Rubber & Specialties 100: Gilliland Brings NASCAR Credentials, ‘Purdy’ Talented Teenage Driver to Blizzard Opener
By Chuck Corder
As torchbearers for the sport, longtime fans feel it is their calling to share the gospel of racing with the masses. Especially, the next generation.
It’s how short-track phenom Chase Purdy bonded with his grandfather from an early age. Purdy was joined at the hip with Bill Barkley and both were enraptured whenever NASCAR came on TV.
“I remember being younger and telling my grandfather I was going to do that one day,” Purdy, now 17, said. “When I was a few years older, old enough to do it, my grandfather put me in the sport and it’s stuck with me ever since.”
Little could Barkley, who did a little drag racing in his heyday, imagine where the sport would take his grandson. The 2016 NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Rookie of the Year for Late Model Stocks, Purdy comes to Five Flags Speedway this Friday for the Deep South Cranes Blizzard Series season opener.
The Rubber and Specialties 100 runs in conjunction with the Southern Super Series, the third race of a twelve-race schedule, as the Super Late Models make their first appearance of the season on their way to the 50th annual Snowball Derby this December.
Purdy will drive one of two David Gilliland Racing SLMs on Friday. The other will be driven by the boss man himself.
“I never got to race in Pensacola,” said David Gilliland, who has competed in NASCAR for a dozen years, including 332 Cup races. “Growing up, I always wanted to run the Snowball Derby. We just never had the budget to come out and race that race.”
But now as an established and respected name in late model racing, Gilliland remains optimistic that he and his protégé Purdy can stir up a little debris with their Gulf Coast visit this weekend. Purdy, who signed with DGR last November, will also race Saturday night at Mobile International Speedway.
“If we’re going to the racetrack, we’re going to win,” Gilliland said. “Our Super program has been very strong. Our guys have won big-name races in the last year, and are competitive each and every week. Pensacola has been a little off for us as a team, as an organization. So we’re going to put it to work Friday and see what we can do.”
The SLMs share the marquee with the Pro Trucks, The Dock on Pensacola Beach Sportsmen and the Lloyd’s Glass Pure Stocks.
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.
Gilliland is trying to change his luck at the famed half-mile asphalt oval Friday night after an unsatisfying Snowball Derby experience last December.
Todd Gilliland, David’s son who is shooting through the short-track ranks, was the fastest car during early Derby practices. But, the reigning NASCAR K&N Series West champion failed to make the race because of a busted rear-end.
“It was a heartbreaker for us,” David Gilliland said plainly. “We spent a lotta time testing down there. And, then, for that to have happened.”
Now, he’s back with Purdy in tow.
Purdy, hails originally from Meridian, Miss., by way of his birthplace of Tuscaloosa, Ala. That’s where grandad owns a Bama Buggies shop, a store that sells all sorts of four-wheeled outdoor fun. Not surprisingly, Barkley’s Bama Buggies has been Purdy’s longtime sponsor.
Purdy got his start in go-karts and distinctively remembers his first career win coming at the Talladega Short Track, just across Speedway Blvd. from the town’s main attraction.
Purdy raced Legends and became a national champion. About 18 months ago, he and mother Rebecca Purdy moved to Huntersville, N.C., closer where stock car wishes come true.
“Mom’s always there,” Chase Purdy said. “She uprooted her life to make my dreams happen. She’s always there for moral support and help. It helps me keep a good attitude and helps relieve pressure. She just wants to see me do well.”
That he has. Last year, Purdy scored 11 wins in 21 starts en route to his Jostens Rookie of the Year award.
His accolades came in Late Model Stocks, which have heavier bodies than SLMs but with considerably less horsepower. Purdy finished 16th overall in the national standings and won the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series South Carolina crown by dominating both Myrtle Beach and Greenville Pickens speedways.
“It was definitely cool,” he said. “Just coming fresh outta Legends cars, the adjustment was huge. It was so much different. And, to have all that success, it was a really cool deal. I’ll be forever proud of that season. The goal is to have many more seasons like that.”
A win at Pensacola’s high banks Friday would be a step in the right direction. Unfortunately, like his team owner, Purdy is hoping to purge bad memories from his last trip to Five Flags.
He had a top-five finish eyed up as the final laps peeled off last year’s Snowflake 100 for Pro Late Models. But Purdy’s suspension broke and his night ended on pit road.
That disappointing note struck a chord with Purdy, who seems determined to pen a redemption song Friday at Five Flags.
“It’s a very historic racetrack and a fun track to race on,” he said. “Side-by-side, you can pass pretty much anywhere on the racetrack and I love the atmosphere. We’ve proven we can run with a lot of those guys, who are regulars down there. It should be fun and exciting.”