARA. I think we’ve got this thing turned around. Bringing Safety-Kleen on, with a national sponsor this year. Bringing some great contingency sponsors on board – K&N, and Bell Helmets stepping back up to the table with us. You’ve got to remember this is our 41st season as an organized series. I think the promoters are starting to see that the TBARA Sprint Car Series is the number one show in the southeast when it comes to sprint car racing. We bring the fans. We’re packing the house.”


    Fritz also revealed that he is working toward the goal of expanding this year’s schedule to sixteen or seventeen races. In addition to the Cordele, GA dates (which will be regular season points races), there may be races added at other tracks this year, including one more Citrus County Speedway date. Three Palms Speedway is still on the schedule, despite a delay in the installation of catch fencing and spectator stands. “We’re trying to catch the progress on that. We’re a little concerned right now because we’re supposed to be in Three Palms Speedway in April, and they still haven’t got the track ready yet. I know they’ve been waiting on their bleachers, and their catch fencing. That’s a sprint car town right there (referring to Punta Gorda). That community really comes out, and supports it in a big way.”

     Buff Fritz

    Turning to safety, and TBARA’s commitment to make their races as safe as possible, I asked if the level of safety equipment use was where it needed to be in the series. TBARA does not currently mandate that drivers use a head and neck restraint system, although most of the drivers are using a HANS or other similar device now. Cars that don’t have a full containment seat are required to have a right side cage net. “That’s an ongoing project. It’s an ongoing concern,” Fritz said. “I’m all about safety with our drivers. Our club’s kind of going through a kind of neat turnover right now, in that we have a great deal of drivers that are young fathers.” Dave Steele, Johnny Gilbertson, Scotty Adema, and Buff’s own son Ben were mentioned as fitting into this category. “At the end of the day, when we park that race car on Saturday night, those fellows have got to go back to work on Monday. Safety, and making sure that they are able to provide for their families, is at the foremost. This year, we are implementing our new safety team, trying to provide more assistance in the infield of every venue that we go to.”


    It looks like double file restarts will not be coming to TBARA. “What’s the old cliché? If you’ve got a winning lineup, you don’t change it? Our single-file restart is what our series is known for. Our four abreast on our parade lap. We’re not changing our show. Our show’s working, it’s clicking, it’s exciting. The fans sure get their money’s worth,” Fritz told me confidently. 


    A recent “Florida State Championship for Winged Sprints” at Showtime Speedway saw a disappointingly small field (seven cars in a 75-lap main event, with two drivers from the Midwest). In light of this, I asked Buff Fritz if TBARA might be a driving force behind launching a pavement version of the 360 Winternationals. The dirt track version, held annually at East Bay Raceway Park, saw more than 50 cars entered in this year’s 360 Sprint Car Winternationals. “We’re willing to try anything,” Buff Fritz told me. “You’ve got to get a venue that will host something of that size, and get the awareness out there where people will travel, and come and race with us. It would be fabulous to have it hosted here in the Sunshine State, and with TBARA being the host club. It would be a great deal. I’d love to see a national 360 event here in Florida.”

     Sprint car at Auburndale Speedway

    I asked about his wish list for the year for the TBARA, and Buff Fritz told me of a few items on his list. “My biggest would be to make sure that all of the venues that we went to, that it was a success for them. The track owners and promoters – it’s got to be a good deal for them, just as well as us putting a great show on for the promoter, and good car count, and excellent racing. You know, we’ve made a tire change this year, and we’ve gone to a different tire vendor (American Racer Tires), and I’d like for all the teams to get satisfied and get accommodated, and get their tire issues worked out, and have success with the tires. That’s another big change that we’ve having this year. And that every one of our racers and fans and racing team members, as they travel to and from the races, gets home safely to their families. The safety of everyone off the track is just as important to me as it is on the track.”


    I asked about tire soaking and tire warmers, and if these are legal types of tire prep in TBARA racing? “Well, our tire rules are pretty humble and modest,” Buff Fritz replied. “We have no soaking tires rule. Our tire rules are pretty open right now. There isn’t anything in there regarding doing any tire soaking, tire prep, however you want to call it. We just have it mandated in our rules that we are all on the same manufacturer’s tires. I know there’s some issues at some other venues regarding some of that.” TBARA is still allowing teams to use their remaining Hoosier Tires in the season’s first two races. American Racer has a contract to be the exclusive tire supplier for the TBARA for the next two years.


    Safety-Kleen Systems, Inc. has a one-year contract as the title sponsor for the series, now named the Safety-Kleen TBARA Sprint Car Series. The 2014 championship point fund is $10,000, more than three times the size of recent years, marking a transition for Safety-Kleen to provide cash prizes for the first time. The main sponsor is also providing one of its managers as a new series announcer. Howard Jacobs, a Safety-Kleen Territory Account Manager, is the new TBARA race announcer for the full season. Howard (aka "Fastrack Howie") is an experienced DJ and Master Of Ceremonies, so announcing duties are not new to him. There is also a new flagman. Bud Howell, who has 30+ years of short-track flagging experience, is in the flag stand for the full season, and will show off his dual checkered flags on race night.



    2014 TBARA Race Schedule:


    3/15/2014, Auburndale Speedway

    3/22/2014, Desoto Speedway

    4/19/2014, Orlando SpeedWorld

    4/26/2014, Three Palms Speedway

    5/10/2014, New Smyrna Speedway

    8/30/2014, New Smyrna Speedway

    9/20/2014, Orlando SpeedWorld

    10/4/2014, Desoto Speedway

    10/18/2014, Citrus County Speedway

    10/31/2014, Three Palms Speedway

    11/1/2014, Three Palms Speedway

    11/15/2014, Orlando SpeedWorld


    The video from the Florida Open Wheel channel is here (TBARA Preview - Auburndale Speedway Trackview, site of the season opening race on Saturday, March 15, 2014):




    A Night of Firsts in the Second Race at Citrus County Speedway

     It was a night of firsts at Citrus County Speedway in Inverness, FL on Saturday. The CCS Wingless Sprint Series, running their second race of the year on the 3/8 mile asphalt, had another race with an entry list in excess of 20 cars. Chad Freeman and Garrett Green both had major career firsts on that night, marking a turning point for both drivers. Mickey Kempgens had his first sprint car feature win of the year, in dominating fashion. He lapped the field up to third place, and had a half lap lead on the second place car. The night was in contrast to one month earlier, when contact with another car sent him into a spin, and he was not in the top three by race end. Kempgens is the only driver to finish in the top five in both races at the speedway this year.

    Chad Freeman

    Chad Freeman, who traveled with his sprint car from Kentucky, entered his first sprint car race in a non-vintage racing series. Freeman has many miles of sprint car racing in vintage racing series, the most recent coming one day prior at the DAARA Vintage Oval Track Nationals in Auburndale. He has been a lifelong close friend of the Riddle family, and the Riddles would take him to the races when he was a boy living in Florida. He has close ties with the sprint car racing community in Florida, and has an impressive collection of Florida memorabilia and scrapbooks at his home in Kentucky. Freeman was kind enough to recently give me access to his collection for my own research. I jokingly labeled him as the curator for the “Florida Sprint Car Hall of Fame Archives – Kentucky Branch”. As sprint car Race Director Stan Butler and I stood observing Chad’s practice laps, Stan remarked that, “we’ve known Chad since he was this tall!”

    Chad Freeman’s first race lap of the night found him watching a grinding crash unfold in front of him in the first turn. Steve Heisler flipped and ended up against the second turn wall, leaving him uninjured, but sore. The flip was caused by a crowded three-wide first turn and Heisler going over another car’s tire. Shane Butler expressed remorse after the race before he had seen a video replay. Later, he stated, “I am taking 100% blame on this. But mistakes are made and I am man enough to own up to it.” Butler also apologized to Heisler, whose car bounced off the top of the wall before falling back to the track. Heisler later joked, “People pay a lot of money to take rides like that.” He told me that it was not his first meeting with the turn two wall at the speedway, even showing me a still photo of another crash saved on his smart phone.

    Garrett Green

    With Garrett Green’s steady improvement on track in his third year in a sprint car, his first top three finish and subsequent first feature win seemed inevitable. A misstep at the year’s first race at Citrus found him heading to the tech area at the wrong time, and being penalized for the misstep. On Saturday, redemption would arrive with his first ever sprint car feature top three, finishing second behind Kempgens. With a heat race win in Georgia last year, he now sets his sights on a feature win. In the immediate future, the fifteen year old racer plans to join the Must See Racing Southern Shootout (two race winged sprint series) in April, and venture into dirt sprint car racing. East Bay Raceway Park is the closest dirt track to the family’s base in Valrico.

    Mickey Kempgens in Winners Circle

    Steven Bradley would also have an impressive showing, leading early and finishing in third place. The car also had a new appearance, with polished aluminum body panels. Bradley told me of the hours of work that he and his father spent in getting the polished aluminum panels to shine brightly for this race. Richie Corr was among the early front runners in the race, and was in the top five at race end, but would be dropped down in the order for not going to the tech area immediately after leaving the track.

    Some of the cars had both American Racer and Hoosier race tires, as the series transitions to using American Racer tires exclusively. Citrus County Speedway required that both rear tires must be American Racer tires for this race. The Hoosier Tire 45 compound for the right front tire was allowed. TBARA will also be making the switch to American Racer tires when it begins competition later this month at Auburndale Speedway and Desoto Speedway. The race at Auburndale marks the return of winged sprint car racing to the Central Florida quarter mile bullring, after a hiatus of at least four years.

    Steven Bradley

    The feature race video from the Florida Open Wheel channel is here (CCS Wingless Sprint Cars from Citrus County Speedway on 3-1-2014):



    Bubba Raceway Park and USAC – It Must Be Speedweeks (Part Two)


    Bryan Clauson appeared to be on track to advance to the front on the first night of AMSOIL USAC National Sprint Car Series racing on Thursday night. On lap 15, a flat right rear tire stopped his advance while competing with Tracy Hines for the lead. Bubba Raceway Park was rained out on Friday night, leaving Saturday as his last chance until spring in Indiana. The USAC sprint cars would go on hiatus until April, six weeks away. Clauson has a goal for this year: repeat. “Yes - just try and defend our title. When you’re getting into three straight, you’re talking about kind of rarified air. There’s only a couple of guys that have been able to do it. I feel confident in the team. We brought the same team back. We made a few improvements, equipment-wise,” Clauson said, referring to his 2014 attempt to win three straight USAC sprint car titles.


    Looking back on 2013, Bryan Clauson spoke about his year and his late-season surge to the championship. “We kind of got in a groove late last year. We kind of hung around the top of the points deal for a lot of the season. By August and September, we found our rhythm, and became the car to beat every night. Hopefully, we can carry that back into this year, and start all over.” His crew chief (Bob East) and crew are the same, keeping the same winning group from 2013 together. A new tire for 2014 was added, but he saw it as something in need of just fine-tuning. His 2014 plans include the full USAC sprint car and midget series, and adding winged sprint car races on off days. “I’m shooting for thirty or so winged races. I’d like to do more. It’s kind of scattered – I’m going out to Yuma next week to run ASCS races. I’m going to Vegas and Tucson the week after that to run the Outlaw shows,” Clauson told me. He felt that he got a late start last year, and only ran about ten winged races last year. He wants to make it thirty races this year, but won’t be disappointed with twenty or twenty five winged races, as last year was his first time racing a winged sprint car.

     Bryan Clauson

    Clauson viewed winged sprint car racing as something new and challenging, and wanted to have fun with it. “You learn, you can take some things from that, and apply it to the non-wing stuff, and vice versa. It keeps me on my toes a little bit.” What about the Little 500 (a race he entered as a rookie in 2013)? “I’d like to do the Little Five again, it kind of depends on some of the scheduling stuff. They’ve got that POWRi World Midget Championship that I’m leading right now. I think they’ve got a couple races during that. It’s depending on the full World Championship schedule. I’m chasing something on the Little 500. Not quite there where I can say I’m going to be back, but I feel good about it.” He will be in a few Silver Crown races, but not the full season. He is still pursuing wins in both the Hoosier Hundred and the Little 500 – the two big Memorial Day weekend short track classics in Indiana.


    Tracy Hines is an owner/driver for USAC sprint car racing this year, and brings The Carolina Nut Company with him for full-season sponsorship. He looks forward to helping his sponsor cross-promote and helping them with their goal of getting into more stores nationwide. They are a gourmet peanut company, with multiple flavors of nuts. They are in all Sam’s Club stores and some other stores also. They are also an associate sponsor on his Parker / Hines midget and on his Mark Lightfoot owned Silver Crown cars. Hines won the Silver Crown race at the Belleville High Banks in Kansas last year, a place where he had come close to winning in the past. He led all 50 laps on the high-banked half-mile. It was the first Silver Crown win for car owner Mark Lightfoot. He is racing the full schedule in all three USAC national divisions. “It’s what we’ve done for years – run all USAC races. We’ll try it again for three championships, and see what happens.” He would not say that he was setting the goal of three USAC championships in one year for himself, as he wanted to “just win races.”


