For the third time in four years, it was a Georgia boy crossing the border into the Yellowhammer State of Alabama and claiming one of the nation’s most historic short track races, the Alabama 200 at Montgomery Motor Speedway. But while it was the seasoned Casey Roderick who scored the first two, this time around it was one of the rising stars from the Peach State, Jake Garcia who captured the bear in the 56th version of the Pro Late Model race.
After spinning with 28 laps to go but staying on the lead lap, Garcia turned a mistake into an advantage, taking the last of his fresh tires and tearing a path to the front among those who had survived the first 172 laps.
In the end, it was one of the Bama kids, Perry Patino who stood in Garcia’s way. After an incidental tap to Patino’s rear bumper with 10 laps to go, Garcia wheeled his No. 35 low, finding room on the inside of Patino’s No. 51 in turn three with eight laps to go to claim the lead for good.
At the age of 15, Garcia has much to be proud of in winning his first major Late Model show after his breakthrough season, which included a runner-up finish in the Snowball Derby in 2019. But through all the celebration, his thoughts came back to another major life event in the past week. One, that all teenagers look forward to.
“I’ve been racing for 10 years, I guess I’m a pretty experienced racer. But, I got my learner’s permit this week, and on the road, I’m still learning. I’m a new driver out there, so it’s kind of weird thinking of me as a new driver because I’ve been doing it pretty much my whole life. I’m getting it figured out, I drove all the way here which was cool, and I got some more experience on the streets. I also got some experience on the track,” Garcia told Speed51.
It was that experience that Garcia called upon after making his big mistake in turn two in the late stages.
“I got loose in the center of the corner and just spun out. I just didn’t catch it in time, but I managed to rally back and get a win. Good job by everybody.”
Before that spin, Garcia was making ground towards the front, pitting late and off-sequence from the majority of the field. Had he not spun and the race had stayed green, Garcia figured it was a 50/50 chance of winning.
“It’s hard to tell, we were off sequence with everybody from the time everybody pitted the first time,” Garcia explained. “The first half of the race we were just riding and saving. It’s really tough to say, I guess it depends on how hard those guys were going at the beginning.”
But Garcia had brushed all the questions aside, enjoying the whole moment, which included many congratulations from many across the world-wide-web. From fans to fellow drivers all throughout the ranks, including a certain fellow Georgia statesman by the name of Chase Elliott. Humble, especially at his age, the significance was not lost on Garcia with what the recognition could mean in the years to come.
“It’s always cool to be congratulated and recognized by some of the guys that are up there in the ranks and everything. You know that they’re keeping an eye on you, and one day it could help you out. If they got thousands of followers on there, you might even get a sponsor, it’s a cool deal.”
Behind Garcia and Patino, Jordan McCallum brought his No. 11 home third, while Willie Allen and Ryan Hebert rounded out the top five. Christopher Tullis, Justin Caton, Gage Rogers, JoJo Wilkinson, and Joe Hudson completed the top 10.
While the next Show Me the Money Pro Late Model Series feature at Montgomery is scheduled for Saturday, April 4, many of these same racers will be gearing up for Rattler weekend at South Alabama Speedway in two weeks’ time. The Pro Late Model Baby Rattler 125 is on for Saturday, March 21, while the Super Late Models will open the Southern Super Series season with the Rattler 250 on Sunday, March 22.
An on-demand video broadcast of Saturday’s 56th Annual Alabama 200 can be viewed now on the Speed51 Network by clicking here. Monthly and yearly subscribers can watch at no additional cost.
-Story by: Connor Sullivan, Speed51 Northeast Editor – Twitter: @Connor51CT
-Photo credit: Speed51
Alabama 200 Official Results
|11||18||Gary Sanford, Jr.|