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Saturday, February 19 – Sorry for the delay in this blog but somehow when you get back home to reality after being gone for two weeks it takes a while to get caught up with life. Saturday, February 19 already seems like three weeks ago to me not just last weekend.
Anyway, Bruce and I awoke to a picture perfect day for our final day on vacation before heading back north. The mercury traveled up into the 80’s and there was not a cloud in the sky. We left the condo and traveled west into Tampa and right across the causeway bridge into Clearwater. Today our destination during the day was to visit the Phillies spring training facility. It was their first day of full team training and we really enjoyed ourselves. Both Bruce and I are big Phillies fans so it was the perfect way to finish up our 15 day vacation. Well, I should not say finish since we still did have one night of racing to go. We decided on our final night in Florida we would go back to East Bay Raceway one more time. This time we would be seeing the final night of the King of the 360 Sprints Car race on the 1/3 mile oval.
We arrived at East Bay at 6:15 to find a decent crowd on hand but nothing like the week prior for the late models. Joining the 360 sprints were the mini sprints and there were 35 360 sprints and 43 mini sprints in the pit area. Racing started at 7:20 with four heats for the mini sprints followed by four heats for 29 sprints. This was the third night the 360s were running at East Bay and the top 6 in points were already locked into the top six starting positions in the 40 lap A main paying $10,500 to win. The heats were run off quickly followed directly by a B main for the mini sprints and two 12 lap B mains for the sprint cars. As when we were here earlier in the week, there is no wasting time and as one event ends the next is pushed out. After the qualifying events the top 6 sprints had their warm-up followed by them drawing for their starting positions in the first three rows. The front row was made up of Danny Smith and Terry McCarl.
But before we got to the sprints the mini’s had their 25 lap feature to run and at 9:30 twenty six cars took the green. This track is perfect for these cars and they really fly around the high banks. Unfortunately one mini sprint really did try to fly as it flipped down the homestretch. The scary part was not the flipping but when it landed on its side on the track it was struck full throttle by another sprint. For a few seconds there was dead silence with all the fans holding their breath before we saw movement in the cockpit and the driver remove the steering wheel. He got out of the car and was fine but for a moment I believe everyone’s heart stopped. The remainder of the event was run incident free with Brett O’Donnell, the 2010 Florida Mini Sprint Champion, capturing the win. This was the second year in a row O’Donnell was crowned the Florida Winter National Champion. He was followed by Luke Thomas and Tim Buckwalter.
We were down to the final race of our two week Florida vacation and I guess it was only fitting that it was our favorite type of race cars, sprints. The race started at 10:08 and it seemed no sooner that it started it was over. Ten minutes later the checkered was falling on the non-stop 40 lap event. Although it was not a great race, it was a good race. Daryn Pittman won the event followed by Terry McCarl, Cap Henry, Danny Smith and Mark Smith. We were out of the parking lot and on our way back to the hotel before 10:30. Florida Speed Weeks for the Eckels was complete. Sunday morning we flew out of Tampa, under clear warm skies, back to the gray cold skies of Philadelphia.
To sum up the entire vacation we had a great and relaxing time. This was only the third time in 25 years of marriage that we have taken two full weeks off from work. The weather the first week was a bit rainy but of the three rainouts that week; two were made-up with double shows at East Bay. The second week the weather was just phenomenal with the daytime highs consistently in the 70’s and above. We can honestly say we did not see any bad racing. Every show was run efficiently and every show was over before 11:00, with some before 9:30. Never once did we venture into Daytona and after 24 years of going to the Daytona 500, I can honestly say that Bruce and I did not miss going the past three years. As a matter of fact this year we landed back in Philadelphia early enough to made it to my dad’s house in Reading to watch the entire race. We pulled in the driveway as they gave the command of gentleman start your engines. After watching the event they called racing we were happy to be sitting in my father’s living room with a 1 hour drive home instead of have investing another $500+ to stay another day and watch tag team racing. Now we will finish out watching the high school basketball playoffs and wait for racing to start here in Pennsylvania. Lincoln Speedway was suppose to open Saturday, February 26 but had to cancel when snow during the week followed by heavy rain made the parking area a swamp. Bruce and I are looking forward to an exciting 2011 and so far it has started off on a good foot.
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