Barberville, FL — Defending UMP DIRTcar Racing open-wheel Modified champion Denny Schwartz doesn’t want his upcoming racing trip to the Sunshine State to bear any resemblance to what he experienced in 2007.
After all, last year Schwartz made more headlines during his annual pilgrimage to Florida for what happened to him off the track than on it.
Shortly after Schwartz arrived in Florida last February, he lived a racer’s nightmare: his team’s hauler – with his UMP DIRTcar Modified and residual equipment inside – was stolen from a hotel parking lot.
“That wasn’t a trip to remember, I can tell you that,” said Schwartz, whose 2008 Florida racing plans are highlighted by his participation in the 37th annual Alltel DIRTcar Nationals at Volusia Speedway Park (eight nights of UMP DIRTcar Modified action stretch from Feb. 5-12). “I’m hoping things go a little better this year.”
Schwartz, 47, of Ashmore, Ill., had planned to kick off his ’07 Florida racing schedule with a stop at Milton’s Southern Raceway, located in the state’s panhandle. But after checking into a hotel near the track on the eve of the opening program and then visiting a Waffle House restaurant for a bite to eat, he found that his team’s semi-truck and trailer was gone.
Facing the possibility that his self-owned racing operation might have disappeared in the blink of an eye, Schwartz and Co. refused to simply sit back and absorb a punch in the gut.
“We rented an airplane and spent all day flying around the area looking for (the truck and trailer),” said Schwartz. “We finally found it in Pensacola.”
The generator and air compressor were missing from the trailer when it was secured and there was some damage to the trailer (from the thieves’ apparent side-swipe of the hotel pool-house), but Schwartz’s prized UMP DIRTcar Modified and his spare parts were thankfully unharmed. Thus his trip was able to go on, albeit without the kind of success he would have liked; his best finish was a fifth in the last UMP DIRTcar Modified event of Volusia’s Alltel DIRTcar Nationals.
“We were lucky,” said Schwartz, who believes authorities have captured at least one of those responsible for the theft. “Things could have turned out a lot worse.”
With an eye undoubtedly on his hauler whenever he climbs out of it, Schwartz is planning another Florida assault this year. He expects to join Volusia’s UMP DIRTcar Modified competition for the final nights of the Alltel DIRTcar Nationals before towing across the state to run his familiar Pierce Chassis No. 21s from Feb. 14-16 in the UMP-sanctioned Open Wheel Modified Winternationals at East Bay Raceway Park.
Schwartz will battle standout drivers from across the country in the UMP DIRTcar Modified meet at the half-mile Volusia oval, including defending Alltel DIRTcar Nationals champion Steve Arpin of Fort Frances, Ont.; Jeff Leka of Buffalo, Ill., who raced Schwartz to the wire for the 2007 UMP DIRTcar Racing Modified national title; Brighton, Ill., veteran Tom Seets Sr.; UMP DIRTcar standout Kent Robinson of Bloomington, Ind.; and NASCAR stock-car star Kenny Wallace, who plans to run his Jeg’s-sponsored UMP DIRTcar Modified throughout the Alltel DIRTcar Nationals.
Volusia’s racing is scheduled to begin nightly at 7:30.
The UMP DIRTcar Modifieds will compete as part of a doubleheader each night at Volusia, running with the All-Star Circuit of Champions Sprint Cars (Feb. 5-7), Advance Auto Parts World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series (Feb. 8-10) and the UMP DIRTcar Late Models (Feb. 11-12).
Tickets for the Alltel DIRTcar Nationals are available by logging on to www.volusiaspeedwaypark.com.
More information on UMP DIRTcar Racing can be obtained at www.umpracing.com.