Gary Sutton Looks to Back Up Super Stocks Snowball Derby Championship on Friday
By Chuck Corder
Nearly four months later, Gary Sutton’s whirlwind return to stock cars has just now begun to plateau.
A win during short-track racing’s biggest week tends to have that kind of effect.
Sutton, 31, was five years removed from hanging up his fire suit when close friend Dustin Rowell, 37, came frantically calling last November.
When Rowell and 2011 track champion Bubba Winslow parted ways late in the season, Rowell needed a last-minute driver for his Super Stocks entry into the division’s Snowball Derby.
Sutton jumped at the opportunity and made the most of it, holding off all comers to pull off a career feat and one of the more improbable victories in the Derby’s 45 years.
“I knew it meant a lot and it will mean a lot for a long time,” Sutton said. “But it was especially fun this time because we did it with friends and family.”
Sutton returns in Rowell’s No. 44 this week to Five Flags Speedway as the Super Stocks (25 laps) open their season along with the Modifieds (25) and Trucks (25), a new division to the Five Flags’ program.
The Sportsmen and Bombers will continue their seasons when the grandstands open at 5 p.m. Friday.
The pits open at 2 p.m. and admission is as follows: $10, adults; $8, seniors, military and students; $5, children 6-11; and free, under-6.
Sutton walked away from the sport and driving for Rowell a few years back to focus on son Darren’s go-kart racing.
When a scary wreck put the younger Sutton’s dreams on hold, the elder began to itch for another shot at glory.
Luckily, Sutton’s old friend Rowell and Mike Williamson, the brains behind the No. 44 and an invaluable resource to Johanna Long, were already putting irons into the fire.
“They actually went to a big, dirt race before (the Derby),” Rowell said of Sutton and Williamson. “Gary knew I was letting Bubba (Winslow) go and he told Mike, ‘You should get Dustin to put me back in the car,’ just joking around.”
Fantasy became reality and before he blinked, a smiling Sutton was posing for photos in Victory Lane and hoisting the winner’s trophy with Rowell grinning right by his side.
“The most amazing thing was I didn’t get any practice really,” Sutton said. “Basically, I relied on Dustin and Mike to say, ‘The car’s fine. Go do this. It’ll be there.’ And it was. By the end of the race, it was really fast because I had learned a lot more about car.”
The team has already picked up right where they left off last season.
Sutton finished on the podium, but not with a win, Sunday at Mobile International Speedway. He was charging late, climbing all the way to the runner-up position when a late caution came out.
Starting on the outside of Row 1, Sutton got nudged on the restart, fell back, but rallied to finish third.
“We were the fastest car there, no doubt,” Sutton said.
Rowell agreed, but didn’t miss the chance to pontificate that the No. 44 is typically the fastest car wherever it races.
“It’s dialed in anywhere it has been,” Rowell said.”Everywhere we’ve gone, that car has had one ‘DNF’ when the drive shaft broke. Besides that, it has never finished worst than third. It’s won 60 percent of its races.”
Hopping in a ride that boasts such a sparkling record has made it easier for Sutton to once again pursue his ambitions.
With wife Valerie finishing off a master’s degree and 10-year-old Darren and 5-year-old Emery to take care of, Sutton wants to make the most of his time track schedule.
“That’s not that demanding,” he said of the 10-race slate this season between Pensacola and Mobile. “We can do it.”
Plus, his kids want him to do it. Especially little Emery, who wasn’t around during Daddy’s first foray into racing.
“She likes the trophy,” Sutton said. “They love it. I told ’em in the car today, ‘Don’t forget Friday we go back to the races,’ and they were as happy as they could be.”
Either winning checkereds or always being in contention to win them tends to have that kind of effect.