Fortunes Finally Change For Choquette by Jeremy Davidson
SLM Star Wins On Saturday Night At New Smyrna Speedway
Things got off to a crazy start at Bronson, with several big guns, including the #70 of Jeff Choquette (top) and the #26 of Travis Cope (bottom), getting taken out early in the race. (51 Photos)
Talk about a change in fortune.
Two weeks after Jeff Choquette was involved in a bizarre incident that took him out of contention at Bronson (Fla.) Motor Speedway without a single lap completed, Choquette sat on the pole and won Saturday’s FASCAR Sunbelt Super Late Model Series race at New Smyrna Speedway.
“It was a pretty ‘clear sailing’ night,” said Choquette. “We got pretty lucky. We didn’t really have any bad issues. We were really, really riding – taking it easy and saving our stuff.
“When you can go out there and roll through the corners so much better than the other cars, it makes it an easy night.”
Choquette led 73 of the 100 laps and rolled to victory; while his competitors rolled their cars into the pits. Several teams dropped out with engine problems while series points leader Tim Russell was knocked out after getting caught up in someone else’s mess.
“We had a real strong car tonight, just unfortunate luck,” said Russell. “Somebody broke a motor or lost some water or something in front of us. We went to slow up and got spun around in it. That was it. It was a bad night for the Rinnai team but we’ll move on and go to the next race.”
Russell’s misfortune came on the 44th lap, just after he’d taken the lead from Choquette
– with a power move that took him from third to first in a single lap. Brock Burns and Joe Boyd crashed in turn one and the spilled fluid spelled trouble for Russell.
With Russell out for the night, Choquette returned to the lead and was never truly challenged for the rest of the race.
SIXTEEN-YEAR-OLD BISCHOFF HAS STRONG DEBUT
With Jeff Choquette dominating, the rest of the field was really racing for second place. A 16-year-old, making his fifth start in a Late Model car and his Sunbelt series debut, won that battle.
Brad Bischoff, of Myakka, Fla., started ninth and carefully kept his car in contention despite a few oily accidents that knocked out some of the big names.
Brad Bischoff finished second in his Sunbelt Series debut.
“It’s great coming to a new track and finishing this good,” said Bischoff. “I’ve never raced here before in my life. To run this good is just awesome. We were planning on a top 10 or just finishing the race, period.
“I got loose a few times. Once I got up into second, I just had to calm down and run good, run consistent.”
A late restart on an oily/gritty track tested the young driver, who passed thanks to a very mature attitude.
“I tried not to think about the Speedy-Dry. I just talked to myself ‘you gotta calm down, you gotta be smooth.’ Second-place is better than spinning out going for first and getting last.”
SUSPENDED SCOFIELD A SPECTATOR
Jeff Scofield’s on-track tangle with Jeff Choquette in the April 14 race at Bronson resulted in a one-race suspension for the veteran driver. Scofield took the penalty in stride and supported his team as BJ McLeod filled-in behind the wheel of Scofield’s No. 07 at New Smyrna.
McLeod put in a solid relief performance, racing in the top five all night – and coming close to catching Choquette in the late stages of the race – before his engine expired with 13 laps remaining.
After watching from the sidelines, Scofield told his side of the story.
“It’s racing. We’ve called a truce,” said Scofield. “I think we can go back to racing. It wasn’t that intentional like everybody thought it was. It was bad timing. We ended up getting tangled up [at Bronson] and it made it look a lot worse because of the prior stuff that happened.
“We let BJ roll the car around and try some stuff. We’re pretty close to the same driving style so it was good for me just to sit on the outside and see what I could do to the car to make it faster. We had a good hot rod tonight and I think we dropped a valve. We’ll be back.”
CARMICHAEL OUT EARLY, FANS OUT IN FORCE
Fifteen-time AMA National Motocross Champion Ricky Carmichael, who is taking up stock car racing this season, made his third Late Model start Saturday and his first with the Sunbelt Super Late Model Series. His night began with a promising fourth-place qualifying effort but ended early, with a blown engine just 11 laps into the race.
Tim Russell (left) hangs out with Ricky Carmichael (center) and Matt Martin (right) at New Smyrna Speedway.
A five-car re-draw had placed Carmichael and David Wilson on the front row to start the feature, but Carmichael’s night ended soon after. The engine failure robbed the world-famous racer of valuable seat time in his stock car pursuit, but Carmichael said he isn’t discouraged.
“It was a short night,” said Carmichael. “But we qualified fourth. That was amazing, to qualify that good against some good guys out here. I’m really happy about that and we’ve got something to build on.
“Just the bummer part for me is, I miss out on those laps. Life goes on, it’s racing. But to be running as good as I am, I’m really happy.”
Carmichael’s race was short, but his pre-race line of autograph seekers was long - rock star long. Once he gets a few more races under his proverbial belt, this observer predicts more large crowds and a bright future for this dynamic racer.