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    Florida Open Wheel

    By Richard Golardi

     

    Rainy Days and Thursdays in Florida

    By Richard Golardi

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

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

    Daytona Rising Construction at Daytona International Speedway

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

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

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

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

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

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

    https://youtu.be/VSDNuZJPaYc

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

    https://goo.gl/photos/uf2388ZYX83XCeMF7

     

     

    Cush Revette – Racing on Tampa’s Lost Speedways

    By Richard Golardi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     

     

     

    Florida Speedweeks Could Use a Dose of Champ Car Racing

    By Richard Golardi

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

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

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

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

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

    Four Wide Lap at Volusia Speedway Park

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

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

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

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

     

     

     

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

    By Richard Golardi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     

     

    MAVTV – The Best of Motorsports TV Now

    By Richard Golardi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     

     

    Danny Martin Jr. Goes Pavement Late Model Racing

    By Richard Golardi

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

    Danny Martin Jr. in Winners Circle in April 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    https://youtu.be/eu8QOGYr25E

     

     

     

    Back Home Again in Florida

    By Richard Golardi

    Troy DeCaire’s Back

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

    Water-logged Winchester Speedway on Saturday

     

    New USAC Silver Crown Team from Florida

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

    King of the Wing heat race at Anderson Speedway

     

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

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

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

     

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

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

    Feature race start Davey Hamilton Jr

     

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

    Videos:

    Aaron Pierce’s Record Setting Toledo Speedway Lap:

    https://www.facebook.com/scott.burkin/videos/536960169776097/?pnref=story

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

    https://youtu.be/hC__MSbX5E0

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

    https://youtu.be/kPFudHe3Ut0

     

     

     

    Florida Open Wheel Summer Race Report

    By Richard Golardi

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

    Anthony Cataldi

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

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

    Sprint car exhibition at Showtime Speedway

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

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

    Sprint cars at East Bay Raceway Park

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

    floridaopenwheel@gmail.com

     

     

     

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

    By Richard Golardi

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

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

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

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

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

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

    TBARA heat race start at sunset at Desoto Speedway

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    https://youtu.be/Uyv_sDlv9SQ

     

     

    Showtime Speedway – Restart Cone or Restart Zone?

    By Richard Golardi

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

    Dave Steele at Showtime Speedway

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

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

    Promoter Robert Yoho speaks to drivers

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

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

    Sport Allen in Winners Circle at Showtime Speedway

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

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

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

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

    https://youtu.be/-iz1eYGWrCM




     

     

     

    The Floridians Are Back at the 2015 Little 500

    By Richard Golardi

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

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

    2015 Florida Driver Group Photo at the Little 500

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

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

    Troy DeCaire on the pace lap at the 2015 Little 500

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

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

    Troy DeCaire and crew at the 2015 Little 500

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Dave Steele in his car prior to the race start

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

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

     

     

    Three Floridians Make the Field for the 2015 Little 500

    By Richard Golardi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Dave Steele prepares his car in the pits at Anderson Speedway

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

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

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

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

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

     

     

     

     

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

    1985 Little 500 – The Year of the Floridians

    By Richard Golardi

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Jim Haynes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     

     

     

    On the Road with Florida’s Dirt Trackers – Top Gun Series

    By Richard Golardi

    The tracks include East Bay Raceway Park, Bubba Raceway Park, Volusia Speedway Park and Hendry County Motorsports Park, all of them with dirt surfaces. The track types include the bullrings, the 1/3 mile short tracks at East Bay and Hendry County. Bubba’s is the egg-shaped 3/8 mile track with sprint car partisan Bubba Clem as an owner. Then there is the big half mile at Volusia, better known by the Speedweeks crowd as the annual location for World of Outlaws sprint car races during February Speedweeks. Other tracks that hosted the Florida traveling sprint car show known as the Eagle Jet Top Gun Sprint Car Series in recent years included North Florida Speedway and Putnam County Speedway. Both of these tracks are now absent from the schedule.

    At the most recent Top Gun series race at Volusia Speedway Park on Saturday, Danny Martin Jr. stopped in the Winners Circle after attrition and flat tires took out a number of front runners, including the #11 car driven by Brett O’Donnell. Martin and O’Donnell made contact on the back stretch late in the race while fighting for the lead and Martin got sideways, recovered quickly, and was back in the hunt. O’Donnell later slowed when his motor soured, and was passed by Martin on the 18th lap. Martin later admitted that he may have not been the fastest that night, and the attrition helped get the lead. He also pointed out that O’Donnell had “turned down on me and tried to spin me out – that’s twice now.” That remark drew some jeers from fans along the front stretch, many of whom were partial to O’Donnell. “Yeah, I know. That’s your local boy. I know,” he said in response, as he smiled and turned to walk away.

    Hayden Campbell led early in the feature race before a flat tire dashed his hopes for a feature race win. It would have been his first sprint car feature win, as he hoped to improve on a best finish of third place. Garrett Green’s name was seen on the side of Hardy Maddox’s #28 car for the first time this year, as Green now has the seat for the remainder of the Top Gun Series races this year. He’ll also likely be racing in some East Bay Sprints races and possibly USCS, which has a Florida stop for two nights at Bubba Raceway Park in October. Green is now the second racer who was a regular pavement sprint car racer last year (along with Ben Fritz), and now competes on dirt with Top Gun this year.

