Okrzesik Eyes the 2021 Championship Saturdayadmin
Okrzesik Hopes to Earn Track Title at Saturday’s Late Model Night of Champions by Winning Finale
By Chuck Corder
Connor Okrzesik is a true grassroots success story. Someone who, at just 19 years old, should serve as an inspiration for young drivers along the Gulf Coast who have Late Model aspirations.
It wasn’t long ago that the Grand Bay, Ala., driver was beating and banging and grinding out wins in The Dock on Pensacola Beach Sportsmen division at Five Flags Speedway. Five years later, Okrzesik is an accomplished Late Model driver, whose championship dreams are firmly in his grasp heading into the Late Model Night of Champions races Saturday night at Five Flags.
Fresh off his first career feature win in the Faith Chapel Outlaws last Friday, Okrzesik will hop back into his Late Model program this week at the famed half-mile asphalt oval. He will carry a slim, five-point lead into the Allen Turner Pro Late Model championship race Saturday and figures to be one of the cars to beat in the Deep South Cranes Blizzard Series finale for Super Late Models.
“If we win the race, we win the championship. It’s pretty simple math,” said Okrzesik, a freshman focused on engineering at South Alabama in Mobile. “The championship is a second thought. If we win the race, nobody is going to beat us.
“Five Flags, it feels like it changes every time you race there. I don’t think anybody has figured out Five Flags. It’s who can adapt the best.”
Pensacola’s high banks open at 2 p.m. Saturday with qualifying set for 6 and opening ceremonies slated for 7. Admission is $20 for adults; $17 for seniors and students; free for children ages 11-and-under. Weekend festivities kick off Friday night with a pre-race party featuring live entertainment from Muskogee Ridge starting at 8 p.m.
While Okrzesik tries to protect his narrow cushion against defending PLM track champion Chris Davidson, Jake Garcia and Stephen Nasse have plenty on the line for both the Blizzard Series and the Southern Super Series. Garcia, himself a former PLM track champion at Five Flags, leads Nasse by four points for the Blizzard Series points race while Nasse maintains a 14-point edge against Garcia for the SSS crown.
Okrzesik might be out of the mix for a SLM championship, but he knows Saturday night is still about taking notes for the 54th annual Snowball Derby in December.
“That’s pretty much all this season has been about: Try and win the Snowball,” Okrzesik said. “We’ve had a good program throughout the year to compete at Five Flags. We fell behind last year and tried to play catch up with our notebook. I think we’ve sorted all that out.
“We’re halfway decent in our Super Late Model setup. We’re not where we wanna be. We’ve had a bunch of mechanical failures and stupid things take us out of races. We want better, obviously.”
Okrzesik has won a SLM race this season, topping Nasse and others in June at Montgomery Motor Speedway.
He also has good memories from this same night last year. Okrzesik eked out Jake Finch by a radiator in a thrilling finish to win the PLM race on last year’s Night of Champions.
“It felt great to win in a Late Model at Five Flags,” he said. “We were hunting that win for so long. We finally got it, and now we’re trying to go win one in a Super. Hopefully this race will be the race.
“I think we found a little bit in our last race. But you never know until you get to the racetrack and compare yourself against everybody. I’m a competitor. I wanna win every race. Sure, it’s disappointing to finish second or third, but really, I can’t complain. I’ve got a great thing going.”