By BOB BOYLE
© St. Petersburg Times, published September 18, 2001
The clear skies and dry conditions predicted for Saturday after the sloshy passing of Tropical Storm Gabrielle didn't exactly come true, but it was an improvement over the walls of water that fell Friday.
Although sporting events from high school football games to the NFL decided to cancel or postpone their regularly scheduled events due to grieving and fear from the disastrous terrorists attacks on New York and Washington D.C., promoters at Sunshine Speedway made the decision Thursday to go forward with the 50-lap Auto Trader Street Stock Championship race.
It wasn't out of a lack of respect for the massive loss our nation suffered.
"We are flying our American flag and racing. What could be more American than auto racing?" asked Sunshine co-promoter Bonnie Hill. "I don't see any reason to not race. I think we need to get on with life."
For most Americans, the shock about the attack on the Pentagon, the destruction of the World Trade Center and the loss of thousands of lives were followed by disbelief, grief, then anger.
Americans were stripped of their sense of security, which apparently was only an illusion. Our way of life was threatened.
After Sept. 11, 2001, nothing and no one in this country will be the same. But the crisis and our reaction beg the question: How much should we allow the terrorists to steal from us?
If we surrender our civil rights in order to protect ourselves, the terrorists will have succeeded. If we crawl in a hole and hide from life, the terrorists will have won.
While Americans are justified in finding and punishing those responsible, we must be careful not to punish innocent people or ourselves. We must go on with our lives, or we lose.
Watching cars beat and bang at the local track would have been a welcome relief from the grief -- a way to show those who want to destroy us that they can't.
When we awoke Friday morning and learned the storm that was not due until that afternoon was upon us, those on the west coast of Florida were forced into distraction.
As a matter of self-preservation, televisions switched between the weather and the continuous coverage of the carnage.
With the best of intentions on Saturday morning, the plan was for races to be run as normal.
But what the terrorists could not do, the weather did.
So much rain had fallen the day before, the ground surrounding the track, which actually is higher than the speedway oval, became over saturated. Water continuously oozed through the walls and onto the asphalt, making it impossible to race.
At least that was a natural and understandable result.
The weather, not the terrorists, had won. So will we.
NOTES: The 50-lap, Auto Trader Street Stock Championship race was rescheduled for Oct. 20.
Street Stocks have had a tough time lately.
The division's feature event Sept. 8 was rained out, although all of the other regular classes raced. Only Street Stocks and Enduros were scrubbed.
To catch up, Enduros will run two features this weekend and Street Stocks will do double features Oct. 13.
In terms of season points battles in the regular classes, Street Stocks are the most competitive.
With 708 points, No. 96 Roger Welch of St. Petersburg has a narrow lead over No. 1 Dan Rieger of St. Petersburg (690), No. 22 Mike Hill of St. Petersburg (688), and No. 27 Harold Ashley of Gulfport (682).
In the Figure 8 division, No. 89 "Hollywood" Ron Davis has a not-so-comfortable 33-point lead over fellow Pinellas Park's Shane Grigsby, No. 28.
Lingering in third place is multi champion Art "The Master" Calkins of St. Petersburg, No. 11. Calkins, who at the end of last season claimed he was going to retire, is 78 points behind Davis, but late in the schedule the two worst finishes or non-racing nights will be thrown out.
Davis made every event, so he will lose some points. Calkins took two weeks off, so he will lose no points. The math says Davis must run hard and finish well to fend off the Calkins challenge.
Jimmy Houle, No. 80, of Pinellas Park owns a 37-point advantage over No. 56 Allyn Summers for the Open Wheel Modified crown.
In Mini Stocks, No. 65 Joey Catarelli of Pinellas Park has a 43-point edge on No. 70 Marty Neikens of St. Petersburg.
Robby McAuliffe, No. 56, of Pinellas Park enjoys the biggest lead in any class with an 85-point cushion over fellow Outlaw Late Model driver Tim Henault, No. 69, of Safety Harbor.
The Super or Unlimited Late Models series at Sunshine does not run regularly, but those drivers earn points, plus $5,000 goes to the season champ.
Dwayne Dempsey, No. 15, of St. Petersburg has a four-point advantage over No. 5 Brian Leverock of Seminole.
Den Neighbor Jr., No. 82, of Clearwater and No. 22 Sammy Coghill of Largo are tied at 58 behind Leverock.
Between the Bud Light 100 this weekend and the Dayton Andrews Dodge/Leo Musgrave Memorial 100 on Oct. 6, 150 points will be at stake.
If Dempsey and Leverock falter, Neighbor and Coghill are posed to take over.