Charlie Daniels Band Calls It As Fritts Wins Speedfest 2006
There are all kinds of “southern rock” out there. In fact, one of the more famous “southern rock” bands around was the Charlie Daniels Band. And one of their most famous songs proclaimed “Be proud you're a rebel, 'cause the South's gonna do it again and again.”
On Saturday night, Mike Fritts and a slew of southern drivers brought their own brand of “southern rock” to Speedfest 2006, sweeping the top four spots and seven of the top-10 positions in the final rundown… proving Charlie Daniels right… the South did it again and again.
together on lap two on the frontstretch. The contact put Skinner’s car upside down and sent him for a long slid on his roof down the length of the frontstretch and into the turn one wall. Skinner finally came to a stop and was able to climb out of his car under his own power.
Then, things go down to business between Gosselin, Rogers and Fritts. Fritts, a Florida favorite, moved into second and began chasing down Gosselin. Finally, on lap 71, Fritts made the pass of Gosselin and grabbed the lead.
Mike Fritts hoisted yet another trophy after winning Saturday night's Speedfest 200 at USA International Speedway. (51 Photos)
But it was no easy pass. And Fritts made sure Gosselin knew he was there before going around him, bumping him several times in the corners. The contact harkened back to Friday night’s South 100, where Fritts and several other drivers were less than pleased with the way Gosselin made his way to the front using his back bumper.
“I’m not going to do anything stupid to wreck him,” said Fritts matter-of-factly. “Everyone talks stuff the night before. I was just running him like he was running me and got on by him. I just had a good time and enjoyed it.”
Things got off to a scary start with Fain Skinner's flip.
Fritts not only brought the South back to prominence in this year’s Speedfest after the North dominated in 2005, but he did it in dramatic style.
A bad pit stop, a different setup and another run in with a fellow competitor couldn’t stop Fritts, who felt redeemed after leading last year’s Speedfest 200 before engine problems knocked him out of the event.
“After last year, with the cylinder head cracking while we were leading, I felt a little robbed. I think everyone here had good cars, we were just fortunate to get a good set of tires and run really well. This was a real good field of cars though and we’re just the fortunate ones,” said an overly-modest Fritts.
Fritts’ early race exploits were the same as most drivers in the field… follow race leader Mario Gosselin. Gosselin got the jump on Eddie Van Meter at the start and pulled away from the field, bringing Clay Rogers and several others with him.
As had happened in the North 100 on Friday night though, the action got scary early. Fain Skinner and Preston Peltier got
Then, things took a turn for the worse for Fritts. On lap 93, the caution came out, giving teams a perfect opportunity to come to pit road. Fritts led the charge down pit road, but didn’t lead the charge off pit road. In fact, he didn’t even came off fifth. Or 10th. Instead, he came out 15th.
Who did come out first? To not many people’s surprise, it was Clay Rogers.
“Our pit stop was awesome,” said Rogers. “That is my Hooters crew for this year, so hopefully, that is a sign of things to come. We have a lot of new guys for the Hooters team this year, so this was a learning weekend.”
Jacob Ryan took the lead after not coming in with the leaders, but soon found himself in the wall as the result of contact with a lapped car (more on this incident in leftovers later this week), handing Rogers the lead.
With Gosselin in tow, and Fritts working hard to move up
Fritts' pit stop problems nearly cost him the win.
“I can’t say much about the win without thanking Frankie and Augie Grill for the setup they gave me right before the race,” said Fritts. “Honest to God, they gave us a setup right before the race. I had no idea what we were putting on, but they said “put it on and go race it.” It was awesome. That was the best car I ever had here.
“It was completely different. It was different springs, shocks and everything. We just threw it at it. I trust those boys a lot. We came down here a little gung ho and thought we had the setup to beat, but it turns out we didn’t. Last night, I put my faith in them and they pulled through for me.
“I enjoyed it. I had a good weekend. I met some new guys this weekend, guys I never raced with before. It just seems like every guy I meet from up North is a super nice guy. These are the races that are really fun.”
Rogers, a Pro Cup regular, also talked about how much fun the weekend was.
