2017 Track Champ Roderick Roars into 2018 with PLM win; Balkum wins Pure Stocks; Davis top Trucker
Roderick Masters 5 Flags Again, Defending Champ Wins Fifth Straight Allen Turner PLM 100 Lapper
By Chuck Corder
The million-watt smile said it all.
Casey Roderick’s words echoed the sense of relief plastered across his face.
Victory Lane was a familiar place for the 25-year-old Georgian last year, both at Five Flags Speedway where he was the Allen Turner Pro Late Model track champion and across the country.
Experiencing slumps are never fun, and when they trudge on for six months they were downright unbearable for the defending champ.
Roderick ended his winless drought Friday night in dominant fashion, torching the 18-car field in the 100-lap season opener for the Allen Turner PLMs.
“It feels really good to be back,” he said. “I don’t wish bad luck on anybody. I had one of those cars tonight you dream to have every week.”
That Roderick broke out of his skid at the famed half-mile asphalt oval should not surprise anyone. Despite Roderick’s recent misfortunes, Friday’s victory ran his Allen Turner PLM winning streak to five. Roderick won all four 100 lappers last season.
The fact that he and car owner Ronnie Sanders questioned themselves at all shows you just how high the dynamic duo set the bar for the red No. 18 machine.
The pair expect excellence. Last year that resulted in 17 PLM wins nationwide.
Roderick’s wire-to-wire run Friday night was reminiscent of many triumphs a season ago. No one came close to denying Roderick his first Late Model win this calendar year on Friday night.
“It was good from the start, as soon as we unloaded,” he said of the car. “I’m just happy to be back in Victory Lane. Just really glad to be back.”
Roderick’s earnestness and sincerity were felt easily.
While he never had to sweat despite restarts following five cautions, including one with 10 laps remaining, the race for the other two podium finishes had everyone perspiring.
Mobile’s Dustin Smith prevailed in second and Texan Chris Davidson came home third. Smith enjoyed his most impressive run at Five Flags, working his way through the field from the 11th starting spot.
Smith took runner-up honors when he slid under Davidson for the spot on Lap 90.
“This definitely means a lot going forward in the season,” Smith said. “Casey is really good, especially here. You gotta work hard to get him. Hopefully, we just keep running well.”
Roderick set the fast time (16.652) in qualifying, but started outside the front row because of the die-roll invert, which landed on “2.”
He went the long way around Cole Anderson on the opening lap and immediately embraced clean air. Roderick built straightaway leads and then rebuilt them once cautions double-filed the field.
He took on all comers from Anderson to Grand Bay, Ala., young gun Connor Okrzesik to Davidson to, finally, Smith.
Anderson and Korey Ruble were drawn to each other all night like moths to a flame. The pair mixed it up, swapped positions numerous times and delivered some nail-biting three-wide racing on several occasions.
Ruble won the war, finishing fourth, while Anderson was collected in a last-lap crash and left him 10th.
WCI.com Pro Trucks
The only thing holding Steven Davis back Friday night at Five Flags Speedway was his 5-year-old son.
Little Carson Davis hopped on dear ol’ dad’s back, unable to contain his excitement at the front of Victory Lane.
Davis, a past WCI.com Pro Trucks Snowball Derby champion, set the fast time in qualifying (18.530 seconds) and then held off a hard-charging Curt Britt in the 30-lap feature.
“That felt pretty good. I hope it was just as good for the fans,” Davis said. “Everybody raced clean, and that’s what it was all about.”
Brit, second in qualifying, started on the pole because of the die-roll invert. He deftly blocked Davis for seven laps until the Mobile driver got under Britt and never looked back.
Pensacola’s Logan Boyett, fresh off his first career WCI.com Pro Trucks victory earlier this month, rounded out the podium in third place.
“We had the speed; we just didn’t have the stability,” said Boyett, who has a first, a second and now a third in his first three trucks features. “We fought it the whole race. But it was a really good race and that’s another really good finish for us.”
Earlier in the night, Georgia driver Brian Weimer scored the victory in an eight-lap, first-time winner’s feature. Weimer won the WCI.com Pro Trucks track championship in 2015, but did so without victory.
“For eight laps, this feels good,” Weimer said. “I feel like I’ve got a great piece tonight.”
Lloyd’s Glass Pure Stocks
Two features into the 2018 season, and it’s clear Robert Balkum is on a mission.
In past seasons, the veteran Pensacola driver has come oh so close, oh so many times to a Lloyd’s Glass Pure Stocks track championship. If Balkum keeps up his current pace, he might have that elusive title locked up by July.
He’s a perfect two-for-two after winning the Lloyd’s Glass Pure Stocks 20-lap feature Friday at the famed half-mile asphalt oval. Balkum came just .06 from his own track record in qualifying en route to the fast time (21.321 seconds).
He took the lead on the opening lap and never was challenged. What appeared as a dominant performance to fans still didn’t meet the expectation level the driver sets for himself.
“We did a lotta work. It’s fast, it could’ve been faster,” Balkum said.
The battle for second was a thrilling affair between best friends Caleb Burkett and Brandin Sidner.
Burkett bested his buddy on this night, finishing runner-up to Balkum with Sidner snatching his best career finish in third.
“Brandin is my best friend, and has been a long time,” Burkett said. “I got to give it up to him for giving me a lotta room.”
Added Sidner: “It was a blast! I knew (Burkett) wasn’t gonna give me the bottom (line) because he knows I love the bottom. I’ll take third after the week I’ve had. It’s definitely what I needed.”
Matt Thompson began the night’s festivities by capturing his first career Lloyd’s Glass Pure Stocks feature, another eight-lap, first-time winner’s race.
“There’s a lotta great competition out here,” the Wilmer, Ala., driver said. “All of these cars are really close. You’ve gotta stay on your game all the time.”