Race Weekend Central

SRX Preview: Five Flags Speedway

For the first event of the Camping World SRX Series’ second season, the circuit will head down to Florida for the first time at the venerable Five Flags Speedway.

Florida has long been a cornerstone for stock car racing, from the legendary Daytona Beach to the high banks of Daytona International Speedway, all the way down to the short tracks. There are several great short tracks in the Sunshine State, and Five Flags may well be the crown jewel.

Built in 1953, Five Flags is a half-mile asphalt oval with 15 degrees of banking in the turns and 9 degrees on the straightaways. The reason behind the name of the track is because Pensacola, its host city, is known as the city of five flags in homage to the five governments that have ruled it in its history.

Every December, Five Flags is home to one of the true crown jewels in American short track racing, the Snowball Derby. Due to its place on the calendar, most racing series and tracks in the country have wrapped up for the year, allowing for many of the best drivers in America to descend on the Florida panhandle for a 300-lap super late model race.

The Derby first ran in 1968 and has a long history of big name winners, among them Darrell Waltrip, Donnie Allison and four-time winner Rich Bickle. In recent years, the Derby has become a springboard for NASCAR success, with all but two winners since 2009 active in one of the national touring series.

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In 2012, a largely unknown 16-year-old part-time ARCA driver shocked the racing world when he outdueled Kyle Busch to win the Derby. Busch hired the driver the next year to race for him part-time in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. By the time that driver came back to win his second straight the next year, Erik Jones had solidified himself as one of the best prospects in NASCAR and has gone on to win multiple races at the NASCAR Cup Series level.

Here’s the driver lineup for this weekend, with the guest drivers in bold:

Number Name Sponsor Background
1 Ryan Hunter-Reay Camping World IndyCar
5 Ernie Francis Jr. ? Trans Am/Indy Lights
9? Bill Elliott ? NASCAR
13? Paul Tracy ? IndyCar
14 Tony Stewart Good Sam NASCAR/IndyCar/USAC
15 Michael Waltrip Progressive NASCAR
18 Bobby Labonte Sport Clips NASCAR
39 Ryan Newman Sun Outdoors NASCAR/USAC
48? Tony Kanaan ? IndyCar/Stock Car Pro Series (Brazil)
69 Greg Biffle ? NASCAR
98 Marco Andretti FRAM IndyCar
? Bubba Pollard ? Local Ringer
03 Helio Castroneves ? IndyCar

Note that SRX has not officially revealed all numbers or sponsors, to go along with the driver roster. Those numbers and sponsors are listed with a corresponding question mark.

Here’s a look at three notable drivers competing on Saturday night:

Although new to stock car racing, Ryan Hunter-Reay is no stranger to many modern American motorsport fans. The 41-year-old out of Dallas has been able to check off plenty of boxes in NTT IndyCar Series competition: Two-time Champ Car champion, IndyCar champion (2012), Indianapolis 500 champion (2014) and a 16-time race winner in IndyCar.

But one thing not often brought up about this driver is his adaptability; taking the CART route when he began his major league open wheel career, Hunter-Reay has always been a solid road course driver and has mixed that with equal success at ovals. Eight of his IndyCar wins came on ovals, while another eight came on road courses.

After retiring from full time IndyCar competition following the 2021 season, Hunter-Reay has only competed in one major race in 2022 prior to SRX, finishing seventh in class in the 12 Hours of Sebring in a Cadillac DPi. Although SRX will not travel out to Texas this year, in some ways this weekend’s race is Hunter-Reay’s home track, as the driver is currently based out of Florida. He’ll be full time this season in the No. 1 car.

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Returning to SRX, Ernie Francis Jr. became a breakout star last year, finishing second in the championship and winning at Lucas Oil Indianapolis Raceway Park. Francis parlayed his success in SRX to a new full-time gig racing for Force Indy in Indy Lights, where he has a best finish of seventh on the year so far.

Before that, Francis was a standout Trans Am driver, winning seven straight championships driving Ford Mustangs and Chevrolet Camaros. That series usually attracts a number of NASCAR stars if their schedule allows for it, as it’s one of the few ways drivers can receive valuable road course track time outside of their normal series.

Bubba Pollard might just be the best late model driver of the 2010s, winning just about everything in the decade there is to win except for a Derby. A construction worker by day, the third-generation driver is cut from quite a different cloth from quite a number of today’s big time NASCAR stars.

He has the talent to be a big name in the Cup Series in any era but was born about 50 years too late to be so. A total throwback to the days when racing was something drivers would do for the hell of it, Pollard says and does whatever he wants while still having a genuine connection to fans. He’s basically the closest thing to a modern day Curtis Turner, and there may never be a better fit for SRX.

Round one of the 2022 SRX season will be broadcast on CBS and Paramount+ at 8 p.m. EST on Saturday, June 18.

Editor’s note: Helio Castroneves was added to the driver lineup Saturday morning, marking the 13th driver in the field.

About the author

Michael has watched NASCAR for 20 years and regularly covered the sport from 2013-2021. He moved on to Formula 1, IndyCar, and SRX coverage for the site, while still putting a toe in the water from time-to-time back into the NASCAR pool.

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