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No maternity call, so Keelin keeps on driving to victory


© St. Petersburg Times, published March 22, 2000

Occasionally, we hear of a driver who puts some unexpected creature comfort in his race car, like a cigarette lighter or a fan, but Open Wheel Modified driver Jim Keelin Jr. took it a step further when he mounted a cellular phone in his cab Saturday night at Sunshine Speedway.

"My wife's expecting a baby tonight," said Keelin, driver of the No. 4, pointing to the cell phone strapped to the heavy metal bars. "If I'm racing and that thing rings, I'm pulling off the track and leaving."

Fortunately for Clearwater's Keelin and the fans, the phone didn't sound the alarm during the feature race.

Keelin started on the third row inside. By Lap 8 he had moved to second behind No. 57 Timmy Moore of St. Petersburg. By Lap 15 of the 20-lap race Keelin had taken the lead, but No. 1 Wayne Jefferson of Pinellas Park was on his tail.

Late in the race and with hard-charger Jefferson putting on the pressure, Keelin's car was loose. Coming out of Turn 2, the No. 4 began to swing wide, leaving the coveted inside lane wide open. With little choice left, Keelin mostly raced the outside groove.

Jefferson, who is driving the Modified in the Florida Sunbelt Series, pulled alongside coming out of the last turn, but Keelin beat him across the finish line by better than a bumper. Last year's class champion, No. 73 Darren Jackson of Lakeland, was third.

"It could be anytime now," Keelin said after the race. "She (wife Catherine) was due yesterday. She's about to pop, but she said she would wait until the race was over."

The Keelins already have named the newest member of their family Shannon Catherine, who will be a sister to 6-year-old Sandy.

NOTES: Another driver who recently went into the baby business is Seminole's Mason Love, who can claim the honor of having driven in at least one feature race in every class at Sunshine Speedway. Three weeks ago his girlfriend, Stephanie Walls, gave birth to Devin Marcus Love.

Saturday night, Love drove in his first Late Model feature and started on the outside pole in the No. 4. However, this week Love will have secured his favorite No. 0 for the car.

Love quickly grabbed the lead from Pinellas Park's Bill Bryant, No. 1, and drove almost like a veteran to hold the lead until coming out of the fourth turn on Lap 14 of the 25-lap race. Love's car got loose, and No. 5 Brian Leverock of Seminole and No. 22 Sammy Coghill of Largo seized the moment and slipped under him. On Lap 19, Love went to the pits and finished 11th. Leverock won, with Coghill second and No. 82 Den Neighbor Jr. of Clearwater third.

With the departure of Largo's Wayne Bowman from the Late Model ranks this season, and the fact that Coghill, who won the season championship the last two years, will be running only occasionally at Sunshine, Love's entry into the Late Model class is reassuring. Give him a few weeks to get his new car dialed in and gain a little more experience and he will be a force.

The most bizarre event of the night occurred in the Street Stock feature. On Lap 4, No. 9 Dan Partelo of St. Petersburg was enjoying a healthy lead when two other cars hit, spun and slid into the infield.

As Partelo and the leaders were racing toward Turn 3, he and his immediate followers backed off the gas and slowed. Officials were astonished because both of the cars involved in the accident were off the track and the yellow flag hadn't been thrown nor had the yellow light been turned on.

Apparently, the only one really paying attention was No. 2 Robert Crisp of Pinellas Park, who was running a distant eighth.

"They lifted and I kept going," a smiling Crisp said after the race. "I didn't see any light. They were all sleeping and I kept my head. I always keep racing until I get back to the (start/finish) line."

Although Partelo swore he saw the yellow come out, that would have required the flagger to flip the switch, which never happened. Other drivers said they have made the same mistake. Sometimes, with a quick glance at the rearview mirror, the eye can pick up the orange-yellow street lights in the parking lot, which could appear to be the official yellow light.

After dropping back to fifth, Partelo battled his way back and finished third behind No. 76 Jim Altobelli of Clearwater while Crisp got the checkered flag.

A week earlier, No. 35 Joe "Cool" Smith of Largo had picked up his first career Street Stock win.

Art Calkins, No. 11 of St. Petersburg, picked up his first Figure 8 win of the season. Winning is not unusual for Calkins; he has won the class championship more times than any current driver, or maybe anyone. His brother, No. 14 Wayne Calkins of St. Petersburg, was second and No. 84 Clif Rousseau of St. Petersburg was third.

In Mini Stocks, former champion No. 69 Jay Zolciak of Pinellas Park outran former champion Macky Mongold, No. 00 of Largo, for the win. No. 40 Dennis Valdez of Tampa was third.

In the weird Wet & Wild race, No. 1X Bob Hall was tops, followed by No. 55 Herman Brame, No. 99 Roger Welch, No. 49 Jay Sekora and No. 17 Helene Cartier.

In the first of two Enduro features, No. 66 Rick Botts was first across the finish line, pursued by No. 43 Tracy Brill, No. 54 Pat Hunt, No. 4 Rocky Weidner and No. 5 Cameron Hill. In the second Enduro feature, No. 22 Mike Hill won with No. 98 Jeff Haven second, No. 49 Sekora third, No. 55 Brame fourth, and No. 17 Tom Phelan fifth.

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