    For Jon Stanbrough, his ride in the Michael Dutcher/RW/Tri-Star Motorsports #37RW sprint car, with new teammate Kevin Thomas Jr. in the #17RW, was his big news so far this year. Car owner Dutcher partnered with Alabama driver Kevin Thomas, Jr. last year to garner seven wins and finish fifth in the USAC sprint car season-long championship. This year, Jon Stanbrough has joined them in a second team car, with both contending for the National Championship. Stanbrough has always been viewed as one of the toughest drivers on dirt. At 46 years old, he has racked up 31 USAC National Sprint Car wins. Stanbrough and Dutcher had worked together before, for a few races in 2009. Stanbrough had previously said that he had high hopes for the team, and wanted to get back to winning more frequently.


    “New team. I’ve got high expectations. Same thing I always look for – I just want to win as many races as we can win. If we’re in contention for the championship, maybe we can get that too as an added bonus,” Jon Stanbrough told me, while added tearoffs to his helmet, which was perched on the hood of his new car. Does he think he will get more wins this year, and have a better chance at the championship? “Yeah. No doubt in my mind that we will. It’s not that I wasn’t competitive before. It’s just that we didn’t get to run all of the series. This year, that’s our plan right from the get-go is to run the whole series. You know that luck is a big part of it, so hopefully we can have a little bit of luck on our side as well.”

     Tracy Hines

    For the weekends without a USAC sprint car race, Stanbrough said that he had no definite plans on where he would be going. He has had substantial success in the Indiana-only KISS Series (King of Indiana Sprint Series), winning the series championship six times since 2003. “We’ll just look at the schedule, and pick and choose where we’re going to go, and where we might race besides USAC. No definite plans on exactly where we’re going. I’m more concerned with just focusing on running the sprint car this year,” he said, when asked if he had any Silver Crown races planned. “If something comes available, and I feel like it’s something good, that we can be competitive with – maybe,” he said, putting extra emphasis on the last word.





    Bubba Raceway Park and USAC – It Must Be Speedweeks (Part One)

    On Saturday, the second of two Ocala races on the AMSOIL USAC National Sprint Car Series schedule was held. Bubba Raceway Park was supposed to be the location of three races, but Friday was rained out. Fortunately, the rain did not cause the severe track drying problems that occurred earlier in the month when the All Star Circuit of Champions made their visit. For Floridians, the rain meant a few less races run by the national sprint cars series during Speedweeks, but the quality of the racing was not diminished. When Levi Jones asked about being a sprint car racing fan in Florida, I remarked that February always means a binge of travel and race-going, followed by eleven months of looking forward to next February.

    With three to four cars in contention for the win during the Thursday race, on Saturday night it was time for Bryan Clauson to make his methodical move through the field to win. Clauson also began the trip home with the lead in the USAC sprint car points. Dave Darland was in second in the points with an all-time USAC record set in Ocala for his 1,000th USAC national feature start. Darland was back in the Phillips Motorsports #71P car again. “My Phillips Motorsports team is committed to me another season, and we’re happy about that. We had a great 2013, and we’re looking forward to 2014. Me and Clauson went down to the very last race of the year at the Oval Nationals at Perris,” Darland said. “It was a good battle clear to the finish, and we had a lot of great battles throughout the year. He won seven races – I won seven races. It was a good balanced year for USAC.” Darland said that he doesn’t set many goals, as “I’m just here to win races. I’m going to run the #41 car in a lot of the other non-USAC sprint car races, and another ten to fifteen races with the #17RW midget on dirt.” He also has some Silver Crown races planned with a new car owner. His race total for the year is 60 to 70 races.

    Twenty-one year old USAC sprint car rookie Jarett Andretti did have his father John, and driver coach/ crew chief Levi Jones in his pit for his season start. He also had the advantage of having Jones take his car out on the track during Wednesday practice runs to test setups. Jones had retired from driving in 2013, and now lives in the St. Louis area. Jarett Andretti’s 2014 schedule had recently been expanded to include a possible rookie run in the Little 500. I asked if he had wanted a variety of races this year, or would have preferred to make USAC sprints his main effort? “I think we’re always working on a variety of races. I want to run dirt sprint car as much as we can, but we’re also going to run the full Silver Crown Series to get some longer races, and get some pavement in there. And then, the Little 500 is so prestigious. Getting variety is what’s best for you and that’s what makes these guys so great is that they can run from pavement midgets to mile Silver Crown cars. That’s what made Tony, Jeff, Carl – all those guys so great. So I’m hoping to get the same variety”

    Since Jarett is running the full USAC sprint car schedule, he does have hopes of staying in the top ten in points, and contending for Rookie of the Year. “USAC sprint cars are probably the toughest short track racing in the world. To compete at a high level is the ultimate goal.” He told me that he is looking forward to Eldora, Belleville, and the dirt miles. He may also be in some pavement winged sprint car races. “It’s going to be an exciting year. I’m looking forward to it.”

    “I’ve liked working with John and Jarett on some other stuff, and I like the way they approach the race team, and what they want to accomplish. I agreed to help them out,” Levi Jones told me. Wearing jeans and a Window World team shirt, Levi smiled easily and seemed completely comfortable in his new role. Testing the car on Wednesday and mentoring the newest Andretti family racer on Thursday seemed an easy transition for him. He said that he could not make it to all the races, but would try to help them cut down on their learning curve. “His goal is not to race sprint cars for thirty years, I would say. We want to try to make a splash and give him the best chance we can to get into Victory Lane.”

    With the team expanding their race schedule, and racing more weekends, Levi Jones said he could not follow them all the time. “That’s one of the big reasons why I’m not racing is because I can’t obligate to traveling all over the country, and doing it all the time with responsibilities at home. We can test, and do stuff together.” He wanted to help shrink down what may be a two or three year learning curve, and get them wins sooner. Jones is also working with Shane Hmiel’s midget team, and Great Clips Racing. He admitted that he does get asked about how he can be at the track, and not be driving? “A lot of those people were ones that wanted to win, and wanted to win championships, and never got the right opportunity to do it. I was fortunate enough to win a lot of big races, and championships, and accomplished my goals in a sprint car. I turned thirty. Tony wasn’t going to call me and say ‘hey, one of these Cup cars is struggling, and do you want to drive it for a couple of weeks?’ That wasn’t going to happen.”

    John Andretti had taken a position with Andretti Autosport last year, a sort of go-between for the driver and the engineer, Levi told me. John and his son Jarett then decided that Jarett could use someone in similar role for himself. “I hot lapped it once last night, just to make sure that the steering feels like it’s steering, and that the motor does everything right, and the car feels good.” Levi explained that he was a little worried that he wouldn’t want to get out of the car after the Wednesday night hot laps. “I’ve made enough laps in a sprint car, and done it enough that it was pretty easy for me to get back out.” And you were happy, and had a smile on your face after the run? “Yeah,” he replied.

    Living just outside of St. Louis, Levi Jones has a 250 mile drive to get to Indianapolis. Hmiel’s team is close to him in Illinois. “I was a race fan before I ever became a driver,” he told me. “I love being around it, and doing it. When you win working on a car, you get the same feeling you do as when you’re driving it. It’s still fun for me to be here.”



    East Bay Winternationals Week with Florida’s Drivers

     By Richard Golardi

     “Up and down. It wasn’t good, and it wasn’t bad,” is how Robbie Smith described his experience at the 2014 East Bay Winternationals for 360 sprint cars at East Bay Raceway Park. The Tampa owner/driver did make the A-Main feature on Thursday night, a night that included a heat race win. The only other driver from Florida to make it to an A-Main at East Bay during the Winternationals was Danny Martin Jr. Danny made it to the A-Main on each of the three nights, with a best finish of 13th on Friday, and B-Main wins on Thursday and Saturday. There were fewer drivers from Florida making it to the A-Main as compared to one year ago. Many drivers explained that since they did not race these engine types each weekend, the drivers from other states who did had an advantage. The biggest winner of the week had to be Wayne Johnson, who won on both Friday and Saturday. Californian Rico Abreu challenged Johnson for the $10,000 prize on Saturday, nearly passing near the race end. Abreu did not reach his goal of winning some races while in Florida for his first Speedweeks, but did have an impressive week at East Bay. His A-Main finishes improved from 6th, to 5th, and then a 2nd place on the last night.

    Robbie Smith

    “It was one of those things that we tried and we missed,” Robbie Smith explained, when speaking about the changes made to the car to gain speed. He added that he felt he made a mistake on Friday that cost them a starting spot in the feature race. A follow-the-leader night on Saturday, with what he described as a “pretty greasy” track led them to make some changes to make the car lock down, but they did not work. He plans to go to Bubba Raceway Park and Volusia Speedway for his next two races, and is not intending to race the complete schedule of 21 Top Gun races. “We’re not running any full schedule with anybody. We’re going to pick and choose what we do this year. We’re going to have some fun, and try to win some races,” Smith, the 2013 Bubba Army 360 Sprints Champion, told me. He also is looking to run some USCS series races during the year. His main goals for the year are to get more confidence in the car, and get some momentum going toward winning races.

    “Me and Robbie are running pretty good, for the Florida guys. Tryin’ to represent,” Danny Martin Jr said. A new car that was not handling the same, despite bringing their best equipment to the Winternationals, meant he was faced with a car that was hard to drive in the slick track conditions. “Unfamiliar equipment can get you in trouble, too. You spend the whole weekend trying to figure it out.” Up next for Danny is Hendry County, the opening race of the Eagle Jet Top Gun Sprint Series on Saturday. The injected motor will be put back in a new car, which he has never driven before. Car owner Doug Shaw was looking to run some USCS races on those weekends without a Top Gun race. Danny Martin Jr. is the defending Top Gun driver champion.

    Regarding the return of Top Gun to Bubba Raceway Park (in place of Bubba Army 360 Sprint Series races), Danny Martin Jr. believes that, “if Don (Rehm) runs the series, then we’ll be better off.” Referring to Bubba Clem, Danny stated that, “he’s a good guy, but to try to run the track, run all the series, and then run the sprints, I think he got just a little too much stress. And then, on top of that, his day job and everything. Maybe it just got to him. You know, that stress will get to anybody. Don does a real good job. Last year, he was starting to tech a little more. I think we’ll have a good series this year.” What is his main goal for the year? “Just win races. I want to go on the road. We really haven’t made a final decision. We’ll just see how money goes. If we picked up a fuel sponsor, or someone to cover our tires, we would definitely be out of town. But with Doug (Shaw) floating the bill all on his own, and he’s not selling too many race cars, it makes it a little tougher to go spend two or three thousand per weekend.”

    Gene Lasker

    Although he did not have a new car at East Bay, Johnny Gilbertson’s car did have some new colors, and new sponsor stickers. “We just changed the colors up a little bit. There’s a lot of black cars out there now, so we wanted something a little different,” he remarked. He does plan on running more dirt races this year, while currently waiting for a motor to be completed. It will force him to find a new motor to use at Hendry County on Saturday. He plans to run most of the Top Gun dirt races, and also East Bay Sprints. “I’m going to run TBARA races, as schedule permits. There’s just a lot of dirt races this year, so it really doesn’t leave a whole lot of room.” With so many dirt and pavement races this year, he could race a sprint car on almost every weekend. But are there enough sponsor dollars to do that? “If we bounce around, probably. If it was every weekend a pavement car – then no.”

    This coming Saturday, Gilbertson will have Aaron Pierce behind the wheel of his #22 winged sprint car at Showtime Speedway. Aaron’s last race in this car earlier in February resulted in a win at Citrus County Speedway. Dave Steele’s #33 pavement sprint car is also being prepared at the Steele Performance shop, alongside of the #22 entry, and both cars will have 360 motors on Saturday. The Showtime Speedway 75 lap “Florida State Championship” race will allow 410 motors with the 360s.

    A J Maddox had a new car at East Bay for the Winternationals, which still had some bugs being worked out during the week. He viewed his struggle as “trying to keep up with these guys that do it for a living. It’s pretty tough to make the race. They’re only taking twenty cars. We had some bad luck Thursday night. Popped a motor Thursday night and spent Friday afternoon trying to swap it out.” His sponsors from 2013 were back again this year, with Manikis Performance Parts added. A third place in his Thursday heat race and B-Main race was not enough to advance, with so few cars advancing to the A-Main. He wants to wait to see how his first Top Gun series races work out for him before making a decision to race all 21 Top Gun races this year. “I’d like to do some traveling this year, and do some USCS races,” he added, after only racing in one USCS event last year.

