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Coghill returns to track and to winning in Late Models


© St. Petersburg Times, published May 17, 2000

After winning the Late Model championship at Sunshine Speedway three years in a row, Largo's Sammy Coghill decided it was time to concentrate on some bigger races that pay bigger bucks.

However, through the first two months of the season, Coghill had made every Late Model feature at Sunshine and was leading in points. Finally, on May 6, he skipped Sunshine in favor of a 125-lap race at DeSoto Speedway.

It didn't go well. The No. 22 broke during warmups and Coghill did not qualify. To make matters worse, he slipped to second in Sunshine points behind No. 5 Brian Leverock of Seminole.

Saturday night, Coghill was back. He won. Again. He's still second in points, but a little closer.

"We're trying to get back up in points," Coghill said after the race. Then, he thought for a moment and added, "I don't know if we're running for points or not. We'd like to win it. It's the year 2000, and that gives us a reason to win."

Then, looking a little apologetic, Coghill explained, "I know I told everybody we wouldn't be back running for points again this season, but the money gets down and you do what you have to do."

Last year when he won the championship, Coghill won only one feature. So far this year, his record is four wins and three seconds. He said what he really needs is sponsors.

The second-best record for Late Model feature wins this year is held by No. 69 Johnny Stanford of Pinellas Park, who has raced at Sunshine only four times but won three.

In Saturday's feature, Coghill made his move on leader and pole-sitter No. 2 Wayne Bowman of Largo on Lap 7 by claiming the inside groove. By Lap 9, Coghill had the lead, and it continued to grow until the yellow flag came out on Lap 21.

By that time, Stanford had moved into second by using the outside line, which most drivers are reluctant to do because of poor track conditions. Unfortunately for Stanford, he needed more than the outside to get around Coghill and settled for second, just ahead of No. 73 Billy "The Kid" Mowery of Clearwater.

Although he has been hot at Sunshine this season, Stanford said he has no intention of running for points at the track. Instead, he is planning on doing a little traveling, and races at DeSoto and New Smyrna Beach are on his schedule. Sounds strangely familiar, doesn't it?

NOTES: The Florida Legends feature provided fans with some pretty good racing, but one of the heats gave them the biggest scare of the night. No. 89 Paul Williams was coming down the front straightaway when he bumped wheels with the No. 66 of Tim Hart.

Hart was able to hold on, but Williams' rear wheels went up in the air, came down, and the car slid sideways at full speed until the driver's door slammed into the Turn 1 wall. Visions of the death Friday of Adam Petty and of Sunshine's "Wild Bill" Revard last season popped into mind.

Race co-promoter Frank Hill, a district chief with the Clearwater Fire Department, ran from the nearby officials tower to render assistance. It didn't look good. Williams was unconscious and was making gurgling sounds. While Hill and others took turns supporting his head, Williams did not respond.

Within minutes, fire rescue workers from both Pinellas Park and Largo were on the scene, and the decision was made to use the Jaws of Life to cut the top off the small car. Within 15 minutes of the accident, Bayflite was touching down.

"I think he's going to be all right," Hill said after Williams was transported to Bayfront Medical Center in St. Petersburg. "He winked at his wife when they were taking him away."

Co-promoter Bonnie Hill said Williams returned to the track later that evening and the only injury he suffered was a bruised rib.

David Tort, No. 3, won the Legends feature with No. 63 Dwayne Bryan second and No. 1 Rod Sanders third.

Open Wheel Modified driver Jim Keelin Jr., No. 4 of Clearwater, said he is planning to take a month off to spend time with his baby daughter. His vacation begins this coming Saturday, but the car likely will continue to be raced. Lakeland's Darren Jackson, who won the class' season championship the past two years, will probably take over the wheel, Keelin said. Jackson was leading in points again this year until his engine blew a few weeks ago.

In the Modified feature, No. 3 Tony Meeham of Tampa picked up the win, followed by No. 71 Barry Bartlett of St. Petersburg and No. 5 Ron Campbell, also of St. Petersburg. Points leader Roger Stull, No. 99 of St. Petersburg, was fourth.

On Lap 16 of the Mini Stock feature, No. 05 Rick Sirmans of Pinellas Park tangled with No. 70 Marty Neikens and spun to the infield. The instant replay showed Neikens was only slightly past Sirmans' back fender and should have yielded when Sirmans began to drop down to go into the corner.

While Sirmans had the right of way, officials decided he did not have the right to do what followed. Sirmans waited until Neikens came around again, pulled out onto the track, and slammed the No. 70 before driving off the track and into the pits. Neikens was sent to the rear of the lead lap for causing the wreck, and Frank Hill said Sirmans would be fined.

The incident helped points leader No. 69 Jay Zolciak of Pinellas Park, who finished third. Neikens was second in points but fell to third behind No. 40 Dennis Valdez of Tampa. The feature was won by No. 30 Tim McPhail of Pinellas Park, and the new improved No. 16 of New Port Richey's Glenn Kelley was second.

In the Street Stock feature, No. 41 Mike Kowalke of Pinellas Park prevailed in the battle of the bruisers, with No. 00 Pat Grimes of Seminole collecting second and No. 1 Bob Hall of Dunedin third. New Port Richey's John Makula, No. 56, leads in points.

No. 15 Joey Catarelli of Pinellas Park was tops in Street Stock Figure 8s, with No. 04 Ron Veller of Clearwater second and No. 78 Bob Hage of St. Petersburg third.

In Enduro Figure 8s, No. 37 David Gillespie was first, No. 24 Dave Cleary second and No. 02 Pete Cracolici was third.

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