Greg Killingsworth believes that he and his family have auto racing in their blood. Along with wife Sue and mother Brenda, Killingsworth travels around Florida most weekends to partake in their favorite sport: dirt track racing. “It’s Saturday night entertainment for us,” he said. “We do it for the love of the sport.”
Killingsworth, the owner of Southshore Auto Repair in Ruskin, comes from a family that has always been involved in the automotive industry. His grandfather worked for Dickman Farms as a mechanic for 40 years, and his father and brother both followed in the family tradition of car mechanics. His dad Floyd, who passed away in 1989, was a well-known racing enthusiast in the Tampa Bay area, and his mother Brenda Roe of Sun City Center continues to be an avid race car fan.
“I remember as a young kid of about 8, coming home from the races in the middle of the night and tearing a car apart to get it ready for the next day of racing,” said Killingsworth. “Cars were just a natural part of our life.”
Killingsworth currently lives on six acres in rural Wimauma, and runs the Southshore Automotive shop in Ruskin, servicing domestic and Asian-made cars. “Basically, I’m a grease monkey. I’ve been an ASE-certified mechanic at this facility for 34 years, and cars have always been my business. But racing is my passion.”
His driver, 33-year-old Billy Howard, is the son of well-known race-car driver Bill Howard Sr., owner of Howard Plumbing in Apollo Beach. Billy maintains a booth at the Red Barn Flea Market in Bradenton to promote his graphic sign business. He participates in races on weekends, along with pit crew members Chad Sanders, Mark Ditta, Ricky Slone and Pete Klieger. “Billy has won numerous victories for me,” said Killingsworth. “He’s a real pro.”
Dirt track racing is the single most common form of auto racing in the U.S., and is performed on clay- or dirt-surfaced oval tracks. It began in the U.S. before World War I and became widespread during the 1920s and ’30s. Two different types of race cars dominated — open-wheel racers in the North and stock cars in the South. According to the National Speedway Directory, there now are more than 700 dirt oval tracks in operation in the U.S.
In dirt track racing, clay is used with a specific mixture of dirt, and tracks are banked in the turns to allow vehicles to carry more speed through the corners. Today’s current dirt late-models feature a steel-constructed tube-frame chassis. The engines are based on V-8 Chevy and Ford engines. Some hit speeds of over 100 mph and slide around the dirt corners.
“We’re required to run an American-based car,” said Killingsworth. “They regulate things like the size, weight and construction, but it’s what’s under the chassis that counts.”
The expense for building and maintaining a complete “race-ready” late-model race car is high. “We have at least $50,000 wrapped up in our race car,” said Killingsworth. “Of course, there’s a purse to go after with every race, but it’s the thrill of the win that matters to me.”
The family’s favorite local race track is East Bay Raceway in Gibsonton, now in its 39th year of operation. The track is the only dirt track located in the western half of Florida. It has hosted many national events with the best drivers in the world competing.
East Bay Raceway’s 2015 season includes hosting the 39th Annual Winternationals for the King of the 360s Sprints ASCS National Tour, Lucas Oil Dirt Late Models, UMP Open Wheel Modifieds, the Team USA Mod-Lites, the Crate Late Models, the USAC AMSOIL Sprint Car Series and the World Street Stock Challenge.
Upcoming special events include the Marge Long Memorial Dash, Gagel’s Open Wheel Modifieds, Full House Night with Halloween Candy, and Knights of Destruction. Many local small businesses sponsor the grassroots auto racing in Gibsonton, and loyal fans show up in the grandstands every weekend to support their racing friends and relatives.
For more information on East Bay Raceway Park, visit www.eastbayracewaypark.com or call 813-677-7223 or 877-457-5611.