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Thompson nearly missed chance for repeat title

Pinellas Park's Jimmy Thompson didn't decide to put in the extra effort to win the Figure 8 championship at Sunshine Speedway until two months ago. But his third-place feature finish Saturday night clinched the title.

That made it two in a row and Thompson became only the second person to win back-to-back championships in that class at Sunshine. The other was Butch Walker. Thompson also won the Figure 8 Winter Nationals two years in a row.

For most of the season, Thompson drove the No. 0 for the Harris team but, after a dispute with the owner a little over a month ago, Thompson lost the ride. Fortunately, fellow Figure 8 driver Mike Leacock of Pinellas Park loaned him the No. 31 to finish the season.

Depending on how much sponsorship he can get next year, he plans to race either a Street Stock or an Open Wheel Modified. Figure 8s, too, are in the cards.

To win the championship Saturday, Thompson had to put distance between himself and No. 12 Red Vann of Tampa and St. Petersburg's Art Calkins. He did. Calkins was sixth. Robbie Powell won driving the No. 0 that Thompson used to pilot. No. 10 "Wild" Bill Revard was third.

Thompson also won in Street Stocks. But No. 8 Gary Templeton's second-place finish ahead of No. 21 Wayne Jefferson of Pinellas Park was enough to give Templeton the points he needed to claim the class' crown. In order to win for the season, Templeton had to finish at least three spots ahead of No. 20 Steve O'Lone of Clearwater, and O'Lone was ninth.

Before he began blowing the first of three engines two months ago, St. Petersburg's Templeton had the largest points lead of any driver in any class at the track _ 115. However, by Saturday that had dropped to 41 and O'Lone was still coming on strong.

"The last eight weeks have been ridiculous," the 39-year-old, five-year veteran said. "Next year, I'm not retiring but you think about that at the end of every season. For the last eight weeks, nothing went right."

At the beginning of the night, No. 19 Open Wheel Modified driver Tommy Schnader of Largo led No. 4 Jim Keelin of Clearwater by 63 points and seemed assured of winning his class. However, early in the heat race, Schnader's engine blew, which also knocked him out of the feature race. Keelin was second in the heat and third behind No. 88 Dwayne Dempsey of St. Petersburg and No. 25 Joe Bowser of Clearwater, which means he now trails Schnader by only 20 points.

In Mini Stocks, points leader Kenny Moore, No. 1 of Largo, lost a little ground to No. 22 Macky Mongold, also of Largo, who gained a total of seven points on Moore, who now leads by 43. In the feature, No. 30 Tim McPhail won and Timmy Moore _ Kenny's brother _ was second driving the No. 0, while No. 40 Dennis Valdez of Tampa was third. If he just runs reasonably well next week, Moore will qualify as best of the class.

All No. 45 John Wachtel of Pinellas Park will have to do to claim the last Sportsman championship at Sunshine is to start the feature next week. Wachtel won Saturday, followed by No. 1 Carl Addy of Pinellas Park, while No. 74 "Rocket" Rick Marquis was third. Wachtel leads Marquis by 40 points. Because so few cars remain in the soon-to-be-deleted class, Marquis' only chance will be a no-start by Wachtel.

In Late Models, which No. 7 Dempsey has already won the points battle, No. 69 Donny Stanford of Pinellas Park won the feature, No. 61 Jimmy Cope was second and No. 2 Wayne Bowman was third. Class champion Frank Hill of Clearwater beat St. Petersburg's Don Hines in Oval Drags. Hill was second in Reverse Enduro, won by Robert Hall.