Thursday saw the first of two full days of practice at Five Flags Speedway ahead of Saturday’s Allen Turner Hyundai Snowflake 100. The day saw several different faces toward the top of the charts, with 19 different drivers finishing at least one of the three practice sessions inside the top 10.
At the end of the day, two former track champions led the way over a stout field of 40-plus cars who took time. Former Pro Truck champion Josh Hicks ran a 16.859-second lap in the second session, narrowly edging out 2015 Pro Late Model champion Ryan Luza’s time of 16.866 to set the fastest lap of the day.
“I think we’ve got a pretty stable car for qualifying and for the race. Everybody’s put a lot of hard work into the car for the past two weeks,” Hicks told Speed51. “We got to test a week ago, we didn’t get to mock run then so we went into today kind of blind going into our mock run today, but I guess it didn’t go too bad.”
Hicks recently found out he was going to make his Pro Late Model debut with Curt Britt Motorsports, the same team he won the Pro Truck title with in 2019. After showing speed Thursday, he is more excited than he has ever been for Saturday night’s race.
“I’m pretty ecstatic about it. I haven’t got to race that much this year and when Curt said he was putting a deal together to get a Pro car and (Jimmy) Garmon was going to work on it and I was going to drive it, it seemed too good to be true. Now that we’re actually here, I’m stoked.”
Luza is making his return to Five Flags Speedway just weeks after winning in his first time behind the wheel at New Smyrna Speedway during the Florida Governor’s Cup. Since his last trip to Five Flags, he has been wheeling in the virtual world, winning the eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series championship in 2017.
He joins Jett Motorsports for this weekend’s Snowflake 100.
“The car was really good. We were having problems in the first session and got it fixed up. We had older tires on and we were pretty quick,” Luza said. “The sun came out too and lost a little speed and we still went up to the top of the board. We’re really happy with that, I think we’re just going to sit on it for the rest of the weekend.”
Luza has three previous Snowflake starts to his credit, with his best finish coming in his most recent start back in 2015 when he finished 13th. Things are looking good right now for him to potentially improve on that finish.
“I feel better about how it’s going to race than qualify. The hot lap speed is really good, I just need to qualify top-five or top-ten and hope we have a good race piece, which I hope we do.”
Reigning Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway track champion Dylan Fetcho was in the top-five for the final two practice sessions, ending the final one in fifth. The Tennessee driver won his first-career Pro Late Model race in early October at Nashville, and he feels he can duplicate that performance this weekend.
“We made some race runs and made a qualifying run, they’re both pretty good. I’d like to be a little bit better but we’ve got tomorrow and Saturday morning to work on it,” said Fetcho. “I think we’ll have a good shot at it.”
Fetcho’s experience at Five Flags has been anything but pleasant. He destroyed a car making his Snowflake debut in 2018, then had another premature exit in last year’s race. He hopes Thursday’s speed is a sign of his luck changing at the half-mile.
“We’ve always loved the place but we never have any good luck. If we have some luck and qualify good, we should be alright.”
Johanna Long-Robbins was another name that was near the top of the board most of the day, highlighted with the third-quickest lap in the second practice session. With another day of practice before the 100-lap event, she is happy with where her team’s at ahead of her first start since this race two years ago.
“It’s been fun, we’ve been pretty fast. The car’s not bad at all, we’re just trying to tweak on it to get it a little bit better. We have two more days for practice,” Long said. “It’s a long two days so we’ll keep working on the car and getting it more comfortable for me and get ready for Saturday.
Her Snowball Derby in 2010 remains one of the most popular wins in race history, but she has yet to replicate that in the Snowflake. Her best finish in the Snowflake was a seventh back in 2012.
Ten years removed from that Cinderella win, Long-Robbins still knows what it will take to return to victory lane.
“There’s a lot of good cars every year you come down here. It’s going to be a stacked field, there’s going to be a lot of cautions, you have to be able to stay out of it and have a car that’s comfortable to drive for 100 laps.
Race fans unable to attend the 53rd Annual Snowball Derby can watch the entire weekend’s action on Speed51.TV, including Saturday night’s Allen Turner Hyundai Snowflake 100. Click here to order your video ticket today.
-Story by: Koty Geyer, Speed51 National Correspondent – Twitter: @kgeyer3
-Photo Credit: Speed51 Photo