Pokrant Battles Nerves as He Closes in on First Track Championship at 5 Flagsadmin
Night of Champions No. 1: Pokrant Battles Nerves as He Closes in on First Track Championship at 5 Flags
By Chuck Corder
Jim Pokrant is already making plans for life after racing.
The veteran Pensacola driver started a podcast, Short Track Guys, earlier this year with a few friends
(“They have to whoa me down. I could talk racing for hours,” Pokrant said.) and has his eyes on either spotting or turning wrenches for folks in the years to come.
“I’m the old guy, and I figure that next year will be my last full season,” Pokrant, 50, said. “I’m gonna cut back to a partial schedule, run ‘spotty’ here and there and look into other things. That’s my gameplan.”
Before he turns the page, though, Pokrant wants to ensure his legacy is intact at Five Flags Speedway. He has always pined over the purple Hoosier Racing jackets track champions receive at Five Flags. All that stands in his way is one, final 25-lap feature.
Pokrant looks to secure his immortality Friday night when the famed half-mile asphalt oval hosts its Night of Champions for all local divisions. Pokrant will carry a comfortable 33-point lead into The Dock on Pensacola Beach Sportsmen 25-lap finale, which will award $1,000 to the winner.
His biggest concern is Friday, which marks a double points night after races were postponed earlier this month because of sweeping tire shortages that have plagued Five Flags and other short tracks.
“We’ve had a top-three car every single race this season,” Pokrant said. “The one night we didn’t was when we got into it with Maddox Langham. All it was, was racing. I barely touched him, and he spun out. If I hadn’t got that penalty, I wouldn’t have to worry about 33 points. But it happened and that’s a part of racing.”
Pokrant and his team figure they need to finish sixth or better to ensure they leave Pensacola’s high banks with a Sportsmen track title and $1,000 richer Friday. The Faith Chapel Outlaws (35 laps), Proxy Equipment Pro Trucks (30), and the Lloyd’s Glass Pure Stocks (20) will also crown champions Friday.
Jake Finch looks to protect his 19-point cushion for the Outlaws while Hunter Johnson only holds a three-point lead against Gavin Graham in the Pro Trucks race. Cameron Leytham hopes to hold off teammate Robert Loper to claim the Pure Stocks title.
The gates open at 5 p.m. Friday with the all-important qualifying set for 6:30 and racing festivities kicking off at 7:45. Admission is $15 for adults; $12 for seniors and students; and free for children ages 11-and-under.
“We’re not making any adjustments to the car,” Pokrant said. “Hopefully, we can buy four tires. The tire thing stinks, but we’re all in the same boat. I think we have a shot.
“I’m nervous to get this over with. I would’ve much rather run the race (earlier in) September, and this not be a double points night. But it’s all part of it.”
Pokrant is right to feel anxious despite his hefty lead. Twice in the last four years, he has entered the Night of Champions with his sights set on a title and a purple jacket.
Pokrant fell painstakingly short both times, losing to Sportsmen king Steve Buttrick by six points in 2017 and by five points to Chad Robinson last year.
“The gameplan is to be ready for anything,” Pokrant said. “It will be a pretty good field with this being the last race before the Snowball Derby and the $1,000. The old guy behind wheel is gonna have to step up.
“We should’ve been track champion last year. But if ifs and buts were candy and nuts, we’d all have a Merry Christmas. I’m ready to get it done. That purple jacket is all I’ve ever wanted. I’m buying my whole crew jackets if we win. That’s how dedicated my guys are.”
The proof is in the pudding. Pokrant’s team has brought a car with a 10-year-old engine to podium finishes in all but one of the 10 features this season. Pokrant also credits Jon Root, who used to help Buttrick with his setup, with getting the No. 07 dialed in.
“(Root) changed one spring and removed a chunk of lead and the car went flying,” Pokrant said.
He also credits sponsors—cantquitfishin.com, Emerald Coast Remodeling and Trim, and Ted Baber Video Productions—with helping him climb to the top of the division.
“It’s nice be on the front stretch every race,” Pokrant said. “If we didn’t at least win one race with a championship, I don’t think it would mean as much. But we did and being consistent has been important. The double-zero (Brannon Fowler) had us covered until he had his issue. That’s why I don’t cheat. I respect Ricky Brooks and the tech folks. They are there to find stuff and they’re not gonna find it on my car.”