Citrus County Speedway Keeps the Heat On
By Jack Smith
Florida race fans were treated to a full night of entertainment Saturday with a little something for everyone.
There was some excellent races, record breaking speeds, a spectacular crash and at least a few tempers approached the explosion point.
Citrus County Speedway, located about 50 miles north of Tampa on Route 41 in Inverness, is a three-eighth mile banked asphalt track with wide straights. Every year the track keeps the racing spirit burning with their Winter Spectacular events, first in December followed up with an event in January.
This seemed like a good time and place to take KARNAC.com's newest photographer, Oliver Pioquinto, to another Florida track, what with the weather expected to be very mild, and Super Late Models on the bill.
Saturday's main event was a Super Late Model 125 lap race and supported by a 50 lap Mini Stock race, Open Wheel Lites series and a few of the local classes.
In the first race of the night Rick Fort in the #2 car chased the leader #33 Justin Durbin for the last 10 laps making a last lap pass for the win, in what was as good a race as any the 'big boys' put on.
Then things got heated up pretty good early on with the Wilson-Smith feud being rekindled.
It all started when the #42 got up on the outside of Doc Batson's #77 who was running behind the #85, the latter with his eyes glued to the mirror.
Coming out of turn 2 the #42 of two time champion Richie Smith and the black number 85 got together hard, then got twisted together, then both spun down into the infield.
It was rather amazing, and amusing to some to see a Hobby Stock race take on epic proportions somewhat resembling a WWF commercial, for what couldn't have been for more than a hundred dollars or so. A few of these folks carried on like the Hatfields and McCoys and gave the local Sheriff's Department a workout in barfight negotiations. General Manager Tim Christman showed extreme patience in dealing with the unruly racers and eventually it all quieted down.
The team from the 42 car were not a set of happy campers, and put on a display that would have gotten them removed on the spot from many tracks. But the folks that run Citrus seem to know their people and got things simmered down without any blows being traded, and saved the Citrus taxpayers money from sending anyone on a trip to the pokey.
Maybe it's something in the water, but I jokingly told Oliver it was the Nuclear Reactor up the road a piece that causes folks to get so enraged over a sporting event.
Bronson photographer and media writer, Rick Warren, gave Oliver a few tips, among them the golden rule for track photographers, "Don't turn your back on the cars". Oliver, equipped with his souped up digital equipment, soon learned the importance of that rule, courtesy of Rick Sirmans.
Rick Sirmans is unquestionably one of the best Mini Stock racers in the state, and a regular on the Florida Mini Stock Challenge Series tour. Last month he took advantage of lapped traffic in the final few hundred yards at New Smyrna's big half-mile to win the FMSC series 100 lap support race for the Governor's Cup.
Steve Griffin, a young man who also had a strong run at the New Smyrna race, had to leave with a busted radiator after running in second and getting caught up in the first caution on lap seven involved a hand full of the competitors.
Shortly after the restart George Neumann took his #99 to the lead with #51 Dustin DesChamps following and what remained was to hold off the monster charge of Rick Sirmans in the familiar zero-five machine.
Sirmans (yellow car) and DesChamps in need of a new hood a few laps before disaster
Sirmans had moved up into the third spot as the top three began to drive in and around lapped cars at about lap 30, eventually passing DesChamps and climbing on the rear of Neumann dodging the lapped cars as they wound down the laps.
On lap 43, Rick Warren's lesson to Oliver came home. Sirmans came up off of turn two with one more lapped car to clear which would leave the battle just between him and Neumann. The lapped #18 and Sirmans made contact, Sirmans car slammed with intense force into the beginning of the back straight wall, the pitch of the motor changed and the 05 flew off the wall full bore at an angel headed to the infield and hit DesChamps who was coming underneath to avoid the wreck.
The impact luckily turned Sirmans car a little sideways and it flew at speed into the infield headed for the photographers on the hill and impaled itself on the guardrails situated in the infield with a loud crash. As a collective gasp was heard in the crowd, Sirmans amazingly was out of the car before anyone could reach him, the red flag out immediately and officials and the County Fire and Rescue rushing to the scene within seconds.
A stuck throttle is a scary thing at a race track.
A shame because the lapped cars that had helped Sirmans win a 100 lap race now took away a chance for the win in the 50 lapper and the fans lost a chance to see a real 5 lap battle for the win between Neumann and Sirmans. After the race was restarted Neumann cruised to an easy and well deserved victory.
All this excitement and it was only 8 o'clock, and the Super late Models were getting ready to go for 125 laps, the race preceded by the sixteen drivers being introduced on the front straight.
Herb Neumann, Jr. started the race on the outside pole with Dave Pletcher (Red #75) firing off first. Well he was supposed to anyway. It took a few times to get the start 'started', green flag instead of yellow flag.
It actually was comical to see these machines doing a 'you go first' routine. Pletcher seemed to be a step behind on the starts all night. We counted seven cautions and seven times Pletcher gave Neumann a two to three car cushion on the starts.
Not that it mattered as Pletcher held second all 125 laps and Wayne Anderson, Florida's most dominant Super Late Model racer in 2003, held third the whole race.
On each restart it would take Neumann a few laps to build up a comfortable lead on Pletcher and Anderson would fall back a five or six car lengths with the field bunched up behind him.
Anticipation mounted all through the race Neumann clearly was the class of the field this night.
It looked like the hard charger was Jim Smith in Pletcher's "old" car, the black #75. Smith started 8th and took the checkers in fourth.
All in all it was pretty good night at Citrus County, good crowd for mid-December and a good car count. The track has all the basics covered, new General Manager Tim Christman is all over the place general managing. He went around to all the Mini Stock drivers as they sat in staging telling them good luck and shaking hands with many.
The safety crews are from the County and of course have top notch equipment on hand and a full staff of professional EMS and firemen ready to go to work. There was plenty of Sheriff's Deputies on hand to keep the peace.
We highly recommend a trip to Citrus for the second stage of the Winter Spectacular on January 17th. Check the weather and dress accordingly, but you won't be disappointed.
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