.Blocker Breaks Barnhill’s Streak, Collects $250 Bounty in Wild 35-lap Sportsmen Spectacular

 

By Chuck Corder

Sometimes, nice guys finish first.

There seems to be no driver at Five Flags Speedway more respected and unanimously admired by his peers than Tommie Blocker.

Blocker is a driver’s driver. From his infectious and gregarious spirit to his clean, but competitive brand of racing, and his white-hot passion for short-track racing.

The Irvington, Ala., driver had won in his brief career at Five Flags, but had never celebrated in Victory Lane since moving up to The Dock on Pensacola Beach Sportsmen class a year ago.

Blocker not only checked off that box Friday night at the famed half-mile asphalt oval, but he also made some extra cash in the process.

Blocker held on to win the 35-lap Sportsmen Spectacular and collected a $250 bounty for ending Mark Barnhill’s three-feature winning streak.

“I’m at a loss for words; I can’t think,” an overjoyed Blocker said. “What a heckuva race. I’m truly blessed. For this to be my first win in a Sportsmen, it’s incredible. That was so close. I’m so thankful.”

Blocker held off Chad Robinson and Jim Pokrant, who finished second and third, respectively. Barnhill came home fourth en route to his first loss this season in Pensacola.

For much of the 35 lapper, it looked like Milton’s Shanna Ard was enjoying a Sunday drive along US 90.

Ard took the lead from Barnhill on Lap 16 and the two-time Sportsmen series track champion quickly began putting some heavy distance between his No. 29 machine and the rest of the field.

No one would’ve blamed Ard if he was already picturing a wild homecoming celebration at The Dock on Pensacola Beach — the Justin Smith-owned establishment is also Ard’s top sponsor — with that $250 lagniappe.

But those visions vanished three laps from the checkered flag.

A late caution reset the field and, on the restart, Ard spun in Turn 2 while trying to keep Barnhill at bay. That brought out the fifth and last yellow flag.

Under the caution, Ard waited for Barnhill to make his way around the track. The two exchanged words through their windows, but nothing escalated beyond verbal barbs.

On the final restart, the entire field swung through Turn No. 2 so loose they looked perpendicular to Pensacola’s high banks,

Blocker’s tires had a little bit more rubber left, and he edged ahead of Robinson and Barnhill while Ard shuffled back.

“That was crazy coming off (Turn No. 4),” Pokrant said. “I closed my right eye because I didn’t know what was gonna happen.”

Faith Chapel Outlaws

Bubba Winslow wouldn’t be denied.

The 2017 Outlaws Snowball Derby champion had a huge lead for most of the 35-lap Faith Chapel Outlaws feature Friday night at the famed half-mile asphalt oval.

What was at one point a 2.5-second lead over the 13-car field dwindled to less than half a second down the stretch because of a hard-charging Chris Cotto and lapped traffic.

But Winslow’s lead was too much to overcome and the Cantonment driver won for the second time in as many races, extending his series points lead.

“We definitely caught a break starting on the front row and jumping out on all these guys,” Winslow said. “Chris was coming on quick, and those lapped cars closed everything up. I hope it was an interesting enough finish for the fans. “

Cotto, who won the Outlaws season opener this season, came home second and Joe Bethea Jr. finished third.

“We came up a little short again,” Cotto, of Milton, said. “If these were 40 lap races, I think we’d win ’em all. I gave (Winslow) more real estate than I wanted.”

WCIparts.com Pro Trucks

Josh Hicks is a racer to his core.

So much so that he was ready to blow off a fairly important milestone so he could race Saturday.

But, as it turns out, even racing must take a back seat to your high school graduation.

At least Hicks will be carrying another checkered flag with him when he collects his degree in Senoia, Ga., on Saturday

Hicks quickly assumed the lead early in the 25-lap feature, surprising eventual runner-up Logan Boyett, and handily won his second WCIparts.com Pro Trucks race of the season.

“I figured I’d get on around him as fast as I could and gap him a little bit,” said the 19-year-old Hicks, who hails from the same town as short-track legend Bubba Pollard. “Luckily, I didn’t mess it up.

“That was really good race. We’ve all been working hard, trying to figure out the truck, knocking a couple tweaks out. My guys put so much work into truck. I think we’re set for the rest of the year.”

Hicks, who won the Pro Trucks Snowball Derby in December, has now won or finished second in his last five races at Five Flags.

He had a commanding lead on Boyett 10 laps into Friday and never once had to check his rearview for Boyett or the rest of the field.

“We didn’t know what we had going into the race,” Boyett said. “We’ve got a demon going on underneath here, but we’ll figure out what it is.”

Veteran Chopper Stagner rounded out the podium.

Lloyd’s Glass Pure Stocks

The Lloyd’s Glass Pure Stocks never disappoint, that’s for sure.

The formerly named Bombers division saw its drivers mixing it up a heat race. And it wasn’t just any two drivers, but series points leaders Michael Moody and Robert Balkum, respectively.

“That idiot put me in wall,” Moody said.

Balkum added: “I didn’t think anything happened to my car. He dug his fender into me, and it made me go hard right.”

While the two front-runners traded blamed for the accident, Corey Pitman saw his opportunity to add to what has already been a storybook season.

The Cantonment driver snatched his first Lloyd’s Glass Pure Stocks 20-lap feature victory after unofficial winner Darryl McDonald III was disqualified in post-race technical inspection.

That pushed Balkum to runner-up and Caleb Burkett to third.