Written by: Derek Putnam
Photography by: Wayne Stewart/KWS Images
There’s no denying that COVID-19 restrictions have greatly affected the 2020 racing season, with even the most stable of events suffering postponements, relocations to a different venue, and even cancellations. The 352 Shootout, a race which normally takes advantage of Florida’s spring season at Gainesville Raceway, also fell victim to the state and county pandemic restrictions. But instead of delaying the event until the 2021 racing season, the 352 Shootout was able to move to a fall date at the famed facility, marking the first time the event would be held in November.
The racing action started with a Friday test day, and over 40 drivers took advantage to try their hand at Gainesville Raceway’s all-concrete surface. Mother Nature, however, would ultimately claim victory, as misting rain cooled the track surface, and deemed it too tricky to race on. The misting rain returned Saturday morning, putting the event on hold until the early afternoon, but the track crew, led by Jeremy Davis, got the track surface ready by mid-afternoon, which allowed enough time for a single time run for all classes before eliminations took center stage just after sunset. A record turnout in seven different classes pushed eliminations in Saturday night/early Sunday morning, but the weather and track surface held up and the event was run to completion.
The Small-Tire Street Car class, sponsored by Rollins Automotive Speed and Custom, Speedline Performance, and Central State RV Mobile Repair, featured fourteen cars for round one, and three rounds later, multi-time NMRA True Street champion Randy Seward lined up with Rick Prospero in the final. The RX7 of Prospero held the advantage on paper, but Seward got out on a holeshot to pull off the upset win.
The Outlaw 29-inch slick/275 radial class, presented by TRZ Motorsports and Pro Automotive, staged sixteen cars for the opening round of eliminations, and after the smoke cleared, Chris Bretz entered his second final round in as many years against two-time class winner Dean Vallese. But the pairing didn’t run, as Vallese’s machine wouldn’t start due to an ignition glitch, which gave Bretz a single for the title.
Jacky Bennett came into the Outlaw Big Tire class—sponsored by Mike Helton’s 24-Hour Mobile Diesel Repair and Advance Diesel Repair—looking to avenge a runner-up finish from the 2018 event. Fresh from a runner-up at the World Street Nationals a week earlier, Bennett plowed through the eight-car field to meet “Fast Freddy” Perkins in the final. Bennett left no doubt in the title match, leaving first on a better reaction time and turning on the win light.
A new class to the 2020 edition of the 352 Shootout, the Stick Shift class received backing from noted tuner Tony Gonyon and Tuners Inc. The final round was an all-Mustang affair, with NMRA True Street and Stick Shift Shootout winner Jeff Smith facing Bryant Rodgers. Although Smith’s 2004 Cobra got the better reaction time, the twin-turbocharged 2014 model of Rodgers easily sailed past for the win.
The Real Street class, presented by Gainesville Towing Service and Select Motor Car of Gainesville, brings together classic and modern rides with a 10-second index threshold. Former class runner-up Mike French did his job behind the wheel of his 1967 Camaro, capturing four round wins to earn a final-round berth. Filling the opposite lane would be co-worker Josh Winters, and after a close final round, Winters picked up his first-ever win.
In the Daily Driver class, sponsored by Gainesville Towing Service, the smart money was on Bill Lee Jr. and his brother Wesley Lee to score a final-round berth. They would meet in the semifinal round, where Bill Lee Jr. came out the winner by less than one thousandth of a second. Staging against Harlley Shumpert in the final round, Bill Lee Jr. used a sizable reaction-time advantage to guide his late-model Dodge Challenger to victory.
The Bad Attitude Engines-sponsored Open Comp class brought the most racers to the party, as 30 drivers staged up looking for a final-round spot. But in the end, it was local racers Brendan George and Bart Pangilinan that would face off for the title. Both racers had used better reaction times over their opponents to get to the final round, and George continued that trend in the final, using a .009 light and an index-matching 6.77 pass to force Pangilinan into a breakout, giving George the win.