Rounds 3 and 4 of the Southern Super Series season takes place on Friday and Saturday.
Everyone is chasing Bubba Pollard into the Florida Gulf Coast this weekend after his win in the Georgia Spring Nationals, but he will be greeted by his toughest challenge yet in the Pepperjack Kennels Twin 100s at Five Flags Speedway.
It’s the first step in the march towards the Snowball Derby with an entry list that reflects it. The last time Super Late Models turned laps at Pensacola, Chandler Smith executed a textbook bump and run on a dominant Derek Thorn to claim the Tom Dawson Trophy and a chapter in short track immortality.
Both Smith and Thorn are entered into both races on Friday and Saturday so can you say rematch? Thorn recognizes the opportunity, but it’s also not the same as winning the big show on the first weekend of December.
"It does and it doesn't," Thorn told Racing America on Wednesday. "I look back on the bigger, marquee races that should have been and I sometimes think about what could have been. At the same time, I think about how competitive we were, and that this past Snowball was the best race we've ever run together, and it just got away from us on the past stint.
"All in all, it just makes me feel very fortunate to be in this great place with Byron Campbell and (crew chief) Mike Keen. It take some luck sometimes and dwelling on what could have been isn't very helpful."
Before Smith can make his own trip to Pensacola, he will be racing on Thursday night in the NASCAR Truck Series at Martinsville Speedway alongside defending Southern Super Series champion Jake Garcia, who is chasing Pollard in the current standings after three races.
Garcia is tied for second in the points with Stephen Nasse, with both perennial contenders at 19 points out of the lead through three races. Jett Noland and Hunter Robbins have both enjoyed impressive starts to their respective campaigns and round out the top-five at 21 and 31 points out respectively.
The first and second races of the season also provide the first chances to race at Five Flags Speedway this season, which is important for building a notebook in advance of the Snowball Derby in December. An extended cold snap to start the spring also means the weather won’t be too dissimilar to the end of the year as well.
Nasse tested at Five Flags after wrapping up the Rattler and is ready to put to task what he and crew chief Chris Cater learned that week.
"We couldn't run through everything we wanted to try, but we thought it was very important to get some laps in because it's a big race weekend and it's a place that's very important to us as a team," Nasse said. "It's always a joy to race in front of those fans at Pensacola. There's not a lot of atmospheres like that one."
Meanwhile, Robbins enjoys racing at Pensacola more than any other venue in the country and the high speed and finesse required to make time there fits right into his wheelhouse as a driver.
"There’s a lot on the line that weekend with two races," Robbins said. "To have two successful races, you first have to get through the first one. I’m looking forward to racing there because we’ve had a lot of good runs since we first came back and started racing with Ronnie (Sanders, team owner) again."
Teams are still filing entries and race director Nicholas Rogers says he has several verbal intents to compete that will be added to the list below once they are made official. All told, around 30 teams are expected to take the green flag on both nights of the Twin 100s.
Each race pays $10,000 to win and $750 to start. Additionally, the Southern Super Stars contingency program remains in effect throughout the season. The driver with the best average finish across both nights will earn a spot in the Superstar Racing Experience season opener at Pensacola on June 18 as well as a new pit box on behalf of race sponsor Pepperjack Kennels.
Those are both prizes Thorn says are worthwhile to him.
"As a short track driver, you don't have a lot of opportunities to race in front of a national audience," Thorn said. "I'd love to do it if we can get it done this weekend. I watched those races on TV and they just seemed like a lot of fun."
And the pit box?
"We have a couple of those back at the shop and they’re real nice," Thorn said. "Obviously, Marty and Misty (Melo) from Pepperjack are big supporters of ours, but I’ll say some of the best trophies you can win in short track racing are the ones you can use."
Meanwhile, Nasse and Robbins would both enjoy telling their story in front of a million fans on CBS this summer and have the chance to beat some of the biggest names in North American motorsports on their home turf.
"Any style of racing is something I would like to do," Nasse said. "It isn’t going to break my heart if it doesn’t happen, but I think it would be a lot of fun, and I’d love to put on a show for the fans. Those cars are so equal that I think I could show up well at a track I’m familiar with."
Nasse has two chances to race in SRX, either via a fan vote at Nashville or by posting the best average finish this weekend in Pensacola.
"It would be a good chance to make some new fans," Nasse said. "I’ve gotten to be well known in the short track ranks but SRX attracts a different audience and I’d love to introduce them to what we do here. That’s a bonus. I’d rather race my way in this weekend, but if we get the fan vote at Nashville, that would mean a lot because I’m very appreciative to my fans. "
Hunter Robbins enjoyed watching SRX last year and would also like to be a part of the show.
"We tuned in last year," Robbins said. "It turned out to be a really big deal for short tracks on a national stage. Regardless of the drivers it showcased, it was special for us in the short track ranks to see those kinds of tracks highlighted on national TV and I’d love to be a part of it."
Southern Super Stars
The top 12 in owners points going into each event will be eligible for bonuses based on their finishing position in relation to the other 11 Southern Super Stars competitors. 1) $750.00 2) $600.00 3) $500.00 4) $400.00 5) $300.00 6-12) $250.00
Engine Builders Pole Award - $500.00 Presented By: Hamner Racing Engines, RW Racing Engines, McGunegill Racing Engines, and Progressive Racing Engines
CURRENT CHAMPIONSHIP STANDINGS (2/13 Races):
1. 1 Bubba Pollard (103 PTS); 2. Jake Garcia (-19 PTS); 3. Stephen Nasse (-19 PTS); 4. Jett Noland (-21 PTS); 5. Hunter Robbins (-31 PTS); 6. Kyle Plott (-33 PTS); 7. Jackson Boone (-43 PTS); 8. Ty Majeski (-48 PTS); 9. Austin Nason (-55 PTS); 10. Daniel Dye (-55 PTS)
-By Matt Weaver / Racing America