Makin’ Tracks – Bubba Raceway Good, the Bad and Schatz – DTD Exclusive

By BILL FOLEY

You know when you wake up on Christmas morning and the first thing you open are socks, the second is underwear and the third is a weight loss powder canister?

The happy feeling doesn’t exactly sweep over you.

However, then you get Knoxville Nationals tickets, air line tickets and seats in a second turn box seat in Iowa.

Christmas is suddenly, excuse the phrase, great again.




Well, that is sort of how I felt about my first visit to Bubba Raceway Park for the first Arctic Cat All Start Circuit of Champions show on Thursday night at a facility located just a little north of Ocala, Fla.

My buddy Charlie Uphlinger and I drove across Route 40 which seems to surgically dissect Florida both north and south. It is 60 miles of driving straight into the setting sun.

Upon arrival we discovered that indeed this would be a good, bad and a Schatz night.

The good wasn’t just good it was, as Tony the Tiger says, “GREATTTTTT!”

The bad, which I will get to later, nearly forced us to hit the road without seeing what was a Super Bowl style finish among some of the best in Sprint Car racing.

Schatz is a either you love him or hate him guy. He is simply the intimidator of Sprint Car racing. When he is on the track you have to, and I mean have to, keep your eyes on him.

The “good” was right there when we drove into the grounds. Beautiful, state of the art facility with excellent concession stands, a perfect layout where you buy your ticket and you can head to the grandstand of make a quick right, walk 10 yards and you are in the pits.

Solid concessions with satellite funnel cakes, steak tenderloin sandwiches, boiled peanuts, and kettle corn outside while a variety of Bubba burgers, buffalo chicken tenders, pulled pork and other goodies at a rather small two window concession stand.

Tile black and white cover the ground not only in the midway,but the walkway in front of the grandstands.

So far so good.

“Bad” then hit as it was nearly 7 o’clock and the track wasn’t close to being ready. Announcers said that torrential rain the night before caused problems working the track in. Some folks who said they had been around the track all day indicated no one got on the track to work it in until after five.

Why is it that when you have a near two hour drive you know right away that you aren’t going to get out of the track at an early hour?

Thirty-eight 410 sprints in February was like a early Christmas present and there were also 17 Florida mini-sprints (or 600’s up home in New York).

So it is around 9 p.m before time trials go off and another “bad” was that they had no idea how to make single car time trails work. A car would complete its total run, exit the second turn in the infield, come through and roar up the pit ramp into the first turn entrance before another car was pushed off.

All this time a “bad” public address system was malfunctioning. The guy in front of me said, “Everything worked here last week. They must have taken everything apart”. Of course, I left the phone in the car so race monitor wasn’t available.

Bob Heffner, dad of Greg Hodnett’s car owner Mike Heffner, sat in front of us. He left for a while after the Sprint heats which had resulted in the track taking a ton of rubber. It was New York slick.

He came back to tell me that the concern in the pits is that no one would have tires that would go the 30 laps on the track as it currently existed.

I looked toward the first turn and standing on the track, riding their four wheelers and just studying the surface were probably half the pits as drivers were concerned. I’ve been around long enough to know that groups of drivers standing on a clay surface is never a good thing.

So guess what. The grader comes out and goes to work, pushed everything back down top to bottom and then reversing pushing everything from bottom to top. There goes another hour of my life that I will never get back.

The feeling among most of us was that the effort would make it through the 17 car 12 lap B and two dashes, but by feature it would be back to what it was. Well, it was a “good” thing after all as the track took rubber in the main, but not as badly as before.

As far as tires they weren’t exploding. Oops except for leader Kerry Madsen with a lap and a quarter to go. It was a classic, fun non stop 30 lapper that saw Hodnett lead, Tim Shaffer, Madsen and eventually Donny Schatz all lead. Slide jobs were there, heavy traffic loomed in front of the leaders from lap seven on.

When Madsen had the right rear shoe go flat, everyone kept their eyes on him. Suddenly, folks turned their attention to the backstretch with a half lap to go and there was the 15 of Schatz going outside of Shaffer for the win.

For the marathon night it was a tremendous finish and hitting the road at two minutes after 12 we didn’t have to complain about stuff as we talked about the feature during the near two hour ride back to Daytona.

Being that this is the first year I have been south in the winter and after three asphalt tracks to get to see a classic Sprint main in my first dirt show of the year I am wondering what the next couple weeks are going to be like?

Pit Stops: Tony Stewart was in the house, started on pole in the second heat, but did not get a qualifying spot. He ran the B and finished second to ASCOC champ Chad Kemenah who spun out of a qualifying position in his heat. Tony finished 17th overall in the main…

The track shape is unique. It was called egg shaped and a copy of the Lady in Black Darlington Speedway…

When the red lights flash on and off or the starter waves the red flag at the fans it is time for two for one adult beverages in the pretty decent bar set up behind the grandstand…

Didn’t like the announcers talking all about the live stream and recognizing folks at home watching. They did this and it really had no interest on the folks in the stands…

Irritating announcer phrase of the night “Momentarily we will have the B main”. It was nearly 45 minutes later. “Momentarily” was used quite a bit and I guess there is a totally different meaning for the word in Florida…

If I heat “testing one two” one more time I think I might take up drinking again. The sound system was a nightmare. Fortunately it worked most of the time by heats and was okay in the feature…

Rookie Max Stambaugh qualified in the B. His truck broke about 187 miles north of Ocala the day before and I was told Schatz and others helped him get to Bubba. He finished 20th…

Tyler Clem is a 13 year old middle school student driving a 410 sprint. He is Bubba’s son. Car looked similar to the one Stewart had in CNY a couple of years ago….

Some new looks this year as ASCOC has nearly 17 committed travelers while the outlaws have some new rides and graphic schemes. You will really like Joe Saldana’s Elk Grove 17 as well as the new Schatz Arctic Cat scheme…

T.J. Michaels from Texas didn’t get his car fired all night long….

Fast timer Danny Dietrich didn’t fare well in his heat and ended up eight in the main…

Rico Abreu will also run at Volusia and the 360’s at East Bay and started 15th to finish 11th…

Kemenah started 21st and was hard charger picking up 11 positions to finish tenth…

Hodnett is also running Volusia and East Bay and settled for seventh in the main…

Regular ASCOC drivers were second through sixth with Shaffer, Kraig Kinser, Ian Madsen, Caleb Armstrong and Cole Duncan…..

True Outlaws finished ninth (David Gravel), Saldana 19th, Paul McMahan 21st…

Ryan Smith was the bubble and got in, but as he was coming to catch the field for the start a body panel flew off and there ended up being quite a bit of movement under the front wing. He went out early….

Aaron Reutzel, a top ASCS driver, qualified, but headed to the pits on the staging segment for the main and was unable to return…

Scoreboard different down here as they start with the highest number and count down…

No serious accidents as the dashes, B and A all went green to checker…

Todd Fayard of Saucier, Mississippi made his debut. He regularly runs at 360…Bubba worth a trip as the 19th there is a Lucas Oil Late Model show and Thursday the 23rd along with the next two nights are the USAC AMSOIL Sprint National Championship events…

If you go across 40 past Volusia be aware there are more deer on this road than the Pocono’s. And that means there could be many moving targets….

For me this was track 83 and worth the trip. There was the good and the bad, but if you’ve been around this sport long enough you understand…

Makin’ Tracks to New Smyrna on Saturday. I hope….

I’m all ready for the Dirt Winter Nationals at Volusia.

As always I can be reached at foley395@hotmail.com.