    Ben Fritz avoided any major damage to his car when a heat race spin saw him slide off track through the second turn infield entrance, slapping the stack of tires as he passed through the opening. He stopped in the center of the infield without further damage. “I just jumped the cushion and got in that slick stuff and spun out. We got lucky. I thought for sure we were going to hit the light pole, but barely touched it,” Fritz said, feeling lucky to have avoided a bigger collision.

    Bubba Raceway Park had originally scheduled a Friday night BRP Sprints race for the night prior to the Volusia Speedway Park race for Top Gun on Saturday. That race was abruptly cancelled on Wednesday, two days prior to race day. It was one of four BRP Sprints race dates scheduled for this year, all on the Friday prior to a Saturday Top Gun race at Volusia. The status of the two remaining BRP Sprints races is unknown. They still are shown on the track’s race schedule for June 19thand October 2nd. When I asked Top Gun Series owner Don Rehm for his comment, noting that he wasn’t pleased about the Friday race dates when we discussed the matter previously, he had a short response. “No comment,” Rehm replied.

    One of the biggest stories this year for Florida’s dirt trackers was their improved performance in this year’s East Bay Winternationals, which was part of the Lucas Oil ASCS national series for the first time since 2008. The most memorable story was a Saturday heat race battle between Greg Wilson and AJ Maddox that saw the two racers battle side-by-side for multiple laps, sometimes just inches apart, without touching each other. Although Maddox did finish second to Wilson in that heat race, he later had a dominating win in a B Main that same night, and advanced to the A Main on all three nights. Matt Kurtz also advanced to the A Main all three nights, Danny Martin Jr. made it on two nights, and Kurtz racked up one heat race win and one B Main win. These results were a dramatic improvement over the disappointing East Bay Winternationals results posted by the Floridians just one year ago.

    Danny Martin Jr. in Winners Circle at Volusia Speedway Park

    The Top Gun Series started the East Bay Winternationals schedule with two races during the last weekend in January, and garnered an unusual amount of national press attention during the two-night stand. This was likely due to the lack of racing activity anywhere else nationwide. Many Northern race fans were enduring a brutal winter, and thoughts of racing in warm weather were a pleasant respite from being enveloped in snow and freezing temperatures. “Well, East Bay was very pleased, and then the two during Speedweeks in Georgia was kind of a disaster,” Top Gun’s Don Rehm told me. “I don’t know why. It paid way more money than any of our other shows. Because the weather was like freezing, I mean actual freezing temperatures. And we didn’t have a good car count, and they didn’t have a good grandstand. And they had Nesmith Crate Late Models and the big block open wheel modifieds, so they should have drawn a crowd regardless of what we did. It was because of the weather. It was just so cold.” The cold weather did also reduce the attendance at East Bay during the last two weekends of Speedweeks.

    “I’m a little disappointed in our car count. It’s not to my standards, I guess is what I’m trying to say,” Don Rehm remarked. “It seems to be picking up now, but it’s still not where I would like it to be.” Rehm acknowledged that there were a few cars waiting on parts, or motor rebuilds, and he was hoping for another three or four cars to return to competition in the next few races. “If I can get 18 to 20 cars, I’d be satisfied. Naturally, we’d like to have 24. We’ll start 24 in the feature.” What has the car count been averaging lately? “Ah – about 10 to 12,” Don Rehm responded (there were 17 cars entered for the most recent race last Saturday). East Bay, where the Top Gun Series will race this Saturday, often sees the highest car counts, because of those teams that only race at the Gibsonton track.

    Pits during hot laps at Volusia Speedway Park

    The dirt success stories from Speedweeks included the national press attention garnered by Top Gun’s January race dates at East Bay Raceway Park, and the vastly improved performance on track by the Floridians at that track’s Winternationals. Whether Top Gun will return in 2016 for the first weekend of East Bay Winternationals, and whether the USAC National Sprint Car Series will return for the last weekend (attendance was surprisingly low for the two nights of USAC at East Bay) are both unknown factors as of this date.

    It seems assured that the Lucas Oil ASCS national series will return for Speedweeks next year, due to the huge car counts, rave reviews for the wild and exciting racing from the fans and the press, and also national TV exposure from MAVTV. The fans that saw their favorite Florida drivers do well will likely be back. I rated the Lucas Oil ASCS finale at East Bay on Saturday, February 21st as the best sprint car race during 2015 Speedweeks. One of the other Lucas Oil ASCS nights also was in the Top Three Speedweeks races, in my opinion. The Friday night USAC race at East Bay on February 27th was the only non-ASCS race I placed in my Top Three list. I know I can’t wait ‘til next year. It’s enjoyable to have one month of the year when Florida has all the best races and all the best racers.

