The Rattler Is Many Things To Many Racers by Mike Twist
South Alabama Race Can Kick Start a Team's Season
“It’s like going to the Snowball Derby or the All-American 400,” said Casey Smith of Texas.  “Anytime that you have 40 or 50 Super Late Models show up with the caliber of equipment that will be there, it’s like going to the Daytona 500.  Being able to go there and have a good showing can set your tone for the whole year.  I think that everyone looks at The Rattler on the same level as the Snowball Derby. 

“Opp is such a unique place,” said Josh Hamner of Alabama.  “It’s a very fun track.  I’ve only raced there once, but I knew right away when I first tested there that the place was going to be fun.  There’s so much grip.  You really have to hustle a car there and get up on the wheel to get around that place.  The car that we had there last year was really sweet.  I led a lot of laps, so this car will have big shoes to fill there.  But I think that it is going to be pretty good.”

The Rattler’s place on the schedule also makes it an attractive race.  Since there are not any conflicts with any other points-paying tours, such as PASS South, the Blizzard Series or the ASA Southeast Asphalt Series, teams can truck to South
Casey Smith already knows a thing or two about winning at South Alabama Speedway.
It is hard to say what attracts a racer most to The Rattler at South Alabama Speedway, which takes place this coming weekend at South Alabama Speedway in Opp.  There’s the history of the event, the $10,000 winner’s share of the purse, the chance to get an early jump on the season and there’s the track itself.  But one thing is for certain, drivers love this event.
Alabama and not have to worry about missing any time on their home circuit.  A good run at The Rattler could even be a boost to a team’s momentum. 

“It gets everybody pumped up for the season,” said Hamner.  “You want to come out of there with a good run.” 

“The biggest thing is that you just can’t get down if something goes wrong,” said Smith, who swept all of the Viper Series races at South Alabama last season on the way to that championship.  “I thought that we were going to win The Rattler last year until we broke a clutch.  Sometimes, you’ll just have something break or you won’t be that good.  It’s the first race of the year and with all of the good teams there, it is a good race to judge where you are at.  But you can’t get complacent if you are good or too down on yourself if you aren’t.”

In addition to providing momentum, The Rattler can also provide plenty of notoriety as well.

“It’s just one of those special races that you know who won every year,” said Smith.  “People know me because I won all of the Viper races there last year, but I would have only had to win one race, The Rattler, to have remembered me.  Everyone knows that Augie Grill won it last year and they remember how it was won.  It’s one of those races where you know who won it and everyone guns for them the rest of the year.”

Over 40 entries for this year’s race have already been filed.  Who will show up on race day isn’t even set in stone until the pit gates open.  In fact, last year the event even attracted eventual PASS North champion Ben Rowe and his Richard Moody Racing team to tow all of the way from Maine to compete.
What all teams find when they get to South Alabama Speedway is a facility that is friendly to their needs.

“[Promoter] John [Dykes] and everyone there have done so much with the improvements that they’ve done there,” said Hamner.  “They’ve paved it and redid the outside pit area with electricity, water and air.  It’s those little things that really makes it enjoyable to come and race there.”

This year’s entry list for the Rattler includes former winners Hogan, Grill, Ryan Crane (2006), Johnny Brazier (1996) and Dave Mader, III (1978).  It will also include competitors like Wayne Anderson and Jeff Choquette from Florida, CRA hotshoes Boris Jurkovic and Greg Boone, PASS South winner Heath Hindman and other household short track names like Chris Davidson, Hunter Robbins, Bubba Pollard, Jeff Fultz and Dennis Reno, Jr.

On paper, Smith might have an advantage with his recent success at the track, but he also knows that with such an esteemed field of racers, it’s anyone’s trophy for the taking.

“”Everyone has had the whole off-season to figure out what we were doing and get better,” said Smith.  “Believe it or not, the track is getting a little bit rough, so shocks will be very important.  I think that we’ve figure out some stuff and I think that we are going to be all right, but there will also be plenty of teams with the same equipment and same knowledge that we have.  It’s just a matter of who will figure things out the fastest.” will be on hand at South Alabama Speedway this weekend.  The race weekend will feature a 125-lap Pro Late Model feature on Saturday night and a 250-lap main event for the Super Late Models on Sunday afternoon.

Josh Hamner's #38 machine at South Alabama.