A few months ago, the No. 26 car looked like a torch blowing in a strong wind as a longflame stretched out the back during the last lap of an Open Wheel Modified race.
The car still finished, earning the driver, Joe Federico, the tag of "Flaming Federico."
Earning a nickname is kind of an honor in racing. It heralds a particular moment, attitude or personal characteristic. It helps get a little more recognition and respect. Except when awarded to a female driver, it's kind of a macho thing.
Just a week after Federico's tag was applied, it had caught on. Even the track announcer used it over the loudspeaker, and lots of people in the pits were calling him Flaming Federico. Of course, they were snickering a little.
"I always wanted to have a nickname, but couldn't you (he was talking to me) have picked something else?" he asked. The large wrench in his hand was purely coincidental I think. He was still smiling, or was that a grimace?
After a gentlemanly and somewhat jovial discussion, it became apparent that Joe felt Flaming Federico just wasn't right. He pointed out that more than one interpretation could be attached to the term.
Federico's car was seemingly magnetic early in the season. It seemed as if every time he came near another car, for no particular reason the cars would merge. And Joe knows the wall.
Driving is just the fun part of racing. Putting the car back together race after race, week after week, is more than 99 percent of the sport. That's where a really solid pit crew comes in. Dave Smith does the sheet metal work that makes the car look pretty, and Mike Norris is the engine builder. Federico keeps them real busy.
Dusty Durst, who was the band director when Federico went to Clearwater Central Catholic many years ago, not only helps work on the car but his business, Key of Sea Music, is a top sponsor along with Stark Ventures.
Federico's long-time companion, Sherri Litka, has hung up her firesuit for the season and is responsible for recruiting sponsors, "which I don't mind as long as they (the team) still let me get greasy," she said.
Saturday, Federico stepped out of his Modified and into the No. 09 Late Model owned by Jerry Vandemier. He did well. Better, in fact, than he did in the Modified race. He was fourth in the Late Model and fifth in the Modified. Nevertheless, his heart and money are still with the open wheels.
Recently, the Modified's been doing pretty well. Federico has been in the top five in points and has won a feature.
However, after a rebuild, the engine has been running a little hot, which brings us back to the original topic, Federico's nickname.
On the Night of the Name, he was fussing and fuming a bit but still smiling. He almost always smiles. Anyway, pulling a cigarette out of his mouth and blowing a big puff, he said, "Couldn't you have come up with something else?"
The puff of smoke _ along with the wrench _ gave me an inspiration.
"How 'bout "Smokin' Joe'? It means just about the same thing."
"Smokin' Joe," he repeated, cocking his head to one side. "I like that. That's what people call me at work because of these," he said, holding up the smoldering cigarette.
A moment later he put the wrench down and we've both felt much better ever since.
Notes: David Reutimann, No. D00, hasn't left town yet for the big-bucks circuit up North. Instead, he picked up another first place in the Late Model class last Saturday. Points leader Donny Stanford (No. 69) was second, No. 14 Tom Chambers finished third, and Federico was fourth.
Figure 8s topped the bill Saturday. In Mini Stock Figure 8s, No. 35 Rob Partelo won, No. 81 Bob Hage was second, No. 03 Joe Cihak was third and No. 46 Mike Van Ochten was fourth.
In Street Stock Figure 8s, the No. 0 of Jimmy Thompson crossed the line first, with No. 02 Randy Larson second, No. 13 Mike Leacock third, and No. 57 Phil Wikman fourth.
In Open Wheel Modifieds, No. 3 Harold Cannon won, No. 11B Jamie Burrows was second, No. 40 John Bellis third, and No. 19 Tommy Schnader fourth.
The Sportsman turnout was smaller than usual, but most of the top dogs were on the track. No. 83 Den Neighbor Jr. claimed the victory with No. 54 Kevin Ingram second, No. 77 Brian Lowe third, and No. 69 Johnny Stanford fourth.
In Street Stocks, No. 89 Ron Davis was first, No. 09 Partelo second, No. 97 Randy Roberts third, and No. 0 Thompson fourth.
In Oval Drags, Frank Hill continued his winning ways, while Mike Ryder dominated in Fan Participation.