Short track racing fans have rallied around Florida legend David Rogers throughout his battle with cancer in 2019. Now in remission, Rogers took a major step towards returning to racing on Thursday, practicing his famed No. 11 TM Ranch Super Late Model at New Smyrna Speedway (FL).
Rogers climbed behind the wheel of the machine to shake it down in advance of the Florida Governors’ Cup 200 at the high-banked half-mile. Bubba Pollard will be driving the car in this weekend’s race, but was unable to make the trip down to New Smyrna until Friday.
This gave Rogers the opportunity to measure the progress of his recovery and get a dose of some very good medicine.
“It’s the best medicine I’ve had in a while,” Rogers told Speed51. “All the other medicines usually don’t taste real good, but that tasted pretty good to me. Everything seemed to have went okay. I was pleasantly surprised, I had no idea if I could even turn the wheel, but all that was still there and I did what I felt was okay with what I was doing.”
It has been 10 months since Rogers last raced, competing in the 51stAnnual Snowball Derby at Five Flags Speedway (FL). That time has felt like an eternity for the competitive Rogers.
The laps behind the wheel were important for Rogers to ensure not only that he was still capable of handling the demands of muscling a race car around a high-speed race track such as New Smyrna, but that he still had the hunger to race after his time away.
“I wanted to make sure that I still could do it, and as a racer I wanted to make sure I not only could do it but still wanted to do it. A lot of what makes a good racer is wanting to do it and wanting your car to be faster. I never want to be a racer who is just going to be there to ride around. When I get to that point, I will quit. The want-to was still there, so that made me feel as good as being able to go in the car.”
With those questions answered, Rogers is already looking forward towards when he might enter a race again. While the 200-lap Governors’ Cup feature is beyond Rogers’ comfort zone at this time, he felt he could compete in a shorter race today based on Thursday’s practice laps.
While there was some soreness on Friday morning from the shakedown session, it mostly came in unexpected ways, related to comfort in the car rather than lack of exercise or preparation.
“I was sore, but I was worried more about things people don’t think about. I was worried about my neck, with a helmet on top of my old bobble head. My neck muscles, I haven’t been doing racing and racing is my exercise. This morning, it’s not sore. There are a couple of places that are a little sore from lack of padding, flopping around in the seat from that loss of weight. It makes the seat a little bigger than it needs to be, and we’ve stretched it out for Bubba to shoehorn him in.”
Rogers is very grateful to fans who have extended their thoughts and prayers to him and his family throughout the year during his battle and recovery.
“I want to thank all of the fans and people who prayed for me and helped me get through all this stuff. It’s amazing how many people are touched by cancer. It’s so prevalent out there, it’s hard to find someone that doesn’t know anyone, a close relative or whatever, that has been touched by cancer. I really want to thank everyone for their prayers and helping me get through this.”
Always a racer, Rogers is already looking ahead towards the next chance to race. He admitted that if it weren’t for the marathon nature of the Governors’ Cup 200, he would be itching to race this weekend.
“If it was a 100-lapper, a weekly show, I’d tackle it now. I’m still 70 pounds less than what I was and I’m still not gaining back a lot of weight, so I was worried about my strength and stamina. I run 15 laps there in a row pretty hard and wasn’t flaming out too bad. I think I could run. The Governors’ Cup is next and the next big one is the Snowball Derby, and it’s a 300-lapper. That steps it away to a point.
“I’m sad it isn’t a 100-lapper, I think I could make a 100, but the 200 might be a little tough for me.”
-Story by: Zach Evans, Speed51.com Southeast Editor – Twitter: @ztevans
-Photo credit: New Smyrna Speedway