Blizzard Points Leader Looking For WIn to Clinch Championshipadmin
Garcia Hopes His ‘A’ Game Saturday will be Enough for first Blizzard Win, SLM Championship
By Chuck Corder
At 16, Late Model driver Jake Garcia already has learned the value of consistency at Five Flags Speedway. Despite not earning a checkered flag in 2019, the teenager took a Pro Late Model track championship back home to Georgia on the heels of three consecutive podium finishes.
Garcia is looking to follow a similar path to Super Late Model success Saturday night at Five Flags. With one notable exception, of course: He wants a victory in the Deep South Cranes Blizzard Series and Southern Super Series season finale. Clinging to just a four-point lead against Stephen Nasse, Garcia knows his margin for error is slim in the 100-lap championship feature. A first-career Super Late Model victory at Five Flags, though, ensures Garcia another purple Hoosier Tires jacket and his second track title in three years. Nasse holds a 14-point cushion against Garcia in the SSS standings.
“I have to be on my game this weekend,” said Garcia, an honors student at his high school. “The goals don’t change. I’m going to do my best to win the race. But as long as we keep doing the same thing we’ve been doing all year and get a podium finish, we should be fine.
“I just want to be consistent and not make any mistakes. I don’t want to get caught up in anybody’s mess.”
Garcia has two thirds and one sixth-place finish in three Blizzard Series races this season. But he already has made two trips to Victory Lane in 2021 at the famed half-mile asphalt oval this season, winning back-to-back Allen Turner Pro Late Model 100s earlier this summer. While leading the Blizzard Series, Garcia sits fourth in the PLM standings, 29 points behind leader Connor Okrzesik.
The Blizzard Series and Allen Turner PLM Series close the Five Flags regular season Saturday night. 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.
A native of Monroe, Ga., Garcia’s path to Late Model racing looks a little different than most young drivers. He started driving at 5-years-old and instead of grinding through the ranks of the Legends and Bandoleros, Garcia went from a decorated quarter-midgets and midgets’ career straight into Late Models at age 13.
With former Snowball Derby champion Ricky Turner serving as his crew chief and mentor, Garcia took to Late Model racing like a duck to water. At just 14, Garcia finished runner-up to Travis Braden at the 2019 Derby.
“I definitely have seen a lot of improvement this season from what we’ve had in the past couple years,” Garcia said. “Ricky gets the cars better every week. But, more importantly, I’m learning and getting better as a driver.”
While he has yet to win a Blizzard Series race, Garcia did earn a Super Late Model victory last month at Crisp Motorsports Park in Cordele, Ga. He knows the key to Saturday will be qualifying, as a ballooning field of America’s finest Late Model drivers get their final looks at Five Flags before the Derby in December.
“Five Flags is like a brand-new season every single race. No one knows what to expect outta their car,” Garcia said. “With as long as the corners are and how rough the racetrack is, it’s something different every time we go down there.
“This week, we might be racing some guys we don’t see normally. It’s hard to know how they’re gonna race you when you pull up beside them.”
One driver he knows what to expect from is the gentlemen that he is battling for both the Blizzard Series and Southern Super Series championships.
Nasse never shies away from mixing it up, and with hardware on the line Garcia is sure to get the full “Classy vs. Nasty” experience come Saturday night.
“It definitely has been a battle between me and (Nasse),” Garcia said. “Stephen is one of the best Late Model drivers in the country. It has been cool to compete with him and learn something from him when we’re out on the racetrack.”