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Just another night at the races

Looking much more relaxed, Vicki Davis used her straw to stir her whiskey and soda at Bleachers in St. Petersburg early Sunday morning.

"I've been to the races (at Sunshine Speedway) before, but I never cared anything about them _ until tonight," she said, taking a small sip. "I think you really have to be involved with a car to get interested."

Vicki is married to Widdy Davis of Tampa, one of my fellow classmates in Larry Moyer's Sunshine School of Racing (Race U). He and Jim Keelin of Clearwater purchased a Pure Stock shortly after graduation. They take turns driving the No. 99 and even let me drive it in a race once. I enjoyed the ride but, even more, it's created an opportunity to see how people get sucked in, or involved, in the sport from the very beginning.

Their experiences and reactions are probably pretty typical of most. Although it was Widdy's second race, it was the first time Vicki had the chance to watch.

"She's probably more nervous than I am," Widdy said as he left to prepare for the feature race. "Watch out for her, now."

"Oh, I'm fine," Vicki said with a wave of the hand. "I know he'll be all right."

Saturday was Widdy's first time in the A Main, where the fastest cars run. Actually, he didn't do anything to qualify for the honor; only 28 Pure Stocks showed, so everybody made it to the feature.

Widdy got lucky when the starting positions were picked from the jar and wound up on the outside of the third row. Instead of asking to go to the rear, as he had the first time, he decided to stay put and do the best he could. That meant there were a lot of fast cars behind him and they would cut him no slack in their drive to get to the front.

The green flag fell and Vicki seemed okay, although a little tense. Widdy quickly dropped from sixth to, well, maybe 10th or more back from the lead, but he began to pick up speed. On the second lap, there was a pile-up in front of the grandstands and Widdy's No. 99 seemed to disappear into the smoke and carnage.

Vicki stiffened and flashed white. "Oh God!" The No. 99 cut several different directions and slipped safely past the mess. "He made it!" Her skin tone was a bright red. As he passed in front of where she was sitting, she pointed to a mark on the rear fender and asked, "Was that there before?"

"No, but don't worry. It's just a black badge of courage."

Just as Moyer taught in school, Widdy went high to the wall and stayed in the best racing groove on the track.

"He shouldn't be so close to the wall," Vicki said. After learning that was what he was supposed to do, she said, "Oh, okay."

On the next lap, Widdy came out of Turn 4 too high and grazed the wall. The car zig-zagged and straightened back out.

"Well, he's not supposed to be quite that close to the wall, but don't worry. He's doing fine."

"At times like this, I wish I smoked," she said. She rummaged through her purse and pulled out a stick of gum. "I didn't realize it would affect me that way. I never thought it would be like this."

Somewhere around lap 8, Widdy was running fifth. Going into Turn 3, the No. 99 got tapped in the rear. He almost recovered but then went sideways, spinning across traffic and into the infield. Vicki more than half rose from her seat, her eyes wide and her mouth open but no sound coming out.

Widdy recovered faster than Vicki and rejoined the race, losing only about half a lap and about 10 positions. For the rest of the race, he drove hard and looked good. At the end of the race, won by No. 72 Larry Shobe of Largo, he was in the 15th spot. A pretty good finish, all things considered.

"I never thought it would be like this," said Vicki, looking a little exhausted. "I'm a little more into it now. When I come the next time, I'll probably bring the children."

Later at the bar after the race, Vicki revealed that she first learned of Widdy's intention to buy a car when she pulled into the concrete yard at his air conditioning shop in downtown Tampa a few months ago.

"I saw the car sitting on the trailer and I was mad," she recalled, as her eyes rolled back. "I put the car in reverse and left."

"Well, I was going to tell you," Widdy said sheepishly. "I was just waiting for the right time."

"We got to stay out at the beach twice this year," Vicki reminded him when the subject of vacations came up. "Once because you spent all that money on the driving school and the other when I found out you bought that car."

So, Widdy didn't take a straight road to lure his wife into acceptance. He used the Pearl Harbor approach to reveal the money he spent on the school and the car and spent more in fence-mending with weeks at the beach. But, they are both into racing now _ hooked and likely to stay that way.

Notes: Sunshine and five other short tracks in the state have come to an agreement that should prove to be a boost for Late Model drivers next year. The tracks have formed the Florida Pro Series, which will include a total of 12 100-lap races or two at each track.

As a side benefit, all of the tracks will be adopting the same rules for the class, which will be used for all Late Model races during the regular season. That will make it easier for cars to move from one track to another for any race _ not just the Pro Series _ at any time during the year.

The winner of each race will receive $2,500, while last place will pay $300. The entry fee will be $75. A points fund will be established and an overall champion declared. The series was created especially for Florida drivers, but residency is not a requirement.

In addition to Sunshine, the tracks in the venture are Columbia Motorsports Park in Lake City, New Smyrna Speedway, Orlando Speed World, DeSoto Speedway near Bradenton, and Hialeah Speedway near Miami.

The tentative schedule calls for Sunshine to hold one race on April 3 and another Nov. 6. In addition, Sunshine will hold at least two other major Late Model specials during the year.

In an effort to help offset the cost of the Annual Drivers Awards Banquet, the Girls Racing Association is selling ads for the banquet's program. The price ranges from $100 for a full page to $5 for a one-line greeting. The deadline for ad copy is Nov. 7.

Track promoter Frank Hill was named the Driver of the Month by the GRA for his efforts in the Oval Drag class. Although Hill got off to a slow start during the regular season, he ran well for the last half, very strong at the end and finished third in points. Saturday, he claimed first place in the first race of the October Super Series with his colorful S-10 pickup.