IMCA: Las Vegas track championship report

LAS VEGAS -- The battle to become the track champion at the half-mile dirt oval at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in the IMCA Modified division is intense. Two drivers have set the standard in this division at LVMS in 2000. Jim...

LAS VEGAS -- The battle to become the track champion at the half-mile dirt oval at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in the IMCA Modified division is intense. Two drivers have set the standard in this division at LVMS in 2000. Jim Perkins of Fort Mohave, Ariz., is currently the points leader at LVMS' half-mile dirt oval and at Mohave Valley Raceway in Arizona. Perkins is ranked third in the nation and is leading the Western Region in the IMCA Modified division. Perkins began racing at the age of 20 in Minnesota. A deck tech company owner, Perkins has raced since the opening of the half-mile dirt oval at LVMS and strives to entertain fans at the age of 40. Native Las Vegas resident Dan Fitzgerald began racing at age 16 at LVMS in the street stock division. While a street stock driver, Fitzgerald watched and admired Perkins. Both drivers could be found in the number 87 car in their respective divisions. "Racing has been a family tradition," said Fitzgerald, who started racing in the modified division four years ago. Now at 26, Fitzgerald is a leading contender at LVMS. During the first few weeks of the 2000 season, Fitzgerald led Perkins in the point standings. Fitzgerald has two victories and seven top-three finishes at LVMS. Perkins got off to a rocky start, but managed to close in on Fitzgerald. A total of four victories and nine top-three finishes have allowed Perkins to take the lead in the point standings. Since mid-season, the average point deviation between the two modified drivers is 3.5 points with an overall point deviation of 8.7. The competition between Perkins and Fitzgerald is unique. Both drivers participate in the AZNEV Modified Series. The series is held at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and Mohave Valley Raceway. Perkins and Fitzgerald continually start side-by-side on the invert due to the same car number. Perkins drives the 87W car, while Fitzgerald heads the 87N modified. Both cars have similar paint jobs making it difficult to distinguish between the two. In most races, Perkins and Fitzgerald not only start side-by-side, but also finish side-by-side. The two IMCA Modified drivers believe that dirt racing is more challenging than asphalt racing. "The track changes so much," Fitzgerald says. "It can be wet, dry or a combination. You have to find the best way around the track." The competition in the IMCA Modified division at LVMS' half-mile dirt oval can be tough and very competitive. Perkins and Fitzgerald both enjoy the friendly competition between each other. "We are both clean drivers, very competitive and respect each other," said Perkins. According to Fitzgerald, the top five drivers will do whatever it takes to win, but at the same time, all five drivers can run side-by-side and never touch. "Perkins is always there," said Fitzgerald. "He capitalizes on any mistake. He is hard to beat." As the points battle continues to heat up, Perkins will continue to do his homework, which he says is mandatory to be on top of the game. Fitzgerald does his homework on the track as well as in the classroom. He is an eighth-grade math teacher at Von Tobel Middle School. In the classroom, Fitzgerald relates his passion and knowledge of racing to math problems. Fifty students in Fitzgerald's math classes have been invited to attend the half-mile dirt oval Saturday evening to cheer their teacher on. Fitzgerald will be displaying his IMCA Modified and signing autographs Thursday at Vons on the corner of Craig and Martin Luther King from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.

Perkins and Fitzgerald will resume their battle Saturday evening. Gates open at 6 p.m. and racing begins at 7:30 p.m. Admission is $8 for adults, $6 for seniors and military and $2 for children 6-12. Children five and under are free.

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Series Stock car