Gary Kelley Claims Classic Cash During Florida Weekend
by Dave Westerman
Tennessee's Gary Kelley proved why he was the man to
beat week in and week out this past year at Galaxy
411 Speedway in Knoxville by totally dominating the
"Calling All CARS" Thanksgiving weekend shootout for
the Classic Auto Racing Series at Orlando SpeedWorld
and New Smyrna Speedway.
Kelley started off the weekend with a lap of 15.776
seconds to earn $50 for setting fast time and an extra
$50 for breaking the record.
Ft. Pierce's Wayne Ashton also broke the record in
qualifying, but his lap of 15.854 was only second best
Twenty-nine Classics were in the pits ready to do battle,
however Greg Helton blew an engine in warm-ups and
switched to the car slated to be driven by David Marsh
for the 30-lap feature.
Kelley drew the four pill for the inversion, placing him
fourth on teh starting grid behind current CARS point
leader Jim Rahman of Clermont, Maryville, TN driver Larry
Gibson and Ashton.
Gibson got the measure of Rahman as the green flew, but
before a lap could be completed, Bart Baxter spun his
car in turn two while Rodney Eary and Patrick Sanders
tangled and hit the turn three wall at the same time.
Baxter restarted while Sanders was out for the night.
Eary made repairs but had lost several laps before he
could get back out.
The second try for the start went much better with Gibson
taking teh oint ahead of Rahman and Kelley. Kelley
zipped around Rahman and began to put pressure on Gibson
as the leaders began encountering lapped traffic.
Gibson got trapped behind a lapped car on lap nine
allowing Kelley to take the lead with Rahman and Ashton
also moving past. Just as Kelley took the lead, Chuck
Burkhalter, driving for his nephew Keith Roberts, went
to the infield with the engine of his couple on fire.
No caution flag was needed and the blaze was quickly
contained by the track safety crew.
The first yellow flag came out on lap ten when the
engine seized in Joey Strehle's car and he came to a
halt on the apron in turn four.
With the green out again, it was apparent Kelley was
going to win unless something happened to his car as
his only problem was the large amount of lapped
Jim Rahman looked to have a second place finish and
the 2002 poit title in the bag until, with two laps to
go, his engine exploded in turn one. Several cars
slid in teh oil, but only Simeon Spagnuolo's car
suffered enough damage to send him to the pits. Larry
Gibson also retired from the race at this point.
Kelley held the top spot as the green re-appeared with
Dennis Gilliam in second followed by Eddie Thornton,
Ed Yates and Ashton.
Coming to the while flag, Ashton tried an inside move
on Yates for third, got loose on the flat apron and spun
wildly up teh track in turn three. Everyone got by but
seventh-running Harvey Ewing who crashed into Ashton's
stalled car eliminating both from competition.
The final run to the checker was uneventful as Kelley
easily outpowered Thornton and Yates to take the win.
Dennis Gilliam slipped high in oil dry left from the
Rahman incident and wound up fourth but did earn the
Door Operating Systems Rookie of the Race award while
Al "Hot Rod" Hagan contined his list of impressive
runs with a fifth place finish.
Rounding out the top ten were Baxter, Knoxville, TN's
Ron Rudder, Bud Spencer, Florida State Senator Bill
Posey (doing well after a year layoff to run a re-
election campaign) and George Hall III who had his
best run ever at the Turkey DAy Orlando race.
Surprisingly, despite all the crashing and blown
engines the night before, only the cars of Greg Helton
and Keith Roberts were unable to make it to New Smyrna
Speedway for the 50-lap season finale.
Helton again took over Marsh's car while Russ Antonucci
made the trip down from Jacksonville to place 28
Classics in the pits ready to do battle on the famed
New Smyrna half-mile.
Again it was Gene Kelley setting fast time and earning
more bonus money for setting a new track record with
a lap around the high banks at 21.568 seconds, breaking
Larry Gibson's former record of 21.660.
Kelley again drew an inversion of four which placed Jim
Rahman on the pole for the second night in a row. Despite
a 19th place finish the night before, all Rahman had to
do to earn his second CARS championship was to start the
Rahman did better than that, actually leading lap one
before Gary Kelley blew by to take the lead, although
a win wasn't going to come easily for him on this night.
With a scheduled fuel stop set for mid-race, the field
contined to motor along under green with Kelley opening
his lead to a full straightaway over Gibson and Kelley's
brother Jackie who was driving the car originally
slated for Wayne Dukes.
On lap 21, Greg Helton spun in turn one. Dennis Gilliam,
battling Rahman for fourth spot, had nowhere to go and
slid into the wall, damaging the South 40 Motorsports
sedan beyond immediate repair. Rahman also had nowhere
to go and slid into the pair knocking the right side nerf
bar off his machine.
Under protest, Rahman was required to restart the race
from the back of the lead lap cars because he was involved
in bringing out the caution, per New Smyrna Speedway rules.
Since the race was nearing halfway, it was decided to
make the fuel stop at this time. However, as the cars
came down pit road, Gary Kelley was nowhere to be found.
His car had stopped at the top of turn two as a broken
spindle had punctured his right front tire.
Kelley's car was towed to the pits. Since the field was
brought on pit road under caution, Kelly's Moonshine
Trippes race team was allowed to make repairs and refuel
his car in the pits. However, Kelley would have to
restart from the rear of the lead-lap cars in 14th place.
As the green came out, it became a two-car race up front
between Larry Gibson and Jackie Kelley as brother Gary
began to work his way to the front.
On lap 28, Ed Yates blew his engine going into turn one
but managed to keep from hitting anything or anyone as
caution flew to clean up the track.
