LEFTOVERS: SPEEDFEST 200 AT LAKELAND  by Matt Kentfield
Laperle Wrecks Hard, Mike Rowe Costs Son?  Plus More
“I broke a head gasket.  It’s pretty frustrating because I was running good.  I couldn’t run with those guys on the long runs, but on the short runs I was a little bit better.  It’s disappointing because I couldn’t finish the deal.  I was fast all weekend and I won the South race, and I’m disappointed I couldn’t win this one tonight.”

FREQUENT PITTING PAYS OFF FOR MILLER

Butch Miller has won just about everything he’s ever wanted to win on the short track level.  Years of success in everything from Super Late Models and ASA and just about everything in between has given him a trophy case stocked to the limits. 
200.  “When you win a couple races, you know how it goes, you’re having an awesome streak like we had last year and you’re laughing about it.  Then you get beat like we did tonight.  That’s just racing.

“We broke two transmissions while we were here this weekend and picked up a vibration for a little bit there.  There was a little bit of movement in the rear end and we’re not real sure exactly what’s wrong with the car.  Maybe a drive shaft bushing or the motor’s moving around or something, but there’s a vibration there.”

In order to ensure that the rest of the 2007 season goes better than Speedfest, Scofield called it an early night to save his car and the machines of others’.

“We pulled in out of fear of the car and we didn’t want to risk crashing someone else or something.  The car just wasn’t right.  We missed the setup a little bit.  We had to meet up with CRA rules, which was fine, but we were behind the eight ball a little bit.  We were one of the fastest cars in practice.  I think we won practice twice, so we did good on that.”

MIKE ROWE COSTS SON?

Ben Rowe had one of, if not the best, car during the Speedfest 200 feature Saturday night.  He dominated the event and nobody could touch him.  Even on restarts, Rowe checked out after a lap or two and seemed to be cruising to victory.
That was, however, until a caution came out with just four laps remaining.  The rest of the field, namely second- and third-place runners Jay Middleton and Eddie Hoffman, caught up to his bumper.  On the ensuing restart, Middleton and Rowe made contact in a racing incident, allowing Hoffman to take the lead and go on to victory.

Middleton and Rowe both felt horrible for the incident.  Nobody else felt as bad for Rowe for losing the lead as Ben’s father Mike, who was the reason for the final caution.

SCOFIELD’S HOT STREAK STUMBLES

Jeff Scofield has been around the racing game long enough to know that when everything seems to be going your way week in and week out, your good luck is bound to run out at some point.  No driver can keep upward momentum forever, but Scofield sure tried to make it happen in 2006 with numerous wins and the FASCAR Sunbelt Series Super Late Model championship.
wrong with the car and we just can’t figure it out.  We struggled to hang on to the top five.  Bottom line is we came out of here with a top five and all the fenders on the car, so we’re happy with it.  We’ll take the car apart and try to figure out what’s wrong with it, and once we do that, I think we’ll be alright.

“The car just had no forward bite and we couldn’t really figure it out.  We put new tires on it and that seemed to work for a few minutes, then it went right back.  We were happy with the car all practice, so we’ll just have to figure out what went wrong in the race.”

RUSSELL OVERCOMES ADVERSITY IN LAKELAND

There is an old saying that goes along the lines, when life hands you lemons, you should make lemonade out of them.  That is just what Tim Russell did this past weekend at the Speedfest at USA International Speedway (FL).  He took what could have been a race-ending incident and turned it into a solid top-10 finish.
“We had a decent car all weekend long,” said Russell.  “I think we were a top-five car and I was just biding my time.  It’s a long race and we were fighting the rain, so we were just taking our time.  I didn’t think I had a winning car, but I know that we had a top-five car so I was just hoping for a top-five finish.  We just drove off into turn one and Mike Rowe got by me cleanly, but the next thing I knew I was turned around because the #12 car [Justin Drawdy] got into me.  I don’t know what he was thinking.  There was no need for that.”

Despite being spun and losing his top-five spot, Tim was able to fight his way back through the field and finish in the eighth in a competitive field.

“We just tried to get the Rinnai, Tempaco Chevrolet a good run, and we came home eighth, so that’s pretty good,” added Russell.  “We’ve got a little work to do to get it ready for Speedweeks, but the guys worked hard this weekend and I know they’ll have that car ready for New Smyrna.”

NO WAYNE ANDERSON AT SPEEDWEEKS.

