Running on a budget: This is Florida’s $2,000 challenge

There was a tiny 1968 Subaru 360 Micro Minivan powered by a Suzuki Hayabusa superbike engine, and a hoodless, fenderless 1970 Pontiac Firebird with a fake machine gun and skeleton driving.

How about the 1986 Porsche 944 with a rumbling rotary engine, or the 1962 Studebaker Lark’s turbocharged Chevrolet straight-six? Or Robbie Cutcliffe’s 1980 AMC Spirit with huge wooden front and rear fenders, large fender flares and a 302 cubic inch Ford V-8 under its shiny copper paint, as he and his teammate dressed up as monks?

This year, 70 teams registered for the $2,000 Challenge, held this past weekend at Gainesville Raceway. In addition to drag racing, with “Big Daddy” drag racer Don Garlits using an 808 horsepower Dodge Challenger Hellcat Redeye to provide a benchmark for competitors, the competition included autocross and contest judging.

Ormond Beach Magazine came up with the idea of ​​a popular “run-what-ya-brung” race years ago with a twist. The rules are simple. Cars must not cost more than $2,000 and be roadworthy. They can be modified, even replacing the engine, transmission, suspension, wheels and tires and body panels.

Overall victory went to Travis Turner’s 1980 Datsun 210 wagon, its flared fenders and sleek paintwork hiding the V6 and twin-cam suspension of an Infiniti G35. Calvin Nelson Pontiac Sunbird’s turbocharged V-8 clocked 9.847 seconds on the NHRA track quarter mile. Hong Norr Racing had a very sleek Cadillac CTS that looked like a factory race car with a wing, while Georgia Tech’s Wreck Racing had their V8-powered BMW 5 Series, plus a motorized couch.

The Old Guy/Stock Block award went to the Green Hornet – actually Bill Cuttitta with mask, and his 2005 Chrysler 300C with mock guns and rocket launchers like the comic book hero and crime-fighting car Black Beauty. They handed out “I was bitten” stickers to everyone.

There were casualties over the weekend. Joe Barchette’s 10-foot-long, 4-foot-tall Subaru baby surf cart with a 2007 Suzuki Hayabusa 1300 superbike engine had a turbocharger this year. But the extra power caused the engine to punch a hole in its side. And the 2004 Ford Crown Victoria of Leo “Nick” Nicaise, a former Maryland State Police cruiser, arrived on the track late after his tow vehicle’s brakes failed. Next, the team lightened the large sedan by sawing off the roof for the concours projection.

Two of the judges were household Jacksonville names – Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance public relations director Chris Brewer and Racer Walsh racer Brian Walsh.

Full results are available at

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