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Race truck school now at Sunshine

The feature race was about to begin, but the fireproof head stocking was tickling my nose, so I reached under my helmet and gave it a yank. That was stupid. It wasn't bothering my nose anymore, but it was covering most of my right eye, which eliminated any chance for mirror driving.

Virtually everyone who has ever watched a race and even those who haven't has dreamed of getting behind the wheel, roaring down the track and taking the checkered flag.

The main reasons most of us don't are time and money. It takes a lot of both. While there are a large number of racing schools around the country, most of them tend to be very expensive and you don't really get to race.

However, something new being offered at Sunshine Speedway two days a week not only teaches people the basics of racing at a reasonable price, but also lets us dreamers race.

Southern Thunder, "A race truck experience," has just moved its school to Sunshine from DeSoto Speedway. For $795, which is far below the cost of any other school I've heard of, owner Bobby Diehl and company supply all of the safety equipment, including firesuit, gloves, neck brace, helmet with a radio, and that annoying head stocking.

They also let you drive in American Race Trucks, some of the same ones used in the real series. There are Chevrolets, Fords and Dodges, and all use V8 engines that produce a very respectable 300 hp.

First, they tell you the rules of racing, about the flags and the trucks, then take you out for a few slow laps to get the feel and learn the racing groove. Next is a controlled practice session, a catered lunch, and then back to the track for qualifying.

Just like the real thing, heat races are next, and then the big 20-lap feature. It's real all-out racing with no holds. You hit the gas hard but steady coming out of Turn 2, aim for the red strip on the back wall, ease off when you get to the next red mark, brake hard into Turn 3, and gently begin giving it gas coming out of Turn 4, where you aim for the starter's stand, go hard until you're near Turn 1, brake hard, and do it all over again.

There's a three-week waiting list for the school, but call 321-3715 to get in line. One helpful tip not taught in class: If your noses itches, let it.

NOTES: The Demolition Derby Saturday night drew the second-largest crowd of the season. The primary reason is that such shows attract people who normally do not attend short-track or any other form of racing. A side benefit to the track is some of those thrill seekers learn that the regular racing events, especially Figure 8s, are even more exciting, and come back for more.

In that featured event, John Moore was the survivor and picked up the $500 prize, while Debbie Bellsiano picked up her second runner-up finish in a Demo Derby and got $200.

The 30-lap Figure 8 race was nothing short of wild and strange. Normally, most of the action takes place at the intersection, where the cars crisscross. But Saturday, turns No. 1 and No. 2 on the oval track were the hot spots.

On Lap 28, the No. 34 of St. Petersburg's Bruce Carver spun or got spun and stalled on the track facing oncoming traffic. By the time Carver was able to fire his engine, the leaders were already on the next lap. For whatever reason, Carver began to move forward in the wrong direction and smacked into No. 12 Dwayne Thompson, who was leading.

On the restart, Thompson resumed his battle for first with No. 11 Art Calkins of St. Petersburg, who had been spun early in the race and had to fight his way back up to the front. Going into the intersection, Thompson and Calkins were side by side when Thompson hit a hole just off the asphalt, sailed across the infield to the next turn, where he nearly slammed into Calkins, then spun out and finished sixth. Calkins, who is leading in points, won, followed by No. 89 Ron Davis of Pinellas Park and No. 04 Ron Veller of Clearwater.

For the first time in memory, No. 55 Frank Hill of Clearwater was knocked out in the first round of Oval Drags. Hill, who also is the track's promoter, doesn't run regularly enough to lead in points, but usually wins when he runs. No. 42 Dave Tennis of Pinellas Park accomplished the feat, and said delightedly, "I beat all the big boys. That's the first time I've ever done that."

After whipping Hill, Tennis went on to beat the legendary Donnie Hines, No. 51, and last year's champ, No. 43 Doug Embree, both of St. Petersburg.

In Open Wheel Modifieds, John Gerstner, No. 20 of Tampa, picked up the win, but points leader Jim Keelin Jr., No. 4 of Clearwater, came in second while No. 19 Tommy Schnader of Largo was third. So far this season, Keelin has finished almost every race in the top three. No. 57 Timmy Moore of St. Petersburg declined a claim on his engine, which meant he lost the points he would have earned for the night and must start in the rear in his next two races. However, Keelin agreed to swap engines with No. 5 Jeff Epperson of Largo.

In Mini Stocks, No. 22 Macky Mongold of Largo took over the points lead by winning both his heat and the feature, while No. 40 Dennis Valdez of Tampa was second and No. 70 Marty Neikens of St. Petersburg was third. Former points leader No. 47 Tom Zimmerman of St. Petersburg finished ninth in the feature.

Ron Campbell, No. 33 of St. Petersburg, started on the pole and won the Street Stock feature, with No. 51 Mike Hinegardner of Seminole second, and points leader No. 0 Mason Love of St. Petersburg third.

Officials said that during the feature, No. 32 Bill Gearhart of Seminole, who was second in points, waited on the track for No. 2 Robert Crisp of Clearwater to come around, then hit him and put Crisp into the wall. Gearhart will be suspended for two weeks and fined $50 for rough driving, while Crisp will be fined $50 for unsportsmanlike conduct after challenging a Florida Highway Patrol trooper on the track.

In Women's Enduros, No. 48 Sue Scholpp picked up the win while No. 17 Helene Cartier was second, No. 05 Kelly Fuller was third, No. 19 Angie Grant was fourth, and No. 71 Liz Carver was fifth.

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