Marathon Man: Roderick withstands weather, elite field of drivers to win first career ‘Flake

Casey Roderick, 26, has won seven of the last eight 100-lap PLM races in Pensacola.
Casey Roderick, 26, has won seven of the last eight 100-lap PLM races in Pensacola.

Casey Roderick’s long exhale summed up Saturday night at the Derby.

Roderick led the stacked 36-car Snowflake 100 field off the grid a few minutes after 7 p.m. Saturday at Five Flags Speedway. Six painstaking hours later—just after 1 a.m. Sunday with thick fog rolling in—Roderick breathed sighs of relief and utter joy after leading all 100 laps and winning his first career Snowflake in his fifth start.

The race was delayed more than five hours because of pesky light showers and a lengthy track-drying process, made more difficult by the humidity.

“Leading flag-to-flag, that’s pretty cool,” said a humbled Roderick, who put the Anthony Campi Racing Pro Late Model in Victory Lane. “I tell you what: I don’t think I’ve ever sat in something like this. This is a well-prepared car and Campi’s guys are all in sync with each other. At this level of racing, it’s always a team effort and they did a heckuva job. I’m thankful to get this victory for not only myself, but this team.”

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It marked Roderick’s second victory in three nights at the 55th annual Snowball Derby presented by Hooters. The Georgia native, who lives in Mississippi these days, captured the Pro Trucks Derby on Thursday.

Roderick got the Snowflake seat only because of a big domino that fell just last week. When defending Derby champion Chandler Smith decided he couldn't pilot Campi Racing’s Super Late Model in today’s granddaddy of them all, the team shifted young Gio Ruggiero—its regular PLM driver—to the Derby seat. That opened the door for Roderick, who made the most of his opportunity at Snowflake immortality.

Roderick, who has three career SLM track championships and two PLM titles at Five Flags, had just two top-fives between the Derby (fifth, 2018) and the ’Flake (third, 2008) coming into Saturday.

“It’s so cool to be able to come here and win the Snowflake 100,” he said. “We’ve come here a lotta years, and things had not gone our way. But for once, something did. I got a Snowflake win and we’ll see what we can do (today).”

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Jake Garcia, who also sports SLM and PLM track titles at Pensacola’s high banks, finished runner-up for the second consecutive year and Tennessee driver Jackson Boone hustled home third.

“I seem to finish second in December here quite a bit,” said Garcia, who also finished second in the 2019 Derby. “Hopefully, that changes (today).”

California driver Derek Thorn, who was seeking his third ’Flake crown in four years, was a figurative thorn in Roderick’s side all night. Roderick captured the pole (16.762 seconds). Thorn started directly behind him inside the second row in third position and proved to be the biggest threat.

After hounding Roderick all night, Thorn lost the handling of his No. 43 following a restart with 79 laps complete. Thorn began sliding between Turn Nos. 1 and 2 while trying to fall in line under Roderick. The earlier rain washed away any built-in rubber and Thorn couldn’t find the grip to stay with Roderick. He avoided slamming into the wall but could not avoid the freight train passing him. That ended his chances to join Chase Elliott and Augie Grill as the only drivers to win a hat trick of Snowflakes.

“I don’t know if it was the dew or what, but it went sailing toward the wall,” said Thorn, who finished 26th after calling it a night a few laps later. “We saved the racecar and lived to fight another day.”

Despite the late hours, the stands were overflowing with fans. They let out a roaring approval when Five Flags track announcer Robbie Harvey bellowed, “Drivers to your cars,” just before midnight over the public address system.

Roderick gradually distanced himself from Thorn and the field, using lapped traffic to his advantage. Roderick was dialed in each time on a series of late restarts and never allowed the competition to sniff clean air.

“I was a little worried the last few laps, but it was good enough to hold on,” he said.

This article originally appeared on Pensacola News Journal: 5 Flags: Roderick outlasts weather, elite field to win first career ‘Flake