Allen Turner PLM Drivers Size Up a Win Friday Night, While Building Knowledge for December’s Big Race
By Chuck Corder
When the first week of December rolls around, the racing world turn its focus upon Five Flags Speedway.
Going on more than 50 years now, the Snowball Derby has become short-track racing’s pinnacle event for Super Late Models.
Equally as important, in recent years, has been the race staged the night before Sunday’s 300 lapper.
The Snowflake 100 for the Allen Turner Pro Late Models at the famed half-mile asphalt oval has a history of champions that are as decorated and respected as the group who have been fortunate enough to win the Derby and hoist the Tom Dawson trophy.
“It has become an event that rivals the Snowball in some degrees,” Five Flags General Manager Tim Bryant said.
Current Monster Energy Cup NASCAR star Chase Elliott won the ’Flake three times to go along with his two Derby titles. Late model legend Augie Grill has also won the race three times. Bubba Pollard and John Hunter Nemechek have also won the event in recent years.
In addition to Grill and Elliott, Eddie Mercer, Gary St. Amant and Dave Mader III are among the seven drivers who have won both the Derby and the ’Flake.
“It’s a very prestigious race if you’re a Pro Late Model driver,” said Derrick Griffin, whose ninth-place result last year was his best ’Flake finish in three career attempts.
The stature that the Snowflake 100 holds among PLM drivers and teams puts added importance on the four races that are run at Five Flags during the regular season.
With defending Allen Turner PLM Series track champion Casey Roderick winning the first 100 lapper in March, all eyes turn to Friday’s second race.
The Faith Chapel Outlaw Stocks (35 laps), The Dock on Pensacola Beach Sportsmen (30) and the Lloyd’s Glass Pure Stocks (20) will take to Pensacola’s high banks, as well.
The gates open at 5 p.m. Friday with retired military members getting in for free. Other admission details are as follows: $15 for adults; $12 for seniors and students; $5 for children ages 6-11; and free for kids 5-and-under.
Griffin, 26, finished seventh at the PLM season opener on March 30. While the South Bend, Ind., native has lived in Pensacola for the last couple of years, he’s still getting used to the abrasive asphalt at Five Flags.
“I’ve run a total of 11 races here my entire life,” Griffin said. “That’s not very many. By far, it’s the most difficult racetrack to get ahold of, and I’ve been to a lot. Getting a good baseline during these races is crucial when it comes to making Snowflake week a lot easier.
“The physical characteristics of this racetrack are something you can’t simulate,” he continued. “The track itself will go through its changes from now until the ’Flake because of the changing temp and overall rubber on the track, but building a package that gets you through the corners is something you can do and apply now for December.”
Griffin, a former CRA Super Series champion, had a run of bad luck last year that had him struggling to finish a lot of races.
This year, with a new LFR chassis, his focus has been making it to the end to gain knowledge on the racecar for an entire 100-lap race. A top-10 in the March opener certainly helped, but Griffin is confident he has a podium-caliber machine that could be in Roderick’s rearview.
“Casey is in his own league right now,” Griffin said. “I can’t honestly think we’re gonna run with Casey right now from the performance we’ve had. But I can run with the other guys. I was up to fourth last race before I was run into wall and we struggled to finish seventh. I definitely felt like that was a top-three or second-place car.”