CECIL -- South Georgia Motorsports Park officially started the engines on its first racing season Saturday with the Cook County Ford Pro Modified racing series.

Tim Pafford, SGMP speedway manager, said an estimated 8,000 fans showed up at the track's opener.

"For our first night, we had problems with the time system that about caused us all to faint, but the track worked well and the racing was good," Pafford said. "If you look at it from a grade of A to F, I'd say we had a B-plus night."

In a battle of 526cc Hemis, R.E. Smith defeated Mike Neal to win the Pro Modified class and his piece of the $7,700 purse. Smith, from Guntersville, Ala., ran a 4.14 second (176 mph) time in his 1941 Willys to edge out Neal. Neal, driving a 1953 Studebaker, had a 4.2 second (171 mph) run on the quarter mile dragway to beat Hugh Scott in the semifinals. Scott had beaten Mike's son, Michael, in the quarterfinals.

Benjie Thrift of Waycross swept the Super Pro Modified and the Pro ET classification to win a combined $4,000.

Thrift won the Super Pro final in his 1986 Firebird, 454cc Chevy engine, when Tracey Keller, from Brunswick, was disqualified for starting too early.

Thrift drove that car into the winner's circle, hopped into his 1989 Chevy S10, 383cc engine, and won the Pro ET series with a 6.69 second (101 mph) run, beating Dallas Burger of Tifton. Burger got into the finals when his 1984 350cc Chevy Camaro outran Billy Kent of Moultrie in the semifinals.

"It's too good a track not to come back," said Allen Hardy of Milledgeville, who finished in the top eight of the Pro ET series.

Kevin Cadby from Keystone Heights, Fla., won the bike series with a 6.63 second (102 mph) run in the finals.

Next Saturday the Jet Cars, which run 300 miles per hour, visit Cecil. Gates open at 11 a.m. with the main event featuring the Jet Cars beginning at 6 p.m. The Jet Cars will also qualify Friday from 5-7 p.m.

ESPN2 was on site for SGMP's first race Saturday with NHRA's Bob Frey preparing a feature on the track. ESPN2 will air the feature May 9.

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