Nasse Carves Own Path as DSC Blizzard Series Make Season Debut at 5 Flags for Rubber & Specialties 100
By Chuck Corder
Stephen Nasse might be the most enigmatic personality in short-track racing.
The 21 year old loves to race as much as his next rival, yet holds no serious aspirations at chasing NASCAR or any other kind of stardom. He’d rather chase the elite competition to short-track’s premier races and hand the well-funded teams their hats.
To Nasse, racing isn’t something he eats, breathes and sleeps, but simply a hobby. He looks forward to the day he takes over the family construction business, which has been around for more than a century, and races a part-time schedule.
He enters Five Flags Speedway for Friday’s Rubber and Specialties 100, the Deep South Cranes Blizzard Series opener, as the early points leader of the Southern Super Series. The Super Late Model touring division that stops at the southeast’s most iconic short tracks has two of its 12-race schedule already under its belt.
“It’s still early,” Nasse cautioned of his 12-point lead over young Chandler Smith. “I try and not look at that kind of stuff. At the same time, it feels good to be No. 1 right now. I’ve never been a points racer. My program is always so scattered out and over the map.
“If we can go to Pensacola and get a good finish, and keep lead, we’ll stick with the Southern Supers as long as we can stay out front.”
Also hoping to stay out front with the SLMs are the Pro Trucks (30 laps), The Dock on Pensacola Beach Sportsmen (25) and the Lloyd’s Glass Pure Stocks (20).
Gates open at 4 p.m. Friday and admission is as follows: $15 for adults; $12 for seniors, military and students; $5 for children ages 6 to 11; free for kids 5 and under.
The Southern Super Series seems to be a tour that fits Nasse well.
While other drivers his age, and even more a few years younger, have tunnel vision to break into the NASCAR’s ranks, Nasse knows the brand couldn’t handle someone as outspoken and brash as he is.
“You can’t show your true emotions,” said the Pinellas Park, Fla., native, who now lives in Charlotte, N.C. “In NASCAR, you can’t even vocalize what you’re feeling. That’s a reason why I’ve steered away from the NASCAR route.”
And it was those same raw emotions that were on full display at last year’s Snowball Derby when Nasse slammed into William Byron under a late caution as retaliation for an incident just seconds earlier.
“It was a shame,” said Nasse, who was running second at the time Byron spun him. “I’m not saying we would’ve definitely won the race, but that was our best shot at it.
“If I had to do it again, maybe I’d act a little different. But, I would react the same if it’s the Snowball Derby. There’s no question. I know wrecking a racecar like that is not the best way to express yourself, but that’s who I am sometime.”
NASCAR’s loss is the short-track world’s gain and Nasse has scored many big late model wins since 2011 when he began turning heads at just 15.
Six years later, and boasting wins that would make any late model driver jealous, Nasse certainly looks like someone who was molded for racing.
Steve Sanford, his grandfather, helped guide the successful short-track careers of several drivers from the Pinellas Park area, just north of Tampa. Guys like the Cope brothers, Mike and Jimmy, along with Dave Scarborough.
Nasse’s parents, Jeff and Gina, met at the famed New Smyrna Speedway. While Gina rode BMX bikes, Jeff played around with dune buggies.
“I was the only boy in the family,” said Stephen Nasse, who has two sisters. “I was always into driving things.”
His first attempt at driving didn’t go that well, though. Nasse was around 4, closer to 5, and his dad and uncle entered him in a dirt bike race where the adults were allowed to follow close behind the young riders around the track.
“I did more falling than riding,” Stephen Nasse said. “My dad and uncle were so worn out because they had to keep picking me up and helping me out so much. We knew we had to go to four wheels.”
That’s when Nasse found his groove. First in go-karts. Then in Pro Trucks and finally exploring late models by the time he was 13.
As a 15-year-old in 2011, Nasse scored SLM milestone wins at the Red-Eye 100 at his home track of New Smyrna and the Easter Bunny 150 at Hickory Motor Speedway, the latter victory opened even the young, invincible Nasse’s eyes into his untapped talent.
“My father has always chased competition,” he said. “That’s what we base our schedule on. We go to beat the best every single time. But, it’s hard to win a lotta these races, especially back then when I was rookie and not knowing what I was getting into. To get that victory, there’s no doubt it helped me be a better driver today.”
But just as his young, blossoming career was reaching its peak, Nasse was sidelined for nearly four months as a 17 year old. He had come down with a serious, debilitating case of pneumonia that left him a shadow of his former self.
Nasse lost 50 pounds following an illness that went unchecked for several weeks because Nasse wrote it off as a simple cold. Instead, one night, he was woken up to sharp pains in his chest and he, finally, went to a hospital.
“(Doctors) were surprised I was breathing, that I was lucky to be alive,” Nasse said. “I didn’t know how severe it was until doctors explained it to me.”
Following a slow recovery of strictly breathing treatments and relaxation, Nasse returned to racing after four months.
“I wanted to get back out there and get better because I was running hot just before I got sick,” he said.
Nasse comes into Pensacola’s high banks running hot again. He got to the top of the Southern Super Series standings thanks to a pair of top-10 finishes in the opening races of the season.
Another set of top-10 finishes at Five Flags on Friday and Mobile International Speedway on Saturday night, and Nasse should remain atop the standings heading into the Southern Super Series’ first pilgrimage to Bristol Motor Speedway next month.
While racing at short-track’s Mecca is meaningful to Nasse, his nonchalant attitude helps him keep the important things in perspective.
“Where I’m at in my racing career, I’m happy,” Nasse said. “I have two nephews, Kason and Paxon. And I love seeing Kason obsessed with racing. He’s definitely my biggest fan. I do what I want for fun, and to not have any worries.”