NASCAR Home Tracks

Google+ Twitter Facebook rss

Florida Tracks: Then And Now With NASCAR

New Smyrna's World Series Opens New Chapter
By Paul Schaefer, NASCAR
February 22, 2013 - 9:05am

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — A new chapter in NASCAR and central Florida racing history opened this week. New Smyrna Speedway’s 47th annual World Series of Asphalt Stock Car Racing is NASCAR-sanctioned as part of the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series for the first time.

The half-mile high-banked paved oval in Samsula, Fla., and its sister track, Orlando (Fla.) Speedworld, joined the NASCAR family last month.

NASCAR-licensed Super Late Model drivers are gaining NASCAR Whelen All-American Series national points during the World Series events. Feature winners so far this week include 1994 NASCAR Whelen All-American Series national champion David Rogers of Orlando, Fla., Devin McLeod of Zephyrhills, Fla., and Stephen Nasse of Pinellas Park, Fla. Kyle Benjamin of Easley, S.C., took his third win Thursday evening. 

The NASCAR Modified division is categorized as a NASCAR Finalist Division this week at New Smyrna. Feature winners include Chuck Hossfeld Ransomville, N.Y., and Woody Pitkat of Stafford, Conn., who won his third feature Thursday night. Pitkat is the reigning NASCAR Late Model track champion at Stafford Motor Speedway in Stafford, Conn.

Although the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series is new to the tracks, both hosted NASCAR stars over the years. New Smyrna Speedway opened in 1964 and Orlando Speedworld opened in 1974.

Alabama promoter Bob Harmon and NASCAR each conducted touring Super Late Model competition that eventually melded into one, commonly referred to as the All Pro Series.

The late Harmon promoted All Pro Series events at several Florida tracks including New Smyrna Speedway. Bill Desmond of Prattville, Ala., worked as media coordinator for both Harmon and NASCAR. He has vivid memories.

“Historically New Smyrna Speedway and Orlando Speedworld bring out the best in competition,” Desmond said. “Just look at the results.”

Desmond was a meticulous record keeper.

All Pro Series race winners at New Smyrna in the 1980s included Rogers, Joe Shear, Rusty Wallace and the only two-time New Smyrna All-Pro winner Joe Nemechek of Lakeland, Fla.

“Joe was extremely popular wherever he raced in Florida,” Desmond said.

Some of the drivers to post top five finishes in those New Smyrna All Pro events over the years include Butch Lindley, Darrell Waltrip, Robin McCall, Dick Anderson, David Pearson, Jody Ridley, Bobby Dotter, Billy Bigley Jr., and Rick Crawford.

Orlando Speedworld hosted a NASCAR Late Model event under the All-American banner in 1986. Ronnie Sanders won over Dick Trickle, Bobby Gill, Dave Mader III and Butch Miller.

New Smyrna Speedway has been Rogers’ home track for most of his 40 year career. In 1989, he migrated to a newly paved Volusia County Speedway in Barberville, Fla. He made the move to race in NASCAR-sanctioned competition.

“When I had the chance to compete in NASCAR weekly racing, that’s what I wanted to do,” Rogers said. “It was a great opportunity.”

By 1994 he won his third Volusia County track championship, second regional championship and the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series national championship.

With an undefeated record of 22 wins in 22 starts, his remarkable 1994 campaign was dubbed the “Dream Season.” Rogers beat Concord (N.C.) Speedway driver Jack Sprague for the national title. Sprague had a record of 21 wins in 22 starts. Rogers also outpaced eventual five-time national champion Larry Phillips who, like Rogers, also won a 1994 regional championship. Rogers beat the best.

“People still ask me about 1994,” Rogers said. “I tell them all we wanted to do then and now is go out and try to win races. A lot of things that went right that year. We had a couple of make-up race weekends late in the season where we had to win two features in one night. That was pretty tough. Adults still talk about it, and their kids want to know everything. That’s a big compliment after all these years.”

When Volusia County returned to a dirt surface, Rogers went home to New Smyrna Speedway.

Speedworld and New Smyrna have been connected to NASCAR in other ways. NASCAR national series teams have been known to do private test sessions at them, especially the larger New Smyrna track. Mark Martin was instrumental in building a tenth-mile track for Quarter-Midget racing on New Smyrna’s infield. That track opened for youth racing in 2001.

New Smyrna Speedway opened on Hart family farmland as a half-mile dirt track in 1964 and was paved in 1965. It grew into today’s half-mile oval that features 23 degrees of banking in the turns. The track was repaved most recently in 2007 and is operated by Robert Hart. The Hart family acquired Orlando Speedworld in 1987.

Speedworld opened as a .375-mile paved banked oval in 1974 with NASCAR Late Model Sportsman cars as the featured division. A figure-8 configuration was added in 1989. The oval was repaved in 1998. It is located on East Colonial Drive in Bithlo, about 20 miles from downtown Orlando. Ozzy and Maria Moya are the new track operators and March 1 is scheduled as their opening day. 

The track websites are http://newsmyrnaspeedway.org and http://orlandospeedworld.org.

woody-pitkat_autographs_battle_021913_700.jpg

Woody Pitkat, right, is making the most of his trip to Florida by racing his Modified at the UNOH Battle At The Beach at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway and at New Smyrna Speedway in Samsula, Fla. Getty Images for NASCAR