SEVEN NEW TRACK CHAMPIONS CROWNED AT NEW SMYRNA SPEEDWAY
New Smyrna Speedway wrapped up the 2015 NASCAR Whelen All-American Racing Series points season on October 31st and, for the first time in recent memory, no driver scored a back-to-back track title as seven new champions were crowned over the final two weeks of racing.
The biggest surprise of the 2015 season had to be the resurgence of the Sportsman division. After a fairly dismal season car-count wise in 2014, New Smyrna Speedway suddenly became “the place to race” for Sportsman cars this year. The big story within the class would definitely belong to Oviedo’s Patrick Thomas who initially had no plans to compete for the track championship. However, after reeling off four consecutive victories from April 4 - May 16, Thomas found himself with a nice edge in points and decided to give it a go. After being nipped at the line by Junior Beckner on May 31, Thomas again took four straight wins from June 13 - August 8. After Beckner won again on August 29, Thomas again scored a trio of back-to-back wins in September including winning double features on September 19.
Thomas switched from his ultra-fast #25 car to the Harris #111 for the final two races of the season and fell victim to a DNF for a transmission issue on September 26th before claiming a second place finish to Brandon Morris on October 24th. All told, Thomas scored 11 wins, placed second twice, third once and fourth once along with two DNF’s in 17 starts taking the championship by a comfortable 43 point margin over Beckner who finished the year with two victories, five second-place finishes, a third, three fourths and a fifth place effort in also making every event on the schedule. The “Superteam” from Sheppard Racing Enterprises in Deland owned by New Hampshire natives Jim Daley and Sandy Lee claimed the next three spots in Sportsman points with Lee himself in third ahead of Ron Gustafson and Derrick Wood. The team also took the sixth and ninth places in points with rookie driver R. J. Glaser and D. J. Farr claiming those positions.
For Thomas, it was his first-ever track title. “I’ve never really had the time, the inclination, and certainly the money to try to do this during my career,” said Thomas. “It’s such a big thing not only for me but for all the people who helped work on the car and get me here… I can’t thank them enough,” he continued. Thomas has indicated he will try for back-to-back Sportsman titles as he’ll drive the Harris Oil/Harris Mini Storage #111 car next season at New Smyrna while taking his own machine to bigger events held at tracks throughout Florida that don’t conflict with the race dates at New Smyrna.
The re-emerging of the Sportsman class also gave Thomas a shot at a national title as well as he found himself among the front runners for the NASCAR Division III championship late in the year. A series of rain outs put a damper on his chances but the track added several Sportsman dates to the calendar to insure Thomas would have a chance to win the national title. When Thomas won both events on September 19th, he ended up with enough points to claim the NASCAR Division III crown by a scant ten points over Elko, MN, Speedway driver Brent Kane. “Winning the track championship is certainly a surprise for me this year but to also win the NASCAR championship too… I could not fathom that happening at the start of the season,” said Thomas. “I don’t think all this will really sink in until I have that trophy in my hands,” he said.
The Super Late Models were back as a regular points division for 2015 but a series of rain outs cut their total schedule to just six races that were dominated by two Oviedo drivers, Anthony Sergi and Brad May who each scored three wins over the six events that managed to be run. In the end it was Sergi who claimed the title as he had a second and two third place finishes to go along with his three wins while May had two thirds and a fourth place effort that saw him come up just two points shy of Sergi in the final tally.
Veteran David Rogers of Orlando Lurked behind Sergi and May all year and had a good season despite being held out of victory lane for a second consecutive year. Rogers ended up with four second place efforts along with a third and a fifth place finish to take third in points just eight markers behind Sergi. Rookie Noah Cornman took fourth in points and Corey Spencer was fifth.
Consistency has always been a hallmark of many New Smyrna Speedway champions and that could be said of New Smyrna’s Zach Jarrell as he claimed the Pro Late Model title without scoring a victory. What Jarrell did was start every race of the season and drive as fast as his low-buck team car would let him while racing against teams that had more experience and bigger finances but did not compete on a weekly basis. In the end Jarrell would finish 2015 with a pair of second place finishes, ten top-fives and a total of 14 top-ten finishes in his 15 starts. Those stats allowed him to finish seven points ahead of Holly Hill driver Blaise Hetznecker whose own low-dollar team also had a very consistent year that saw him in the top-five nine times. 15-year-old Noah Cornman also started all of the races and wound up third in points, 17 behind Jarrell.
“We are just a small family run team that does the best with what we’ve got and I know we don’t have the fastest car each week so I just try to run as hard as I can,” said Jarrell. “I have to admit that I was points racing over the final few weeks and being very careful while also trying to get some good finishes… This means so much to do this for my family and all those who helped throughout the year plus all those fans and sponsors that supported me all year… I’ll see you at the banquet!” he said.
