Taylor Ferns (left) and Grace Woelbing during their Florida Speedweeks adventure. (SPEED SPORT photo)

FERNS: A Racing Journey Through the Sunshine State

TAMPA, Fla. — Florida Speedweeks was exactly as one would anticipate: fun, busy, eventful, nomadic, laughter-filled, sunny (for the most part), and it raced on by — I know, punny.

Grace Woelbing, one of SPEED SPORT’s journalists, and I spent a week in Florida going to a bunch of races and collecting loads of content for our podcast, “On the Drive.” And let me tell you, there was no shortage of race-going miles driven and energy drinks consumed.

We began the journey at Sebring Int’l Raceway as I was participating in the Skip Barber Racing School 2-Day Advanced Formula Car School. I drove there from Naples while Grace took a Greyhound bus from Tampa. (That’s a story for another day.)

One thing about me is I try to be as efficient with my time and travels as possible, so when Grace and I decided to attend Speedweeks, I had to sign up for Skip Barber because no winter trip to Florida is complete without going to Sebring.

I am thankful I had the opportunity to participate in the Skip Barber School again so I could continue to hone my road-racing skills. I’ll write more about this in next month’s column. 

After I was finished at Sebring, we loaded up the car and headed northeast to Volusia Speedway Park to check out night two of the World of Outlaws. From there, the trip was truly just beginning.

With that, here is a breakdown of my experiences at each race.

Race 1 — World of Outlaws Night 2 at Volusia Speedway Park

We made it just in time for the last chance qualifier and the feature. It was a great show, from what we saw, and had no hassle getting credentials. No concession stand rating because we had Wawa (convenience store) for dinner.

Race 2 — USAC Sprint Cars at Ocala Speedway

For me, going to a USAC race is like coming home from college. It was awesome to see the USAC guys and we had no issues getting our passes. The track was really fast throughout the night, making it difficult to pass. Overall, the feature was a good, exciting race and Robert Ballou reminded me why he’s the “Mad Man,” as he was high-side hustling there toward the end. I don’t recommend the chicken strip basket.

Race 3 — World of Outlaws Night 4 at Volusia Speedway Park

Hands down the best race and experience of our trip. From where we were able to watch the races (on top of the Simpson trailer on the outside of turn one and from the infield in turns one and two), to the chicken fried rice, to the positive experience getting our passes and efficiency on how the show was run, to the actual race itself, it was simply amazing. A fresh reminder of how great sprint car racing truly is.

Race 4— World Series of Asphalt Stock Car Racing at New Smyrna Speedway

We left before the features. Three things — the event staff was rude, except for a couple of people; apparently, you’re supposed to “tip the event staff;” and it was Super Bowl Sunday, so we opted to spend time elsewhere. No concession stand rating.

Race 5 — High Limit Sprint Cars at East Bay Raceway Park

The race was a rainout, but I had a couple notes. Signage and help for where to go regarding credentials was unclear (not the same as getting a “pit pass”). Also, I wasn’t sure what the reasoning was to give everyone two hot lap sessions that were averaging six to eight laps each. In all my years, I don’t think I’ve encountered that at a dirt race. Maybe because they were assuming it was everyone’s first race of the year? Regardless, it didn’t seem like an efficient use of time and resources, especially given rain was on the way. The cheeseburger was 2.5 stars.

Race 6 — High Limit Sprint Cars at East Bay Raceway Park

Overall, great racing. The show was run well and great improvements were made compared to the night before. I was not a fan of the top-four lock-in from the first feature format. I was bummed about Justin Peck’s misfortune and Corey Day really shined. The pizza was awesome.

All in all, we collectively spent about 30 hours driving around the state of Florida, visited five race tracks, had our GoPro turn off mid-interview on three separate occasions and forgot about healthy eating habits for the duration of the trip. It was great to support local Florida grassroots race tracks and check out all the racing early in the season. 

Lastly, I wanted to give a massive thank you to Mike and Angie Skinner and one of my best friends since the sixth grade for hosting us during our stays in Daytona Beach and Tampa. They were all so gracious in opening their homes to us and it was great to visit with them.

The trip was a success and I already can’t wait for the next adventure. Now, back to pre-season training.