The 2015 Red Eye 100 at New Smyrna Speedway (FL) is a race that Hudson, N.H. driver Derek Griffith will never forget. Although he didn’t win that race, the 17-year-old (at the time) battled tooth and nail with one of Super Late Model racing’s best, Bubba Pollard. Fast forward three years and the now 20-year-old racer is hoping to do it all over again on Saturday, January 6.
In what was his first Red Eye 100 start, Griffith managed to turn many heads while battling hard with Pollard, the eventual race winner, for almost half the race before finishing eighth. Now with the start of the 2018 Super Late Model season just days away, Griffith is poised to give an even better performance.
“I’m super pumped. We had a really good run the last time we went down for the Red Eye,” Griffith told Speed51.com powered by JEGS. “I was younger, inexperienced and I remember running with Bubba Pollard side by side for 40 or 50 laps. That made my year; we still talk about it to this day. He couldn’t get by until the end of the race. We got tangled up in a restart at the end, but it was a really cool experience.”
After a pair of PASS North wins in 2017, Griffith feels that he ended the year in a bit of rut after teething problems with a new car took them out of contention in the Mason-Dixon MegaMeltdown at Hickory Motor Speedway (NC) and forced the team to miss the 50th Annual Snowball Derby at Five Flags Speedway (FL).
“We’re going down with the Lefthander that we brought to Hickory. We had some motor issues there that we got taken care of,” Griffith explained. “We were in good shape for that race; we just didn’t have enough time to get rolling. We had issues from Lap 20 on. It was a tough deal because it also took us out for the Snowball Derby. After we missed the Snowball, we were like we have to go to the Red Eye. We raced 40 times last year and we’re ready to race.”
As of this week, Griffith is set to be the first New England driver to run his full-season car in competition in 2018. Griffith knows from past experiences that the Southern fields, coupled with the fast, half-mile New Smyrna Speedway will give any competitor, especially from the Northeast, a major leg up heading into the year ahead.
“It gives you such a head start for the year. Garrett Hall and I ran down at Speedweeks last year. You can be a mid-pack car down there and still be a really good car at New Smyrna because those guys are the best of the best. You can take some notes and go straight to the season.”
While winning the Red Eye is a foreseeable goal, Griffith also plans on getting a leg up for the month of February itself, especially with poor fortunes that have plagued the No. 12G team for the past three Speedweeks.
“I’ve had awful luck at New Smyrna. I’m hoping it will give us a leg up for Speedweeks. Last year we came off the bat struggling a little bit, but then midway through the week the car started to get better. I was passing Cole Anderson for sixth in a 50-lapper and he kind of just wrecked us, to be honest, so that kind of stunk. So, we’re looking to rebound, a top three or top five would be cool, but I want to win there.”
Stay with Speed51.com for more Red Eye 100 news and follow our Trackside Now coverage of the Red Eye 100 from New Smyrna Speedway on Saturday, January 6.
-By: Connor Sullivan, Speed51.com CT, MA, RI & Long Island Editor – Twitter: @Connor51CT