April 2, 2015


Sunshine, Palm Trees and Dirt Tracks

by Mike Ruefer
Davenport, IA - It’s warming up today here in Iowa. Just over a week ago it was near zero degrees with snow covering all the land. It’s funny how in just a few short days the weather can change and give me hope that racing will be right around the corner.

If life is racing and if you’re reading this than it means you and me. Then it’s a series of never ending corners and straightaways with the final checkered flag to signify that a racing season is over. I’m normally very happy when racing is taking place near home or some place that is not home. As long as I can check weekly or daily on the racing results and read how the events happened, I’m content. Throw in some great photos and video replay, let’s just say that nothing is better unless I was actually there.

In the Midwest the forth corner is September and the final checkered flag flies in early October. At first it’s ok because I’m a little burned out from racing. You’ve heard about my Football hobby and I love that but by November I start dreaming about racing again. My thoughts quickly turn to Sunshine, Palm Trees and Dirt Tracks.

At times I can be an excessive organizer and scheduler. I learned early on that the only way I could get stuff done and on time was to be organized and follow a schedule. I never wake up and say, “What am I going to do today,” or “Should I go racing tonight”? Spur of the moment and spontaneity is not my thing. If this means I’m boring then that’s ok with me. I usually know what I’m going to do, know when I’m going to do it and go about it in an organized fashion.

Since schedule is another core value of mine I line out early in the year all the races I have to go to and then there are those I want to go to. They would all be “Have To” races but the family and job do matter and racing takes a back seat at certain times. My biggest Have To race is the World 100 and I’ve been fortunate to not let anything or anyone disrupt that. My family, friends and co-workers know where I will be weekend after Labor Day. Over the last 13 years a new Have To, is ever present in my life and that my friends is Sunshine, Palm Trees and Dirt Tracks.

So by now you know I’m an organizer and like schedules. Racing for me is a season of corners, straightaways and checkered flags. I have “Have To” races and “Want To” races. It’s all fairly simple to me. With all this said, I have to get out of the Iowa winter and go racing. To do this I get organized and create my schedule in November for January in Arizona and February in Florida. Only three things matter Sunshine, Palm Trees and Dirt Tracks.

Usually every year when I get back from those trips, someone will say. “How was it?” All I can say, “It was great!” In my opinion now that we have a solid event like the “Wild West Shootout” at USA Raceway in Tucson Arizona to start off the year, is why not go! It just gets better and better every year and the weather in Tucson usually is dry and warm. It can get a little chilly at night but you have to put it all in perspective. It’s January, It’s cold as heck back home and you’re racing! Because of the non-series affiliation it has more of a stress free attitude for the racers and it’s kind of a racing vacation except for the long drive and burned up tires and motors. It’s on my schedule and if only for one weekend, it’s a Have To for me. Leave your home, below zero temperatures and go to the January racing home for a glint of summer that seems to far away to come. Tucson is Sunshine, Palm Trees and Dirt Tracks.

If there is a month and State that is racing it is February and Florida. Regardless of the track, surface or kind of racecar, February and Florida is a race fans paradise. I found this in 1997 and returned in 2002 wondering why it took me so long to get back there. The Winternationals at East Bay Raceway Park near Tampa is like an out of body experience for me. From the minute I land at the airport till the second before I have to leave, Florida seems like a short trip to heaven. The week long racing produces action packed nights and the finale crowns Late Model Royalty. Winning at East Bay is hard and to do so on the last night inks your name in the records as the “King” of the “Clay by the Bay.”  

If the racing is good and fun and why I go, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention all the friendship and comradery I have while there. I like to get there early and just walk around and hang out. I see folks from home and from all the other tracks I’ve ventured to over the years. East Bay and the Winternationals is like a reunion of sorts. Once a year I will only see friends, fans, writers and photographers at East Bay. Ms. Jean Lynch is wonderful and makes the media feel like we belong. Mike Horn, Rick Warren, Neil Miller and all the other photographers share stories, leaving our shutter speed ego’s behind. Going to East Bay is not an option or a want to. It’s a Have To event were I see some of the best drivers, officials and ultimately all my friends.

It won’t be long before the maple and oak trees bloom here in Iowa. The grass will turn green and the race tracks will roar to life again. November will eventually come again and when it does I will schedule and get organized for Sunshine, Palm Trees and Dirt Tracks once again.