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Stanford makes quick return to winner's circle

Although Johnny Stanford is only fourth in Late Model points, he leads the others in a special category of honor _ he has won more feature races this year than any of those above him.

Not only that, but he is the only Late Model driver to win back-to-back features this year.

"I think that is the first time I've ever won two in a row," an exhausted Stanford said after Saturday's long, hot race. "Tonight was the first time I had to work that hard for a race. The last time, it was almost given to me."

Stanford, who drives the No.

69, said he wasn't certain if he had won three or four features this season, but it doesn't matter. Neither points leader Sammy Coghill, No. 22 of Largo; second-place Wayne Bowman, No. 2 of Largo, or No.

5 Brian Leverock of Seminole has won more than one feature.

"That would be something if I won the most races this year," Stanford said, "but I really don't keep up with the points."

Stanford, of Pinellas Park, set the fast time in qualifying, but the starting order of the entire field of 14 cars was reversed, and he started at the rear. Didn't matter. He was fast.

By the end of the first lap, Leverock, who started fourth, had snatched the lead away from the pole sitters, No.

4 Jim Bonnema of Clearwater and No.

84 Den Neighbor Sr. of Clearwater. That didn't last long.

A lap later, No.

18 Andy Werden of St. Petersburg slipped under Leverock and claimed the lead. By Lap 8, Werden had built a healthy bit of distance over Bowman's No.

2, but a yellow flag and a restart a lap later closed the gap.

The yellow came out after Coghill's luck ran out and he blew something between Turns 3 and 4. As a result, the points leader was out of the race and finished 11th. Considering Coghill had a 93-point lead at the beginning of the night, his chances of winning the season championship were not seriously affected.

When the green flew again, it was Werden, Bowman, Stanford, and No.

82 Den Neighbor Jr. On Lap 12, Bowman went to the outside coming out of Turn 2 to make a move on Werden. Stanford used that opportunity to grab the inside lane, and nosed Bowman back to third.

Werden was able to hold off the duo for several laps, but overdrove going into Turn 4 on Lap 15 and went into a spin. He was penalized to the rear, and ultimately finished eighth.

Stanford inherited the lead, and at the finish line it was Stanford, Bowman, Neighbor Jr. and Leverock. However, sometime later that night, Neighbor Jr. apparently was disqualified and Leverock moved up to third.

"I'm starting to get my breaks now," Stanford said. "I'll try to catch (Coghill). My luck is starting to get better while his is going downhill."

Stanford's luck is improving in another arena: "I'm getting married the first of the year _ to Gena Martin. It's my first marriage. I don't want to tell you how old I am, but I waited a long time. I was trying to find the right one and, thankfully, I found her."

NOTES: Pinellas Park's Joey Catarelli pulled off an unusual feat by winning two events Saturday night. In Figure 8s, Catarelli picked up the win in his No. 15 with No. 89 Ron Davis of Pinellas Park in second and No. 14 Wayne Calkins of St. Petersburg in third. Davis is in second place for season points behind No. 11 Art Calkins, who is also from St. Petersburg. Davis' second place in the race put him 14 points closer to the No. 11, which finished ninth. Still, Art Calkins enjoys a 50-point lead.

Catarelli also picked up the win and an extra $150 in the Figure 8 "Whiplash Dash" for cash, with Art Calkins second and No. 04 Ron Veller of Clearwater third. Car owner Scott Paowlus thanked No. 36 Figure 8 driver Mark Thomas for loaning Catarelli his right-front suspension for the dash run.

In the category of "Sometimes When You Win You Still Can't Win," Wayne Jefferson, No. 1 of Pinellas Park, drove to victory in the Open Wheel Modified feature but still wound up falling a point further behind No. 73 Darren Jackson of Lakeland. Jackson holds a 67-point lead over Jefferson for the season championship.

In the feature, Jackson finished second, with No. 0 Jay Steele of Mango third, which cost him two points. However, in the heat races, Jackson won his heat, while Jefferson was fourth in his. That gave Jackson three points over Jefferson in the heats, and a net gain of a point for the night.

In Mini Stocks, No. 15 Doug Hopper of Port Richey put himself another 29 points ahead of 1997 class champion Jay Zolciak with a third-place finish behind the winner, No. 81 Steve Pelo of Clearwater, and No. 40 Dennis Valdez of Tampa. Hopper won his heat, while No. 1 Zolciak was second, and Zolciak finished a distant 17th in the feature.

St. Petersburg's Jimmy Houle rolled into the winner's circle in his No. 80 in the Street Stock feature, with No. 41 Mike Kowalke of Pinellas Park second and No. 9 Dan Partelo of St. Petersburg third. Season points leader Scott Charles of Seminole was fourth, and his closest competitor for the championship, No. 6 Ed Kidd of Pinellas Park, was right behind in fifth.

Helene Cartier, No. 17, was tops in Women's Enduros, followed by No. 06 Jackie Dyndul, No. 19 Angie Grant and No. 02 Tammy Cohee.