    Wayne Johnson

    With a new color scheme and graphics on his Car, Tyler Godwin also had a new driver logo, with a hand grenade pictured next to his name on the car’s body panel. “It came about a couple of months ago, when I first starting driving for Brian. They made a little comment, saying ‘we have a hand grenade in the car. Pull the pin, and see what happens.’ Ever since then, it just stuck.” His Winternationals races did not provide the degree of success that he wanted, and he looked forward to better success in the first Top Gun race in one week.

    A wreck on Friday night involved a scary moment when a flipping car partially got into Tyler’s cockpit, impacting the upper left part of his containment seat. Tyler was uninjured. “If I didn’t have the ButlerBuilt seat containment, I probably would have had a broken shoulder, or something broken. The left rear tire was actually inside the cockpit when he hit me. In the B-Main, everybody’s pretty aggressive on the starts. If you don’t pass them on the starts, you won’t have a chance. All of a sudden, I see two cars flipping in front of me, and I rolled out of the throttle. Then, there was a clear spot, and I gassed it.” He continued after the wreck, with a damaged wing, until a right front torsion arm and torsion bar went flying out. That caused the nose to dig in, and he pulled off the track. He will try to run most of the Top Gun races during the year, but also add some USCS races in the Deep South states later. As far as Tyler Godwin continuing his late 2013 hot streak, which saw multiple race wins, he replied, “we’ll see. I’d like to say so, but I don’t want to sound cocky.”

    “The luck of the draw in the pill is killing us right now,” Gene Lasker told me on Saturday, describing his bad luck so far during the week. A new motor proved fast early on, and he knew he was running the same speed as other cars. “It’s just a matter of being lucky enough to start in the right spot.” Lasker told me he is looking forward to the upcoming Top Gun series races, and racing at Bubba Raceway Park and East Bay. “We’ll run for the two championships this year (Top Gun and East Bay Sprints). This is a brand new car we built for the next season. Our motor program this year is with Ron Hutter. He’s one of the best motor builders in the country. Up until now, I’ve just been using the driver. I don’t care if the shock’s broke, or the wing’s in the wrong spot. I just drive harder, and different, and make it happen. It’s getting to the point where everybody’s so fast right now that you need to have real good equipment to be able to win.”

    Lasker told me of a race at Ocala, where he started on the front row along with Jack Hewitt, and won the race during a time that he felt that Hewitt was at the top of his game. Hewitt had just finished winning all of the Four Crown races at Eldora Speedway. “I won the first national event in my career at Ocala. I will remember that forever,” Lasker confessed. “We always want to go back there. The race tracks are the race tracks. This is what we do.” To Lasker, the people that were running the race tracks were less important. His memories were with the track, and the good memories of the track will remain.

    The video from this year’s East Bay Raceway Park Winternationals is from the #6S car of Robbie Smith, as he races against 55 other cars to make it to the A-Main on Saturday (from Florida Open Wheel channel):







    World of Outlaws Weekend at Volusia Speedway Park

     By Richard Golardi

     After starting in eleventh place in the feature race at Volusia Speedway Park on Saturday night, Donny Schatz took the lead on the 23rd lap after passing Kasey Kahne Racing competitors Daryn Pittman and Cody Darrah. This World of Outlaws STP Sprint Car Series action was the second night of a three night series of races at the North Florida track. Thursday night was the first and only night for the All Star Circuit of Champions at the track, which saw mainly one lane racing and limited passing. That all changed by Friday, with 48 hours having passed since the last rain storm. The low and high grooves were both ready, and several racers were battling for the feature win late in the race, with Brad Sweet, Paul McMahan and Tim Shaffer all involved. Kasey Kahne would end the night in Victory Circle with his car # 49 and driver Brad Sweet. This was a repeat for Kasey Kahne Racing to win the first series race of the year at Volusia, where Pittman was the winner in 2013. “The bottom was a little better, but if you got too close behind a car you got bad air and it would take away the nose. That’s what happened getting into one with Tim, and I about hit the wall. I knew I had one more chance and Paul (McMahan) snuck up on me, but I never gave up on the top,” Sweet said after winning night one with the Outlaws.

    With three nights complete at the Volusia County banked half mile, the fastest cars and teams that are emerging include the three Kasey Kahne entrants (Pittman, Sweet and Darrah), Donny Schatz (coming off a 23 win season in 2013), Joey Saldana (Thursday night winner), and Paul McMahan ( three consecutive top five finishes in the first three nights). Kerry Madsen is also notable for a third place finish on Friday night, after winning on Monday night at Bubba Raceway Park in Ocala. Steve Kinser, in the first three races of his final year, dubbed the “Salute to the King” Tour, had finishes of 24th, 11th, and 7th (he later won the last feature race on Sunday night). Thursday night saw some drama for Kinser, when a broken part caused a spin in the feature, with Danny Holtgraver and Rico Abreu making contact after the spin. Heat race #3 winner Abreu would be forced all the way up to the wall in turn three, and avoided a wreck.

    “It was a lot of fun and you kind of had to pass everywhere,” Donny Schatz remarked after the Saturday win. “We didn’t have the greatest night last night, but you’ll have that in racing. It’s how quick you rebound. It was a fun race, it was awesome fast and sometimes I didn’t know where I was going to end up.” The multiple lead changes and extremely fast track conditions were a welcome change from Bubba Raceway Park earlier in the week, where rain caused a very muddy track. Most World of Outlaws teams withdrew from racing at Bubba Raceway, drawing flak from various quarters because of the decision to withdraw.

    Also new for 2014 was a requirement that either full containment seats or side nets would be required with the World of Outlaws. Aluminum or carbon fiber-type seats are permitted; with the driver’s left side headrest / helmet surround extending at least 4 inches forward from the back of the headrest. Jac Haudenschild had used a flat back seat in 2013, which no longer is allowed. When asked about the new seat in his #9W Destiny Motorsports car, Jac said that if he could have kept his “old school” seat this year, he would have kept it.

    “Well, Bubba’s was a disaster. We really appreciate all his hard work, but it was just a disaster,” Danny Lasoski told me, in summarizing his week in Florida. “We broke an engine the first night (Thursday),” he said, referring to Volusia Speedway Park. “Last night (Friday), we qualified terrible. Started 24th, passed the most cars, and the hard charger award. Tonight, we dug another hole, we’re 25th quick, so we’ve got a lot of work to do.” Lasoski would race to a second place finish in the B main on Saturday, and then finish 22nd in the Saturday night feature race. On Sunday, he would improve his qualifying and feature finish positions, finishing in 18th place in the feature.

    Lasoski was looking forward to traveling to East Bay early in the week for Wednesday practice at the Tampa area track for the 360 Sprint Car Winternationals. Next: “Yuma, Las Vegas, Tucson, and then out to California.” Concerning all the “Florida guys” on his temporary crew while in Florida, he said, “pretty cool – it’s nice to be down here. I’m a Floridian now, so I love it. They’re helping. All these guys are working real hard. I couldn’t do it without them.”

    Jac Haudenschild, after flipping in the Monday feature race at Bubba Raceway Park, was hoping for a better weekend when racing moved to Volusia. “We’ve been having a little bit of a tough time, but the 9W car, we’re going to get it going good. We’ve got Scott Benic working on the car, and we’re looking for good things. Rick Rogers owns the car this year, and we’re going to run a lot of races.” How many races? “Oh, I don’ know. It’s kind of up in the air, but we’ll run 60 or 70 races.” Concerning the flip on Monday, he said, “I just got up on the cushion, and I got upside down. We went over a couple of times.” He was uninjured. Haudenschild is not done racing in Florida yet, as the team has a 360 engine for East Bay later in the week, where racing resumes from Thursday to Saturday. His goal for 2014 is to win as many races as he can.

    Rico Abreu described his struggles in the car on Friday night, where he was tight at times and loose at other times. He won a heat race on Thursday night, was the fourth fastest qualifier on Friday night, and an engine change prior to the feature on Saturday night allowed him to finish in 16th place. His best feature finish of the weekend came on Sunday night, with a 13th place finish in the last night at Volusia. His Florida Speedweeks travels take him to East Bay Raceway Park next weekend, before the cross-country trek back to California.

    “It’s all new to me on these big tracks, where you keep up your momentum, and hit your marks. I think I was getting better as the week goes on, and we’ll learn for when we come back next year,” Rico Abreu told me. He was involved in the incident on Thursday night when Steve Kinser broke and spun on the sixth lap. “Steve Kinser spun out and I went to miss him and Holtgraver hit me. It’s just a racing incident, and we move on. Today’s another day. We’ve got a lot of races planned for these next couple of weeks.” Abreu remarked that he was impressed by the high speeds at the Volusia Speedway half mile. “You don’t get to go to as many places like this, where it’s so fast. Keeping your speed up, and your hands down, and it’s a lot going on. It’s experience for me.” Does it have some similarity to Eldora? “At Eldora, you get to the fence as quick as you can, to get momentum around there. So, it’s a little different.” He also praised his team, saying that it was a great team that he had behind him, and gave thanks to his family and supporters. Abreu carried my GoPro camera in Friday night’s feature, after it was mounted on Christopher Bell’s car for the heat race and B main.

    Videos from All Stars race weekend at Bubba Raceway Park and World of Outlaws weekend at Volusia Speedway Park are on the Florida Open Wheel channel:




    Winged Sprint Car Legends Come to Florida for Speedweeks

     By Richard Golardi


    Steve Kinser

    And so it begins. The last full season of racing for a legend. A legend who has set records that none seriously think can be broken. Steve Kinser has twenty World of Outlaws titles, and 576 career WoO Sprint Car A-Feature race wins. He also has an IROC Series race win and one start in the Indy 500 as a 42 year old rookie in 1997. During his last full season, he will celebrate his 60th birthday on June 2nd. Just don’t say that he’s retiring, or use the word “retired”. He’s not retiring. He does want to consider returning next year to a part-time schedule of racing, in a sprint car that he owns. This is his last year of racing the full WoO schedule, and last year with Tony Stewart Racing.

    But does he ever have visions of himself relaxing in a recliner, with a cold drink in one hand, and a remote control in the other hand? And when he does try to imagine this, does he dread it a little bit, or is that OK with him? “I’m dreading it. When you’ve done this for as long as I have, you just wish you could do it forever. You know, your body starts telling you it’s time. I’d rather not talk about it a whole lot. That’s how much I dread thinking about not racing. It’s a tough situation for me,” he said, as we stood looking out over the pits at Bubba Raceway Park.

    His feelings upon starting his last full season of racing were not ones of joy or relief. He described it as, “not a good feeling, for sure.” When he was at the point of deciding about 2014, he knew that he had a couple of different choices to consider. “I was thinking about this year, and just running what I wanted, and Tony and my wife Dana both asked me if I could run one more year. I said well yeah, I guess I can do that. They just thought that was the right thing to do. We’ll get through this year, and I’ll weigh out everything and I’ll make a decision whether I’m finished, or I’ll run a few races next year. I don’t know. That’ll be up in the air. But, it’s definitely my last year running 100% of the races, for sure.” So, at the end of the year, you’ll make the decision – done for good, or run some races during the season? “Yeah, well I might run 50%, or I might run none. Who knows? I’ll be sixty years old in June. At best, I could probably run another four or five years, you know what I mean? It’s sort of time to slow down a little bit, I guess.”

    When looking back, do you feel good about having a chance to race in NASCAR, the Indy 500, and also your incredible success in sprint car racing? “Well, sprint cars has always been what I race. It did give me an opportunity, with the split in IndyCars, to go run that one year. And then dabbled just a little bit, but it wasn’t a really smart move to try to do any NASCAR racing. I’m not complaining about anything. I’ve had a great career, and hope we have a good year this year.”

    Danny Lasoski

    “It’s a whole new race car, but it’s the same team. It’s my own team. Myself and Chris Milius are going to be running probably 50 to 60 races. I’m going to run those with my car, and then I’m going to run 30 with Mark Burch’s car,” Lasoski told me. Where will you be racing? “Wherever and whenever with his car. We’ve got both 410’s and 360’s, and just wherever there’s an open race is what we are going to do.”

    What have you been doing to kill time, since there has been no racing (prior to Sunday) here at Bubba Raceway Park? “I live down here now. I live down here in Ocala, so I’ve just been enjoying it down here. I go home every night.” Although he’s a Floridian, he is not a year-round resident and still lists Dover, Missouri as his hometown. “I spend the winter down here. I love it down here. Great people.” Danny even mentioned having TBARA racer Ben Fritz on his crew during Speedweeks, and Ben’s Ocala Lawns sticker was visible on Lasoski’s wing.

