ASA LEFTOVERS: LAKELAND Part II Presented by CITGO / MDA  by J. Troiano &  M. Dillner
Cope Coping, Rookie Mistakes, Niessner’s Foot, Sontag Not on Fire & More
Casey Smith came into the ASA season opener on Saturday night with a fresh outlook on his racing career.  After two years of part-time action, the 18-year-old was ready to become a regular with the toughest short track racing series around.  He began with a fresh outlook, a total new look; a new number, new color and a new car, and a newfound prowess to overcome adversity. 

On lap two, Smith lost the power steering on his #19 Dodge, a tough feat to overcome on a track like the .75-mile USA International Speedway (Lakeland, FL), which has two long straightaways and tight corners.  Smith never gave up; he got up on the wheel and decided it was now or
never to prove how tough he could be.  And it all paid off, as Smith toughed his way to a fifth-place finish in the SK Tools 200.  He now sits fifth in the ASA point standings after the first of 16 events.

“Man, I'm pretty tired,” said Smith after the race.  “But it was well worth it.  This team really pulled together and kept me calm inside the car and kept cheering me on when it would have gotten easy to just give up.  I've have a new attitude this year.  That, plus a lot of hard work, will help us fight for the Rookie of the Year title and hopefully the National Championship.”

Mike Cope just can't buy a break.  The short track veteran always seems to encounter some tough luck, especially at those times when his car appears to be one of the best in the field.  Well, the same thing happened yet again at the 2004 ASA season opener.  This time Cope's car got stuck in gear while leading the event. 

Cope, coming off of a restart on lap 82, he brought the field to the green, but the car failed to go.  Luckily, everyone else missed the coasting #25.  Cope took the car into the pits where the crew fixed the problem, but in the process, Cope
lost two laps. He made one of those up on track, but ran out of time heading to the front to make up the other and finished 15th.

"It was just a driver mistake," said Cope, who said that the last time that happened to him was at Topeka (KS) in 1995.  "It was one of those stupid deals that just happens sometimes.
"We were fast and that is the biggest thing.  I think it is safe to say that we were one of the fastest cars on the race track throughout the whole race.  We knew it and the rest of the guys knew it.  We were able to make up one lap under green, but just ran out of time in making up the second one.”


Under green flag conditions, Peter Cozzolino's #44 came coasting into the pits with all kinds of damage to the car.  Of course, he got into the wall, but Peter admitted something that is very rare in the racing world these days; that this one was his own fault.

“I just lost it.  We were just outside of someone else and I got myself in trouble. This is not the way we wanted to start the season.”

It wasn't the only accident of the night Peter was involved in.

“We were really good and coming right up through and they had that big pile up on the frontstretch,” added Cozzolino, who finished 39th.  “I guess Toby (Porter) had nowhere to go and he got pinched into me. He went up on his side just about.  We came out of that good but had to go to the tail and clean the body up.”

Zach Niessner, who was dropped by SS Racing in 2003, was the surprise pole-sitter at Lakeland.  He put his #42 Jerry Wood-owned machine on the pole and led the opening few laps of the race before falling back and settling into a race pace.  However, it all went downhill for Niessner from there, after Brett Sontag tapped him from behind.  As a result, Niessner’s car slammed the outside wall.  Niessner originally thought he broke his foot, but ended up with a severe sprain.

“The whole thing happened with this restart rule,” said a limping Niessner after the race.  “I think it actually irritates some of the guys when you move up on the outside of them to pass.  We went in high and got tapped from behind.  That is all it took.
It's hard to tell which was worse for wear... Niessner of his #42 car.
“It is a shame because I ruined a good car of Jerry Wood's.  He was nice enough to let me drive it and now it is destroyed.  I am not a fan of this restart rule, but then again, I'm not a veteran and the veterans need to make the call.  For a rookie, it ain't working right.

“I'm glad I won the pole, because if I hadn't, I'd have just been another guy who wrecked out of the race.  That isn't the way I want to be remembered.”


He may only be a rookie, but Joey Miller is mature enough to admit when he makes some mistakes.  Joey opened his Rookie of the Year campaign in ASA competition Saturday night in the SK Tools 200 at USA International Speedway in Lakeland, FL.  He showed that his Great Clips #15 team has the stuff it takes to be winners by qualifying in the top-10 and leading 25 laps before getting knocked backwards by what he called “rookie mistakes.”
Casey Smith was tired after the race, but was very happy with a top-five finish.
“It was a good race to show what we have as a team and what we are capable of,” said the 19-year-old Miller, who finished 20th.  “This is a good team; we have good equipment and it is fast.  I just need to be able to keep everything in line for an entire event.  We do that and I think we can be a threat all of the time, and that’s something I am going to work on.”

