Roderick Stays Perfect in Allen Turner PLM Races at 5 Flags This Season, Collects 14th Overall Victory
By Chuck Corder
Casey Roderick and Ronnie Sanders have a number in mind for how many late model victories they want to finish the season with.
Twenty might seem unrealistic and a tall order for most drivers. But, Roderick is unlike most drivers.
The recently turned 25 year old from Lawrenceville, Ga., took another step Friday night at Five Flags Speedway toward reaching the goal he and Sanders, the No. 18’s car owner, set for themselves.
Roderick got his 14th late model win of the season, holding off defending Snowflake 100 champion Augie Grill in one of the best battles of the season and capturing the season’s third Allen Turner Pro Late Model 100 race.
“I can’t believe the season we’re having,” said Roderick, who now has 13 PLM wins this year. “Augie Grill … it’s fun racing with all these guys. Just riding around ain’t fun. I like racing for wins.
“We’re shooting for 20. I don’t know if we’ll get there, but I hope so.”
Grill claimed runner-up honors while 15-year-old Connor Okrzesik turned plenty of heads when he occupied the last spot in the Victory Lane podium.
Roderick was the fastest car in qualifying (16.850 seconds), but started eighth following the die roll invert.
Cole Anderson led the first third of the race until Grill cleared him for the lead following the night’s first restart because of a caution.
Anderson quickly felt the pressure grow more intense when Roderick and Sarasota driver Anthony Campi descended upon him. As they battled for second, they went three-wide with Anderson jammed in the middle. Campi momentarily took second, but yielded it to Roderick on Lap 37.
“That was a good racecar,” Roderick said, praising the leadership from Sanders. “I’m thankful for this opportunity with Ronnie and to have such good cars every week. I hope the fans enjoyed that good clean racing. It was intense, but that’s what it’s all about.”
Grill and Roderick soon made it a two-car breakaway. Roderick began to give Grill a taste of his own medicine, nudging his No. 18’s nose to the back of Grill’s No. 112.
The move, straight out of Grill’s infamous playbook, worked. Roderick claimed his first lead of the night on Lap 42.
But Grill was undeterred. When Campi decided to get involve and make it three-wide for the lead, Grill was stuck in the middle. Instead of backing off and resetting, Grill split his rivals to reclaim the lead.
The two-time Snowball Derby champion maintained his lead for the next 25 laps until Roderick started peaking at Grill’s lead and forcing the issue once again.
The pair raced side-by-side for laps 65 and 66 until they both avoided near disaster of running into the lapped cars of Austin Wood and Ronnie Osmer, who got hooked up on the back straightaway and were wrecking on the apron in front of the leaders.
On the second restart, following the caution, Roderick tested the outside lane and it paid off. He got a great bite from the car coming out of Turn No. 2, allowing him to clear Grill for lead again on Lap 68.
Roderick would not surrender the lead again over the final third of the race.
“He could roll through the center in (Turn No.) 2 better than I could all night,” Grill said of Roderick. “We got close. I got him loose a few times, and I thought I could get him. But I messed up there a little bit. It’s OK, though. We’ll build on this and get better for the Snowflake.”
Okrzesik, driving more like a wily veteran than a teenage rookie, did a masterful job to hold onto third and prevent Junior Niedecken from getting around him.
“We had a great car all night,” Okrzesik said. “The front two were on another level.”
Faith Chapel Outlaw Stocks
Drivers know all about the K.I.S.S. principle: Keep it Simple Stupid.
Rather than adding variables and unknowns and risking potential complications in the middle of a race, simplifying things seems a wiser approach.
Donald Crocker understands this mindset. After finishing second when the Faith Chapel Outlaw Stocks raced earlier this month at Five Flags Speedway, Crocker left no doubt in the 35-lap feature Friday at the famed half-mile asphalt oval.
Crocker pulled ahead of series points leader Gary Sutton on the opening lap and the Citronelle, Ala., driver never relinquished the lead on the way to his first win of the season at Pensacola’s high banks.
“It’s a bunch of things you can overthink out here,” Crocker said. “I think we’ve overcome some of that bad luck. We had a good car. We’ve definitely been working on it.”
With car owner Tracy Goodson absent once again for family reasons, Crocker put Goodson’s iconic No. 1 back in Victory Lane thanks to a dominant run.
Cantonment driver Bubba Winslow finished second and Todd Jones was third.
“Obviously, we always wanna get P1 because that’s our ultimately goal,” Winslow said. “But, congrats to Donald. They had a great piece. We’ve got plenty of notes to make this car even faster.”
Points leader Gary Sutton came home seventh, breaking a streak of six consecutive features where the Milton driver has finished on the podium.
The Dock on Pensacola Beach Sportsmen
Mark Barnhill has added fuel to the fire in a hotly contested The Dock on Pensacola Beach Sportsmen series.
With former track and Sportsmen Snowball Derby champion Steve Buttrick sidelined with an injury, another driver needed to turn the heat on current points leader Brannon Fowler.
Enter Barnhill, the Mobile-area racer who drives with a similar aggressive style as Buttrick.
Barnhill won his third consecutive 25-lap Sportsmen feature Friday night at Five Flags Speedway, while Fowler scored his sixth runner-up finish of the season and Johnathan Langham rounded out the podium.
“I don’t know what it is,” Barnhill said, struggling to explain his recent success at the famed half-mile asphalt oval. “Tonight was the hardest I’ve run all year. It has been a fun night.”
Fowler was looking for his fifth victory of the year. He was in good shape to score one for the thumb until Barnhill made a nifty, well-timed pass on Lap 18 coming out of Turn No. 4.
Fowler attempted a late rally, but couldn’t stick his No. 00’s nose under Barnhill’s No. 3. Still, Fowler has a comfortable points lead heading into the final race of the season next month.
“It was a good points night for us,” Fowler said.
Lloyd’s Glass Pure Stocks
A sluggish start led to a fantastic finish in the Lloyd’s Glass Pure Stocks 20-lap feature Friday night at Five Flags Speedway.
After the first half of the race was marred by multiple cautions, including one that saw Pensacola’s Sarah Dority walk away safely from a vicious head-on crash, Robert Balkum and Jonathan Day put on a stellar show.
Balkum, who led for most of the race, withstood a hard charge from Day to score his third win of the year. Day was second and Tommie Blocker finished third to round out the podium.
Balkum and Day made hard contact for the lead with six laps left, but both gathered themselves to keep race green.
“We were pretty fast tonight,” Balkum said. “I didn’t mean to get into Jonathan there on that last restart. The last two years I’ve learned how to use my back bumper and keep people on outside. That’s what you’ve gotta do to win sometimes.”
Day was denied his eighth win of the season and was smarting after the race about Balkum’s beating and banging.
“I did my best to get around him,” Day said. “I wasn’t too thrilled with the stunt he did there on the front straightaway.”