    What is your goal for the year? “Same as every year – win the Knoxville Nationals. That is it. You know, we can look at every race and you want to win every race, but at the end of the day, these are all practice races to get to the Knoxville Nationals. We were lucky enough to win a hundred races. We clinched a hundred races at Knoxville last year. So, we’ll go back there and see if we can’t win a couple.” Danny said that his Speedweeks plans involve all the Volusia Speedway Park races, and then take a look at East Bay Raceway Park to see what the track looks like before he decides if he wants to race in the 360 Winternationals there. “If it’s rough and nasty, then I’m not going down there. It’s the same car – I can just switch motors.” Beyond East Bay, he is looking at Yuma, Arizona, and Las Vegas as his next stops. World of Outlaws, ASCS, Knoxville weekly races and All Stars all figure into his schedule for 2014.

    Daryn Pittman

    Daryn Pittman envisions himself winning the World of Outlaws driver championship again in 2014. “Oh, absolutely. There’s no other way to look at it,” he said confidently. “There’s no reason we can’t do it again.” The entire team worked hard over the winter on those areas that they felt were weaknesses, he said. His main competitors in 2014 are Donny Schatz, and he mentioned Tim Kaeding as a main competitor for race wins, and also Brad Sweet. The Kasey Kahne Racing teammates (along with Cody Darrah) did not race at Bubba Raceway Park on Sunday or Monday, but will compete at Volusia Speedway Park.

    I asked about his feelings seeing Steve Kinser in his last full season as a competitor of his and everyone on the World of Outlaws trail. “Obviously, I’ve been around long enough to be a huge fan first, and raced against him as a competitor. It will definitely be a loss to the sport, but will obviously never be replaced. I’d like to see him have a better year than he did last year, and go out pretty strong.” What if it is the last lap, and you and him are side by side for the win? “That would be pretty cool, but I won’t treat it any different than if it was anybody else.” So you would not back off? “He’s won twenty of them. I’m not here to help him win his twenty first. It’ll be fun to race with him. It was a great pleasure to watch him as a fan first, and then be able to get to race with him and get to know him a little bit also.”

    Pittman has the same crew chief and crew for 2014. “It wasn’t broke, so we didn’t fix it,” he said, referring to his team. He feels that the team is picking up in those areas where they lacked a little. “We’re not sitting still and expecting to do the same thing, and that is going to be good enough.” He went bowling one night with his crew during the rainouts, along with the other two Kasey Kahne Racing crews. “That was good times,” he said.

    Dale Blaney

    What was Dale Blaney’s choice of time-killing routines, while waiting out the rain last week in Ocala? “Been in my car. Driven to Target. Driven everywhere – Dunkin’ Donuts about eight hundred times. I left home Tuesday morning, and today was about the first day I’ve really seen the sun. I’m glad to be racing. Everybody knows the track’s going to be in rough shape, just because of the rain they’ve had on it. It’s going to be hard to pass, but he does a great job.” Dale had a new team, and new car number, but it was the same car, and same motors as last year. There was a new owner (Tony Kennedy), new truck and trailer, and a white and black winged car with number 14K (K for Kennedy). “He used to race back there in Ohio, and he was always number 14. It’s his number, and his letter, and we’re just racing for him.” Dale told me that he is running the full All Star schedule, to defend his 2013 All Star championship, and about 20 World of Outlaws races. There may be a few other races, for a total of about 65 races in 2014. This was a schedule that was about the same as the past few years.

    With the rained out races from last week, Dale was looking at 7 races in 8 days starting on Sunday. Tuesday was the only practice day. “If you’re racing for a living, it’s just like going to a job. So, it’s just another day,” he told me. His main goal for the year was to win the All Star championship, and next was to win a big race (he mentioned King’s Royal, Knoxville, Williams Grove, Lernerville, and Brad Doty Classic). “You never know from year to year if it’s going to be a good year, or a bad year. Hopefully we can just be consistent and run good all year. We didn’t win an Outlaws race. First time in four years that we hadn’t won an Outlaws race. Hopefully we can be a little bit better this year.”

    Rico Abreu

    Rico Abreu, in Florida for his first Speedweeks sprint car races, has an ambitious schedule planned for the month of February. In addition to running 410 races at Bubba Raceway Park and Volusia Speedway Park, Abreu will race in the 360 Winternationals at East Bay Raceway Park. All these Florida tracks are new to him, having previously concentrated his racing efforts in California and the Midwest. The tracks are new, but the racing is not. He is in the seat of the Abreu Vineyards winged sprint car on dirt, and that is familiar territory. Why has he not come to Florida for Speedweeks in the past, I asked? “Last year, we were talking about going to Australia, and we ended up not going. So, we got everything ready to come to Florida, and start the year off early. I think I can run 25 races before the first King of the West race in California. It’s really important for me to be here, and to be here with all the best sprint car drivers. I’ve watched a USAC race here at Ocala, but I’ve never raced here. We’ve got a 360 for East Bay, and then Yuma (Arizona) on the way home (California).”

    How do you think you’ll do in your first Florida Speedweeks? “Hopefully win a couple of them. We’ve got good cars, good motors, and I have a very good crew chief – Paul Silva. We get along well, and we have a good friendship. Paul’s a really good guy to be around.” And you won on a variety of tracks last year, is that correct? “Yeah, I won with the USAC midgets, and the sprint cars in California. This year, my goal is to win a sprint car race out of California. The competition is tougher with the Outlaws. I’m going back to all those tracks that I ran last year, and my goal is to win at some of them.” How many open wheel races are you going to run this year? “Hopefully, 130 races that I have on my schedule. That’s a lot of races, and a lot of traveling. It’s a lot of time away from home. It’ll be good for the next step in my career.” Abreu told me that he is still looking for his first USAC sprint car win, which seems likely to happen soon.




    Non-wing Sprint Car Racing is Back in Florida

     By Richard Golardi

     Interviews were conducted at Citrus County Speedway on Saturday, February 1, 2014, during the season opening race. The race was the debut of the new CCS Wingless Sprint Series, and marked the return of non-wing sprint car racing to Florida. The 30 lap feature race was won by Aaron Pierce, driving the number 22 car owned by Johnny Gilbertson. The track plans to run ten non-wing sprint car races on the first Saturday of each month, through November 2014.

    Citrus County Speedway Driver Group Photo

    Aaron Pierce

    “I got in there one time a little hard, and me and Mickey were racing for position, and I got into him a little bit. It wasn’t on purpose, but it was just one of them deals, you know what I mean? I apologized, but he wasn’t hearing it, which I totally understand. He was upset, and he has every right to be. It wasn’t anything I did on purpose. I don’t drive like that. We had a really good car. We had the best car on the race track. At the end, the left front was coming loose a little bit, and I felt something chattering. I just had to finish those last four laps, and not miss my marks, and I knew we’d be good. I got up on the outside of the 21 car (Jimmy Alvis Sr.) that was leading. I tried to get him on the bottom, and I just couldn’t do it, because he was guarding the bottom pretty good. I got down into one and two there, with like five to go, and got him pinned down, where he couldn’t get up the race track. We got him, just by forward drive. By the time we got up on the straightaway, we beat him.”

    You got through about half the field, after a twelfth place start, was that correct? “Yeah, I drew the worst possible pill. There were twelve in the bag, and I grabbed the twelve. That’s why you’re not supposed to grab the first one you touch when you stick your hand in there. I’ll be back, for sure.”

    Aaron Pierce

    Richie Corr

    Since this #14 sprint car is your new car, have you been racing in other series, inside or outside of Florida in the recent past? “I have been on hiatus. I raced with TBARA many, many years ago. About 15 years ago. It’s actually been that long since I’ve strapped myself into a race car. It’s good to be back, and I definitely need some more seat time, and some exercise. The heat race was awesome. I just ran out of steam. I started first, and finished fourth. I probably could have finished second, behind Ace (Joey Aguilar). I just was totally out of breath. And that was the heat race. For the thirty lap feature, I’m going to have an oxygen mask on (laughing).” Are you going to be here, for all ten races? “Yes, sir. We’ll be back, every time they have it. I’ve been building this car. This used to be the old red seventeen car – James Donaldson’s car. I bought it a year ago. It turned out to be an awesome machine. I’ll run all the TBARA that I can run. I’m currently looking for sponsors too. We’re looking for some funding, so we can do it full-time.” Does your choice of #14 as your car number mean you are a Tony Stewart or AJ Foyt fan? “Tony Stewart fan. That and it was the only other number that was available.” Richie would be involved in a wreck that put him in the fourth turn wall in the feature race, but said that he will return.  

    Richie Corr

    Ty DeCaire

    Is it correct that you are running all ten non-wing races here at Citrus County Speedway? “Correct.” Are you running the TBARA winged races also? “We are still on the fence about that. We haven’t decided if we’re going to run both of these two series. That’s still up in the air too.” So, on March 1st, when Showtime Speedway and Citrus are both running on the same night, you will be here at Citrus? “Yes (at this point, his crew nodded their heads in unison, and added ‘this (Citrus) is a definite, Showtime is likely, TBARA is probable, and the Little 500 is questionable’).” The team told me it was questionable because of the expense, and that participating in the Little 500 might mean missing one of the other series. How does the car feel tonight, I asked? “The car feels good. Starting off the day, we were a little rough. It wasn’t the same as when we were here the last time for practice. It didn’t feel the same earlier on today. We made a few minor changes, and the car came alive in the heat race.” Ty would garner an eighth place finish in the feature race, and was the highest finishing rookie.

    Ty DeCaire

    Joey Aguilar

    When was your last non-wing sprint car race? “Probably two and a half or three years ago.” Was that the IPSCA race here? “Yes. We were leading at eleven laps into it, but they said that I jumped the start. They put me back four spots, and then I spun out twice, and I ended up fourth, which wasn’t bad after what went on.” How does the car feel tonight? “Well, we’re struggling a little bit tonight, but the guys are working really hard. We won our heat race, and started on the pole, and that probably was a big plus. We weren’t the fastest car. They went over the car, and found a couple of things that is going to make it better for the feature. We’ll go out there and mash the gas, and see what we’ve got.” How many of the non-wing races here at the track will you run? “We’re going to run them all. All ten races.” And all twelve TBARA races? “We’re committed to all of Showtime, and we’re committed to all this non-wing stuff. With the TBARA, our owner said they probably would want us to run them all. But, it is a debate right now. We’ll be at the first couple of races. We would like to run some USCS stuff. They have seven races this year. I want to be there (Atlanta race) this year, if I can. But, let me emphasize, I’m just a driver. I do what my car owners want me to do. So, wherever they would like us to go is where we’ll go.” Joey was near the front of the field during the feature race, and would take a third place finish in the race.

    Steve Heisler

    “It’s been a little crazy this week. I’ve been working on the car six or seven hours a night. This has been killing us. Tired and wore out. Ready for a little break.” How many laps of the heat race did you get in? “None. Out of fuel. Thrashing with everything else, we forgot to check it. Just - driver fault. We’re going to go out for the feature. The car’s good – real good. The driver’s still a little rusty. We’ve got to work some minor changes with the driver. Get the rust knocked off, and I think I’ll be alright.” How many races did you have last year? “Zero. There was one race here in 2012, that was in Ray Bragg’s car.” Does it feel a little strange, being back in the car again? “Oh, absolutely. It feels like getting back on a bicycle again. It’s tough – just trying to get back in the groove, but I’m working on it.” Do you plan on running all ten non-wing races here? “Yes, we’re running all non-wing. Tommy wants us to run some wing shows – I know he is. I don’t want to go too crazy. It depends on how my sponsorship works out for me. If the sponsors don’t come through, then it’s going to be a laid-back season. Come over here, and try to win a race or two over here, or at least stay in the top five.” Despite a spin early in the feature race, Steve almost got a top ten in his first race in the new #25 car. He finished in eleventh place.

    Heat race at Citrus

    Travis Bliemeister

    “This is my second or third wingless sprint car race. I’ve got maybe a handful of winged races on pavement. About five or ten years ago, I raced a little bit at Auburndale with the Central Florida Wingless Sprints, and then one time I ran down at Punta Gorda.” Have you been waiting for a non-wing pavement series, because that’s what you like, or is there a different reason? “Yeah, I mean it’s more affordable. I don’t have to have the big motors. This has actually got a carbureted engine in it. They say that you take the wings off, it evens up the playing field. So, we’ve been waiting for the wings to come off, so we can see what we’ve got.” Are you running all ten races here? “We’ll just have to see how tonight goes, and see how we do. This is a dirt car. We can make it adapt to pavement. I’ve run at East Bay, and Volusia and Putnam and Ocala. I also have a dirt car, and we’re going to run a full dirt season this year too.”