The big winner on the year in the Pro Late Models was Brad May who claimed eight wins on the year including the final three of the season after his Bobby Sears Racing Team signed on sponsor R. K. Edwards, Inc. of Longwood. However, May did not run the first three weeks of the year and that left him on the outside looking in as far as the points race went. In fact, May’s eight victories would only net him fifth in points as Deland’s Rich Clouser would take fourth on the strength of three wins and a total of 11 top-five finishes. But, just like May, Clouser missed a few race nights and that kept him out of going for the championship.
In the Modifieds it was really the tale of two seasons. Defending track champion Jerry “The Hammer” Symons of New Smyrna started off strong winning two of the first three events early in the year. However, a string of mechanical failures and other issues kept the veteran out of victory lane again until late August.
Meanwhile, another New Smyrna veteran, James “Tank” Tucker, got off to a relatively slow start on the season in his Grahmam Custom Fabricating car as Symons stayed on top of the point chase with his Gene Kelly Roofing/American Auto special. Tucker got his first win on May 2nd and from there reeled off five more wins over the next ten weeks to edge Symons in the final point tally by just five. Tucker would end the year with six victories, four second-place efforts, two thirds and two fourths in winning the title over Symons. Although he did not win this year, Matt Wheeler made it a top-three sweep of positions for New Smyrna area drivers as he parlayed 11 top-five finishes into a third place points effort ahead of consistent Mike Dahm and Matt Jarrett. One of the more interesting efforts of the year was made by the SADE team and the #1W car that saw Jason Boyd and Dillon Wood take the machine to victory lane before veteran racer Wayne Parker came out of retirement to drive it late in the year, also scoring a win.
Merritt Island’s Justin Reynolds absolutely dominated the Speedway Flooring Super Stock class in 2015 driving his Hot Colors Powder Coating special to a 22 point edge over two-time defending champion Shannon Kelly. The final tally was actually made closer when Reynolds was DQ’d on the next-to-last night of the Super Stock season when his car came up light on the scales after the team was forced to use a back-up rear end in the car that was much lighter that the one that broke in practice.
Overall, Reynolds won ten of the 14 races held for the Super Stocks and actually finished in the top three each time although his one DQ came close to derailing his title year. Again, like Patrick Thomas in the Sportsman class, Reynolds did not plan on chasing points. “We really just planned to run about half the races but after we won the first five there was no turning back especially after I got the blessing of my wife to give it a shot,” said Reynolds. “To tell you the truth, I’m pretty burnt out right now since we had three cars to keep running, not just my own… It feels really good to get the championship though, especially for my family, my dad and all the guys who help us out week in and week out,” he said.
Kelly ended up second in points after taking championships in both 2013 and 2014 scoring ten top-five finishes along the way. Bobby Holley was third in points trailed by Gino Tuminello and the recently un-retired Dale Howard. Preston Hunt was right in the point chase until late in the year before the 2014 Super Stock Rookie of the Year ran into some horrible luck. Despite that, the 15-year-old Deland High student scored the first win of his career on October 17th and was just one of four drivers to beat Reynolds this year. One of those other wins went to one of the Reynolds Racing team cars driven by Bruce Bennett on the final night of racing. The other two were taken by the Manheim Orlando special of Butch Herdegen who won himself on June 6th while his crew chief Mike Trocki claimed a victory on October 3rd.
Ted Vulpius of Mims, better known as “Mr. Mini Stock,” had a fantastic year in the Sunshine Seamless Gutters Mini Stock class taking a total of 11 wins over the course of 13 races in the Guy Callon Racing special. Vulpius won the title by 34 points over Brad Blanton of Tavares who won the two races that Vulpius did not win along with taking 10 more top-five finishes. David Russell of Melbourne was third in points followed by Mark Broat and Bobby Dooley.
After taking Rookie of the Year honors in 2014, Aaron Overman of Orlando took home the Bomber championship in just his second year of racing. The Bombers compete each week and ran a total of 28 features in 2015. Overman won just once, on October 3rd, but made every race and finished in the top-five 20 times in topping second place James Skinner of Melbourne by 103 points. Orlando’s Shane Sutorus was third in points and won six times during the year while Charlie King, Sr. won three features, good for fourth in points and Billy Barrington took fifth despite a limited schedule that saw him tie Sutorus for the most wins in the class at six.
Overman will now turn his Tim’s Automotive-sponsored Bomber over to his daughter for 2016 as he plans to move up to the Super Stock class.
Three drivers tied for the most wins on the year with 11 each. Patrick Thomas and Ted Vulpius scored 11 victories in their respective Sportsman and Mini Stock classes while Brad May also took 11 wins between two classes; eight in the Pro Late Models and three in the Super Late Models.
The track suffered six full rain outs during the year with action on April 11, July 11, July 25, August 1, August 15 and September 12 complete wash-outs. Programs on both May 23 and August 29 were cut short due to rain.
Champion Photos by Jim Jones (jimjonesphoto.com)
- Super Late Models - Anthony Sergi
- Pro Late Models - Zach Jarrell
- Sportsman - Patrick Thomas
- Modifieds - James “Tank” Tucker
- Speedway Flooring Super Stocks - Justin Reynolds