Drawdy Caps Off Frantic Night With Blizzard Win by Steven Neeley
Lots Of Cautions And Plenty Of Pit Strategy Make For Interesting Race in Pensacola
Justin Drawdy was happy to celebrate a Five Flags win. (51 Photos)
For much of Friday evening's second race of the Blizzard Series schedule, it appeared like one driver was going to lead every lap and check out on the whole field. Other times it looked like the race would never end, with a multitude of cautions in the event.
However, after all the mayhem sorted out, it was another driver who stole the win en route to a surprising victory in the Blizzard Series at Five Flags Speedway, as Justin Drawdy passed Josh Hamner with only six laps remaining in the race to claim his first victory of 2007.
Drawdy made his bold move on Hamner, who had the dominating car of the night, with a strong pass on the inside on the frontstretch. As the two cars headed into turn one, Drawdy was unflinching and maintained the preferred lower line on the track, shoving Hamner up and muscling his way past. He held off two drivers with fresher tires, Scott Carlson and Eddie Mercer, in the closing laps to seal the victory.
“Getting down into turns three and four, he got a little loose,” said Drawdy. “I think he might've gotten in the speedy dry that was there. We got a run on him out of turn four and got up to his door. At that point in time, we had to go. I know the guys behind me had newer tires than me, so if I waited any longer they were going to check out on me.”
Drawdy explained that his race-winning move was done only out of necessity.
“He might be a little mad at me, but it was just racing, and we were going for the win,” said Drawdy. “I got up to his door. It's just a racing deal. I think he would have done the same thing if he was in my shoes.”
Even though he won the pole for the event and led the event's first 94 laps, Hamner felt that Drawdy's move was appropriate in the situation.
“Without a doubt, it was the right move,” said Hamner. “I don't expect anything less from anybody out there. It's all a big fight. You got to do what you got to do. For a lot of that fight, I think I kicked everybody's tail. I'll talk to Justin. He's a great guy, and I'm not mad. We got together at the end of the race. It's no big deal. It was five laps to go. I didn't expect him to just give the win to me.”
After an initial 26-lap run at the beginning of the race in which Hamner checked out on second-place running Mercer by about three seconds, the race turned ugly. The race was slowed 10 times for cautions, including three that were deemed “rolling red” conditions, meaning the race was stopped for a short time before the drivers would circle the track without the caution laps counting.
Some of the top finishers had theories about what caused the cautions. Eventual second-place finisher Carlson thought that the high level of competition and the sheer number of cars was the main factor.
Josh Hamner's #38 was one of the fastest cars from the start of the night until the finish.
“I think it was 35 or 37 cars on the track at one time that caused it,” said Carlson. “I thought that if the field got thinned out it would've gotten better, but it didn't. The race went unusually long with the red flags and cautions.”
Third-place finisher Mercer thought that the cautions were caused by loose cars running on Five Flags Speedway's aged surface.
“This is always been a caution-filled racetrack because it's so abrasive and everybody's so out of control on their tires,” said Mercer. “Everybody's always so loose. I was up front but I heard how rough it was in the back. I was lucky we had a good qualifying run, so we were able to run up front all night.”
In all, out of the 35 cars that started the event, only 16 finished the race. About a third of the drivers that finished had damage as well. The number of cautions also threw a wrench into the pit strategies of some of the competitors.
“I think if I had better tires I could have held onto it,” said Hamner. “If the track hadn't have thrown so many red flags, I could've won it hands down. With the number of heat cycles, once these tires go, they go. If they didn't throw so many red flags, you know, they get hot and cool off, and that also allowed more laps to be run. I was sitting there and didn't plan on pitting, especially after lap 40.”
After starting back in 22nd and working his way into the top 10, Drawdy pitted with about 30 laps remaining in the event, which proved to be the winning move. Mercer pitted on the night's ninth caution on lap 85, which put him farther behind than Drawdy with few laps remaining in the race.
It was a rough night at Five Flags, as evident by the look of Ryan Crane's car.
“Knowing from the last race, I missed it with an illness, but the people that pitted around lap 40 didn't make it back up to the front,” said Mercer. “Our strategy was to not pit. They told me that there were only like 15 cars on the lead lap, and when I looked in the mirror I saw the cars that had pitted the caution before. I could already see them in the mirror about three cars back. I felt that the only chance to win the race was to pit, even if it with only with 12 laps left.
“I almost did it. I moved up through there no problem but then the 21 (Carlson) and 82 (Grant Enfinger) got to racing side-by-side, and I almost got into the wall trying to go on the outside. That kind of broke my momentum and then it was over.”
Drawdy said he felt fortunate that the cars behind him raced hard at the end, holding up Mercer enough to let him escape with the victory.
“Mercer's fresh tires were better than my 20-lap tires,” said Drawdy. “I kept looking in the rear-view mirror and kept seeing them three or four car lengths back. I was just hoping for no cautions. We needed long, green-flag runs. The car was so good on long, green-flag runs that towards the end, when we were sitting in about sixth- or eighth-place, there were so many cars that had gotten knocked out that we made the call that we could either pit or stay out. Tonight it was good on both short and long runs, so it was good all around.”