    Dave Retzlaff

    Dave told me that he has not been racing for the past four years, as he was repairing the crash damage to the same car that he brought to Citrus County Speedway this night. His last heat race win was in TBARA in 2010. He was hesitant to say how he thought he might do in the feature race, because “there’s a lot of fast cars out here. I ain’t saying. The car’s a little tight. I’ll do a little juggling. Hopefully we’ll do good.” Dave was a one-man crew at the track this night. He was the owner-driver, the chief mechanic, and the crew.

    Dude Teate

    “It feels pretty good. I think we’ve got a shot at winning,” Dude told me prior to the sprint car feature race. Did he intend to run the entire series at Citrus? “Yeah, as far as we know, unless something else comes along. The track’s close to our house, so we’re going to do it.” The #0 car was one that Dude would be driving in the TBARA races this year, after competing in the #31 car in 2013. But, he was not committing to a full season in either of the series in the #0 car. This car was last seen in competition in 2012, in a TBARA race at Punta Gorda in which Dude won the feature race.

    Video of Aaron Pierce at Citrus County Speedway is here, on the Florida Open Wheel channel:




    2014 Florida Speedweeks Preview

    By Richard Golardi

     This year’s edition of Florida Speedweeks will mark Tony Stewart’s return to racing, but not behind the wheel of a sprint car. He will mark his return in a Sprint Cup stock car at Daytona International Speedway. He will be at Bubba Raceway Park, but will be “rooting on his team”, not driving a Tony Stewart Racing sprint car, as he did last year. After a one year absence, pavement sprint car racing returns to Speedweeks. Citrus County Speedway will have non-wing sprint car racing on February 1st, the first of a series of ten non-wing races in 2014. There will be three successive weekends with national sprint car series racing each weekend, up to and including Daytona 500 weekend. Among the anticipated highlights of this year’s Speedweeks include the following:

    ·         The final Speedweeks for the King of the Outlaws, Steve Kinser. Kinser announced his retirement in December 2013, with one last full season of racing in 2014

    ·         There is a new live network broadcast of short track racing during Speedweeks, with hope for more broadcast dates in the future. MAVTV will broadcast live from East Bay Raceway Park on Thursday, February 13th, a Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series race

    ·         The previously mentioned return of Tony Stewart, with two new teammates on his NASCAR Sprint Cup team (Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch). With 19 Daytona victories on his resume, Stewart will attempt to add his first Daytona 500 title to that resume

    ·         Richard Childress Racing brings car number 3 back to NASCAR Sprint Cup, with Austin Dillon driving

    ·         The return of pavement sprint car racing to Speedweeks also marks the return of non-wing sprint car racing to Florida, making Florida a prime setting for pavement sprint cars (TBARA – 12 races in 2014, Citrus County Speedway – 10 races, and Showtime Speedway – 4 races)

    ·         Bubba Raceway Park adds an additional night of sprint car racing on Thursday the 6th, and ups their sprint car racing total to 6 nights, the most of any track during Speedweeks

    ·         NASCAR short track racing returns with the Battle at the Beach downsized to a one-night event on the short track at Daytona Speedway

    ·         A Tale of Two Drivers: Kyle Larson and Bryan Clauson

    Sprint cars at Citrus County Speedway for Speedweeks

    Although they are both recognized as two of the most talented short track open wheel racers in the country, Kyle Larson and Bryan Clauson find their careers taking divergent paths. Both drivers will be the subject of extensive press scrutiny and will likely find their legion of fans growing over the course of Speedweeks. Over the course of the past six months, both drivers have seen events pass that will play a significant role in their future careers. In August 2013, Larson was selected to replace Juan Montoya in the number 42 Target car in NASCAR’s Sprint Cup series. His first race in this car will be in February at Daytona Speedway. The remainder of the season will likely see him in competition with Austin Dillon for the Sprint Cup Series Rookie of the Year title. With so much success in open wheel racing in his past, Larson will have high expectations to garner race wins and eventually bring Sprint Cup championships to his team.

    Bryan Clauson has earned another USAC National Sprint Car Series title and his first Chili Bowl Golden Driller trophy in the past six months. In prior years, a foray into Nationwide Series stock car racing, and a single entry into the Indianapolis 500 in 2012, did not result in an offer to race full-time in either series. Some have labeled him as a USAC “lifer”, unlikely to move up into any higher-paying series. Regardless, he will still be widely admired for his skill while he races on dirt short tracks across the country.

    The season opening race for the World of Outlaws sprint cars will see Sammy Swindell making another attempt to take the driver championship at age fifty eight. Tony Stewart Racing will bring back the duo of 2012 Outlaws champion Donny Schatz and 20-time champion Steve Kinser in his farewell tour. The race location, at Volusia Speedway Park, was the site of Daryn Pittman’s first 2013 World of Outlaws feature win. Nine months later, he would celebrate his first World of Outlaws driver championship in his first year with Kasey Kahne Racing.

    Speedweeks at Volusia Speedway Park

    Last year, Daytona Speedway’s new 4/10 mile backstretch short track marked the realization of a goal to add racing during the track’s race week downtime. This downtime lasted from Monday through Wednesday. Now a one-day event, the Battle at the Beach will see the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East run its second race of the week on Tuesday evening. The first race will be held at New Smyrna Speedway on Sunday evening, a track that was frequently rumored to be the new location of the Battle at the Beach for 2014. The Sunday night K&N Pro Series East race replaces the USAC National Midget Series, which raced on this night in 2013. The USAC midgets saw disappointing attendance and car counts last year. With New Smyrna Speedway now a designated NASCAR Home track, it is not surprising to see NASCAR racing get priority.

    The debut of the CCS Wingless Sprint Series at Citrus County Speedway will mark the start of a significant increase in the number of pavement sprint car races in the Sunshine State. The series starts racing on February 1st, and thereafter on the first Saturday of each month. The majority of the winged sprint car races after Speedweeks fall under the aegis of the TBARA, racing at six different tracks across the state during the year. The Safety Kleen TBARA Sprint Car Series returns to action in mid-March, with races at Auburndale Speedway and Desoto Speedway. Showtime Speedway has four winged sprint car races scheduled for 2014.

    That gives Florida a total of 26 pavement sprint car races during 2014, as compared to 21 pavement sprint car races currently scheduled in Indiana in 2014 (if the HOSS and AVSS series both schedule the same number of Indiana races as in 2013). At one time, Florida was so dominant in pavement sprint car racing that the 1986 Little 500 was composed of over 40% Floridians (14 of the 33 starters in 1986 were Floridians). Can one now correctly call Florida “The New World Center of Pavement Sprint Car Racing”? Maybe …

     New Smyrna Speedway

    Complete Schedule of Sprint Car Races – 2014 Speedweeks

    Saturday, February 1 CCS Wingless Sprint Cars / Citrus County Speedway, Inverness

    Thursday, February 6 All Star Circuit of Champions / Bubba Raceway Park, Ocala

    Friday, February 7 All Star Circuit of Champions / Bubba Raceway Park, Ocala

    Saturday, February 8 All Star Circuit of Champions / Bubba Raceway Park, Ocala

    Wednesday, February 12 All Star Circuit of Champions / Volusia Speedway Park, Barberville

    Thursday, February 13 All Star Circuit of Champions / Volusia Speedway Park, Barberville

    Friday, February 14 World of Outlaws Sprint Cars / Volusia Speedway Park, Barberville

    Saturday, February 15 World of Outlaws Sprint Cars / Volusia Speedway Park, Barberville

    Sunday, February 16 World of Outlaws Sprint Cars / Volusia Speedway Park, Barberville

    Thursday, February 20 USAC National Sprint Car Series / Bubba Raceway Park, Ocala 360 Sprint Car Winternationals / East Bay Raceway Park, Gibsonton

    Friday, February 21 USAC National Sprint Car Series / Bubba Raceway Park, Ocala 360 Sprint Car Winternationals / East Bay Raceway Park, Gibsonton

    Saturday, February 22 USAC National Sprint Car Series / Bubba Raceway Park, Ocala 360 Sprint Car Winternationals / East Bay Raceway Park, Gibsonton

    Saturday, March 1 Winged Outlaw Sprint Cars / Showtime Speedway, Pinellas Park

    Weekend #3 Itinerary Recommendation

    Friday, February 14 World of Outlaws Sprint Cars / Volusia Speedway Park, Barberville

    Saturday, February 15 ARCA Stock Car Series (Day) / Daytona International Speedway The Sprint Unlimited at Daytona /NASCAR Sprint Cup (Night) / Daytona International Speedway

    Sunday, February 16 World of Outlaws Sprint Cars / Volusia Speedway Park, Barberville or  NASCAR K&N Pro Series East, New Smyrna Speedway, New Smyrna Beach

    Weekend #4 Itinerary Recommendation

    Friday, February 21 360 Sprint Car Winternationals / East Bay Raceway Park, Gibsonton

    Saturday, February 22 NASCAR Nationwide Series (Day) / Daytona International Speedway

    USAC National Sprint Car Series (Night) / Bubba Raceway Park, Ocala

    Sunday, February 23 Daytona 500 / NASCAR Sprint Cup / Daytona International Speedway

    The Daytona 500 race weekend has the addition of a national sprint series running in North Florida on the night before the 500. The USAC National Sprint Car Series is running at Bubba Raceway Park in Ocala on Saturday night, which is a 40 minute drive from Daytona Speedway. With the Nationwide Series running at Daytona on Saturday afternoon, that leaves enough time to make it to Ocala to take in the USAC sprint cars on Saturday evening.

    The finale of Speedweeks then takes place on Sunday the 23rd, with the running of the 56th Daytona 500. With major renovations going on, part of a $400 million project known as "Daytona Rising", fans will see 20 million pounds of steel frames waiting for installation. The new 170 foot high grandstands will overshadow the original 140 foot high grandstands. The best part is that fans will not have to climb lots of stairs to get to their seats. Instead, they will take escalators up and down. A seat in the top row may require walking 20 rows, at most.

    For more information, and links with Daytona Speedway Speedweeks race schedules, and Daytona Rising project artist renderings, visit my Twitter feed at:



    Jason McCord of USAC Looks Forward to 2014

     By Richard Golardi

     For Florida, the loss of a USAC National Midget Series visit to New Smyrna Speedway in 2014 is tempered by the news, from USAC’s Jason McCord, that the USAC sprint cars may return to East Bay Raceway Park in 2015. McCord told me that he and East Bay President Al Varnadore had tried to arrange for the return of the USAC National Sprint Car Series for this year, but ran out of time to complete the deal. East Bay had last hosted USAC in 2010, and Bubba Raceway Park took over the following year as host of the February Speedweeks visit. For 2015, the schedule may likely include both tracks hosting the AMSOIL National Sprint Car Series, with multiple nights at both tracks, and a one day break in between.

    “I was in talks with Al Varnadore over at East Bay to try to get something going for this year to try to put a second part of the swing together for the sprint cars, and hopefully get 5 or 6 races in. Unfortunately, we got it going a little late, and we couldn’t make it make sense this year. He was open to doing it the following weekend, but to keep teams here for a week would have been too problematic,” Jason McCord told me, in an interview at the PRI Trade Show in Indianapolis. “He and I agreed that we’re just going to start early on 2015, and we’re going to incorporate that into next year. Obviously, our shows do well down there. Our races are great. We never have to prove our product. Hopefully we can catch good weather on our swing down there this year, and next year have East Bay incorporated and maybe have 5 or 6 nights of racing down there.” Would it be 5 or 6 straight nights of racing? “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,” McCord said.

    One possible stumbling block that may have made the deal to bring the USAC sprint cars to East Bay Raceway Park unworkable this year was a previously scheduled MavTV live broadcast event. The MavTV live broadcast is on Saturday, February 15th, just a few days before the USAC sprint car teams arrive in Florida for the first practice day, on Wednesday, February 19th. The Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series will be the feature race for the Saturday night live broadcast from East Bay.

    I asked about the new dates for a couple of iconic events in May, which are the Tony Hulman Classic at Terre Haute and the Hoosier Hundred at the Indiana State Fairgrounds. These two races were moved to a Wednesday / Thursday pairing in 2013 (instead of the Thursday / Friday dates), but neither race was run on the new dates. The Hulman Classic was rained out on Wednesday, and the Hoosier Hundred was run on Friday, after a rainout on Thursday. “It’s something that Bob Sargent and I have talked about for a number of years. He felt like it was worth a shot. He knew he was going to ruffle some feathers, moving a traditional date. He thinks the risk is definitely worth the reward one time. If it doesn’t work, we’ll go right back to Friday.”

