Sunshine track crowns 4 more division champs
By BOB BOYLE
© St. Petersburg Times, published November 14, 2000
With no ballots left to count or recount after the points season at Sunshine Speedway ended Saturday night, four more drivers stepped forward to claim class championships.
Capturing titles were Sammy Coghill, Roger Stull, Art Calkins and Robert Crisp.
Two weeks earlier, Jay Zolciak of Pinellas Park clinched the Mini Stock crown and, although it was not immediately obvious, St. Petersburg's Stull did the same in Open Wheel Modifieds.
Coghill, of Largo, pulled off a nearly unbelievable feat by becoming the first driver to capture four consecutive Late Model championships at Sunshine.
Not even the legendary Dave Pletcher, who won more Late Model races at at the speedway than anyone, did that. However, at the beginning of the season, Coghill had no intention of making the stressful run again.
"At the first of the year when we started, we really weren't going to do it (run for points), but we got caught up in it," Coghill said.
"After we started, we thought it would be cool to do it for the year 2000."
Coghill said he won only three or four features during the year and that his car was at its best the first night of the season.
After that, "I was just hanging out and finishing every race," he said. "That's how we won the championship.
"Two in a row was special. Three in a row was special. Four in a row is super special."
Next year, Late Models at Sunshine Speedway will run on a diminished and yet-to-be determined schedule -probably only once a month.
They will be replaced with the new Late Model Outlaw class, which will use wedge-type bodies and less high-powered equipment. Not willing to take a step backwards, Coghill will look for races at other tracks and series.
Calkins, of St. Petersburg, claimed his eighth crown after the last Figure 8 points race of the year.
Car owner Scott Powlus noted that in the six seasons together with Calkins, they won the championship for the third year in a row and five out of the last six years.
Calkins has bagged more Figure 8 titles than anyone in Sunshine's history.Powlus sold the hot No. 11 to Calkins during the previous week, but Calkins said, "I'll be back next year, but I won't be running for points."
"It was closer this year, harder this year," Calkins said. "Last year, I won by 100 points and I was the first to clinch (a class championship). This year, I was the last to clinch."
Regardless of the class, staying in the points hunt takes its toll.
It requires showing up and running every week. It takes a huge chunk out of a driver's life.
Calkins said the reason he will join the points battle in 2001 is "mostly because of family."
"I have things to do," he said. "Next year, my son (Kevin) is getting married, and I'm going to be the best man. That means I will have to take a week or two off then, and there will be other times."
Only three years after returning to racing, St. Petersburg's Stull moved to the front of the class in Open Wheel Modifieds. It was his first full season in Modifieds.
"I swore I'd never run for points," Stull said. "It's just a hectic pain in the butt. You've just got to stick with it.
"I won't do it again. I just don't want to be tied to it. There are other things I want to do -- like Gator football games."
Because some of the other tracks in the state have adopted Sunshine Speedway's rules for Modifieds, Stull said he occasionally would try his hand at traveling, but would spend most of his racing time at his home track.
Stull began racing in the early 1980s in Street Stocks, but dropped out of the picture after only three seasons.
Now that he has had another three years, he said he has no intention of quitting again.
"My first year back was a rude awakening," Stull said. "It was a lot more competitive. I stuck with the points to prove something to myself -- that I can still drive a race car.
"It's exciting. I'm pumped about it. We're going to celebrate."
Last week, when Crisp finally clinched the Street Stock championship, he did something no one has seen him do. He drove a highly conservative race and took no chances.
"I had to be Tommy Cool," Crisp said. "I couldn't do the things I normally do. I had to have the championship and finish it once and for all."
While a lot of drivers get a little nervous driving two wide, Crisp distinguished himself by going three or four wide into and out of the corners.
He actually got away with it, most of the time.
Unlike most who secure season championships, taking chances worked for Crisp. It made for some exciting action.
The hardest thing Crisp had to do in 2000 was keep his temper in check.
During a feature race last year, he was leading late, but instead of taking the checkered flag, he retaliated against another driver, crashed and fell out of contention.
The self control Crisp exhibited this season may be more valuable than the championship.
Next year, Crisp will run in the new Outlaw Late Model class, but he would like to try his hand in Modifieds.
Nevertheless, "I'll need sponsors to pay for it," Crisp said.
NOTES: In the final Street Stock race of the year Saturday night, Pinellas Park'S Ed Kidd edged New Port Richey's John Makula by two points to take second-place in season points.
Joe Smith of Largo won the race, with Largo's Corky Craver second and Crisp third.
Seminole's Brian Leverock, who finished the season third behind Coghill, won the Late Model feature ahead of Clearwater's Denny Neighbor Jr., who was second in points.
Wayne Bowman of Clearwater finished third.
James Houle of St. Petersburg picked up the victory in Modifieds over Ron Campbell of St. Petersburg and Largo's Randy Rhodes.
In Figure 8s, Donnie Thomas of Pinellas Park picked up the win against Pinellas Park's Shane Grigsby, who finished second in points behind Calkins and Largo's Bobby Moctezuma.
The Mongold family of Largo, Mary and Macky, finished first and second respectively in the Mini Stock feature, with Pinellas Park's Joey Catarell in third.
In the Sprint Car demonstration race, former Sunshine Speedway star and Sprint Car rookie Dave Pletcher of Clearwater got the win over veteran Jim Childers. Eddie Mozader was third.
The winners of the Enduro features were Craig Robinson and Earl Bowman.
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