    The race video from the Top Gun Series feature race at Volusia Speedway Park on 5-9-2015 is here on the Florida Open Wheel channel:

    https://youtu.be/RB3FEZk1zGI

     

     

     

    Trouble in Southwest Florida – Racers Speak Out

    By Richard Golardi

    The viral video was obnoxious, insulting, and laced with profanity. The employee (now former employee) of Three Palms Speedway in Punta Gorda stated that her message was one that she had the right to pronounce, despite the inevitable loss of employment that may follow. Drifting was a money making venture for the Southwest Florida oval track, and it gave drifters from the southern part of the state a place to burn rubber on weekends. The drifters were polite, respectful, and worthy of praise, according to her social network video message. Not so for the oval track racers. They were whiny, they were complainers, and they were “arrogant, pompous asses,” according to her. “They have a lot more talent,” she added, referring to the drifters. As a concluding barrage, she stated that if anyone dared to ridicule Three Palms Speedway, then “____ you.”

    Rob Kohler, foreground, and Mike Nelson prepare to head out for heat race at Citrus County Speedway, 5-2-2015

    She was promptly fired. As a damage control maneuver, Three Palms Speedway management quickly stated that they did not share her views, and that she was no longer a track employee. They also apologized for the video. Haase family members are the current leaseholders and have a contract to lease the 22 acres for three years from the Charlotte County Airport Authority for $6,500 a month. At the South Florida facility, they have installed catch fencing, safety lighting, concessions, a flag stand, and other improvements. There is no spectator seating. A “Bring Your Own Seat” promotion offers a lower admission price ($10 for adults) in return for the option to stand, or use your own blanket or chair on a trackside viewing mound.

    “Three Palms Speedway is the premier 3/8th mile race track in the south,” the blurb reads on the track’s website. It’s the only pavement short oval in South Florida still operating, after all of the pavement short ovals in Southeast Florida fell victim to urban expansion and declining interest in short track racing. Hendry County Motorsports Park, a 1/3rd mile dirt oval near Clewiston, is the only other short oval track remaining south of Jupiter. With a majority of the TQ midget race teams based out of Southwest Florida, that leaves few choices for TQ midget race venues. It’s a choice of Three Palms, or travel to other small pavement ovals, such as Showtime Speedway or Citrus County Speedway. It is a 198 mile round trip to Showtime, and 338 mile round trip to Citrus County Speedway from Punta Gorda.

    FMRA TQ midget cars at Citrus County Speedway on Saturday, May 2, 2015

    “We would love to race there, but we’ve all given up on it,” sprint car owner Geoff Styner told me, describing his conversations with fellow Southwest Florida car owners. Styner, from Cape Coral, no longer drives a TQ midget after a 2013 TQ midget crash left him with a broken neck and other injuries. He still owns and races a dirt sprint car. But, he isn’t waiting for things to change at the track that is close to home. In fact, of the racers and owners that I spoke to, he was the most critical of track management. “They have no grandstands. They finally got one of the nicest, strongest catch fences that I’ve seen in the State of Florida. Other than that, they haven’t cut the grass, the pits look like s___, the race track looks like s___, and they don’t give a s___.” Styner described his dealings with the track, going back to when the track opened 25 years ago. He was disappointed to visit the track recently, and see so few improvements under the current leaseholders. He was not pleased to see drifters leave tire debris and car parts on the track immediately before it was opened for oval track racers to practice on a Friday.

    TBARA and Davey Hamilton’s King of the Wing Series have both apparently had some prior discussions with the track, but are waiting for the installation of spectator stands. Not so for the FMRA (Florida Midget Racing Association), which has scheduled a year-long slate of races at Three Palms. The TQ midget association held their most recent race at Citrus County Speedway on Saturday. It was there that I spoke to dwarf car owner and TQ midget driver and team manager Mike Belusar and driver Mike Nelson. Both of them struck a conciliatory tone toward Three Palms track management, and wanted to continue racing at the track. All but one of the TQ midget teams racing in Inverness last Saturday are based out of Southwest Florida.

    2012 panoramic view of Three Palms Speedway

    “I don’t think they need to change anything, but eventually they need to get the stands in,” Mike Belusar said. “As far as I’m concerned, everything else about the track works good. Track management – I only have dealings with the one owner, and he lets me test my car there anytime I want. We love dealing with him. That track pays us more than any other track around pays us for finishes. They’ve been better to us than any other track around, including here. We get a lot more locals there. We call it our home track. They’re treating us like we’re the stars of the track right now. I love it. I’m going back there next week. The car count will be better than what we have here (the feature race at Citrus had four TQ midgets). Most of our guys would rather run there.” Belusar also stated that it didn’t matter to him that an ex-employee insulted oval track racers. He felt the track did the right thing, and handled the situation competently.

    Mike Nelson is a rookie in TQ midget competition in Florida, and he’s kept busy with learning his car, the tracks, and his fellow competitors. He has not gotten involved in the politics of racing. “We’ve all tried to stay away from the bad politics,” Belusar said in agreement. According to Mike Nelson, he loves the track, and it’s the location of his first feature race win. “It’s where I started learning grass-roots open wheel racing – on that track. I personally have not had any issues with any person there the whole time,” he said. Both Nelson and Belusar said that they had not spoken to any other FMRA members who felt different than they did, and none of them wished to cease racing at Three Palms Speedway.

