One race. For all the marbles.
Whoever ends up on top as the Faith Chapel Super Stocks track champion Saturday night at Five Flags Speedway will let out a mighty exhale before a wild celebration ensues.
Cantonment drivers Randy Thompson, 36, and Gary Sutton, 34, can’t exactly explain how they’re in championship contention going into the Super Stocks season finale on a special Saturday night of racing at the famed half-mile asphalt oval.
Both have struggled with motor issues all season. Thompson, who leads Sutton by a miniscule 7 points, has borne the brunt of handling issues. Sutton, who captured the 2012 Super Stocks Snowball Derby, has driven a modified Sportsman car several times to stay in the hunt, and then wrecked during the Super Stocks feature last month.
“I talked to (Sutton) a couple of weeks ago, and told him I don’t deserve it,” Thompson said of the championship. “He said, ‘I don’t either.’ ”
Yet here they are. And no one is near the duo. Thompson and Sutton have nearly lapped the field. Bubba Winslow sits third, but trails Thompson by 84 points.
“It’s like we’re trying to give it to the other one, but neither one of us will take it,” Sutton said.
The Allen Turner Pro Late Models will crown a champion Saturday, as well. Ryan Luza, who leads Wayne Niedecken Jr. by 74 points, simply needs to run a qualifying lap at the Allen Turner Tune-Up 100 to lock up his title.
The Sportsmen and Bombers get one final test before their Night of Champions next Saturday, Sept. 26.
Gates open at 2 p.m. this Saturday with all divisions qualifying at 4:30. Features begin approximately at 7 p.m.
Admission is $15 for adults; $12 for seniors, military members and students; $5 for children ages 6 to 11; and free for kids under 6.
Sutton held the points lead in the summer thanks to a pair of early-season podium finishes. But when a brand-new motor blew up during practice for the fourth race, Sutton was left scrambling to stay points racing.
He twice drove Kenny Williams’ Sportsman car just to remain in the hunt.
“It’s pretty frustrating, honestly,” said Sutton, who is looking to improve on sixth- and fifth-place finishes in his last two races. “Every time I’ve been in my car, it’s been super-fast. But when the new motor blew up, we had kinda put all our eggs into that basket.
“But stuff like that happens in racing. I’m not saying we’d be leading the points — not by a long shot — but the season definitely wouldn’t have been as frustrating.”
Sutton has raced off and on at Five Flags for two decades.
The husband of 15 years (Valerie) and father of two — 7-year-old daughter Emery; 13-year-old son Darren — took last year off while helping others with their cars inside the Mike Williamson Race Cars shop.
In his spare time, with best friend Williamson’s help, Sutton put the finishing touches on his Super Stocks ride.
“Mine took a little longer than everybody else’s,” he said.
Thompson climbed into the lead thanks to a string of third-place finishes in May, June and July.
A six-time track champion (four Sportsman; two Super Stocks) from 2006 to 2012 and a 12-year veteran of Pensacola’s high banks, Thompson has inexplicably struggled the last few years in both the Sportsman and Super Stocks divisions.
“I don’t know what’s different between now and then,” he said. “I haven’t gotten the cars to be as fast as they used to be.”
But Thompson’s No. 42 Super Stock has been a model of consistency this year.
He knows another consistent run come Saturday would complete his long, winding road back to the top.
“The main thing is to qualify well and stay in the top three,” Thompson said. “If we do that, then we should have a good chance at the championship.
“We were used to winning a lot, but the last few years we fell off a little bit. It’d be incredible to win another championship. Winning would, no doubt, give us a much-needed boost.”
By Chuck Corder – Special from Five Flags Speedway