Short Track Roundup

7 January 1998

                               

Mobile, Ala - The 1998 racing season is just around the corner, and there
will be some marked differences from last year. The Hooters Cup Late Model
Series has gone and that will leave a lot of good Late Model drivers
looking for a place to race in 1998. Many of the drivers will head for the
All-Pro Series where they will challenge another ex-Hooters driver Hal
Goodson for the Championship. The Florida Pro and Southern All Stars series
will also have stronger fields in 1998. Despite rumors of a new series to
fill the void left by the demise of the Hooters series, no schedules or
other information has been forthcoming. Another series that is no longer
present on the Late Model scene is the TIDA. That leaves Jay Watson, Tommy
Grimes, Greg Davidson, Bubba Naumann and the others with no place to race
besides a few big shows at San Antonio. This series had been in trouble for
a while with many top drivers leaving due to race to race rules
"Fluctuations".   

On the dirt scene, Thunderbowl Speedway in Valdosta. GA has basically
closed with the departure of promoter Keith Stith. The first casualty was
the Hangover 100 which was canceled. This means that the 2nd Annual
Mid-Winter 200 at JAX Raceways will become the first race of the 1998
season on January 17th with the Ice Bowl at Talladega Short Track a day
later. The action will really get underway at Volusia Speedway Park during
Speedweeks with action on the both the dirt and asphalt tracks going full
tilt every night. Volusia itself has undergone a major renovation with the
half mile asphalt track now dirt and the 3/8 mile track is now paved. With
all the legal problems of last year out of the way Owner/Promoter Dick
Murphy is back in charge and there will be some great racing featuring Late
Models, Sprints and Modifieds on the twin tracks. Another track that has
undergone a major change is 441 Speedway in Dublin, GA. The fast half mile
dirt track has been paved over the winter and now becomes one of only two
asphalt tracks in South Georgia.

The sprint car scene has seen quite a bit of activity over the winter with
much of it centered around Stanton Racing. There was hope earlier that a
deal could be struck that would put Mark Kinser in the car with Karl
turning the wrenches. Unfortunately Karlís asking price was higher than the
sky and MOPAR and Stanton turned down the deal. The MOPAR engine was proved
to be one of the best on the WoO scene and if Stanton can find a quality
driver it will be a serious contender for the title in 1998.

The final race of the 1997 season actually took place in 1998 as the
Florida Pro series was forced by weather to postpone its last race of the
year until January. The event, held at New Smyrna Speedway, FL, saw David
Russell take the win, followed by Bruce Lawrence and James Powell. Dave
Pletcher had the series Championship locked up before the race and his 15th
place finish made no difference.

The Winter Heat series in Tucson, AZ saw Greg Biffle dominate the Late
Model races as he led all 400 laps of both races to take the wins and the
Winston Challenge title. Dennis Fetter was second in the title chase, but
finished third in the race. Tom Sweatman was second in the race and third
in the points. This year the Late Models were rained out for the first race
and so only had two events to count for the points.

Sanctioning bodies are beginning to release schedules for 1998 and the hot
place to race this year seems to be Pikes Peak International Speedway in
Fountain, CO. ASA, ARCA and Winston West will all visit the Rocky Mountain
State this year to run the one mile track. ASA will also return to
Nashville Speedway USA this year. One oddity in the schedules that have
come out so far is the lack of races scheduled on that traditional racing
day, July 4th. Of the Eastern series, so far only NASCARís own Goodies Dash
and the Hooters ProCup has dared to go up against NASCAR and the 400 at
Daytona and even the Hooters race is the day before Daytona. It should be
remembered that Hooters also scheduled a race for the same day as the
Florida-Florida State football game, in Florida, and then wondered why no
one was there. Has NASCAR forgotten its roots in just 50 years?

The first series race of the 1998 season will be the Winston West season
opener this weekend at Tucson Raceway Park. With the point fund expanded to
$300,000 this year there is a lot of interest being shown in the series at
the moment.  Expect a lot of NW Tour and SW Tour drivers to compete at
Tucson and for many to stay with the series all year. For fans of the open
wheelers the Chili Bowl takes place in Tulsa, OK and many of the top midget
drivers such as Billy Boat, Jason Leffler and even Tony Stewart are
expected to be on hand for this annual event. 

For those of you fortunate enough to be in the Daytona area for Speedweeks
there will be plenty of racing action to keep you busy with both STARS and
Hav-A-Tampa running at East Bay Speedway near Tampa; Supermodifieds, the
All Star Sprints and Late Models at Volusia; and more Late Models at New
Smyrna. If you canít make the scene STR will have wrap up of all the action
for you. Late breaking news from STARS is that the Friday night race will
now be 100 laps for $10,00 instead of the originally scheduled 50 lap
distance. There will be a fuel stop after 50 laps.

1998 is looking to be a super season on the short tracks around the country
with plenty of racing action everywhere. There are many questions that will
be answered as we go through the year such as; Can Bobbie Gill have the
same success on the All Pro circuit that he did on the Hooters tour? Will
Rick Aukland win as much in big races as he did last year? Will Scott
Bloomquist return to Hav-A-Tampa full time? Can Sammy Swindell and Mark
Kinser hold of the youngster Stevie Smith? Will Butch Gilliland repeat on
the Winston West tour, or will a young rookie like Kelly Tanner sweep up
the title? Can Brent Kaeding maintain his domination of NARC? These and
many other questions will only be answered as the season progresses, so be
sure to head out to your local track every week and you will be rewarded
with some great racing action at a bargain price. 
Have a ball, Yaíll!

John Kaiser, The Auto Channel
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