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Late Model "pros' to hit the track Saturday

Call it a glimpse of the future, or one of the many steps Citrus County Speedway co-owner Mike Sims is making to bring the speedway out of the woods and into the fast lane.

Either way, Saturday night's Florida Pro Series race will preview the way things will be done in the Late Model division next year.

"Our rules next year will be Florida Pro rules. Period," Sims said. "A lot of the Late Model classes have dwindled in numbers over the last few years and Florida Pro has rules that help control costs and have put everybody on an equal basis.

"We'd like to make it so our guys could run two or three Florida Pro races and their guys could come over and run here without having to make a lot of changes to the car. It should make Late Models a more competitive class with a lower cost."

This comes as good news to some of the track's most successful and regular drivers, among them Gary Grubbs, James "Doc" Batson and Bruce Gaskins, who finished in that order in the Late Model points standings. Batson, Gaskins and a few other speedway regulars plan to run in Saturday's 125-lap Florida Pro feature.

Other than Gaskins, whose car already conforms to Florida Pro rules, the drivers will have to make some changes to their cars. Yet each is looking forward to the chance to run in the state's premier Late Model series _ both this year and next.

"More than anything, it means we'll have more comprehensive rules that tell us what we can and can't do," said Batson, who plans to run a few Florida Pro races next year as well. "I think it will make it more competitive next year. With everybody going by their rules, it will be a more even playing field."

The Florida Pro Series has been in existence for four years and races a 21-race schedule at tracks all over the state. The home track is Columbia Motorsports Park in Lake City, where the series will conclude its season on Dec. 6.

This is the first appearance for the series at the speedway, which already has decided to host the Florida Pro cars twice next year.

With just three dates left after this weekend, the 125-lap feature will be key for the Pro drivers, especially those who have never raced at the quarter-mile track.

One driver to watch is Jeff Williams of Inverness, a former Citrus County Speedway regular who is currently second in the Florida Pro standings. Sponsored by Roy Brown's Suncoast Lincoln Mercury, Williams trails leader Dave Pletcher (1,390 points) by 103 entering Saturday's race.

But don't count out some of the locals. While having to make some changes to their cars, they still should run strong. Batson said his car will have to undergo several changes, including the shifting of weight, raising the ride height, changing the engine head, and making adjustments to the chassis. Still, he feels pretty good about his chances.

"We know the track and a lot of the Florida Pro drivers don't," Batson said. "Even with the changes, I feel like the setups we have will be pretty close to what we need."

RACE SCHEDULE: Saturday will be the final week of racing for Super Stock, Mini Stock, Hobby Stock and Thunder Stock drivers, the latter of who will run two races due to an earlier rainout.

The speedway is located 2 miles south of Inverness on U.S. 41 at the Citrus County Fairgrounds. Admission this weekend is $14 for adults, $12 for senior citizens and students to age 17, and $2 for children under 8.

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