Since Garrett Jones first made his Five Flags Speedway debut last year, all the precocious teenager could talk about was making the famed half-mile oval the spot where he got his first career late model win.
That talk was finally put to bed Friday night.
The 14-year-old Jones from Mooresville, N.C., has created quite the fan base in Pensacola.
On Friday night, Jones nipped Junior Niedecken — one of Five Flags’ first sons — at the line in the Allen Turner Pro Late Model Series split feature finale to finally earn that elusive win he so desperately coveted.
The crowd erupted with delight as the pair were door-to-door on the 30th and final lap. Jones passed Niedecken coming out of Turn 4 and he won the drag race to a photo finish.
“Man, I can’t believe this!” an overjoyed Jones said. “It’s been a long time coming, for sure. We’ve had our ups and downs, but this is definitely an up.”
Local favorite and 2010 Snowball Derby champion Johanna Long had a night to be proud of, too.
The former Nationwide Series driver, who continues to look for a ride under NASCAR’s bright lights, Long finished second to R.S. Senter in the 20-lap opener.
After the 14-car field was inverted following the 20 lapper, Long started second from the tail. But she quickly worked her way to fifth by Lap 5 and ultimately finished sixth in close friend Tommy Rollins’ No. 11.
Her big night Friday puts her atop the standings of the Allen Turner PLM Series, leading Niedecken by 18 points.
“I don’t get to race a whole lot anymore,” Long said. “We’ve got a decent car that’s come a long way.”
Senter was the dominant car for a long time Friday night. The Oakwood, Ga., driver blistered the pavement in qualifying with a fast lap of 16.552 seconds — Long was just two-tenths slower.
When the opener began, Senter shot out and never sweated a charge from either Long or Jones, as that pair battled for second for 19 of the 20 laps.
“I love coming to Pensacola,” Senter said. We had some transmission problems earlier in today. We got it changed and the car was fast.”
Faith Chapel Super Stocks
The return of Dave Mader III turned heads and caught eyes of fans and drivers alike.
The 1978 Snowball Derby champion, who famously outdueled future NASCAR star Mark Martin, was hopeful for a triumphant return.
Yet it was Pace’s Todd Jones making it two-for-two in 2014, as he passed Mader on Lap 18 of the 25-lap Faith Chapel Super Stocks feature and never looked back.
“The racecar was pretty good,” Jones said. “It definitely felt pretty fast. Anytime you can pass Dave Mader, you know you’re doing pretty good. I just wanted to move him a little bit; I didn’t want to turn him. And we raced each other clean.”
Beef “O” Brady’s Sportsmen
Brannon Fowler appears poised to challenge the Beef “O” Brady’s Sportsman record books.
The Molino driver has picked up right where Steve Buttrick left off in 2013.
Fowler took the lead from Shanna Ard on Lap 13 of the 25-lapper and hoisted his third checkered flag in four races this year.
Fowler set the fast time in qualifying (20.743), but started sixth after the invert.
“We rolled a six on the dice, so that’s some good racing right there,” Fowler said. “We got into Shanna a bit, and I certainly apologize for that. We’ve had some good races, me and him.
“It was a fun night. This is our sixth win overall, counting Mobile (International Speedway). It’s been a great season.”
Butler U-Pull-It Bombers
Hunter Ward is erasing all doubts.
If anyone wondered if the Pensacola youngster could stay atop the Butler U-Pull-It Bombers points standings, Ward quickly silenced those skeptics with his second consecutive win Friday night.
Ward was the fast car in qualifying (22.010), but Robert Balkum controlled the tempo early on in the 20-lap feature.
But on Lap 5, Balkum’s No. 52 almost came to a complete stop on the back straightaway, a victim of a parts failure.
Ward took over the lead on Lap 14 and never surrendered it down the stretch.
“I kinda figured I had it in the bag when Robert left,” Ward said. “He put on a great show at the beginning.”