East Bay Raceway Park
Notes: Ups and downs of East Bay Winternationals
By Todd TurnerDirtonDirt.com managing editor
Editor's note: Wednesday evening's race at East Bay was rained out and rescheduled for Saturday with hot laps at 11 a.m. and racing at noon; Saturday's finale will follow with hot laps at 6 p.m. and racing at 7 (See DirtWire for more info).
GIBSONTON, Fla. (Feb. 11) — The ups and downs of racing at East Bay Raceway Park are legendary. While a select few drivers are consistently fast at the loamy, third-mile oval near Tampa, most competitors hope for good nights but know that a bad one may be a few ticks of the clock — or a wreck — away.
So it was for 19-year-old Devin Moran of Dresden, Ohio, who impressed in Monday’s Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series opener at the 38th annual Winternationals with a second-place finish. Just 24 hours later, he struggled in Tuesday’s action with a subpar qualifying effort that forced him to use the non-qualifiers’ dash to make the feature, where he ended up spinning just past the halfway point of the 25-lapper. | Complete Speedweeks coverage
It all went back to time trials, said Moran, adding “like that” as he snapped his fingers to show how a few milliseconds came make such a big different. “It’s not hard to mess up that much and start sixth instead of second.”
The son of Hall of Fame Donnie Moran, himself a two-time winner at East Bay, Devin has seen enough laps at the Clay by the Bay to know what he’s in for during the six-race stretch that continues through Saturday.
“Me and dad were talking before we even started today, and (Monday) might be the best finish I have all week. But we know we have the car to compete, so I’ve just gotta take care of it and do what we know how to do.
“I think the car is pretty close. I’ve just gotta qualify better … obviously my dad can watch the car better than most crew chiefs out there,” the younger Moran added. “We’ve been talking a lot and trying to change something here, change something there. For that Strawberry Dash, we made a pretty big change and it looked pretty good. We’ll keep fine-tuning it and hopefully get a better starting spot tomorrow.”
He ended up retiring early from Tuesday’s feature, knowing there are four days ahead of potentially better finishes.
“When you’re running in the back at East Bay, sometimes you’ve just gotta chill. We’ve got four races left. … So we’ll clean 'er up and get her ready for tomorrow.”
Moyer’s Longhorn success
A fledgling Longhorn Chassis that’s had limited success since its introduction in 2010 has earned some credibility in 2014, mostly with the off-season addition of new drivers for the in-house car of Trinity, N.C.-based Bobby Labonte Racing.
And more than once this young season, Longhorns have been up front together, including in Monday’s opener at East Bay when Billy Moyer and his son Billy Moyer Jr. were battling it out for the third spot with a lengthy side-by-side duel. Of course, that battle was more than just between Longhorns — blood was involved, too.
“A couple of people came down out of the stands and said, 'Boy, you don’t give him nothing, do you?' I said, 'I make him earn it,' ” the elder Moyer said with a laugh after his captured Tuesday's feature victory, his 22nd at East Bay.
But he’s glad that Moyer Jr. is running well in his car — the chassis goes by the name Moyer Xtreme by Longhorn when it’s out of the team’s Batesville, Ark. shop — as well as the victory last week for Longhorn newcomer Jonathan Davenport at Golden Isles Speedway near Brunswick, Ga.
And the first Longhorn driver, long-time Labonte pilot Earl Pearson Jr., is leading Lucas Oil Series points, although he hasn’t competed in the first two non-points events at East Bay.
The elder Moyer, who has two victories in his Longhorn this season, was confident when he made the switch from Victory Circle Chassis last fall that his new car would succeed.
“I knew we had a good piece there, and being able to work with the Labontes out there and (car designer) Kevin (Rumley), and Matt (Langston) there, Earl Pearson’s guy there, and Earl’s here tonight,” Moyer said. “Just everybody’s heads together, along with my guys, you know, this is just the beginning of the year, too. I think the future should be brighter, too. Junior just jumped in that car and took right off. That made me real happy about that.”
