The Big Showdown That Never Happened
By Jack Smith
Florida race fans were denied one of the best shows of 2007 Saturday Night
The race was going to provide Florida race fans with another good look at the great competition and exciting finishes that the ASA Late Model Series had provided all season, both North and South Divisions.
Though the entry list was abysmal in terms of numbers, with only 20 cars qualifying on Friday night at DeSoto Super Speedway, the talent in the field of assembled teams has proven all year they always come to race. The only runaway win all year in the south was the incredible performance of Brandon Johnson at New Smyrna Speedway, blowing away the field with his under funded and short-handed team.
But this race, scheduled for Saturday night, was shaping up to be something very special.
Jeff Choquette, sitting atop the points lead in the ASA Southern Division and Chris Fontaine is fourth in points 137 points back of Choquette in the ASA. Choquette has one win and Fontaine keeps bringing a fast car but still is looking for his first win.
Lets go back a year to the end of 2006 racing season in the All American Challenge Series at DeSoto. Choquette was battling neck and neck with Chris Fontaine for the AACS title. Choquette won the championship at the last race, narrowly beating out Fontaine for the $10,000 Championship winner's purse.
Fontaine went out Friday night and set fast time, and was looking forward to the rematch with Jeff Choquette, in front of the DeSoto fans. "We missed a chance for a showdown with Choquette" said the disappointed Fontaine, as the haulers were loading up to leave DeSoto Friday night.
The apparent altercation between track owner John Sarppraicone and an ASA official that led to the series making the decision to pull out will get sorted out by courts or will just fade away, but this reporter will never forget the sadness associated with that night.
When Super Late Models take to the tracks in Florida, the scenario is fairly familiar. A typical race has one or two or in some cases three or four cars that are much faster than the rest. In the ASA Late Model Series, that rarely happens, due to the crate engines and other factors that keep the fields evenly matched. It is very much about setting up the car for the track at hand and drivers being able to make the best of their equipment. It is the most competitive short track racing we have seen, show after show, in several years.
Besides the Fontaine-Choquette rematch, several young stars have emerged this year, and the fans of South Florida did not get to see them shine. They so much looked forward to this one. At Orange County Speedway near Raleigh, NC earlier this year, they talked about the DeSoto race. At South Georgia and Senoia they talked about the DeSoto race.
Sean Bass, consistent to a fault in the early races, hit a streak of disaster that not only he but the whole team was struggling to overcome. Watching this well spoken young man deal with heartbreak on the track, and try to get back on a winning track, you could see the courage of a winner.
Brian Blum, under funded, was barely able to make the long haul to I-70 Speedway (Odessa, MO), in fact not knowing until a few days before the race whether he would make the trip. Brian has somehow hung in there and overcome obstacle after obstacle to gain a seventh place ion points in the Southern Division. he was preparing to race Saturday night with no front brakes, as he had at I-70, funding just not there to fix the problem in time.
Young Patrick Staropoli, well known from his success in the Fastkids and Fastruck Series, was finally getting his first chance to test his skills against many of his peers in an ASA race car.
Drew Brannon has shown great promise in the FASCAR Goodyear Challenge Series and won a 50 lap feature at the 1/2 mile at New Smyrna in June. What separates the success of Brannon from some others is the fact that he turns 15 in November. How did he like his first time in the ASA car? "I think I am going to take the chip out of this car and run it in the Goodyear Challenge next week", he said, adding "I love it." Drew qualified sixth, the number six pill was drawn, which meant he was denied the chance to start on the pole in the biggest race of his life, when the race was canceled.
Jimmy Lang, riding 9th in Southern Division points, made the trip with his family and crew from Bluffton, South Carolina, to a track he is very familiar with. The nineteen year old raced a in a four day Legends event at the speedway five years ago, winning three of the four races.
Travis Wilson, son of NASCAR racer Rick Wilson, made the trip from North Carolina, to the track where he won his first feature event, that being a sportsman race, also five years ago. Travis is currently sixth in the Southern Division points chase, still looking for the breakout race, and hoping it would be at DeSoto Speedway.
David Wilson was back with his number 83, with the awesome crew headed by the legendary Dick Anderson, Wilson sure that this time he could get the 200 pound gorilla off his back in 2007.
South Florida race fans did not get to see Beau Slocumb, John Wes Townley, Brandon Johnson and Travis Cope, four very exciting young stars who are aimed at the winner's circle every time the green flag waves.
Those are just some of the story lines. The 100 laps of green flag racing never happened. Why it did not happen may not ever be answered in full to race fans.
There will be more races for the ASA Late Model Series, for DeSoto Super Speedway and the drivers who were denied their chance at some glory at a track with a long tradition of producing big races. And there will be other big races for the fans and in time the nightmare of this weekend will be forgotten.
I stood outside the breezeway at DeSoto Speedway, with a light mist in the air, lightning in the distance, and watched those haulers pull away and head back to places like Jacksonville and Loxahatchee and and Haines City in Florida.
Back to Juliette and Watkinsville in Georgia, back to North and South Carolina and I wondered about all the conversations going on in those haulers and those cars.
Wondering with a surreal and profound sadness how a collision of personalities and events could have brought such a stellar alignment of potential to the fact of those diesels rumbling out to State Road 64.
Terry Wall and myself have covered this series very closely throughout 2007, attending events all around the southern states, interviewing in depth dozens of the drivers, officials and others involved with the series, both for the weekly O'Reilly ASA Fastlane show and for written articles. We have both come to admire the young talent chasing a dream, and the officials who work the events and make the series happen.
We can only hope that lessons will be learned by all parties concerned, as it is very obvious the fans were seriously let down by the events of this past weekend.
There were no winners.
ASA PHOTO GALLERIES
Next: The future of the ASA Late Model Series
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