HAWKINS SNOWFLAKE WIN WORTH THE WAIT by Mike Twist, Jeremy Troiano & Steve Neely
Smith Fast, Ruble Second & Stremme Up Front
Fans watching the Snowflake 100 Saturday night at Five Flags Speedway (FL) had to sit out in the cool Florida December air until just a few minutes before Midnight to catch the conclusion of the event. They had to endure three red-flag periods (including two in the final 20 laps) and too many cautions to count on one set of hands. By the end of the night, they were no doubt tired and cold.
But the motions of three battling racecars and their drivers over the final half-dozen laps made all of that worthwhile.
On paper, Matt Hawkins took the lead on lap 70 and led the rest of the way. In reality, the race turned into a three-way dog fight between Hawkins, Georgia Asphalt Series regular Korey Ruble and a fast-closing Cale Gale at the end.
Hawkins, a quiet and soft-spoken Georgian youngster, remained on top to score his biggest victory to date.
“This is the biggest win of my career,” said Hawkins. “It’s just great. I knew that we had a good chance, but when we didn’t take tires I didn’t know how it would play out. The car was real loose getting in, but everything worked out great.”
Gale had the newest tires, and probably the fastest car, at the end. He also had the element of surprise on his side.
“I wasn’t even aware of the blue car [of Gale],” said Hawkins. “I kind of looked at Korey, but I was really trying to concentrate on what I was doing. The car got pretty bad out there, so I was just trying to drive as fast as I could and not look in the mirror. I looked up a couple of times and he was right on me.”
Matt Hawkins picked up the biggest win of his career win the Snowflake 100 on Saturday night. (51 photos)
“I was racing for the lead there and I had my mirror turned down,” said Ruble. “Then I started seeing this blue car coming up. I thought, ‘that must be Cale.’ He came on strong there at the end and I was lucky to hold him off.”
“They were up there battling and a straightaway really isn’t a lot when your tires are falling off,” explained Gale. “I was two-tenths (of a second) quicker is what they told me and it doesn’t take long to gain when that’s the case.”
But catching and passing are two different things and both runner-up Ruble and third-place finishing Gale knew that.
“I caught Matt,” said Ruble. “Where I caught him was coming off of turn two and I was really loose going into turn three the whole race. He kept me tight and was really trying to win there. I tried to drive it on in there and if I could have gotten a little bit better entry, I would have got him. I was just a little loose and I couldn’t stick it in there. We were hanging it out there with about 10 to go. We ran the whole race on the same four tires and a lot of guys came in and pitted.”
Gale was one of those guys.
Hawkins (left) and Ruble (right) had a great battle.
“We had a real good car,” said Gale. “It was tight on restarts. We had a flat right rear at the beginning and had to pit early. I charged back up through the field and had to use my stuff up a little bit more than I wanted. I just didn’t have optimum track position there at the end.”
At the end, two things were for certain. All three young drivers had a great time racing each other and all three also shared a ton of respect for their fellow racers.
“Congratulations to Matt Hawkins, he’s a real good racer and we had a good race,” said Gale.
“Korey drove me real clean,” said Hawkins. ”I appreciate that.”
“Most definitely,” said Ruble with a big smile on his face when he was asked if the final laps were fun.
Following the top three across the line were Jack Landis and David Stremme.
For much of the early part of the Snowflake 100, it looked like only one driver would be able to compete with eventual winner Matt Hawkins. ASA Late Model Series regular Jack Smith led a bunch of laps early in the event and had just gotten passed by Hawkins for the lead when the wheels of his race feel off.
Just a couple of laps after Smith was passed by Hawkins, he got spun by the lapped car of Tommy Climer. Just moments before Smith went around, a multi-car accident in turn three and four nullified what was Smith’s eventual spin. However, Smith elected to come to pit road and change tires, something he was planning to do anyway.
“The car was really fast,” said Smith, who finished 18th. “We had planned on putting two tires on anyway. We were going to see how the car was in the first half and I just got too loose. The reason that I got spun out down there was because my spotter came over the radio and said ‘cautions out’ and no one else must have gotten the message. We were going to come in anyway, so it wasn’t a big deal.”
Smith’s night continued to go downhill when he got black flagged for jumping the restart.
“They all got bottle-necked on that restart and I got black flagged. It’s ok though. It was just a shame because we had a fast car.
