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Five Flags Speedway

After Dominant Regular Seasons, Buttrick and Leytham Back up Track Titles with Derby Crowns

By Chuck Corder

Steve Buttrick finally got one for his thumb.

sportsman-steve-buttrick-snowball-derby-victory-lane-2016-537x350The Cantonment driver has been a force to be reckoned with in The Dock on Pensacola Beach Sportsmen division at Five Flags Speedway for six years now.

A three-time track champion, including this season, Buttrick came into Thursday’s opening night of the 49th annual Snowball Derby looking for history.

After winning four consecutive Sportsmen Derby crowns from 2010-2013, Buttrick hoisted his fifth crown Thursday, outlasting a 26-car field in the 50 lapper.

“It feels real good,� said the always-understated Buttrick. “We’ve had some bad luck the last couple of years. It was good tonight. I’ve gotta thank my wife; she still lets me have fun.�

Buttrick took the lead from eventual runner-up Mark Barnhill with 19 laps complete and withstood some heart-racing cautions in the waning laps to secure another memorable trip to Victory Lane.

Barnhill, who outqualified Buttrick, drove expertly early as he kept Buttrick at bay.

But when Barnhill’s tires hit the apron in Turn No. 4 midway through the 50-lap race, and created the smallest of openings, Buttrick made him pay for it.

“I got underneath Mark one time, and got into him a little bit, and decided to back off,� Buttrick said. “I tried again and was able to get by him.�

Jason Huffmaster finished third to round out the podium.

The race was marred by seven cautions, including a horrific crash that saw Gulf Breeze driver Shawn Laws barrel roll five times between Turn Nos. 3 and 4 when a car got into the back of him.

Running in the top-10, Laws slammed into the back of Tony Crosby, who was trying to check up as he went into Turn No. 3. As Laws tried to navigate around Crosby, he dove down toward the apron where he was hit near his back left tire and went airborne.

Laws and Johnny McNair, the other driver involved in the gruesome wreck, almost immediately notified track officials that they were OK.

Shockingly, Laws was up and out of the car and surveyed his destroyed No. 77 Sportsmen less than a minute later.

“I’m fine. I really don’t know what happened,� he said. “The car’s pretty much destroyed. It probably did in my racing chances for 2017, 2018 and 2019.�

The other breathtaking wreck happened after Buttrick crossed the start-finish line with the checkered flag waving wildly.

dsc_0171Lewis Anderson, a driver who came 1,600 miles from Hollis, Maine, came to Pensacola to compete in the Sportsmen Derby for a second straight year.

But his night ended disastrously, as he endured a hard crash on the inside wall as he and Pensacola’s Dayton Sidner battled for top-10 positioning down the front stretch.

“He just ran me over,� Anderson said. “He couldn’t get by me. We’re fine. We’ll fix another.�


Butler U-Pull-It Bombers

B.J. Leytham put one final exclamation point on an historic season.

bjThe Mobile-area driver won a record nine Butler U-Pull-It Bombers feature wins during the regular season at Five Flags Speedway en route to a closely-contested track championship.

Leytham went one better Thursday night as festivities for the 49th annual Snowball Derby officially got underway.

Leytham cracked double digits in victories with his 10th and captured the 30-lap Bombers Snowball Derby. It his third career Derby crown after winning back-to-back titles in 2013 and ’14.

“I’ve gotta thank my family,� a humbled and overwhelmed Leytham said in Victory Lane. “For the last three months they haven’t seen me. To be able to do this, it’s just amazing.�

After setting the fast time (21.586 seconds) during qualifying, Leytham led wire-to-wire despite heavy pressure from a pair of fellow Alabama drivers.

Tommie Blocker and Robert Loper finished runner-up and third, respectively, but they harassed Leytham for the lead in the second half of the 30 lapper.

“This has been a wonderful experience,� said Blocker, who was making his first career Derby start. “Hopefully, we made for a good show.�

The Alabama podium sweep spoiled the efforts of Pensacola driver Robert Balkum, who finished second to Leytham during the regular season after posting nine runner-up results. Balkum ran in the top-five all night and finished fourth.

Loper, who came into Thursday’s race as the defending Bombers Derby champion, was the closest threat to steal the lead away from Leytham. He pulled up on Leytham’s bumper several times, but never got the run he needed to find clean air.

“We were stuck on the outside of the track most of the night, so it is what it is,� Loper said. “Hats off to (Leytham). We managed do what we could.�

Not surprisingly, with a 27-car field, the race was plagued by 10 cautions, as the drivers fought tooth and nail to find Snowball Derby immortality.

Leytham’s win capped a magical season. One in which saw him feud with Balkum on and off the racetrack. Leytham had to endure another rival driver, Jay Whalen, claiming his motor midway through the season.

It was a minor hiccup, though, as Leytham and his team led by car owner Darrell Jackson built a new motor and the No. 8 white-and-orange car never relinquished his grip on the points title.

Winning a third Bombers Snowball Derby was a sweet swan song for Leytham, who will move onto the Beef “O� Brady’s Pro Trucks division next season.

He’ll begin that stretch Saturday with the Pro Trucks Snowball Derby.

“I wasn’t even supposed to drive this (Bombers) car because it’s been sold, so this is unbelievably special,� Leytham said.

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