    I asked Jason McCord to highlight the 2014 changes and additions for all three major open wheel racing series that USAC presents (sprint cars, midgets, and the Silver Crown cars). “The Honda National Midget schedule is going to be pretty similar to what is was last year. We just kind of moved some dates around. The Pepsi Nationals are back in the fold now at Sun Prairie, Wisconsin over the Fourth of July weekend. On the AMSOIL National Sprint car side, we’ve added some pretty cool things. In June, we’re going to make a swing over to our actual sponsor’s race track at AMSOIL Speedway in Superior, Wisconsin. It’ll be our first trip there. We’re taking the sprint cars for the first time this year to Junction Motor Speedway in McCool Junction (Nebraska). Our Eastern Storm is going to be five tracks this year. We’ll be at Grandview, and we’re going back to Lincoln Speedway, then to New Egypt, and then Port Royal and Susquehanna. We’ve got both Lincoln and New Egypt back this year, so we’re excited about that.” Indiana Sprint Week will have the same venues and same rotation in 2014.

    McCord also praised the Sprint Car Smackdown in August at Kokomo Speedway as one of the most anticipated and exciting events of the year for the sprint cars. “That thing’s grown by leaps and bounds. I’m really proud of what we built there from the ground up. I think that thing’s got a ton of potential to be something special,” McCord told me.

    Any new tracks for the Silver Crown Series, I asked? “Yeah, for Silver Crown we are going back to Belleville for the second year. Syracuse is back, and Memphis is back. So, we’ve got a couple of places we’re going back to that we haven’t been to in a while. Other than that, we’ll have our standard two shows here at Raceway Park here in town. Obviously, all the miles. Terre Haute is going to kick the season off on April 6th.”

    Returning the attention to Florida, I asked if the National Midget Series was not returning to New Smyrna Speedway in 2014 because the attendance was somewhat sparse for the two dates in February 2013, or if it was because of another reason? “Honestly, we never got into the specific reasons. The biggest challenge for us was for guys to get off some weekdays to travel to Florida. A lot of the midget teams are just on the heels of the Chili Bowl. Just travel, and that part of the midgets right now – car counts are difficult to get that far. We’re trying to figure out where we are going to take that pavement midget thing anyway. We need to try to build that thing up and give it a shot in the arm. To try to take some teams here in Indiana, that we rely on so heavily during the season, and make them spend so much of their annual budget to make that trip just doesn’t make sense. We need to be able to afford to race back here first.”

    We also spoke about Kyle Larson’s win in one of the midget features at New Smyrna, and how it was one of his very few appearances in Florida in an open wheel race car. Larson was scheduled to come to Bubba Raceway Park for the USAC sprint car finale (Saturday night) last year to run Hoffman Racing’s second sprint car. But that was the day of his big crash at Daytona Speedway in a stock car. Larson escaped injury, but several spectators were injured. “He was a little shook up, so he went ahead and skipped out and went home. That’s the only time I can remember Kyle down there. Obviously, he’s going to make a lot of appearances now,” McCord said, referring to his racing and sponsor duties with the #42 Target sponsored NASCAR Sprint Cup car. Larson was fortunate to end his year with his selection to drive in the Sprint Cup Series for Earnhardt Ganassi Racing in 2014, and move on to the next step in his impressive career. It’s a move that brings him back to Florida, and the place is Daytona Beach – for the Daytona 500.




    Q & A with Jim Hanks of the Must See Racing Series

     By Richard Golardi

     With the return of the “Southern Shootout” to Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola, the Must See Racing Xtreme Sprint Series is back in Florida for the third year in a row. Series founder and owner Jim Hanks enters 2014 at warp speed, adding races and finalizing a winged pavement sprint car schedule that includes eighteen races in six different states. With USAC no longer racing sprint cars on pavement, his sprint car series tightened its grip on the title of being the dominant national pavement sprint car series.

    Interview was conducted in Indianapolis at the PRI Trade Show in December.

    Q.  I see that the “Southern Shootout” is back on the schedule for 2014, but later in the year, in April. Was there a reason why it was changed to a date later in the year?

    A.  To make things work out for the start of the season, and how their schedule works, they’re really the ones that pick that date. That comes from the race tracks.

    Q.  Those look like two good dates, not in competition with other series in Florida, and not competing with the Grand Prix of St. Pete, as you were in March 2013.

    A.   Well, that makes perfect sense to us, that’s for sure.

    Jim Hanks

    Q.  Was there a possibility of adding any additional Florida dates, like New Smyrna Speedway, or other tracks? Were they considered or talked about, or being considered for 2015?

    A.  Well, there’s always a possibility, and New Smyrna is a great race track. As far as Must See’s schedule in Florida, this will be the third year that we’re returning to Five Flags, and Mobile, and that kind of fills up our schedule. This year, we’ve got more races, but they’re all closer to home here. 

    Q.  It looks like there may be more Floridians competing, especially in the Little 500. It could be twice as many Floridians entered in 2014, as compared to the last two years.

    A.  Wow. We think that’s great news. You’ve got great race teams down there, and the Little 500 is kind of the top of the mountain for pavement sprint car racing. Florida’s always had a great competitive presence in that race. Everybody is delighted, including me, that the teams from Florida are going to come up and race.

    Q.  Including Dave Steele – he said that he’ll be back.

    A.  Excellent. Yeah - I think that’s outstanding.

    Q.  What about changes to the schedule in 2014? What’s new and why were the changes made?

    A.  Changes were made because of the demand for our series. We’ve added Baer Field here in Indiana. They contacted us, and want to have us. We’re going back to Rockford Speedway in Illinois. One race that we’ve added that we’re really excited about is on Labor Day weekend. We have the Labor Day 200, which will be 200 laps at Anderson Speedway with wings, and that will be a two-day event. The Little 500 is an iconic event. It’s not replaceable. But, winged pavement sprint cars have become very popular in the marketplace. We thought it was a really good bookend to the Little 500, which is non-wing.

    Dave Steele at Five Flags Speedway

    Q.  So the intention is to have some racing on the first day, and the 200 lap feature on the second day?

    A.  This is going to be an event. This isn’t just another race spread over two days. We’re going to make this a big deal. Big for the fans, big for our teams, and big for our television distribution.

    Q.  It sounds like an interesting concept, to have a second big race annually at Anderson Speedway.

    A.  We think it is. We think it’ll be good for everybody. I think it’s got the possibility of becoming the next big sprint car race in the business of racing. That’s exactly what we are pointing for.

    Q.  Are there any other changes in rules, tires, or is anything else changing for 2014?

    A.  Yes, we are going to have some rule changes, which we’ll announce after the first of the year. We’re going to not restrict innovation, but some of the guys have gotten a little too innovative with the wings. We want to stay true to tradition, not restrict innovation, but not let it get carried away. We’re going to be introducing a new Tech Director, after the first of the year. Next year, all the cars that race with us on a regular basis, we are going to inspect them before the first race, so that they can get an inspection sticker. We’ll know that they are absolutely rule compliant. We’re also going to pump the motors, inspect the motors, and seal them.

    Q.  This is going to be done before the first race?

    A.  Before the first race.

    Floridian drivers at 2013 Little 500

    Q.  So, they would have to bring the car to …

    A.  We’d probably go to where they are. About half our teams are in Indianapolis, so that shouldn’t be a problem. But, our inspector would go to their race shop. What we want to do is make sure everybody gets off on an absolute level playing field. We do inspect everything. I’ll give you an example. Three cars that park on the front straightaway – we assign them one official to each car. That car doesn’t get out of his sight until after they go through the inspection process. But, we’re going to be a little more visible about it, so that people are more aware that we want a level playing field. Everyone follows the rules, compliant with the rules.

    Q.  There are Floridians, including Garrett Green, turning sixteen during 2014. Is there any possibility of him racing with the series, outside of the Little 500, before that day in August 2014 when he turns sixteen?

    A.  Well, you’ve hit a hot spot subject there. Personally, my principle has been you need to be sixteen to race a sprint car. It really, in many ways, isn’t related to ability. Garrett Green is special. He’s got a lot of experience, and certainly is getting it done in a very positive way at the race track. One of the things that we’re considering in our rules package is if someone turns sixteen within “X amount” of days of our first race, we’re going to allow them to race. 

    Q.  So, this means allowing them to race during the year in which they turn sixteen years old?

    A.  Exactly. Garrett turns sixteen in the middle of the year. We don’t want to penalize him for the opportunity to be our Rookie of the Year. Therefore, we’re taking a very hard look at that.

    Q.  This would mean a rule change from the current rule that does not allow a driver to race until after their sixteenth birthday?

    A.  Correct.

    Q.  So, we may see that rule change between now and April?

    A. You could see that rule change between now and the end of the year – this year (2013). That’s my answer – we’re taking a serious look at it.

    Q. I am hoping that we might see a Floridian win at the Little 500 next year, and possibly even another Floridian take Rookie of the Year, for the second year in a row.

    A.  Well, of course you do – you’re from Florida. You know what? These are all great young men driving these cars. Our competition, I think it’s safe to say, is second to none. I’ll just say this – if you won one of our races, any one of our races, as a team and a driver, you’ve done a serious day’s work. It’s very competitive. I couldn’t be prouder of our race teams. We have an unusual series. We’ve got a great group of teams here.

    Q.  That’s all my questions. I’ve always enjoyed the racing at Must See events. Hopefully I can catch more than two or three races next year. Thank you for your time, and thank you for the interview.

    A.  Well, I want to thank you, not only for the interview, I want to thank you for what you do for racing. You’re very objective. You’re an asset to our sport, and I mean that sincerely.

    Q.  Thank you, Mr. Hanks. Those are very kind words, and I thank you for that.




    Insights on 2013 and a Look at Bubba Raceway Park in 2014

    By Richard Golardi

    For a short period since mid-November, the return of the Bubba Army sprint cars to Ocala’s Bubba Raceway Park seemed to be in doubt. That is no longer the situation. I have received confirmation from Bubba Raceway Park that there will be sprint car racing at the track beyond the month of February. The track already has five nights of sprint car racing during the “2014 Bubba Army Winternationals”, as they are called. The first visit will see the All Star Circuit of Champions in two nights of racing on February 7th and 8th. I was not able to confirm if Tony Stewart will enter a car for himself, as he did earlier this year. Next, on the three nights prior to the Daytona 500 (February 23rd), the USAC National Sprint Car Series will race (February 20-22nd).
    Bubba Raceway will be running the Bubba Army Limited Sprints, but on a much smaller scale then previously. They have told me that they do have some dates set for them, on a 2014 race schedule that will be released shortly. Some doubt about the return of the series was raised when the last scheduled race, on November 16th, was rained out and not rescheduled. On the December 21st rain date, mini-sprints ran in place of their bigger cousins.
    Sixty-seven year old Otto Scrape was named the 2013 Limited Sprints track champion, against a field of competitors that included eleven year old Tyler Clem (son of track owner Bubba Clem). Clem drove to four limited late model feature wins and is the track’s 2013 Limited Late Model champion. Robbie Smith is the track’s 2013 Bubba Army 360 Sprints champion, a series that ran earlier in the year with ASCS / USCS rules. The Eagle Jet Top Gun Sprint cars did not race at Bubba Raceway Park in 2013, and are not scheduled to return in 2014. Danny Martin Jr. was the Top Gun champion this year.

    I believe this is a winning situation for the fans, as long as there is not a repeat of the schedule conflicts that saw the sprint cars running at Bubba Raceway Park on the same date as other Florida series, which happened several times this year. Top Gun has already released a 2014 schedule, so their 2014 race dates are known, and schedule conflicts can now be avoided. FSCA had raced at Putnam County Speedway, which is still dormant after ceasing operations in July. Bubba Clem has shown his love of sprint cars by purchasing a sprint for his son, and luring some of the country’s biggest and best known series to race at his track. The return of Bubba Army sprint car racing in 2014 is a win/win for all parties involved.
    I was not surprised that the most popular video of the year on the Florida Open Wheel Channel was “Jac Haudenschild at Volusia Speedway Park”, video taken on Saturday, February 16, 2013 for a World of Outlaws event. The camera placement (just over Jac’s left ear, without a containment seat to block the view), combined with Jac’s aggressive driving style, allowed the viewers to see a driver’s view of thirty laps of dirt-in your-face wild action.