One of the most recognizable cars in the pit area each Florida Speedweeks at New Smyrna Speedway is Wayne Anderson’s #84.  A Speedweeks veteran, Anderson is usually at or near the front of the field at New Smyrna during the nine nights of racing.  This year, Anderson will still be in the pits, but he won’t be there with his racecar.  Instead, he’ll be there assisting Georgia Super Late Model upstart Ryan Sieg and his family-run race team.
Jeff Scofield  (51 Photos)
Ryan Crane's new red paint scheme to reflect his Honda of Panama (FL) sponsorship.
Tim Russell left Speedfest looking forward to a start in the ARCA RE/MAX Series event at Daytona Int'l Speedway later this month.
“I’ll be going down there to help the Siegs and have some fun with them,” said Anderson after falling out of the Speedfest 200 with mechanical issues.  “I don’t mind not racing down there this year.  I’m not sure how that track’s going to be with the new asphalt.  I know it will be fast, but it might wreck a lot of stuff.”

Anderson will help the Siegs and then get back to his shop to repair the motor problems that put him out of the 200-lap Speedfest feature after being one of the fastest cars all weekend – a car that won him the South 100 prelim on Friday night.

Fans will miss seeing Anderson's #84 at this year's Speedweeks.
When the calendar switched from 2006 to 2007, that proved to be the end of Scofield’s good luck streak.  Scofield looked to pick up in the new year right where he left off at the beginning of Speedfest weekend at USA International Speedway (FL), as Scofield set quick time in two of the pre-race practice sessions.  That’s about where the good news ended for the Florida SLM veteran, as a mechanical failure in Saturday’s 200-lap feature forced him to a 24th-place finish.

“We came in here on a hot streak and now I have a little monkey on my back,” said Scofield after the Speedfest
Mike Rowe sported a patchwork paint scheme before the Speedfest 200.
“I guess they said Middleton got into him there, but I feel bad because I had another flat and that brought out the yellow,” said Mike.  “That let Middleton catch up to him under yellow and then that happened.  I feel bad.”

The late flat tire was a second flat for Mike Rowe during the 200-lap feature, completing what was a weekend full of bad luck.  Rowe was involved in the huge opening-lap wreck in the North 100 on Friday night.  His P.T. Watts #2 team worked diligently to make a patchwork body on his car for Saturday’s event, using body panels from his red-colored backup car riveted to his primary.  That crash forced Rowe to start deep in the field Saturday, and even though he worked his way up to the top-five for a time, the 2006 PASS South champion’s luck would not improve.

“We started back there, 29th, and I had a right front go down there when we were going for third place and it was all downhill from there for me. 

“The car was good.  I tried to pace myself and I took my time coming up through the field.  I picked off cars when I needed to.  I could feel the right front going down, but there was nothing we could do.”

RYAN CRANE PUTS IN GRITTY EFFORT

Crane came into the weekend feeling rather ill, but he didn’t let that stop him from coming home with a top-five finish in Saturday night’s 200-lap main event.  Add to that Crane’s gritty fifth-place finish in Friday night’s South 100, and the 23-year-old is feeling a lot better than he did coming into the weekend.

“A top five is going to kick the season off real well,” said Crane, who was totally exhausted after Saturday night’s feature event.  “We would’ve liked to have brought home a win, but it just wasn’t our day.  The whole weekend was an uphill battle for us.  We started 10th both nights and finished fifth both nights.  We’ll take that, build on it and get ready for the next race.”

Crane had a solid car, but the team couldn’t find out what was plaguing the new Honda-red machine. 

“We were to the front, to the back, to the front again.  We were shuffled around all night long.  We’ve got something
Because he’s won so much, it doesn’t mean he doesn’t still have the fire to continue to add to his win totals. 

Take, for example, the Speedfest 200 event Saturday night.  Miller had a fast racecar throughout the weekend, but in the 200-lap feature, his #52 machine was off.  He made about a half dozen pit stops through the race to dial his car in, and eventually he got the car to where he could compete for a top-five finish, eventually coming home second, but not before a hard battle with Eddie Hoffman for the win in the final laps.
“It was eventful,” said Miller.  “We started the race and the car was just awful.  We just kept pitting and pitting and pitting and the car kept getting better and better and better.  We never quite got it to where it needed to be, but darn it we got close. 

“I think if we had a quarter-inch less stagger in the car, we would’ve drove around them and won the race.  It was fun, though.  I can’t tell you how great it was racing tonight.  There’s times in the race where I was getting frustrated with the weather and would’ve just as rather it rained out, but boy I’m glad it didn’t rain out now.”