    Rob Kohler on front straight at Citrus County Speedway during heat race pace lap on 5-2-2015.jp

    Scotty Adema, a sprint car and TQ midget owner out of Southwest Florida, told me that he’s been a big supporter of the track for many years, including the time it was named Charlotte County Motorsports Park and Punta Gorda Speedway. “Bobby Diehl, Kevin Williams, whoever the track owner was, we’ve always been a big supporter to help promote or encourage everybody in this area to support the races here in our backyard. The track’s 25 minutes from my house.” Adema said that he’s brought two cars to the track before, and wanted to show that the local racers will support a local track. “There may not be a next time,” he acknowledged. “We do support Three Palms Speedway as far as any sprint car show.” He explained that he hasn’t run his TQ midget there because right now he’s “a hundred percent invested in sprint cars. I don’t want to sidetrack our operation. We’re building a brand new Diablo car.” That car is getting some finishing touches at the Steele Performance shop in Tampa now, and is a copy of the car Steele raced at Pensacola in April.

    Other Florida News:

    Congratulations go to Max Dolder on his selection to be inducted into the Little 500 Hall of Fame on Saturday, May 23, 2015 at Anderson Speedway, Indiana. The induction will be part of the race day activities for the 2015 Pay Less Little 500. Quote from the press release: "Max Dolder, of Tampa, is a veteran racing photographer who has been covering the race since 1985. His photos have appeared in several national publications including: Open Wheel Magazine, National Speed Sport News, Sprint Car & Midget Magazine, Hoseheads Sprint Car News, and the Little 500 program."

    Update from Saturday’s racing at Citrus County Speedway: Russell Jones, who suffered a broken back in a sprint car crash during afternoon practice, is at home recovering, and will not need surgery to repair the broken vertebrae. Troy Thompson told me that Jones hit his car in an accident on track in the second practice session just prior to the green flag being shown to start that session. Jones was taken to the hospital after the crash injured his back, but told his son, Russell Jones III, to race the car in the heat race and feature that night.

    Other Pavement Sprint Car News:

    I spoke to Katie Donnar, Communications Coordinator for the Verizon IndyCar Series today, and she confirmed that Doug Boles (Indianapolis Motor Speedway President) and Davey Hamilton did speak about the possibility of an asphalt short oval being constructed in the Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s infield, using some of the existing infield roads. There are no plans to construct such an oval, and there are no engineering plans or other studies planned to look at the feasibility of such a short oval race track being built in the speedway’s infield. Boles was asked about this possibility at a Q & A session in Crawfordsville, IN last week. He did mention Davey Hamilton’s name in response to a question from the audience regarding the possibility of a new short oval track at the speedway, and he did confirm that they spoke about the subject.

    The feature race video from the Florida Open Wheel channel is here (Citrus County Speedway Non-wing Sprint Car feature race, 5-2-2015):

    https://youtu.be/tPjhxNN8xB0

     

     

     

    The Transition – Path to NASCAR Goes Through New Smyrna for Sprint Car Drivers

    By Richard Golardi

    Collin Cabre, Rico Abreu, Christopher Bell, and Harrison Burton all had a common bond during NASCAR Speedweeks super late model racing competition at New Smyrna Speedway in Florida. All of them were new this year to NASCAR Whelen All-American Series super late model racing or new to the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East. With the exception of Harrison Burton, all were coming from the world of open wheel racing, with prior race wins in midget and sprint car racing. Burton is the 14 year old son of former NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Jeff Burton. One year after winning a 100 lap pro late model race at New Smyrna Speedway, Burton became a first time super late model winner in the opening night 35-lap feature at the World Series of Asphalt Stock Car Racing.

    Having his father as a mentor and driver coach may have helped Burton, as he impressed the observers with two race wins and five top three finishes in seven super late model races at New Smyrna. His race finishes, in order from 2/13 to 2/21/2015, were 1, 26, 3, 15, 3, 1 and 2. “It means the world to me,” Burton said. “I can’t thank the guys at the shop enough. They work hard all the time. I can’t thank the competitors enough for racing me clean.”

    Rico Abreu and NASCAR K&N Pro Series East car at New Smyrna Speedway

    By the day of the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East race on Sunday, February 15th, Rico Abreu already had two Speedweeks super late model races completed at New Smyrna. He was still looking for his first top ten finish in a late model at that time. At 21 years old, Collin Cabre had earned a full season K&N Pro Series East ride with the Rev Racing team, part of the NASCAR Drive for Diversity program. He had two prior pavement sprint car racing wins and had been racing a sprint car mainly on dirt recently. His selection as a member of the Class of 2015 with the NASCAR D4D program came in January. Cabre only had one late model race in a Rev Racing late model car prior to Speedweeks. In the K&N Pro Series East race, he did outperform Rico Abreu, passing him three times and finishing ahead of him in the final order (Cabre was 15th, Abreu 17th).

    Rico Abreu was coming off the dizzying highs of winning the Chili Bowl midget race in January, followed closely by the announcement that he had signed a Chip Ganassi Racing driver development deal. That deal, reportedly signed before his Chili Bowl victory, would put the 23 year old Californian into a late model with the HScott Motorsports team, with backing from Ganassi. The reigning USAC National Midget Series Champion would not defend his USAC national title this year, as Abreu would concentrate on late model racing and would run the full 14-race K&N Pro Series East schedule. “Since the Chili Bowl, everything has moved really quickly,” Abreu remarked. “It’s going to be a busy Speedweeks for us for sure with the K&N race and seven late model races, but all of that seat time and on-track experience does nothing but help us prepare for this season.”

