Pope and Bolen Hoping to Tag-Team Blizzard Veterans on May 23rd 51Sports / Series PR
New Friendship Helping Both Drivers Succeed in Rookie Super Late Model Seasons
Names like Scott Carlson, Augie Grill and Ryan Crane have been the toughest-to-beat drivers in the Blizzard Series Super Late Model events at Pensacola, Florida’s Five Flags Speedway. Carlson is a Champion; Grill has been a threat in every event, even winning the 40th Annual Snowball Derby at Five Flags last December. Crane is a staple up front every race, as well.
But a new guard has begun to emerge thus far in 2008. Josh Hamner scored his first-ever SLM victory in the opening Blizzard Series event in April, and now two racers who have built up a friendship in recent months hope to add their names onto the SLM record books at Five Flags and instantly become one of the top-tier drivers in the tough Blizzard Series.
Alabama’s John Bolen and Georgia’s Michael Pope both made their Five Flags Super Late Model debuts on April 11th in the Blizzard opener, with Pope finishing a strong seventh and Bolen 16th. The two drivers became friends in an early-season SLM event in Alabama and the two have become not only good buddies, but also helpful confidantes at the racetrack.
Now both Bolen and Pope hope to use each others’ knowledge in the hope that one of them can add their names next to Hamner’s as a first-time Super Late Model winner at Five Flags. They’ll get a chance to do that this Friday when the second round of the Blizzard Series hits the track on May 23rd.
“Some people would say it’s intimidating to go up against guys like Carlson, Crane and the rest,” said Pope. “I don’t think of it that way. It’s just another challenge to overcome. Everyone looks at those guys as the favorites, but nobody really looks at guys like us as having a shot. I look at it as we’re the underdogs with a shot at a win.”
“I’ve never driven a place that is as difficult as Pensacola is,” said Bolen. “It’s by far the most difficult place I’ve gone to. Racers like a challenge, and if they didn’t like a challenge, they wouldn’t do it. That’s why I like going down there. They have the best of the best down there. If you can win there, you’re pretty much showing that you are in the number-one category. That’s what I hope to do this time out.”
Pope had several races’ worth of experience on the tricky Five Flags half-mile going into the Blizzard Series opener back in April. While he had several strong finishes in Pro Late Model competition at Five Flags in the past, the opening Blizzard race was his first Super Late Model start at the track. Since track-time in any type of
car is priceless, Pope was able to teach his buddy Bolen some tricks while still relearning the track himself.
“It’s a big difference between the two cars,” said Pope. “When you go down there with about 430 horsepower in a crate motor, you can get up off the corner pretty easy. Then when you go out there with about 650 to 700 horsepower, it’s really hard to get it to hook up off the corner because you have so much tire spin.
“Just talking to John about how the car felt was hopefully a help to him. I’ve driven on the track before, but I certainly don’t know the track that much. I just tried helping him figure out what the car would do throughout the race. Mr. Frankie Grill and Augie Grill are a huge help for both of us, but hopefully I can help him out all I can.”
Both Bolen and Pope utilize Grand American Race Cars chassis, the same chassis built and run by Augie Grill when he won the 40th Annual Snowball Derby. The similar types of cars have helped build Bolen and Pope’s friendship even stronger and make their chances at victory even greater.
“Michael loves racing; that’s all he does,” said Bolen. “He’s come to the track with us some weekends when he’s not racing. When he goes to the track with us, he works on the car just like the rest of the guys. He’s not too good to work on the car. He helps us a little bit, so do the Grills. With help from Michael and the Grills, we’ve been strong everywhere we’ve gone this year.”
“I think John will be pretty good, and we’re pretty optimistic about the way things are going to go for my car. Hopefully we can come out of there with a win – our first Super Late Model win,” concluded Pope.
In order for Pope and Bolen to add their name to the Five Flags Speedway record books, both drivers will have to tackle one of the toughest Super Late Model fields in the Southeast on Friday, May 23rd, in the Pepsi 100.
Five Flags Speedway is offering affordable family fun for the second Blizzard Series event of the season. Tickets are priced at just $15 for adults, $14 for seniors and Military personnel, $5 for kids age 6-14 and children under five are admitted free.
In addition to the 100-green-flag-lap Blizzard Series event, the Super Stocks, Sportsmen and Bombers will also hit the Five Flags half-mile.
Michael Pope (Top) and John Bolen (Bottom - #2 Car) have become fast friends.