Young Rookie Wins With SLM Great in His Corner
Last winter, the fans that flocked to USA International Speedway in Lakeland, FL, for the annual Speedfest Super Late Model event watched some of the best short track racers in the country compete at one track.  Everyone knew that the best of the best were going to be there; Freddie Query, Charlie Menard, Mike Rowe, Wayne Anderson and Travis Kittleson, just to name a few. 

Everyone was amped up for Speedfest.  Just about a month before, perhaps the most prestigious Super Late Model race in the country, the Snowball Derby saw local SLM legend Eddie Mercer take home his first-ever Snowball win after 16 years of trying.  That got everyone in Florida and beyond ready for Speedfest. 
When fans left the two-day Speedfest event, they had seen some of the best racing they’ll see all year.  They also witnessed the breakout weekend of one of the brightest young stars to come out of the Florida/Alabama Gulf Coast region in recent memory.  The ironic part is, the kid didn’t even compete in the Super Late Model portion of Speedfest.

Cale Gale had been making some noise in the Pro Late Model and Supertruck ranks throughout the Southeast for a couple of seasons, even making it into Victory Lane in the FASCAR Supertruck portion of 2005’s Speedfest weekend.  But in 2006, Gale’s sweep of the Supertruck races at Speedfest rocketed Gale’s name to one of the faces to watch for the upcoming year.
Cale Gale swep truck features at Speedfest earlier this year, now he's an ARCA sensation.  (51 Photos)
Of course, having the 2005 Snowball Derby champion helping Gale and his family team didn’t hurt either.  Mercer knew the tracks of the Southeast, but most of all he could spot talent from a mile away, and that’s just what he saw in Gale from the moment that Gale first beat Mercer in a Late Model race just a few years ago.

“We were running Mobile in one of those JAM Series races,” said Mercer.  “I was on the pole and we had a new transmission in the car; it was some new goofy shifter or something.  I missed a shift, and anyone behind me would’ve wrecked me and the whole field.  Cale turned left and missed me.  I was so impressed that he didn’t hit me because I totally screwed up in front of the whole field.

“Then I gave him my setup and we went to a Blizzard Series race at Pensacola about a month later and he whooped my butt with it.  I finished second to him that night.  I saw a lot of promise in Cale.” 

to start working for Phoenix Racing,” said Mercer.  “He left his mom, his girlfriend - his whole life behind.  He never cried homesick.  He never did anything but work 12 hours a day, stayed humble and worked really hard.  That’s what really got Cale the chance, because everybody in the shop really loves him.”

Finch eventually allowed Gale into an ARCA car at Nashville Superspeedway in April.  Gale looked like he had been doing this big-car speedway stuff for years.  He qualified an impressive ninth and finished sixth after contending for the lead much of the race.

Since then, all Gale has been doing has been working in the Phoenix Racing shop and keeping busy inside the racecar.  Gale made his first-career NASCAR Busch Series start at Nashville Superspeedway in June, where he qualified 10th and raced well before finishing 20th. 

“I’ve definitely come a long way from where I was a year ago as a racecar driver in general,” said Gale.  “Up here, with the class of drivers that the ARCA and Busch series have each and every week, I’ve been able to improve and learn a lot.  I’ve learned so much about racecars by building shocks that I would’ve never learned staying at home.  I definitely got a good start by racing Late Models and trucks all around the Southeast, and I think the transition’s been pretty smooth.”

When Mercer finally hoisted the Snowball Derby trophy, Gale (right, red firesuit) was one of the first ones to help celebrate.
All that promise that Eddie Mercer saw in Gale came to fruition last Friday, as Mercer was cheering the 20-year-old to victory in just his second-career ARCA RE/MAX Series race behind the wheel of the Miccosukee #50 for prominent NASCAR Busch and Cup Series team Phoenix Racing. 

Mercer just happens to be best friends with Phoenix Racing’s owner, James Finch.  When it came time for Phoenix to ride the wave of other Cup and Busch programs developing drivers in feeder series such as ARCA, Mercer had the right guy for Finch’s job.

So Gale moved away from his family and friends in Alabama, where his dad, Bubba, had become a short-track legend in the Mobile area for dominating in just about every kind of racecar that he could drive, and began working the Phoenix Racing race shop in Spartanburg, SC, building shocks full-time to learn how big-time racing works with the hopes of maybe working his way into the driver’s seat.

"When Cale was 20 years old I moved him to Spartanburg, SC,
No moment signified the 21-year-old’s coming full-circle than the ARCA RE/MAX Series race at Gateway International Raceway on July 28th.  Gale officially went from a young hot-shoe trying to make it to a bona fide “ready-for-the-big-time” threat.  With a little help from proven NASCAR Busch Series crew chief Marc Reno and a patiently-aggressive driving style, Gale withstood numerous late-race restarts and a hard-charging Steven Wallace to win his first ARCA race in just his second-career start.

Gale looked like he knew exactly what he was doing all weekend at Gateway, especially on the late-race restarts.  Not bad for a kid that had never even seen the tricky 1.25-mile track before practice on race day, never shifted at speed in an ARCA car as necessary at Gateway, and had only been in an ARCA car once before.

“The first time I saw the racetrack was this morning,” said Gale after the race.  “The biggest thing today was probably the shifting.  I’ve never downshifted and upshifted on a track like this before.  I got the hang of it pretty quick and I had a lot of fun out there. 

“In that race, each and every time we go off into turn three on one of those late restarts, I just tried to clear my head out and forget about what happened the last restart and just do the same thing every time.  I just had to have a good rhythm and don’t make any mistakes.  I just drove my race and drove out the windshield.”

Gale did drive his own race, but he had plenty of help at the racetrack.  Not only was the Phoenix Racing team giving him great pit stops at Gateway, but the man that gave the youngster his shot was there right beside him.  No one was happier for Gale at Gateway than Eddie Mercer.
Gale got to do some trophy-hoisting of his own in the ARCA event at Gateway last month.  (B. Costanzo photo)
“When we took the win, I never would’ve thought it would happen.  I knew I had the capability to do it if I had the right car under me.  That was one I definitely won’t forget.”

So now both Eddie Mercer and Cale Gale have the most memorable wins of their careers within seven months of one another.  It may have taken Mercer 16 years to win the Snowball Derby last December, but it only took two ARCA races for Gale to crack into victory lane.  Could it be Mercer’s way of passing the torch to the next generation?  Maybe, but Gale is likely headed towards plenty more success down the road in his still-young career, and he’s got the 2005 Snowball Derby Champion to thank for starting it all.

Cale Gale full-tilt at Gateway.
“I’m real proud of Cale,” said Mercer.  “Nobody deserves this more than he does.  There’s plenty of drivers that have talent out there, but Cale’s got something special.  The thing that I like about Cale is that he’s humble.  He doesn’t have the attitude that a lot of the young drivers out there have.”

The admiration goes both ways.

“I’ve got to thank Eddie Mercer for helping me get to do this,” said Gale.  “Without him, I wouldn’t be here.  Everyone knows about Eddie Mercer.  He’s a short track legend and he saw something in me and took a liking to me.  He’s the one that started this for me.