Friday’s five-hour long practice for the 55th Annual Alabama 200 at Montgomery Motor Speedway (AL) hosted 28 Pro Late Model drivers from around the country. Though plenty of states were represented in the mix of veterans, rookies and rising stars that partook in the session, the top of the charts were found by a pair of drivers who never crossed state lines.
Slowly coming off of cloud nine— but not slowing down on the track— Alabama native Connor Okrzesik was fastest in overall practice at the Montgomery half-mile just over a month after besting NASCAR champion Kyle Busch for his first career Super Late Model win at Crisp Motorsports Park (GA).
“We have a ton of momentum moving onto this race from Cordele,” Okrzesik told Speed51.com about his start to the season. “I think this car feels really, really solid. Winning would be an even bigger confidence boost, being two for two this year. It’d mean a lot.”
Despite not having run his Pro Late Model since last year at Five Flags Speedway (FL), it didn’t take Okrzesik longer than an afternoon of practice rounds to get reacquainted.
“Took me awhile to get used to the Pro Late Model, it’s been since the Snowflake since I ran it,” Okrzesik said. “After I got comfortable again, we had a really great car. Mike Garvey just sets these things up so good for me every time.”
For Okrzesik, winning back-to-back features is all about getting put on the map but for fellow Alabaman Augie Grill, who ended the day second on the board to the 17-year-old, winning Saturday’s race would be about proving he never fell off the map in the first place.
After a period of drought, Grill started off 2019 with a good impression at New Smyrna Speedway (FL) during his debut in the World Series of Asphalt Stock Car Racing this year, winning in both his Pro Late Model and Modified.
“I don’t feel like I went anywhere, I just haven’t had the cars like I needed them,” Grill said of his Grand American Race Car (GARC) machines. “Put on some practice tires from New Smyrna the other day. I feel pretty comfortable with it. I’m trying some different things, working my butt off. Just trying to get better. Been working really hard, I feel like we’ve hit on a few things. We’ll see how it plays out.”
While “different” has worked out in Grill’s favor so far this season, Pro Late Model standout Casey Roderick has had no such luck. Coming into Saturday looking for his third bear trophy, the defending Alabama 200 winner placed only 6th on the day’s practice charts and was visibly dejected by the time the track closed for the night.
“Yeah, [my car] is a little bit different,” Roderick said. “It’s a different package this go ‘round for the Alabama 200. So far, it’s not as good for me. We’re struggling a little bit.
“We’ll get it though,” Roderick added. “We’ve still got tomorrow to go.”
Teams like Roderick’s that need a few more rounds of practice will get the chance on Saturday from 1-1:45 p.m. CT before qualifying later in the evening.
-Story by: Melissa Strahley, Speed51.com Gulf Coast Editor
-Photo credit: Speed51