Under a colorful Florida sunset, qualifying for Late Models was held at East Bay Raceway P
One of the concerns at East Bay Raceway Park was the new surface, which was tested by crew
Troy Kuyoth (80) was a first-time Speedweeks Late Model contender. Kuyoth chases Audie Swa
The Delaware double-file restart sees the leader in a row of his or her own. Second place
The names of the race winners are all in the history book. Mother Nature was reasonably cooperative. Not surprisingly, the fans and cars came in droves from throughout the United States and Canada. No one came to enjoy the sunshine, though they may have squeezed it into some pretty busy schedules. The purpose of the trip was racing, and whether it was watching or competing, the goal was accomplished.
From one side of Florida to the other, all the way into the panhandle, there was plenty of racing-related activity keeping everyone busy. The racing actually started in late January with Modifieds at East Bay Raceway Park near Tampa. For the short trackers, the checkered flag for this round came at Volusia Speedway Park and New Smyrna Speedway on Saturday night, February 15. The rains came the next day to plague Daytona, but the short tracks saw only one night of their ambitious schedule washed away. Those who came to see racing likely got their money's worth.
Now, the stage is set for the 2003 season. Before we get on to the weekly business, let's look at some of the elements that made the racing great.
He watched the Modifieds and Late Models last year, but this year, he brought a car to compete. Stratford, Wisconsin, racer Troy Kuyoth was in the East Bay pit area for competition in the Renegade DirtCar Racing Series and the Xtreme DirtCar Series with designs on running for Rookie of the Year honors in the XDC Series. His travels can be summed up as "$1,200 in fuel," but the experience was valuable to Kuyoth.
"We left early and stopped at Oglethorpe (Raceway Park in Georgia) to make sure the car was right," said Kuyoth. "We found a few things to work on before East Bay and went through the car again."
The first night, Kuyoth was among dozens of drivers to face repair work. A number of factors led to numerous on-track incidents. "I hate tearing up new equipment," lamented Kuyoth. "The track was slimy, and one lane and we kinda got pushed into something. Fortunately, it was just tin, but it looked bad. We were way tight until Wednesday."
It took a few days for Kuyoth to get the hang of East Bay. As a first-time visitor to the track, the learning curve was pretty steep. He utilized just one crew member, so the hill was even higher. "We had to scramble all week," he added. "We didn't know how free to make the car. The track surface is not close to anything we've raced on. There was no side bite, but too much forward bite. You could wash the front end out and head straight for the wall. We're on different tires and a different surface coming here."
The former WISSOTA Modified champion has been racing Late Models for just a few years and not full time. His commitment is to stay with the Xtreme Series as long as the money holds out. There are plans to run some WISSOTA Modified races as well.
For the week, Kuyoth did have a bright spot. It came with the running of the third Renegade event on Friday night. Kuyoth qualified in the Top 20, but had some problems in the heat, which relegated him to the B feature. In that race, he won the event, earning his first A main start of the week. After starting 20th, an ill-handling car relegated him to a 24th-place payout.
"We learned about tires," he said, summarizing the experience. "We learned what to do and what not to do to the chassis. If we decide to do this next year, we'll know a lot more than we knew this year. At the end, the car was driveable. I passed maybe 12 cars in a race on Wednesday night. The engine we had had maybe 600-700 laps on it, but we saved the good one for the series. This was good seat time."
Troy Kuyoth is a good representation of a first-time Speedweeks experience. Few come to set the place on fire. The idea is to get experience, learn about the car, and yourself. For many, it will be weeks before they get into a car again. After all, when you're racing in Florida in February, it's likely below zero back home. Speedweeks becomes a springboard to the year ahead. When Kuyoth and many others get to their next race, they already have a half dozen starts under their belts.
It's like getting a head start that's perfectly legal.
The New Guys
Volusia promoter Dick Murphy and New Smyrna head Robert Hart have been through these Speedweeks drills before. They know the ups and downs of running so many consecutive nights with fickle weather, sporadic fans, and grudges between drivers carrying over from the year before. Each Speedweeks has its own quirks and personalities, but the experienced promoter knows what he has put himself in line to get.
The new promoters of East Bay Raceway Park, a company called 2VHL, were facing their first Speedweeks in 2003. After taking over the track on September 11, 2002, the group had less than five months to have track improvements, racing, and all the logistics in place for the showcase event at the facility.
It's a piece of cake, if you look at the results and not the task itself. The track was ready for the Modifieds in late January, and the momentum carried all the way through until the final green flag on February 15. With little breathing room, it was on to the track's long regular season.
Track promoter Al Varnadore knew before he started that it took people to get the job done. "It was a lot of fun," he said, reflecting on the Speedweeks experience. "It was hectic, very hectic, but having people work with us made it better. Everybody on the staff did what they were supposed to do. I couldn't have asked for it to go better."
For Varnadore, the preparation time for the upcoming event was not the time to get nervous. "When I was driving and first went out, I didn't have any nerves. When it came time for the heat, I couldn't find the clutch my leg was shaking so bad. I get the nerves afterwards, but with the people we were working with, it worked out like it was meant to be."
From the safe vantage point of after the fact, Varnadore looked back and marveled at all the things that could have gone wrong, but didn't. But the time still wasn't without incident. At the Late Model finale, a frontstretch accident almost wiped out the flagstand. The race did not continue until Varnadore was sure the location was safe.
To run that many programs on a racing surface is asking a lot. Competitors demand top-notch preparation. East Bay prepared for Speedweeks by bringing in new clay. "Eddie Cox does the preparation," said Varnadore. "Sometimes, we missed it a little bit, but not by much. We learned early there are two things that affect the track: the wind and the tides. If the wind is coming from the south, it'll dry the track out. There's a cooler wind coming from the north. Being as close as we are to the water, the tides affect it. We had water coming up through the track because of the tides.
"We weren't really sure how the track would do with a new surface and the rains we had in December. All in all, it held up well. We had five different winners in five nights and some of the fast qualifiers came early in the session." All the improvements did not go unnoticed as long-time visitors could see the changes. The removal of the inside wall encouraged three-wide racing and the competitors complied. A resurgence of competition was felt as drivers dug deep into the bags of tricks to come up with a combination to tackle a historically tricky circuit. Passing was plentiful for the most part and the crowds were high.
The 2003 event served to set the stage for the East Bay racing season, but the idea that the track is moving forward was very obvious to anyone in attendance at a Speedweeks presentation. The new guys did well.
Delaware Double-File Restart
One of the new concepts in Late Model racing is the use of the Delaware double-file restart at East Bay. It created its share of havoc on the first night of Speedweeks action. Track and series officials amended it to eliminate its use in the heat races and order was somewhat restored.
With an eye on creating exciting racing, the Delaware double-file restart is likely a fixture for our future. Here's how it works: When a caution is displayed, the field will parade until given a signal to line up. The leader will pull out and the rest of the field will line up side by side, meaning the leader has no one on either side of him. The second-place car will choose either a high or low line with the third-place car taking the vacant position beside the second-place car. The same drill continues with the fourth- and fifth-place cars, then back to the next cars as the field fills up. Once everyone is in place, the green will fly.
The idea is to encourage more side-by-side racing and eliminate the freight-train restarts. Unfortunately, some drivers had little to no experience with the idea on the first night. Further, the track may have been a little on the wet side. The combination of inexperience (drivers not accustomed to having someone beside them at the start) and the wetness led to many pile-ups in Turn 1 after restarts during heat races. An estimated 60 percent of the field suffered some damage from bent sheetmetal to bent suspension parts. The decision to reduce the number of Delaware double-file restarts on future nights of racing cut down the on-track attrition.