T.J.’s Takeaways From the All Star Opener at Ocala

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By T.J. Buffenbarger

The 2019 winged 410 sprint car season in North America started off on the right foot with a great show Thursday night at Bubba Raceway Park. Here are a few takeaways from the opening night of racing at Ocala:

  • The best way to start a season with a new title sponsor for a series is to have a great main event. The All Star Circuit of Champions welcomed Ollies Bargain Outlet to the title sponsor role of the series with a barn burning feature with Tony Stewart, Shane Stewart, and eventual winner Tim Shaffer exchanging the lead.

    Tony Stewart did a great job holding onto the lead for most of the event dicing back and forth with both Stewart and Shaffer, even retaking the lead from Shane Stewart at one point after Shane had passed Tony for the lead.

    Bubba Raceway Park’s unusual shape lends itself to races like this when it doesn’t lock down to a single groove because of its unique shape (https://www.google.com/maps/place/Bubba+Raceway+Park/@29.282509,-82.18828,864m/data=!3m2!1e3!4b1!4m5!3m4!1s0x88e62989cff30573:0x86e4195f3cc67052!8m2!3d29.282509!4d-82.186086). The track also did an excellent job of overcoming some odd gremlins to start out the winter nationals such as the ambulance leaving the grounds right before the first sprint car heat race and having to come back and Jim Shuster ball parking his sprint car between turns three and four and taking out a caution light.

    There are times the action in Florida only gets me excited about sprint car racing due to the absence of it over the winter. Thursday’s feature was exciting because it was a great feature. Its nice to have such a great start to the season for the All Stars and for the sprint car portion of Speedweeks in Florida.

  • While the focus during the off seasons was on several new driver/team combinations throughout the sport the opening night of racing in the 410 division at Ocala saw a familiar team in victory lane. Tim Shaffer and the Rudzik excavating team in my eyes is the best sprint car team that doesn’t commit to a series or track point title. Shaffer with crew chief Cody Jacobs started 2019 much of the same way they did last season winning at Ocala one night earlier than the previous season. If the Shaffer/Ruidzik combination can maintain that kind of performance through July and August, they should improve on what was a great 2018 season.
  • Shane Stewart also found speed early in the CJB Motorsports car at Ocala taking the lead for a moment before Tony Stewart and Shaffer slipped by. Shane did pass Tony for second at the end but seemed comfortable throughout the night on one of the trickier race tracks in the country.
  • While instant success for up and coming drivers is fun to watch so is steady improvement. Carson Short has been mixing in a healthy diet of winged sprint car racing to go with his non-wing exploits. Thursday Short was a presence all night setting fast time and sniffing around the race for the lead during the final restart before settling into a fifth place finish.

Overall a fun way to start off the 2018 season, and the best part is there are two nights still to come.