A Night of Firsts for Youngster Garcia, Veteran Smith; Fowler Moves Win Streak to 5admin
A Night of Firsts for Youngster Garcia, Veteran Smith; Fowler Moves Win Streak to 5 at 5 Flags
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By Chuck Corder
Jake Garcia’s youth belies his moxie on a racetrack.
A stirring performance of the national anthem from world-renowned singer Generald Wilson to begin the night’s festivities at Five Flags Speedway was only topped by Garcia’s scintillating performance in the Allen Turner Pro Late Model 100.
The PLM track champion in 2019, Garcia yielded the lead late to Kyle Plott, but took it back on Lap 98 and claimed his first career Five Flags victory. Garcia won his title two years ago with a consistent string of podium performances despite no checkered flags.
“We’ve come second so many times here,” the 16-year-old Georgia driver said. “Even at the (2019) Snowball Derby, we were one spot short. It’s really cool to seal the deal and get a win.”
Plott held on for second and defending series champion Chris Davidson recorded third-place honors.
Just like the PLM opener last month, Connor Okrzesik had a strong car and was in line for the win only to have things come apart in the stretch run.
The 100 lapper was a tale of two races. It began with a sputter. The caution flag flew twice before the field of 21 cars completed a lap. Things calmed down and Garcia found a groove. He took firm control of the race until the yellow flew again with 79 laps completed.
Garcia chose the outside lane on the restart, surrendering the preferred line to Okrzesik. It was an interesting choice that didn’t cost Garcia ultimately, but it did cost him track position and the lead momentarily.
“It seems like colder tires work on the outside better here,” Garcia said. “I’m pretty confident in my decision, even still.”
Okrzesik and Garcia raced door-to-door for several laps until Garcia wedged himself in front of Plott, who was running third. Plott made it three-wide when he nudged Garcia, who bumped Okrzesik.
Plott pounced on the opening and took over P1 on Lap 84. Garcia never slowed down and began closing on Plott with 10 laps left before finally reclaiming the lead two laps from the finish.
“That was a rough three-wide deal with everybody fighting for the lead,” Garcia said. “I knew I had a pretty good run left in the car. Fortunately, I did.”
Modifieds of Mayhem
Casey Smith has spent the better part of 20 years competing at Five Flags Speedway.
He had plenty of chances and numerous close calls at claiming a checkered flag in Pensacola. It just never happened.
Smith left nothing to chance Friday at the famed half-mile asphalt oval, waxing a loaded field of Modifieds of Mayhem for 50 laps and attaining his first career win at Five Flags finally.
Augie Grill finished a distant second and Cody Stickler rounded out the podium. Smith was fastest in both sets of practice earlier Friday and was dominant when night fell, and the green flag dropped.
“It’s good to finally win one here,” Smith said. “We’ve been close, but never got it. This is a big victory for us. We were lucky to get a good starting spot. I didn’t have to pass many cars.”
The hotshoe from Austin, Texas, will once again drive a Super Late Model next month. His total annihilation Friday means he’ll be doing plenty of double duty this season.
“We took a break and evaluate everything,” Smith said. “Late Models are so tough. We’re gonna test it here tomorrow and be back June 4 to race it. Hopefully, we run this good.”
Seeing Smith and Grill on the podium was reminiscent of the battles the two waged a few years ago with the SLMs and the Southern Super Series. Smith won the series title in 2015 after a season of two wins and nine top-five finishes.
“His car was a tick better than ours,” Grill said. “I thought a caution would come, but I’ll take second.”
The Dock on Pensacola Beach Sportsmen
Will he ever lose?
That’s the question many started wondering after Brannon Fowler scored his fifth straight The Dock on Pensacola Beach Sportsmen 25-lap feature Friday night at Five Flags Speedway.
But, while Fowler dominated most of the race, it was young Maddox Langham who received a hero’s welcome when he brought his No. 1 family-owned car to Victory Lane after a second-place finish. Jim Pokrant took home third.
It was Fowler, who last week praised the teenager’s skills and advancing abilities.
“I was telling y’all last week, how up on the wheel (Langham) was,” Fowler said. “Now, look at the results. He’s standing right here on the podium.
“We had a great night.”
Langham led the first six laps of the race before Fowler caught him and pulled ahead on the back straightaway on Lap 7.
“I think this is the happiest I’ve ever been after a race,” said Langham, who had a decorated Legends career.
Lloyd’s Glass Pure Stocks
Darryl Jackson has a stable of thoroughbreds in his Mobile-area shop.
Jackson-owned cars, which he also works on, finished an identical 1-2 for the second consecutive week. Robert Loper made it back-to-back wins in the Lloyd’s Glass Pure Stocks 20-lap feature Friday night at Five Flags Speedway and teammate Cameron Leytham increased his series points lead with a second straight runner-up result.
“There’s no better car owner, no doubt about it,” said Loper, who is from Theodore, Ala. “He works his butt off and it shows because we’re right back here again.”
Loper made a nifty, slide-job maneuver to pass Caleb Burkett on Lap 2 and never broke a sweat during the final 18 laps Friday at the famed half-mile asphalt oval. He earned more bragging rights against Leytham, who won three races to open the year.
“We talk (trash) all week long at the shop, but we love it,” Loper said.
And in more symmetry from a week ago, young Parker McDonald rounded out the podium. It marks the third consecutive third-place finish for the younger brother of Darryl McDonald III, current The Dock on Pensacola Beach Sportsmen driver and last year’s Pure Stocks track champion.
“I don’t like being the first loser,” Leytham said, reflecting on his second-place finish. “I got outdrove tonight. That’s all I can say.”