    Collin Cabre at New Smyrna Speedway - K&N Pro Series East

    Abreu did not comment on if he felt disappointed with his performance in late model racing at New Smyrna in February, after his resounding 2014 racing success with 26 open wheel racing wins. In the eight Speedweeks races at New Smyrna Speedway, Abreu had only one top ten finish, a tenth place on February 21st, the last night. His race finishes, in order from 2/13 to 2/21/2015, were 22, 12, 17, 18, 12, 14, 18, and 10. In two post-Speedweeks late model races, he had a 9th place finish at Greenville Pickens Speedway on April 4th and a 10th at Bristol Motor Speedway on April 18th.

    Twenty year old Christopher Bell had the perfect racing resume to get noticed and get a late model ride for Speedweeks action at New Smyrna Speedway this year. After racing to the USAC National Midget Series championship in 2013, the Norman, OK driver won his first World of Outlaws sprint car feature race in 2014. He had a total of 27 feature wins in 2014. Like Abreu, he raced a sprint car on dirt in Florida during 2014 Speedweeks, and would begin his transition to late models this year. Tapped by NASCAR Sprint Cup star Kyle Busch to drive a late model for his team, he got his first win in a Kyle Busch Motorsports car at a 2014 Pro All Star Series (PASS) South race. "I have to thank everyone at Toyota, Toyota Racing Development and Kyle Busch Motorsports for believing in me," Bell said.

    After finishing in 2nd and 4th place in his first two nights racing a late model at New Smyrna, Bell was hungry for his first NASCAR race win. He had one more chance at New Smyrna, on Saturday night. Harrison Burton wanted his third race win of the month going into the final night of racing on Saturday. He had finished behind Bell on Thursday night, and took the win on Friday night, while Bell finished in fourth place. The rivalry would reach its peak on Saturday night at New Smyrna, the final night of racing. But first, disaster would strike the Kyle Busch Motorsports team on Saturday afternoon.

    Daytona International Speedway sits just 12.1 miles north of New Smyrna. This was the location for the Saturday afternoon running of the 300 mile NASCAR XFINITY Series race on February 21st. Kyle Busch would likely plan to head south to New Smyrna Speedway on Saturday night, after missing the prior two nights while he or his team raced at Daytona. In the Saturday XFINITY Series race, Busch's Toyota slammed head-on into an inside wall along the front straight. That wall was not protected by a SAFER barrier. His right leg was badly broken. It was a compound fracture that would require surgery, and force him out of racing for months.

    NASCAR K&N Pro Series East starting drivers at New Smyrna Speedway

    The racing would go on at New Smyrna on Saturday night, as Kyle Busch was being readied for surgery at Halifax Health Medical Center in Daytona Beach. In the showdown between Christopher Bell and Harrison Burton, each had finished ahead of the other in one of the prior two nights. Bell had the extra incentive to have some good news delivered to Busch in his Daytona Beach hospital room. “These guys have been running all week long. But we were able to get going really good right off the bat,” Bell said. He started tenth in the 100 lap Speedweeks late model finale, and started moving toward the front quickly. He reached Burton’s rear bumper and followed closely behind him.

    “Whenever I got behind him, I was just kind of riding. I knew I had a really good car. I was just trying to learn where I had to make my move. And then we got late in the race and I started to pressure him more and more," according to Bell. He made his move on the 80th lap, and took the lead from Burton. Bell had to deal with two more caution periods and late race restarts, but he pulled away from Burton in the closing laps and won his first NASCAR super late model race for car owner Kyle Busch, who was in the hospital recovering from surgery.

    “His car was really, really quick and so was ours, so it made it a really good race. Once he got past us, he kind of drove away a little bit,” Burton said later. In the showdown between the open-wheel racer and the teenager from a famous NASCAR racing family, the open-wheel racer had won. Burton was gracious despite settling for second place. “This week has been a lot of fun, I’m glad we finished on a high note,” he said.

    The future of NASCAR was on the track at New Smyrna Speedway in February, and displayed skill, grace and poise all through the month, especially on the last night. Christopher Bell and Harrison Burton could both hold their heads high, and be proud of their accomplishments in their first NASCAR super late model competition. They had all finished on a high note.

     

     

     

    Winner’s Interview with Bobby Santos – King of the Wing at Pensacola

    By Richard Golardi

    “We love our stock cars, but this is a whole lot different,” exclaimed the Five Flags Speedway announcer after seeing the winged sprint cars of the King of the Wing Series take to the half mile oval. The Pensacola, FL track that is known for the Snowball Derby super late model race usually has stock car races on most weekends, except for one April weekend in recent years. Another unique feature for the race fans seeing the national sprint car series on this night was the drivers that had traveled from the northeast, Midwest, West Coast, and even as far as Idaho to race each other for the King of the Wing title.

