After a six-year absence, the USARacing Pro Cup Series returns to New Smyrna Speedway Saturday for the Florida 250 presented by Crane Cams with Clay Rogers already in the driver's seat to claim his second consecutive championship and fourth overall.
Rogers, from Mooresville, N.C., grabbed the early season point lead with a victory in the USAR Pro Cup Series season opener at Gresham Motorsports Park in Jefferson, Ga., last month. Entering the season's second race at the half-mile New Smyrna Speedway, Rogers possesses a 25-point advantage over DuBois, Pa.-native Benny Gordon, who owns two Pro Cup Series titles. Neither driver has visited victory lane at the high-banked asphalt oval. However, Rogers has competed in a Pro Cup Series car at the track.
“There is a little bit of track knowledge involved, but the Pro Cup Series has not run there since it was paved,” Rogers said when asked if he believed he would have an advantage over his fellow competitors. “A couple of (Pro Cup) rookies have run there since it was paved in Super Late Models and won. We may be chasing them.”
Raybestos Rookie-of-the-Year contenders Logan Ruffin, from Memphis, Tenn., and Stephen Nasse, of Pinellas Park, Fla., have raced Late Models at New Smyrna. Florida natives Bryan Silas and Billy Bigley Jr. also have competed at the challenging track.
“There is a lot of history there. A lot of great drivers have come up racing there,” Rogers noted. “They have speed weeks at New Smyrna every year and, of course, it's in the shadow of Daytona. It's an important part of Florida racing history.”
Rogers said he and his USG Sheetrock Products team planned to attack New Smyrna Speedway in the same fashion as Gresham Motorsports Park.
“We think our setups will be similar,” Rogers continued. “Both tracks have a good amount of banking, they're similar in size and they were paved recently. Hopefully, the car will be better when we unload than it was at Gresham.”
Saturday's 250-lap race marks the return of the series to a track that's special to USAR Pro Cup Series Vice President and Series Director Jimmy Wilson.
“I am originally from Orlando and I got my start at New Smyrna, so it is special for me to go back and put on a show there,” Wilson explained. “New Smyrna Speedway is a great track that has been around for a long time. It often is overlooked for its historical value within motorsports, for some of the great races and drivers that have competed there over the years.”
The Pro Cup Series raced at New Smyrna Speedway 2002-04 with Bobby Gill of Dalton, Ga., winning the first two races and Shane Huffman, from Hickory, N.C., claiming the third. The Pro Cup Series didn't return to the track in 2005 because of numerous races at Lakeland, Fla.'s USA International Speedway, which was owned by series founder Bob Brooks.
“Lakeland was only 1 ½ hours away and back in 2004 hosting four races,” Wilson said. “It was hard to travel our teams to Florida for a fifth race in basically the same market. Now, with Lakeland gone, New Smyrna has become the perfect place for our series to have a presence in the Central Florida market. The race fans there are great!”
Wilson noted track promoter Robert Hart and his staff had been “great to work with” leading up to Saturday's event.
“I strongly urge all race fans in Central Florida to come out and see this race,” Wilson said. “It will be a great show with the style of racing the USARacing Pro Cup Series provides every where we go, compounded with the unique aspects that makes New Smyrna not only a driver's track, but a track that challenges equipment as well.”
Practice begins at 11:30 a.m. Saturday with qualifying set for 4:30 p.m. There will be an autograph session with the drivers at 5:45 p.m. before the green flag waves at 7:30 p.m.