With invaders from all over the country taking the top three spots, local fans cheered when one of their favorites rallied to fourth in the in the 51st Annual Snowball Derby.
Connor Okrzesik hails from Grand Bay, Alabama – just an hour from Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola – and racked up his second consecutive top-five finish in a Super Late Model event on the Gulf Coast.
Okrzesik was the runner-up to Stephen Nasse in October’s Mobile 300.
“As good as a fourth-place run is, it is a little disappointing honestly,” Okrzesik told Speed51.com. “We just needed a little more and a little more time because we had a really good long-run car. We were better than (Jeff) Choquette on the long run, but just ran out of time. A fourth in the Snowball Derby is no small feat.”
Okrezisk ripped off a scorching lap in Friday’s qualifying session to time in fifth quick. When the race started, he held his ground and planted himself firmly in the top half-dozen.
The second run didn’t go as well, with the culprit being a “ really bad set of tires,” and sent the 14 team scrambling over the race’s mid point.
But just as he did at Mobile, Okrzesik was best during money time at the end of the event. With less than 30 laps to go, Okrzesik found himself in the outside line, looking to pounce, but couldn’t get going.
“We got jammed up behind Harrison coming to that last restart, and I just couldn’t get down in front of him fast enough to stay ahead of Majeski,” Okrzesik said. “Fourth place is great though.”
Okrzesik has quickly risen from local racer to perennial contender. Just three years ago, he was a Street Stock competitor at Mobile. Now he is mixing it up with the best in the land in the nation’s biggest late model event.
Okrzesik’s rise coincided with a budding partnership with veteran-driver-turned-crew chief Mike Garvey.
Garvey is no stranger to strong runs and wins himself, and sees plenty of potential in his young driver. After a win at Montgomery Motor Speedway earlier this year, Garvey had plenty of admiration for Okrzesik.
“He has so much talent,” Garvey said. “He races hard. He races clean. He does everything right. He has come so close so many times, and I am super happy for him. He is a good little racer, and hopefully this propels us to a lot more.”
With Charlie Bradberry tragically gone, and Augie Grill seemingly nearing the end of his driving career, Alabama race fans have longed for a new face to pull for. The future is bright for state’s newest budding superstar.
-Story by: Ryan McCollough, Speed51.com Gulf Coast Correspondent
-Photo credit: Speed51.com