Riding High Off Elusive First Career Win, Blocker Grateful to Those Who Helped Him Reach Victory Lane
By Chuck Corder
Tommie Blocker is too polite and too thankful to admit he was frustrated.
It’s the truth, though. When you finish on the podium at Five Flags Speedway in four of the first five Lloyd’s Glass Pure Stocks 20-lap features, including runner-up in three straight races, even the most chivalrous characters must be allowed time to vent.
“It felt like I was never win gonna win one of these things,” said Blocker, the 51-year-old Irvington, Ala., driver who is in his fourth year competing at Five Flags.
The racing gods, uncharacteristically perhaps, heard Blocker’s call. They repaid him for all his sweat with his first career trip to Victory Lane earlier this month at Pensacola’s high banks.
“It was a major monkey off my back,” Blocker said, recalling his milestone win June 2. “ ’Cause it seemed like it wasn’t gonna happen. It was a major pressure relief.
“It doesn’t matter what class you’re in, to win feature race at Five Flags, you’re king of the mountain. It puts you on a list in select company of drivers that have stood there in Victory Lane and who can claim they’ve won a feature race at Five Flags. It’s a wonderful feeling. One I hope to experience again.”
As soon as this Friday night, in fact. It promises to be another big night at the famed half-mile asphalt oval.
In addition to the Pure Stocks’ seventh 20 lapper, the track will host the annual kids bicycle races along with the Modifieds of Mayhem (50 laps), Pro Trucks (30) and The Dock on Pensacola Beach Sportsmen (25).
Gates open at 4 p.m. Friday. Admission is $10 for all fans 12-and-older; children ages 6 to 11 $5; kids 5-and-under is free.
Blocker has been “round-track racing,” as he calls it, for only a handful of years. But, he has been a racer most of his life, preferring the mud and asphalt drag strips across the Gulf Coast. He even competed in a few mud races at the Pensacola Fairgrounds in the early 1990s
The itch to race came at an early age.
“Growing up, my grandpa had a garage, and he was always into some type of racing,” Blocker said. “I remember seeing those trophies lined up against the wall. I guess that’s where everything stems from, having that desire to do it.”
After a few years of experimenting and taking some hard-earned lumps with his blue No. 71, Blocker began to turn the corner last season.
During a Snowball Derby preview session held a few weeks before the Derby, Blocker was the fast car. In his first career Pure Stocks Snowball Derby start last December, Blocker continued to turn heads with his runner-up finish.
“At the Derby, that was just about the peak of the mountain,” he said. “A bunch of cars, a big field of competition and to finish second it was a confidence builder, like, ‘Hey, I can run with these fellas.’ ”
Blocker hasn’t stopped since, posting top-five finishes in all six feature races this season.
His current run of five consecutive podium finishes has him chasing the season points title. Blocker trails good friend Johnathan Day by just 17 points coming into Friday’s race.
Day is one of many drivers Blocker went out of his way to thank for their guidance and willingness to answer his smallest of questions.
“Johnathan Day helped me get my feet wet, as far as what to try, what not to try,” Blocker said. “Darrell Jackson, and the (No.) 8 car, they’ve been really helpful, real encouraging. If I needed something, they’d steer me in the direction of it. (Robert) Balkum, we pit side-by-side every race, and I enjoy swapping tales with him.
“We’re just having fun, man, having a good time. I think that’s the key for everybody.”
Blocker is especially thankful for close buddy and fellow driver Jimbo Walker’s help. Throughout the week, once Blocker leaves his job at the Dauphin Island (Ala.) Sea Lab, he and Walker work on their cars together.
“We help each other back and forth,” Blocker said. “He’s old like me. We gotta help each other in case one of us gets down to work and can’t stand up.”
Blocker is quick to point out where his biggest support comes from.
Lori, his wife of 32 years, always stood by her man through whatever foolishness his racing hobbies led him to. But, every time Tommie mentioned “round-track racing,” Lori wasn’t having any of it.
“I will never be any part of it. I can’t stand it. It’s scary. I’m not gonna do that,” Lori would tell Tommie.
Luckily, over time, Tommie helped change her mind.
But, it sure wasn’t because of his first experience at an oval track. Tommie and his son were headed for a practice at Mobile International Speedway, and Lori decided to tag along. After a few safe, clean laps, Tommie called Lori’s from the pits.
“That wasn’t that bad,” Lori told him.
Tommie convinced her they’d call it a night after one more round of practice laps around Mobile, which doesn’t have an outside wall all the way around like Five Flags.
“Two laps in, as I’m going into Turn No. 3, the back of the car comes around, and I go flying over the top of the track,” Blocker remembered. “The next thing I know I’m upside down in an oak tree. She’s freaked out. The emergency people are asking, ‘You OK?’ I said, ‘Man, I’m fine. But tell that woman, quick as you can, that I’m OK.’
“Now, she won’t miss a race.”