Garvey to Drive for 2X Snowball Champ Gary Balough

Inspired by His Hero, Garvey Will Drive for 2x Snowball Derby Champ Balough 

By Chuck Corder

At 56, Mike Garvey still remembers the moment he decided to be a stock-car driver.

As a kid, Garvey and his family would make annual pilgrimages from their native Michigan down to Nashville for the All-American 400.

It was at the historic Fairgrounds where Garvey first caught a glance at a chromed-out, sleek, and cool look of the No. 112 of short-track icon Gary Balough.

“The car was immaculate,” Garvey recalled. “That’s what always caught my eye about Gary’s cars. Not only were they the fastest, but they were always the best looking. That’s what stuck with me.

“That’s what I wanted to do. NASCAR was never a big deal to me. I wanted to race for a living. Guys like Gary, Rusty Wallace, Mark Martin, Terry Senneker – those were my heroes.”

Garvey will get to live out his childhood dream this Friday at Five Flags Speedway. He will team with his idol, Balough, and get behind a Senneker Performance Super Late Model for the Southern Super Series Mid Summer Sizzler, the third of four Deep South Crane Rentals Blizzard Series races.

Balough, the two-time Snowball Derby champion (1980, 1986), will be helping Garvey out with the car, which will be wrapped in a throwback theme to Balough’s glory days dominating the short-track world.

“I used to love coming to Pensacola and racing, especially for the Snowball Derby,” Balough said earlier this week. “That’s the biggest show and that’s the best show all year long. There’s nothing like the Snowball Derby.”

Balough will also spend some time before the race in the Five Flags Speedway Fan Zone where he will be signing copies of his book, “Hot Shoe! A Checkered Past: My Story.”

“It’s so strange the way this whole thing worked out,” Garvey said. “I almost feel like it’s my first time to race. I’m excited. I want to have a good showing. When you race for Gary Balough, you better do pretty good.

“Pensacola is my favorite track. I always love racing at Five Flags. It’s the most fun track. It’s demanding, It’s everything you would want in a racetrack.”

Compared with past Blizzard Series races, Friday’s showdown of the finest late model drivers will have a twist to it. The anticipated field of heavy hitters will compete in heat laps to set up the starting grid rather than qualify.

The SLMs will be joined by the Pro Trucks, The Dock on Pensacola Beach Sportsmen, and Lloyd’s Glass Pure Stocks when the gates open at 5 p.m. Friday. Admission is $15 for adults; $12 for seniors, military, and students; and free for children ages 11-and-under.

Garvey’s career has been well-documented. A talented driver, Garvey racked up dozens of short-track victories and reached NASCAR’s three touring series before returning to the late model world nearly a decade ago.

He hasn’t competed since a “terrible” showing in the Blizzard Series finale in 2016, Garvey said.

Truth be told, Garvey knows it was a blessing of sorts. He was already experiencing nerve damage that was taking a toil on his legs and feet. Stepping away from racing allowed him to focus on attending to the needs of his late model customers, such as veteran Chris Davidson and Grand Bay teenager Connor Okrzesik.

This week, he’ll be racing against Okrzesik for just the second time since Garvey began working with his young protégé.

“My legs have started to feel better,” Garvey said. “I’ve been thinking about racing for last year. It just took time. In last few months, I’ve been testing Chris Davidson’s car. And, when you get behind the wheel, and it’s something you’ve done your whole life, man, that feeling doesn’t go away.”

Garvey still hasn’t figured out the logistics of shaking down the Balough car while also producing a top-notch car for Okrzesik.

But, he’s excited that he gets the chance to figure it all out while driving this weekend for Balough, a sharp mind and someone that molded Garvey into the man he is today.

“We work as one team between Chris and Connor and me,” Garvey said. “It really takes special people to work together like this and wish each other well.

“This will be a real honor for me. Gary has always been one of my heroes. That 112 car always just looked so beautiful, all shined up.”