Eddie Tafoya Jr made his first racing foray in Florida on the second week in February and qualified for two of the first four races of the year in the USAC National Sprint Car Series. As well as racing, the young star worked in many of Florida’s best tourist attractions during his mini vacation.
The five nights of racing began at the track billed as “The World’s Fastest Half Mile,” Volusia Speedway Park on February 15th. Hopes ran high in the #51T ranks going into the race, but things did not go as planned. From the outset, a fuel line issue plagued the squad. After going out to qualify, Tafoya did not get in another lap of competition on what turned out to be a disappointing night.
“It was frustrating, but I tried to stay cool and calm,” the 2019 USAC/CRA Sprint Car Series Rookie of the Year stated. “We have had three years of absolutely no problems or anything like that. At some point, it is going to come in racing. So, you have to pick up the pieces and move on to the next night.”
Twenty-four hours later, the team had the issue straightened out and expectations were rejuvenated. Tafoya attacked the track in qualifying and recorded the 16th fastest time of 17.212 in the field of 26 cars. That time placed the handsome 25-year-old on the pole for his eight-lap heat race. Early on the car seemed loose and he slipped all the way back to sixth. However, he got it dialed in and did not lose any more ground. In the end, he narrowly missed the transfer spot to the main.
Forced to contest the B Main, the Chino Hills, California resident started on the inside of row #2. The race was 12 laps and you had to finish in the top seven to transfer into the A Main. Tafoya was more than up to the challenge staying in fourth from the green to the checkers and finished nearly a full straightaway ahead of the fifth-place racecar.
The first main event of the year for the friendly driver saw him start in the 16th position. That is where he stayed through the first 1/3 of the 30 lapper. Two laps later, he swept by three cars and into the 13th place. For the duration of the race, he was fast and smooth and came home with a 13th-place finish at his first appearance on the famous 54-year-old speed plant.
After its first race of the 2023 campaign, the Specialty Fastener’s hauler headed 50 miles east to Ocala, Florida’s Bubba’s Raceway Park for the annual “Dirt Winter Games.” Like Volusia, Tafoya was making his debut at Bubba’s where there would be one night of practice followed by three nights of racing.
Bubba’s Raceway Park is unlike most ovals Tafoya has competed on. In fact, it is quite different from nearly every track in North America. It is egg-shaped and has a wide first bend. The opposite end of the track is very narrow and gets interesting as it is much like a hairpin turn in road racing.
When qualifying ended on the first night, Tafoya was 23rd of the 29 cars to take laps with a time of 14.903. That placed him in the eighth starting spot for his heat race and he finished in the same position as he started.
Not transferring out of the heat meant Tafoya would start 10th in the B Main. The race almost came to a premature end for him as cars in front of him tangled leaving him with nearly nowhere to go. He steered through most of it and got away with a light tap on the front end and another shot from behind. He ended up one spot out of a transfer by placing eighth.
The big winner at Bubba’s on night two was the rain as it wiped out the racing program.
The weather moved on by the next night and Tafoya and all the other sprint car stars returned to action one last time. Qualification saw Tafoya record a lap of 14.680. That was 19th in the 27-car field. He placed eighth in his heat race and ended up in what turned out to be a very eventful B Main.
Tafoya was in the second row for the start of the B main event that would only transfer the first seven finishers to the finale of “Winter Dirt Games.” Multiple tries to get the race started were thwarted by crashes. Fortunately, Tafoya was not in any of the carnage. Once the race got going, he was in the 4th place spot. However, the race was halted by a spectacular crash that saw a car flip and rip down a large portion of the main straightaway fence. That incident resulted in a lengthy delay as track officials had to repair the damage before racing could continue.
Once action resumed, Tafoya continued in fourth and qualified for his second main event in the four nights of racing in the southeastern state. He started the main event in 18th. After his performance in the B main event, it was anticipated he would have a good run in the 35-lap finale. However, the rising star hit a slick spot on the track early on. He almost spun and by the time he gathered it back in and got back up to speed, he was nearly a straight behind the pack. Racing smartly, he decided to stay out of the leader’s way when they caught up to him and he ended up 21st.
