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A successful shift

Jeff Eberly began under the hood as a mechanic and moved to the driver's seat as a racer. Now, he's the Four Cylinder Bombers champion.

By KELLIE DIXON, Times Staff Writer
Published November 13, 2007


SPRING HILL

When it comes to cars, Jeff Eberly always has known how to fix them.

It was the racing part that required some extra attention.

But just two years after first getting behind the wheel, Eberly is sitting as the new champion of the Four Cylinder Bombers division at the Citrus County Speedway.

Eberly, a 38-year-old Tampa native, grew up tearing cars apart and putting them back together with his friends.

The self-taught mechanic understood pressure, too. If he didn't get the vehicle back together, he wouldn't have a ride.

He got started racing like many people. He went to a race, thought "I can do that," and started working on an old '88 Toyota truck that his friend Michael Taylor donated to him.

At first, it was brutal.

"I remember sitting there watching him get lapped five times in 20 laps," Taylor said. "But he just kept working at it. He changed this. He adjusted that."

The early victories were more moral than anything.

Slowly but surely he went from being lap traffic to a top contender.

"At first it was kind of funny," said Toni Eberly, his wife and crew chief. "We'd make jokes about how many times he got lapped. But at the end it was kind of nerve-racking."

Eberly said he got the most help from his fellow drivers like Herb Hoefler.

Even though Hoefler's son, Travis, finished second in points behind the second-year racer, Hoefler still helped him.

"We're all friends," Herb Hoefler said. "We all try to help each other."

Herb Hoefler, who has been racing for 23 years, watched Eberly's driving style mature this year.

"He was more aggressive," Herb Hoefler said. "After you get a little bit of it in you, you start to be a little more aggressive."

This year wasn't without its bumps and bruises and heartache, though.

Eberly lost his mother this summer. After talking with his family, he decided to race the week of the funeral.

He had almost 30 family members in the stands cheering for him with signs.

"It was an awesome feeling knowing that we were all there together to experience it," said Jeff Eberly, who took the win that night.

Racing already is a family affair for Eberly, who involves his wife crew chief, his sons (Chris is the gas man; Brett and Matt handle the tires); and his daughter (Kate is the spotter).

"To me, it was all about the combining all that together," Jeff Eberly said. "Being able to spend all that time together."

Contact Kellie Dixon at kdixon@sptimes.com or (352) 544-9480.