Milton’s Merritt Mashes Way to Demo Derby Title; Outlaws’ Finch Goes Flag-to-Flag in Buggy Worx 50 

Milton’s Merritt Mashes Way to Demo Derby Title; Outlaws’ Finch Goes Flag-to-Flag in Buggy Worx 50 

 

By Chuck Corder 

Dylan Merritt lived up to his self-anointed nickname. 

“Dr. Derby,” as it read in raggedy white paint along the side of his torn-up Mercury Grand Marquis, was the last car running and delivering massive shots to win the Demolition Derby and $1,500 on Friday at Five Flags Speedway. 

The annual spectacle brought throngs of fans, who filled the stands to the brim. They were on their feet from the Derby’s beginning to its bitter end as 10 clunkers capped a fantastic evening of racing at Five Flags by trashing the place. 

Each collision was followed by echoes of approval and a desire for more from the full house. 

Merritt sealed the win when he smushed Nathalie Ziniewicz into the inside wall and reduced her car by one-third. 

Merritt, of Milton, climbed atop his victorious car and filled his hands with the colors of victory. In one hand, a large golden trophy. In the other, a black-and-white checkered flag. 

 

Faith Chapel Outlaws 

Few can match the knowledge and experience James Finch brings to short-track racing. 

The Phoenix Construction owner has been to the mountaintop several times, owning multiple cars that have captured the Snowball Derby at Five Flags Speedway. 

Jake Finch, James’ teenage son, figured to follow in his father’s footsteps. One way or another. 

“I was either going to be a dump truck driver or a racecar driver,” said the 16-year-old from Lynn Haven. 

Young Jake has chosen the latter, thankfully, and made dear ol’ dad proud Friday night at Five Flags. Jake led flag-to-flag en route to winning the Buggy Worx 50 and earn his first career trip to Victory Lane in Pensacola. The kid pocketed a cool $2,500 for topping the 19-car field for the Faith Chapel Outlaws. 

Bubba Winslow charged from his 11th starting spot to finish runner-up and John Heil scored a frustrating third. Heil nipped at Jake Finch for most of the 50 lapper. Each time the pair hit Turn No. 2, though, Jake’s No. 51 got better bite and Heil failed to narrow the gap. 

“It feels pretty good,” Jake said. “A lotta work went into this car. It’s our first race with this car, and it’s a testament to all these guys who work on it. It’s a great opportunity to drive these racecars. It’s a fun time, for sure, and I don’t take it for granted.” 

Finch, who padded his series points lead, became the sixth different winner in six Faith Chapel Outlaws features this season. 

The turning point occurred on Lap 37 when Finch was holding off Heil and Winslow and the three reached lapped traffic. Heil made a last-ditch move to break free of the pack, but he was picked by lapped car Jody Henderson. 

“We tried something different in qualifying and it didn’t work,” Winslow, the defending class champion, said. “We used it up before we could get to Jake. That’s the hardest 50 laps I’ve driven. With these types of cars, it’s not so much saving anymore, but more it’s about who’s fastest. Jake was fast tonight.” 

 

The Dock on Pensacola Beach Sportsmen 

Jim Pokrant must be a fan of amusement parks. 

On Friday night at Five Flags Speedway, he took the Pensacola high banks’ packed house on one helluva roller coaster. Despite a shaky start, Pokrant rallied to win The Dock on Pensacola Beach Sportsmen 25-lap feature for his first win of 2021. More importantly, he extended his division points lead. Pokrant is in prime position to secure one of those Hoosier Tires jackets, which Five Flags track champions receive, he so desperately desires. 

“I couldn’t get it into third gear,” Pokrant said of his early troubles at the drop of the green flag. “The clutch in this car is gone. It’s a miracle I’m here tonight. We did this on old tires. I have to say I impressed myself tonight.” 

He scratched and clawed his way back to the front, passing then-leader Jeremy Tassin on Lap 22. It was Pokrant’s first victory since last October. Tassin finished second and Brannon Fowler rounded out the podium. 

“Experience beat me there,” Tassin said, crediting Pokrant’s savviness. “He’s had a lotta laps around here.” 

 

Lloyd’s Glass Pure Stocks 

Caleb Burkett had the equivalent of baseball’s perfect game Friday night at Five Flags Speedway. 

He was fastest in qualifying (22.271 seconds), rolled a “1” to negate an invert, and then blew away the field in the Lloyd’s Glass Pure Stocks 20-lap feature. 

It was the Pensacola driver’s second victory of the season, as Burkett made up ground on points leader Cameron Leytham. Leytham had an awful night. He barely made it out and then proceeded to blow up and leak fluid around most of the famed half-mile asphalt oval. 

Burkett’s confidence is sky high and not simply because of the win. 

“This is not our normal car. It’s our backup,” he announced. “Last week, we blew up. We worked on this one all-week long. And, man, this thing drove better than anything I’ve ever driven.”