Florida legend David Rogers is set to make his return to the track he calls home for this Saturday during the Red Eye 50/50 at New Smyrna Speedway. It will be the two-time Red Eye winner’s first race at the half-mile since this event one year ago.
The Orlando driver’s 2019 journey has been well-chronicled as he took on and defeated lymphoma. After having Bubba Pollard drive the famed No. 11 throughout the year at New Smyrna, Rogers climbed back behind the wheel in November for a test to get ready for the 52nd Annual Snowball Derby.
With that test being the only time behind the wheel at the track since last January, Rogers is left in a spot he never thought would be in.
“Well it’s different. I never thought I’d say that but it’s going to be different,” Rogers told Speed51.com. “It’s been a while, the last race I ran at New Smyrna was this race last year. There’s been a lot of water under the bridge since then.”
With arguably more laps ran at the historic speedway than anybody else, Rogers isn’t concerned with any potential rust.
“I’ve been around that place so many times, it’s definitely like riding a bicycle when you get back on it. I’ve been around New Smyrna enough that I’m comfortable there knowing what I want in a race car, what feel I should get and what I need to do to race,” he said. “I’m definitely comfortable because I’ve ran so many laps there. It’s still a little unknown as far as the health issues and stuff like that. My Derby test went what I thought was pretty good. I didn’t fall out, we got knocked out so that was a plus. I don’t think fifty laps will be any problem for me.”
After being contested as a 100-lap event for several years, track officials split the race into two 50-lap races for Super and Pro Late Models one year ago. For Rogers, the shortened distance makes the gameplan a simple one.
“New Smyrna’s pretty easy on tires, if you’ve got a pretty good car you can go a hundred laps hard; you don’t have to save the tires or save your car, so to speak. It’s always a good idea to have more saved up at the end if you can, but it being a fifty-lapper it’s definitely a wide open, go as hard as you can for fifty laps type race.”
Rogers made his return behind the wheel at the 52nd Annual Snowball Derby last month, where he received the Derby Dedication Award and made his 33rd start in the race, breaking Red Farmer’s record for most all-time.
“It was a great, great, great feeling. When I didn’t make the race through qualifying and then in the qualifying race, having a few issues there and didn’t make the race. When Tim Bryant came to me and said you know, they had talked about it before hoping that I would make the race but since I didn’t make the race through all the procedures, they wanted to give me a provisional and a Lifetime Achievement Award type deal.”
When first approached about the award, Rogers was admittedly torn over what to do and had initially declined the offer. However, a conversation with another Derby legend helped change his mind.
“When they first told me that I declined it simply for the fact that I know how hard myself and everybody else that goes to the Derby work and how important it is to make that race. I felt like there were a lot of people who didn’t make the race that wanted to be there, they wanted to be in,” he stated. “I also thought about it and with the way my life has been in the last year, there’s no guarantees of tomorrow. It was one of those deals where if I didn’t take the provisional that I was offered, who’s to say I’d be able to go next year, who’s to say there would be a next Derby for me. If you’re offered the opportunity you should take it.
“I talked to several of my competitors and people I’ve looked up to over the years, Rich Bickle being one that’s been there a lot. He said, ‘David, take it.’ He was one of the guys that didn’t make it and got knocked out at the end of the qualifying race and didn’t make the race. He’s like take it, I’d sure take it if they offered it to me. Lots of people in the race, Bubba Pollard and a lot of the guys that I respect as far as what’s going on there, they all didn’t see anything wrong with it. When they announced my name at the start of the race and the crowd cheered like they did, I knew the crowed wanted me to be there. It was special in all those respects.”
With cancer behind him, Rogers is ready to get back behind the wheel and do what he’s done over his long, illustrious career. His mindset anytime he pulls into the track has not changed over the years.
“Well I don’t see any reason why I can’t win. That’s what I go to the race track for,” he said. “I’m getting older and I’ve had some health situations go on, but when I go to the race track, I’m a racer in the fact that when I go I want to win. My whole idea is to go to win, not just go to ride around and be at the race track. When I get to that point, then I’ll think about quitting. I’ll think maybe it’s not there for me. When I get in a race car, my whole thought process is can I make this race car go faster than it’s going now and can I win the race in it?"
Speed51 will have Race Day Now coverage of Saturday’s Red Eye 50/50, as well as on-demand video content after the race on the Speed51 Network.
-Story by: Koty Geyer, Speed51.com State Editor (IN/MI) – Twitter: @kgeyer3
-Photo credit: Speed51