Tater Stalnaker and Scott Lagasse, Jr. Top Friday Survivors at Ocala
In what was more like the short track racing version of the TV how “Survivor” – just waiting to see who would be eliminated next – Williston’s Tater Stalnaker and St. Augustine’s Scott Lagasse, Jr. topped 50-lap events for the Mini Stocks and Super Late Models Friday night at Ocala Speedway. The Mini Stocks had a field of 19 cars for their $500 to win 50-lapper and this one looked to be an old-fashioned shoot-out from the word go. Clint Foley zipped to the early lead as no less than ten cars began dicing for position behind him. Citrus County Speedway co-promoter Jimmy Wear and Glen Ervin got tangled up and slid into the infield on lap five but both continued just in front of the leaders. Jeff Stalnaker, Sr. was the first casualty as he dropped from the running on lap six while running fourth just before the first caution of the race flew on lap eight for Jake Garver’s stalled car. Foley continued to set the pace, but Tater Stalnaker was on the charge and got around him for the lead on lap 13. Two laps later, Foley fell off the pace and took his car to the infield. Ervin spun in turn three to bring out the second yellow as Burt Morse, Rick Sirmans and Larry Goolsby moved up to challenge T. Stalnaker. Stalnaker began to pull away after the restart letting Morse, Sirmans, and Goolsby fight amongst themselves for second. Goolsby was on the charge and moved into second setting up a battle not only for the race win, but the points lead as well. Action was slowed again on lap 26 as Garver’s car stalled for a final time. Stalnaker and Goolsby began to drive away from the rest of the field until all sorts of things began to happen on lap 44. Smoke began to pour from Sirmans’ car and he headed to the infield with a small fire under the hood of his machine. Just as the caution flag flew, Goolsby dropped off the pace with mechanical problems and went to the pits. This set up a five-lap dash to the checker as 17th starter Matt Watts now found himself in second. Stalnaker was up to all challenges and held on for the victory and the outright points lead in the division. Watts came home second which was an accomplishment in itself as his team showed up just before race time and got no practice. Then Watts broke a rearend in his heat which had to be replaced. Jimmy Wear came from being almost a lap down at one point to claim third-place money while Morse held on for fourth and Wayne Wells drove a steady race in his “truck” to grab fifth. Rounding out the top ten were Darren “Action” Jackson, Morris Richardson, Donnie Stroshal, Chase Goodson, and Jeff Stalnaker, Jr. Don Stroshal, Sr. and Burt Morse won the heats. James Powell III came ready to race as the Super Late Models took to the track for time trials as the Astor driver turned a quick lap of 15.344 sec. in his A Natural Difference Skin Care Products machine. Powell was scheduled to start sixth after the re-draw, but moved up to row two when fourth-starter E.J. Wise dropped out on the pace lap. This race would be a sloppy one with a total of 12 caution flags in 50 laps and it didn’t take long for things to get ugly. Polesitter Kevin Durden grabbed the early lead only to get loose in turn one at the beginning of lap two. Second-running Rich Pratt had to get on the binders while Powell wasn’t on the brakes fast enough. He hit the back of Pratt’s car and went for a spin, bringing out the caution. Powell was relegated to the back of the field for the restart as caution flag after caution flag kept the field slowed allowing Powell to work his way slowly back to the front. Durden, battling a car that seemed to be very sluggish getting off the corners, continued to lead as young Brock Oglesby moved up to challenge in second. Caution flags continued to work in Powell’s favor and he moved up to challenge Oglesby for second on lap 42 but drove too hard into turn three and spun his car backwards into the wall. Undaunted, Powell re-joined the field at the tail. Scott Lagasse, Jr. now became a factor as he moved in with Oglesby and Pratt behind Durden who was doing all he could to hold off the pack. On lap 46, it was bump n’ grind time on the backstretch behind Durden and it was Oglesby getting punted into the infield. Unable to fire his car, the caution was thrown yet again and Oglesby’s car was pushed to the