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911 drivers help charities

By LOGAN NEILL

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 26, 2000


During the week, you're apt to find many members of the 911 Racing Series behind the wheel of a high-performance work vehicle.

Some ride the streets and highways in a police cruiser. Others rush around town in a fire truck, and others race to disasters in emergency rescue wagons.

But come Saturday night, you will find these professionals in hot pursuit of each other at short tracks across central Florida.

No matter who wins, the real victory always belongs to the children's charities they serve.

"We race for the fun of it," said Pinellas County Deputy Bob Hart, president of 911 Racing, a not-for-profit organization. "But being able to put something back into the community gives it a special meaning to us."

As it winds down its inaugural season at Citrus County Speedway, the series has claimed success in its mission by raising more than $10,000 for All Children's Hospital.

Yet for Hart and his fellow drivers, it is just a drop in what they hope will become a bucketful down the road.

"We're pretty pleased with how we've done," Hart said. "When we started, we didn't know if we could have enough drivers to even make a series. But there were a lot more out there than we knew.

"I think it will continue to get even bigger as word gets out," he said.

The idea for the series was inspired in part by Top Cop, a charity racing series made up of law enforcement officers that competed throughout much of the past decade.

Hart, a supervisor in the Pinellas County Sheriffs Department Economic Crime Section, had been a member of the series since 1993. However, when Top Cop organizers chose to suspend activities last fall, he and some of his fellow drivers decided to form their own league.

911 Racing, which runs cars similar in style to Citrus Speedway's Street Stock division, spreads its 18-race program across five different tracks.

Though drivers do race for series points, they don't run for prize money. Rather, tracks agree to pay between $40 and $50 per entered car to the club, which donates the money directly to charity.

"Most nights we get about 15 cars to turn out, which isn't bad when you consider how spread out our members are," Hart said.

"But if it's a good night, we might get 20 or more, and that could bring in about $1000."

Each driver funds his machine either personally or through sponsor dollars. And while Hart admits that there is a strong element of competition among the participants, drivers are encouraged to keep the racing on a fun level.

Rough driving is discouraged because it creates a bad public image and tends to tear up the cars, which frequently are displayed at community events.

"I think we put on a pretty good show most weeks," Hart said. "It's competitive racing, but a lot of these guys are really good friends.

"They like the fact that what they're doing is viewed by race fans as something worthwhile."

Citrus County Speedway at a glance

WHAT: Short-track stock car racing in Late Model, Sportsman, Street Stock, Mini Stock, Hobby Stock and Street Legal Junkers classes, plus the return of the 911 Emergency racers.

WHEN: Saturday. Grandstand gates open at 4 p.m. Time trials begin at 6:15.

WHERE: 2 miles south of Inverness on U.S. 41.

ADMISSION: $10 adult general admission; $8 seniors and students to age 17; $2 children under 10; free under-12 child admission with paid adult; $20 pits.

INFORMATION: (352) 726-9339.

NOTE: Four drivers have secured their points championships with just three weeks remaining in the season. Mike Veltman clinched his second consecutive Sportsman title with his fourth-place finish last week. Mike Bresnahan, George Neumann and Robert Aaron have clinched in Late Model, Mini Stock and Figure 8, respectively.

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