SLM Stars Trying To Charm The Rattler This Weekend by Mike Twist and Matt Kentfield
Next Great Pre-Season SLM Show Takes To New Asphalt at SAS
The Rattler victory kickstarted Ryan Crane's season last year. He hopes for a repeat performance this time around.  (51 Photos)
As the Super Late Model season comes to a close each year, there are a number of marquee events in the Southeast that feature plenty of prestige, a big trophy and a handsome winner’s check for teams.  Races like the Snowball Derby, the All-American 400 and the upstart Mason-Dixon Meltdown all fall into that category.

When it comes to early-season major events, there has always been a little bit of a void, but that’s changing.  January’s Speedfest at Lakeland, Florida’s USA International Speedway draws entries from all over the map and Speedweeks at New Smyrna is a staple for many teams.

And then there is the Rattler, which takes place this coming weekend at South Alabama Speedway.  A good run here could give a team plenty of momentum heading into their regular season.

“You see a lot of the major short track events take place towards the end of the year,” said 2005 Rattler winner Jason Hogan.  “This is the one for you to get the year started off right.  If you win this race, it propels you into the rest of the year.”

Ryan Crane knows that firsthand.  The young Florida driver is the defending Rattler winner and hopes that a possible repeat performance will get his season rolling right along.

“Winning the Rattler boosted our season,” said Crane.  “If we could do it again, it would sure boost some things for this year.”

The Rattler has existed since 1974.  The race has had its good times and bad spells too.  A few times, the race didn’t even run.  Recently though, the race has enjoyed a resurgence and is now one of the most anticipated events of the season.

“Until the last few years, it wasn’t nearly as big of a deal as it is now,” said Alabama Super Late Model racer Augie Grill.  “John Dykes (South Alabama Speedway’s General Manager) has really focused on getting it built back up and I think he’s done a great job.  It’s gotten to where there’s a good bunch of cars down there and I think the prestige is getting bigger and bigger every year.  I hope to see a bunch of cars down there, and I think they’re going to get it.”

“It’s got so much history behind it and it’s such a big race,” said Hogan.  “They’ve made so many improvements over the past few years – upping the purse from $5,000 to $10,000 for the winner, making it 250 laps and the things that they are doing to the track, shows that Super Late Model racing is on a comeback.  There are tracks out there trying to keep these cars alive.”

Augie Grill hopes for a good show on the new South Alabama asphalt.
The Rattler isn’t just making regional headlines anymore either.  It now draws national attention.

“It’s a new race for me and the track has new asphalt,” said Maine Super Late Model standout Ben Rowe, who will be making his first Rattler trip this season.  “We’ll see how we stack up.  We went to Lakeland and we were pretty decent, so I’m looking forward to going back down there and running with those guys again.”

That new asphalt is going to make this year’s on-track activities very fast.

“When we tested, we saw lap times nearly a second and a half faster than last year,” said Hogan.  “The track is definitely faster.  It has a lot of grip.  I think that it is going to be more of a groove and a half – two groove track than people think.  Just being out there and feeling the different lines there, I think that there will be good racing.”

“I went down and helped Ronnie Sanders with his Pro Late Model there about three weeks ago and got to drive his car for a few laps,” said Grill.  “I think the track’s going to be good and should put on a good show.

“There’s not going to be much slipping and sliding around there.  That’s what’s made the race interesting before, so I hope we can still put on a good show on the new pavement.  The speed’s there – lap times are about a second to a second-and-a-half faster than it was.  I hope it’s going to be a great show for the fans.

Ben Rowe will be representing the Northeast at The Rattler.
Early this week, track officials elected to change tire compounds from the ones that some teams tested there earlier this month.  But that move hasn’t been a controversial one at all.

“The change is a good one,” said Hogan.  “It will take the durability factor out of it and the tires won’t be blistering or blowing out.  It’s the same tire that we run at Mobile, so it won’t be a huge disadvantage that we practiced on one tires and will race on another one.”

All in all, the stage of set for another classic Rattler this weekend.

“It’s going to be a really competitive field,” said Crane.  “I think that everyone is shooting for us because we are the reigning champions.  I think that it will be the same guy who ran good last year.  We look at the guys who go to all of the races at South Alabama as the ones to shoot for.

“I think that the good teams are going to be good teams no matter what they are running.  These teams have pretty equal equipment, so it’s all about who can out-do who.  I don’t think it will come down to equipment, because everyone is good now.  You’ll just need to stay out of trouble and be there at the end.”

The Rattler takes place at South Alabama Speedway in Opp from March 2nd-4th.  Speed51.com will be on hand at the track this weekend and the race will be part of our extensive Trackside Now coverage.