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By BOB BOYLE
© St. Petersburg Times, published March 7, 2001
In auto racing, it's true that winning is everything in terms of money, points and prestige for drivers and that everybody after first is just another loser.
But what fans want is excitement, and St. Petersburg's Dwayne Dempsey was tops on the list in the 100-lap, S.A.R.A. Late Model Series opener Saturday night at Sunshine Speedway. Dempsey, a former Sunshine champion who moved up to bigger circuits several years ago, qualified second in his No. 7 car behind No. 17 Jason Crossey of Lake Worth. Dempsey started 10th.
Racing, unlike riding a bicycle, is something you do forget how to do.
That became obvious about 10 seconds after the green flag waved to start the 100-lap event. A pile-up at Turn 3 damaged a number of cars, including Dempsey's.
With heavy front-end damage and the caution flag out, Dempsey swung into the pits, where a large portion of the sheet metal on the front of his car was removed.
When he returned before the green came out, he had to start at the back of the 25-car field.
Dempsey began moving up again, but it was made more difficult due to the high number of accidents and yellow lights. Of the first 52 laps, 24 were run under the yellow flag.
On Lap 31, Dempsey got caught up in another mess and headed for the pits again. Somewhere in between, the unsecured sheet metal on most of the right side of his car was ripped off by air pressure.
At that point, Dempsey's car amounted to little more than a roll cage with tires and a motor.
Starting from the rear again when the green came out on Lap 36, Dempsey did something few others with mostly intact bodies could. He passed -- on the inside, on the outside, where and however he could.
By Lap 65, Dempsey had moved up to 11th, and to 10th just three laps later. The crowd got excited, and Dempsey continued to please and pass.
On Lap 94, Dempsey was in seventh and looking for a hole, when disaster struck again.
With his front bumper as casualty of an earlier wreck, his radiator was punctured, and he headed to the pits for the final time. He finished 17th.
"I owe this night to peanuts," a disappointed Dempsey grumbled. "One of the guys in the (towing) trailer had peanuts, and I knew we were doomed."
In racing superstition, peanuts and green are worse than black cats and walking under ladders.
Bobby Beauchemin, No. 3 of Davie, grabbed the lead on Lap 65 and held off a determine challenge from No. 36 Michael Faulk of High Springs for the victory.
Mulberry's Wayne Morris, No. 56, was third. The best finish by a local racer was 13th by No. 77 Tony Amico of Clearwater.
NOTES: Chet Senokossoff, No. 6 of Clearwater, may be the driver to beat in Open Wheel Modifieds, which became the track's top regular class after the departure of the Super Late Models.
Senokossoff is much stronger and smoother than last season, and his driving skills have greatly improved.
Saturday night, Senokossoff picked up a win, with No. 88 Chris Robbins of Indian Rocks Beach second and Darren Jackson of Lakeland third.
Last year's Street Stock season champion, Robert Crisp of Clearwater, used his wedge-shaped No. 2 Outlaw Late Model to snatch victories in the first-ever Outlaw heat race and the first Outlaw feature.
Ed Kidd of Pinellas Park finished second in the class, and third was No. 27 Pete Coon of St. Petersburg.
It's far to early to predict anything about the new Outlaws.
Many of the drivers are putting their cars together, so the competition is pretty meager. Only seven cars showed up Saturday, and one broke during warmups.
Although I haven't seen any lap times, the large vehicles appear to be slower than the old Street Stock class from which they came.
Promoter Frank Hill said he wants to watch them for awhile before making any rules changes, but knocking a couple of hundred pounds off the weight requirement might be a good idea.
Pinellas Park's Shane Grigsby, No. 28, came out on top in the rough-and-tumble Figure 8 race. He was followed across the finish line by No. 15 Joey Catarelli and No. 31 Donnie Thomas, both of Pinellas Park.
In Mini Stocks, No. 8 Tim Harman of Safety Harbor was the winner, with No. 55 Tom Zimmerman of Largo the first-place loser and No. 3 Matt Rotkis of St. Petersburg next.
In the new Street Stock class, No. 1 Dan Reiger posted a victory. Larry Brannon was second and No. 61 Dave Ochenwald third.
Unlike in previous years, all of the races counted toward season points, so all of the winners are the points leaders for each class.
In the past, the first regular racing night was more for testing and tuning, but car counts were low. Awarding points on the first night put more cars on the track.
Abbie Haugh out powered the six-car field to claim victory in the Hornets class, which is for drivers 16-19 years old. However, the field is way below last year and could become endangered if the number of cars does not improve.
Just to set the record straight, local fans can be assured the St. Petersburg Times has not lost interest in Sunshine Speedway, but the coverage will be somewhat different this year. In the past, the Sunshine Speedway column ran roughly every two weeks, with the occasional exception of extra coverage for special events.
This season, however, the track has scheduled far more special events, which is good for fans and drivers, but it does make the editor's job of scheduling space for the column significantly more difficult.
All of the special events and many of the regular shows will be covered. Instead of a column appearing every two weeks, roughly the same number of stories will appear, but on a more irregular basis.
For instance, after this week, there will not be another speedway column for another two weeks, then there will be two in a row to pick up the first Super Late Model 50-lap race and the Jimmy Haynes Memorial Winged Sprint event.
Then, another two weeks off, then one on, and so on. In some cases, the column will run three weeks in a row, or three out of four weeks.
Regardless, local racing and the column will continue.