Spring 50 Notes: Mark Ruefer

It's time to go racing boys! I don't know about you, but I am tired of hearing that phrase, Heck, Late Models have been racing since January and judging from the early season results to date, this race already has its favorites.

   In my drive over to Florence Speedway, there were thoughts of a 70-plus car count, packed bleachers, and the grassy hills of Florence would flourish with campers. Unfortunately, none of the above was the case, but overall, it was a great race, the crowd was energized and above average, and there were some diehard campers.

  In mid to late March, the weather around this neck of the woods can be hot, warm, cold, snowy and even plain icky. For this Saturday night, no worries on the weather, you just had to wear a small coat, jeans and some racing attire.

  The first item of note from Florence Speedway; the King family had installed wooden kick boards on most, if not all, of the bleacher seats. Not sure why,but when I sat down near my usual spot, there was a woman who seemed happy about the boards, because now her fluffy small dog would not fall through. Like I always say, safety first.

  The car count was around 42 but only 41 took time trials. A local favorite, Jason Jamison, seemed to have some issues with his late model car and settled in to drive his modified. Even that ride had problems, but he managed to get his black modified in the yellow lap feature race.

  The hot lap sessions went rather quickly, and the fast five in time trials were Josh McGuire, Justin Ratliffe, Brian Shirley, Jason Fegers, and Jeep Van Wormer. 

  Heat one was rather non-eventful and Eric Wells was the first to cross the finish line, followed by Jason Fegers, Don O’Neal, McGuire, and Florence Speedway 2009 local track Champion, Brandon Green. By this time, some ruts were appearing in the mid-section of turns one and two, keeping the inside groove from being smooth and the preferred passing lane, but the outside line was fast.

   Heat two proved to be a great race for Dan Schleiper in his Bloomquist Chassis race car, followed by Van Wormer, Ratliffe, Matt Miller and the "California Kid", Tyler Reddick.

   Heat three's top five finishers were Scott James,  Scotty Earl's #44, followed by Eddie Carrier, Jr., Greg Johnson, Hot Rod Conley, and Josh Williams.

  Heat four was the best race to watch, but on the very first green flag, for some reason Mike Marlar decided not to go at the start was penalized and forced to go to the back of the pack. Speedways officials determined that Marlar had “brake checked” at the drop of the green flag. Apparently green means “Go”. What was Marlar thinking? As in most cases, there are two sides to every story.

   At any rate, the drama just added to a great heat race and no one in attendance was disappointed. Marlar drove from the back and finished fourth to make the show. The heat race winner was Wayne Chinn, followed by Shirley, Steve Casebolt, in his new "non-orange" race car (hope the color change helps), The fifth and last driver to get into the Spring 50 was Robbie Hensley.

   For most races, it seems,these days, the “B” Main is the time people go to the concession stands, but since it was my first race of the year, I stayed on the wooden bleacher seat and watched D.J. Wells take the checker flag with Chris Combs, Chris Wilson and John Gill finishing in the top four to go to the Spring 50. I thought Gill, who sat on the pole position, would run away with this one, but his car had a difficult time driving through the turns.  With him just getting into the main, his loyal fans were happy.

   For the next 30 minutes or so, I yawned quite frequently, bought some peanuts, finished the beer, and saw the yellow flag so much, I knew it must be the modified feature race. Not saying the mod boys don’t put on a good show sometimes, but to me, late models rule. One thing I learned tonight though, Don O’Neal has his modified program going this year, but in his heat race, he pulled in early and never drove the yellow 71 car in the feature. Maybe he knew the win was forthcoming in the Spring 50.

The late model feature seated 24 cars, and for the most part, it great racing throughout, and wow, what a show Jason Fegers until the left front tire's air pressure equalized.  Even then, he stayed on the track for about five or so more laps before giving it up. Only a few drivers I have seen haven't appeared to have any need for a left front tire. Those who frequented Davenport Speedway a few years back remember Gary Webb's own no left front driving school.

    During the first laps for the Spring 50, I thought that Dan Schleiper would drive away with it but after Marlar broke something around lap 12, Schleiper got passed by Eric Wells on the restart and never had the lead again. A few laps went by and around lap 26, Wells stopped when the motor he chose decided to not go around anymore and the yellow flag waved. From the restart, Fegers took the lead on the high side around lap 26 and was pulling away from O’Neal. After another yellow around lap 34, Fegers started to pull away again, but around lap 40, Justin Ratliffe pulled up and Fegers left front tire was obviously flat as the the Illinois driver saw the $5k payday fade away. O’Neal retook the lead and no one really challenged him for the lead from that point to the finish.

For my first dirt race of the year, the Florence Speedway Spring 50 was a great start and highly enjoyable. I was disappointed in not seeing Fegers take a win at this “Crown Jewel” dirt track, but I am sure he will be back.  The track was tacky and fast, but as usual, the high moisture in the track created some ruts. Come this August, you can bet that the “dry slick” race surface will prevail and provide another racing memory at Florence. I can’t wait!

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