Always speedy Justin South finally found the winning combination Friday night at Five Flags Speedway (FL), dominating the 100-lap Allen Turner Hyundai Pro Late Model season-opening race.
The Deep South Pro Late Model ace has scored victories at some of the toughest tracks in the region but Five Flags, arguably the most prestigious track in the Gulf Coast, has long eluded him. South has often been fast in qualifying, including setting fast time for the 2012 Snowflake 100, but faded as his tires wore out during the extra distance races.
No such story repeated itself on Friday night. Riley Thornton set fast time in qualifying, but a redraw of the top-eight qualifiers put South on the front row with rising Texas star Ryan Luza. Luza would pull out ahead on the initial jump and lead the first ten laps. But South scooted out ahead for good on a lap 11 restart and was never seriously challenged as the laps wore down.
Luza made one last charge with about 15 laps to go, but could only narrow the gap down to ten carlengths before running out of tires himself and fading from South’s mirror. Korey Ruble was a distant third while Thornton took the best battle of the final few laps, edging Junior Niedecken and Bret Holmes for fourth.
“I have to give a lot of credit to all of the guys and especially Augie Grill,” said South moments after climbing out in JEGS Victory Lane. “Everyone’s been working their tails off for the last couple of months. Augie’s come on these past couple races and it’s really made a huge difference. We’re learning all we can and I’m just blessed by this team effort. Trust me, none of these guys are in it for the money. They work long hours. I’ve also got to thank Hamner Racing Engines for the horsepower and my sponsor, Alabama Brick.”
While South was content to finally have the Pensacola monkey off his back, the man who was most ecstatic in post-race was Luza. He struggled in last December’s Snowflake 100 but a renewed effort this season at Five Flags already paid dividends with a solid runner-up finish.
“We came here expecting to run well, but we always seem to have something come up” said Luza. “Finally we got a really good run in. We’re thrilled and we’ll definitely try to make all the races out here this year.”
In the support classes, former Snowball Derby champion Dave Mader III scored another victory in the Super Stock division with Shanna Ard claiming the Sportsman race and Robert Loper claiming the Bomber race.
The second leg of the Gulf Coast doubleheader weekend continues this evening at Mobile International Speedway. Most of the Pro Late Model drivers in the field at Penscaola intend to make the thirty-minute drive west and join a handful of track stalwarts for the 100-lapper tonight. Speed51.com will have live coverage beginning around 2 PM Central Time.
|16||39||Friday Hassler, Jr.||91|
|19||01||Derek Scott, Jr.||18|
— Story & Photos by Tim Quievryn // Speed51.com Southeast Editor // @thethirdturn