Santos, King of Wing Series Gets Five Flags Season Off to Roaring Start

WebBy Chuck Corder

The wait was well worth it.

A deluge postponed Opening Night at Five Flags Speedway by a week. When the skies finally cleared by noon on Friday, fans in Pensacola knew it was finally time to go racing.

What a show they witnessed as the winged pavement sprint cars of the King of the Wing Series lit up the track.

Bobby Santos led several times Friday, including the final 10 laps of the 40 lapper, to win the King of the Wing’s season opener.

Kyle Edwards of Bartlett, Tenn., finished second and Tampa’s Troy DeCaire rallied home from the back for third.

“That was just a lotta fun,” said Santos, a Franklin, Mass., native. “We got some great help after having a little setback last night. This was not the car we planned on running. I thought the other car was better, but obviously this one was pretty good.”

The sprints were quite the spectacle from their hot laps to qualifying where several cars flirted with the track record to a heart-pounding feature.

But the small tires of the sprints were no match at the famed half-mile oval. Six cautions flew, predominantly for flat rubber. Twenty-two-year-old female driver Sierra Jackson was one of the victims that fell prey to tire troubles.

While it has lost some of its teeth in recent years when the Super Late Models and the five other local classes race, the abrasive asphalt bit back Friday against the winged warriors.

The lead flipped-flopped several times. And each time a new driver found open air, they seemingly surrendered it because of flat tires.

Following the second caution, DeCaire made his gutsy move.

He used a great run exiting Turn No. 2 and pounced for the lead in Turn No. 3. DeCaire dipped low on Santos and the two were side-by-side, swapping tire rubber the entire time as they navigated their way through Turn No. 4.

As they came out of Turn No. 4, DeCaire had shinnied his way underneath Santos and owned the lead with 11 laps complete.

DeCaire great restart following third caution but ran into tire issues on Lap 22 to bring out the fourth caution.

Despite the problems, the sprints wowed throughout the evening. At times during the feature, the cars were three-wide and traveling more than 140 mph, their wheels just six inches apart.

Each time they crossed the start-finish line, the cables hovering above bounced from turbulence the wings caused.

Midway through the 19 cars that qualified, one-by-one, cars began hunting down the track record of 13.046 seconds set by Brian Gerster last year when the sprints came for their annual pilgrimage.

Aaron Pierce’s time of 13.252 came the closest, but the record was safe on this night.

Faith Chapel Super Stocks

Todd Jones picked up where he left off.

The defending series track champion for the Faith Chapel Super Stocks took the lead early on in the 25-lap feature and held off a hard-charging legend to win the first race of 2015 at Five Flags Speedway.

Despite the win, Jones was still in salesman mode.

“The car’s for sale; it’s always for sale. Anything except my dog, my wife, or my boy,” he joked.

Dave Mader III — the 1978 Snowball Derby champion and a feature winner in five decades at Pensacola — started tail end to the field and nearly chased down Jones.

Mader couldn’t quite reach Jones’ bumper and settled for second, instead.

“Todd squirted out there and I couldn’t get him,” he said. “That’s the way it rumbles sometimes.”

Mader made some noise during the Super Stocks qualifying runs. Two minutes into the new season, the 59-year-old driver’s time of 18.068 seconds temporarily shattered the division’s previous track record of 18.125, set at the Derby in December.

Unfortunately, technical inspection officials ruled Mader’s No. 18 was too low and his time was tossed out, making Gary Sutton the pole sitter.


Sportsman Series

The calendar says it’s a different year, but the storyline remained the same for the Sportsmen on Friday night.

Brannon Fowler and Shanna Ard once again battled for the win from the opening green.

When the dust settled, it was the familiar sight of Fowler hoisting the first-place trophy in the 25-lap feature. Ard took home second and Randy Thompson rounded out the podium.

“Shanna is always great competition year-in, year-out, week-in and week-out,” said the Cantonment driver, who won four times in 2014 and capped the memorable season off with a Sportsman Snowball Derby win in December.


Bombers Series

Geno Denmark couldn’t have scripted a better start to 2015 at Five Flags Speedway.

The Mobile-area driver won one of two heat races earlier Friday. Then, for good measure, Denmark dominated the second half of the 20-lap feature to return to Victory Lane.

It was his second career feature win at the famed half-mile oval.

John Kevin Merritt took second and defending series champion Michael Nelson finished third.

“I hope my trophy collection starts growing some more,” said Denmark, who also owns the division’s track record (21.716 seconds). “Man, this thing was fast. That was fun.”