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Hill comes home and wins 50-lap Modified race


© St. Petersburg Times, published May 31, 2000

Luke Hill is accustomed to traveling a lot.

In 1996-1997, when he won back-to-back season championships in Sunshine Speedway's Open Wheel Modified division, Hill was a mechanical engineering student at the University of Florida in Gainesville. After he graduated in 1999, Hill took a job with Motorola and moved to Fort Lauderdale.

"I still come up here to race two or three weekends a month," Hill said Saturday night after the 50-lap East Bay Jiffy Lube-Pennzoil Open Wheel Modified race. "We really like Sunshine Speedway. It's our home track."

The most important of his travels came after he arrived Saturday at Sunshine and moved from his eighth-place starting position to win the big 50-lapper. However, from the time the first green flag waved until the checkered fell, the outcome was never certain.

Tampa's Tony Meehan, No. 3, started on the pole and stubbornly refused to give up the lead for the first 33 laps, although there were plenty of challengers.

One was St. Petersburg's Chico Alberto, No. 33, who recently decided to return to Sunshine after running at DeSoto Speedway in Manatee County. Alberto started fifth, but quickly moved to third on the first lap, where he languished behind No. 51 Mike Hinegardner of Seminole until Lap 24, when he made a move to take over second.

Alberto continued to dog but not pass Meehan until Lap 28, when he was bumped and spun to the infield. Hinegardner reclaimed his spot behind Meehan.

Four laps later, Meehan went sailing to the infield, too. Officials decided he had dropped down and caused the accident, so Hinegardner's wish was granted and he took over the lead.

By Lap 36, Hill was in second, just ahead of No. 99 Roger Stull of St. Petersburg and No. 57 Timmy Moore of St. Petersburg, who had set the fast qualifying time of 14.362 seconds.

Three laps later, the No. 5 of points leader Ron Campbell of St. Petersburg attempted to avoid an accident, lost control and hit the wall on the front straightaway. That cost him the points lead and dropped him to second behind Stull.

With 11 laps to go, Hill made his move and slipped under Hinegardner to take the lead. Moore and Stull quickly followed.

Moore and Hill then began to separate from the bunch. Moore worked Hill on the inside, on the outside, back to the inside and, at the end, on the outside one last time -- but to no avail. Moore settled for second and Stull third.

Noting that Hill gave Moore little room to pass, Moore's father, Steve a former Late Model star, told his son after the race, "That's experience. He (Hill) knows what to do."

"I tried to make it exciting," Timmy Moore said. "I set the fast qualifying time, but it didn't pay off tonight" because the order was reversed and Moore started ninth.

"This is the most fun I've had in a long time," a jubilant Hill said. "This is better than winning the two (season) championships -- to just go out there and give it everything you've got for 50 laps. I'd like to thank my family and my crew."

NOTES: Some luck and solid driving gave No. 4 Jason Graham of Pinellas Park the win in the Street Stock feature, which was enough to push him into second place in the season point standings.

Going into the night, No. 2 Robert Crisp of Clearwater, who may have had the fastest car, was in second place in points. Crisp was moving through the ranks and toward the front when one of his rear wheels simply fell off between Turns 3 and 4 on Lap 5. Bad luck for Crisp but good for Graham.

Then, on Lap 8, leaders C.J. Craver, No. 12 of Largo, and Mike "Captain America" Leacock, No. 13 of Seminole, tangled and Graham and No. 98 Roger Welsh of St. Petersburg took over as leaders of the pack.

Two laps later, Graham took the lead and the win. Welsh was second and Craver was third. Ed Kidd, No. 6 of Pinellas Park, finished fourth and moved into third in points, while No. 56 John Makula of New Port Richey finished fifth, which was enough to maintain his sizable points lead.

"I'm just trying to be consistent and finish near the front every week," Makula said. As a former class champion, he knows what it takes.

In Street Stock Figure 8s, the fourth-place finish of No. 89 "Hollywood" Ron Davis of Pinellas Park was enough to keep his points lead. However, No. 28 Shane Grigsby of Pinellas Park won the 30-lap feature, which moved him into second in points.

Wayne Calkins, No. 14, and brother Art Calkins, No. 11, both of St. Petersburg, picked up the next two spots. That was enough to move Art Calkins, who has won more Figure 8 season championships than anyone at Sunshine, into third in points. No. 31 Donnie Thomas of Pinellas Park, who was second in points before the race, finished ninth and fell to fourth in points.

A win by No. 65 Joey Catarelli of Pinellas Park put him on the verge of breaking into the top 10 in points in Mini Stocks. No. 16 Glenn Kelley of New Port Richey finished second, which bumped him up a notch in the point standings from sixth to fifth. Points leader Jay Zolciak of Pinellas Park was third and stays on top.

In Enduro Figure 8s, No. 32 Darryl Hage got the big trophy, with No. 47 Rick Botts second, No. 17 Tom Phelan third, No. 87 Eric Cannamela fourth and No. 4 Rocky Widner fifth.

Although Late Models had the night off, the week before No. 18 Andy Werden of St. Petersburg collected his first feature win in the class, which kept him solidly in fifth in points. No. 5 Brian Leverock of Seminole leads No. 22 Sammy Coghill of Largo by four points.

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