Lost deep in the old racing papers and internet archives are the hidden treasures of the short track world. Races and events long forgotten and erased from our memory come to life when thumbing through archived information. One of those races that had long been forgotten is one that began in 1978 when Clyde Hart set out to have a big race at New Smyrna Speedway. The Florida track need a big event to draw big names and the Cracker became it.
From 1979 to 1998, the Cracker was one of the biggest events race in Florida. Mr. Hart passed away in 1998 and the race went away from the schedule.
Fast forward to the 2013 season and Clyde's son Robert Hart has brought the race back to run it on March 23rd. The veteran drivers that use to circle this race on the calendar are excited to see its return.
"Did you say Cracker 200," asked Dick Anderson, the 1991 winner of the event. "Wow, I have not heard that name for a long time. New Smyrna has a lot of tradition with their races. Of course everyone thinks of the Governor's Cup and how big of a deal it is. I remember when they ran it over in Tampa before it went to Smyrna."
The Governor's Cup was run at Golden Gate Speedway in Tampa up until 1988 when it was switched to New Smyrna. The Cracker was made up in a way to be the marquee race at the track and then after about 10 years then had both the big shows along with the World Series.
"Back then that race was our chance to run against Dick Trickle, Bob Senneker and the rest of the guys that would come south," added Anderson. "If you look at the record books I am sure we beat them a lot."
With the return of the race comes new story lines, like second-generation success. Daniel Keene, Jr. could become the first second-generation Cracker 200 winner. His dad won the race back in 1986.
Also Travis Cope looks to be the first driver with his family’s legendary short track name to win the Cracker 200. Cope is fresh off his Florida Triple Crown championship and the 100 lap win on the final night of Speedweeks.
Another headlining story is David Rogers who very well could become a two-time winner. He first won the Cracker in 1982. Thirty-one years between Cracker victories could a true testament to the longevity and success of Rogers.
"It was cool that I got one because of the names that came to run it much like the Gov Cup," said Rogers. "I know it meant a lot at the time to win a big race like that because a bunch of those names went on to bigger things."
Rogers fondly remembers the early years of the event.
"It was Clyde's deal," said Rogers. "I think he said we'll come up with a 200 lapper on our own and do that and have a Cracker 200. It was good he was around for the sport to do what he did and start the events that have been run here. He wanted the guys who raced here to have the prestige that the Governor's Cup had at that time. It was only a matter of time before he had both races. "
Just a few weeks ago Rogers scored a win during Speedweeks and almost was in line for a championship in the Super Late Model division.
"I'm glad you can tell me I won the race because I would just assume that I had," joked Rogers. "My memory is not that great. I have hit the wall too many times."
But why the Cracker name?
The Florida Cracker term in recent years refers to indicate a family that has lived in the state for many generations, much like the Hart Family. Prior to that, Cracker was referenced to cowboys that were native to the Central Florida area. The Florida cowboys of the time did not use lassos, but instead they used cow whips when rounding up or capture cattle.