Track Record Falls by Wayside Six Times as Winged Sprints Shatter Old Mark on Opening Night
By Chuck Corder
Brian Gerster came this week to Five Flags Speedway with plenty of motivation.
The Fishers, Ind., native is buddies with Erik Jones, the 16-year-old who outdueled Kyle Busch at last year’s Snowball Derby.
Gerster made his first trip to Pensacola in his winged sprint car to make his own history.
He did just that, shattering the track record with a time of 13.205 seconds during qualifying for the Royal Oak Southern Shootout for the Must See Racing sprints.
“I’ve get bragging rights on him,” Gerster said of Jones, who he shares a spotter with. “We’ve got a really good package and it handles great.”
Gerster proved it on a night when six of the 29 drivers had a shot at the track record. He also won one of the four heat races, but that’s where his fortune ended.
Running well early on in the 30-lap feature, Gerster was never the same once the night’s lone caution came out just three laps in.
“We were fortunate to have a good lap and it’s exciting to get a track record,” said Gerster, who was the fast car in practice, as well. “There are a half-dozen to 10 cars that had a shot to win tonight.”
That honor ultimately belonged to Canadian driver Ryan Litt. The London, Ontario, native in the 07 notched his first win of his Must See career, passing under fellow 07 Jacob Wilson on Lap 26.
“I was just trying to keep the momentum up,” Litt said. “I didn’t want to get tied down with the lapped cars. I’m tired.”
Not whupped enough to celebrate his victory.
Wilson led for most of the night, but failed to close the deal.
“The 07 won at least,” Wilson joked. “We didn’t lead the right five laps.”
Gerster’s scorching qualifying lap equated to 136.33 mph.
Brian Olson (13.650), Ryan Litt (13.723), Dave Steele (13.666), JoJo Helberg (13.543) and Bobby Santos (13.479) all posted times that smoked the previous track record of 13.783 seconds.
Jason Cox set the old mark last year when Must See came to town.
“The cool air certainly helps the motor run,” Gerster said. “I can’t complain. It was 19 (degrees) when we left home the other night. So, it’s OK for us sightseers.”
Unfortunately, Gerster became a sightseer once the race unfolded.
Official order of Finish:
Beef O’Brdy’s Sportsmen
The calendar flips, but the end result doesn’t for the Beef O’Brady’s Sportsmen at Five Flags Speedway.
Steve Buttrick and Brannon Fowler, the class of this class in recent years, waged another door-to-door battle for 25 laps.
When the dust settled in the 12-car field, it was the three-time defending Snowball Derby Sportsman champion Buttrick who once again hoisted the winner’s trophy.
“Brannon raced me real good, and I appreciate that,” Buttrick said. “That was a lotta fun to get back on this racetrack.”
Buttrick took the lead from Fowler, the polesitter thanks to a new track record, on Lap 14 and never looked back.
All was not lost for Fowler, who is the two-time reigning track champ for the Sportsmen. While the winged sprints stole most of the qualifying headlines, Fowler was able to make some significant noise for the local classes.
He, too, took advantage of unseasonably cold conditions to rewrite the record books with a blistering mark of 20.520 seconds. That was a full tenth of a second faster than the previous mark of 20.640, which was owned by Buttrick.
Buttrick followed Fowler and posted a pair of times in the 20.5s, but neither was good enough to climb past Fowler.
Butler U-Pull-It Bombers
Tracy Soles wasn’t sure what to do with himself.
The youngster had never been to Victory Lane after a feature race. He ended that long drought Friday at Five Flags, capturing the 20-lap Butler U-Pull-It Bombers feature.
Soles celebrated with a few whoops and banging on the roof of his silver No. 6.
“That’s what’s up boys!” Soles shouted as he celebrated with his team and friends. “Every time the caution came out, I kept getting madder and madder because the leaders were coming. Luckily, I was able to hold on.”
Soles took the lead on the second lap and never left the point despite enduring a slew of cautions, including a handful in the final six laps.
Ricky Balkum started on pole after Leonard Craig Jr., the fast qualifier, rolled a “6” to set the invert for the 17-car field.
Soles quickly took command and never wavered despite those yellows he eschewed.
Michael Nelson and Josh Johnson waged quite the battled to get to second for the second half of the race, blowing by Kenny Bullard on Lap 18.
But as Nelson and Johnson beat and banged for runner-up honors on the final lap, Bullard was able to bounce back and recover for a third-place finish while Johnson finished fourth.