Lady Luck On Eddie Mercer and Scott Carlson’s Side at Five Flags by Matt Kentfield
Mercer Takes First Victory Since 2005 Snowball Derby; Carlson Wins Title by Tiebreaker
Eddie Mercer was relieved to finally have Lady Luck on his side for a change at Five Flags. (51 Photos)
Lady Luck is every racecar driver’s mistress. She is what makes some drivers leave tracks like Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola, FL, with a smile on their face, while those who suffer her wrath leave frustrated.
Lady Luck made her presence known Friday night at Five Flags. She is what separated champions from contenders, making Eddie Mercer and Scott Carlson glad they were on Lady Luck’s good side, while Ryan Crane, Justin Drawdy and a host of others were left wondering what could have been.
Eddie Mercer had not been in Lady Luck’s good graces since his 2005 triumph in the prestigious Snowball Derby SLM event at Five Flags. After years of trying, the Pensacola native finally won the Derby that December, but he had not returned to victory lane since. He continued to take strong finishes, but nothing on the winner's poduim.
Finally, Lady Luck let Mercer back on her good side Friday Night. Mercer was fast throughout the event, dominating both early and late in the race en route to his first Five Flags victory since 2005 over Grant Enfinger and Adam Crawford.
“It feels good, because I’ve got a really dedicated bunch of crew guys that have stayed with me through the tough times,” said Mercer. “I’ve got some guys that have been racing with me my whole career and never left me. I really wanted to win a race for them.
“We sold our Snowball Derby-winning car and we built this car. This car was fast out of the box, but then it got one gremlin after another, like it was possessed. We finally got all the bugs worked out, and we never gave up on it. We’ve got a brand new car sitting at the shop, but we didn’t bring it out because we knew we had a winning car that we just had to work the gremlins out of it. We finally did that tonight.”
Mercer’s victory ended Scott Carlson’s stronghold on Five Flags’ victory lane of late. With two-straight victories in the Blizzard Series going into Friday’s finale, Carlson had positioned himself third in Blizzard Series points, 10 points behind Justin Drawdy in second and 35 tallies behind point leader Ryan Crane. Drawdy’s title chances for a championship were eliminated on lap 79 when he was involved in a multi-car crash.
That left the Blizzard Series title to be decided between Carlson and Crane late in the race, but on lap 84, Lady Luck made another appearance and threw a wrench into both drivers’ plans. Down the backstretch, Michigan racer Brian Campbell and Carlson split Hunter Robbins into turn three as they jockeyed for a top-five spot, but Campbell and Carlson wound up making contact. Both drivers spun in the third corner, leaving Crane nowhere to go.
When Scott Carlson (left) chatted with Hunter Robbins (right) pre-race, little did they know they would both be involved in the crash that ended up determining the title.
Both Crane and Carlson hit pit road to repair the damage to their cars. Carlson came back out on the track on the lead lap to finish sixth. Crane’s damage was terminal, however, and had to settle for 12th.
At the drop of the checkered flag, Crane and Carlson were tied atop the standings. Because Carlson had two wins during the Blizzard Series season, he was credited with the championship.
“I did see (the championship) going away when that happened,” said Carlson. “We had bad luck. Normally, we run better than that, but tonight I think the 10 car (Crane) had worse luck. We raced all year long and it came down to every position determining the championship here in the last race. That’s pretty spectacular I think for us to race five races and end up in a tie when both of us had bad luck tonight. I guess they just had more bad luck than us and that’s what won it for us.”
Crane wound up second in Blizzard Series points, earning him, along with the champion Carlson, a guaranteed staring spot into the 40th Annual Snowball Derby, November 29th through December 2nd.
“I guess Brian Campbell did a slide job and took out himself,” said Crane. “Carlson and Hunter Robbins and I were the next in line. I tried to get it stopped, but the wall got there before I did. We just barely got into it with the right front, enough to shear off the lower strut.
“I can’t put what happened into words. The only good thing I can say is that at least we are locked into the Derby. Carlson’s been racing here for many years, so congratulations to him on the championship. We’ll be back to get them in the Derby.”
While the championship was being decided behind Mercer, a couple of young stars on the rise in the Southeastern Super Late Model world were giving the eventual race winner all they could for their taste at victory. Grant Enfinger was Mercer’s toughest competition all night, leading on two different occasions but eventually had to settle for second when Mercer made the final pass with 12 laps remaining. Adam Crawford, son of NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series driver Rick Crawford, brought home his best-ever Five Flags finish in third.
Could this year's be Eddie Mercer's last Snowball Derby?
In the end, however, nobody was going to deny Mercer the victory. Not even Lady Luck this time.
“I knew we had a good car,” said Mercer. “The #82 car (Enfinger) there in the middle of the race, he just wanted to go too hard. The thing is, you know you’re going to get your two new tires, but you’re not going to get a new left-rear. You’ve got to take care of your left-rear. So I wasn’t going to run the pace he wanted to run. I just waved him over getting into three and rode behind him, saving my left-rear for later in the race.
“Then when I got in the lead, I saved about 10 percent of my car for that late restart. I decided to run the race that a guy that’s got as many laps around this place as I have should run it.”
The next time Super Late Models will hit Five Flags Speedway is in the 40th Annual Snowball Derby. Scott Carlson and Ryan Crane are already locked into the race, but if Lady Luck is on Eddie Mercer’s side in the Derby this time, it could be Mercer’s second and possibly final Snowball Derby title.
“If I could win that race again, I’d just hang up my helmet,” said Mercer. “I’ve done all I wanted to do in racing, so I’d be alright with it. I’ve got a nephew that likes to race and I’ve got a bunch of guys that like to race. My Godson, Brandon Carlson, won the (Pro Late Model) race tonight, so there are some other things I can do that I can enjoy just as much. So if I won another Snowball, I’d probably just fade out.”