Race teams have scattered to their respective home bases as the bulk of the Florida racing action has come to a close for the month of February. Volusia Speedway Park concluded 12 days of back-to-back scheduled racing (operative word being “scheduled”) on Saturday, February 17, the same night East Bay Raceway Park brought down the curtain on the 42nd annual Winternationals. Only Bubba Raceway Park in Ocala would carry the torch for another week, with competition in the NeSmith Dirt Late Models to finish up the schedule on Saturday, Feb. 24.
No one kept up the ambitious task of trying to figure out how many laps of competition were held so far in 2018. The figure would be staggering. Car counts were showing a bit of a resurgence. Familiar faces were filling Victory Lane and newcomers were elbowing their way into the cherished territory. There were enough storylines developing to set the stage for what promises to be yet another exciting racing season in the dirt racing world.
DIRTcar Nationals At Volusia
The honor of keeping the early week racing momentum rested with the 47th annual DIRTcar Nationals at Volusia. The track approached its second week of action with no shortage of thrills as Sprint Cars and Modifieds were replaced with Late Models and Super DIRTcar Series Block Modifieds.
Late Models had already made stops at East Bay and Bubba Raceway Park before completing their cycle at Volusia. Only one man could hold the distinction of winning at all three tracks (Bubba had only one show) and it didn’t take long to happen. Jonathan Davenport went wire-to-wire to secure the 30-lap main event which saw only two cautions. It was his fourth win in the span of a week.
A pair of winners from the previous week in different race cars were given the opportunity to be a part of the Late Model action. Sprint Car ace Donny Schatz brought his #15 home in 12th in the main event. Nick Hoffmann gathered in a 17th place in the strong Late Model field.
With so many nights of racing on the schedule, it is inevitable that one or more would fall victim to the weather. The first (spoiler alert: and only) weather cancellation struck on Tuesday as heavy rains settled into Eastern Florida. Super DIRTcar Series Modifieds would wait a day for the start of their program.
The weather was better for Wednesday, but it didn’t stay that way through the night. A heavy fog rolled in during the World of Outlaws Craftsman Late Model opening feature. Conditions turned quickly, forcing a stoppage on lap 26. After an assessment of conditions and a wise decision in the interest of safety, the race was called complete and victory was awarded to Tim McCreadie. The New York driver had just made a pass on the lap previous, leading only one lap for his victory. The SDS Modified feature would have to wait another day.
Mother Nature finally cooperated on Thursday as race fans benefitted from two SDS main and a Late Model feature for the night at Volusia. Tyler Siri seized the opportunity to claim the first feature while runner-up Tim McCreadie broke through to claim the second main.
The persistence of Dale McDowell turned into good fortune as the veteran moved from his 15th starting spot to win the World of Outlaw Craftsman Late Model main. The 50-lapper saw a lot of great position passing.
Thursday was opening night for the USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Cars. The “Winter Dirt Games” provided an excellent showcase for the non-wing cars to give Florida fans a look at something different.
Chase Stockon, who closed off 2017 with two wins in the last four events, picked up right where he left off by winning the Thursday main event. Stockon blended in with the competition, qualifying fifth and finishing third in the heat. With an outside front row starting spot, Stockon and the rest of the field endured a caution-plagued first half of the feature. When the field was able to enjoy long green flag periods, challenges were abundant throughout. At the checkered, Stockon had his first win in 20 tries at the Winter Dirt Games.
East Bay Raceway Park was hosting the ASCS Racing Series with 35 cars on hand. They were joined by Mini Sprints from Florida and 9 other states. Canadian racer Thomas Kennedy jumped into the lead at the start of the A-main and was never caught. Kennedy caught lapped traffic on lap 6, forcing his way through backmarkers to claim the win. Kennedy told his crew the car was getting tighter as the race was nearing an end and accepting the $2,000 top prize. It was far from a boring race as Mark Smith, Terry McCarl and Tim Shaffer were locked in position battles from start to finish. Robby Hoffman won the opening night feature for Mini Sprints.
Friday At Volusia
Back at Volusia, Friday’s feature gave 2017 series champion Matt Sheppard a positive start to 2018. Sheppard, who won 40 races last year, has taken the first step to matching or beating that mark this year. The Late Model feature saw Scott Bloomquist turning to a brand-new race car and it turned out to be the right call. The Tennessee veteran was fast qualifier, heat race winner and $10,000 recipient in Victory Lane.
Tyler Courtney grabbed his first Florida win and his first with his new team, Clauson-Marshall-Newman Racing in USAC action at Bubba Raceway Park. After a win in his heat earlier in the night, Courtney started fourth in the main, taking the lead on lap 3. No one would be able to wrestle it away from the central Indiana speedster.
Mark Smith rebounded from runner-up to snare the second night of ASCS competition at East Bay, earning top point honors for the two nights of racing. The top 6 in points were locked into the Saturday 40-lap main with Smith slightly ahead of Thursday winner Kennedy. Delaware racer Luke Thomas would score one for travelers in the Mini Sprint main.
Saturday would mark the finale for the 47th annual DIRTcar Nationals (Volusia) and 42nd annual Speedweeks (East Bay) and the Winter Dirt Games (BRP). The winners could rest on their laurels until season action starts, in some cases, just a few weeks away.
Courtney made it back-to-back in USAC racing, winning from the pole. At Volusia, Tim McCreadie didn’t have it as easy as that. McCreadie started the SDS main in 27th, taking a provisional to get in the field. As the saying goes, “It’s not where you start, but where you finish” and the victory made the struggle worthwhile. Brandon Sheppard notched the Late Model main, but it was the consistency of Chris Madden that gave the Carolina driver the Gator trophy for the points accumulated. Shut out of victory, Madden recorded three seconds on the week.
The final event at East Bay was the King of the 360s Ronald Laney Memorial. The 40-lap main event in honor of the 2000 winner saw three former champions looking to increase their stature. Terry McCarl drew the pole position and proved to be difficult to catch through the event. Once again, mastery of lapped traffic would provide a key. Tim Shaffer actually passed McCarl on the 37th lap, but McCarl got back in front before the lap was completed. It was the third title for McCarl, who also won the event in 2006 and 2016.