Chase for UMP Modified Speedweeks championship begins Wednesday in Tampa
Nineteen days. Fourteen races. Three tracks. One champion. DIRTcar UMP Modified Winternationals is here.
Starting this week, the best Dirt Modified drivers in the nation make their annual southbound journey to the Sunshine State to take part in one of the most prestigious championship chases of Florida-Georgia Speedweeks. Similar in style to the Midwest-based DIRTcar Summit Racing Equipment Modified Nationals trail through the summer, drivers will compete at three tracks over three weeks in search of a $2,000 grand prize as champion of the miniseries.
The grind begins with five-straight nights at East Bay Raceway Park – Tue-Sat, Jan. 25-29 (Tuesday night has now been canceled due to rainfall). A $1,000 check is on the line Wednesday and $1,500-to-win on Thu-Fri before the 75-lap, $5,000-to-win championship finale on Saturday night.
Four days later, the Modifieds pick it back up at North Florida Speedway in Lake City for Round 6-8. Practice on Feb. 3 precedes racing on Fri-Sun, Feb 4-6.
Then comes the toughest test – the 51st DIRTcar Nationals at Volusia Speedway Park, Feb. 7-12. Over 100 drivers entered to compete for a gator trophy last year, but only one walked away victorious. Three-time DIRTcar national points titlist Nick Hoffman clinched his sixth consecutive DIRTcar Nationals championship in 2021, while Jason Hughes sealed the deal on his first Winternationals championship after a seventh-place run in the final race.
The path to the championship starts with a single race at East Bay. The famed Clay by the Bay has been hosting the UMP Modified extravaganza for the past 22 years. Several preliminary nights of action are held before the big-money championship Feature on Saturday night. Seventeen different drivers have tasted victory in the event finale, but only an elite few have done it more than once.
Kevin “Buzzy” Adams, of Cameron, WI, became the third driver to do so last year after a successful title defense in an epic finish, beating fellow Modified veteran Jason Hughes to the line on the final lap of a green-white-checkered to claim his second-consecutive $5,000 championship check.
It was a race he wouldn’t soon forget, powering around the top side at nearly 9,000 RPM to make the pass for the win in front of a crowd that’s come to know and love he and his black/green #40 every year since his debut in 2006.
“At the end, I feel like we were going to win the race without the last yellow, but the yellow didn’t hurt, either,” Adams said. “All-in-all, we just had to get after it and rely on the cushion because Jason Hughes was so good on the bottom, nobody was ever gonna get around him down there.”
The repeat triumph was the second Feature win that week for Adams, matching what he earned there in 2020. But this string of high-level success at East Bay has been only recent. In a span of seven championship Feature starts from 2012 to 2019, Adams finished second four times. The sense of jubilation, among other feelings he felt in Victory Lane when he finally broke through two years ago, still stands out in his mind today.
“It definitely was a sense of relief,” Adams said. “You kinda have that weighing on you, always thinking you’re going to be the bridesmaid.”
Adams has since become a household name at East Bay in January, now with seven Feature wins to his credit. Last year, he got a good look at one potential future household name in all of dirt track racing – teenage sensation Drake Troutman.
Troutman, the UMP Modified and Super Late Model hot shoe from Hyndman, PA, took the Winternationals trail by storm in 2021, winning in his East Bay debut against drivers with more year of experience at the third-mile oval than his own age.
“It was huge, to say the least,” Troutman said of the win. “We just had intentions to just go down there and at least make the shows. We got there and set quick time the first night, and that was just a huge confidence booster.”
He turned the heads of everyone in the pit area that week, even his own, taking the checkers again on Friday night on a last lap, Turn 4 slide job for the win.
“It seemed like the longer the race went, the better my car came in,” Troutman said. “The last three laps of the fourth night, I just found something on the track, and everyone else started slipping and sliding. I was kind of abusing my stuff more than other people were, so I had more tire heat.”
Back home, Troutman is used to racing on much larger tracks, such as his home track of Bedford Speedway in Bedford, PA – a mostly flat, 5/8-mile fairgrounds raceway. But he took right to the unique shape and dark-clay surface of East Bay in no time, showcasing his ability to get it done on a variety of courses.
“It fits my driving style,” Troutman said. “I like to drive kinda sideways. I like it because you can search around. Every five laps, the track’s changing.
“The first five laps, you might be putting around the bottom and the next five, you’re up there blasting the top.”
One of the most unique aspects of East Bay is the tide rolling in on the landscape and changing the track by the minute. Literally.
Sitting just a short distance from the water of Hillsborough Bay, the tide that moves in at night has been said to shift the water table underneath the land, causing moisture to rise all the way to the surface and bleed out onto the track while cars are going around. Several drivers subscribe to the notion that this moisture changes the track in real-time.
Though they have different levels of experience racing on it, both Adams and Troutman say it does change the track conditions, especially after a yellow on the restart.
“I love the challenge side of it, but I also love the speed you get at East Bay with a short-track atmosphere,” Adams said. “Then you throw in the big curveball, which is the tide effect.
“A lot of the Late Model crew chiefs think it doesn’t have an effect, but it does. If you’ve driven on there, you know exactly what it’s doing. It took us years to learn how to read that tide. Now, with cell phones and weather apps, you can see exactly when it’s coming in.”
“The tide has a lot to do with the track conditions,” Troutman said. “The slicker it gets, and then the tide comes in, it gets to the point where you can’t steer at all. You’ve gotta get the back-end whipped around.”
A WISSOTA Modified regular racing the one and only DIRTcar-sanctioned event he competes in all year, Adams and his car make the 1,500+ mile journey every year to take on this unique track – unlike any other he sees around his native Wisconsin.
“The way you have to drive the place is so different than back home,” Adams said. “Then, to deal with huge horsepower motors on soft tires and no spoiler – it’s crazy, compared to everything we do at home.”
Since starting up a family back home and the takeoff of his business, Buzz Signs, Adams hasn’t been able to chase the UMP Modified Speedweeks championship like he did several years ago. But he knows with the competition in Florida, even a single Feature win in January-February is one to cherish.
“Any time you can win a race in Florida – doesn’t matter what track you’re at – if it happens during Speedweeks, you feel like no matter what else happens that winter, it was still a success,” Adams said.
Not many teenage racers get the opportunity to travel the country and go dirt track racing in the middle of January and February. Troutman’s a rare breed, and he’s seizing the opportunity, reveling in the experience and knowledge he gains by tackling one of the most prestigious miniseries in Dirt Modified racing.
“The biggest thing that stands out to me is being able to travel,” Troutman said. “I like to be able to travel to new tracks, and to be able to go down there and do that for almost a month is just awesome.”
Don’t miss Adams, Troutman and the rest of what promises to be a stacked lineup of DIRTcar UMP Modifieds competing this week at East Bay Raceway Park. Stay tuned to DIRTcar Racing on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for live updates and content throughout the week.