BARNES AND MENARD LEAD MIDWESTERN CHARGE INTO SPEEDFEST by Mike Twist
Wisconsin Won in 2005 at a Race With Great Amount of Regional Pride
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 plans to attack already, now settle in for part two - focusing on a couple of fast Midwesterners.
It used to be that the season for a Midwestern Super Late Model driver wouldn’t kick off until well into the Spring. January would find tracks like Madison and Winchester blanketed with snow. A few guys would tow down to Florida Speedweeks at New Smyrna now and again, but for the most part winter meant working on cars, not racing them.
Then in 2005, Speedfest came about. The open SLM show at USA International Speedway in Lakeland, Florida has a heavy CRA Super Series presence, so guys like Barnes, Hantz and Carlson would come south to race in it. A Midwestern was the race’s first big hero too. Charlie Menard from Wisconsin won the inaugural event.
Now, three years into its history, Speedfest in becoming a Midwestern staple of racing – even though it is down in Florida.
“It might not have the popularity of the Snowball Derby, but it’s a really good race to kick the season off,” said Chuck Barnes. “It can give you a real heads up on how your season is going to go sometimes.”
A unique aspect of Speedfest is that it is a type of racing civil war. The Midwesterners are greeted by hardnosed Southern speed kings at Lakeland and the desire to beat each other is strong.
“There are some rivalries against the Florida guys,” said Barnes. “You want to beat them all, but the Florida guys are known to be rough and tough. They’ll knock you around, so you just to get along with them and have a clean race.”
Speedfest is turning into quite a busy race.
“It’s always fun to race with those guys,” said Charlie Menard. “It means a lot to run with them and to have to opportunity to beat them on their home turf.”
Racing against a different cast of characters isn’t a big deal for Menard.
“We run around so much that there are a lot of times where we don’t know the guys that we race with. So you just go out there and do the best you can. You hope that there isn’t too much of a home track advantage. You just go and put together your best possible effort and go for it. Everybody at this level races really well. You don’t have to worry about certain individuals being a problem. You just go out and race.”
Florida’s Jay Middleton has raced at Winchester, while Augie Grill and the late Charlie Bradberry of Alabama have also done some traveling to the Midwest, but typically it is rare to see the Southern contingent travel too far North to race.
Chuck Barnes (51 Photo)
“I’ve never seen a Southerner come North and race with us. I don’t know if they are chicken or what,” joked Charlie Menard. “Nah, I don’t want to get anyone riled up, but it sure would be fun if they came up North at some point this year. Going down there and racing in their territory is fun.”
And then there is the matter of home state pride.
“Wisconsin is a big asphalt oval track state and it sure is nice to go down there and represent,” said Menard.
Menard and Barnes both enter Speedfest as favorite for the victory. They both have very different arrangements for the race too.
Although he has a new crew, Menard is back at Lakeland driving for his own race team – a team with a record of success there.
“Last year, we had some problems but still ran well. It was nice to have those guys down there look at you and say that the guys from Wisconsin sure are fast.”
Charlie Menard comes to Florida to race in December's Snowball Derby and January's Speedfest every year.
Meanwhile, Barnes will drive for North Carolina car owner Curtis Venable. It will be Barnes’ first ride for the team after scoring most of his victories in a family-owned car. Barnes is happy about the new arrangement.
“It makes it nicer,” said Barnes. “There’s less pressure because you don’t have to be worrying about money and penny-pinching. Curtis is a really good car owner who has really good equipment. Instead of worrying about how many dollars we’re spending, I can worry about trying to win the race.”
Venable’s C&C Racing team will also field entries for Jeff Fultz and Clay Jones. Having two teammates is another new situation for Barnes.
“I don’t know much about Clay Jones yet,” said Barnes. “I haven’t gotten to meet him yet, but I know that Jeff Fultz is just a super-nice guy. He knows everything that there is about a racecar, so if we get too far off, he’ll be there to help.”
Speedfest will take place at USA International Speedway on January 26th and 27th. Speed51.com will feature extensive coverage of Speedfest once again this year, so stay tuned.