Big-money races are traditionally end-of-season events. When promoter Ben Bellamy sent notice that he would be hosting a $10,000 to-win event for Mini Stocks in March, it got our attention. The drought between November and February when NASCAR Nextel Cup racing is on hiatus is bad enough, but that's nothing compared to the off-season for Saturday night racing. Bellamy's event, the Pro4 Modified Southern Nationals, was held March 12-14 at Florence (SC) Motor Speedway. At first, it seemed to get off to a great start.

Race Engineering signed on as the event's primary sponsor. Then the early entries started pouring in. Event rules stipulated that the $10,000 winner's purse would be paid only if the race had 100 entries. Bellamy said although he had only 70 early entries, he still planned to make the big payday so that the event would have a successful first year.

But then the first-time glitches started cropping up. First, the checks on at least 30 of the entries bounced. Other teams simply failed to show up. After Friday's practice and qualifying had already begun, competitors began noticing that the track was selling two different tires. Both were McCreary rubber, but one-the Sportsman-was significantly faster than the other-the 750. Making matters worse, the Sportsman tires were only available in the smaller 13-inch size. Racers who had set up for 14-inch tires were out of luck. This, of course, caused other teams to drop out in frustration. By Sunday morning, Bellamy was forced to make the announcement that he couldn't pay the $10,000, but instead offered $100 to every racer who took the green flag. Thankfully, Race Engineering kept its commitment to the racers and its pledge to pay contingency money (beginning with $300 to the winner).

What at first seemed like a great kickoff event for the 2004 four-cylinder racing season ended up little more than a warm-up race, but it was still good to get some racing in. For his part, Bellamy plans to regroup and try again next year to provide a top-quality early-season event for the Mini-Stock racers.

Unfortunately, because of all the circumstances, only 19 cars took the green flag.

Just before the halfway point, this Mustang started struggling with a real loose problem, as you can tell. The driver collected his car and kept it off the wall, but it was enough to make the photographer abandon his position inside Turn 4 in a hurry.

Florence Motor Speedway only has concrete retaining walls along the frontstretch. The rest of the inside track is ringed with an Armco barrier, but it is well off the asphalt. The effect sometimes makes the cars seem as if they are racing down a country road.

Florence Motor Speedway's racing surface isn't lit, so the race took place midday. As the sun lowered over Turn 1, it caused vision problems for some drivers. That wasn't good news because the facility lacked a retaining wall outside either turn or the backstretch.

Here's something you don't see every day: a GM product in a Mini-Stock race. This Sunbird ran well but simply didn't have the horsepower to keep up with the Mustangs.

Two Toyotas started the event, and both travelled from Birmingham, Alabama. Both cars were nicely built, especially Scott Little's No. 21, but they were required to carry the full 2,350 pounds just like the Mustangs despite their smaller 1,800cc engines. Predictably, they struggled because of this.

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