They say you should never look back but only look forward to the future. Maybe that is true in some areas but in stock car racing, looking back is what we all do so that we can improve the coming year.
The year 2000 started out with what was SpeedWeeks for most Florida racers. We had racing in the dirt, racing on asphalt and of course racing at Daytona. Tony Stewart surprised dirt fans and raced at Volusia Speedway Park a few nights. Scott Wimmer, newest talent added to the Winston Cup ranks, raced with his brother Chris at New Smyrna Speedway. Scott has been one of the favorites that comes into the not quite so cold Florida before starting his race year off. But with his new ride, 2000 may have been his last visit to New Smyrna Speedway.
When the crazies end in February, it is time to open the racing season for our local tracks. We see our series return to the tracks and all the weekly racers and life is once again full for the local short track fan. We meet new friends, say goodbye to old friends and start our endless bitching about the "good and bad" aspects of our tracks. Some tracks do improve, some don't but racers race no matter what.
I think the first biggest event in any of our lives was the death of Adam Petty and how it touched us all. This young man, same age as my daughter, was only beginning his life. He had just built his first home and was doing well in the Busch series. Then he was gone just as fast as he came into our lives. No one was not touched by the loss that the Petty family felt, the love that obviously Adam received from his parents, and his dad's leaving the Cup car to drive his son's car for the rest of the year. The ever-smiling young Petty left for all to see his footprints in the sand.
Local tracks also had their share of losing racers. Bronson lost two at one time, Sunshine, Charlotte County - too many. Each time the fans and fellow racers tried their best to understand why and to help the families left behind. College funds were set up for children, benefits became too common. But out of all the sadness, there was some happiness. Shaun Farr still is on the road to recovery and hoping one day to get back in his TBARA Winged Sprint.
2000 was the year for seeing Hialeah open it's doors under new management and racers come back to one of the oldest and best known tracks in the state. Hialeah was on the verge of being no more but the racers got together and took it over and in time, they have seen hope. One thing that they have tried to do is listen to their racers, get them back to the track and back on the track and so far, they are doing a good job.
Dirt racing became more popular in 2000 with bigger purses and better car counts than asphalt racing. A new dirt modified series is starting up and expected to be just as good as the asphalt SARA Open Wheel Modified Series. Fans packed the stands at Volusia Speedway Park every Saturday with sometimes "standing room only" left. Yes, thanks to VSP, East Bay, Thundercross, Jacksonville, Clewiston, and even Orange County Speedway dirt tracks are becoming "the place" to race.
2000 has seen new faces and old faces in the Super Late Model Series of Florida Pro and Florida Sunbelt. Shane Russ returned to racing with Florida Pro as well as newcomer Tom McCann. We saw a number of drivers that raced both series at a time - Travis Kittleson, Justin Drawdy, Brian Finney, Ricky Carlton, Dick Anderson, Mike Franklin, Jr., James Powell to name a few. Which ever Super Late Model series you were lucky enough to see, you saw the "best of the best" in Florida's Super Lates.
This year also seemed to be the year of uncontrolled tempers on and off the track. A number of drivers could not control what should have never gotten out of control seeing either fines, suspensions, or in some cases, jail time. Whether it is the cost of racing now or just the fact that some drivers don't take defeat well or bumping and rubbing, who knows. Tempers flew too much and not enough control was taken to stop the bad sportsmanship.
This year's Governor's Cup looked to be the best race of the year. Every big name came out - Dick Anderson, Wayne Anderson, Billy Bigley, Jack Cook, David Rogers, even David Russell returned to racing. And the race proved to be the "best" until lap 153 when Wayne Anderson hit David Rogers on purpose under a yellow flag destroying his car and Rogers's. Rogers's was able to bandaide his car and finish the race but the crowd knew he was shaken and so were they. From being the "best" race of the year to one of the biggest all out brawls was a surprise to everyone. But the biggest surprise was what happened after the race in the pits. Because of racing anger, an innocent man lost his eye sight for no good reason and this alone made many see that owners and promoters must take more serious steps in controlling their races and their drivers so that this should not, will not EVER happen again.
2000 saw the return of the Triple Crown and the three days of racing madness. First night at Orlando Speedworld on his l7th birthday which was November l7, BJ McLeod won the first leg from the pole and lead every lap. Night two at New Smyrna Speedway saw Mike Fritts and Ricky Carlton duke it out for the win with Carlton getting his first Sunbelt Late Model win. Then day three saw James Powell on the pole but "birthday boy" Dick Anderson taking the win. Three hard, long days of racing and moving.
The biggest shock to alot of racers and fans was the closing of Florida Speed Park (St. Augustine Speedway). This came after a full season of running and speedweeks for the very first time. But, the racers and track workers were treated to no banquet, no points money, and no explanations. But on the other side of the coin is the new Melbourne Speedway they are trying to get and a new asphalt track at Moroso Speed Park. And Mesa Park is hoping to add a new dirt track to it's lists of facilities.
And now, the Snowflake and Snowball Derby will close the 2000 Florida racing season. All eyes will be towards Pensacola and the Who's Who that will show up. And when the last fan leaves and the last hauler pulls slowly away to head back home, the 2000 racing season will end.
Looking back over the year, it has been good and bad. We have lost too many racers this year but we found our faith in God and each other each time. Family truly was what we became.
By Jane Smith
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