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Lovelady driven by desire to win title

By LOGAN NEILL
© St. Petersburg Times
published June 7, 2002

Raymond Lovelady admits he's somewhat of a dark horse at Citrus County Speedway.

He doesn't live locally, and he has yet to receive a checkered flag in front of a cheering crowd.

"I'm sort of a mystery around there," Lovelady said.

But make no mistake, the regulars of the track's Late Model class are keeping a close eye on the 29-year-old driver from Lakeland. Lovelady again is the division's points leader. But if anyone is surprised by his feat, it isn't Lovelady.

"Winning the championship has been my goal since Day 1," he said. "We put everything we have into it, and it's paying off. All I really want now is a win or two."

That day perhaps is coming soon.

Each week, Lovelady adds a bit more to his vast race knowledge. On top of that is the mechanical experience he gets from a father who has built some of the state's fastest Late Model cars. "Racing is about what you learn every day and what you do with it once you've learned it," Lovelady said.

"To win at Citrus, you've got to have a good starting spot and be able to do something with it," he said. "We've come close, just not close enough." A 12th-year short-track racer, Lovelady spent most of his early days running modified Sportsmans and Late Models at speedways in Lakeland and Auburndale.

He logged two seasons in a professional truck series before deciding to take a three-year hiatus from the sport.

His father, Perry, has become a Saturday regular the past few years. After subbing for his dad some last season, Lovelady figured it was time for a comeback.

He bought a car, assembled a trusty crew that included longtime friends Joe Mihm and Robert Hartman, and went to work trying to extract every ounce of muscle from his Stille Real Estate-sponsored No. 17 machine.

"The thing is, all the horsepower in the world won't get you around Citrus unless you can get handling," Lovelady said.

"That's what we've been working hardest on. It's what's kept us up there every week -- that and keeping the car in one piece."

Lovelady's consistency is remarkable, considering the high-caliber competition he has faced this season. He has failed to finish in the top five only twice.

Lovelady's desire to win the crown is so strong that he dares not enter the big money events for fear of destroying his car.

"Sure the money's great for the big races, but you lose a lot too," he said.

"A hundred and twenty-five laps is rough on the equipment, and I just don't have that kind of money," Lovelady said. "I want to win and come back and be able to win again next week."

CITRUS COUNTY SPEEDWAY

WHEN: Saturday. Pit gates open at 2 p.m., grandstand gates at 4. The first heat race is scheduled for 6 p.m

WHERE: Two miles south of Inverness on U.S. 41.

ADMISSION: Adult general, $12; seniors and students to age 17, $8; children 6-12, $6; children under 42 inches, $2; pits, $20.

INFORMATION: Call (352) 726-9339, or go online to www.citruscountyspeedway.com.

POINTS STANDINGS

SPORTSMAN: 1. Mike Veltman, 1,012; 2. Bill Oesterreicher, 852; 3. George Neumann, 734; 4. Mark Dominique, 694; 5. Terry Cater, 624

STREET STOCK: 1. Travis Nicholes 792; 2. James Green, 788; 3. Mike Bell, 734; 4. Danny Cretty, 658; 5. Don Teague, 546.

MINI STOCK: 1. Robbie Yoakam, 1,004; 2. Rob Wheatley, 672; 3. Kevin Harrod, 596; 4. Jay McKenzie, 486; 5. Phillip Joyner Jr., 454.

HOBBY STOCK: 1. Tommy Smith, 1,058; 2. Richie Smith, 898; 3. Brandon Johnson, 620; 4. Daniel Webster, 608; 5. Roy Perkins, 562.

THUNDER STOCK: 1. Josh Teague, 864; 2. Stuart Madison, 846; 3. Robert Jordan, 798; 4. Lee Keller, 752; 5. Tim Wilson, 676.

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