Just after the restart, Ft. Myers driver Wally Smith got
loose coming out of turn four, hit the wall and rolled
his coupe onto its roof where it slid about 100 yards
coming to rest upside down just past the flagstand.
Sith climbed from his machine and threw both hands in
the air to indicate he was alright, then had track
photographer Jim Jones take a few pictures of him by
his upside down racecar before wrecker operator Tim
Cordell got it back on all fours and towed into the
Now the crowd was poised for a real barn-burner with
Gibson leading, Jackie Kelley second, two-time CARS
point champion Rodney Eary third and Gary Kelley
Eary and Gary Kelley were really working on each other,
nearly crashing in turn two just after the restart
before Kelley was able to move past. Then, going into
turn three on lap 30, Jackie Kelley made an effort to
get under Gibson in turn three and the two tangled
with Gibson backing hard into the wall and needing to
go off between two wreckers in "the cradle".
Jackie Kelley continued at the rear of the field while
brother Gary now found himself once again in the lead
and able to do no wrong.
Jackie Kelley brought out the final caution on lap 42
spinning on his own while trying a little too hard to
head back to the front.
For the second night in a row, but using a little bit
of luck this time, Gary Kelley breezed to victory.
Brian Ball of Cosby, TN finally got the bugs worked
out of his "new" 1940 Ford Coupe and made a late race
pass of Eary to get second while Eary drove the Frank
Conrad owned "Teal Tornado" sedan to a well-deserved
third spot. Eddie Thornton backed up his second place
finish at Orlando with a fourth spot at New Smyrna
Speedway in what will probably be the final outing for
the 2001 champion in a Classic Car as he plans to run
anything from Winston Cup to Go-Karts next year. "Just
as long as it goes fast and turns left," he said. E.T.
McGhee ran a smooth, steady race and took fifth spot.
Bud Spencer, Al Hagan, Russ Antonucci, Jackie Kelley
and Rahman completed the top ten with Antonucci earning
the Door Operating Systems Rookie of the Race Trophy.
More importantly, Jim Rahman laid claim to the 2002
Classic Auto Racing Series Championship for the second
time (he also was champ in 1998) and will collect the
check and hardware at the series banquet in two weeks
Despite his blown engine, Ed Yates came home second in
points for the fourth year in a row while Al "Hot Rod"
Hagan backed up his Rookie title from a year ago by
finishing third in points this year.
Winter Garden's Patrick "Bam Bam" Sanders didn't have
the best weekend but scored enough points to be the
Door Operating Sytstems Rookie of the Year for 2002
over Harvey Ewing who drove his wife Sharen's new car
on Saturday after trashing his Friday night. Sharen
Ewing will run for Rookie of the Year next year.
But it's Gary Kelley needed to open up a new bank
account in his hometown of Del Rio, TN as he had a
perfect weekend. By setting fast time both nights
and winning both nights as well as getting cash
bonuses for winning both features and setting two new
track records, Kelley earned a total of $2,000 a
record for this low-cost racing series.
ORLANDO SPEEDWORLD - 11/29/02 (30 Laps)
1. Gary Kelley, Del Rio, TN #18
2. Eddie Thornton, Orlando #4
3. Ed Yates, Orlando #74
4. Dennis Gilliam, Mims #42X
5. Al Hagan, Merritt Island #6
6. Bart Baxter, Dandridge, TN #51
7. Ron Rudder, Knoxville, TN #2
8. Bud Spencer, Palm Harbor #7
9. Bill Posey, Rockledge #00
10. George Hall, III, St. Petersburg #9
11. Wayne Ashton, Ft. Pierce #24
12. Harvey Ewing, Brooksville #17
13. E.B. Carr, Okeechobee #90
14. Greg Helton, Orange City #88
15. Eddie Davis, Knoxville, TN #41
16. George Hall, Jr., St. Petersburg #32
17. Frank Conrad, Ft. Pierce #90X
18. Larry Gibson, Maryville, TN #83
19. Jim Rahman, Clermont #5
20. Simeon Spagnuolo, Vero Beach #21
21. Wayne Dukes, Knoxville, TN #15
22. Rodney Eary, Orlando #11
23. Joey Strehle, Deland #42
24. Chuck Burkhalter, Minneola #31
25. Brian Ball, Cosby, TN #33
26. E.T. McGhee, Deland #1
27. Patrick Sanders, Winter Garden #8
28. Wally Smith, Ft. Myers #16
29. #3 (DNS) - Greg Helton, Orange City (started
NEW SMYRNA SPEEDWAY - 11/30/02 (50 Laps)
1, Gary Kelley #18
2. Brian Ball #33
3. Rodney Eary #11
4. Eddie Thornton #4
5. E.T. McGhee #1
6. Bud Spencer #7
7. Al Hagan #6
8. Russ Antonucci, Jacksonville #46
9. Jackie Kelley, Knoxville, TN #15
10. Jim Rahman #5
11. Wayne Ashton #24
12. Joey Strehle #42
13. Bart Baxter #51
14. Patrick Sanders #8
15. Bill Posey #00
16. E.B. Carr #90
17. Simeon Spagnuolo #21
18. Ron Rudder #2
19. Eddie Davis #41
20. George Hall III #9
21. George Hall, Jr. #32
22. Larry Gibson #83
23. Wally Smith #16
24. Ed Yates #74
25. Dennis Gilliam #42X
26. Frank Conrad #90X
27. Harvey Ewing #16X
28. Greg Helton #88
Have an opinion on this story? Post a message on our Message Board!
email@example.com send a letter to the editor!