    “Wow!! That car was exorcist like! That’s a veteran wheelman doing what he does best,” one forum commentator hilariously penned after viewing the video. “That is the coolest GoPro vid I’ve seen! He is driving that thing!,” remarked another viewer. “Jac is truly the most exciting driver to watch in the past 30 years. He has always brought an A game no matter what car he was in. What a thrill to watch him for so many years!! Thanks for the ride, Jac,” was one fan’s heartfelt comment. I wholeheartedly agree. That was one wild ride. Thanks, Jac. I think I’ll get in line to buy some more tickets for that ride in 2014.
    Some of my personal highlights of the year included my annual trek to that central Indiana sprint car Mecca, Anderson Speedway, for the Little 500. A Florida team took their share of the spotlight as Team Green Racing’s Garrett Green took the Rookie of the Year title against a field of rookies considered the strongest in many years. Bryan Clauson and Bobby East were among the rookie entrants in 2013, and Green beat them all to the finish line after 500 laps. The tradition of Florida drivers heading north for the Little 500, and doing well in the classic event continued in 2013.
    I also was able to set one exhausting personal record during Speedweeks in February. I was at the track each night (without any vacation days) for nine nights in a row, from Friday, February 15th through Saturday, February 23rd. The tracks on that nine-day trek included Volusia Speedway Park, New Smyrna Speedway, East Bay Raceway Park, Daytona International Speedway (Short Track), and Bubba Raceway Park. The racing competition included sprint cars, midgets, mini-sprints, modifieds, and stock cars. I still marvel that I did not miss a single day of work during the nine-day marathon, and still had thoughts of going to Daytona for the 500 on Day Ten. Would I do it again? Yes, with a big smile on my face.





     By Richard Golardi

     As 2013 draws to a close, I wanted to look back at the year in sprint car racing in Florida. 2013 was a year that saw more races, an expanded February Speedweeks schedule, Daytona Speedway add their name to the Florida short track revival, and a flurry of tracks changing owners and leaseholders. Many of these tracks held sprint car races in 2013, or will bring in sprint cars in 2014. Here are my “Top 5” stories of the year in Florida sprint car racing, and my choices for Florida Promoter of The Year, Track of the Year, Driver of the Year and Florida Race of the Year.


    1)    Short Track Renovation, Revival and Resurgence  

    Showtime Speedway, Volusia Speedway Park, Desoto Speedway, Three Palms Speedway, Putnam County Speedway, and the new Daytona International Speedway short track. All these tracks, with the exception of Daytona, hosted sprint car racing in 2013, or will bring it back in 2014. Putnam County appeared poised to be the new center of sprint car racing in North Florida, with races from multiple series. The oddly shaped track ceased operating in July. Citrus County Speedway is currently undergoing off-season renovations to prepare for an 11-race sprint car season, and the return of the TBARA series in October for the Frank Riddle Memorial. Auburndale Speedway will once again host sprint car racing in 2014, after a long absence.


    2)    New Dirt and Pavement Sprint Car Series

    A Winter Series at Showtime Speedway during the winter of 2012-2013 morphed into the Outlaw Winged Sprint Series in 2013. Originally limited to only the last Saturday of those months with a fifth Saturday, six more races were added later. Dave Steele followed up his Winter Series title in January by winning the Outlaw Winged Sprint Series title in September.

    Bubba Clem’s commitment to start his own sprint car series at Bubba Raceway Park began with the Bubba Army 360 sprint cars in March. A later series, the Bubba Army Limited Sprints, saw an 11 year old driver (Bubba’s son, Tyler Clem), and a 67 year old series champion (Otto Scrape). No plans for either of these two sprint car series to return to Bubba Raceway Park in 2014 have been announced.

    Another new series will soon be added – the CCS Wingless Sprints at Citrus County Speedway in Inverness. The first of ten 2014 series races is scheduled for February 1st, the first race of the 2014 Speedweeks sprint car schedule.

     Tony Stewart and Jason Leffler at Bubba Raceway Park.

    Joey Aguilar displays his injured hands

    3)    Injury and Recovery

    Tragedy struck sprint car racing in the Midwest in 2013, and also in the Pennsylvania /New Jersey area. Josh Burton lost his life in a sprint car crash in Indiana in May. Jason Leffler and Kramer Williamson later suffered fatal injuries in separate accidents in New Jersey and in Pennsylvania.

    In Florida, stories of injury and recovery were dominant. Two sprint car drivers in Florida were seriously injured in separate incidents at Desoto Speedway (previously known as Full Throttle Speedway). Both drivers have since recovered and returned to racing, or are planning to return to racing in 2014.

    Geoff Styner suffered a broken neck in a frightening TQ midget crash in May in which his helmet struck the concrete wall at high speed. The sprint car owner/driver plans to race his dirt sprint car again next year. He won’t be racing a TQ midget again, he said.

    In October, Joey Aguilar’s car had a cockpit fire in a TBARA heat race, causing him to suffer third-degree burns to both hands. His comeback a mere four weeks later, at New Smyrna Speedway, allowed him to stay in contention for the TBARA driver title. He would eventually finish in second place to Dave Steele for the 2013 driver title by a mere ten points.

     TBARA Drivers Garrett Green (top), Ty DeCaire (middle), and Chris Gimmler (bottom)

    4)    Florida Becomes a Fertile Training Ground for Young Drivers

    Garrett Green, age 15, earned the Rookie of the Year awards in both the Little 500, and also the USSA series, both racing at Anderson Speedway in Indiana. He would end the year with three top five finishes in the last three TBARA feature races of the year. Ty DeCaire, at 15 years old, would top his year with a top five qualifying time and top five feature finish at Showtime Speedway in September. Nineteen year old Chris Gimmler drove to two feature wins in FMARA TQ midget competition and moved up to compete in full size sprint cars in the TBARA.

    The TBARA could have four or more sixteen year old drivers in competition next year. Devin Curl and Blake Rose are readying for competition with the series in 2014.

    On dirt, 17 year old Rebecca George had her first top five feature finish with the Top Gun Sprint Series in November. She could be joined by two or more other female sprint car drivers on dirt in Florida next year.

    Tyler Clem held the distinction of being the youngest sprint car racer in the state during the year at eleven years old. After ending his first sprint car race against the wall in the fourth turn at Bubba Raceway Park, he later would finish sixth in the September 21st feature race. He also had four dirt limited late model feature wins during the year at Ocala.


    5)    Dirt Sprint Car Racing Split

    After the Top Gun Sprint Series dominated the dirt sprint car racing scene in Florida in 2012, the scene would change in 2013. Bubba Clem would break from Top Gun to sanction his own series, racing exclusively at Bubba Raceway Park. Through 2013, there would be seven races at Bubba Raceway, with a total of five different winners. The FSCA (Florida Sprint Car Association) also reentered the dirt racing scene in Florida with several races scheduled for Putnam County Speedway. All but one was cancelled when Putnam County ceased racing in July.



    2013 Florida Promoter(s) of the Year –


    TBARA Series Officials


    Buff Fritz, Joshua Wichers and Rex Hollinger are being recognized for their hard work and dedication to promote and market the series to the pavement sprint car fans in Florida. They are also hoping to gain a following nationwide with a start-up TV production company, whose goal will be to get the series on national cable TV. Upcoming races have been secured at New Smyrna Speedway, Desoto Speedway, and Citrus County Speedway, with Auburndale Speedway and Three Palms Speedway also added for 2014.



    2013 Florida Track of the Year –


               Showtime Speedway


    The nine sprint car races at the Pinellas Park track were the most for a single series at one Florida track (excluding national sprint car series). Track leaseholder Robert Yoho was also the only promoter to have a winter sprint car series (4 races from November 2012 to January 2013), and attempt a Thursday night race in August (it was rained out after a morning sprint car exhibition race was broadcast on local TV). A 2014 Speedweeks 75-lap winged sprint car race on February 22nd will pay $3,500 to win.

     Dave Steele


    2013 Florida Driver of the Year –


               Dave Steele


    Dave Steele won a total of eight pavement sprint car feature races during 2013, which included three TBARA wins and five Showtime Speedway wins. He was the track champion at Showtime Speedway in sprint cars, and also won the TBARA driver championship for the third time. He also debuted a new dirt sprint car in competition at East Bay Raceway Park, and announced plans to return to the Little 500 in 2014, where he is a two time-winner. 




    Florida Race of the Year:


    USAC National Sprint Car Series, Bubba Raceway Park, Thursday, February 21, 2013


    Throughout the latter part of the race, Dave Darland and Bryan Clauson would pass and repass each other in a furious battle for the lead in the first USAC sprint car race of the year. The drama would not end there. Darland and Coleman Gulick would feud on-track over an earlier incident, with damaged cars on track and flaring tempers off track. Clauson would beat Darland to the finish line and take the victory in the first of three nights at Ocala. Surprisingly, neither driver would win again that week during “Bubba’s Winter Dirt Games”.


    Runner-Up, Race of the Year:


    Eagle Jet Top Gun Sprint Series, Hendry County Motorsports Park, Saturday, November 2, 2013


    Tyler Godwin would charge through the field after starting at the back of the feature to take the win. The race also saw Rebecca George lead her first laps in a sprint car, and take her first top five finish.



    Top Five Florida Open Wheel Racing Videos of the Year:


    1)      “Jac Haudenschild at Volusia Speedway Park”  2/16/2013, 36,500 views

    2)      “Joey Aguilar - Cockpit Fire at Full Throttle Speedway”,  10/26/2013, 23,700 views

    3)      “USAC National Sprint Cars at Bubba Raceway Park, Feature Race, 2/21/2013”,  2/21/2013, 18,100 views

    4)      “Geoff Styner TQ Midget Crash”,  5/4/2013, 13,000 views

    5)      “All Stars at Bubba Raceway Park, Feature Race, 2-8-2013”,  2/8/2013, 10,900 views


    These videos may be viewed, starting with the #1 video here:






    Report from the 2013 PRI Trade Show in Indianapolis

     By Richard Golardi

     Place – PRI Trade Show in Indianapolis

     Date – Friday, December 13, 2013

     With the IMIS and PRI Trade Shows being merged into one show in Indianapolis for the first time, the show had a distinct open wheel flavor for its return to the “Racing Capital of the World”. I was fortunate to get to interview Jason McCord of USAC and Jim Hanks, of the Must See Racing Xtreme Sprint Series. I will have these interviews in upcoming columns. I also spoke to Steven J. Grein, Executive Producer at MAV TV, about the possibility of Florida sprint car racing having a place in the MAV TV broadcast schedule. MAV TV did announce at a lunch meeting with the media that they were still looking for new programming.


    Present at this impromptu meeting with Steven J. Grein was TBARA officials Buff Fritz, Josh Wichers and recent TBARA feature winner Ben Fritz. TBARA is moving forward with plans to put together a start-up TV production company for an upcoming TBARA race, with hopes for the race broadcast to air on cable TV. MAV TV did announce Dave Despain as a new lead announcer for its race broadcasts, which will include the Chili Bowl in 2014. The network will also broadcast live from East Bay Raceway Park, with the dirt late model event airing on Saturday, February 15, 2014.

     New Series

    A flyer for the new 2014 King of the Wing pavement sprint car series (Midwest / West Coast Sprint Car Shootout) was spotted at the ARCA Series booth. I was told that there is no current sanctioning body involved with this new series. I was not able to get any further information on the use of the photo of Dave Steele's car on the flyer. Dates announced as: 6/28 - Berlin Raceway, 7/2 - Toledo Speedway, 7/4 - Winchester Speedway, 11/21 - Madera Speedway, 11/22 - Irwindale Speedway, 11/23 - Kern County Raceway. Winchester Speedway was not listed on the recently released 2014 Must See Racing Xtreme Sprint Series schedule. This schedule did reveal that Must See Racing will return to Florida for the third time in 2014. The date at Pensacola’s Five Flags Speedway on Friday, April 11, 2014 is paired with another race the next day in Alabama.


    The USAC National Midget Series will not return to New Smyrna Speedway in 2014. This year, the series raced for two nights on the Sunday and Monday before the Daytona 500. Attendance was lower than anticipated for the national series, which did have Kyle Larson in its lineup on the first night (he won the feature). New Smyrna will have the K&N Pro Series East as its headline event on Sunday, February 16th, in place of the USAC racers in 2014. There will be a USAC presence in Florida for the 2014 Speedweeks, as the USAC sprint cars will return to Ocala’s Bubba Raceway Park for the three nights leading up to the Daytona 500. The possibility that more dates may be added for Florida in 2015 is still open, according to Jason McCord.

     2014 Target Ganassi Racing IndyCar Drivers

    Target Ganassi Racing provided some excitement at the show on Friday morning, with an announcement and press conference to present their new IndyCar team for 2014. Ryan Briscoe is the new driver, going to the #8 NTT Data car, and previously hired Tony Kanaan moving to the #10 Target car vacated with the retirement of Dario Franchitti. Kyle Larson was also present, and had to deflect questions about his future participation in IndyCar, and if he will compete in a Chip Ganassi car in the Indy 500 in the future. Larson will concentrate on NASCAR Sprint Cup in 2014, and will be a favorite for the Rookie of the Year title.


