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Series heads into finale at IMSA 12-hour

Driving the family car over the speed limit is against the law. Doing it at Sebring International Raceway for $48,000 in prize money is a chance of a lifetime.

About 62 cars and approximately 150 drivers will take that chance at the International Motor Sports Association's 12-hour Firehawk Endurance Championships at Sebring this weekend. The finale of the Bridgestone Supercar Championship series also will run at Sebring on Saturday.

The Firehawk competition brings to an end an eight-month national "street-stock" series that made stops in cities such as Portland, Ore., Long Beach and Phoenix.

The championship is a three-class day-to-night race for street cars modified only for safety. All three classes _ sports, grand sports and touring _ will compete in the same race but will vie for separate points.

Winners in touring, sports and grand sports classes will receive $3,500, $4,000 and $5,500, respectively.

With that kind of money at stake, it's no surprise that two local amateur driving teams, led by Mark Hein and Art Woodworth, are anxious to tumble their starters.

Hein and Woodworth represent a growing fraternity of 9-to-5 men and women who moonlight as race car drivers. The hobby is expensive, but the thrills are extensive.

"This is a hobby, although it takes more time than most," said Woodworth, who is a civil engineer and has run his own land planning company, Florida Technical Services, since 1981. "My typical day is consumed with business, and so the only time I have is on the weekends and late at night.

"This is no different from other hobbies. There is equipment that has to be purchased and bills to be paid. Sure there are costs involved, but I think a lot of us, particularly the local guys, are doing it for fun."

Woodworth, 45, of Tampa leads a Honda CRX team featuring three other area drivers _ Scott Tyler and Don Stephens (both of Clearwater) and Danny Stewart (Tampa) _ and will compete in the touring class.

"This race will be competitive," Woodworth said. "The competition is on the rise because more and more people are getting into the sport.

"There are so many racing clubs and you've got so many race tracks popping up. Obviously, there is a need for those tracks. With more club racing there is more opportunity for us non-professionals."

Hein's world of racing has a few added dimensions. His Honda Prelude team, which includes experienced drivers Terry Earwood, John Green and Peter Schwartzott, captured the touring class at last year's Firehawk Endurance Championship.

Apart from 15 years in the race car business, Hein says his 11-year career as a stockbroker for Smith Barney brings a level of financial stability to his team.

"I suppose you can say my team is my hobby, but that's only because of the fact that I'm a stockbroker during the day," Hein said. "But unlike most of the other teams involved in this thing, we do make money.

"It's unusual, but by and large we have people who win money. We average $7,000 to $8,000 in earnings per weekend."

Hein's team, which spends 20 to 25 hours a week preparing the Preludes for competition, will field two cars in the touring class and one in the sports class.

In assembling his group of "hired guns," Hein, 36, of Clearwater said he looked for the experience and unity needed to pull off a series of wins on the IMSA circuit.

"You could say that I stacked the deck in my favor," Hein said. "Terry holds the record for the most wins of all Honda drivers in his class, and both John and Peter were last year's champions.

"We have won this race twice in a row, so we should go into it as the favorite."

Going into the championship in the grand sports class Porsche 968, driver David Murray leads the point standings, 110-89 over Pontiac Firebird Firehawk Andy Pilgrim and Stu Hayner. Murray's co-driver and team owner Lloyd Hawkins is fourth with 85 points. In the sports class, Mazda RX-7 co-drivers Peter Farrell and Joe Danaher are tied for first with 110 points.

In the touring class, Dave Daughtery, who also drives a Honda Prelude Si, holds an 11-point lead over Ron Emmick and his Oldsmobile SC.

At a glance

Races: The IMSA 12-hour Firehawk Endurance and the Supercar 30-minute championships.

Where: Sebring International Raceway.

When: Practice and qualifying for both series begins today. On Saturday, the Supercar championship starts at 9 a.m., the Firehawk Endurance begins at 10 a.m.

What: Approximately 62 cars and 150 drivers from across the nation.

Purse: Total is $48,000. Winners get $5,500, $4,000 and $3,500 in the grand sports, sports and touring class. Supercar winner gets $8,000.

Information: Call (813) 877-4672.