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Late Model leader says he's through

Danny Johnson claims speedway officials are playing favorites at his expense. The officials say he's wrong.

Late Model points leader Danny Johnson insists that Citrus County Speedway officials are playing favorites. Track owner Mike Sims insists he and his staff aren't doing anything of the sort.

The fans may never know just who is right, and the sad part is that they may lose the chance to witness one of the more competitive battles at the speedway this season.

As of Monday, Johnson called it quits at the speedway, choosing instead to concentrate on an upcoming venture in the Hooters Pro Cup Series and on a couple of future outings in the Florida Pro (Late Model) Series. Though he admitted his decision wasn't completely final, he nonetheless seemed set on ending his two-year relationship with the speedway.

"I think what they're doing is that they want (Mike) Bresnahan to win the points championship and anything they can do to screw anyone else is okay," Johnson said. "If I don't race this week, then it's definitely over. I really don't care what they do to me, I just don't like them playing favorites. I've had a lot of fans tell me not to give it to Bresnahan that way and I really don't want to give up my points lead, but I just don't want to be there under those circumstances."

Johnson's ire was compounded by an incident after Saturday's feature in which he believes Bresnahan was given preferential treatment during the weigh-in process.

Terry Cater's move from his damaged No. 3 to the No. 33 owned by Glen Webster and driven by former Late Model champion Herb Hoefler in the heat, caught the eye of Breshanan, who complained that such a move (during the warm-up laps preceding the feature, which is technically considered during the race) was illegal. Upon further review, Breshanan's claim was upheld and Cater did not receive any points for the race, giving second place in the standings to Bresnahan.

However, Bresnahan, who finished third in the feature, was involved in a Lap 2 incident that resulted in him having to remove the hood and two fenders of the car. A similar incident more than a month ago ended up costing Bresnahan the points lead when his car was ruled to be too light, so he and his crew added weight Saturday night to make sure it didn't happen again.

Although the car was well over the minimum weight limit, the hood was replaced before the car was taken to weigh-ins, which caught the eye of Johnson and his crew. They insisted the move was illegal.

"My wife (Sandy) checked the Florida Pro rule book and it said that adding anything to the car before tech inspection is illegal," Johnson said. "She took it to (race director) Bob Eldridge and he said that they just use the Florida Pro rules for engines. So, she went and spent the $1 for a track rules book and it said right there, under no circumstances can you replace anything on the car."

Eldridge contends the protest was made too late and that, since the car was already overweight, it wouldn't have played a role in the outcome of the race anyway.

"The car had already been through tech inspection, and when it does, the tech man weighs it and writes the weight down," Eldridge said. "Then, a half-hour later, they come up and tell me, "(Bresnahan) had put the hood on before tech and why wasn't he disqualified."

"That's a protest, and it has to be made within five minutes of the end of the race. But we went and got the hood and weighed it anyway, and even without the hood, the car still would have been overweight. Under those circumstances, I wasn't going to take his money (and finish) away. Besides, they told me that they didn't want the hood removed anyway and that it was the track that made them remove it."

Sims agreed with Eldridge's assessment and said Monday that it was, indeed, the decision of his staff to remove the hood and thus it was the track's decision _ and not illegal _ to replace it.

"It was a track decision to pull the hood," Sims said. "(Steve) Spanky (Burdette) decided that we needed to pull the hood off (after the crash) so we could remove some damaged parts and run the race.

"I don't know what Danny is upset about. He either wants to race or he doesn't. We aren't playing any favorites. We've given him breaks too."

For fans of the division, which already has seen shrinking car counts this year, there appears to be no middle ground in this dispute other than that they will be the ones most hurt by the decision.

"I'm sorry to see any drivers leave," Sims said. "Late Model fields are down all over the state and I'm afraid that things like this are eventually going to destroy the class. There aren't that many Late Model divisions around the state, and we're one of the few that still runs them.

"I hate to lose Danny. He's a good competitor and he and Mike have a good race going on right now."