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Sunshine, Thomas come out of overcast day for Figure 8


© St. Petersburg Times, published February 7, 2001

Sunshine Speedway's WinterNationals, which provides racing relief during the off-season, lived up to its name Sunday -- gray, gloomy skies, slightly wet, windy and with significantly below-normal temperatures -- except among some of the drivers.

"Did I do anything to get my name in the paper?" Figure 8 driver Mike "Captain America" Leacock of Pinellas Park hollered late in the afternoon following the 50-lap Wild Bill Memorial Figure 8 race.

You bet! No question about it.

Leacock flashed a smile and thumbs up.

In his lucky No. 13, Leacock started 18th in the 24-car field, which meant he probably left his mark on at least 17 other cars on his charge to the front.

Still, tattoos aren't to everybody's liking, and a few of the other competitors became somewhat disturbed.

By Lap 30, Leacock had pulled into second behind No. 28 Shane Grigsby of Pinellas Park. However, the No. 89 of another Pinellas Park driver, "Hollywood" Ron Davis, outmaneuvered Leacock and claimed the spot on Lap 33.

On Lap 40, Leacock sent him reeling, and Davis was shuffled to the back of the pack.

Keep in mind that unlike other types of short-track racing, Figure 8 is a contact sport. Still, it's more fun to contact than be contacted.

With only four laps remaining, Grigsby was being stubborn and refused to quit racing, so Leacock could win.

As the two came around the corner heading for the intersection, they tangled in what probably was an accident.

Grigsby went to the grass, and Leacock went across the grass and back onto the pavement.

Just about that time, the No. 15 of Joey Catarelli of Pinellas Park -- one of Leacock's earlier victims -- was re-entering the track.

As Leacock slowly came to a stop, most of the other cars stayed clear. Catarelli, apparently unaware Leacock had stopped directly in front of him, hit the gas, got a good running start and slammed him hard enough to take him out of the race.

When the two got out of their cars, Leacock was expressing his displeasure, but Catarelli simply shrugged and waved his arms to the sides palms up, as if to say, "I never saw you."

With his car able to run, Grigsby resumed and finished fourth.

Davis, who started the race dead last, climbed back to third, which was pretty amazing. Tim Henault, who somehow kept his usually pretty car unscathed during the rumble, was second. Donnie Thomas, No. 31 of Pinellas Park, was on the other end of misfortune and won.

"What a deal!" Thomas exclaimed after the race.

"I've been racing since 1993. I always said it takes a championship-caliber driver to win a 50-lap, Figure 8 race," he said. "I can't believe I won. I want to thank my sponsor, Florida Door Control."

Anybody else?

"I want to thank Mike Leacock, too," Thomas said.

NOTES: A bright spot on a gray day was the appearance of Pinellas Park's Randy Larson, who began driving at the age of 14, behind the wheel of the Walsh Racing No. 42 in the Wild Bill Figure 8 race.

He finished fifth.

After leading what he admits was a pretty rough life, he quit drinking several years ago and became serious about his commitments to his family and himself.

Unfortunately, not long after, he was struck by kidney failure and nearly died.

Treatment helped somewhat, and Larson even came to the track and ran in a Figure 8 race late last year. However, his condition did not improve, and it became obvious that he needed a transplant.

He and his family suffered financially, but help was on the way, especially from Lug Nuts Racing Family Fund-raiser, ShortTrack USA with Bill Green and fans.

The really good news is that Larson is expected to receive a kidney transplant during the next few weeks.

Although it was marred by frequent red lights and accidents (at least 11), Open Wheel Modifieds provided the best racing of the day.

Wayne Jefferson of Pinellas Park twice moved into second place to challenge eventual winner Luke Hill of Fort Lauderdale, who has captured three consecutive 50-lappers. However, both times he was sent to the back of the lead lap after officials ruled he had done dirty deeds to Hill. Still, he wasn't the fastest on the track, and neither was Hill.

No. 6 Chet Senokossoff of Pinellas Park was quicker than both.

He took over the lead on Lap 24. But after a re-start on Lap 39, his car got stuck in second gear, and he went to the pits.

As Hill said, "He was the class of the show."

Following Hill across the finish line were No. 9 Danny Partelo of St. Petersburg, No. 2 J.R. Wade of Clearwater, No. 8 Randy Rhodes and No. 3 Tony Meeham of Tampa. Senokossoff finished 12th and Jefferson ninth.

In the new version of the old Street Stock class, No. 1 Dan Reiger was first, No. 50 James Ellershaw second and No. 5 Eric Murry was third.

No. 61 Dave Ochenwald was first across the line. No. 22 Mike Hill was third, but both were disqualified -- Ochenwald for being too low and too light, and Hill for having too much engine compression.

It was upsetting for them, but better than during the season when money and points will matter more.

In Mini Stocks, No. 15 Doug Hopper of Port Richey took the lead on the third lap and never looked back. No. 3 Matt Rotkis of St. Petersburg was next, with No. 65 Catarelli third.

In Hornets, No. 11 Mark Nelson won, followed by No. 10 Abbie Haugh and No. 5 Nicole Bingham.

In the new Outlaw Late Model class, No. 27 Pete Coon of St. Petersburg was declared the first winner even before the green flag fell.

Actually, the green never did fly.

None of the other drivers had their cars race ready, and Coon was the only one to show up. He picked up $400 in prize money for being punctual.

The featured attraction of the night was the School Bus Figure 8, but there were not as many buses or disasters as usual.

No. 45 Frank Hill, who is the tracks promoter, proved that once in awhile nice guys finish first.

He did, and divided his winnings equally among the other drivers. That was two in a row for Hill.

The regular season at Sunshine Speedway starts March 3.

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