A LITTLE ADDED PRESSURE FOR FORMER WINNER

In the third version of Speedfest, former winners Charlie Menard (2005) and Mike Fritts (2006) both hoped to be the first two-time champion in Lakeland.  Only one would have a chance to defend his title, however, as Fritts was knocked out in an incident with Jeff Scofield in the South 100 race Friday night.

That left the door open for Menard to double up on Speedfest victories and it looked towards the end of the race that he would have a good shot at doing so.  Menard worked his way to the front after starting ninth and recovered from an ill-handling car around halfway to come home in the eighth spot. 
Butch Miller
For Menard, those laps under caution were both good and bad.

“That was just the craziest race I’ve ever dealt with, with those caution laps.  It’s mind-numbing as a driver to drive around in circles like that under yellow.  The weren’t counting them, but I wished that they were at the time, but on the second hand I wish they hadn’t been counting them.  If we had another 50 laps, we would’ve gotten up there with Eddie.  If we hadn’t botched that second set of tires, we would’ve been up there, too.”

As a former winner, one would think Menard would go into Speedfest with a little added pressure to succeed.  Pressure, maybe, but he and the rest of his team look forward to Speedfest just to compete with the best of the best.

“The only thing is I know I like this place a lot.  It’s a really fun, fast racetrack that I always look forward coming to.  The fact that we won here just tells me that we like it and we’ve had fun here before and we can do it again.  It’s just one of those things where you come here with a little bit of pressure because you’ve won it before, but also there’s so many good teams here that you’re happy to just run up front, so we’re happy with running sixth.”

LAPERLE SORE AFTER HARD LICK

Patrick Laperle knows no fear.  He’s built like a linebacker and drives like one too.  That strategy has led him to victories in prestigious races like the Milk Bowl at Thunder Road (VT) and various Super Late Model races around the Northeast and Canada.  But to talk to Laperle, he is about as nice a guy as you’ll find in the pit area, even with his broken French Canadian/English accent. 
"We had just a night,” said Menard.  “We started off real strong and we were just kind of pacing for the first 100 laps.  We came in for a stop and we put rights on and the car got really free.  We slipped back further than we wanted to.  We had another opportunity to come in and put rights on under yellow and we adjusted on the car and the car was a rocketship.  We just ran out of laps.”

The field was slowed for a lengthy yellow, then red/yellow period around the halfway point of Saturday’s race as light showers passed over the track.  The field paced around the .75-mile oval under caution for about 20 laps that were counted, than even more laps that did not go into the record books. 
Charlie Menard was optimistic before the start of Speedfest 2007.
His “no fear” attitude was evident after getting frustrated with Eddie Van Meter Saturday night.  Laperle and Van Meter had been running hard for a top-10 position for several laps Saturday night, but Laperle grew irritated with Van Meter’s driving tactics.  That led to contact on the frontstretch and to both drivers spinning and crashing out of the race.  Laperle backed into the turn-one wall violently, then was slammed into by the car of Joe Boyd who could not slow down enough to avoid the incident.

“The 23 (Van Meter) chopped me I don’t know how many times the laps before,” said Laperle.  “I had a good run
on him coming out of four and I said, ‘this time I’m not going to lift.’  I saw him and I saw he was going to chop me again and I jumped on the brakes, but it was too late.  I went towards the wall and man, I hit hard. 

“I didn’t even feel that second hit, that’s how hard the first one was.  That was the hardest hit I ever took in the wall.  It was a good one.  I knew when I finally took one, it was going to be a good one, and that was it.”

HOFFMAN CAN RATTLE AFTER SPEEDFEST WIN

Now that one of the most anticipated Super Late Model events is in the history books, it's time for SLM teams all around the country to chase the next big payday and trophy.  Some are headed to Speedweeks at New Smyrna Speedway February 9th through 17th.  Others, including Smyrna competitors, will hit the freshly paved South Alabama Speedway in Opp, AL for the 31st running of The Rattler on March 4th

Rattler promoters put up a free entry into this year's event as well as four free tires to the winner of Speedfest.  After Hoffman's victory at Lakeland, it will be interesting to see if he can pull off the pre-season sweep of big SLM victories between Speedfest and The Rattler.
Laperle (orange car) gets slammed into by Joe Boyd (#5) after backing into the wall.  (Jamie Williams photo)