Speed51.com's Deep South Scene
Busy Off-Season Marks Preparations of Very Eventful Start to 2012
By Daniel Vining, Deep South Editor - Twitter: @danielvining
What do Daytona, a Moose, Rick Crawford and Huntsville Speedway all have in common?  They are the lead stories to Speed51.com's newest column, Deep South Scene, featuring news and tidbits from the Florida Panhandle to Texas and everywhere in between.  Anchored in the middle of the Deep South by the Sunoco Gulf Coast Championship Series, this column will bring stories from various tracks, tours and drivers in the region.  In addition to the top news and stories, you'll also learn about teams and drivers that may not always be the "cover story."

In the first addition of the Deep South Scene, you'll hear from some of the drivers at the recent ARCA test in Daytona, get an outline of what could prove to be an historic start at  a storied racetrack, more details in the resurgence of a pinnacle Deep South tradition and news from the Southern Superstars Short Track Series.

Deep South Does Daytona

The Automobile Race Club of America, ARCA, took to the high-banks of Daytona International Speedway in mid-December for their annual preseason testing, leading up to the Lucas Oil Slick Mist 200 and the start of the 60th Anniversary Season of the ARCA Racing Series.  Among the big names of Frank Kimmel, Bobby Garhart, and  Deep South standouts Cale Gale and Grant Enfinger, were a slew of new names from the region looking to join the crop of Daytona hopefuls.

Both Cale Gale and Grant Enfinger have had previous experience in the ARCA Racing Series.  Both have come close to victory lane and Enfinger was a title contender last season.  Gale drove several races for the now shuttered Kevin Harvick Inc. and Enfinger raced the entire 2011 schedule for Allgaier Motorsports.  This ARCA test, however, gave a few short track drivers their first taste of Daytona International Speedway.

Thomas "Moose" Praytor has made a name for himself as one of the regular faces at Mobile International Speedway in Alabama and Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola racing Pro and Super Late Models in recent seasons.  Last season, Praytor was a rookie in the Sunoco Gulf Coast Championship Series driving for his family-owned Max Force Racing team.  At the ARCA test in Daytona, Praytor realized a dream, climbing into one of Andy Belmont Racing's machines.  He had been to Daytona many times as a crew member, but signing in as a driver brought to life an entirely new reality for the Mobile native.

"I've been to Daytona a lot and signing in happens every time I go but on this trip my hands weren't quite as steady signing the sign in sheet," said Praytor.  "The place is just awe-inspiring and signing in as the driver for the first time was when it really set in."

After his time in the cockpit, owner Andy Belmont had positive words to say about Praytor.

"Thomas did a great job," said Belmont.  "He listened well.  Each time he got in the car he improved.  I would rate his test a huge success and we're looking for the right opportunity for him.  We'd love to have him in one of our cars."

One more Deep South driver found his way onto the Daytona speed chart.  Bob Bryant is probably not a name most fans are familiar with.  Out of Ocean Springs, Mississippi, Bryant races in the Bob's Speed Shop Sportsman division at Mobile International Speedway.  Through a series of fortunate connections, Bryant was able to check an item off of his bucket list by testing a car out of the K-Automotive Motorsports stable owned by Brian Keselowski.  Bryant made the most of his opportunity and chronicled his experience on his Facebook profile.

"The awesome meter is completely pegged out," posted Bryant.  "185mph right against the wall at Daytona definitely makes you know you're alive!  Jaw is on the floor, what an awesome day, easily the coolest thing I've ever done."

It's doubtful that Bryant will find himself behind the wheel of one of Keselwoski's cars come February, but the experience gave Bryant an added boost of confidence and motivation going into next season.  Like most short track drivers, Bryant is now hard at work preparing his race car for the 2012 season.

Mobile Speedway Outlines Aggressive Start to 2012

Mobile International Speedway will be opening its gates to the ARCA Racing Series for testing leading into the inaugural Mobile ARCA 200.  The test on January 13th is the first date of what Mobile Speedway is touting as their most aggressive first-quarter schedule in the history of the track. 

“The fans, drivers and teams really embraced our management team in our first year at the Speedway," said Manager/Promoter Rick Crawford in a speedway press release. "Their enthusiasm has carried through the winter and the excitement around our first ARCA race is incredible.”

January and February offer a stout schedule of local attractions to the speedway, including practice days, a swap meet, and the Rusty Wallace Racing Experience on February 24, 2012.

The ARCA Racing Series hits the track with the first running of the Mobile ARCA 200 on March 10th. 

March 17th the Midwest Cooling Towers Pro Late Models open their season as Snowball Derby runner-up DJ VanderLey looks to defend his 2011 Pro Late Model title. 

Super Late Models round out an action-packed start to the 2012 racing season as Mobile plays host to round two of the 2012 Sunoco Gulf Coast Series, which is also round one of the Miller Lite Series.

Southern Superstars Short Track Series Announces 2012 Schedule

Staying firm in its roots of North Alabama, the Southern Superstars Short Track Series 2012 schedule will be anchored by nine events between Sayre Speedway in Dora, Alabama and Huntsville Speedway in Huntsville, Alabama.  The series is looking to fill out a schedule of 10-12 events, but as of now no other tracks have signed up to host a race.  Mark Day form Clarksville, Tennessee, dominated the 2011 season winning five races in route to his second series title.  The series also features drivers such as Chase Oliver, Hunter Spivey, and Johnny Brazier.

Grant Enfinger was one of the Deep South natives that turned laps at Daytona in the recent ARCA test.  (Speed51.com Photo)
Deep South Late Model regular Thomas Praytor got to turn his first laps in an ARCA car at Daytona.  (Speed51.com Photo)
Rick Crawford (right, with MIS track owner Ida Fields), had a successful first season at the helm of Mobile in 2011.