Fulfilling a wish
For weekly racer John Mollick of Toronto, Ohio, Speedweeks has usually meant the occasional trip to Florida as a spectator. The 2009 runner-up on the defunct UFO Race Championship Series has come to the Sunshine State to check out the Dirt Late Model action, watching at Bubba Raceway Park in Ocala, Fla., Volusia Speedway Park near Daytona, as well as East Bay.
East Bay was the only track that kept Mollick coming back, so when he decided to make his lone career racing pilgrimage in Florida, there was no doubt he’d head for the Clay by the Bay.
“This is a one-shot deal,” the 43-year-old said with a smile before Tuesday’s hot laps.
A racer with modest budget but some regional success — he was a two-time winner on the UFO circuit — Mollick knows that his racing career that spans 30 years, the last nine in Late Models, won’t last forever.
So he figured he’d make a racing trip to Florida before it’s too late, and it’s East Bay he picked.
“It’s more of my driving style here,” Mollick said. “I just had to do it — racing in Florida.”
His goal? Make all six feature events. He’s had some bumps in the road, but he’s off to a good start. He earned a spot in Monday’s feature, the retired early to save his equipment.
Mollick was better Tuesday, posted the fourth overall best qualifying time, and putting some heat on Winternationals ace Don O’Neal before settling for second in a heat race. The night ended on a down note when he was caught up in an accident he didn’t cause, leaving the team to make repairs after Tuesday’s action.
A bad start
Long-time Speedweeks visitor Dan Stone started this year’s racing vacation on Monday, but after a miserable night, the Thompson, Pa., driver wanted to erase it and focus on a fresh start Tuesday.
“The racing gods weren’t with us last night,” Stone said Tuesday afternoon.
After qualifying a solid fourth in his group, Stone was sitting in line waiting for the start of his heat race when crew members from another team tapped him on the shoulder. Bad news — he had a flat tire.
With no time to change it before the heat, Stone started on the tail of a consolation race. Things didn’t get much better there when a clod of mud caught his left-front wheel. “The steering wheel went out of my hands and the car went right into the fence,” Stone said.
With the damage mostly cosmetic, Stone returned Tuesday with a better night, earning a spot in the feature through his heat race. But a tiring powerplant began to show signs of needing a rebuild, so Stone had to go to a backup car — the Super Deuce owned by Leo and Spencer Milius — for the main event.
Forced to start on the tail, he ended up 16th, but Stone’s team plans to put a fresh engine in his own No. 21D for the rest of the week, saving the No. 2 car for Volusia Speedway Park next week.
He’s still hopeful he can get over the hump at East Bay. “Our car’s fast,” he said.
Odds and ends
Starting on the pole in Tuesday’s feature, 21-year-old Brandon Sheppard of New Berlin, Ill., was surrounded by the three winningest drivers in Winternationals history in Billy Moyer, Steve Francis and Don O’Neal. The youngster wasn’t fazed among the veterans. “It’s hard to believe I’ve been doing it for seven years now, but running with these guys, I’ve gained a lot of experience and it’s really helped me out with these bigger guys,” said Sheppard, who is subbing in the Rocket Chassis house car for an ailing Josh Richards. … Illinois driver Bob Gardner headed home to beat weather, but he wishes he could’ve stayed. He competed during East Bay’s Crate action and planned to stay for the beginning of the Lucas Oil racing, and after qualifying for Monday’s feature, he was itching to run some more open-competition engine events. … Another Illinois driver, Brian Shirley, has the season’s best finish among drivers planning to run for Lucas Oil Series rookie honors. He was fourth Monday. … Wednesday’s action is slated to start an hour latter than scheduled (7 p.m. hot laps) as series officials have been timing events in tests for Thursday’s program, which is set to be the first live telecast in series history. Thursday’s TV program is scheduled for 9:30 p.m. EST and will include the 60-lap feature and some preliminary action, as well.
Corrections: Fixes Wednesday's starting time; fixes Winternationals reference.