    Top 3 Finishers at Five Flags Speedway, King of the Wing Sprint Car Series feature race, 1st - Bobby Santos III (Center), 2nd - Kyle Edwards (Left), 3rd - Mickey Kempgens (Right)

    The feature race winner was Bobby Santos III, a 29 year old racer from Franklin, Massachusetts. Santos, known for winning in the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour, also has a win in the Night Before the 500 midget race in 2006. His last major open wheel win in Florida came later that year at USA International Speedway in Lakeland in a PRA Big Car Series race (which used Silver Crown cars).

    On a notoriously rough track surface at Five Flags Speedway, Santos showed his mastery of tire management to take the win while others dealt with tires that were worn and sometimes punctured. Troy DeCaire was one of the racers that pursued Santos, only to hear a pop on lap 21 when a right rear tire was punctured. “There was definitely some attrition there. I was just saving my tires, because early in the race, I kind of felt it vibrating a little,” Santos said from the front straight Winners Circle at Five Flags. “So I kind of knew that I needed to save it. I felt my rear tires starting to shake and that’s why I backed it down a little bit.”

    King of the Wing feature race winner Bobby Santos III at Five Flags Speedway

    The win was the first for Santos in King of the Wing series racing, and the first in the number 22A car owned by Dick Fieler. Santos will be in a car owned by Fieler for next month’s Little 500 too. “I’ve just got to thank Dick (Fieler) and DJ Racing and Ross. Everyone did a great job,” Santos said. “This is only my fourth drive in this car. So, it’s the first win. We ran the three races out west last fall, and here tonight starting fresh this year.” Did he think that those cars that passed him for the lead would likely have some tire problem later, if they were pushing their tires a little too hard? “We all know this place is hard on tires. So, I just tried to take care of them.” Do you believe that one of the reasons you won was because you conserved your tires? “A little bit, I guess.”

    Santos didn’t have any other problems or close calls during the feature race. He was passed twice by two drivers who both had tire problems later. First DeCaire passed him on the 10th lap, and went to the back after changing a flat tire on the 22nd lap. Then Aaron Pierce had a flat left rear tire on lap 29 while he was in the lead. Santos inherited the lead for the final time when Pierce went a lap down to change that flat tire, and kept it until the checkered flag on the 40th lap. His conservative strategy also kept him from running out of fuel prior to the red flag refueling stop on the 36th lap. “We had a great car. It was a lot of fun,” Santos remarked.

    So it wasn’t a dominating win, but you conserved your tires and you played the racing game perfectly. “A win’s a win,” he replied.

     

     

     

    Race Report – King of the Wing at Five Flags Speedway

    By Richard Golardi

    After being delayed for one week due to rain in Pensacola, Florida, the King of the Wing Sprint Car Series (combined with Auto Value Bumper to Bumper Super Sprints) opened their 2015 season on Friday at Five Flags Speedway. Car count was difficult to predict prior to race day, as Pensacola had a 60% chance of rain during the day, clearing later in the evening. The prediction for the second race date the next day at Mobile was worse (90% to 100% rain chance). The Five Flags Speedway race would be the only King of the Wing race held during the weekend. Series owner Davey Hamilton was apparently not present due to a previous commitment to the IndyCar radio network as a driver analyst for all IndyCar Series race events. IndyCar raced at Long Beach this weekend. The race director was Tom Hartsell Jr., Director of the Auto Value Bumper to Bumper Super Sprints.

    Feature race winner Bobby Santos III

    Aaron Pierce was the fastest qualifier at 13.252 seconds, with a car whose roll cage and rear end looked somewhat like a USAC Silver Crown car. He didn’t beat the track record of 13.046 seconds set by Brian Gerster last year. Dave Steele was anticipated to race, but arrived late and missed qualifying. The race team explained that they suffered multiple calamities during the trip north from Tampa, first a problem with a wheel on the trailer, and then the truck’s transmission. Steele made it to the track prior to the first heat race.
    The field included Sierra Jackson, who placed second in points in the King of the Wing West regional series in 2014. Her team had a 410 motor in their car, and this would be Jackson’s first race with a 410 motor up front. She was the fourth fastest qualifier, behind Pierce, Kyle Edwards (in Don Wilshe’s #11 car) and Troy DeCaire (in Lenny Puglio’s #91 car).
    Also present was Robert Stout, racing in his first sprint car race and first ever oval track race. He has raced sports cars for the past 12 years, including a stint in the Delta Wing sports car, which was originally a prototype for the new model IndyCar, and later revised to race as a sports car. His first sprint car laps came at Montgomery Motor Speedway on Wednesday evening, one day prior to the Thursday evening test session at Five Flags Speedway. He told me that the people he spoke to at Montgomery are excited to see sprint cars, and anticipate the King of the Wing series coming to Montgomery next year. At one time, Montgomery was considered for a 2015 King of the Wing race date.
    Troy Thompson brought two cars, one for himself, and a newer car with bright Florida-centric colors (bright green and orange) for current TBARA Champion Shane Butler. This car had won at Citrus County Speedway earlier in the month with Butler driving.
    Dave Steele and Troy DeCaire on pit road

