Just ask Al Gore or the Boston Red Sox. Coming in second carries about as much respect as being designated a latrine orderly. It stinks, although not as much as third or worse.
Hollywood Ron Davis knows. The driver from Pinellas Park has been racing at Sunshine Speedway for 14 years. During that time, he has finished second in Figure 8 points six times.
"Too many," Davis said before the final points race of the season Saturday. "Way too many."
At the beginning of the evening, Davis held a 29-point lead over Shane Grigsby, who also lives in Pinellas Park. When Davis arrived at the track, he went to work setting up his car, but took too long and missed the sign-in period. He was forced to start at the back of the pack, well behind Grigsby.
Still, Grigsby would have to finish 15 spots ahead of Davis to take the crown, and only 17 cars raced. Davis, among his other skills, can count. After the usual calamities reduced the field, 13 cars were still in the race by lap 11. Davis stayed near the back, kept out of trouble, lost the race and won the championship.
By the time he pulled into the pits, a crowd had gathered to cheer the long-awaited champion.
"Fourteen years," said Davis, who struggled to control his emotions. "Fourteen long-a-- years. It feels great. I'm speechless, but not for long. "I'd like to thank Art Calkins (of St. Petersburg)," Davis said of the man who denied him the championship so many times in the past. "He came to me about a month ago and told me to just let Shane go and follow him. Back off and don't wreck. That's what I needed to do to win the championship."
Davis will be back next year to shoot for a repeat.
The closest contest still to be decided Saturday night was the Mini Stock championship.
Joey Catarelli of Pinellas Park led Tom Zimmerman of Largo by 27 points when the race started. Both finished third in their heat races, so there was no change before the final feature.
Catarelli finished last in the feature and Zimmerman was fourth. But, luckily for Catarelli, most of the drivers in the class took the night off and only 12 started the race. When the green flag flew, Catarelli became the champ.
"I'm pretty pumped up right now," Catarelli said. "It's my first championship ever. I never won a 50-lap race. Last year, I wanted to be in the top five (in points), but I missed by one. This year, I had a different attitude and driving style."
Catarelli has been racing about 10 years, but has only had five or six full seasons, and this was his second in Mini Stocks. Next year, he'll be back at Sunshine, but he'd also like to run some of the big races at other tracks.
St. Petersburg's Roger Welch's challenge to win the Street Stock championship required little effort on the final night. All he had to do was take the checkered flag in his heat race to dash the hopes of Mike Hill, also of St. Petersburg.
Hill took second in his heat and Welch started and finished second in his heat.
With the class championship already tucked away, Welch said, "Now, I'm going to go try to get a top five finish in the feature," as he returned to his car in the pits.
The feature finish didn't happen because his transmission blew shortly after the green flag waved.
Welch was one of the few drivers who raced in the old Street Stock class last year and agreed to convert his car to the revised rules for the 2001 season.
"That's enough," said Welch once he claimed the prize. "I've been leading points for three months, but it was way too close the whole season."
That's true. If it wasn't Hill nipping at his heels, it was Harold "The Duck" Ashley of Gulfport or St. Petersburg drivers Dan Rieger and Dave Ochsenwald. All three held the points lead during the season.
"I'll be back next year to try for two in a row," Welch said. "Either that, or get an Outlaw (Late Model), if I can get good sponsors."
The championships in the other classes were decided earlier. Dwayne Dempsey of St. Petersburg was the Super Late Model king, Jim Houle of Pinellas Park was tops in Open Wheel Modifieds and Robby McAuliffe of Pinellas Park won the Outlaw crown.
NOTES: Saturday's feature winners: Mike Gamache and Bob Hall (Train Race); Darren Jackson of Lakeland (Modified); Robert Crisp of Clearwater (Outlaws); Catarelli (Figure 8); Mike Birk Jr. of Pinellas Park (Mini Stocks); Dave Cleary of St. Petersburg (Street Stocks); and Dennis Cantara (Enduros).
After writing about local racing for the St. Petersburg Independent in 1983 and for the Times the past 10 years, I've decided it's time for new eyes, and I've recommended a replacement to take over the column for next season. I picked someone with talent, a caring attitude and the desire to do the job. He has had a bit of preliminary training and the experience will come. I hope the Times agrees. It's time for me to find a more appropriate outlet for my sometimes warped sense of humor. Besides, it was only a matter of time before the drivers, fans and editors found a rail long enough to run me out of town on.
My best to everyone, and thank you for putting up with me.