Picture it: Gridlock in Atlanta.
Bumper-to-bumper traffic, “Spaghetti Junction,” the whole nine. Got that frustrating, irritable mental image emblazoned in your brain?
Now, imagine navigating the notoriously congested I-85 and I-285 beltway with an extraordinarily heavy foot of Casey Roderick, one of the nation’s top late model drivers.
“I sit in traffic more than actual driving time. No traffic, I can make it in 45 minutes.”
Instead, it’s typically a 90-minute daily stretch for the Lawrenceville, Ga., native on his way to Fayetteville.
Fayetteville, Ga. Home to one Ronnie Sanders. Owner and crew chief of the famed red No. 18 late model program that Roderick has guided so deftly this season.
The team returns to the famed half-mile asphalt oval Saturday night for the Night of Champions. The regular season finale (lest we forget about a certain 50th milestone come December) promises not to disappoint with the Allen Turner Tune-Up 100 for PLMs and the Deep South Cranes 125 for the Deep South Cranes Blizzard Series Super Late Models, run in conjunction with the Southern Super Series.
Practicing begins just after noon Saturday (12:45 p.m.) with qualifying slated for 4:30. An autograph session is scheduled for approximately 6:15 p.m. and pre-race festivities penciled in for 7:30. Admission is $15 for adults; $12 for seniors, military, and students; $5 for children ages 6 to 11; and free for kids 5 and under.
Roderick looks to lock up his first career Allen Turner PLM track crown and his third overall in Pensacola.
“Adding one to the collection is always good,” said Roderick, who won Blizzard Series track championships the last two years. “It’s something to be proud of. You can always look back at that particular trophy, a championship trophy, and it reflects on the whole year.
“It can sit there and always remind you of how hard you worked, the struggles you had to get through to try and improve yourself.”
Roderick leads Milton legend Wayne Niedecken Jr. by 36 points thanks to three commanding performances.
If Roderick is able to secure the title, it would be his second PLM track championship in the month of September. He won the Alabama 200 at Montgomery Motor Speedway earlier this month to clinch that track title.
“I’ve run three Alabama 200s so far,” Roderick said. “The first I finished third. The second, last year, I finished second. So I guess the third year was the charm.
The 25-year-old Roderick hopes to join an elite group of hotshoes Chase Elliott (2015), Augie Grill (2008), Bobby Gill (1993) and Ed Howe (1972) as the only drivers to win the Alabama 200 and the Snowball Derby in the same year
“I’ve been really good at the Snowball the last two years, but we’ve just had some unfortunate things happen,” Roderick said. “I go all year, have decent luck, and don’t get into much trouble; Derby time, everything hits me all at once. Two years ago I was running second, my crew guys got taken out on pit row, and then somebody got together with me when I was pulling out of my spot and ripped the whole nose off the car. Stupid stuff has taken me outta the race.
“Hopefully, this year we’ll be fast, but minus the bad luck.”
Another contender looking to shed a run of bad luck at the Derby will be Bubba Pollard.
Senoia, Ga., driver is 30 now, married, with baby “Mac” watching her daddy’s every move out on the racetrack.
“She’s watching racecars on TV now,” Pollard said of little Elizabeth MacMillian, the first child for he and wife Erin. “It’s cool for her to go to the track and get to be in the Victory Lane pictures.
Pollard has won two of the three previous Blizzard Series races this season and finished runner-up in the other. With a 27-point cushion over Jeff Choquette, Pollard seems in good shape for his third career Blizzard Series track title.
It’d be funny to call Pollard an elder statesman if it wasn’t a reality with so many teenage drivers giving the sport a youth appeal.
“Guys are starting off so young, and it’s incredible how fast they learn, how fast they go,” Pollard said. “When I was their age, I was scared to death. They teach me something, too.”
But now out of his 20s, Pollard sees no reason to slow down. His busy schedule took him to California, Michigan, Wisconsin, South Carolina and other stops outside of southern short tracks where he could test his mettle against all comers.
“To be the best, you gotta beat the best, right?” Pollard said. “Thankfully, we have the racecars, people, and sponsors to make it possible. Racing against the best in country gives you a lotta confidence and momentum toward end of the year.”
He hopes that carries all the way into the first weekend in December.
“There’s nothing comparable to being at the Derby that week,” Pollard said wistfully. “All we can do is try to put ourselves in a position to win. I’d like to think this is the year, but you never know.”
-Five Flags Speedway Press Release
-Photo Credit: Speed51.com