    The PCS Racing Team and car owner Doug Kenny brought two cars and tested them both on Thursday evening. One car, with purple and black colors, is for Mickey Kempgens in next month’s Little 500 in Anderson, IN. The purple is a tribute to George Rudolph, the Little 500 winning car owner in ’92 and ’94, as he was in their pits at Pensacola, and will be present on Little 500 race day. This car has a 410 motor (restricted for King of the Wing) and the other car, with blue and black colors, has a 360 motor which was allowed to race unrestricted in King of the Wing competition. After testing both cars at Pensacola on Thursday, Kempgens and the team chose to race the blue and black car with an unrestricted 360 motor, saying they believed it was superior to the 410 restricted motor. Kempgens won his heat race and finished third in the feature race with this 360 powered car.
    The third heat race featured a match-up of two of the fastest cars driven by Steele and DeCaire. Steele powered away to build up a straightaway lead by 6 laps, and was nearing a half lap lead by the finish in an impressive power display.
    The other heat race was won by Bobby Santos III in Dick Fieler’s number 22A car. Fieler told me that he will also field a pavement USAC Silver Crown car for Santos, and enter a car in the Little 500 for him. Fieler also intends to race his cars in both the Indianapolis USAC Silver Crown race on May 23rd, and then head to Anderson for the Little 500 later that same day. He believes that his team is the only one to have announced their intention to do a Saturday Double Duty with Silver Crown (Lucas Oil Raceway) and sprint car racing (Anderson Speedway) on the same day.
    Santos did have a practice wreck on Thursday which forced him to race his backup car on Friday. That car was originally for Kody Swanson to race as a teammate to Santos, but Swanson had another race commitment and could not return to Pensacola on the 17th.
    Controversy during the feature race was not the only incident that produced gnashing of teeth and stress during the evening. Dave Baumgartner’s #38 car had a top wing with a side wicker bill or “kick-out” determined to be too large by a race official. Baumgartner countered that the wing manufacturer constructed the wing for him. I was told by a race official that the #38 car would be allowed to race with this wing only for this race weekend, and not again.

    Jacob Wilson with his Ultimate Warrior helmet at Five Flags Speedway.jpg

    Jacob Wilson was part of the Midwest contingent racing at Pensacola, posting the 7th fastest qualifying time and a 5th place finish in the feature. Wilson told me that Eric Gordon will be on his team again this year at the Little 500, serving as his spotter, the same race day job he had in 2014. He’ll have a new look for himself and his car for this year’s 500, where he is a two-time defending race champion. He will choose between two different helmet designs, one with an ice hockey theme, and the other a tribute to pro wrestler “The Ultimate Warrior”. His car will also have a new appearance, with a camo and green design that mimics a design seen on the team’s crew t shirts in prior years.

    Davey Hamilton Jr. confirmed his entry for the Little 500 next month, but the rest of his Indy race week is still being developed. He could not confirm his entry in any other races that week, but he did test an Indy Lights car in California recently.

    In the 40 lap feature race, tire management became critical to get the lead and stay in front. Two race leaders suffered flat rear tires on Pensacola’s rough track surface after passing Bobby Santos III for the lead. They were Troy Decaire, who had a flat right rear tire on lap 21 after passing Santos, and Aaron Pierce, who had a flat left rear on lap 29 while leading. In each case, Santos was back in the lead later after his pursuers suffered a flat rear tire.

    Troy DeCaire in turn 2 on first lap of heat race

    A yellow flag on lap 36 produced the most drama and controversy of the night. Dave Baumgartner stopped on the front stretch to bring out the yellow flag, which brought the #91 car of DeCaire to the pit lane to take on fuel. With all the caution laps for blown tires, and allowing pitted cars to have two laps to change a flat tire, some cars began to run out of fuel. DeCaire was the first car to run out, as his car had been one of the first cars pushed off for the feature race and had run the most laps. Dave Steele had carved through the field from his ninth row start to sit in second place at this time, when a red flag was displayed to allow all cars to refuel. Steele coasted into the pits, not under power. He had a broken rear end and was out. The drama wasn’t over yet. After being pushed off for the restart, Pierce had a right front wheel come off. As the wheel bounced down the back stretch, Pierce stopped in turn two before the green flag waved. He got a new wheel and was back on track.

    As this occurred, DeCaire was given a signal to fall to the back of the pack for the restart after the red flag. He was in fourth in the running order prior to the red flag. He stopped at the start finish line, where some race officials stood at the inside wall. He protested the order to fall to the back, but was told that he was a lap down and could not fall into fourth place in line.

    Attrition was high, with only nine cars at the finish. Santos held the lead from lap 29, when Pierce had a flat tire while leading, until the checkered flag was shown after 40 laps. He credited his tire management with helping him to win the race. “I was just saving my tires, because early in the race, I kind of felt it vibrating a little,” Santos said after the race concluded. “So I kind of knew that I needed to save it. I felt my rear tires starting to shake and that’s why I backed it down a little bit.” The win was the first by Santos in King of the Wing series racing.