“Volusia was super cool, and I feel like that was right up my alley,” Tafoya reflected after returning to Southern California. “Banking and fast and big, you have to be smooth on the wheel and find the grip where you can. Not really much of a cushion you can bang off or anything like that so you have to be good on the foot. I feel it really suited my style. We were running down some of the big guys at the end there. I wish we could have had two nights there and skipped the little problem (fuel line) we ran into.”
“Ocala (Bubba’s), if I had to say one thing about that place it would be, whoever had the experience there was going to do good. That is because it is two different tracks coming into turn three or turn one. I kind of had to find a happy medium on the setup to get through. I could have been way, way tighter on the car in one and two, but I would not have been able to get around and rotated in three and four. So it is kind of pick and choose your battles on that track and be good where you want to be good and survive the other half.“
The trip to Florida was not just about the races. Tafoya arrived in the “Sunshine State” days before the races began and he used that time to do the tourist routine.
“Me and my dad checked out the beach and all kinds of stuff there,” Tafoya said with a laugh. “We went to Daytona Speedway and did a tour. We ended up playing some golf, went to supercross, me and Malyssa (fellow sprint car driver and longtime crew member Malyssa Perkins) went to Disneyworld, saw a World of Outlaws race, went on an airboat, saw some gators, went kayaking. We did all kinds of stuff. We found time to do stuff we had not done before. It was cool.”
Tafoya’s next Competition will come on March 3rd and 4th when the USAC/CRA Sprint Car Series travels to the Central Arizona Raceway. Two weeks after that, he will be back on his home track, Perris Auto Speedway, for the annual Sokola Shootout on March 18th.
Tafoya’s great-looking shirts and hoodies are available online at www.specialty-fasteners.com.
Tafoya has a great YouTube channel at the following link https://www.youtube.com/shorts/1hrmC5L80EU.
Fans can follow Tafoya on Instagram @eddietafoya51.
Tafoya and the #51T team would like to thank Specialty Fasteners, DRC Chassis, Ryder Racing Engines, Simpson Safety Products, Bell, Benic Enterprises, BR Motorsports, PSC Powder Coating, Magik Graphics, Gasper Transportation, Owen’s Insurance Services, and Weld Wheels for supporting its racing program.
Eddie Tafoya Jr. 2023 USAC National Sprint Car Series Schedule
February 13 Volusia Speedway Park Barberville, Florida DNS
February 14 Volusia Speedway Park Barberville, Florida 13th A Main
February 16 Bubba Raceway Park Ocala, Florida 8th B Main
February 17 Bubba Raceway Park Ocala, Florida Rained Out
February 18 Bubba Raceway Park Ocala, Florida 21st A Main
March 3 Central Arizona Raceway Case Grande, Arizona
March 4 Central Arizona Raceway Case Grande, Arizona
March 18 Perris Auto Speedway Perris, California
April 27 Rocket Raceway Park Petty, Texas
April 28 Devil’s Bowl Speedway Mesquite, Texas
April 29 Devil’s Bowl Speedway Mesquite, Texas
May 5 Eldora Speedway Rossburg, Ohio
May 6 Eldora Speedway Rossburg, Ohio
June 2 Knoxville Raceway Knoxville, Iowa
June 3 Knoxville Raceway Knoxville, Iowa
July 21 Gas City I69 Speedway Gas City, Indiana
July 22 Kokomo Speedway Kokomo, Indiana
July 23 Lawrenceburg Speedway Lawrenceburg, Indiana
July 24 Circle City Raceway Indianapolis, Indiana
July 26 TBA
July 27 Lincoln Park Speedway Putnamville, Indiana
July 28 Bloomington Speedway Bloomington, Indiana
July 29 Tri-State Speedway Haubstadt, Indiana
August 24 Kokomo Speedway Kokomo, Indiana
August 25 Kokomo Speedway Kokomo, Indiana
August 26 Kokomo Speedway Kokomo, Indiana
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