pits. On the restart, Powell and Roger Shinholser got together in turn one. Both continued at the rear of the field, but Powell wasn’t done yet. Lagasse, Jr. passed Pratt for second and set his sights on Durden only to see Lee McCullough spin on lap 47 for yet another caution. Flagman Larry Bowden wasn’t done using the yellow as it was out once again just as the white flag was displayed when Shinholser spun again. With a one lap dash to the checker, Durden’s car slipped a bit out of turn two allowing Lagasse to dive underneath him and lead the final half-lap to the checkered flag. Rich Pratt also got under Durden on the final turn to pick up second spot. Lagasse, Jr. thanked his crew for doing a fantastic job of preparing the car with very little help from him due to a week-long bout with the flu and a heavy class schedule at Flagler College in St. Augustine. Pratt was elated to get second and described the event as one of the most “fun” races he’d ever been in. Durden earned a “podium” finish with third, but skipped the post-race victory lane festivities and headed directly pitside in not-to-good of a mood after losing two spots on the final lap. Powell put on a show during the final four laps as he blasted back to fourth place in a car that looked more like a refugee from a demolition derby. Robbie Smith drove a solid race and stayed out of trouble in getting fifth while Keith Zavrel, John Buzinec, Shinholser, Mike Wieczoreck, and Brad Atkins completed the top ten. The Steven A. Bagen Sportsman cars ran a relatively clean race with just one stoppage and it was a big one as the red flag was needed following a frontstretch crash that eliminated Bob Masciarelli and Gary Wayne just after the start. Both drivers walked away unhurt. Charles Kopach, driving his “ancient” Monte Carlo, did all he could to hold off the high-flying charge of Chiefland’s Roger Damron, but Damron nabbed the top spot on lap four then held off a race-long challenge from point leader Pete Close, Jr. to take the win. Damron indicated it was his first win at Ocala Speedway since taking a Limited Late Model race victory in 2000. Kopach held on for third in a car he knows is very outdated. “I gotta get me a Camaro if I’m gonna beat these guys,” said Kopach. Late arrival Robert Ray did an excellent driving job to cross the line in fourth while Wally Schnieder held off Tom Posavec for fifth. Posavec did a great job of coming back up to sixth after pitting to change a flat tire after the red flag on lap one. William Edwards, Big John Smith, Jim Higginbotham and Tommy Roberts rounded out the top ten with heat races being won by Damron and Patrick Mennenga. Street Stocks saw a first time winner in Dade City’s Tom Fralish who led flag to flag to get his first win since moving up from the Four Cylinder Stocks in September. Fralish had to survive five caution flag periods, and early-race battle with Jamie Dunn, and a late-race charge from Paul Gladin to get the win. In victory circle, Fralish thank car owners Dick and Mike Wilson nfor giving him the opportunity to race in the Street Stocks. Gladin’s charge fell just short at the checker and he settled for second ahead of points leader Doug Webster while Dunn held on for fourth just in front of Mark Mitchell. Chuck “8-Ball” Stewart was sixth while David Chastain started dead-last in the 23 car field and raced to seventh. Michael Rosa, Mike Fiddia, and “Ocala” Paul Fletcher rounded out the top ten. The three heats for the Street Stocks were won by Webster, Stewart and Moose Alderman, who dropped out of the feature early with mechanical ills. Four Cylinder Stock points leader Tom Ellis had a great night going – until he got to tech after the race. Ellis took over the lead late in the going and appeared to have his second straight win, but the cars were checked for front springs after the race and Ellis’ were deemed to be illegal. Second finisher Ric Fort, the 2002 regular season champion, was elevated to the winner followed by Joey Durbin, Robert Oxendine, Justin Durbin, and Steve Gallagher. The Four Cylinder Stock feature was the only one to go all the way under green and the class will be highlighted next week with a special 30-lap event. Also on the card will be 50 laps for the Super Late Models as well as racing for the Open Wheel Modifieds, Mini Stocks, Steven A. Bagen Sportsman, and Street Stocks.