Five Flags Speedway

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12/7/2013

12/7/2013

Five Flags Speedway


Alabama Gang 2.0: Mason, Hamrac Capture First Career Derby Victories in Thrilling Finishes

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By Chuck Corder

A pair of wire-to-wire winners on opening night at Five Flags Speedway on Thursday got the 46th edition of the Snowball Derby off to an inauspicious start.

Short-track racing’s most dramatic weekend was minus some of its traditional suspense.

Not any longer. The Super Stocks 50-lap Derby feature changed all that Friday.

Bubba Winslow’s white-flag misfortunes were Okie Mason’s fortunes, as the triumphant 52 year old won his first career Super Stocks Derby title.

“I’ve for to thank God because without him, I couldn’t do this,� Mason said. “The good Lord had his hand on it. I just started to put pressure on him.�

The Eight Mile, Ala., resident, Mason only led the final eight of a mile after passing Winslow, who got tangled with the lapped car of Thumper Grice on the back stretch.

“(Winslow) tried to go under (Grice) and drove right into him,� Mason said.

Mason had a catbird’s seat to the mess, on Winslow’s bumper as the pair approached Grice.

A relatively newcomer to the famed half-mile oval, Grice’s uncertainty on which groove to choose put the onus on Winslow to determine his line.

Grice’s indecision proved costly as Winslow went low and the No. 86 smacked directly into the No. 7 and the pair went careening down the back stretch.

Winslow wound up against the outside backstretch retaining wall.

Mason escaped unscathed on the high side and easily cruised to the checkered flag, whipping in the wins.

“(Crew chief) Mike Williamson set this car up and told us what to do,� Mason said. “Sometimes I can be hard-headed, but I did what I was supposed to tonight.

“They told me to wait and it would be there. I did. I listened. When you get to be as old as I am, you might wanna listen.�

Winslow might not want to hear this, but at 24, he’ll have another shot at Derby glory.

Still, it was a heartbreaking end for a championship season for Winslow. The Cantonment native won four features in the regular season en route to the Super Stocks track title.

On Friday, Winslow’s good luck continued early as he captured the pole.

And throughout Friday, he maintained the positive karma despite all hell breaking loose behind him.

There were three cautions in the first four laps and then a little while later another yellow flew for a 10-car pileup directly under the flagstand.

The packed grandstands flooded the front railing just behind the catch fence to see the carnage.

The narrow space around Pensacola’s high banks makes life tough on the most-seasoned of drivers.

“It’s the Derby ain’t it,� said Paul Jean, a longtime veteran who was involved in Five Flags’ version of the “big one�. “It’s not the way wanna wind up, but we’ll be back.�

So will Winslow. So will Mason.

Only the next time, Mason, at 52, will return as the reigning Derby champion.

 

Modifieds

Donnie Hamrac wasn’t about to let a little rain spoil his thunder.

As the night’s first sprinkles finally began to fall, Hamrac’s beaming smile shone brighter than the grandstands lights of Five Flags Speedway.

After winning back-to-back Modifieds track championships in Pensacola the last two years, all that was missing was for the 40-year-old Semmes, Ala., resident was a 50-lap Mods Snowball Derby title.

No more.

Hamrac passed defending Derby champion Billy Melvin on the restart to Lap 35 before holding off the pesky Melvin as the pair came out of Turn 4 on the final lap.

Hamrac crossed the finish line sideways, edging Melvin by a nose.

“What a way to top the season off!� an elated Hamrac exclaimed. “I gotta thank Billy for not taking us out. I hope it was a good race for the fans.�

Indeed it was.

The storyline within the race Friday was the precarious race to beat the scattered showers that were circling the racetrack.

The nail-biting proved for naught, however.

The only delays throughout the final feature of the night were for a myriad of cautions. Melvin had been great most of the night, but on the final one, Hamrac pounced.

He just flat-out wrestled away the lead from Melvin.

“We worked really hard this week,� Hamrac said. “The car wasn’t good a few weeks ago when we practiced. And it wasn’t perfect, but it was pretty decent.�

Melvin knew as much.

A patient of two spinal fusions in the last two years, Melvin’s first appearance at Five Flags since his Derby victory a year ago was nearly well worth the wait.

“We gave that race everything we had,� he said. “We raced him clean.�

Bubba Gale, father to NASCAR driver and one-time Snowball Derby polesitter Cale Gale, sat on the Mods pole with a blistering time.

But Bubba Gale had immediate problems from the drop of the opening green and his night ended rather abruptly when a fire ignited in the engine compartment.

Melvin took advantage and built a full straightaway lead in the early going with Hamrac running a distant second.

The cautions allowed Hamrac to eventually make up the ground on Melvin, who dominated much of the race by running in another area code.

Thankfully for Hamrac, it was only a matter of time before he chased Melvin down.

“David Jones just gives such a good car,� Hamrac said of his Alabama Pipe and Supply car owner. “We had a hellacious setup under the hood that got us the victory.

“We had a big gap there, saved our tires and it worked out.�

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