The Daytona 500 goes green on Valentine’s Day. The stock car portion of Speedweeks begins the previous weekend and for NASCAR junkies that seems like a millennium away. However, there is some quality racing action in between now and then. Racing fans fortunate to find themselves in certain areas of the country will be assembling in droves for some hot winter racing. Coincidentally, races two through five on this list all take place over the last January weekend.
1. The Chili Bowl. The Tulsa State Fairgrounds plays host to this annual midget race. The indoor clay oval is small but the stage is huge, as this has evolved into one of the biggest short track events in the country. Over 250 entries are registered for the 2010 edition that takes an entire week to run. Sunday and Monday are reserved strictly for unloading haulers in the Expo Center’s pit area and practice. Qualifying begins Tuesday for Saturday’s 50-lap championship. We are all familiar with the B-Main transferring cars to the rear of the A-Main. The 2009 finale started with a pair of L-Mains leading all the way to the A-Main later in the evening. No car count complaints here.
2. NASCAR All-Star Showdown. The first official 2010 race for a NASCAR touring series doesn’t take place in Daytona. It actually occurs at the Toyota Speedway in Irwindale, Calif. The Camping World East and West Series duke it out in a 225-lap main event. The drawback is it's running in three segments instead of straight through with live pit stops. This will be the seventh running of what has been nicknamed “The Daytona 500 of Short Track Racing.” It was moved to the current winter slot last year after originally being an autumn race. David Gilliland and Joey Logano are past winners of the Showdown.
3. Rolex 24 at Daytona. Daytona Speedweeks kicks off every season with this event. Sports car racing at the International Speedway began in 1962 as a three-hour race and was expanded to twenty-four hours in 1966. Many race fans emerge from their winter hibernation to view the Grand Am Series season opener, as it is often the first major televised action of the year. Past winners and participants read like a motorsports hall of fame. Lloyd Ruby, Mark Donohue, Peter Gregg, Hurley Haywood, Al Holbert, A.J. Foyt and Mario Andretti have all stood in victory lane after this twice round-the-clock grind. NASCAR stars seeing action over the years include Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Jimmie Johnson, Rusty Wallace, Dale Earnhardt Sr. and Jr. and the Labonte brothers.
4. Super Bowl of Racing. Short track satellite events are a big part of Daytona’s February schedule. The Golden Isle Speedway in Oglethorpe, Ga., has wisely held its show the week before the stock car portion of Speedweeks kicks off. This makes it a convenient race for the dirt late model teams and fans to attend on their way to Florida. The Southern All Stars sanctions a complete qualifying and feature format on each of the three nights. Scott Bloomquist, Josh Richards, Shannon Babb, Tim McCreadie and many other heavy hitters are expected.
5. SpeedFest. Pavement late models also had their own pre-Speedweeks big event. U.S.A. Speedway in Lakeland, Fla., played host to the SpeedFest before the track’s closing in 2008. Lanier National Speedway in Georgia picked up the ball and ran with it last season keeping the race alive. Champion Racing Association’s Super and Pro late models share the bill with 250-lap and 150-lap features respectively. Kyle Busch won the headline race last season and is entered again this year for the sixth annual running. NASCAR’s David Stremme and Stephen Wallace, along with CRA regulars Scott Hanz, Johnny Van Doorm and Aaron Pierce will be favorites against the expected large field.
(Patrick Reynolds is a professional racing mechanic who has worked for several NASCAR teams.)
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