2005 SPEEDFEST:  PRACTICE DAY  by Jeremy Troiano
Anderson Cars Fast Among The 51 Cars That Utilize Practice Day
For most drivers, the 2005 season opened on Wednesday afternoon when some 50-plus cars convened on USA International Speedway in Lakeland, FL for the opening day of 2005 SpeedFest, the new “preseason” special event
And by all accounts, and by looking at the stars that were at the track on Wednesday, it could be the start of a beautiful thing.

A total of 51 drivers took practice time on Wednesday, the day before the official start of SpeedFest.  Wednesday was an open practice session at the track, but was not mandatory for competing in the event.

At the end of six hours worth of practice, it was no surprise that the top two drivers were from the “Sunshine State.”  Those top two drivers were Wayne Anderson, the defending Sunbelt Series champion, and Mike Fritts, driving the car that Mike Good is scheduled to drive.
If there were themes to the day, three things stuck out.  First, the Florida drivers, at least on Wednesday, seemed to have the upper hand.  The second thing that stuck out was the quality of the field.  The third theme was the least favorite, which were the struggles several drivers faced on Wednesday.

After Anderson and Fritts, seven more Florida drivers littered the top-15 speeds.  If you count Ted Christopher’s seventh quick time behind the wheel of Dick Anderson’s car, then Florida cars had a total of 10 of the top 15 speeds.

“There are some tough drivers down here,” said Jay Middleton, another Florida driver, who was 27th quick on Wednesday.  “You’ve got Wayne, Justin (Drawdy), Mike (Cope), Travis (Kittleson), Dwayne (Dempsy), Mario (Gosselin) and Sean (Murphy).  That is a quality list of drivers.  There are some really good guys down here in Florida.  It probably helps that they have some time at this track too, but there is some talent here.”

Outside of the Florida hot shots, there is plenty more talent littered in the field.  Eddie Van Meter, Chris Gabehart, Erik Darnell and Jack Landis led the CRA Super Series drivers on Wednesday.  The series has plenty other talent on had as well, including Scott Hantz and Chuck Barnes Jr.
Christopher led the PASS contingent in Dick Anderson’s car, while Gordie Ryan, Mike Rowe and Ben Rowe, the 2003 PASS Champion, also had solid times on Wednesday.

The Southern All Star contingent seemed to struggle the most.  Outside of Charlie Bradberry, who was the fourth quickest time on Wednesday, you had to go all the way down to 18th to find the next top SAS star in Josh Hamner.  Following Hamner was Johnny Brazier, all the way back in 35th.

“I had been on the same set of tires all day long.  We were working for race runs.  We were really fgood with that," said Bradberry.  "I got real fast on old tires.  So we
Wayne Anderson was the fastest car on Wednesday.  (51 Photos)
came in and strapped on a new set of tires and I worked on some qualifying runs and it was fast.  I really didn’t think my qualifying run was that good though. 

“This is a real good field.  There are a ton of quality cars here.”

Barnes echoed Bradnerry’s statements, but wasn’t as happy with his performance.

“This is a tough field.  It is good to see the other CRA guys here, but there are some tough guys from Florida here and even a couple of guys from way up North that are supposed to be pretty good.

“I like this place too.  This is a nice track.  We started out the day on real old tires and we thought we had it pretty close, then we put some new tires on the car and we’ve been out the window ever since.  The car was finally starting to come around again there near the end.  We aren’t that good on the time sheet.   We’ll be alright come tomorrow night.”

Barnes wasn’t the only driver to run into trouble on Wednesday.

It started early for Dave Jackson.

“About three laps into my first practice session, the drive shaft broke and that caused us to have to change it, along with the transmission and some oil lines that needed to be replaced. 

“I’d never been here before, so we’re just trying to learn the race track.  Everything seems to be right now, so we’re trying to make it faster.

“Maybe we got the band luck out of the way now.”

Jackson wasn’t the only one hoping to have the bad luck out of the way early.  Eddie Massengill, Ronnie Sanders (who has crew chief Gene Roberts helping him this weekend) and Greg Davidson all worked on two different cars on Wednesday. 
Other big names that were near the bottom of the speed charts included Charlie Menard (31st), Eddie Hoffman (32nd), Kittleson (34th), Massengill (40th), Jeff Choquette (42nd) and Cope (50th).

Cope was having engine problems all day long.

“It is too bad really, because this was suppose to be a new, kick ass engine,” said Cope.  “But thankfully we came out here and practice today and figured out all that was wrong with it.  If we would have waited on Saturday to come and run it (Cope only plans to run Saturday), we would be in real trouble.”

There are a couple of notable Southern All Star big guns missing from SpeedFest.   The top two drivers in the 2004 point standings, champion Gary Helton and runner-up Ricky Turner, are not in Lakeland (FL), nor is David Hole.  The 2004 Southern All Stars Rookie of the Year, Eric Wallace, is however, in Lakeland.

Stay tuned to Speed51.com all weekend long for more coverage from Lakeland.

Justin Drawdy (#12) and Charlie Bradberry (#78) were also fast on Wednesday.
Jeff Choquette was surprisingly slow on Wednesday, clocking in with the 42nd quick time.