Blizzard Series Notes:
Hole's Luck Catches Up To Him
After a streak of good runs for David Hole, it appears that his bad luck from last year might be back once again. Although he's had some interesting scenarios put him out of contention in his career so far, this one might just take the cake.
“I think problems always find me,” said Hole. “Last year, through the whole year, we had a bunch of wrecks. All of them but one were not my fault. I thought we were on a hot streak. We finished five in a row, up until the last race, the GAS race at Peach State. That race was pretty much the same deal as before, a couple of guys tangled and I had nowhere to go and hit them.”
After running mid-pack and avoiding a couple of early spins, his bad luck once again caught up to him, this time in the form of two drivers losing their brakes around him in turn three on lap 45.
“Today, Stanley (Smith) was in front of me and lost it,” said Hole. “He lost his front brakes and all he had were the rear ones, because the master cylinder broke. I was okay though at that point, no harm, no foul, and everything was alright. Then Junior (Niedecken) was right behind me and he said that he hit his brakes so hard that it blew out both master cylinders and the pedal went straight to the floor.
“I don't think I've been hit so hard from behind as tonight,” said Hole. “I got hit a ton. You know you get hit hard when you see Junior's car need a whole front clip like that. He hit me so hard that we went straight into the wall and broke all the front suspension. So we went from being okay to having a bad night. It just seemed like it was a wreckfest tonight.”
Niedecken Talks About Blizzard Growth
The other car involved in the night's hardest wreck was Wayne Niedecken, Jr's #99 car. Niedecken qualified back in 24th but avoided the night's early spins and methodically worked his way trudged his way up to 18th before mechanical problems found him.
“It wouldn't stop,” said Niedecken. “It sped up. I think I broke a master cylinder or something, and I just got on the brakes and it sped up.”
Niedecken took some time after loading his car up to talk about the growth of the Blizzard Series, the Super Late Model series that is used as preparation for one of the country's biggest short track events, the Snowball Derby.
“The Snowball's a big deal and everybody knows that,” said Niedecken. “It's got a big reputation. It's unheard of that we have 35 or 37 cars show up to run a 100-lap race like this. Last year or the year before, we had like 15 or 20 each race. It's like the Snowball Derby for each one of these races.”
Ruble Makes Disappointing SLM Debut
Alabama driver Korey Ruble had high hopes for his Super Late Model debut in the Blizzard Series in Friday night's 100-lap race. After running in selected races in the Southeast including the
Georgia Asphalt Series, he and his team decided to make the step up to the Super Late Model ranks. Unfortunately, it didn't turn out quite as planned.
“It's definitely not the way we wanted to start off,” said Ruble. “We were out in left field the whole night. I had the Pro Late Model setup in it like we had run here but it didn't translate to the Super Late Model. The spring and shock setup that you have to run for the Super Late Models is totally different.”
Korey Ruble made his first SLM start at Pensacola.
Even with the disappointing 20th place finish, Ruble plans to take whatever time is necessary to make his car competitive.
“We're going to try to get something together for Opp next weekend,” said Ruble. “Then we're going to do a bunch of testing and preparing for the July race here. We would have gone to Mobile tomorrow but we just don't feel like we're ready. We're out in left field and we don't have anywhere to set the car, no test time there. We need to get our stuff together so we can run with Eddie Mercer and people like that. It's a big step-up.”
Ruble is also in the initial stages of helping to form a racecar-building business.
“A guy we know is going to try to put some of these cars together and sell them, so I'm going to be helping him out with it,” said Ruble. “We're going to run one of his cars. It'll be a good deal for them and a good deal for us.”
So, could he be the next Augie Grill, building and running racecars at the same time?
“Augie definitely is good at what he does, so that's not a bad thing,” said Ruble.
BLIZZARD SERIES RACE #2
FIve Flags Speedway, Pensacola, FL
1. Justin Drawdy
2. Scott Carlson
3. Eddie Mercer
4. Josh Hamner
5. Donald Long
6. Grant Enfinger
7. Ken McFarland
8. Ryan Crane
9. Shane Sieg
10. Brian Scott
11. Roger Reuse
12. Steven Davis
13. Hunter Robbins
14. Bill Tutchtone
15. Matt Merrell
16. Eddie Craig, Sr.
17. Dale Little
18. Gary Helton
19. Casey Smith
20. Korey Ruble
21. Augie Grill
22. Joey Senter
23. Jason Young
24. David Hole
25. Wayne Niedecken, Jr.
26. Stanley Smith
27. Rocky Boyd, Sr.
28. Dave Mader, III
29. Tom Grothues
30. Tim Martin
31. Bill Little
32. Heath Hindman
33. Andy Pugh
34. Ron McDonald
35. Donnie Wilson