Ocala, FL — Come Fri., March 19, Ocala Speedway will be officially introduced to a national dirt Late Model audience.
That evening the World of Outlaws Late Model Series is scheduled to make a first-ever stop at the central Florida track, focusing the attention of the dirt Late Model world on a venerable facility that has never before hosted such a significant, star-studded event for the division.
Now in just its third season of dirt racing following more than a decade as an asphalt track, Ocala Speedway is ready to bust into the full-fender spotlight. In that vein, here’s some things a dirt Late Model fan needs to know about a track that will end a month of inactivity for the WoO LMS with a 50-lap, $10,000-to-win spectacular – the first time the national tour will compete in the Sunshine State outside of Volusia Speedway Park in Barberville.
* Ocala Speedway is the oldest track in Florida – seven years older than Daytona International Speedway, in fact. But while 2010 marks its 58th year of operation, it certainly doesn’t look its age thanks to numerous facility upgrades over the past decade, including the installation of a stadium-style grandstand with seating for 4,000, bright Musco lighting and a superb sound system; construction of buildings featuring checkerboard floors, new restrooms and a children’s play area; and an all-asphalt and cement pit area.
* The track operated with a dirt surface from its birth in 1952 until being paved in 1995. Clay was put back down prior to the 2008 season and the speedway has been building momentum ever since.
* Ocala Speedway is owned by Michael Peters and his fiancée Angie Clifton. The couple – Peters, 40, is a former jet pilot for the defunct ATA Airlines and Clifton, 42, is a vice-president of a bank – purchased the track in late 2005 after deciding to take a shot at promoting a venue that was rumored to be ripe for closing if an energized buyer didn’t step up.
A racer in Ocala’s V-8 Thunder Stock class, Peters found life as a track operator to be a tough proposition. While struggling to increase attendance during the 2006 and 2007 seasons, he sometimes wondered whether taking a leave of absence from his job with the airline to concentrate on the speedway was a mistake.
Then, after the completion of the 2007 campaign, Peters announced he was returning Ocala to its roots as a dirt track. He brought in 350 truckloads of clay to cover the surface and, just like that, the speedway was literally reborn. More than 180 cars signed in for the first practice session on dirt in January 2008 and a standing-room-only crowd turned out for the track’s grand
reopening, on Feb. 29, 2008.
“It was the right decision to make,” Peters said of Ocala’s resurfacing. “The difference has been like night and day. We tried everything to get people to come out when the track was paved but just weren’t getting anywhere. Now there’s just so much more excitement about the racing, it’s made my job that much easier.”
* Dirt Late Models running under the National Late Model Series rules compete every other week at Ocala. The class, which alternates as the track’s headliner each Friday night with the DIRTcar UMP Modifieds, draws solid fields – and Peters said several regulars plan to enter the WoO LMS event in hopes of making the starting lineup of the biggest dirt Late Model show in Ocala’s
* The speedway boasts one of the most unique layouts of any dirt track in the country. A D-shaped, three-eighths-mile oval with a pronounced dog-leg on the backstretch, it’s a challenge for any driver to navigate smoothly.
“One and two are long, sweeping turns that guys can go through wide-open,” described Peters, “but then they have to slow down for a much tighter hairpin through (turns) three and four.
“It makes the racing real interesting. A lot of people will actually set their car up for one end or the other because they’re so different.”
Ocala will be uncharted territory for most of the traveling WoO LMS stars, including defending champion Josh Richards of Shinnston, W.Va., who turns 22 just three days after the track’s tour event. He was one of a handful of Outlaws who planned to test at Ocala before the recent DIRTcar Nationals by UNOH at nearby Volusia Speedway Park, but wet weather prevented any drivers from getting on the track.
One of the few WoO LMS regulars with experience on Ocala’s dirt is Clint Smith of Senoia, Ga. He remembers finishing fourth in a Hav-A-Tampa/Southern All-Stars Series special held there on Feb. 13, 1993 – the last time a major touring dirt Late Model series competed at the track.
The Outlaws will certainly face a formidable foe in Ocala native Ivedent Lloyd, the 1992-1993 Ocala Speedway dirt Late Model champion and a winner of four features at the track over the past two seasons. A two-time Southern All-Stars titlist, Lloyd has plenty of laps at his hometown oval and has run well in WoO LMS action in the past.
* There’s an unprecedented buzz surrounding the inaugural WoO LMS event at Ocala. A packed house watched last month’s All-Star Circuit of Champions Sprint Car Winternationals show and Peters expects his ticket sellers to be busy again on March 19.
“A World of Outlaws Late Model Series race is what we’ve been building toward since we went dirt,” said Peters. “I went to high school (Ocala Forest) with Tim Christman (the director of the WoO LMS and part-owner/promoter of Ocala Speedway for the 2002-2003 seasons), and he called me to talk as soon as he heard I was putting dirt down. I told him I definitely wanted to have a World of Outlaws someday and now here we are.”
Ocala’s pit gates are scheduled to open at 1 p.m. and the grandstands will be unlocked at 5 p.m. on March 19. Racing is set to start at 8 p.m.
General admission tickets to the WoO LMS program, which will also include action for the track’s Hobby Stock and Mini-Stock divisions, will be $25 (adults), $12 (ages 6-16) and free for kids 6-and-under. Pit passes will cost $35 and $15 for children 12-and-under.
The Ocala Speedway event is part of a Southeast doubleheader for the WoO LMS, which moves on to Screven Motor Speedway in Sylvania, Ga., on March 20.
More information on Ocala Speedway is available by logging on to www.ocalaspeedway.com or calling 352-622-9400.
For more information on the WoO LMS, visit www.worldofoutlaws.com.
The World of Outlaws Late Model Series is brought to fans across the country by many important sponsors and partners, including Arizona Sport Shirts (Official Apparel Company), Armor All (Official Car Care Products), Hoosier Racing Tires (Official Racing Tires), STP (Official Fuel Treatment), SuperClean (Official Cleaner-Degreaser) and VP Racing (Official Racing Fuel); in
addition to contingency sponsors Eibach Springs, Integra Shocks, MSD Ignition, Ohlins Shocks, Pink Carburetors, Pro Power Engines, Quartermaster, Rocket Chassis and Wrisco Aluminum.