FLORIDA RACERS SET TO DEFEND THEIR TURF AT SPEEDFEST by Mike Twist
Teams Are Welcome to Visit, But Please Don't Take the Winner's Trophy When You Leave
Speedfest 2007 at USA International Speedway in Lakeland, Florida has already drawn in entries from all over the map – from Michigan to Florida to Maine to Texas. It’s become a battle of regions, with some of the best Super Late Model racers in the country hoping to earn bragging rights for their home area.
In the first two runnings of Speedfest at USA International Speedway in Lakeland, Florida, the winner’s trophy has gone in a few different directions. Wisconsin’s Charlie Menard brought it back to the Badger State in 2005. Last year, it stayed close to home when Florida’s Mike Fritts topped the field. Now, if a band of New Englanders has their way, it could be taking a long trip to the chilly Northeast when all is said and done.
Speed51.com has talked to competitors from all over who are preparing the race, which takes place from January 25th through January 27th, and we put
together a series of previews divided among regional lines.
We've seen how the Northeastern drivers and a few Midwesterners plan to take on Lakeland. Now let's see how the Florida posse plans to defend their turf.
In a way, the out-of-town invaders to Speedfest have a lot in common with an unruly set of in-laws who come to visit. Competitors from all over the country plan to travel to Lakeland, Florida to spend a few days at USA International Speedway. If all goes their way, the visitors plan on drinking all of the champagne and “stealing” the best trophies in the house.
And while the Floridians in the event are all for Southern hospitality, they do have their limits. Those Florida racers are up for showing their visitors all around the area – everywhere except for victory lane.
“There’s definitely a lot of pride at stake in this race because we’d like to keep the trophy in our home state,” said Panama City’s Ryan Crane.
When it comes to that, the odds aren’t in favor of the Florida drivers. As of Wednesday, 26 of the 49 entrants for the race hail from outside the Sunshine state. Teams from as far away as Texas, Maine, Wisconsin and even Canada will make the trip South, ensuring an all-star caliber field for the race.
“Last year, there was a really good turnout,” said 2006 Speedfest winner and Sanford, Florida resident Mike Fritts. “They had a bunch of really good drivers between the group of good drivers that came down from the North and the guys down here.”
The challenge from the rest of the country is a welcome one too.
Mike Fritts won one for Florida last year. He's hoping to be able to repeat that this time.
“I never have had any problems with the guys from up North,” said Crane. “They are some of the cleanest racers around. They are more than welcome down here.”
“The guys up North come down and they’re great to race with,” said Fritts. “I don’t know what it is about Lakeland, but since we’ve been doing it for three years now, everybody just gets out there and runs everybody clean. It always turns up being a great race.”
That could be because of the layout of the track. It’s a fast place, but not one that has a steep learning curve. If you’re a racer who isn’t afraid to get on the throttle, you’ll fit in whether you are from right down the road or half a country away.
They come from all over to Florida to race in Speedfest.
“It’s a pretty easy track to drive,” said Fritts. “You basically drive along the wall on the straightaways and turn it to the bottom in the turns. It’s not a real hard track to figure out, but keeping your momentum up through the corners is more important than how you get off. They are pretty tight little turns for such long straightaways, but all in all it’s a pretty easy track to drive.”
“A lot of those guys have made laps here, but a lot of them haven’t,” said Crane. “I think that we are going to have a pretty equal playing field. It’s going to be pretty interesting to see how it all plays out.”
Ryan Crane knows how to win - and he's hoping for a big victory in his homestate this weekend.
Speed51.com will be at Lakeland all weekend and will bring you the latest from the track, so be sure to stay tune for full Speedfest coverage.