Five Flags Speedway promoter Tim Bryant sent waves through the short track racing world when he announced a heat race format would be used for the first time in the Blizzard Series. The initial announcement garnered mixed emotions from drivers. But after a week-long delay due to weather, drivers and fans alike were able to see the new format in action in the southeast for the first time.
Three-time Blizzard Series champion Casey Roderick called into Speed51’s The Morning Bullring talk show Monday morning after his second straight runner-up finish Friday night. The Lawrenceville, Georgia driver was a fan of the new format from the moment it was announced back in June, and he echoed the same sentiment on Monday morning.
“I thought from my perspective that it went very well,” Roderick told Speed51.com. “I was a little concerned after my heat race and finishing fourth. It depends on where you finish in your heat as to where you start for the feature and that put us twelfth for the feature, so I had my work cut out for me from the get-go. For the heat races, it was too much trying new things I didn’t have much time with. I just kind of had to roll with it and see what happened in the feature and it turned out pretty dang good.”
Roderick expressed his desire to see heat races make a return at future events. He says it adds a different challenge than what drivers like himself are used to on asphalt, and it leads to a good show for the fans.
“Oh absolutely, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it,” he said. “It’s going to demand your car to be right. If you have a bad heat race just because of a bad draw and not necessarily the handling of your car, you don’t have enough time. Say there’s eight cars in a heat race, there’s really not enough time to make it all the way up to win your heat and have a good start position. That promotes good racing and you’ve got to be smart as well. You can’t put yourself in a position to get tore up, which is going to be a lot easier now because of your starting position in the feature is decided in that heat race.”
Roderick said Friday night was a small sample size of what could be seen in future events if heat races were to remain. He mentioned the possible change in strategy with heat races and the possibility of top contenders starting deep in the field for the feature.
“What’s going to make it interesting is when you start having more cars than what we had, you get twenty-eight cars down there, thirty, the heat races are going to be stacked with a lot of cars,” he said. “If you finish fifth, sixth, wherever in a heat race, you only get ten laps from where you draw, you’re going to have a lot of good people with a chance to start in the back of the feature and I think that’s going to make it interesting for the fans like it did Friday night, I feel like.
“Your strategy is going to be different than before, like when we would qualify in the top five and redrew for position to start the feature, you can kind of sit there and pick your battles when you wanted to,” he went on to say. “If you paid attention to Bubba (Pollard) Friday night, that’s exactly what he did starting third. He just sat there until it was time. I’ve spent a lot of time studying that in Bubba, studying other people seeing how they’ve run races over the last four or five years. The more experienced guys, if you really watch them you learn a lot.”
Friday’s Blizzard Series race was also different in that teams were not allowed practice time the day before and practice during race day was limited to only one session. Roderick was also a big proponent of this change, citing the busy lives of he and his fellow competitors.
“The shorter days are in the long term going to help,” he said. “You may not see it right off hand but I think in the long term, it’s going to be good for our sport. These guys don’t want to be down there two or three days; I don’t. I race every weekend thankfully, I’m very fortunate to have this opportunity with Ronnie Sanders and be able to race a lot. But when you work every day to prepare your race car, a lot of people we race against can’t. They’ve got normal jobs that they’ve got to work throughout the week and they don’t get very much time to work on their cars. For someone like myself where this is a full-time gig, twenty-four seven, seven days a week, I’ve got a little time to spend with my family or go to the beach or do something before the race.”
As for his race, Roderick charged from 12th to second in the 75-lap feature. With the shorter distance, he was more urgent to get through the field and challenge for the lead. While he remained as patient as he possibly could, he still didn’t have enough to complete the march through the field and end his race in victory lane.
“I was being really patient. Some passes I may have been a little aggressive, I haven’t watched the footage yet,” he said. “I felt like some of them I was a little aggressive just trying to get by them without spending a lot of time and hurting my tires trying to get around them. I’ve probably got pretty close to a few of them in the corner there just trying to get my position to enter the next corner the right way. I thought I executed the race perfectly without abusing my stuff too much, but those last few laps I just needed a little bit more to hang with Bubba there. I feel like I had an opportunity to take the lead there and I was to the inside of Bubba and a lapped car was to our inside there and I didn’t want to take Bubba three-wide going into turn one. I did the right thing and backed out and it’s a bummer.”
No matter what format is used for the Blizzard Series finale in September, the goal remains the same for Roderick as he looks to dethrone the Senoia, Georgia driver.
“I want to beat him outright, straight-up racing hard and take the win that way,” he stated. “I want to race Bubba hard and clean and do it the right way.”
Race fans can watch highlights of the heat races, the 75-lap feature, interviews, on-board cameras and more from Friday’s race on the Speed51 Network. Click here to sign up for a monthly or yearly subscription today.
-Story by: Koty Geyer, Speed51.com State Editor (IN/MI) - Twitter: @kgeyer3
-Photo credit: Speed51.com