SPEEDFEST GEARED UP FOR A SECOND RUNNING by Jeremy Troiano
Lakeland Race Draws SLM Teams From All Over
In years past, many racers looked toward Florida Speedweeks and the World Series of Asphalt Stock Car Racing at New Smyrna Speedway as the opening of the racing season. Aside from a few sparse races here and there at specific tracks across the country, Speedweeks was the “unofficial” kick off to the new racing season.
And they brought it back in a big, big way.
Speedfest 2005 drew over 65 Super Late Models to the .75-mile track in Lakeland, FL during the last weekend in January.
It didn’t just draw 65 Super Late Models, but it drew 65 of the best teams from the entire country, and even a couple from Canada. The pits were full of drivers from Florida, Texas, Wisconsin, Maine, North Carolina and all over the country. It was a true gathering of some of the best in the business.
In 2006, Speedfest is back. And it might just be bigger and better than last year.
“I thought, for a first-ever event, that it came off really well,” said CRA Super Series co-owner RJ Scott. “If you look at the cars we had and how it came off; that said a lot about the event, the facility and the people involved. We had such good feedback and so much promise there, we wanted to give it another shot this year.”
Last season, Charlie Menard put his #13 in victory lane at Speedfest.
“This year’s format is a little more fun and easy going. This year, you have a legitimate north and south qualifier. It has nothing to do with sanctioning bodies; it just has to do with geography. Those feed into the 200-lapper on Saturday night. We wanted to increase the purse as well. It pays $10,000 to win this year.”
Teams will enter the grounds for technical inspection and open practice on Thursday January 26th, then qualify on Friday for one of the Twin 100 qualifiers. Nashville will be the geographic dividing line for determining who runs in the South qualifier and who runs in the North Qualifier. The top 10 cars from Friday’s North 100 and the top 10 cars from Friday’s South 100 will be locked into Saturday’s SpeedFest 200 finale.
In all, a minimum of 36 cars will take the green flag for the 200 Lap finale on Saturday, while all cars will run a feature on Friday.
The event will be under the direction of CRA’s Glenn Luckett and Scott and FASCAR’s Don Nerone. The series’ will also be co-promoting the
Mike Fritts won on Thursday night at Speedfest last year. He likes racing against guys from across the country.
“You work on your car all winter long and you have it cleaned up so it is nice to take it out and race,” said Florida racer Mike Fritts.
But in 2005, things got started a little earlier than normal for many of the country’s best Super Late Model Series teams.
The CRA Super Series, in conjunction with the FASCAR Sunbelt Super Late Model Series, Southern All Star Super Late Model Series and USA International Speedway brought back Speedfest.
event with the speedway. While the on-track activities will be directed by these sanctioning bodies, officials want to be very clear that this is an "open" event and that a minimum of 32 starting spots are open to all teams regardless of sanctioning body affiliation. Bonus dollars are available to the top finishing CRA and Sunbelt teams, as well as all other non-affiliated cars, which will be battling for bonus dollars in their own pool.
In 2005, the 200-lap race lineup was determined by the finishes of two 100-lap events on Thursday and Friday. Friday’s races were rained out last year, therefore, only Thursday’s and Saturday’s 200-lap main event was actually run.
Florida standout Fritts won Thursday’s 100-lapper, while the Midwest’s Charlie Menard won Saturday’s 200-lap main event.
The 2006 event looks like it will be even bigger. And if it becomes bigger, then it is well on its way to becoming one of the staples of all the independent Super Late Model special events.
“It was a cool win. No one even expected us to be on the radar. So to go down there and show them that we had a good enough racecar and a good enough team to beat all of the guys was pretty cool, especially with all of the northern guys that came down there.”
“We all go about and do our different things during the year. In our own regions, we can’t go about putting on 15 races of $10,000 to win events. There are a group of racers around the country that have these cars and want to do these races.
“These races are really important, especially with the NASCAR feeder series doing poorly and the Elite division getting cancelled after next year,” said last year’s winner Menard. “It is really important for Super Late Models to continue on to help out these types of racers. The Super Late Models can be the best of stock car racing. That makes these races hugely important for their popularity and success of the cars.”
Coming out on top in 2005 was a real feather in Menard’s hat.
In 2005, Speedfest drew 65 entries.
There are going to be some more high profile teams this year, from what I’m hearing. There are a couple of teams that have bought sealed engines with the intent to go to Speedfest. I believe Clay Rogers might be down there, as will Bobby Blount’s car, although I’m not sure who will drive it (JR Norris drove Blount’s car in the All American 400 last year, while Bobby Gill drove it at the Snowball Derby).”
Of course, one of the underlining themes of the event will be the true test of the drivers from the north versus the drivers from the south.
“I really enjoy racing with the guys from up north,” said Fritts, one of Florida’s best racers. “I don’t know why I enjoy racing with them more than some of our locals, but they are good competition. There is a lot of good competition between the north and the south guys. You really become friends with them. They are pretty good people.”
“Beating them is always in your mind though. You are out there to beat those guys from the north. You don’t really team up with the guys from your area, but you make sure you are there with them at the end of the night so that one of us wins it.”
There is a little bit of a different of a different driving style between the drivers from all of the regions.
“I think the guys from up north were able to pace themselves better than the guys down south during that race last year,” said Menard. “I can’t say there is a lot of patience up here during some of the shorter races we have, but forever reason, I think we are used to longer races and we maybe race more longer races during the year than some of those southern guys.
“Up north here in Wisconsin and Indiana, it is a tough area. I would love to now see some of those southern guys come up here and race with us at races like Oktoberfest and such. Some of those guys would be in for a rude surprise.”
Fritts says he actually races a little harder and cleaner with the guys from the north than the regulars he is used to racing with.
“Florida is behind the times when it comes to racing. So it is nice when those northern guys come down here. We Florida boys hold our own though.
“You run the guys a little more clean because you never run with some of those guys. You might have some little grudges here and there with some of your guys down here, so it is different when you race with those guys.”
Speed51.com will have full coverage of this year’s event, set to take place on Jan. 27th and 28th.
“These guys want to be in high profile events with these types of cars. When you look at (the television show) ‘Roush Racing: Driver X,’ look at the play they give the All American 400.”
It is also big to see what kind of names from what areas of the country come to the race. Last year, it was packed with drivers from around the country. This year, it might be one of the biggest years yet.
“There are a few more high profiles teams coming. In terms of some of the big teams; we know who all he big travelers are.