Five Flags Speedway Promoter Tim Bryant announced during the driver’s meeting prior to Friday night’s Blizzard Series race that a new format will be used for the third race of the season on July 19. Instead of single-car qualifying, the starting lineup will be set by a pair of 10-lap heat races. Also announced was a shortened main event, with the new distance going 75 laps instead of the usual 100-lap distance.
In addition to the change in the qualifying and race format, there will be no Thursday night practice for the race and no testing will be allowed at the track during the week of the event. Drivers will only be allowed one set of tires for the heat race and feature. There will be no impound after qualifying heats and teams will be allowed teams to work on their cars prior to the feature.
According to Bryant, these changes are part of his main objectives to add excitement for the fans and cut costs for the racers.
Drivers present at Friday night’s race were surprised to hear the different format that will be used for the third Blizzard Series race at the half-mile Pensacola speed plant. Friday night’s winner and multi-time Blizzard Series Champion Bubba Pollard is excited to take part in the new format, citing a different style of racing for fans to see come that night.
“I think it would be good for the fans, I think it’ll show drivers where they have to be a little more respectful to each other, especially during the heat races,” Pollard told Speed51.com. “You’re going to have to get all you can get during the heat and try to get you a good starting spot. You’re going to have to be smart and patient, but aggressive at the same time. The race is only seventy-five laps so there’s going to be no riding around. You got to get what you can get quick and early, so it’ll be fun. I think it’ll be interesting for the fans. It would be something new.”
Pollard is no stranger when it comes to heat races, coming from his dirt experience. He believes any advantage he would have with heat races would disappear quickly once his competitors get acclimated.
“I think it’s going to help with the experience,” he said. “It’s just like everything else, once everybody figures it out and does it once or twice, it’s going to be a lot harder to get an edge over somebody in the heat races. These guys are smart; they’ll figure it out.”
Two-time defending Blizzard Series champion and defending Southern Super Series champion Casey Roderick is also looking forward to seeing how the new format shakes out for the drivers, as well as the fans. He feels like the fast cars will still find their way to the front by the end of the 75-lap race, but the journey to the front will be more exciting.
“I think it’s going to be interesting. It would be something new and different for the fans, new for us. It’ll mix things up,” Roderick said. “The same guys qualify up front every week and this is a good way to mix it up. You only get a certain amount of laps in a heat race, so let’s say a good guy starts in the back of a heat, he’s got to work his way to the front. It gives a little excitement, but also at the end of the day, your good cars will be there at the end of the race if nothing happens to them. It just adds a little excitement I feel like and it mixes things up.
“I’m pretty sure some people won’t agree with that but I love how they do things on dirt,” he continued. “From the way they do restarts to heat races for qualifying. We got a system here that’s been a problem for a while. I’m not against doing qualifying the way we do, but I think this would be something good for our sport and mixes things up for a little bit.”
Pensacola native and Pro Truck regular Logan Boyett was admittedly unsure of what to think about the format when it was first announced. However, he believes he and his other competitors will still put on an exciting show for the fans.
“It sounds like it’ll be exciting for fans for sure,” Boyett stated. “I’m a little skeptical, but overall I think it’ll be a good deal. Everybody in the Super Late Model division has got really good heads on them, so we all should be able to race each other fine in a heat race format. There’s just going to be a difference, but I think it’ll be really exciting for the fans.”
Central Florida standout Jesse Dutilly shared the same sentiment as his fellow Sunshine State driver. He admits he is a fan of single-car qualifying because of the level playing field with two laps on track alone, but says its success on dirt has him interested with how it parlays on asphalt.
“I don’t have an opinion yet, I haven’t really had time to digest it,” Dutilly said. “I think it’ll be very interesting for the style of racing that’s in the race here on managing tire equipment versus a heat race. To see how fast to go to position yourself properly. I think it’s a neat idea, they do heat races on dirt and I’d be interested to see how the format is.
“I personally like doing qualifying because I feel like it’s the only time in the entire weekend that you get a heads-up opportunity to showcase your car, your team, and have everybody else on the same playing field for fuel, tires, and time on race track,” he continued. “On a standpoint of that, I think you’ll lose a little bit of that. I think it’ll be a heck of a race to watch on that end, especially if there’s a lot of cars and you have a full field of cars that could go home.”
When it comes down to it, Dutilly would be happy with whatever puts fans in the stands for the third Blizzard Series race. He says the heat races will add an extra element to an already-exciting show.
“I think that would be epic on the fan side,” he said. “We’re here to put people in the grandstands and watch the races and if that’s what it takes, that that’s what it takes. I’ve always liked qualifying because growing up and being underfunded when we were running Limiteds and starting to do it all the time, I felt like it was your one chance to show how fast you could go. I guess you get to do that with ten other cars now, it should be cool.”
Overall, drivers are excited for the new format coming for the next Blizzard Series race on Friday, July 19. Boyett has seen it done in other areas of the country and even has done it himself in the local divisions at Five Flags Speedway, and he and others are looking forward to how it turns out with the Super Late Models.
“A seventy-five-lap race would be pretty cool. Ten lap heat races and no qualifying, it’ll be different but they do it all over the country and it works out great,” Boyett said. “They do it a lot in the Northeast, so I’m really looking forward to it. We run the Trucks in heat races and the Outlaws run heat races, just about everybody else does. I’m really looking forward to seeing how it works out.”
-Story by: Koty Geyer, Speed51.com National Correspondent
-Photo credit: Speed51.com