As the sun finally sank below the horizon and blessed darkness crept across the grandstand, the unrelenting heat began to give way with the help of a gentle breeze at Sunshine Speedway on Saturday night.
On the track, the action was still hot, but not nearly as hot as in the cars. Late Model winner Sammy Coghill of Largo was drenched in sweat as he slithered through the window of No. 22, where it was warm enough to bake bread.
"I'm happy," he smiled. "I'm always happy with a win. I'm happy when I lose too. I just like to race."
In the feature, Coghill started on the third row inside and moved past No. 6 Billy Bechtelheimer of Dover on Lap 11. The car was tight and he was building a lead, but No. 74 Wayne Bowman of Clearwater crept through the pack. He took over the second spot on Lap 16 and began to chase Coghill down.
By Lap 20, Bowman was on Coghill's back bumper and a long stretch of track developed between them and the field. Five laps later, Bowman moved to the outside and the two ran door-to-door for the next two laps until a lapped car forced Bowman back in line.
Meanwhile, No. 57 David L. Pletcher of Pinellas Park had been gradually working his way from his No. 11 starting spot to take over third. Only a few weeks earlier, Pletcher, who leads the class in points, moved out of the No. 74 to take over No. 57. Although he was running with a borrowed engine, the car was dialed into the track and he was making steady progress. All he needed was a yellow flag and a restart to move into contention, but it never happened.
Bowman made one last attempt on the final lap, but Coghill and his big smile crossed the finish line first.
NOTES: At a banquet at MacDill Air Force Base on July 12, the Top Cops racing organization, which most of the law enforcement agencies in the area participate in, announced that its annual event in April earned about $43,000. That brings the total to about $200,000 since it started four years ago.
Profits, which almost all of the earnings are, go to children's charities. The winning groups this year were the St. Petersburg and Tampa Police Athletic Leagues, the Youth Ranch, the Boys and Girls Clubs of Pinellas County, Tarpon Springs Kids & Cops and Explorer Posts of each participating agency.
Those who missed the Top Cops race will be able to see it on Channel 7 in Pinellas County at 9 p.m. Wednesday, at 10 p.m. Friday, and at 1 p.m. Saturday.
Top Cops also raced at Sunshine Speedway on Saturday night. In the top class, Shield Cars, No. 88 Jeff Manning of the St. Petersburg Police Department won, followed by No. 656 Dean Mirra of the Broward County Sheriff's Office and No. 48 Butch Yancey of the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office.
In Cruisers, Clearwater's Fred Castanza (No. 4) was tops, St. Petersburg's Rodney Tower (No. 94) was second, and Pinellas Deputy Clark Wagner was third.
Mini Stock points leader Ronnie Larson, No. 58 of Clearwater, won again Saturday. No. 70 Marty Neikens of St. Petersburg was second, and No. 81 Steve Pelo of Clearwater was third.
Larson, who leads his class by more than 100 points, plans to leave Aug. 3 for a week of vacation. That would normally kill a driver's chance of winning the season championship, but Larson can afford it.
In other action, No. 10 Benny Harris of Pinellas Park was first in Open Wheel Modifieds, followed by No. 3 Jimmy Thompson of Pinellas Park and No. 80 Roy Hosmer of St. Petersburg. Robert Crisp, No. 2 of Clearwater, was able to hold off a late charge by points leader John Makula, No. 27 of Safety Harbor in Street Stocks. No. 26 Allen Summers of Tampa was third.
Pinellas Park's Ron Davis, No. 89, was the Figure 8 winner, while No. 10 "Wild Bill" Revard of Kenneth City was second and No. 34 Bruce Carver of St. Petersburg was third. Frank Hill, No. 55 of Clearwater, outran No. 42 Dave Tennis of Pinellas Park to win Oval Drags.