The interstate highways in and around Florida, the conduit for many a Snowbird’s journey, sees an increasing amount of race car haulers this time of year. When three tracks in Florida and one in nearby Georgia have racing dates on the schedule, the haulers will come in hopes of re-tracing their trip in a few weeks with a few trophies in tow.
Activity started on the first day of the month as East Bay Raceway Park offered a single division program as a warmup for the weekend. Fresh off four nights of Modifieds, East Bay played host to Crate Late Models in a solo show that drew 23 cars. Veteran Keith Nosbisch powered to the lead on the second lap and endured a number of cautions to bring home the victory. During many of the yellow flags, Doug Horton and Walker Arthur lined up side by side behind the race leader and swapped spots in the battle for second. Horton eventually claimed that position.
Up near Ocala, at Bubba Raceway Park, the season would get underway for the Arctic Cat All Star Circuit of Champions. Defending series champion Chad Kemenah would find himself mired in the ninth row for the main, but he hunted down race leader Parker Price-Miller (aka “The Law Firm”) to secure the win, his 34th career ASCoC triumph.
The night belonged to the quick as 14 drivers broke the old track record, now held by Ian Madsen with a 11.392 clocking around the 3/8-mile D-shaped circuit.
Friday, February 2
A chilled Punxsutawney Phil cited six more weeks of winter, but the message fell short in dissuading racers from continuing their Speedweeks assault.
North Florida Speedway near Lake City became the weekend home for UMP Modifieds. North Carolina’s Kyle Strickler backed up his East Bay win with a second triumph on the season. The reigning two-time DIRTcar Nationals Gator champion, Nick Hoffman, opened his program with a runner-up finish ahead of Will Krup.
In Georgia, the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series drew 41 cars to Golden Isles Speedway’s Super Bowl on Dirt. The defending series champion, Josh Richards, had his hands full with the hard-charging Hudson O’Neal. The teenaged O’Neal charged from the 15th starting spot and actually made a late race pass for the lead, only to see it wiped out by a caution. Richards re-grouped and kept the youngster at bay in claiming his 23rd Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series main event.
A chill was in the air at Bubba Raceway Park as a field of 34 All Star Sprints were looking for the fast way around. The top qualifiers came from the first group on the track, led by Kerry Madsen’s 11.8 second run. In that group, three of the top five fastest found themselves in the first heat. The first half of the overall field was separated by less than ½-second in qualifying runs.
Heat race winner Tyler Clem, who backed it up with a Dash win, led the field to the green, but it was Tim Shaffer who wanted to settle the matter from his outside front row spot. Shaffer grabbed the early lead, forcing Clem and Sheldon Haudenschild into a battle of their own. While running second and third, the duo encountered a lapped car in pursuit of Shaffer, ending their respective nights. Shaffer went wire-to-wire to capture his 61st All Star win. The victor cited his patience as the key to success, noting that he hadn’t displayed that patience the night before. Madsen kept looking for a way to make a pass for the lead, but settled for second.
Top Gun Sprints joined the Crate Late Models for East Bay’s sixth night of racing in 2018. The local open wheel group was dominated by Hayden Campbell of Montverde, Florida. After finishing second the night before in the Crate Late Model main, Doug Horton felt there was something to prove in that division’s feature. Horton started on the pole, but soon found himself in pursuit of a quartet of cars that had gone forward. Horton’s route to victory covered both the top and the bottom as he used his track knowledge and experience to find the fast way around. Nevin Gainey put on a charge from 8th to come home second in front of Thursday winner Keith Nosbisch.
Saturday, Feb. 3
For many, the Saturday racing program represented a final shot at redemption at the place where they were pitted. After tonight, it’s either on to the next show or back home to prepare for the rest of the year.
Sheldon Haudenschild made the best of his starting spot at Bubba Raceway Park. Leading the field from the pole, the Wooster, Ohio, driver utilized the strategy of getting as far in front as possible as quickly as possible. The idea worked as the field was slowed only twice by cautions, allowing Haudenschild to build up a five-second lead. Even the re-grouping for the yellows would not have an adverse effect as Haudenschild picked up where he left off to bring the Stenhouse Jr/. Marshall #17 to victory, ahead of Madsen (second for the second straight time) and Kemenah, who came from 16th.
At North Florida Speedway, Kyle Strickler added a Saturday triumph to back up his Friday win in UMP Modifieds. Once again, it was Nick Hoffman chasing Strickler across the line.
Hayden Campbell doubled down in East Bay’s Top Gun Sprints competition. Defending series champion A.J. Maddox finished second, one spot ahead of Friday effort. The story of the night may have been Brandon Grubaugh, who took third to overcome his Friday luck that saw him pull out of the main during parade laps.
For Cate Late Models, the third winner of the week stopped in victory lane as Forest, Virginia racer Walker Arthur finally broke through. Arthur had finished the previous two races in the top five, but saved the best for last and the big payday in the 50-lapper. Doug Horton finished a successful week that saw a win and two seconds. Indiana racer Austin Burns had a solid third.
Josh Richards became an unlikely winner in the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series finale at Golden Isles. Richards took a provisional after failing to qualify, due in large part to steering issues and resorting to a back-up car. He started 26th and took the lead on the 24th lap of the 60-lap A Main to sail to the win.