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Sunshine track officials are ready to get rolling

By Times staff writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 28, 2001

About the only thing constant in auto racing is change, and the upcoming season at Sunshine Speedway will have plenty of that.

Unlimited Late Models -- once the premier class at the track -- will race far less frequently, but when they do, it will be for a lot more money.

Open Wheel Modifieds will take over the top spot, and the new Outlaw Late Models are being groomed to follow in their footsteps -- or tire tracks.

Winged Sprint Cars, or "real race cars" as the old-timers say, will be back. Street Stocks will keep the name, but the cars and most of the drivers will be different.

"I was disappointed with the (Late Model) car count last year," said promoter Frank Hill. "Super (or Unlimited) Late Models can't run on a weekly basis because of the cost of the car."

To solve that problem, Sunshine will have at least one 50-lap Late Model race a month.

However, instead of the $800 the winner has been paid for a 30-lap event during the past couple of decades, the purse for winning a 50-lap race will jump to $1,500, "which is pretty decent for a 50-lap race," Hill said.

Although the competition begins Saturday, Late Models won't make their first laps for another three weeks, on March 24.

A month later, on April 21, Late Models will compete in the first of three 100-lap championship specials -- the Pepsi 100.

The next 100-lap Late Model race won't be for another five months, which will be the Bud Light 100 on Sept. 22.

However, only two weeks after that, the speedway's most prestigious race of the year -- the Dayton Andrews Dodge/Leo Musgrave Memorial -- is on the schedule for Oct. 6.

All three of the 100-lap Late Model races will pay a top prize of $2,500, an increase of $500 for all but the memorial race.

After an eternity, the Tampa Bay Area Racing Association's Winged Sprints will return to Sunshine. Their first race will the Jimmy Haynes Memorial, which is in honor of the talented young local Sprint driver who died racing in Arizona in the 1980s.

The Winged Sprints' other dates will be on June 30 and Sept. 29.

You gotta love Sprints.

They are the old bullet-type cars with an open cockpit and strange looking wing devices overhead, which absolutely are necessary because they're even faster than Super Late Models. Besides, if you sit near the track, the alcohol they burn will give you a cheap high.

The biggest change will be the introduction of the new Outlaw Late Models, and it will be an even bigger change for the drivers. Periodically, tracks create classes to move up drivers as a group.

The Outlaws spring from the old Street Stock class, which arguably was the roughest and most competitive at the track.

Swapping paint was the rule of the day. If a driver was able to load his car on the trailer all in one piece after the race, he probably didn't have much fun.

The drivers will have to learn a new style of driving.

"The big thing is, the racers will have to get used to a soft bumper, so they will have to drive differently -- better," Hill said. "They won't be able to bump much with those front ends. And, they will be faster."

The Outlaws will sport a wedge-type body, much as Late Models did 20 years ago.

The engines basically will be the same as the old Street Stocks with some changes to boost performance. And, they will be abut 200 pounds lighter than the old Street Stocks.

"If I see we need to give them more speed, we could drop the weight, give them different tires or a four-barrel (carburetor)," Hill said.

"I want to look at them for quite awhile. I'm not against giving them more speed if I can do it cheaply, but I don't want to build another Super Late Model class," he said.

The new Street Stock class is a reward for Enduro drivers, who have been building their skills and improving their cars during the past several seasons as amateurs.

Outside of the name change, the biggest difference is that the drivers will earn more money -- $200 to win -- and they will collect points toward a season championship.

The Enduro class will continue, which gives new talent a chance to learn the sport. The Enduros will run every other week with Hornets, a special class for drivers 16-19 years old.

Sunshine Speedway will pay a special tribute to Dale Earnhardt at intermission on opening night.

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