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Dempsey survives for victory in Musgrave


© St. Petersburg Times, published November 8, 2000

After St. Petersburg's Duane Dempsey captured the trophy for the Dayton Andrew Dodge/Leo Musgrave Memorial 100-lap Late Model race Saturday night at Sunshine Speedway, the only remaining question was, who's going to jail?

A lot of colorful words and phrases were used to describe the track's most prestigious race of the year, but most of them are not appropriate for the newspaper.

A chronology would be the easiest to understand.

Before the cars even reached the starting line, Seminole's Mason Love, an up-and-coming rookie, got a little over eager and hit the back end of the car driven by Largo's Tommy Schnader, who started on the outside pole.

That set off a chain reaction, which damaged several cars and sent Love and Schnader to the rear.

Not long after the cars got rolling again, Jimmy "Mr. Excitement" Cope of Pinellas Park spun St. Petersburg's Andy Werden to the infield. That was Cope's first mistake of the night.

Cope is the a highly-praised veteran. Werden has been at the game only a few years. Still, Werden has no more fear of Cope than W.C. Fields had of drink.

Cope has made a habit of disposing of Werden in the past, and Werden has made it perfectly clear to Cope that he will not take it. Werden strikes back.

A few laps later, he gave Cope a minor zing.

By Lap 6, Pinellas Park's Wayne Jefferson took over the lead. He continually created large gaps between himself, Dempsey and the field, even though the yellow flags were coming out an average of every five laps.

"Wayne (Jefferson) was clearly the class of the show," Dempsey said.

Luckily for Dempsey, the ignition box in Jefferson's "Rocketship' died during a caution after a wreck on Lap 56. With a loaner, he returned but was down three laps and out of contention.

By that time, Cope had worked his way into second behind Dempsey. But Cope's car was loose, and Dempsey created space.

With a break in cautions from Laps 57-80, Cope displayed the reason he's been so highly regarded.

Fighting the push in his car, he slowly closed in on Dempsey by Lap 80. Finally, what fans had been hoping for -- a hard fought battle between two of Sunshine's best drivers, a real race.

However, after Cope reached the back of Dempsey between Turns 1-2, he continued on -- into and under Dempsey's No. 15, causing him to temporarily lose control. Cope passed on the inside.

Dempsey wasn't going to put up with that. The next time around at about the same spot, Dempsey struck back, Cope got loose, and Dempsey reclaimed the lead.

On Lap 82 and at the same end of the track, Cope hit Dempsey much harder, spun him and nearly put him into the wall. The rules say the leader keeps his spot and the offender goes to the rear.

That put Cope somewhere behind Werden. By Lap 86, Cope caught Werden at Turn 3, hit him, stayed on the gas and slammed him into the wall hard.

Surprisingly, both cars could run. Cope pulled along side Werden, said something, and began to slowly pull away. It was later said that Werden pulled around, gunned his engine, and drove up and over Cope's car.

Both drivers got out of their cars (rules violation), and the taunting turned into the real thing (another rules violation). Cope attacked, but soon found himself on the ground looking up at the younger, taller, leaner Werden.

He hurled his racing helmet as Werden turned away, striking him in the back. Officials and security intervened.

"I guess Jimmy got what he deserved," Dempsey said.

"This is my fourth Leo Musgrave win. It means a lot to me," he said.

The driver with numerous 100-lap victories at Sunshine Speedway thanked his sponsors, CD Roma and Central Avenue Chevron.

Largo's Wayne Bowman was second, and season champ Sammy Coghill was third. Schnader finished fourth, and Tampa's John Gerstner was fifth.

Promoter Frank Hill said Cope called the Pinellas Park Police Department to file charges of attempted vehicular homicide.

"I'm very disappointed in both of them," Hill said Monday. "We haven't decided on a penalty at this time."

The PPPD did arrive. But the report was taken by the state Highway Patrol, which works security at Sunshine, and will be filed with the State Attorney's Office.

Other winners Saturday night were: Donnie Thomas, Pinellas Park, Figure 8; Marty Neikens, St. Petersburg, Mini Stocks; John Makula, New Port Richey, Street Stocks; Pat Hunt, Enduro 1; Dave Bintz, Enduro 2; and Mark Nelson, Hornets.

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