Dirt-Track Veteran Harris Excited to Bring Talents to Pro Trucks, Five Flags Speedway on Fridayadmin
By Chuck Corder
A 12-year veteran of local dirt tracks, Branden Harris rarely lets anything or anyone rattle his cage.
The 25 year old has seen a lot in racing and doesn’t easily crack in pressure situations or if other drivers feebly attempt head games.
But there is one guy, a go-kart driver no less, who won’t be silenced and constantly needles Harris whenever there’s an opportunity.
“He talks a little bit of trash, anything he can,” Harris said of the heckler. “He thinks he runs the show.”
So who is this pain in Harris’ side? None other than Landen Harris, Branden and wife Whitney’s 6-year-old son.
Branden’s toughest critic will be front and center Friday night at Five Flags Speedway to see his daddy make his Pro Trucks debut.
For all his miniature bloviating, Landen is a fixture in his father’s shop.
“He’ll go get wrenches, screwdrivers, whatever you need,” Branden Harris said of Landen, who competes in go-karts at Pensacola Kart Raceway on Old Corry Field Road.
Harris and the newest classification at Five Flags, the Pro Trucks, will get their season underway Friday along with the Super Late Models in the Deep South Cranes Rentals Blizzard Series for the Mountain Dew Kickstart 100.
Sportsmen and Bombers, who made their season debuts last Friday, continue their seasons, too.
Gates open at 4 p.m. Friday with racing tapped for 8 p.m. Admissions is as follows: $15 for adults; $12 for seniors, students and military; $5 for children ages 6 to 11; free for kids 5 and under.
While he might be a relatively new face at the famed half-mile asphalt oval, Branden Harris has plenty skin in the game when it comes to racing.
It’s simply that Harris has spent his 13 years on the dirt tracks of Southern Raceway in Milton and up at Flomaton (Ala.) Speedway, places he is by no means abandoning in favor of Five Flags.
“We’ll still be racing on dirt,” ensured Harris, who co-owns the truck along with his father, Ronnie. “An opportunity came up and the trucks class has been really cool to watch and develop, and I wanted to be a part of that. Plus, they only race once a month.”
On dirt, he competes in the Street Stock class, which is somewhere between a Sportsman and a Super Stock, but “closer to the Super Stocks,” according to Harris.
He got one taste of Five Flags in the mid-2000s, driving a Bombers ride.
“But that was a one-race, one-time deal,” Harris said. “I think we converted it over to dirt and somebody else drove it.”
A graduate of West Florida High School, Harris was born and raised in Pensacola.
Now a Molino resident, Harris’ time on Friday nights is typically spent at a dirt track and away from the grandstands of Five Flags.
But like Ronnie Harris did for his son, Branden Harris has instilled a love for racing in his son’s genes.
And, thanks to little Landen, trips to see the SLMs compete during Blizzard races throughout the season and at the annual Snowball Derby have been more frequent than before.
“He likes them (Super Late Models) a lot. They’ve really grown on him,” Branden Harris said. “When we go to the Snowball, he loves hanging out in the pits and watching the pit stops. He’s interested in that.”
Concerning his interests, Branden Harris is cautiously optimistic about his chances come Friday night.
“I guess any driver’ll say that they plan to win,” he said. “But when we were practicing the other night, we turned an 18.52, and I think the track record is 18.46, so I know we’re close.
“But maybe it’s like they said in Days of Thunder, ‘Go get your own car and we’ll see how you do in a crowd.’ ”
Harris, for sure, won’t be your run-of-the-mill novice driver out there. And, before the season began, he went the extra mile in making sure his truck would be properly set up for America’s Favorite Home Track.
“Steve Buttrick has been helping me,” Harris said of the local driver, who has dominated the Sportsman class in recent years and has won four Sportsman Snowball Derby championships.
“When we traded (an additional dirt car) for the truck, that was my one stipulation. I had to have Buttrick.”
With plans in place, Branden Harris hopes his dirt-track success spills over to asphalt, and he’s able to quiet “Loudmouth Landen” for a few hours.
“It’ll be interesting,” Branden Harris said. “It’s something different to do on a Friday night.”