Round And Around: Saturday At East Bay Raceway

The Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series Winternationals came to an end Saturday at East Bay Raceway Park, leaving the fans satisfied they had seen everything they hoped for, and more. The final show had 80 drivers competing for the 25 final feature berths, and much happened before the finale. Earlier that day we had run into more friends from Wisconsin who told of the late NASCAR champion Alan Kulwicki?s father Jerry passing away suddenly. The family was in our thoughts as much as our drivers who came to Florida to try their skills against the best in the country. Doug Blashe was among the missing for the finale, probably heading back home to the Badger State?s generous snow and bitter cold. Others came from states hit by tornados in the past week, and flooding hit other areas. It?s been a tough winter on many.

But for Speed Weeks in Florida it?s time to escape all that. Saturday?s fastest lap was logged in by 19-year old Josh ?Kid Rocket? Richards, who was candid about his previous night?s run. ?We were definitely on the wrong tires?, claimed Richards, and explained he was using this car because he had about 80 races slated for his own car. As for getting around East Bay, Richards said, ?Do your best and you can?t slip up. This place is pretty fast.? Richards then spun the wheel for heat inversion, and came up with a one, starting the six races straight up.

Steve Francis, Matt Miller, Donnie Moran, and Shannon Babb were among the 18 who transferred from the heats, the only ones to make all six features. We can?t say who would have made the cut in the second heat, for it appeared that Eric Jacobsen went awry, causing Jimmy Owens to try to avoid him, then Scott Bloomquist became involved and rolled almost three times. All three cars, ironically, are Bloomquist creations, and all drivers were reportedly fine. Don O?Neal was off the pace in his heat, then Steve Casebolt stayed ahead of O?Neal in the B main to close the final door on O?Neal?s feature runs at five. Kentucky?s Josh McGuire won the Strawberry Dash for the final feature spot, with Earl Pearson Jr. and Scott James gaining entry by series points. McGuire told the full house of his week, ?It hasn?t been good at all. At least we get to run a feature. Something?s been happening all the time. We?re just gonna keep going until something good happens.? And sponsors are welcome to contact the team.

We were told that Delaware?s Bob Geiger has been coming here for the past 21 years, but one fan from Canada has topped all others by spending his birthday at every Winternationals since the first one in 1977 when it was a sprint car event. I?m not positive, but I believe this is the same man who always buys a fistful of 50-50 tickets and won a large amount after more than 20 years. The late models were added in 1978, and through the years other fields were added until it became a five-week event. We don?t know what the minimum age limits were in the beginning, but this year?s competitors ranged in age from 15 to 61 years old. We counted racers from 18 states and Canada, the cream of the crop when it comes to dirt racing.

The final feature of the week was 75 laps long and paid $12,000 to win. Not only that, but there was another purse awarded to the top in points for the week, which began Saturday with Matt Miller tied with Moyer. The heat winner drawing put Richards on the pole and Terry Casey outside. Moyer and Miller were in the next row, Francis and Jeep Van Wormer followed. Casey took charge right away, surviving one restart to lead the first ten laps. Francis surprised us all when he zoomed his way through the middle to lead the way for the next ten circuits. Then Casey found something extra to regain the point until eleven laps later when Moyer patiently took charge to the end. Lapped traffic was a concern, as well as two more restarts, but after three delays, the next 41 laps were all green-flag laps. The most incredible progress was seen from Pearson, making it to second place from a provisional start in the twelfth row.

But this was Moyer?s night, and he paid homage to all his sponsors and crew. ?I can?t thank all these people on the car enough,? adding, ?We built this car. I haven?t been in it a year. This race track, you never know what to expect. It was anything but pretty at the beginning. You gotta remember to keep the wheels on it.? Some of us recalled Moyer telling about his tire choice the previous night, and it turned out he made the right choice in the long run. ?I like the middle groove. The car was just coming in. We kind of set up for when the fat lady sings. I was hoping there was no yellow.? And so it was. Oddly, in the closing laps some cars were able to unlap themselves, which made us think Moyer had slowed. Moyer had such a lengthy lead that it didn?t matter, and at the end it was experience that paid off.

Shortly after 10:00 it was all over. There was a chill in the air, temperatures dipping to the 60 mark to remind fans it was winter even in Florida. As we do every year, we bid a fond farewell to all the friendly faces here and friends from all over the country. Our thanks for the great time from our hosts, until next year. Our following adventur begins the next day many miles north of Tampa for the short tracks of Volusia county. Hopefully our home on wheels is road worthy this time.

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