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More pursuers, but they can't catch Veltman

He ran away from a smaller Limited Sportsman class last season and he's doing it again even with more competition and without taking advantage of a rule change.

By CAREY FREEMAN

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 16, 2000


INVERNESS -- No matter what the promoters and competitors come up with, defending points champion Mike Veltman continues to prove the adage that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Last season there was no more dominant effort than that of Veltman, who ran away with the Limited Sportsman title with 14 victories (the highest in any class) and the largest points margin of any class at Citrus County Speedway. The only argument against that domination was that the class struggled with its car counts all season, averaging less than 10 cars per race.

Much has changed this year. Thanks to larger payouts and modified rules, the car counts are averaging around 15 per race and the competition is climbing.

Yet there is Veltman, running away from the pack again.

He holds one of the largest leads of any driver (94 points, second only to Late Model leader Mike Bresnahan's 106-point margin), leads all drivers in wins (six) and is the only driver out of 12 back-to-back winners to post a third consecutive win and collect the speedway's newly instituted three-in-a-row bonus.

"There definitely is more competition," Veltman said. "There are some good cars out there -- seven, eight could win the feature anytime they go on the speedway. I guess we've just been lucky to this point. (Brother and crew chief) Dave (Veltman) has been excellent with the setup on the car and Greg (Vanaman) has given us good engines."

New promoters Billy Hooker and Steve Ziebarth instituted few changes this year, but they have paid off handsomely in terms of the car counts. One was to allow the use of custom-built rear suspensions. That has opened the Limited Sportsman class to several former Sportsman cars (a class that was eliminated two years ago).

Of course, increased payouts (up nearly 20 percent for winners) haven't hurt either.

"They've increased the purses, but Billy and Steve have also made several bonuses available," said Veltman, who will take home an extra $200 if he wins his third race in a row, and could receive an extra bonus (to be determined the night of the race) should he win from the last spot on the starting grid.

"It's a little better for the drivers and it helps pay bills. Racing is an expensive hobby. You could win every night and you would be lucky to break even."

Veltman hedged when asked whether he will go for the extra bonus for starting in the rear.

"I'm not sure," he said. "It depends on how the car feels and how everyone else is running ... and what my brother thinks."

That, it seems, is always a crucial part of Veltman's winning equation. Though he may receive most of the accolades, it is a family operation headed up by brother Dave, whom Mike credits for much of their success.

Consider this: The Veltmans didn't even take advantage of the suspension rule change and are still running a mostly stock rear end, yet the results are the same.

"We've played a little with the engine and put on a different cylinder head," Mike Veltman said. "It's little stuff that we've changed in the car. But even in a week like last week, my brother will spend 40 hours working on the car ... and that's an average week."

Whether Veltman will make it easier for his competitors by moving up to a different class remains to be seen. He has secured three new sponsors this season -- New England Deli, Ironwood Homes and Manatee Plumbing -- to go along with his main sponsor, Vanaman Machine, but he is still hampered by finances when considering a move to Late Models.

In that class, custom-built chassis, more expensive tires and generally higher maintenance costs tend to make it cost prohibitive to smaller operations like the Veltmans'.

"Without finding sponsorship, we can't afford to make the jump," Veltman said. "We want to run competitively wherever we run. Financially, we cannot afford to run up front with Late Models."

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