    Larson Marks Racing

    Of the sprint cars on display, one of the new teams to display a car was the #2 GoPro sponsored car from Kyle Larson’s Larson Marks Racing, with Shane Stewart listed as driver. The car did not have any World of Outlaws or other series stickers displayed on it, but did have several GoPro cameras mounted on the car. Honda also has its USAC midget engine on display, and the new hauler for Kevin Harvick’s #4 Budweiser sponsored NASCAR Sprint Cup car was present. Jimmy McCune’s sprint car was displayed with its 2014 colors, ready for 2014 Must See Racing competition. The team confirmed that they will be ready for the first date in Pensacola in April.





    Gentlemen Start Your Off-Season – You’ve Got Seven Weeks

     By Richard Golardi

     Upon the completion of this Saturday’s season ending Top Gun Sprint Series race at Hendry County Motorsports Park, the 2013 Florida sprint car season will be over. Exactly seven weeks later, on Saturday, February 1, 2014, it starts again. That is the date for the first sprint car race of the 2014 season (as of this date). It is the first race of the newly formed CCS Wingless Sprints, running exclusively at Citrus County Speedway in Inverness. The series has an ambitious schedule of ten races on the docket for 2014, running on the first Saturday of each month through November. I have spoken to numerous teams based in the west Central Florida area that are already making plans to participate, including some drivers that have not been in competition recently.

    The pavement sprint cars concluded their race season at Orlando Speedworld on Saturday with the last TBARA event of the year. With a brand new engine under the hood of his bright green #55 car, Tommy Nichols dominated the event by leading all thirty laps and picked up his first victory since 2011. On a slick, oily track that suppressed passing, Dude Teate was second and Joey Aguilar finished in third, his second top three finish after being injured. Garrett Green topped off his year with his first TBARA heat race win. His crew discovered a punctured tire after the heat race was completed. He was one of several drivers to suffer a punctured tire, likely as a result of debris from a demolition event held at the track one week earlier. Attendance at the 3/8 mile track located east of Orlando was sparse, especially when compared to the sizable crowd at New Smyrna Speedway two weeks prior.

    TBARA Drivers at Orlando

    Noticeably absent from the Orlando Speedworld race was the newly crowned 2013 TBARA driver champion Dave Steele. Having wrapped up the 2013 driver title at New Smyrna, he elected to race his dirt sprint car at East Bay Raceway Park. His night ended after four laps, due to a bent radius rod. The 2013 TBARA Rookie of the Year title went to Matt Alfonso, who topped off his year with a best finish of third in the October 26th race at Desoto Speedway. He also finished in sixth place in the sprint car driver points at Showtime Speedway.

    One of the notable returning drivers at Orlando Speedworld was John Gilbert Jr., who was injured in a grinding crash at Citrus County Speedway near the end of the season in 2012. He suffered broken ribs and a neck injury, and the car was totaled when it struck the wall at the turn three entrance from the pits. He did return to racing in the May 4th TBARA race at Desoto Speedway, but sat out the rest of the season. He explained that his business concerns required his attention during the year, and racing took a back seat to his Florida Keys home construction company. Earlier on Saturday, he took his car to Desoto Speedway for practice laps, to allow himself and Mickey Kempgens to get some pre-race practice.

    Matt Alfonso, 2013 TBARA Rookie of the Year

    “I’ve just been taking care of business, my company. I decided to come out for the last race of the year, and hopefully we’re going to race a full season next year. We were over at Desoto testing today for a little bit, and got it tightened up a little bit,” John Gilbert Jr. told me. This was done in order to be prepared for next year, he said. Mickey Kempgens would later substitute for John in the car for the night’s feature race. I asked about this move, and he explained that he just felt more comfortable putting Mickey in the car. He has two cars available for next year, but did not have any current plans to put a second driver in the backup car during next year’s races. He plans to race the full TBARA schedule in 2014.

    Mickey Kempgens will return in the black #5 car in 2014, but it will be raced in a non-wing configuration only, at Citrus County Speedway. He hopes to earn the CCS Wingless Sprints champion title in this series, and “try to pick up a wing race here or there.” The #5 car won’t be running with a wing next year, he informed me. This was the car he drove to feature wins at Showtime Speedway and Citrus County Speedway in 2013, with a wing.

    Sprint cars at Orlando Speedworld

    Car owner Bobby Rose plans to put his sixteen year old son Blake Rose in his sprint car next year. This will add a fourth sixteen year old to the pavement sprint car roster next year in Florida. Current drivers Ty DeCaire and Garrett Green will both turn sixteen years old in 2014. Green told me that he has set a goal of a top five finish in the 2014 Little 500, and also a TBARA feature race win. Ty DeCaire will have a new DeCaire Motorsports sprint car for winged races in Florida next year. He is also trying to arrange sponsorship to allow him to enter his first Little 500 in May. Devin Curl, who had competed against Garrett Green in go karts since the age of five, is another sixteen year old pavement racer. “Devin Curl. He’s sixteen. He’s a state champ in go karts. He’s kind of a little protégé of ours – between Ben and I,” Buff Fritz told me earlier this year. Curl saw action in the orange #84 sprint car at Showtime Speedway and Citrus County Speedway.

    Car owner/driver Rex Hollinger has taken on some promotion duties with the TBARA, and this most recent race at Orlando Speedworld benefitted from his hard work and good contacts. He believes that TBARA is in a healthier position at the end of this year’s competition, as compared to one year ago. “We’ve got around ten races working, and a few more coming. I think we’re going to have an excellent year in 2014,” Rex said. He was also proud to have finished every race in 2013, including deftly maneuvering around the wreck in the first turn at Orlando that happened in front of him. This move helped him earn a seventh place finish. “I want to win. I’ve been racing sprint cars now for two years. I want to win a heat race. It would be a wonderful thing to win a feature, and that may or may not happen. But I think I can win a heat race, and I’m going to give it my level best,” Hollinger told me, when asked about his 2014 racing goals.

    Feature race winner Tommy Nichols revealed that he may have a ride in the Little 500 next year, adding his name to the list of Floridians working toward their 2014 Little 500 entry. Dave Steele recently announced that he will be an entrant in next year’s 500. Steele has won the event twice previously, in 1996 and 2009. Stan Butler previously confirmed that he is starting preparations for a two car team for himself and his son, Shane, for next year’s Little 500. It appears almost certain that the number of Floridians in next year’s Little 500 will exceed the total from 2012 and 2013 – which was four Floridians in each race.

    Finally, the PRI Trade Show takes place this week, leaving the confines of Orlando’s Orange County Convention Center. The trade show returns to Indianapolis, which it left when Indy’s convention center was being renovated. Indy’s weather forecast for the opening day, Thursday the 12th, is a high temperature of 21° F. The high temperature on race day in Orlando last Saturday was 82° F. A December 10th article on The Weather Channel’s website is titled “Florida's Warm Weather Leaves the Rest of America Jealous”. “Florida stood strong in frustrating the rest of the country to no end. You win, Florida. You always do,” the article concluded. (Credit:




    Season Finale for TBARA and A Look Forward to Speedweeks

    By Richard Golardi

    Dave Steele has an insurmountable points lead going into the finale for the TBARA at Orlando Speedworld on Saturday. His 60 point lead in the 2013 driver points standings, over second place Joey Aguilar, is sufficient to have earned him his third TBARA driver championship. The maximum number of points that a driver can earn at one TBARA event is 55 points, so Steele cannot be overtaken for the points lead. Steele also was the TBARA driver champion in 2005 and 2009. This accomplishment also marks his second driver championship of the year, in addition to the Outlaw Winged Sprints at Showtime Speedway. Joey Aguilar, Mark Gimmler, and Dude Teate hold the next three positions in the TBARA driver points, all within 17 points of each other for 2nd, 3rd, and 4th places.
    Returning to action at Orlando are the #3 car of Garrett Green, and also the #31 of Dude Teate, and the #11 of Joey Aguilar, all of whom placed well at New Smyrna Speedway in November. I have confirmed that the #22 of Johnny Gilbertson is not returning, and the #33 of Dave Steele is also not returning, as he is racing his dirt sprint car at East Bay Raceway Park. Green is completing his first full year of sprint car competition, and his second race with new Team Manager and Crew Chief Lee Cipray. Team Green Racing has also acquired a new Beast chassis to race at the Little 500 in May, and has said that Cipray will handle the Crew Chief duties at this race also.

    Dave Steele 2013 TBARA Champion

    On dirt in Florida, the Top Gun Sprint Series points lead is currently held by Danny Martin Jr., with three races remaining at two tracks over the next two weekends. Martin Jr. will not be able to duplicate Steele’s feat of earning multiple championships during the year, as sprint car competition has concluded at Bubba Raceway Park. The rained out November 16th race has not been rescheduled, leaving two different drivers listed at the top of the points for the two different series at the track. Robbie Smith stands atop the Bubba Army 360 Sprints points standings, while 67 year old Otto Scrape earned the top spot in the Bubba Army Limited Sprints. I have not been able to confirm if the track will issue two separate driver titles, or combine them into one. Billy Boyd, the feature race winner at East Bay Raceway Park on November 9th, also earned the 2013 East Bay Sprint Championship on that same night.
    Garrett Green at Orlando

    Three Palms Speedway in Punta Gorda has been confirmed for a Speedweeks TBARA event in 2014, on Saturday February 15th. This gives the track management about ten weeks to complete the necessary construction projects, which include new catch fences and grandstand seating. The Punta Gorda asphalt track released photos of the new colors on walls - black with a green stripe across the bottom. They have also reported that the catch fences have been ordered from the manufacturer, but they do not have a delivery date. They do have local fence installers ready to go once the fences are delivered. Also under consideration is a possible (not yet confirmed) two day stand for TBARA at Punta Gorda on 10/31 and 11/1. No announcement has been made yet as to whether one of the nights would be run without wings.
    Showtime Speedway has revised their sprint car schedule for 2014 Speedweeks. At one time, it showed two weekends of competition, with plans to include both wing and non-wing cars. The revision means that the sprint cars now have one weekend, one race. The 75 lap "Florida State Championship Wing Sprints" is on Saturday February 22nd. This date puts the track in direct competition with two other sprint car races also on the 22nd. On the other side of Tampa Bay, East Bay Raceway Park has its last night of the 360 Winternationals, and Bubba Raceway Park has its last night of the USAC National Sprint Car Series, both on the 22nd.
    Wall at Three Palms Speedway

    The month of February next year will see a very different Speedweeks schedule for Florida’s 360 pavement sprint cars. After being left off the Speedweeks schedule this year, there are already three dates planned for the 360 asphalt racers in 2014. One of these dates is for a new series debuting in Florida – the CCS Wingless Sprints at Citrus County Speedway. The series unveiling will be on February 1st, and on the first Saturday of the month thereafter through November. The other dates are the aforementioned TBARA date on the 15th at Three Palms Speedway and the 22nd at Showtime Speedway. Only one Saturday night lacks an asphalt sprint car race during the month, which is quite a contrast from this year’s Speedweeks lineup.
    So far, the announced Speedweeks sprint car schedule (pending release of the 2014 USAC schedule) includes a return of the same two series that visited Bubba Raceway Park this year. They are the All Star Circuit of Champions on 2/7 and 2/8, and the USAC National Sprint Car Series for three days - 2/20 to 2/22 (Thursday to Saturday). The 360 Winternationals return to East Bay Raceway Park for those same three days. Three Palms Speedway and Showtime Speedway both have sprint cars in February, and add Citrus County Speedway, minus wings. Volusia Speedway Park returns with five straight days of sprint car racing on Wednesday through Sunday, 2/12 to 2/16. The first two nights will see the All Star Circuit of Champions in action, followed by three nights of the World of Outlaws. The Friday 2/14 date at Volusia is the first race of the year for the World of Outlaws sprint cars, as has become their custom.
    There are some Speedweeks unknowns also, with the status of the USAC National Midget Series returning to New Smyrna Speedway at the forefront. This series raced at New Smyrna on the Sunday and Monday prior to the Daytona 500 this year, but attendance was disappointing. On Sunday, their competition was the World of Outlaws at Volusia, and on Monday they had the Battle at the Beach racing at nearby Daytona Speedway. Also, New Smyrna has already scheduled a headline event for that Sunday (2/16) – the K&N Pro Series East stock cars. Another unknown is the return of sprint cars to Bubba Raceway Park, as the return of the Bubba Army 360 Sprints seems to be in doubt. The Bubba Army Mini – Sprints have replaced the sprint cars on the 11/16 rainout date, now racing on 12/21. Prior to this date, there was no mini-sprint series at the track that carried the “Bubba Army” moniker.



    E-mail  Richard Golardi

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