Shooting Star: Roderick Makes it 2 for 2, Runs Roughshod Over Allen Turner PLM 100 Field
By Chuck Corder
There was no shortage of fireworks Friday night at Five Flags Speedway.
Above the famed half-mile asphalt oval ribbons of every shade on the color wheel exploding against the backdrop of a crude-oil night sky.
Back on top of Pensacola’s high banks, the extravaganza of pyrotechnics didn’t slow down thanks to an entertaining evening of short-track racing.
The brightest blast of the bunch once again was Casey Roderick. The 24 year old from Lawrenceville, Ga., is a flat-out late model star thanks to an unparalleled season he is enjoying.
For the second time in as many Allen Turner Pro Late Model 100 lappers, Roderick drove the renowned Ronnie Sanders red No. 18 to Victory Lane. He now has just shy of 10 late model victories throughout the southeast. And it’s only July.
“It feels good to get another win,” said Roderick, who bested a stout 23-car field. “It has been a great season so far for us. We have a lotta momentum going. Sometimes, we have a little bad luck, but we fight back hard.”
But when you have a dominant ride, such as the one Roderick drove Friday, your fights are few.
While Jeff Choquette and Chris Davidson had extraordinary nights, each succumbed to Roderick during their respective battles in the top two.
Choquette wrestled the lead away from Davidson with 21 completed laps and remained “P1” until Roderick cleared him for the lead 40 laps later.
“We started off really strong,” said Choquette, who was again behind the wheel of the Jett Concrete No. 9. “I didn’t anticipate the car going the way it did. This is a brand-new car for us. The (No.) 18 was definitely the class of the field tonight.”
Davidson’s night saw plenty of fireworks. After a solid qualifying run of fourth, the Pearland, Texas, driver sat on the pole for the drop of the opening green flag because of the invert.
Twenty-three laps in, though, while battling to maintain second, Davidson chopped down on Roderick as he was less than a front panel from Davidson’s nose. Davidson bore the brunt of it, as the rear end of his black No. 14 came around and slammed into the outside wall entering Turn No. 2.
“I hate that happened, I really do,” a pained Roderick said. “But, I don’t know what to do on all these little incidents. I was clearly underneath him. I saw him coming, and I got on the brakes, but he came down to quick.”
The little incident forced Davidson to the pits for some major work. Once repaired, he returned to the racetrack only to start at the tail end.
Determined during the next 77 laps, Davidson began chewing up and spitting out drivers left and right until he climbed all the way home in third.
“My crew definitely did a good job getting it all back together,” said Davidson, who is getting help in the pits from former late model regular Mike Garvey. “It was unfortunate, the incident at the beginning. We came to race and we raced.”
But Davidson, Choquette and the other 20 cars were no match for Roderick on Friday night.
Few are when he’s behind the Sanders No. 18.
“He told me to go get ’em,” Roderick said of Sanders’ words during some lengthy cautions on one of the hottest nights of the year to wear a heavy fire suit and seat inside a small cockpit.
“I knew we had a good car that was capable of winning the race. I just had to be smart, so I could be there at the end.”
Faith Chapel Outlaw Stocks
Kody Jett has a lot of respect for Joe Bethea Jr.’s skills.
With Bethea leading and Jett running second when a caution flew with 12 completed laps in the 35-lap Faith Chapel Outlaw Stocks feature, Jett knew he had to make the most of the restart.
“If I could get him on restart, I thought it’d might be over from there,” said Jett, whose teammate Jeff Choquette finished second in the PLM 100 lapper earlier on Friday.
Jett called his shot and delivered, passing Bethea on Lap 13 and never relinquishing the lead despite some intense pressure from Bethea in the closing laps.
Against a field of 19, Jett became the first Faith Chapel Outlaw Stocks driver to score a second win in the division’s debut season. Jett’s another win came last month.
“I wish I knew what makes us so fast, but I’m glad we are,” Jett admitted.
Bethea finished second and Gary Sutton took home third. Those two swapped positioning for most of the night with Bethea finally getting the upperhand when he pulled off a nifty slide job on Sutton to regain second.
Former Snowball Derby winner and short-track icon Dave Mader III works daily on the car, which is housed in Montgomery, Ala
“He’s put countless hours into cars,” Bethea said of Mader. “I wouldn’t be sitting here if not for that man. This crew busted their tails to help me go racing tonight.”
The Dock on Pensacola Beach Sportsmen
The pyrotechnics weren’t slated to explode above Five Flags Speedway until later Friday night.
But both The Dock on Pensacola Beach Sportsmen and the Lloyd’s Glass Pure Stocks decided they couldn’t wait that long.
Both local divisions saw plenty of fireworks with explosions coming in all different forms.
One of the biggest came in the 25-lap Sportsmen feature where Jonathan Langham, captured his first career victory at the famed half-mile asphalt oval. The Irvington, Ala., driver has long been a contender at Five Flags, but had never hoisted a checkered flag until Friday.
“I’ve been a bridesmaid here a handful of times,” Langham said. “We finally got one over here. Heck, I’ll put my helmet away now, I’m good.
“We had some excellent starts. God, it paid off tonight.”
Molino’s Brannon Fowler and Alabama driver Mark Barnhill rounded out the podium in second and third, respectively.
The Allen Turner Pro Late Model 100 and the Outlaw Stocks feature were not completed at press time.
Barnhill was involved in some on-track fireworks with Cantonment’s Steve Buttrick. The pair entertained the fans with an intense, but clean battle for the majority of the 25 laps swapping paint and positioning in the top three.
“We were racing hard,” Barnhill said. “I got into Buttrick and we spun out, but it was a good race out there.”
After a series of laps full of door-to-door racing, something had to give. Their side-to-side war came to an end on the apron of Turn No. 2 with 19 laps complete.
As Buttrick tried to clear Barnhill on the outside, they worked their way through the exit of Turn No. 1. As they approached Turn No. 2, neither driver gave the other an inch and it cost both of them, asthey were unable to save their cars from spinning.
Following a restart, the two engaged in more quality racing until the final lap. Buttrick got loose coming out of Turn No. 2 and Barnhill deftly ducked underneath him.
Lloyd’s Glass Pure Stocks
At one point in Friday’s 20-lap Lloyd’s Glass Pure Stocks feature there were more cautions than completed laps.
But once the aggressive style of racing settled down, the 16-car field put on a show that had fans working the edges of their seats.
Pensacola’s Robert Balkum got his second feature victory of the season and withstood the nine cautions that plagued the feature.
“A lotta people got tore-up cars,” said Mobile’s Johnathan Day, who finished runner-up to Balkum to maintain his series points lead. “It seemed like we started 500 times. It was a great night. We finished in one piece, got a top-three, and now I’m leaving on vacation.”
Balkum took the lead from Tommie Blocker following the third restart of the night with five completed laps. Balkum worked the high side of the racetrack on the outside lane to get out front.
Balkum did all of this despite suffering mechanical issues early in the feature.
“I broke the clutch pedal on Lap 4, so that was the reason I didn’t have any good starts,” he explained.
Day had his eyes on an impressive sixth victory of the season and appeared in line for a good shot at late in the race, as he stalked Balkum for the lead.
Day was running faster laps down the stretch, but he ran out of time to overtake Balkum.