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By BOB BOYLE
© St. Petersburg Times, published October 31, 2000
Pinellas Park's Jay Zolciak and entertainment's Rodney Dangerfield complain about the lack of respect.
Dangerfield turned it into the anchor of his career. But For Zolciak, it has been an anchor around the neck.
Zolciak won the Mini Stock season championship at Sunshine Speedway in 1997 by a wide margin, lost out on repeating the feat by two points on the last night in 1998 and, after making no serious effort in 1999, has clinched the title this season.
He is one of only two drivers to do so.
Still, "People don't give you the respect you deserve," Zolciak said Saturday night.
"The announcer (Bill Green) said it was the car," Zolciak said. "That's what they say. People don't want to give me any credit. That's what they said four years ago."
At the beginning on the 1997 season, Zolciak was driving the same car driven the year before by Clearwater's Ronnie Larson, who convincingly won the class championship.
As Zolciak continued to pile up win after win in '97, the most usual comment from fans, officials and other drivers was, "There's something about that car."
It was true. The car was perfectly set up to run Sunshine in any groove, pass and win almost at will.
The next year, Zolciak was well on his way to collecting the season crown with what appeared to be an insurmountable points lead with about a month to go.
People were saying the same thing, "It's the car."
At that point, Zolciak decided to sell the car, pick up anything that met the minimum class requirements, and coast to a second season crown.
That was a mistake.
"I had to get out," Zolciak said of his reason for selling his winning ride. "The price was right. The guy was willing to pay top dollar for it."
On the last points night of the season, "All I had to do was finish the race (to win the championship), but I didn't and I lost by two points," he recalled. "When it's your time, it's your time."
At that time, it was time for Largo's Macky Mongold to take top honors.
The next year, Zolciak got a late start but ran well toward the last half of the season and finished high in points. Port Richey's Doug Hopper came out on top.
However, during 1999 Zolciak hooked up with car owner Gary Roebuck but, "I did the work on the car. I put it together. It's just a car," Zolciak said.
Racing at Sunshine Speedway or any other short track bares little resemblance to the Winston Cup Series, in which engineers design the cars that are built and maintained by highly paid crews. Drivers just drive.
With few exceptions, drivers at Sunshine are involved in every aspect of their rides -- building it, setting it up and maintaining it.
The more a driver knows about his car and himself, the better he will do. Like a cowboy and his horse, it's hard to know where one stops and the other begins.
The truth is, Zolciak's No. 69 is a great car, and he is a great driver.
He deserves R-E-S-P-E-C-T. He's earned it, and so does everybody else who can accomplish what Zolciak has done.
Next season, Zolciak would like to move up to the new Outlaw Late Model class. But, "I need sponsors. It costs a lot of money to race," he said.
Zolciak thanked a few who have backed his effort:
Matt's Backstreet, Drug & Alcohol Testing, Total Door & Hardware and Gary and Tina Roebuck.
NOTES: In Open Wheel Modifieds, Roger Stull of St. Petersburg automatically captured his class championship after the track decided not to run modifieds this Saturday.
Oct. 28 was a non-points night, so Stull was not available for comment.
With the exception of Figure 8s, all of the champions in the remaining regular classes could clinch their titles this Saturday night.
The most points a driver can collect in a single night is 46 points -- 40 for winning the feature and six for winning the heat.
Late Models get the same for the feature, but 12 points for setting fast time.
With that in mind and the fact that only two more nights remain in the regular season:
In Late Models, Largo's Sammy Coghill is looking at winning his fourth consecutive class championship.
Coghill leads Seminole's Brian Leverock by 72 and Clearwater's Den Neighbor Jr. by 73.
A strong finish in the big Dayton Andrew Dodge/Leo Musgrave Memorial 100-lap Late Model Championship would put Coghill at the top level of the top drivers at the track.
That's amazing, considering he said he wasn't even going to try at the beginning of the season.
In Street Stocks, Robert Crisp of Clearwater owns a 60-point edge on New Port Richey's John Makula.
That means Makula needs to knock at least 14 points off, which is seven spots in the feature, to stay alive. If not, Crisp gets his long awaited championship.
In terms of mathematical certainty, no one can claim the Figure 8 crown Saturday.
Figure 8s have no heat races, so the most any driver can earn is 40 points a night.
With two nights to go, seven-time champion Art "The Master" Calkins of St. Petersburg holds a 20-point lead over Shane Grigsby, a 30-point advantage on Joey Catarelli and a 40-point lead over Ron "Hollywood" Davis -- all of whom are from Pinellas Park.
Calkins is in a good position to pull it off, but it is Figure 8s and anything usually happens.
On the subject of Figure 8s, the fabled A-Team, AKA Meyers family and friends, will return to Sunshine Speedway next season and likely will run about five cars.
Perhaps, Calkins will reconsider his retirement plans and join with his brother and fellow driver, Wayne, to fight his arch enemy of the past. Well, maybe.
Winners in this past Saturday's non-points races were: Rick Sirmans, Pinellas Park, Mini Stocks; Jimmy Thompson, Pinellas Park, Street Stocks; Wayne Calkins, St. Petersburg, Figure 8s; Pete Cracolici, Enduro Figure 8s; Danny Partelo, Wet & Wild; Derrick Malloy, Hornets; and Ray Reed, Bathtub Challenge.
Best looking in the Bathtub race was Mike Vonstetina. His had rollbars and a shower.