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Track ends run of misfortune with weather

Something unusual occurred Saturday night at Sunshine Speedway.

Receiving the first dry weather in weeks, short-track fans witnessed an event completely out of the ordinary _ a race, several races, in fact.

The speedway snuck in a complete schedule without a hint of precipitation, including a 50-lap Open Wheel Modified feature held from July 31. Saturday was just the second night of competition completed at Sunshine in the past nine weeks.

The event, hosted by the traveling Corteco Gaskets Gulfcoast Modified Series, was scheduled to run three times prior to Saturday, but a rainout and Hurricane Charley and Frances forced the changes.

Modified rookie Mark Nelson, driver of the black No. 11 car, won the 50-lap race from his start on the front row.

"I started on the pole, thank God," said the 22-year-old Nelson of St. Petersburg. "I qualified ninth.

"It was good though, (because) everyone else drew first (for starting position) and I got what was left. I think mine was taped to the bottom," Nelson joked.

As might be expected from a group that hasn't raced in months, drivers were loose and caution flags flew freely. Three yellow flags were thrown by Lap 7, and the total crept close to 10 by the event's conclusion.

Nelson continuously pulled ahead from the pack, only to be reeled in on a yellow flag.

"The cautions were killing me," he said. "It got to where I had to flip up my rearview mirror _ there were so many great drivers behind me.

"I would see Robby (McAuliffe, driver of the No. 56 machine) out of the corner, so I just flipped it up. It only slows you down anyway."

Nelson was the consummate underdog. He pulled his winning engine from a junkyard, he said, and whipped it into race-ready shape with just a $40 rebuild kit. He competed on three new tires, saved for this event.

"This was the biggest race of my career," Nelson said.

McAuliffe, the night's fast qualifier, fought to second place from his start on the fourth row, inside. He applied Nelson's first consistent pressure but was unable to make the pass. McAuliffe finished in the runner-up spot.

Sunshine's Mike Hinegardner took third in the No. 1H after surviving a spectacular Lap-19 crash. His performance put him within 20 points of series leader Lee Collins, driver of the black and gold No. 89.

Collins took sixth.

The first-place points payout for the series is $5,000.

NOTES: Driving his No. 1 car, Scott Holly claimed the Outlaw Late Model division victory.

Denny Neighbor Sr. (No. 83) followed, and points leader Brian Lowe (No. 88) finished third.

Defending Figure 8 champion Shane Grigsby (No. 28) grabbed the victory in that class.

Cliff Rousseau crossed the line second in his No. 3 machine.Darryl Hage (No. 8) claimed third.

Hage is two points behind leader Wayne Calkins, driver of the winged No. 14.

Russell Scalf (No. 51) survived for the Street Stock win.

Barry Bartlett (No. 71) and Ron Sorensen Sr. (No. 74) took second and third, respectively.

In Enduros, Peter Barr (No. 81) emerged victorious from a late-laps battle with Justin Larson (No. 88).

John Stewart (No. 02) finished second, and Mike Loudy (No. 21) clocked in at third. Larson crossed at fourth.

The Mini Stock division had the weekend off.