OCALA, FL- Race fans crowded into Ocala Speedway on Friday night to see the O'Reilly All Star Circuit of Champions break in the clay to begin their 2011 racing season, and those fans were not only treated to a fantastic show, but also were graced with a warm and rainless night that was near perfect for dynamic racing action. Joining the All Stars on the night were the always competitive Florida Mini Sprint Association, who provided quite the battle up front in their feature event.
From the start of the night it appeared that the man to beat might be Tony Stewart Racing's Donny Schatz. Schatz qualified next to last and turned a blistering 13.039 on his second lap to take the Kistler Engines Fast Qualifier Award, then gave last year's Rookie of the Year, Aaron Ott, major fits in the Dash race for starting positions. But Donny Schatz's night would end early with a spectacular front stretch flip in the feature race as he became entangled in some lapped traffic. After racing ended Tony Stewart himself was spotted assessing the damage to Schatz's machine in the pit area, as the team attempted to regroup.
Tim Shaffer may not have set the fastest qualifying time, but in the Dash for starting positions he rose to the top and remained there to nab the pole position for the feature race. Traffic is always a problem in the tight and odd shaped confines of Ocala Speedway, but between cautions that gave Shaffer clear track ahead, and Shaffer's own skill at dealing with slower machines, he managed to avoid obstacles and maintain his lead. Early chasers like Aaron Ott and Donny Schatz slipped back and were replaced by Daryn Pittman and Tyler Walker late in the race, but Shaffer held on to claim victory in the 25 lap event.
Tim Shaffer got to enjoy a huge victory celebration on Ocala's front stretch, while Daryn Pittman claimed the second place finish. Pittman was followed by Tyler Walker in third place, with Aaron Ott and Dale Blaney filling out the top five finishers.
The Florida Mini Sprints may well be the most exciting and competitive traveling series in the state, and they certainly did not disappoint at Ocala on Friday night. Almost from the start of their feature event an all out back and forth brawl developed between 2010 FMSA Champion Brett O'Donnell, and returning veteran Harold Matthews, and those two competitors provided plenty of action and had the crowd cheering them on. In fact. O'Donnell and Matthews managed to pull away from the pack late in the race and set themselves apart, as Gavin Thomas battled it out behind them with Andy Arnold and David Hall.
On lap 15 Matthews finally succumbed to O'Donnell's aggressive chasing as O'Donnell made a daring pass to grab the lead for good. Paul Lanza's late flip on lap 17 would provide a green-white-checker restart with the field again bunched together, but Matthews could not get himself back in front of the race leader.
Brett O'Donnell claimed the victory in his last weekend running with the Florida Mini Sprints before moving up to a full sized 360 sprint car for 2011, with Harold Matthews following for second place. Gavin Thomas was tough all night and wound up in the third spot, while Andy Arnold and David Hall rounded out the top five.
The O'Reilly Auto Parts Circuit of Champions and the Florida Mini Sprint Association are set to go at it again on Saturday night on Ocala's tricky 3/8ths mile, and certainly it will be another night of thrills and tough competition. Fans needing schedule information or directions to the track are urged to visit www.OcalaSpeedway.com, where they will also find a link to sign up for alerts to weather related delays and/or changes from RainedOut.com. As was the case on Friday, the grandstand gates will open at 5PM on Saturday with racing beginning at 8PM with heats, B-mains, and Dash events. Feature races will follow later in the evening.