3 Teens Vie for PLM Leadadmin
By Chuck Corder
There’s no denying it: A changing of the guard is flying down the back straightaway at Five Flags Speedway.
That’s not to take anything away from Bubba Pollard, Casey Roderick, and Augie Grill – stalwarts of the late model world who remain pre-race favorites at any track where they unload. Heck, Pollard – the short-track giant himself – has won the last two Deep South Crane Rentals Blizzard Series races for Super Late Models staged at the half-mile asphalt oval this season.
But a cursory glance at the Allen Turner Hyundai Pro Late Model season standings, and you’ll find a top-three dominated by teenagers.
Seventeen-year-old Connor Okrzesik currently leads the points chase by a slim four points over 17-year-old Colby Howard and just six points over 14-year-old Jake Garcia.
“It’s certainly not what you expect at an historic track like Five Flags,” Howard said. “You’ve got Augie, Casey, got Bubba and all the vets around you, and you look up and see the top three are teenagers. It’s special just to be a part of it, and winning has made it unbelievable.”
It’s all setting up for plenty of jostling and paint swapping when the three young guns and the nation’s elite late model drivers descend Friday night on Five Flags for the third of four Allen Turner Hyundai PLM 100 races.
The young trio will not only vie for the top spot in the Allen Turner Hyundai PLM standings with only the annual Allen Turner Tune Up 100 remaining in September, while aiming to pad some distance between themselves and the likes of Casey Roderick who sits just 21 points behind the top spot.
The PLMs will be joined by the Faith Chapel Outlaws, WCIparts.com Pro Trucks, and the Lloyd’s Glass Pure Stocks. Gates open at 5 p.m. Friday and admission is as follows: $15 for adults; $12 for seniors and students (12-17); $5 for all active-duty and retired military members; and free for children ages 11-under.
Of the three wunderkinds, Howard is the only driver to win a race this season at Pensacola’s high banks when he drove to Victory Lane at the PLM opener in April. Pollard won the second PLM race in June.
But both Okrzesik and Garcia, both of whom have have been relentless in their pursuit to etch their name in Five Flags lore as a champion, have been ever so close. In each of the first two races staged this season at Pensacola’s high banks, Okrzesik finished runner-up both times and Garcia came home with a pair of thirds.
“Connor is pretty tough,” Howard said. “I seems like he’s second in every race. He’s definitely one to watch out for. And Jake has been just as good.”
Okrzesik will have a bigger head of steam coming into Friday night after his triumph in Cordele, Ga., last weekend. After starting the year with a bang by beating Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series star Kyle Busch in January during Speedfest, Okrzesik outdueled Pollard at the same track to capture the Southern Super Series race for SLMs.
“It’s a little bit of pressure going in,” Howard said in hoping to hold off Okrzesik and all comers, “but I’ve gotta ignore it, and just go out there, get the car ready, go race, and do what we’ve been doing. The car is pretty good everywhere we take it. The longevity of the car has been pretty good.”