Five Flags Speedway, the home of the Snowball Derby and the Blizzard Series for Super Late Models, is notoriously one of the toughest racetracks in the country. In addition to the high speeds and two-wide racing that the track is famous for, the racing surface, long weathered by the sand of the nearby beaches, had been known to intimidate and fool even the most hardened of short track warriors.
The half-mile track in Pensacola, Florida recently underwent a track grinding procedure to encourage even more side-by-side battles and increased speeds, all while making the track more tire-friendly. But, as defending Blizzard Series Champion Josh Hamner can attest, when the Blizzard Series Super Late Models open their 2009 season in the Amp Energy 100 at Five Flags Speedway this Friday, April 10th, the all-star crop of talent will still be battling on the same Five Flags that has become the standard for tough racing in the Southeast.
“They changed the track a little bit, but it’s still the same old Five Flags Speedway,” said Hamner. “They grinded the track, but we’ve already raced here once this year (in an ASA Southeast Asphalt Tour Pro Late Model event last month), and it’s the same old Pensacola, just maybe a little bit faster. That doesn’t bother me one bit, I like going fast.”
Tim Bryant, promoter of Five Flags Speedway and its Blizzard Series and Snowball Derby events, spearheaded the track grinding effort with the hopes of improving the already-strong racing product.
“We’re really excited for the Amp Energy 100 this Friday night,” said Bryant. “We’ve taken a little bit of the abrasiveness off of the track. Our ultimate goal was to improve tire wear, and we’ve done that, but we’ve also achieved an increase in speed based on a couple of Pro Late Model events we’ve had. The speeds are a little bit faster, so we’re looking for Eddie Mercer’s track record of 16.80 to be shattered here Friday night.”
One year ago, Hamner started off his 2009 season with a victory in the season-opening Blizzard Series race at Five Flags. He then parlayed that success through the rest of the season en route to the Blizzard title. With guaranteed starting spots for the 42nd Annual Snowball Derby up for grabs for the top-two Blizzard Series points finishers, Hamner knows getting off to a good start in this year’s Amp Energy 100 could go a long way towards success in the December classic.
“Last year, we accomplished nine of the 10 things we had on our list of things to do,” said Hamner. “We won races at Five Flags, won the Championship and we came oh-so-close to winning the Derby. This time last year, we were getting ready to do the same thing, but hopefully we’ll set the tone for this year with another win. Last year, I was won the first one and that set the tone for the year and we hopefully will do the same thing this year.”
Hamner will have his work cut out for himself, however, as the list of names already entered into Friday’s Amp Energy 100 reads like a who’s-who of Super Late Model racing.
“It’s going to be an all-star race,” added Bryant. “Of course, the two guys to beat would have to be Augie Grill, who is competitive everywhere he goes and has won two-straight Snowball Derbies and Bubba Pollard, who just won last weekend at Cordele in the CRA South opener. Of course, Josh Hamner, our defending Blizzard Series Champion will be tough. So will the strong local contingent, such as Scott Carlson, a former series champion and Eddie Mercer, another former champion. Donald Long is set to go this weekend, along with his daughter Johanna who is really coming on the scene. Ryan Lawler is coming down, David Rogers, who won the World Series at New Smyrna will be here as well. Jeremy Colangelo will be making his Five Flags debut. We’ve got a couple of guys from Texas led by Casey Smith. Donnie Wilson’s coming from Oklahoma and we’ve got more coming from all over the country.”
Qualifying for the Amp Energy 100 will begin at 6:45 pm, with the feature events set to take the green flag at 8pm. The Super Stock, Sportsmen, and Bomber divisions will also hit the Five Flags half-mile.
Fans unable to attend the Five Flags Blizzard Series opener can hear it live on RaceTalkRadio, presented by Speed 51 Radio. The five Blizzard Series and five Miller Lite Series events at Mobile Int’l Speedway will make up the “Gulf Coast Championship” series, where drivers competing at both tracks are eligible for bonuses at season’s end.