June 22nd, St. Augustine, FL - Imagine yourself driving at a speed of 100 miles per hour. Three inches beside you, to your right, is another car traveling at 100 miles per hour. To your left the same. In front of you is a message about a...
June 22nd, St. Augustine, FL - Imagine yourself driving at a speed of 100 miles per hour. Three inches beside you, to your right, is another car traveling at 100 miles per hour. To your left the same. In front of you is a message about a particular area business, painted on the rear bumper of another car traveling at 100 miles per hour. Behind you, if you are lucky, is another driver soaking in your sponsor's message, at 100 miles per hour. And, by the way, it is well over 100 degrees in the cockpit of your car, you are wrapped up snugly in a three-layer fire protection driver suit, you are fighting enormous gravitational forces as you strain to turn left, constantly, and you know that all of this speeding octane-driven horsepowered metal that surrounds you has every intention of getting in front of you as quickly as possible, at all costs.
Welcome to the races. Welcome to points battles. And welcome even more to racing for points ARA-style.
"You try to be more consistent when you're racing for points," says Donnie Oden, who after this past week was just nudged from the Late Model points lead by Larry Osteen. "You still want to win just as bad, but I'll settle for a second or third instead of possibly wrecking the car."
As the 2000 racing season at Florida Speed Park reaches the halfway point, rivalries throughout all of the divisions are unfolding at the same breakneck speeds as the race cars. And not to be outdone, controversy, the backbone of short track racing, abounds.
"There's no such thing as a smooth night of racing," says speedway manager Louis Smith. "With all of the emotion and tension and struggle that goes into these races, there's never a night where calmness prevails."
Last Saturday night, Todd Ponce, who had earned his way to a chance at collecting a $500 bounty offered by the speedway to anyone who could defeat him in the Sportsman division, fell out of competition in the feaature due to a cut tire, damage likely suffered earlier in the evening during a heat race. With the prospect of collecting the monetary dividend at stake, Jason Garver, for weeks Ponce's primary nemesis, finished second behind Joey Haslauer, a rookie in the division, and proceded to protest the winner's motor. The carburater on Haslauer's car was determined illegal by track officials, due to a relative rulebook technicality, a decision only to be subsequently appealed to the sanctioning body, which has yet to be resolved heading into Saturday night's feature.
In the Late Model division, Scott Lagasse, Jr. possessed a full straightaway lead with only five laps to go on his way to a most certain and convincing victory, until he encountered Jody Turner at the tail end of the lead lap. Diving into Turn 1, Lagasse made contact with the apparent lapped car, sending it into a spin, forcing both drivers to the rear of the lead lap. The ensuing action would find Lagasse out of the race due to numerous cautions, accompanied by a boisterous removal of his car by toe truck out of pit road, while Larry Osteen took the victory, and points lead, over second place finisher Donnie Oden.
"Officially, the full moon was on Friday," says Smith. "By racing calculations, it was on Saturday, no doubt about it. This is the time of season for many a full moon night."
In the Thunder Truck race, a next to last lap charge by Wade Lynn past Mike Ponce resulted in a Turn 4 spin, bringing both trucks to a halt and sending both to the rear, Lynn on his own spin and Ponce due to incidental contact. Ron Thomas, who had settled in for a third place finish, wound up with the win and a significant points jump over Lynn, who had lead in points for most of the season.
"Thomas versus Lynn, Oden versus Osteen, Ponce versus Garver, these rivalries are everywhere now," adds Smith. "Throw in Chuck Cumby's impressive showings in the Modified division lately and George Thrift vowing to rise back to the top, versus Robert Deal's commanding points lead and strong charging efforts, no matter where you turn, it's getting down and dirty. Nobody really likes finishing second out here, and it shows."
Troy Kruse managed to significantly eat into Jay Farris' lead in the Mini Stocks following his perfect 10 outing in this past week's Mini Rama, and Mickey Leth continues to close the gap even further with every race. While Brad Pilinko has been dominant in the Hobby Stocks to date, Chris Manucy has managed to keep pace and is within easy striking distance.
The ARA points system favors passing over finishing positions, therefore most of the racing has been filled with cars swapping positions, as faster cars more often start deeper in the fields and work through traffic toward the front. For fans, this has raised the excitement level of an already intense sport. For drivers, it has simply become more challenging to succeed.
"I don't really like it," says Oden. "As far as sitting in the stands and watching the race, I know the fans like the passing. It's challenging to have to pass cars, but you don't want to tear your car up doing it."
Joining this first half season finale Saturday night is the First Coast Car Council's classic car showing, featuring a mixture of classic and hot rod automobiles out at the speedway. A burnout competition along pit road will challenge classic car owners and spectator participants alike, as both groups seek to determine who can "burn" the most rubber and enliven the fans the most, all part of the action during Summer Meltdown 2000.
A change in the schedule will have cars practicing for a full hour beginning at 6:45 pm, with qualifying, heat races, and features to immediately follow.