Streaking Pollard has Regained Form, Eyes Third Straight Blizzard Victory Come Friday
By Chuck Corder
Athletes talk with reverence about “the zone.”
It’s mythical territory where they’re at their best. Whether it’s Bubba Watson rolling in birdies and eagles, LeBron James going off for 50 points, Peyton Manning tossing seven touchdowns or racking up Sprint Cup Series titles like Jimmie Johnson, athletes covet every chance encounter in “the zone.”
It’s sacred ground, and never sullied because trips to this enchanted utopia are often so rare.
When Bubba Pollard returns Friday to Five Flags Speedway for the Rubber and Specialties 125, “the zone” will be riding shotgun.
The 27-year-old Super Late Model driver has won two consecutive Buddy’s Home Furnishings Blizzard Series features run in Pensacola dating back to last year. He also boasts five straight Blizzard poles, setting the track record a few times along the way.
A win Friday would give Pollard nine Blizzard victories and crown him the all-time winningest Blizzard Series driver, one clear of the eight that he currently shares with Augie Grill.
“It suits my driving style and how I like to race,” Pollard said of the famed half-mile asphalt oval. “You have to be smart and manage your tires. The key to the place is having good lines and hitting your marks every lap.”
The problem for Pollard’s rivals is the Senoia, Ga., driver is hitting marks at every track he unloads the black No. 26.
This season alone, Pollard is riding a four-race winning streak, which began during last month’s Mountain Dew Kickstart 125 victory at Five Flags.
He’s also enjoying a stretch of seven wins in nine races and is tied atop the Southern Super Series with Casey Smith heading into Friday’s race.
Some might say Pollard has been in a zone for three or four years thanks to all the late model winning he has accomplished.
But Pollard will admit that last year didn’t cut the mustard for his high standards. And 2014 didn’t start any better: A pair of finishes outside the top 15 during SpeedFest at Watermelon Capital Speedway in Cordele, Ga., cast a long shadow on his commitments.
“I stretched myself too thin with other things besides racing,” Pollard said. “To do this kind of racing, you have to be really focused and surround yourself with the right people.
“I’ve done that now, and we’ve gotten back on track. Everything’s moving in the right direction.”
That’s very bad news for Friday night’s field, which will include Johanna Long driving her family-owned SLM after the No. 21 she was driving for Scott Carlson was flooded out during the torrential downpour earlier this month.
Modifieds, Sportsmen and Bombers also share the stage with the SLMs when the gates open at 4 p.m. Friday. Admission is as follows: $15 for adults; $12 for seniors, students and military; $5 for children ages 6 to 11; free for kids under 6.
Pollard made his first big splash at Five Flags in 2005. Just 18, he served notice that his was a name to remember, finishing second in the Snowflake 100.
The ’Flake — like its big brother, the Snowball Derby, still today — was, too, run by SLMs a decade ago.
“Getting old in the sport; my time has passed,” Pollard joked. “I don’t feel like it’s been that long ago. I wish I knew then what I know now.”
He might sound a little maudlin, but there’s truth to uncover in his words.
Pollard loves the short-track world, its fans, the competitive racing and the historic tracks he is fortunate to compete at.
But even he wonders if a potential brush with NASCAR stardom is merely a pipedream now.
“I think with my age, it definitely hurts as far as racing at the next level,” Pollard said. “I wish my work ethic, my drive could carry me there, but that’s not how it works these days.
“How do you get in front of these guys to showcase your talent? I’ve wondered that through the years.”
The Five Flags faithful are hopeful they never have to wonder about life without Pollard wowing them four times a year for Blizzard races or when he’s setting track records during Snowball week.
“You tend to have a lotta ups and downs in racing,” Pollard said. “This year, we set a goal of winning, and I feel like we can meet that goal. I’m looking forward for the rest of the season to get going.”
If Pollard continues to be in the kind of zone that has marked his first quarter of the season, the final months of 2014 promise to be historic.