PENSACOLA, Fla. (WKRG) — Racetrack goers, rev your engines, because the Back to School Bash is set for this Friday at 5 Flags Speedway.
Pit gates open and pre-tech, tires and fuel open Firday, Aug. 12 at 2 p.m. An open practice session begins at the speedway at 4 p.m., and lasts until 5 p.m. Practice one and the grandstand gates open at 5 p.m. Practice two starts at 6 p.m. The drivers meeting begins at 6:45. Qualifying starts at 7:15 p.m., with the Outlaw category doing two laps. Opening ceremonies begin at 7:45 p.m., and racing begins at 8 p.m. After all of the races, the demolition derby begins.
Tim Bryant with the 5 Flags Speedway said once a year the speedway has a demolition derby in conjunction with their regular races.
“We always do it during back-to-school time,” said Bryant. “It is just such a hit with the children. We reduce our ticket price for this particular night, because we know people are on budgets. It should be a fun affordable night for families.”
The adult tickets are $10, which is $5 off from normal price, and kids 11 and under get in free.
There are feature races scheduled for four of the speedways divisions, which are Pro Trucks, Pure Stock, Outlaws and Sportsman. The night will end with the demolition derby.
“We end the night with the demolition derby because of the mess that it is going to make,” said Bryant. “The carnage that is left after takes us a whole day and a half to clean up.”
Bryant’s family took over the speedway in 2007, and he said now they just race cars and love doing it.
“We race cars, but we also have different events spread out through the year,” said Bryant. “We have car shows and monster truck shows. It’s somewhat of an entertainment complex.”
History of 5 Flags Speedway
As the story goes, the paving at the speedway had been delayed by inclement weather and the track had been sprayed with a preparatory coat of cut-back in preparation for the application of asphalt. Original promoters, Alf Knight and Ted Chester had dirt spread over the hastily prepared surface to cure it and soak up some of the moisture. When starting time rolled around, the sweeper was back-flagged to the pits and the action began. The result was a 14-car pileup caused by the dusty conditions on the first lap of the first feature. Thus ended the first day of racing.
Two weeks later, the only NASCAR Grand National, now Nextel Cup, race was held at the facility. The paving was now complete, the dust was gone, but rain was the spoiler for Lee Petty, who appeared ready to charge to the front before the race was red flagged. As the Pensacola Journal reported the next day, “At the halfway mark Petty edged Dick Rathman (for second) only to fall back to third when the rain started, as he did not have windshield wipers.” Herb Thomas won after the event was called at 140 of the scheduled 200 laps.
A handful of others promoted the speedway before Williamson sold it to Ohio businessman Tom Dawson in 1968. One of those was Frank Bielarski, the grandfather of NASCAR Craftsman Truck driver, Rick Crawford. Another was Skip Wetjen, who headed up Speedway Incorporated, an organization that fielded the exciting Supermodifieds during the mid-late ‘60s. The group raced four to five nights a week at various tracks.
In a surprise move, Dawson declared that full-bodied Stockers would replace the Supermodifieds, figuring that the dwindling fields of cars could be beefed up with the cheaper Stock Cars. His intuition proved to be correct, and the Late Models have been the premier class at the sweeping half-mile oval ever since.
A long-distance event run in December of his first year proved to be Dawson’s most rewarding promotion. The first Snowball Derby was only a 100-lapper compared to today’s 300 circuits, but it set the stage for one of the Nation’s most successful and prestigious events. Ageless Red Farmer claimed the pole for the inaugural Derby but perennial track champ, Wayne Niedecken came home the winner. On the first December weekend of the past 38 years, while much of the country prepares for winter, the Florida Panhandle has offered a last retreat for those snowbirds with racing in their blood. The race has a history of drawing many of the country’s top short track stars as well as veterans of the superspeedways and even the Indianapolis 500.
Today, it is known as the Home of the Snowball Derby.
For information on tickets for the Back to School Bash, click here.
“Race fans have been perceived to always want to see accidents,” said Bryant. “Casual racing fans like seeing the races, and they don’t want to see anybody get hurt, but they want to see a crash. They will certainly get their fill of that with the demolition derby.”