Miller stayed in the top-10 for much of the race before eventually taking the lead on lap 102 when he passed Travis Kittleson coming off of turn two.  Miller pulled away and opened up a two-second lead before giving it up to pit on lap 126.

John Dalziel, the Scottish born driver for SS Racing, started the race in 36th and was slowly moving his way up through the field before a driveshaft broke.  Luckily, every other car missed the #06 ASI Limited car.  The team made quick repairs and got Dalziel back out on the track to gain valuable experience.

“Obviously disappointed with the finish,” said Dalziel, who finished 28th.  “We had a good car.  It was handling like a dream.  I’m really proud of my guys.  They really tired so hard. 

“The driveshaft broke right in the middle of the track.  We came in and got it fixed and did it pretty quickly considering that it was the first time we really worked together.  I’m pretty happy.  Tonight, it was obvious that I was able to learn a lot out there.  I can’t wait to get back on the track again.”

Miller rolled the dice a couple of times.  Sometimes it paid, off, sometimes it didn't.
Rookie Tim Russell may be a quiet contender for the 2004 ASA Rookie of the Year title.  No one really noticed, but Russell finished an impressive 12th, on the lead lap.  He was the fourth highest finishing rookie in the race.

“We started of the race and wanted to be patient and ride around and learn some things,” said Russell, a Florida native.  “We just rode in the top 20.  During the restarts, we would keep debating to go inside or outside.  We got our share of bumps and bruises, knocked the toe out a little, but got a good solid, top-15 finish out of it.”

Russell, a veteran of the Super Late Model world, will keep getting used to the cars.

“These cars are difficult to drive in when you first get in them.  I'm used
to the big, wide late models.  It is a change, but I'm going to get used to it.  The more races we run, the better we'll get.”


Another Florida native, Jay Middleton started his first career ASA event at Lakeland and was running well until he got into the outside wall.  That ended his night.  Middleton, the 2003 Florida Pro Series champion, says he and the team will be at the next race and will continue unless they are out of the point’s battle.
“We will be in Lanier and we are gong to keep racing,” said Middleton.  “We'll keep doing it unless we drop way out of the point’s race.  If we look at it after eight races and we are not in the point’s battle, then we will just probably back out and save our rookie eligibility till next year.  We want to keep racing cause we think ASA is the way to go.”


Last year Brett Sontag's started off the year by having his car catch on fire and getting involved in a fight with Gary St. Amant and the rest of his crew on pit road after the two were
Jay Middleton was impressive before getting caught up in an accident.
involved in an accident.  This year, Sontag was able to take the checkered flag, but he was still disappointed with how the night ended.

“We're still down in the dumps, but I'm not full of fire extinguisher,” said Sontag.  “With five laps to go, I saw that the fuel pressure gauge was low and I couldn't' figure out why these guys were pulling me down the straightaways.  Come to find out we had a bad pump.  We flipped it over and and it ran fine. I was thinking to myself 'nice that I found it now.'”

That wasn't Sontag's only problem.

“At the beginning of the race we flat spotted the tires.  The ASA pit official that was in our pits kind of hurt us because the rule is, as I understand it, that you can take tires that you think are flat spotted off, put others on and if they are not flat spotted, you can come back in and put the old ones back on.  Well, he wouldn't let us do that and we lost a lap sitting in the pits looking at our tires.  If we wouldn't have gotten a lap down, I think we would have been a top-seven car.”

Travis Foster and his Todd Bodine-led crew looked as if they were out to lunch during the practice sessions as Lakeland.  However, when it came down to qualifying, they had it all turned around.  Foster, a rookie from Illinois turned in the 11th fastest time, out-qualifying veterans like Tim Sauter, Robbie Pyle and eventual race winner Butch Miller.

“These guys worked really, really hard,” said Foster.  “I wasn't sure if we were going to make the show or not. The last mock qualifier we made it better and pulled off a respectable qualifying run.”
The luck wasn't the same in the race, as Foster got caught up in someone else's accident.  That knocked him out to the race and to a 37th place finish

“This weekend has been incredible.  I don't have a whole lot of experience.  Having Todd as my crew chief and car owner for this race has helped me out tremendously.  He has so much knowledge and wisdom that I've been lacking, it was great.”


A total of 48 cars attempted to qualify in Lakeland on Saturday, but only 40 started the SK Hand Tools 200.  Yes, eight drivers had to go home.  Wouldn’t NASCAR love that problem.  Those who packed up early included Brent Downey, Ryan Zeck, Brett Oakley, Alex Yontz, Kyle Burts, Troy Wangrin, Dominic Vara and Matthias Czabok.

CLICK HERE To View The First Part Of ASA Leftovers: Lakeland

Look for Travis Foster to become a name in ASA.