Drivers from a dozen states and two Canadian provinces have converged for the western part of the country’s biggest asphalt Super Late Model race in quite a while, the inaugural Winter Showdown at Kern County Raceway Park (CA). While a bulk of the field hails from the home state, competitors abound knew that some of the invaders were going to be among the fastest.
Starting late in Thursday’s four and a half hour practice session, teams began making mock runs in preparation for qualifying around the same time on Friday evening. Senoia, Georgia’s Bubba Pollard laid down a lap of 17.182 seconds which will be well under the track record if accomplished during the session that will set the top three spots in Saturday’s 250 lap race.
The 2014 Southern Super Series champion had compared the pristine facility to perhaps a Mobile International Speedway or Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway before taking a lap, but had to quickly adapt to the half-mile’s unique nuances as the afternoon continued.
“The place is kind of deceiving,” Pollard told Speed51.com powered by JEGS. “It loads up the front end far harder than what we had anticipated and we had to make some changes for that. Luckily we made the right ones soon enough and caught on to it fairly fast.”
The blistering lap Pollard turned in was one of the last in the entire session, but even the driver with a long list of career accomplishments admitted that he did not recall being the fastest on practice day for any event of this magnitude. Being at the top on the charts certainly has boosted his confidence heading into the next day.
“There are a lot of good racecars here and it definitely helps out,” Pollard said. “Right there at the end of practice I knew that we were a top five car, but I didn’t know we had that much speed and it kind of shocked and surprised me.”
The driver Pollard eclipsed as fastest was someone that is no stranger to the Bakersfield, California track. Derek Thorn ran a lap more than a quarter second faster than the SRL Southwest Tour record he holds and still was not best. Drivers will be shooting for the top three in qualifying to lock themselves into the field, but the two-time and defending SRL champion would like to win the pole.
“Track position here is nice, but to get the pole for the inaugural Winter Showdown against these competitors, guys like Bubba and Dalton Sargeant and even the local guys like (David) Mayhew, would be awesome,” Thorn said. “And I think that toolbox would look good in our shop.
The toolbox Thorn is referring to has been donated by Matt Peternel from MAC Tools of Bakersfield and is custom wrapped by television personality Chip Foose. It will go to the fast qualifier on Friday. To reach that goal, Thorn knows that they will have some work to do first.
“We have a couple changes to make; I think we could be a little better,” Thorn admitted. “My Late Model track record here in the SRL Southwest Tour is a 17.51, and granted the setups and rules are a little bit different this weekend, but I think in consideration getting around here in a 17.18 is phenomenal.”
Thorn faced a tough decision whether to bring their Tour perimeter chassis car or the straight rail they built for their third place finish in the 2014 Snowball Derby. The team chose the latter for one main reason.
“The deciding factor was the engine package in this car,” Thorn said. “We had some time to work with it at the Derby. (Crew chief) Mike Keen did an awesome job going through this thing. It just takes some time to fine tune it and get things where you want it.”
For much of the afternoon, 2014 Snowball Derby surprise runner up Dalton Sargeant led the way in practice after an earlier run on sticker tires. The Wauters Motorsports team tested at the track as early as Monday and it showed immediately.
“Ever since we have been here we’ve always had a good car,” the 16-year-old Boca Raton, Florida native said. “Mainly we’ve been working on our car for the long runs and it seems like we’ve got it pretty dialed in so far. Another hour and a half to work on it in practice and we’re really looking forward to it.”
The continuous session turned out to be very clean with only a few drivers looping their cars and one mishap involving rookie Parker Stephens after a broken panhard bar sent his NTS Motorsports machine into the turn two wall.
Teams will have one last chance to prepare for qualifying on Friday morning before the Lucas Oil Modifieds arrive and take over for the better part of the afternoon. Qualifying will begin in the early evening, in which Pollard ended up drawing to go out first in the order. Following qualifying will be three qualifiers to set the first 15 rows in Saturday evening’s field. Live Trackside Now coverage will continue beginning at 12p.m. Eastern Time on Friday.
-By Aaron Creed, Speed51.com Correspondent – Twitter: @Aaron_Creed
-Photo credit: Speed51.com
|Winter Showdown Thursday Official Practice Times|
|9||18||Jim Pettit II||17.550|
|32||6||Donny St. Ours||17.975|
|40||38||Hollis Shane Thackery||18.182|
|52||71||Christian McGee||No Time|