“It was fun to come back down here though. I ran a Street Stock down here years ago, so it’s nice to be back. I won a Street Stock race here that was $3,000-to-win when I was 16 years old. This is my first time back here in a Late Model.”
CLARK LEARNS A LOT IN SNOWFLAKE
Johnny Clark came to the Snowball Derby with no intentions of running the Snowflake 100.
After Saturday night, he’s glad he did.
“We learned a lot for sure,” said Clark. “I’m not used to single-file restarts. There are a lot of tricks to them that these guys know with hanging back a little bit. You are not supposed to, but that doesn’t stop people from doing it. I got smoked a few times by guys hanging back.
“We came here to win (the Snowball Derby) and anything we can do to help us win the Derby we want to do. We wanted to run this car for fun, but then again I didn’t want to because I didn’t want it to take away from our big race. But I’m glad I did, because I did learn a lot, especially how some of these southern guys race.”
Johnny Clark's last-minute decision paid off.
Clark ran as high as sixth in the event and eventually finished 12th.
HAWKINS HAS EARLY BATTLE WITH SMITH
Before the exciting final laps, Matt Hawkins had another hard race going on for the lead of the Snowflake 100. Over the first two-thirds of the race, Hawkins ran nose-to-tail and occasionally side-by-side with Jack Smith.
Eventually, Smith pitted for tires and never made it back through the pack. But the battle nearly still made an impact on the final winner – as it almost wore Hawkins out.
“I think that I wore my stuff up trying to stay with him,” said Hawkins of Smith. “I thought that we were going to take tires, so I drove it real hard. But then we didn’t take tires, so I kind of shot myself in the foot. Everything worked out good though.”
LAST MINUTE WORK PAYS OFF FOR GALE
Many drivers prepare for the Snowball Derby and Snowflake 100 for an entire year. Cale Gale was not one of those drivers at all.
“We threw this car together last week,” said Gale, a local native who has kept busy running a schedule of ARCA and Busch Series races in 2006. “I got home and they said that they had a Pro Late Model for me. It was a Super Late Model then. We pulled the motor out of it and had the rear clip knocked off it. We threw it together and practiced about 15 laps. I didn’t like it, but it must have changed itself because we really didn’t do a whole lot to it.”
Cale Gale's #33
LANDIS COMES UP SHORT IN SNOWFLAKE 100
The phrase “if life gives you lemons, make lemonade” might apply to Jack Landis’ run in the Snowflake 100.
The Holly Hill, FL native had a strong race, battling amongst the leaders for most of the race, but circumstances out of his control almost changed that.
“With 15 or 18 to go, we were sitting pretty good, and I noticed I had a right front tire going down,” said Landis, “so we came in after that and got two and looked like Superman.”
In the closing laps of the race, Landis used his new tires to charge through the field, sometimes making it three-wide around the cars with old tires to close his gap to the leaders. “Those guys were just hanging on to everything they had,” said Landis. “I have to thank of everyone for this nice clean race at the end and it was a lot of fun. We ran out of laps. We could’ve used another yellow at the end. We went from 16th to 4th in about 15 laps.”
Jack Landis' late-race gamble nearly paid off.
STREMME HANGS ON FOR TOP FIVE
NASCAR Nextel Cup Series driver David Stremme capped off his first Snowball Derby weekend as a driver with a 5th place finish in the Snowflake 100. Stremme started deep in the field but quickly rebounded by moving as high as 3rd with 10 laps to go in the event.
“We had a pretty good car but just had to come down from real deep in the field and had a couple of other put tires on”, said Stremme. “I was glad the laps were over because I was out of tires. Jack (Landis) and Cale Gale took tires and I couldn’t hold them off.”
For Stremme, this whole weekend allowed him to go back to his short track racing roots. “I had fun, that was the main thing,” said Stremme. “I don’t care, I had fun. These guys are a lot of fun to race with and I enjoyed it.”
Although this was his first Snowflake 100 as a driver, he was not completely unfamiliar to Five Flags. “I came
down here like six or seven years ago and helped a guy,” said Stremme, adding “we ended up watching that, but I know a lot of people who raced here. I got to just hang out and relax.”
He had such a good time that fans might be seeing him back at the Derby next year. “Oh yeah, we’ll be back!”