It was a phone call he didn’t want to make. Clay Rogers was a young, up-and-coming race car driver and he had just had his butt kicked.
The year was 2000 and he was still, in a way, a raw rookie when he rolled into Five Flags Speedway for the first time. The smiling kid from North Carolina had never seen Five Flags Speedway and he wasn’t in love with the place at all.
That year Rogers had run the heavier-style cars in the Pro Cup Series and had a big win at Concord a few weeks before the Snowball Derby, but this was Super Late Model racing. For the young driver, it was his first time in a Super Late Model.
“I had to call my dad Thursday night after practice,” said Rogers. “I didn’t want him to come down to Pensacola to watch me race because we had been so bad in practice. It was embarrassing. I had some good guys with that team, like Bill Boger, who were calling the shots and I got one set of tires on Thursday and we practiced on them all day until they fell off the car.”
Thinking he didn’t have the speed or the car to make the race he wanted to be sure his dad didn’t waste the trip.
“On Friday morning they gave me a fresh set of tires and I went out and put the thing on top of the charts,” explained Rogers with a smile. “From that point I had to call my dad to make sure he was still coming that weekend.”
To be shown what type of discipline you need to have to run Five Flags was key from the start.
“I quickly learned that this was the biggest short track race of the year,” said Rogers. “I mean, you had all these guys who ran Pro Cup who would get in a different car and come here to race. Guys from all over came to this race. This race is so important to so many people. I had to relearn the way I drove to race at Five Flags the right way.”
Rogers finished fifth in 2000 and came back to get third in 2005, but it was 2006 that put his name in the record books forever. When the night ended Clay Rogers, had taken the Tom Dawson trophy.
“We had felt good about our car despite starting 27th in the race,” said Rogers. “Five Flags has always been a place where you can test yourself in the wrong direction quickly. We had a good run on the short speed and we felt that was key.”
Rogers led 14 laps before the lap 200 mark before the race got away from them.
“We had a good car that day,” explained Rogers. “It was a very strange race because the yellow never came out in the final 100 laps like it always seems to do. I had finished third and Bobby Gill had finished second and we were both screaming for tires at the end because we finished the race with a set in the pits. When that happens you are just trying to think what could have we done differently?”
“I was proud that we had run up front, added Rogers. “To race with the leaders all day is key to being there at the end and that was an accomplishment I was telling myself after the race.”
They finished behind Johnny Brazier who had gotten tires and zoomed away from the field. Brazier had suffered crash damage in the race and that led to a disqualification in the tech line.
Once that had happened, the race was in the hands of the two Pro Cup drivers.
“I didn’t know it at the time, but Bobby (Gill) was going to be in trouble with tread width. He had been wide earlier in the week and he never got to get his last set of tires so he knew it was going to be a problem.”
Gill was bounced and it was Rogers’ turn for inspection. They found nothing, and two hours later the trophy shifted over to Clay Rogers. It was the first time in the 39 year history of the race that tech had decided the finish. Scoring changes had happened in 1977 and 1999 , not including the protests that were upheld.
“It was a lot of mixed emotions,” said Rogers. “Bobby (Gill) was my teammate and I didn’t know Johnny Brazier at the time, but I really felt bad for both of them. Then you have the emotions of being a winner and that overshadows the other stuff for a moment or two. It was the biggest win of my career and I hate the fact I didn’t get to do it again.”
After the win Rogers got to make another phone call. Not to his dad, but to his wife Cheryl to tell her he was bringing a trophy home to North Carolina.
Rogers is normally at the Snowball every year working with someone or just watching the racing, but he still has one thing on his mind about his win.
“I can say I have a trophy, but I never got to do the victory lane stuff over there in front of the crowd,” explained Rogers. “That’s one thing I will have to wonder about.”
-Story by: Elgin Traylor, Speed51 Correspondent
-Photo credit: Speed51 Photo