The eyes of the short track world were firmly fixed on Florida as the second week of February yielded high car counts and intense dirt track action from east to west. Rain came, but it was kind enough to show up on a day that was designated for practice. For the most part, Mother Nature kept to herself.
Before action could get underway at Volusia, East Bay Raceway Park bounced back from a one-day hiatus to host the first of six nights of racing for the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series.
Josh Richards’ two-race win streak would come to an end on the first night at East Bay. While Richards posted fast time and grabbed the early race lead in the main event, second generation racer Devin Moran snatched the lead back to lead to the white flag.
That’s when Brandon Sheppard delivered the drama. Sheppard jumped to the high side and shot around the leader in the last set of corners. The margin of victory in the 30-lap main was a mere .056 seconds…and this was just the opening night.
Tuesday (Feb. 6) saw the start of the DIRTcar Nationals and the UMP Modifieds had center stage. The division had already bounced around to a pair of speedways before setting in at Volusia. There were 65 teams in the pit area and David Stremme put his Lethal Chassis in Victory Lane, ahead of fellow North Carolina racer Nick Hoffman.
The Late Models had a second date with East Bay on that night. Jonathan Davenport scored fast time and backed it up with a feature win that was anything but easy. When caution flew with eight laps to go, Davenport had to deal with a determined Brandon Overton. Davenport could not build a comfortable cushion, but Overton’s efforts came up a little short, putting Davenport in Victory Lane.
Mid-week action is always popular and the Wednesday schedule was appealing to dirt fans from around the world. The Arctic Cat All-Star Circuit of Champions, fresh from a three-night stand at Bubba Raceway Park, got a shot at the Volusia surface and put down some fast-paced action. Donny Schatz prevailed in a non-stop feature that set a blistering pace. In the UMP Modifieds, Nick Hoffman clearly had a mission. After finishing second in the last three races, Hoffman wanted a victory and got it, passing Stremme for the lead.
The Wednesday battle at East Bay yielded the third feature winner in as many shows. With 51 cars on hand, the bigger field was of little concern to Brandon Overton. Keeping himself in position to make a move, Overton ran a patient race to seize a lap 25 opportunity for the lead. His drive in the front of the field for the remaining 15 laps gave him his first East Bay feature win.
Thunder of Thursday night translated to lightning on the track as a quick field qualified for the fourth night of Late Model gladiators prepared for battle. Local racer Kyle Bronson set the pace among the 53 cars and backed it up with a heat race win.
Bronson would hold the lead after a few early race cautions, but the time at the front was short-lived. Tyler Erb came from ninth to take the point, but a challenge was looming in Brandon Sheppard. The Monday night winner crashed in his heat race and was relegated to a 21st starting spot in the main. Moving forward steadily, Sheppard asserted himself to the front on lap 21, leading the rest of the way.
At Volusia, repeat winners became the flavor of the night as Schatz scored the All-Star win and Hoffman avoided second place in UMP Modified action by winning and taking the lead in Gator points, which would determine starting lineups in upcoming events.
On Friday, Volusia’s Sprint Car pits would now be occupied by the World of Outlaws Craftsman Sprint Car Series while the UMP Modifieds ramped up for more action. In the winged open wheel battles, second generation racer Sheldon Haudenschild scored one of his biggest wins. The 2017 Kevin Gobrecht Rookie of the Year winner added a career first feature win to his impressive resume, backing up his ASCoC win at Bubba Raceway Park a week before.
The UMP Modifieds were treated to the unique Quad-15 format, giving every driver a chance to be in a feature. Kyle Strickler, Tyler Nicely, Frank Paladino and Larry Mott took home the special trophies. For Mott, a 65-year-old Florida racer, it was an emotional first Gator.
The Friday main at East Bay brought Jonathan Davenport back to Victory Lane as the pits swelled to the highest car count for the series visit to the track since 2011. Josh Richards and Billy Moyer Jr. swapped the early lead until Davenport got into the battle with Richards. Davenport finally sealed the deal with three laps to go.
Donny Schatz recorded his 250th World of Outlaws win with a Saturday triumph, his third feature of the week at Volusia. The Modified field was split in half with one group racing Saturday and another on Sunday. The top 10 of each group would qualify for the Big Gator. Tyler Nicely prevailed, backing up a Friday win.
Kyle Bronson stood proud in East Bay Victory Lane at the end of the final Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series race of this run. Bronson had been oh so close throughout the week, but saved the best for last, cashing the $12,000 check at the end of the 60-lap main.
On Sunday at Volusia, a familiar scenario played out as Nick Hoffman led the qualifiers for the Big Gator with his feature win. Donny Schatz would be the best of the bunch in the World of Outlaws action.
Sunday also saw the Lucas Oil Late Model move north to Bubba Raceway Park, which brought victory for Jonathan Davenport.
Earlier, BRP had hosted the POWRi Midgets for a pair of events with Kevin Thomas Jr. topping the 19-car field in each race.