“It was a fun race,” said Rogers. “I don’t race Super Late Models. This is the second time I’ve raced them since 2002. So to come down here and make that kind of showing is pretty cool.
“I have to thank my sponsors, because if it wasn’t for them, we wouldn’t’ even race Super Late Models. Bill Boger has a deep love for these straight-rail cars and they have a lot of history. We’ll be back here in a month (for the Pro Cup opener in February) and hopefully, we’ll improve by one position.”
And with Travis Kittleson coming in third, and Jeff Choquette coming in fourth, the South showed they all had a lot of fun.
Eddie Hoffman was the race’s top northern finisher, coming home fifth.
“This reminded me of Irwindale that first year,” said Hoffman, referring to the NASCAR Toyota All Star Showdown in 2003 when the Midwest Series dominated the event on the West Coast. “You can fool them once, but you can’t do it twice. Hey, we got the North money at least.”
Fritts, Rogers, Kittleson, Middleton and others took some advice from Charlie Daniels though.. “Be proud you're a rebel, 'cause the South's gonna do it again and again.”
through the field from his 15th-place position, Rogers promptly pulled away from the field in a big way, opening up a huge lead.
“We weren’t very happy with the set of tires that we started the race on,” said Rogers. “We were really excited about our second set of tires though. When we scuffed our second set of tires, they were awesome. Tires were a real pain in the butt this weekend, but I’m not going to harp on that.”
Even more impressive with Rogers’ domination was the fact that again, much like at the Snowball Derby, he showed the power using one of the McGunegill Sealed Engines, used by several competitors in CRA Super Series competition. The engine, which costs just $13,500 in comparison to some of the $35,000 9 to 1 engines, was big in the eyes of Rogers.
“The McGunegill engine is a cool thing,” said Rogers. “This is a new thing that is trying to get pushed along in the late model world to bring everyone back on the same page so we can do more of this North-South stuff.
“We were beating them through the corners really bad. You could just see it. We were two or three car lengths better in the corner. It was hard to pass though. We’re not down on motor, but you just give up a little bit at the end of the straight that makes it hard to pass. These guys get the lead and they drag race. It makes it hard to pass, but I’m not complaining. For what we’ve got money wise in the motor and the way it performs, I’m very impressed.”
While Rogers continued to pull away from the field and click off laps to the finish, things were unfolding behind him.
Clay Rogers' #2 put a hurting on the field.
First, Gosselin pulled into the pits with mechanical problems on lap 171. A favorite all weekend, especially after winning Friday night’s South 100, Gosselin dropped from the event.
“It looks like something broke in the shifter, so when I go into third gear now the shifter hits the roll bar,” said Gosselin. “So I missed third gear on the restart and broke a valve spring. What are you going to do? At least we ran up front all weekend.”
Eyes were now focused on Fritts, who was charging back through the field. With just 25-laps to go, Fritts had charged through the field and made it back up to second. But, it 25-laps, he had to cut down and over two-second lead that Rogers had put on the field.
Fritts was a man on a mission after that.
“We had a little trouble with lugnuts on our stop,” said Fritts. “These guys worked their butts off all weekend, like all these crews. When we got back there, they were on the radio apologizing. I told the guys they worked hard all weekend long, now it was my turn.”
Fritts took his turn in style. In just 10 laps, he cut the deficit to just tenths of a second. On lap 189, he made the winning pass on Rogers, and eventually pulled away for the Speedfest 200 victory.
“When (Fritts) had the lead early there in the race, we got into second place and we were maintaining (with him),” said Rogers after his second-place finish. “It is no wonder he wins every race in Florida, because when he came by me, he about ripped the (number) 2 off the door.
“The motor in this thing is pretty stout, but whatever is in that thing… that is pretty good. It is frustrating to have the whole field beat as bad as we beat them and have someone come up and blow your doors off. Hey, the man runs Super Late Models all the time and runs this track a lot, so I don’t doubt he’s got it figured out.”
Fritts wasn’t overly outspoken in Victory Lane, as he rarely is. He gave everyone else the credit for the win, including Frankie and Augie Grill, who gave Fritts and entirely new setup for Saturday night’s race.
Gosselin (#06) and Fritts (#127) were two of the best.