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Launch Pad—Racers Take Flight At The 5th Annual 352 Shootout

After a good amount of rain, some might have questioned the traction available at Gainesville Raceway. Mike Fair answered that question by piloting the “Dirt Dauber” S-10 skyward on his first pass, and masterfully bringing it back to earth without much damage.

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.

Normally a fast bracket car in Gainesville Raceway’s No-Box class, Travis Marchand brought his wheel-standing ’69 Camaro out to play in the Open Comp class.

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.

A multi-time NMCA and NMRA True Street class winner, Randy Seward made his first 352 Shootout appearance pay off with an upset win over the favored ride of Rick Prospero.

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.

Well known in the no-time racing game, Chris Bretz brought his turbocharged Camaro out to play in the Outlaw 29-inch slick / 275 radial class. Bretz rolled through eliminations before taking a single in the final round for the win and a fistful of cash.

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.

Another drive to discover Gainesville Raceway was packing a good bite was Kyle Stokes, putting his ’69 Chevelle into a big wheelstand on his time run. Stokes run ended in round two against eventual winner Chris Bretz.
Big tires can mean big performances, and Jacky Bennett was the leader of the Outlaw Big-Tire class from the first lap. Bennett steered his ProCharger-fed Camaro to the final round to stage up with “Fast” Freddy Perkins, where Bennett grabbed the final win light.

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.

The final of the new Stick Shift class put a pair of Mustangs on the starting line, with NMRA regular Jeff Smith staging up against Bryant Rodgers. Smith dropped the clutch first for a slight holeshot, but Rodgers had the power to come around Smith for the win.

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.

When a driver and car are in perfect harmony, it’s a hard to beat combination. Josh Winters used a series of better reaction times and turbocharged Ford power to capture his first Real Street 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.

Kenneth Green shares driving duties of this 2000 Chevrolet pick-up with twin brother Andrew. Packing a 6.0-liter LS-engine and a single turbocharger, the truck advanced to round three of Real Street before falling short.
A regular player in the NMCA’s Torqstorm True Street class, Chris French lined up to play in the Real Street class at the 352 Shootout, earning a couple win lights before losing in a close battle with the Camaro of his brother Mike French.

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.

Brendan George is a Gainesville Raceway regular, and he combined home-field advantage with some great reaction times to score a win in the Open Comp class.

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.