With the opening of the 2009 racing season less than a week away, over 80 cars and racers took advantage of the opportunity to hit the clay at Ocala Speedway on Saturday during the only open practice session scheduled for this year. Teams began arriving at 11AM for the 1PM practice, and due to requests from many race teams, the session was extended to well past the scheduled 5PM closing. And in addition to the racers and crew members, a solid group of loyal fans turned out to watch their favorite racers test and tune on a beautiful afternoon.
Fans were especially excited to see some racers making moves upward in divisional racing for 2009. Keith Briggs and the Extreme Racing Team arrived with a freshly painted and numbered open wheel modified as the 2008 Mini Stock Champion tries his hand at something new this season. Briggs spent the afternoon getting adjusted to the new ride until a power steering issue caused him to park it. Briggs later said that the plan was to take the move to the modified division slow and easy, and carefully learn how to handle the far more powerful machine than he was used to driving.
Another 2008 champion making moves up the divisional ladder is Guy Bacelo Jr, the Gladiator champion. Bacelo shook out his V8 Thunder Stock for the first time and began the process of adapting to a much heavier machine with rear wheel drive. Bacelo also says that he is eager to improve as he invades the most popular division at Ocala Speedway, and from the look of his practice laps he is quickly learning the ropes.
Mark Whitener led a strong contingent of late model racers who were prepping for Friday's United Dirt Late Model Challenge Series event at Ocala, and the late models took every opportunity to get in as many laps as possible. The UDLMCS will open 2009 at Ocala along with a $500 to win Hobby Stock feature and the Mini Stock division, this Friday night with the gates open at 5PM for fans who want the best seats.
The next time these racers and their cars hit the clay at Ocala Speedway, it will be for purse money and points toward the 2009 divisional championships. The consensus among drivers in the pits was that they were ready to get things underway, and welcome the return of weekly racing to Ocala. Many said they plan to be in the points battle this season, dedicating their Fridays to Ocala and then racing at other tracks, or with touring series, on Saturdays.