Robert Balkum doesn’t prepare his race car in a 10,000 square foot shop. Nor does he bring it to the track inside a $300,000 toterhome. However, the will to win on Snowball Derby weekend runs as deep inside of him as it does any Super Late Model competitor.
Balkum is a Pensacola native, and two-time defending Five Flags Speedway Pure Stock champion. In his 13 seasons racing in Pensacola, Balkum has taken home a slew of checkered flags and trophies, but the biggest race of the season has eluded him.
He’s never been able to officially win the Pure Stock (previously known as Bombers) of the Snowball Derby.
He came close once. He crossed the line first in 2006, but didn’t keep the prize.
“We had some headers on the car that passed compression, but were illegal,” Balkum said, remembering back 13 years.. “My very first Derby I ran, I won. But got thrown out.”
Winning the 2019 edition would special for Balkum in two ways: finally capturing the race he has never won, and to end his Five Flags career in victory lane.
Balkum is bowing out of Pure Stock racing on asphalt at the conclusion of Thursday’s event, and heading back to his racing roots on the ⅜ mile clay oval in Milton, Florida, about 30 minutes from his home in Pensacola.
Balkum won a pair of track titles on dirt a decade ago, and decided he wanted to make a return to that form of racing for a variety of reasons.
“We are going back to dirt next year,” said Balkum. “They are wanting me to move up next year, so we are looking to maybe put someone in the car next year to try to make three championships in a row. The plan for myself is to race around, and not concentrate on one track. Dirt is a little more forgiving in my opinion,” said Balkum. “Out here at Five Flags, if you get in a bad accident, most of the time it destroys your car. On dirt, you can rub and beat on each other and go home, knock the dents out and come back the next week.”
Balkum’s racing career began almost two decades ago after following in his father and brother’s footsteps from the local drag strip. Now with one final go on his hometown half-mile, he feels his time to shine once more has arrived.
Balkum won only one race at Five Flags in 2019, but never finished worse than third in any event. Consistency won him the title, and he feels his car is capable of winning Friday night and riding off into the next chapter of his life at the top of his game.
“There is not a huge difference with tires and the track, but the weather does help the engine run a little cooler and make more power. Extra laps is the biggest thing that is different. It would mean the world to me,” Balkum said. “I would love to finish my career in a Pure Stock with a Derby win and go out on top.”
Race fans can watch Thursday’s Pure Stock feature as part of Speed51’s coverage of the 52nd Annual Snowball Derby presented by BJ’s Wholesale Club. Click here to order four-day or single-day packages now.
-Story by Ryan McCollough, Speed51 Gulf Coast Correspondent – Twitter: @RyanLMcCollough
-Photo credit: Speed51