‘Pokey’ No More: Pokrant Leading Sportsmen Points, Eyeing Checkereds

‘Pokey’ No More:  Sportsmen Driver Pokrant Leading Points, Eyeing Checkereds

 

By Chuck Corder

Every driver that races at Five Flags Speedway loves the sport of short-track racing.

But few can match the passion of Jim Pokrant.

Always quick to share his opinion – “NASCAR stinks right now” – the 49-year-old wheelman is frustrated at the low numbers from his fellow Pensacola drivers in The Dock on Pensacola Beach Sportsmen.

“We haven’t had a whole lotta Pensacola cars racing,” Pokrant pointed out. “The Mobile guys really have had the car count compared to us. We’re a fast class, and put on one heckuva show.”

It is a shame, too, because after years of Mobile drivers dominating the Sportsmen class, Pensacola is finally fighting back and Pokrant is leading the charge atop the points standings with a series-high 152 points.

In three features this season, Pokrant has driven away from the famed half-mile asphalt oval with podium finishes in each race – two thirds and a second. But despite that stellar start, he is confident it could have been a more magical beginning to the year.

“I should’ve won that first one,” Pokrant said. “But I missed a shift on the restart. I know I had a hotrod. The second race I just ran outta time.”

Pokrant will look to maintain his lead Friday at Five Flags when The Dock on Pensacola Beach Sportsmen race 25 laps and share Pensacola’s high banks with the Modifieds of Mayhem (50 laps), WCIparts.com Pro Trucks (30), and the Lloyd’s Glass Pure Stocks (20).

Gates open at 4 p.m. Friday and admission is $12 for all adults, military, and students while free for children ages 11-and-under. Track officials are closely monitoring the COVID-19 uptick that has swept through the Panhandle, and have asked all staff to wear masks for the protection of the fans.

Pokrant also has improved his qualifying times – a weakness in the past – and leads Mobile drivers Chad Robinson and Mark Barnhill by six and nine points, respectively. Close behind them are Pensacola’s Hunter Lambert (-14 points) and Milton’s Shanna Ard (-26).

“I’ve stepped my car up and it’s faster,” Pokrant said. “Hunter did same thing. And Shanna has always been one helluva competitor.”

While Pokrant leads the points currently, it is the 20-year-old Lambert who has also turned heads of his fellow drivers and the Five Flags faithful in the grandstands.

Lambert won the first two Sportsmen features of the season and has continued to make adjustments to the car in hopes of finding more speed.

The Tate High graduate credits assistance from Outlaws driver Derrick Griffin, the proprietor of DG Performance.

“He’s given us a lotta speed this year,” said Lambert, who also credited Craig Hall with the setup. “We’ve mainly focused on winning races. We’re not gonna worry about the points until the end of the year and see where they fall out.”

Pokrant, similarly, is eternally grateful for the support of wife Kim and the efforts of crew members Martin Beck and Will Hay, his longtime spotter Frankie Youtz and the addition of John Ruth, who assisted on the championship Sportsmen car of former five-time Sportsmen Snowball Derby king Steve Buttrick.

“I’ve got a good car, and it’s pretty cool,” said Pokrant, who operates on a shoestring budget. “John has come on and we went from running fifth to being able to win. (Ruth) really started at the end of last year, and we were a contender in all those races.

“I’m extremely lucky. If it wasn’t for friends, I wouldn’t get to do this.”

He’s also thankful for those that serve and protect our country. In addition to his tribute to the military on his hood and the first responders with a red stripe down the side panels, Pokrant is adding a blue stripe for police officers to the roof of his No. 07.

“We don’t have a country without all of them,” he said.

As the target instead of the hunter, Pokrant won’t alter his driving style to protect his points lead. Plus, he’s still looking for his first victory of the season and wants to slip into that coveted Hoosiers jacket awarded to track champions at the annual awards banquet next January.

“I never have tried to points race,” Pokrant said. “I lost to Steve Buttrick by six points a few years ago and it was the last race and I had a shot at it, but we lost. That hurt.

“Now, we’re running up front and trying to win races. Let’s keep doing what we’re doing. I’ve never had a purple jacket and I want one.”