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Sunshine Street Stocks are making a strong run


© St. Petersburg Times, published May 16, 2001

Several years ago, when Sunshine Speedway began the Enduro class for amateurs, the cars used to slip-slide around the track, banging into each other and the wall.

Contact was accidental almost all of the time, unlike professionals.

Many of those same Sunshine drivers graduated in mass from Enduro University at the end of last season and were promoted into the revamped Street Stock division to officially become pros. Nobody was quite sure how it would work. After all, they were replacing a group of some of the toughest and most talented drivers at the track. Some feared fans would see it as going from a Cadillac to a Yugo.

Street Stocks "are the only new class that worked out like I thought it would," said Frank Hill, Sunshine Speedway promoter and general manager.

The new Outlaw Late Models and new Enduros have not grown as rapidly as anticipated, Hill said.

With 50 cars registered, the Street Stocks have grown to become the track's largest class. The next biggest is Open Wheel Modifieds, which has been around for years and is the top regular division with 32 cars.

The competition to get in the feature race is rough. A driver must receive one of the top spots in the qualifying heat event, or fight to get one of the few remaining starting positions with a high finish in the consolation race. No other class has to go through that.

At the top of the points heap is St. Petersburg's Dan Rieger, who has owned race cars at Sunshine for 12 years but didn't begin driving in Enduros until the middle of last season.

"I still get real shaky before every race," Rieger said as he paced about his pit area. "I shake after the race, too, but not during."

Regardless, Rieger has a natural talent for driving. He knows the line to use, he instinctively dives for holes, and he avoids spinning out -- most of the time, but not Saturday night. It cost him, and he finished 12th.

Another St. Petersburg driver, No. 61 Dave Ochsenwald barely is holding down the second spot in points. He's a veteran Enduro competitor and spent years working on the J&J Auto Body Late Model.

"One big difference with Street Stocks, no matter what happens, you have five days to get ready," Ochsenwald said. "I take Sunday off. Before (with Enduros), you had two weeks to get ready. Now, I can't take any days off.

"I go out with the philosophy that if I have a top-five finish and I can put (the car) on the trailer, that's a victory," he said. "That way, I don't have to fix my car."

Saturday, Ochsenwald was running second when he hit and spun the leader, No. 82 Jimmy Kruse of St. Petersburg, on Lap 16. Ochsenwald finished right behind Rieger.

Kruse held on another four laps to lead No. 77 Brian Rogers of Tampa and No. 12 Jay Coleman of Palm Harbor over the finish line for his first Street Stock feature win.

"It felt good to start on the pole," Kruse said. "Roger (Welsh, No. 98 of St. Petersburg) told me to watch the light on the track -- not the flagger. He said sometimes the flag waves just after the light on the track turns green. A split second makes the difference in who gets the lead.

"This is for my daughter, Kayla, and my girlfriend, Shella," Kruse said.

NOTES: Open Wheel Modified No. 88 driver Chris Robbins of Indian Rocks Beach underwent triple bypass surgery Friday morning.

Sunshine Speedway co-promoter Bonnie Hill reported that Robbins was doing well Saturday. She said it was the second open-heart surgery to open clogged arteries that Robbins, an airline pilot, had undergone since November 2000.

At the time of his recent surgery, Robbins was sixth in season points. He is expected to go fast again -- in the air and on the track -- after his recovery.

Largo fireman Butch Basset, No. 23 of Clearwater, was treated and released at Largo Medical Center for neck bruises after his car was hit in the door while rolling toward the infield during the Street Stock feature.

Evelyn Wendt got her wish for her 89th birthday, sort of.

Wendt always had wanted to ride in a real race on a real track. Unfortunately for her, Sunshine no longer runs the Thrill Ride, which gave certain lucky fans a seat in a Late Model driven by one of the top drivers.

Wendt's birthday was the day before, so Saturday she got to ride with "Weird" Harold Russell in the track's pace car.

In a sign of the times, Sunshine has its first female members of the sweep crew, who clean up after the frequent accidents during races.

It's hard work, and you have to be fast. Hill said Julie Faravaugh was the first, and she recruited friend Krysta Mouser.

From the You Really Got to Want It department: Dunedin's Scott Holley was so sick with the flu shortly before his feature race, some in the area wondered how he would be able to drive -- let alone race.

He managed and took his No. 1 Outlaw Late Model first across the finish line. Steve Lone, No. 20 of Largo, was next, and No. 56 Robbie Mcauliffe of Pinellas Park was third.

In Open Wheel Modifieds, No. 57 Timmy Moore of Pinellas Park came from far behind and won the feature. Moore started 17th.

He was followed by No. 90 Mark McKnight and No. 04 Jason Graham, both of Pinellas Park.

Wayne Calkins, No. 7 of St. Petersburg, was the fastest in Figure 8s and was chased most closely by Pinellas Park's Donnie Thomas, No. 31, and Joey Catarelli, No. 15.

Coincidentally, Calkins's half-brother, No. 9 Jody Butler, won the Enduro feature. In that race, No. 88 Bobbi Mathews and No. 81 Mike Crooks were next in line.

The name Calkins wasn't magic. Wayne's brother, Art, No. 11 of St. Petersburg, was last in the Figure 8 event.

St. Petersburg's Marty Neikens, No. 70, stayed on the inside groove and outlasted No. 10 Mike Birk of Pinellas Park in a door-to-door battle in the last several laps. Troy Meredith, No. 32 of Pinellas Park, was third.

In the just for the fun of it Reverse Race, promoter Frank Hill was the first to put his rear across the finish line. Next were No. 69 Lyn Wade and No. 9 Harold Ashley.

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