FLETCHER: Many Stars At East Bay Winternationals

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EAST LEROY, Mich. — Sitting on a concrete wall watching East Bay (Fla.) Raceway Park’s pit area shutting down for the night, it was relatively easy to begin recalling some memorable moments from the week.

The six-night Lucas Oil Late Model Series Winternationals had ended some 90 minutes before. After struggling all week, Watertown, N.Y., driver Tim McCreadie had finally caught fire at the right time, during the most important, and highest paying, race of the week.

McCreadie led all 75 laps, and due to his days of frustration, the win certainly qualified as one of those aforementioned moments.

Same for Jimmy Owens, who just the day before captured his first victory in open dirt-late-model competition at the famous third-mile oval located just east of Tampa.

Scott Bloomquist capturing his first Winternationals title and through-the-roof tire bills estimated by some teams to be as high as $5,000 should be noted. There also was a Friday-afternoon heat-race dustup between Bloomquist and Austin Hubbard that brought the crowd alive and resulted in Bloomquist spinning into the infield.

There were several happenings from East Bay that are worth mentioning. It wasn’t easy to narrow it down to a few.

Easily the most important event of the week was Tyler Reddick’s Feb. 9 victory. The 15-year-old from Corning, Calif., started third and took the lead from Wisconsin’s Dan Schlieper on lap 22 of the 30-lapper.

Entering his third year of late-model competition, Reddick is driving a Bloomquist-built car and will receive assistance from the Hall of Fame driver on the road this year while traveling with the Lucas Oil Series.

He’s off to a good start.

Reddick wasn’t the only teenager competing at East Bay this year. Several young drivers from various parts of the country were on hand to gain valuable seat time and exposure.

Bobby Pierce, 14, from Illinois; Christian Augspurger, 15, from Florida; Dillan White, 18, from Kentucky; Austin Hubbard, 18, from Delaware; and Travis Varnadore, 19, from Florida, along with numerous drivers in their 20s ensure the future of the sport.

From the teen group, Hubbard was the best performer, making all six features and earning two top-five finishes.

For the first time since 2007 and only the second time in the Winternationals 35-year history, there were no repeat winners throughout the week. Bloomquist, Reddick, Owens, McCreadie, Billy Moyer and Brad Neat all graced victory lane.

It wasn’t such a lucrative week for some others.

East Bay’s finicky clay was even more tricky this year, partially due to weather conditions and two-consecutive days that featured four complete events.

Perhaps that played a role in the weeklong struggles and lackluster performances from standout drivers and Lucas Oil regulars Earl Pearson, Jr., Chris Wall, Steve Casebolt and others.

A dedicated track staff and management group worked hard to keep track conditions as racy as possible, reworking the entire surface sometimes two or three times per day. But several drivers still complained that the two daytime races killed the night events on Friday and Saturday.

There’s no doubt the track wasn’t it’s normal multi-groove self, but even at its worst, there was still some passing room. Maybe it wasn’t the best Winternationals, but it was far from the worst.

I’d also say I’m probably not the only person who was in attendance already looking forward to going back next year.

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