East Bay Winter Nationals Late Models


East Bay Sees 140 Drivers Participate In Record Setting Week

East Bay Sees 140 Drivers Participate In Record Setting Week
by Bill Green "From Behind The MIC!"

Tampa, FL (Feb. 13th, 2005) East Bay Raceway Park's 29th Annual Winter Nationals continued last week with 115 plus dirt Super Late Model cars in attendance. The NARA Dirt Car Series brought all the big names to the famous clay-by-the-bay. Kicking off their 2005 season with six night's in a row of qualifying, heat races, B-mains and wild A-main features each night. Also, this began the NARA Championship Points run for 2005. A title every dirt pilot wishes to add the there win title resume.

Night one saw a few mild upsets, as "The Million Dollar Man" Donnie Moran had to make the A-main through a B-main last chance qualifier. Don O'Neal out of Martinsville, Indiana set fast time with a respectable 14.850. He would set the tone for the week, following up that fast time with a wire to wire win of the $5000 dollar to win A-main event. Going second behind him would be "The Kentucky Colonel" Steve Francis from Ashland, KY who would come from 12th in one of very few Mopar powered cars in this record setting field. Third went to Terry English of Benton, KY, with Vienna, WV driver Steve Shaver fourth and York, PA pilot Rick Eckert fifth.

On the second night the East Bay Raceway Park fans saw the record car count bumped up to 117 dirt Late Models signing in. That meant it would be very difficult to be one of the last 26 cars running in the evenings A-main finale. On this night it would be the son of legendary racer, "Barefoot" Bob McCreadie, Tim McCreadie of Watertown, NY in Victory Lane. Starting on the pole didn't hurt any, but McCreadie had to hold off a hard charging Terry English for the win. English finished third last night and improved to second on night two. Third went to last night's winner O'Neal, with Billy Moyer from Batesville, AR going fourth and Carpentersville, IL driver Dennis Erb, Jr. breaking into the top 5.

Wednesday night was a magic night for Benton, KY driver Terry English as he continued to best his previous night's run by winning the $5000 top prize on the evening. He bested fellow bluegrass state driver Steve Francis by two car lengths in the end, but Francis was pressuring English for most of the race. Francis settled for second, with New London, WI native Terry Casey third and the ever consistent Don O'Neal fourth on the night. Finishing out the fast five would be Dan Schlieper all the way from Sullivan, WI. Nice to see local West Palm Beach driver Jeff Choquette "The Gun Slinger", win heat-2 on the night, but Choquette's 22nd place finish in the A-main would leave the central Florida asphalt ace scratching his head.

Night four saw the fourth different winner in Victory Lane as Vienna, WV driver Steve Shaver bested the field for a flag-to-flag victory and the increased $7000 winner's share of the purse. Billy Moyer would run second from his pole position start, followed by Zanesville, Ohio's Rick Aukland third, with Brady Smith of Solon Springs, WI fourth. Breaking back into the top-5 would be Rick Eckert in his rocket chassis speedster.

Each night the number of fans in the stands increased to an almost standing room only Friday night program. In what turned out to be the weeks most exciting finish, it was "The Kentucky Colonel" Steve Francis besting Shannon Babb and Earl Pearson, Jr. for the win, but not by much. Babb of Moweaqua, IL nosed out Jacksonville, FL driver Pearson for second. While Pearson settled for third, Matt Miller of Waterville, OH held fourth and night-3 winner English took fifth. It was a standing ovation from the 4000 plus fans that witnessed an amazing display of driving skills by Babb, Pearson and Francis as The Colonel stood in Victory Lane accepting his $10,000 dollar check for the win.

Anticipation was in the air as the still strong field of 93 cars prepared for the Saturday Night ESPN-2 taped Finale. A visit to East Bay by 2004 Craftsman Truck Series "Rookie Of The Year" David Reutimann had fans from all over the map standing in line for a brand new Rookie Card and autograph. But tonight would break the streak of different drivers visiting Victory Lane as 41 year old Don O'Neal would be the only man on the week to repeat as a race winner and do it to the tune of a $12,000 dollar first prize. O'Neal would make a remarkable run from his 20th starting spot for his 11th East Bay victory, tying Billy Moyer on the all time win list. This run would be made even more dramatic as O'Neal visited the pits on lap-14 with a flat tire. Restarting in the 25th position, O'Neal stayed steady and consistent. Working through lapped traffic like a master of the clay. Finally catching then race leader Steve Francis on lap-70 of the 100-lap Feature event. Following O'Neal's amazing run under the checkered flag was "The Million Dollar Man" Donnie Moran, with his best finish of the week. Third went to Brian Birkhofer from Muscatine, IA in his best finish of the week. Last night's winner Steve Francis would fall to fourth after leading, but hold off his arch rival and friend Rick Eckert over the final laps, leaving Eckert in the final top-5 spot fifth.

The week low 93 cars for Saturday, made the total of 647 race car entries an unbelievable record setting week total. Also as important was the fact that 140 different drivers took to the clay during the week long event. Really amazing stats!

Next week the excitement begins on Tuesday, February 15th as the Open Wheel Modified pilots from across the country try their hand at the world famous clay-by-the-bay. Saturday's finale will see the winner accepting the lions share of a bank busting $86,215 dollar total purse payout for the week. Tickets are still available at 813-677-RACE.



 East Bay Winter Nationals Late Models


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