When most people think of spending a wintery week in Florida it is images of sandy beaches, flip-flops, and sunscreen that come to mind; but I’ve never really been like most people and when I thought of a week in Florida, one primary thing came to mind, auto racing!
From February 12-18th I soaked up some sunshine from not only those beautiful sandy beaches, but from some great grandstand seats.
We kicked the week off at Ocala Speedway in Ocala, Florida for the Super Late Model All Star Shootout. The $8000 to win dirt late model show acted as a bridge from the week priors events at East Bay and the start of Volusia’s late Model action which began on Tuesday.
The unique “D” shaped track was converted over a decade ago from Clay to asphalt, but was transformed back to dirt in 2008. The sweeping turn 2 tapers into a challenging and tight 3-4 which makes for some very interesting laps and passes. The track conditions on this Sunday night were nothing short of wicked fast, and with a heavy track that just didn’t want to stay smooth, the feature race came down to who could keep their nose clean and the rubber on the rims. After experiencing a flat midway through the event Don O’Neal in his #1 machine had to make a charge back up from the rear, but some clever rim-riding landed O’Neal in perfect position with laps winding down, and the driver who always seems to shine brightest during multi-night race series’ once again showed his talent as he came home with the win.
The Late Models weren’t the only great show of the evening as the track was hosting a $500 to win Super-8 Street Stock feature as well. The slicing and dicing stockers treated us and fellow Michiganders Larry & Linda to an awesome show and a fun start to the 2011 season.
With a great night of racing already in the books, it didn’t seem like the week could get much better, but then we made the trip to Volusia Speedway Park in Barberville, FL. The ½-mile track just about 30-minutes outside of Daytona Beach hosted 13 consecutive nights of racing between February 8th and 20th and each one of them amazing. Volusia is one of those tracks that once you have visited you just can’t help but come back again and again. The surface lends itself to great side by side racing action, and the crew kept the track looking like it was night #1 instead of nights 10 and 11. The track was tacky, groovy, and absolutely amazing all week, and listening to World of Outlaw Late Model announcer Rick Eshelman over the PA was an added bonus.
Monday night saw Billy Moyer fly through the pack in his #21 machine to take the win in the 30-lap Late Model Main, while it was all Austin Dillon in the #41 UMP Modified for the Gator Championship. He was followed closely to the line by the #33 machine driven by Clint Bowyer.
Tuesday night saw even more heavy hitting action with the Triple 25’s (Three separate 25-lap features for the UMP Mods) and another 30-lapper for the Late Models. Early on it seemed as though it would be the Jimmy Mars show as he pulled to a sizable lead in his white and blue #28. But with just a few laps to go a restart set the #1 of Don O’Neal on Mars’ back bumper and O’Neal took full advantage sliding his way around Mars at the end.
Wednesday night saw the emergence of the Big Block DirtCar Series Modifieds on the big ½-mile. The 467ci Modifieds are just wicked looking and a ton of fun to watch. Their unique suspension and aerodynamic body style with a centered cockpit are fun to watch dart around on dirt, and the low rumble is a sound so sweet you can’t help but instantly fall in love with the funky things. When the feature event first kicked off it looked like Brett Hearn would have the advantage in his #20 machine, but the #1 of Stewart Friesen was methodically working his way up into the #2 position and on the final lap he slid right past the veteran for the double checkered flags.
Jimmy Mars had only one hope going into the night, “No restarts” as he stated prior to the start of the 30-lap Late Model main. His wish came true as the Wisconsin native led the field to the checkered in a 30-lap caution free, action packed race that had fans on the edge of their seats.
With each night growing more intense, I couldn’t help but spend one last night at Volusia before my flight back to cold and cloudy northern Michigan; so Thursday night we made the short drive back over for the World of Outlaw Late Model 50-lapper in conjunction with another great Bog Block modified show. The track was wicked fast as Pat Doar set a new track record of 15.783 in his #1 machine, breaking a record that had been set a mere 24-hours prior by Don O’Neal. But when it came to the features the man to watch was a different #1; Josh Richards. Richards car stuck like glue whether he was diving low or taking it to the cushion. He was wicked fast, but the rough track took its toll and he eventually relinquished the lead to Scott Bloomquist who never looked back on his way to pick up the $10,000 check from over the #2 of Brady Smith who had a stellar run and several podium finishes during the Winternationals.
I cannot thank the DirtCar group for all their hospitality. My week in Florida was a stellar one and has left me more anxious than ever for the emergence of spring and more short track racing.