The Super Late Model racing world has a new marquee event to add to the list of the most prestigious elite short track races in the country. We all know about the Snowball Derby, the All American 400, the Winchester 400, and the other events that have been staples to Super Late Model racing for so many years.
The 30-year-old “New Kid on the Block” is a race in the South that’s held each March. “The Rattler” has become the one of the premier early season Super Late Model races in the county and this year it’s bigger then ever before. With the help of the CRA Super Series, South Alabama Speedway is putting a racing weekend together that might host as many cars as the Snowball Derby. It has the racing world buzzing about this up coming weekend in Opp, Alabama.
“It’s so big we have been talking about it ever since the Snowball Derby got done a couple of months ago,” said 2008 Rattler winner Grant Enfinger. “With so many cars entered, it going to make it one of the biggest races of the year. Hopefully, we can be fortunate enough to pull this one off like we did last year.”
The Rattler got its name from the Rattlesnake Round-Up which is held in Opp, Alabama each April. Prior to each major event on Rattler Weekend it is tradition for snake handlers to release live rattlesnakes on the frontstretch before the green flag. Many of the drivers who dare to drive like madmen can get freaked out by the snakes.
“That’s the worst part of the weekend,” said Enfinger. “I don’t play around with the snakes. I don’t like them at all. The race has a cool name, but I hate snakes.”
This year, in order to keep the playing field even, track officials will have a competition caution on lap 75 of the 250-lap event. Cars can pit and not loose a lap under this stop. The order the cars came to pit road will be the order they leave pit road during this stop. Under this stop teams can take four tires, while under other yellow flag periods teams can only change two tires at a time. This will keep all the smaller budget teams in the race. Korey Ruble a local Super Late Model competitor went the entire 250-lap distance last season without changing tires and still finished third.
“I think we are definitely going to change tires this year,” said Ruble with a laugh. “We have a small team and that was our game plan last year. This year, with the competition yellow and the two tire limit on yellows, I think we’ll be ok. It’s a long distance race and you need to manage your tires to have a shot of winning.”
The history of this race has grown so much over the years. In 1974, the event was a pair of 50-lap events. Since then, the distance has been upsized to 100, 125, 150, 200 and now it’s current distance of 250 laps. No matter how many laps are run each year it still means a lot to those who win the event.
“I can remember watching Ronnie Sanders win over there one year,” said Ruble. “He was the man over there for so many years. It was really tough to beat Ronnie at Opp. I bought my first Late Model off him just a few years back. It would be cool to win the race he won so many times.”
Sanders is the only three-time winner of the event and one of only two men to win the race twice. Wayne Willard is the other. Another driver who could add his name to that list is two-time defending Snowball Derby Champion Augie Grill. Back in 2007, Grill snuck by Hunter Robbins on the final lap and scored the win as he came across the line backwards. Grill says that finish still sticks out in his mind.
“I hated for it to happen the way it did,” said Grill. “If we had to do it over we would have come in and got tires. Hunter had a small advantage on us during the final restart. He got by us and I knew if I could get back to him, I could get by him. We got by him and we touched on the last lap. We both went spinning, it was an amazing finish.”
Grill, of course, will be one of the drivers doing double duty, as he plans on running the Pro Late Model Rattler 125 the night before the Super Late Model event. Grill was unbeaten in his Pro Late Model at South Alabama Speedway in 2008. He won three straight races including the Alabama 200. Many drivers feel he might the guy to beat and that he could sweep the weekend.
“It makes me feel good,” said Grill. “I have told people this a hundred times, I still don’t fell like that guy that everyone knows they have to beat to win the race. That guy that I used to look up to as a kid, I see kids now that look up to me because we have won some races. It feels good, but I never thought it would be me.”
Kyle Busch Motorsports will field two entries with Brian Ickler and Ryan Lawler. Both have never raced at the South Alabama track, but are heavy favorites with the success of Busch’s Super Late Model program.
"We have only run with Kyle (Busch) once and we did really good. We didn't come home with the trophy, but we ran well," said Ickler. "I have never seen the track, but I have been talking to Jeff Fultz and I think we'll be ready."
Lawler hopes to run strong as well. He, like Ickler, has never seen the track.
"We're real pumped up because this is my first race with Kyle," said Lawler. "I have never been to Opp, period. I have a lot of pointers from people. My dad has race there before; we're just really excited. Driving for Kyle Busch is a great opportunity for the both of us."
Florida hot shots like Wayne Anderson, Tim Russell, Jeremy Colangelo and Justin Drawdy will be on hand along with Local standouts Josh Hamner, Eddie Mercer, John Bolen, Hunter Robbins and many others.
The winner of the Rattler 250 could pocket over $20,000 if more then 50 Super Late Model teams show up to race. With only 28 starting spots in the field, give or take a few provisionals, the remaining cars will still get a chance to race in a non-qualifiers show.
Speed51.com will be on hand and bring you Trackside Now coverage beginning on Friday, March 6th with the opening day of practice. On Saturday, March 7th The Super Late Models will qualify for Sunday’s race and the Pro Late Models will have their 125 lap event in the evening. The weekend will wrap up with the 250-lap Rattler Super Late Model event on Sunday, March the 8th.