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Opinion: Southern Super Series heat race experiment off to good start

Tim Bryant and the short track council are trying some things to help fans and the racers

Bruce Nuttleman | STS

The Southern Super Series and Five Flags Speedway unveiled an experimental new format on Friday night for the third ‘Blizzard Series’ race of the season.

It included a testing ban the week of the race, limited practice and most apparent to those in the stands — a shorter main event and no time trials in exchange for three 10-lap heat races to set the field.

There was much to like about the final product, especially with the 75-lap main event, which featured a noticeable increase in intensity.

Bubba Pollard won his record-extending 20th Super Late Model race at the Florida half-mile, but it was no casual afternoon drive as the 31-year-old started third and watched as others battled for the lead ahead of him.

Donnie Wilson started fourth, right next to Pollard, but quickly surged ahead to the front. Casey Roderick started 12th and caught Pollard, a signal that the eventual winner used to begin his own march forward.

They both got around Stephen Nasse and Lucas Jones, who started up front but faded.

There was action throughout the main event, an obvious byproduct of the jumbled starting order generated by the heat races.

It was a good time.

RECAP + RESULTS: Bubba Pollard conquers new format in Sizzler 75

This format was conceptualized by the newly-formed short track committee, a group of industry notables that Pollard has worked to gather together in recent years.

The idea behind this format was that teams have started to spend too much on fresh tires and mock runs in the pursuit of faster qualifying times. This format essentially eliminated the need.

Additionally, some teams have typically arrived in Pensacola for the four “Blizzard” races on Wednesday night so they can test on Thursday and race on Friday. That’s expensive too, so the format also eliminated all testing the week before the race and offered only an abbreviated practice session on Friday.

That is less money spent on lodging, travel, tires and fuel.

On the other hand, there were still only 18 Super Late Models on the premises, so the intrigue didn’t seem to attract any extra challengers. With that said, this race was supposed to take place last weekend, but was rained-out, thus negating any cost-control the format offered in the first place.

As a point of reference, 22 cars showed up for the originally scheduled date.

Also, let’s give credit to promoter Tim Bryant who was always going to have to be the first guy to try something different. He possesses the most important race in the country (the Snowball Derby) and one of the six major regional touring divisions in the United States.

He can assume a little bit of risk and he has decided to do so, and that should be commended.

Heat races will also be a polarizing subject to some race fans.

To them, these are the races that don’t matter, and that particular fan will see themselves as being denied 50 laps from the main event. These fans weren’t showing up for time trials and they probably aren’t particularly interested in a 10-lap heat either.

The heats were pretty damn exciting, and did lead to the jumbled starting lineup, but were also too short and always carry the risk of a crash that leads to an already short field getting shorter before the main event.

And it’s also worth saying that one race with this format is still too small of a sample size to reach any sort of definitive conclusions.

But ultimately, if this is the impetus for change within the discipline — growing car counts and serving as the initial cost-containment initiative, this will have been worth it.

Otherwise, it’s just a show with a diluted main event and three short races that don’t mean anything.

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Matt Weaver is the owner and founder of Short Track Scene. Weaver grew up in the sport, having raced himself before becoming a reporter in college at the University of South Alabama. He is also the associate motorsports editor of Autoweek Magazine and its website, which allows him to cover the highest levels of the sport.

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