A Preview Of The 2018 Winternationals As They Get Underway

The Lucas Oil Dirt Late Models actually begin their season in Georgia before swinging into action for six nights at East Bay Raceway Park. All photos by GoFast Photos.

It’s known by any number of names. East Bay Raceway Park near Tampa has been using “Winternationals” since the mid-1970s and the term has been adopted by Bubba Raceway Park in Ocala for the last seven years.  There have been phrases like “Florida Speedweeks”, often connected to Daytona and once nearby Volusia (now known as Volusia Speedway Park). There’s even a “World Series”, but that’s for the asphalt racing crowd at New Smyrna Speedway.

No matter what you call it, the common denominator remains – it’s racing in a place that CAN while other parts of the nation can’t.

Mother Nature tried a little bit of unwelcome influence in 2018 as the weeks leading into the planned racing were a little on the chilly side (relatively speaking). The idea that night time temperatures might get into the 30s isn’t unheard of…it’s just not what the tourism folks in the Sunshine State like to talk about.

Sprint Car fans will flock to see the action as three Florida tracks bring a healthy menu of Open Wheel action in 360 and 410 divisions.

Weather is an occupational hazard for those involved in dirt track racing, no matter what the level. Visitors to the Florida tracks from points north bring enough common sense and ample jackets and blankets to insulate themselves from an uncomfortable state. It’s Florida, it’s racing and the combination is the stuff that has drawn the like-minded together for decades.

The racing action kicks into high gear for the month of February with some type of racing in Florida (and nearby Georgia, where the Lucas Oil Dirt Late Models start their season) nearly every night from Feb. 1 through Feb. 24.

The Modifieds are among the busiest classes on an agenda that sees plenty of variety. After a late January stop at East Bay (see story here), the UMP Modifieds turn north to mix it up with the locals at North Florida Speedway in Lake City. The Feb. 4 capper will also bring UMP Super Late Models to the card that night. The winner of the Super Late Models will be the second driver to cash a $5,000 check for Speedweeks action.

Josh Richards was among the 2017 Winternationals winners in Lucas Oil Dirt Late Model action. Richards is now the defending series champion.

While the Modifieds are duking it out up north, two other tracks offer weekend racing action from Feb. 1-3. East Bay gets back into the swing of it with Crate Late Models and the local Top Gun Sprints. Bubba Raceway Park will open with the arrival of the Arctic Cat All Star Circuit of Champions. While the Florida events will not carry points for the 2018 ASCoC series championship, the enticement is there for teams looking to shake down their 2018 entries. The races at Bubba Raceway Park (and subsequent action at Volusia Speedway Park) will have a point fund of at least $10,000 for competing members.

After one night off, East Bay hammers down on Late Model action as the Lucas Oil Dirt Late Model Series arrives to fill the pits for six nights of action. The series had opened Feb. 2-3 at Golden Isles Speedway in Brunswick, Georgia, with most of these competitors expected to make the 265-mile tow to East Bay. Action starts on Feb. 5 with the $5,000 winner’s share on opening night increasing to $12,000 for the week-ending event.

Car counts will be plentiful as teams gather to start their 2018 season on the right path.

Volusia Speedway Park gets into the action on Feb. 6 for the DIRTcar Nationals. The track near Daytona recently completed an estimated $300,000 safety upgrade, which included replacing guardrails and catch fencing. The Modifieds will be joined throughout the week by the Arctic Cat All Star Circuit of Champions and the World of Outlaws Craftsman Sprint Car Series from Feb. 6-11. The UMP Modified Gator Championship is set for Monday, February 12 with DIRTcar Late Models on the bill.

The weekend action at Bubba Raceway Park (Feb. 8-10) shows the diversity of Florida in February. The USCS 360 Sprints will be joined by the POWRi Midgets. The Toyota Sunshine State Midget Challenge is the first Winternationals appearance for this class in over a decade. The Lucas Oil Dirt Late Model Series has a single stop on Sunday, Feb. 11 with the Bubba Army Nationals paying $10,000.

2017 Mini Sprints copy

Four-wide action is nearly constant when the Florida Mini Sprints get the green. They’re back for the 2018 Winternationals.

If you’re looking for a place for date night on Valentine’s, Volusia will be offering the arrival of the World of Outlaws Craftsman Late Models and the SDS Big Block Modifieds for four nights, Feb. 14-17. The USAC National Sprint Car Series visits Bubba Raceway Park on those nights, joined by Mod Lites. East Bay will close their 42nd annual Winternationals with the ASCS 360 Sprints and Florida Mini-Sprints.

While the checkered falls for Volusia Speedway Park and East Bay on Feb. 17, but we’re not done. Bubba Raceway Park has four nights of NeSmith Late Models before calling it a Speedweeks.

Welcome to Florida, the home of 25 nights of racing in 32 days…and that’s just the dirt tracks. I hear there’s pavement racing, too.

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