Racers Come From All Over to Conquer Speedfest by Mike Twist
Stout Entry List, Crate LM Feature and Cup Stars Are Among the Attractions of This Big Event
Looking through the pit area and Speedfest 2008 next week at USA International Speedway in Lakeland, Florida could prove to be an interesting lesson in geography. Just looking at the different license plates on the race haulers will surely produce a long list of states represented.
So far, just in pre-entries for the headlining 200-lap NOS Energy Drink Super Late Model race, there are competitors who represent 11 states. There are nine states represented on the entry list for the Crate Engine Late Models. All in all, fans from Maine to Nevada to Florida to Indiana will have a hometown hero to cheer for.
And while that also might impress the competitors somewhat, in the end they just want to beat everyone else – no matter where they came from.
“It’s a big deal in a way, but it doesn’t matter much to me,” said Cassius Clark, who will tow south from Maine to race a Super Late Model at Speedfest. “It really doesn’t matter to me if I’m racing in the North, South or the West. I just want to run up front. It is good for the people back home to watch and follow though. For a long time, people have been saying that the guys up North can’t win down South. But we have all been doing a pretty good job keeping up lately.”
Clark knows a thing or two about traveling to win a big race. He won the 2006 Mason-Dixon Meltdown and the 2007 Howler 150 PASS South race at Greenville-Pickens Speedway (SC). Now he’s one of dozens of drivers who are gunning for a victory in what has become, in just four short years, one of the top SLM shows anywhere.
“I think that it has definitely become one of the high points to kicking off the season,” said co-promoter Glenn Luckett. “There is no other racing going on right now and the teams are itching to race. The quality of drivers entering the event just gets better and better every year and I think that this time, there will be 35 drivers there who are capable of winning the Super Late Model race.”
Cassius Clark is one of the Northern drivers looking for success at Speedfest this time around.
Having the ultra-quick USA International Speedway as a setting for Speedfest also helps its appeal.
“It is just a fun race track to race on,” said Florida hotshoe Tim Russell. “It is a fast track. There is a lot of room to race and it’s so smooth. It’s just a very fast track. It is hard to find a nicer short track than that in the country. The place just lends itself to good racing.”
“I really love that track,” said Clark. “We haven’t been too stellar there in the past, but we haven’t done bad either. We haven’t finished outside of the top 10 yet and last year we finished fourth in the big race. This year, we’re hoping to do just a little bit better.”
To win the time around, Clark and his short track buddies will have to also beat a pair of NASCAR stars. Both Kyle Busch and David Stremme have entered the SLM feature, with Stremme also doing double duty by planning to run the Crate Late Model event as well.
“We are really excited to have Kyle and David entering this year’s race,” said Luckett.
“Kyle is starting to really give back to the sport and it meant a lot to have him at the
Winchester 400 last year. Thanks to Kyle and David, that event was really a success.
It was like the old Winchester 400 again. I think that they will help to pack the stands
at Speedfest as well.”
You might think that having so many different drivers from so many different backgrounds
would lead to some unnecessary roughness out on the track, since competitors don’t
know the styles of the guys they are racing with. That hasn’t proven to be true most
of the time though, since the best of the best are usually the ones attracted to the race.
“Everyone races fine,” said Clark. “You learn who you are racing against and there is
some give and take, just like anywhere. Most of the guys who go to Speedfest have
been there before and they know how to race. Hopefully though I won’t be racing with
any of them and I’ll be running up front by myself. That doesn’t happen very much.”
Of course, there are some bragging rights at stake too.
“Everyone thinks that the North and South are rivals, so it is fun to play into that and duke it out at Speedfest,” said Corey Williams, who really doesn’t fall neatly into a North or South category. After all, the young racer might have been born and raised in Maine, but now he resides in North Carolina.
Williams won three PASS South races and an ASA Late Model feature in 2007. He also ran strong in his first Speedfest trip. Does that make him a favorite for this year’s race? Maybe. Maybe not.
“I think that we will be pretty good,” said Williams. “It was awesome to be there last year. That was our first time running the race and we ran decent. We worked our way up to the top six before we were involved in an altercation with just a few laps to go.”
Corey Williams has won three times in PASS South. He's hoping to score his first Florida victory at Speedfest with his #47 ride.
The format of Speedfest calls for practice on Thursday, qualifying races on Friday night and the feature races to be run on Saturday. There will be plenty of action all weekend long.
“It’s fun,” said Williams of the format. “I enjoy having the qualifying race on Friday night and then we can all get together and race on Saturday. It’s a good weekend of racing.”
The entry list for the Crate Engine Late Models includes Eddie Hoffman, Justin Drawdy, Travis Cope, Jack Smith, Sean Murphy, Richard Johns, Chris Fontaine, DJ Shaw, Travis Wilson, Jimmy Lang and Beau Slocumb.
“They are pretty excited,” said Luckett of the Late Model contingent. “It’s the first time that we are doing it, so I think that some of the guys are a little hesitant because they don’t know what to expect yet, but we’re got some good entries already and I think that it will be a good show.”
And most of all, just going to Florida in the dead of winter is always a good thing for any Northerner – whether their destination is Disney World or Speedfest.
“It’s awesome to go down and race in Florida during the middle of the winter,” said Williams. “It really breaks up the off-season.”
If you can’t make the trip to Speedfest this year, be sure to check out the live Trackside Now coverage on Speed51.com throughout the race weekend.
If you are looking for someone to carry the homestate flag for Florida though, Russell might be a good choice. After all, he won the Florida State Super Late Model Championship, the Triple Crown Championship, the Brighthouse Challenge Series Championship and the Sunbelt Championship. – all in 2007.
“We ended up the year on a really, really good note last year by winning four championships,” said Russell. “So we just reset our goals for this year and raised the bar up a little bit more. We tested down there recently. The car was really good and really comfortable. We are really excited about going to the race.”
And then again, there are plenty of other strong entries who could walk away with the biggest trophy as well. The list of SLM entrants alone includes 2007 PASS South Champion Ryan Lawler, 2007 PASS North champion Ben Rowe, 2006 PASS South champion Mike Rowe, 2007 Speedfest winner Eddie Hoffman, Jeff Fultz, Jay Middleton, Jeff Scofield, Wayne Anderson, Jeff Choquette, JR Norris, Justin Larson, Hunter Robbins, Jack Landis, Travis Cope, DJ Shaw, Scott Hantz and Wayne Anderson.
Tim Russell has been pretty unbeatable in Florida lately, and he's hungry to win Speedfest 2008.