Last season wasn't exactly an experiment gone wrong for George Neumann, just one that came up short of expectations.
When you've won as much at Neumann has, expectations grow. And with that growth comes the realization that anything short of the top is a distant finish. So, while second place would have been fine with many a driver, it was not with Neumann, who won consecutive Mini Stock titles in 1997-98.
Charged by last year's non-title setback, Neumann seems to have reverted to his old winning ways. And the secret seems to be an old winning engine.
"I probably slacked off a little last year," Neumann said. "We went with a different engine and it really wasn't what I thought it would be. So, this year we went back to our old reliable engine, the same engine we won two championships with, and it seems to be performing well."
Neumann leads the Mini Stock division by 14 points over Mark Sowell. He has posted a division-high three feature wins and six finishes in the top five, and seems well on pace to match 1998, when he had 22 top-five finishes and compiled the largest points lead of any class.
Although the engine package has been part of Neumann's recent success, it isn't the whole story. A newly resurfaced track has given him and others more grip on the outside groove, which is exactly the way Neumann likes it.
"The new track surface helps my driving style," Neumann said. "I'm one who doesn't like to wait, so I usually go outside to pass.
"Last year the track surface didn't allow that; the bottom groove was the fastest way around. This year it's a little different. They've put a sealer down and they've put some kind of sand or adhesive in it and the tires are now biting. I always set my car up to go outside and finally the track is coming around the way it used to be."
Despite the fact that circumstances seem to be back in his favor, Neumann does not expect to run away with the title like he did in '97-98. For one thing, the competition _ especially Sowell _ has gotten tougher. Second, his commitment to the Inverness Little League softball program, which has pulled him out of action the last three seasons, still looms for June and July.
"Every year during softball time I'm usually traveling with the team," Neumann said, "and that time is coming up. I have 12 girls I have to please and only one race car. I'm looking to definitely capitalize as much as I can until then, so if I have to go away, it won't hurt me."
That factor may not be as much of a problem as it used to be. Under new rules at Citrus County Speedway, Neumann will be able to use a substitute driver _ and keep the points that driver earns _ for two races this season.
"When it's Mark and me, whoever is out in front will probably win," Neumann said. "It's that close right now."