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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- For many years, the Super Late Model racing season has started in Florida.
Saturday, that tradition continues.
The 32nd annual Red Eye 100 for the Super Late Models is set for Saturday night at Florida's New Smyrna Speedway. The event will help to kick-off the 2018 NASCAR Whelen All-American Series season as the first race that drivers can be awarded points in the 2018 Division I championship chase. It begins a nine-month quest to become the national champion.
In 2017, Bubba Pollard picked up his second victory in the prestigious event, holding off former track champion Brad May. He also won the race in 2015 and enters as a driver who is looking to get his 2018 racing season started off on the right foot. He is coming off a victory in the Snowflake 100 at Five Flags Speedway to close out last season.
"A little momentum to start the year off gets your guys excited about going racing in 2018," Pollard said. "We've had a couple of weeks off and the cars are prepared. You can do things at this race -- test some things, try some things -- even that one race, to be ahead of everyone else, it can really help you a lot."
Even though he can look at the 100-lap feature as a way to knock-out some winter bugs and prepare for the long season of touring the Southeast, the Senoia, Georgia, driver is looking forward to chasing the trophy for a third time. He came close to winning in 2016, but was bested by Cole Anderson in the final laps.
"I feel like we have struggled there some in the past, but I like the high-banked race tracks, and we have a really good baseline for tracks like that with a lot of grip," Pollard said of his team. "It has a lot of characteristics that fit my driving style, so we really enjoy going down there. It's always a lot of fun, but guys like Brad May and David Rogers, they have run excellent down there. Those locals are definitely going to be good."
New England Super Late Model driver Derek Griffith will also be in contention on Saturday. Griffith is taking the trip south from Hudson, New Hampshire, to compete in the season-opening event. He is hoping to use the race to help prepare his team for Speedweeks and the 52nd World Series of Asphalt Stock Car Racing in February.
"This is kinda a tune-up for us, if everything goes well, we plan to just leave the truck and trailer down there at a friends house and just fly down in February," Griffith said. "It's going to be huge for our team. It was kinda a turn-off when we had an engine issue at the end of last year, we ran over 40 races and we had a great year. We are going to go down there with a car that is new to us. We plan to work on it, and hopefully, it is going to be plenty fast enough."
Griffith has only made one start in the race, back in 2015, where he finished eighth in his first ever visit to the 0.500-mile oval. But the track is unlike many of the tracks he drives up in New England.
"The speed is incredible and the cars are a little bit different down there. The regulars are people like Pollard -- people that have been running there for years," Griffith said. "You aren't showing up to just a few weekly guys that are just considered alright. Those guys down there are among the best in the country. You can learn from them. I've really had a roller coaster at New Smyrna in the past. It's either decent or it's terrible for us. We can run with these guys, we are pretty excited, we're going for it 110 percent."
Other recent winners include Travis Cope (2014), Stephen Nasse (2011 & 2013), Rich Clouser (2010) and Tim Russell (2009). The race was not run in 2007 and 2008.
Early entries include track regulars David Rogers, Brad May and Michael Atwell, along with outsiders who will be making the trip, like Gus Dean, Griffith and Pollard. Additional drivers are expected.
The event schedule for the weekend calls for a rotating practice session on Friday night to get things started. On Saturday, qualifying will commence at 6:15 p.m., followed by the start of feature racing at 7:30 p.m. The Red Eye 100 is the third race in the order of events. The Modifieds, Super Stocks, Mod Minis and Bombers will also be in action on the half-mile oval, filling a full card of racing action that will include qualifying and feature racing.
The 100-lap feature is the first of a pair of events in January on the banked oval. On Jan. 20, the Marion Edwards Memorial Super Late Model 100 takes center stage, before the track turns full attention to the 52nd annual World Series of Asphalt Stock Car Racing, scheduled for Feb. 9-17. The World Series will include the 2018 season opening race for the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East.
Bubba Pollard celebrates the victory in the 2017 Red Eye 100 at New Smyrna Speedway in New Smyrna, Florida. Jim Jones