Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola, Florida will always be a special place for Christian Eckes. The 18-year-old driver scored the biggest victory of his racing career at the track in 2016 when he shocked the world by winning the prestigious Snowball Derby. Now over two years removed from kissing the snowball atop the Tom Dawson trophy, Eckes will return to Five Flags this Saturday, March 9 for the ARCA Menards Series Pensacola 200.
Eckes appeared on Speed51.com’s The Morning Bullring Monday to discuss this weekend’s ARCA race and his return to the Pensacola oval.
Although he believes his past experiences and success at Five Flags Speedway will give him an advantage, the three-time ARCA Racing Series winner is not relying on his past experiences to win him a race in the present.
“We tested there not too long ago and Carson Hocevar and a few others tested the day after,” Eckes said. “It seemed like Michael (Self) got up to speed pretty well. He’ll still be one to beat, but in the race I still feel like I’ll have a leg up. We haven’t been there in a while and the last time I was there I think we crashed. I got a little work to do but it’s going to be the normal stuff for ARCA. Carson Hocevar’s going to be fast and so is Chandler (Smith).”
Despite feeling like he will have a leg up on the competition this weekend, he does not believe he has the most experience at the track. Other drivers such as Chandler Smith have competed in numerous Super Late Model races at the track in recent years, while Eckes has only competed in the Snowball Derby.
To better prepare for Saturday’s race, he went back and watched his victory in the 2016 Snowball Derby on Speed51.com to study for ARCA’s first visit to Five Flags Speedway in over 20 years.
“I feel like Chandler has more experience there and stuff like that,” Eckes stated. “There are a few people that have ran there but the championship hunt, as far as that, I definitely do think I have the leg up on that with Michael having not raced there and others like that. I watched the 2016 (Snowball Derby) a few weeks ago for the first time in a few years and it’s really cool. It’s always fun going to Five Flags.”
Despite how different an ARCA Stock Car drives compared to a Super Late Model, he believes the challenges of racing at Five Flags Speedway remain the same.
“Just really diffusing to the race track and learning what’s good on restarts and stuff like that. Normal race things are just the biggest things to take from it,” Eckes commented. “The cars are a little bit different from what I remember at least. There will be a little bit of a difference between the two, but as a whole learning how to do restarts is big there because there’s no grip. Saving your tires is going to be crucial.”
Speaking of tires, Five Flags Speedway is notorious for being hard on tire wear. However, Eckes believes it is not the worst track when it comes to tires. He compared it to another track in the southeast where ARCA has made a stop in recent years.
“I wouldn’t say it’s the most tire wear. Salem is just brutal with tires. I’d probably compare it to Nashville,” he said. “It’s pretty rough but it’s not so rough you’re losing a few seconds. I think our falloff from testing was about a second during a fifty-lap run, and Salem you get up to three seconds falloff.”
-Story by: Koty Geyer, Speed51.com State Editor (IN & MI)
-Photo credit: Speed51.com