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Jefferson endures in Modified special

Despite the expression, sometimes what you don't know can hurt you.

Early in the 50-lap Open Wheel Modified championship race at Sunshine Speedway Saturday night, No. 1 Wayne Jefferson of Pinellas Park escaped serious damage in a pileup on Lap 2. Although he was not aware of it, the "rub rail" on the right side of his car was ripped partly off and protruded a couple of feet to the side.

After the mishap, Jefferson was in third place behind the No. 56 of Odessa's Allyn Summers and the No. 71 of rookie Barry Bartlett of St. Petersburg. At that point, Jefferson felt lucky to simply be in the race. He had taken the car out to practice on Thursday and it had a serious overheating problem. Then, the situation got worse.

"All of a sudden, I had no oil pressure," Jefferson said. His fear was the engine would need to be replaced, which was unlikely with such short notice. Back at the shop, "We found the oil pump had fallen off and was laying in the oil pan," Jefferson said. By 9:30 p.m. Friday, the oil pump was fixed, but he was still uncertain about the overheating.

In the big race, Summers was running strong and Bartlett and Jefferson were driving hard just to stay near. Then, on Lap 13, Jefferson was hit as he was about to lap the No. 59 of St. Petersburg's Andy Dyndul, who was involved in the first incident on Lap 2. Taking out the leader is a serious no-no and Dyndul was black-flagged and sent to the pits.

Summers was put back at the head of the pack, but just as the green flew, his car faltered and slid up toward the wall. He was out, and the battle was between Bartlett and Jefferson. No. 4 Jim Keelin Jr. of Clearwater took over third.

Naturally, Jefferson began trying to snatch the inside groove from the rookie, but to his surprise, Bartlett, who moved up from Street Stocks at the beginning of the season, wasn't fooled. That was lucky for Jefferson and Bartlett.

"Bill (Bryant, Jefferson's crew chief and spotter for the race) kept telling me the rub rail was dragging on the ground," Jefferson said after the race, "but I didn't know it was out that far."

If Bartlett had slipped even a little and given Jefferson room on the inside, it was likely the rub rail would have snagged his car and put both into a lot of trouble.

"There's a lot less beating and banging in Modifieds compared to Street Stocks," Bartlett said later. "I had to give him some room on the outside."

On Lap 21, Jefferson moved to the outside. While Bartlett was more than willing to give him room, he wasn't about to give him the race. The two battled door-to-door for a four laps, until Jefferson took the lead on Lap 25.

They finished in that order, with Keelin third, No. 2 John Anderson fourth and No. 99 Roger Stull of St. Petersburg fifth. Points leader No. 73 Darren Jackson of Lakeland was seventh.

"We're getting there, but we've been struggling this year," said Keelin, who has been a top contender in recent years but is far back in points this season.

"We really wanted this one," Jefferson said. "L.J. (Mazzochetti, owner of the No. 1) has gone all out. We have everything we need to be and act professional."

He went on to thank his sponsors, Holly Carburetors, Taylor Family Funeral Homes and Discount Auto Parts.

However, his main quest for 1999 is to win the season championship. That means he has to overcome the more than a 60-point advantage held by Jackson, who set the fast time in qualifying with Late Model-type speed.

Jackson said he plans to take the third week in October off and go to the mountains to see the colorful change of seasons. Considering the two worst finishes, including no-shows, will be tossed out and not counted toward the points total, Jackson thought that was a safe bet.

He's wrong. Co-promoter Bonnie Hill told him the two-night toss-out will occur at the end of September. Any nights missed after that will come off the final total. Jackson said he will not revise his vacation plans, which will certainly not hurt Jefferson's chances.