Bubba Raceway Park
WoO faces challenge of Ocala's unique layout
By Kevin KovacWorld of Outlaws Late Model Series
World of Outlaws Late Model Series stars have seen it all during their travels around the country. But the celebrated road warriors’ vast experience doesn’t make their job any easier when they visit the uniquely-contoured Ocala (Fla.) Speedway, which hosts the national tour for the second straight spring Friday night. | Jason Feger's interview about the WoO tripleheader
A 3/8-mile track that’s laid out more like an egg than an oval, Ocala will present one of the stiffest tests of the 2011 season to drivers chasing the $10,000 top prize in Friday evening’s Sunshine 50.
“There’s no other track shaped like Ocala that I’ve raced on,” said two-time defending WoO champion Josh Richards of Shinnston, W.Va., who finished fourth in last year’s inaugural tour event at the oldest motorsports facility in Florida. “It’s a weird place. Both ends are totally different, which definitely makes it challenging for a racer.”
And great for the fans, who came out in record numbers for last year’s WoO show to watch the nation’s best full-fender competitors attempt to tame the speedway.
“That’s Ocala,” said owner Mike Peters, who purchased the then-paved facility in late 2005 and ran it as an asphalt track for two seasons before returning the speedway to its dirt-surface roots in 2008. “Because of the shape, the racing is always real exciting. It’s really easy for drivers to make a mistake and get passed by the guy behind them before they can recover.”
Yes, getting around Ocala Speedway can be a tricky proposition. Consider a description of the track by Rick Eckert of York, Pa., one of two drivers who have started all 284 World of Outlaws feature races contested since 2004.
“It’s really D-shaped,” said Eckert, who finished 13th in last year’s race at Ocala. “I’ve been to D-shaped racetracks, but that’s the most D-shaped track I’ve ever seen. I tested one time a few years ago at New Egypt (N.J.), and that’s as close as I’ve come to seeing a track like Ocala.
“It has two different ends – two drastically different ends. You got corner one, and then corner two basically goes all the way to (turn) four. There’s really no third turn because it’s so rounded down the back straightaway. It’s a difficult place, because there’s not a lot of room down the back straightaway and that’s most of the track. The one time you straighten up is when you go down that front straightaway.”
How does a driver devise a car setup for Ocala? According to Eckert, that’s a mystery.
“I think you have to pick an end,” said Eckert. “You have to get your car good at one end and just man up at the other end. Now last year Darrell (Lanigan) was good on both ends, so it’s possible. If you get your car good, you can survive on both ends.”
Lanigan, the 2008 series champion from Union, Ky., won last year’s 50-lapper at Ocala, fighting off challenges from eventual runner-up Tim McCreadie of Watertown, N.Y., and third-place finisher Austin Hubbard of Seaford, Del., in a tense, crowd-pleasing race. But when asked how he was able to hit on a setup that worked at both ends of the track, he could only respond with a joke.
“We got a switch we flip halfway down the straightaway,” laughed Lanigan, who enters this weekend’s action coming off a convincing $20,000-plus victory from the 19th starting in last Saturday night’s Cash Cow 100 at Columbus (Miss.) Speedway. “Nah...really, you basically have to be good in one corner and manage the other one. It’s pretty different, real challenging.”
Adding to Ocala’s degree of difficulty for the barnstorming Outlaws is the track surface, a uniquely light-colored, tacky clay that can confound the most savvy dirt veterans the first time they lay eyes on it.
“The surface is different itself, I guess because of that Florida dirt,” said Richards, who comes into Ocala’s event tied with 2007 champion Steve Francis of Ashland, Ky., as the winningest driver on the series since 2004 with 28 victories. “I think one thing that keeps the moisture in the track and keeps it fast is that the surface isn’t really deep. I think it’s only like 18 inches deep in some places on top of that pavement, so the water stays in there and the moisture keeps coming back up there all night long. You might think it’s gonna dry out, but that moisture just keeps coming back up and keeps the track real fast.
“I think that’s why you see good racing there all the time,” added the sensational 23-year-old. “It’s a really fast place, and the last (special Late Model) race there (a DIRTcar UMP-sanctioned event on Feb. 13 that saw Hubbard and Richards run one-two until both popped tires with four laps remaining) definitely showed you can put on great races there even if it’s a little rough.”
“The surface is 80 percent clay,” said Peters, a former airline pilot who oversees track prep at Ocala. “It’s very responsive to water, so it doesn’t need as much water put down on it as other tracks in Florida do. This is our fourth year working with it and we’ve gotten a good handle on it.”
Peters anticipates that he’ll be able to whip up a typically racy track for the Sunshine 50, an event he is awaiting with baited breath.
“I’m thrilled about having the World of Outlaws back again,” said Peters, who attended high school in Ocala with current Outlaws series director Tim Christman. “To me, it’s an honor to have the best Late Model racers in the country come to Ocala.
“The speed of the Late Models, the skill level of the drivers – it’s just amazing. There was a battle for the lead the whole race last year and I would expect the same thing again.”
Richards, Lanigan, Eckert, McCreadie, Hubbard and Francis are among the World of Outlaws regulars headed for Ocala. The roster of travelers will also include: Shane Clanton of Fayetteville, Ga., Clint Smith of Senoia, Ga., Chub Frank of Bear Lake, Pa., Tim Fuller of Watertown, N.Y., Vic Coffey of Caledonia, N.Y., Jill George of Cedar Falls, Iowa, and 2011 Rookie of the Year contenders Ron Davies of Warren, Pa., Pat Doar of New Richmond, Wis., John Lobb of Frewsburg, N.Y., and Brian Reese of Sharpsburg, Ga.
Other drivers with the event on their schedules are 2010 UMP DIRTcar Summernationals champion Jason Feger of Bloomington, Ill., Tony Knowles of Tyrone, Ga., and Florida standouts Ivedent Lloyd Jr. of Ocala, who set fast time and led the first two laps of last year’s event at his home track, Tyler Ivey of Tallahassee, Mark Whitener of Middleburg and Christian Auspurger of Palm Beach Gardens.
In addition, Billy Moyer of Batesville, Ark., who leads the series points standings after three events but is not planning to follow the entire schedule, said he is considering entering Ocala’s Sunshine 50 as well as this weekend’s subsequent tour stops at Screven Motor Speedway in Sylvania, Ga., Saturday night and Needmore Speedway in Norman Park, Ga., Sunday evening.