    I can report the following after review of the video files from the forward-facing camera mounted on the #91 car of Troy DeCaire, which did record the entire feature race, including the red flag period on lap 36.
    Lap 10 - Yellow flag displayed for #25 car (Sierra Jackson) for flat tire, car stopped on back stretch. Announcer states "team given 2 caution laps to change flat tire." After 2 minutes and 36 seconds from the time the #25 car is pushed into the pits, the green flag is displayed on the leader's fourth time around after passing the stopped #25 car in the pits the first time. Leader passes stopped #25 car in pits three times.
    Lap 21 - #91 (Troy DeCaire) car has a flat right rear, signals on front stretch that he is slowing, 8 seconds later the #22A car has a near miss in turn 2 as DeCaire slows his car and gets out of the traffic lane, green light remains on, DeCaire in top lane slows down into turn 3 and comes to a stop, green still on as DeCaire is almost at a complete stop on track, yellow light comes on 29 seconds after slowing, and yellow flag is not waved until about 10 seconds later
    Lap 22 - #91 car enters pits for tire change, stops, leader passes by one time, upon which the yellow light then goes out and green is displayed, giving the #91 car one lap to change a flat right rear tire, despite earlier announcement that teams would get two yellow flag laps to change a flat tire, #91 reenters the track after the tire change and green light is on within 5 seconds of when #91 car reenters at speed
    Lap 36 - #91 car advances to fourth place on track as the red flag is displayed for refueling, but is scored as one lap down due to delayed yellow light on lap 21, which allowed the leader to pass DeCaire's stationary car 3 seconds before the yellow light was displayed, DeCaire is told that he must restart in the rear of the pack due to being a lap down, and not in fourth place where he was on track prior to red flag, #91 car drops to rear of the pack as required
    Lap 40 - race conclusion, #91 car is scored with 6th place finish, one lap down to the race leader

    I spoke to Tim Bryant, Five Flags Speedway General Manager, today regarding the King of the Wing race on Friday. The only concern that he expressed was the time it took to display the yellow flag for the flat tire for Troy DeCaire’s car when it slowed on the back stretch on lap 21. He did think that the yellow flag should have been displayed earlier for this incident. He stated that Davey Hamilton has already spoken to Lenny Puglio, Troy DeCaire’s car owner, and both parties are satisfied about the call for the #91 car to go a lap down because of the lap 21 flat tire and subsequent pit stop.

    I also asked if Tom Hartsell Jr., Director of the AVSS Series, spent time during the feature race in the announcer's booth commenting on the race on the track's PA system during any part of the feature race at the track on Friday night? Mr. Bryant responded that Hartsell was interviewed by the track announcer prior to the feature race (which I heard). Tim Bryant was in the pits during the feature race, and could not verify if Hartsell did comment on the track’s PA system during the race. In addition, he added that he was aware that Hartsell was busy during the race communicating with drivers on the raceceiver radio system. Bryant immediately referred my question to Bill Roth, who served as a track announcer on Friday, and was in the booth along with Tom Hartsell Jr. during the feature race. Roth verified that Hartsell was busy with raceceiver radio communication with drivers during the feature race, and that he did conduct one interview with Hartsell during the feature race’s red flag period. This would explain why some spectators or crew members recall hearing Hartsell’s voice over the track PA system during the feature race.

    I have sent an email message to King of the Wing series owner Davey Hamilton with several questions regarding the officiating and controversy from Friday’s race. As of early Monday evening, I have not received a response from Mr. Hamilton. I will follow up when a response is received.

    King of the Wing Feature Race Finish
    Five Flags Speedway, Pensacola, FL, Friday, April 17, 2015

    FEATURE: (40 laps) 1) Bobby Santos III, 2) Kyle Edwards, 3) Mickey Kempgens, 4) Ron Larson, 5) Jacob Wilson, 6) Troy DeCaire, 7) Aaron Pierce, 8) Tommy Nichols, 9) Richard Larson, 10) Dave Steele, 11) Dave Baumgartner, 12) Sierra Jackson, 13) J.J. Dutton, 14) Shane Butler, 15) Robert Beck, 16) Davey Hamilton Jr., 17) Troy Thompson, 18) Blake Rose, 19) Tom Paterson, 20) Robert Stout

    The feature race video from the Florida Open Wheel channel is here (Troy DeCaire at Five Flags Speedway, Feature Race, 4-17-2015):

    https://youtu.be/H46LrojO4Zg

     

     

     

    AJ Maddox – Up Front and Checking Out

    By Richard Golardi

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

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

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

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

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

    Number 3A car of AJ Maddox at East Bay

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    https://youtu.be/YxM9l6ZyHdE

     

     

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

    By Richard Golardi

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

    Troy DeCaire at Five Flags Speedway

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

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

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

    Sprint cars at Five Flags Speedway

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

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

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

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

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

     

     

     

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

    By Richard Golardi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     

     

     

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

    By Richard Golardi

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

    Sport Allen in Desoto Winners Circle

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

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

    Sprint cars at Desoto Speedway

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

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

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

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

    https://youtu.be/UfpEPu9J9Nk

     

     

     

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

    By Richard Golardi

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

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

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

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

    TBARA sprint cars at Punta Gorda in 2012

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    http://youtu.be/KKkBeGRdf2o

     

     


    E-mail  Richard Golardi quickterm@yahoo.com


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