Taking the green flag this weekend will be akin to earning a checkered flag on any other weekend for Super Late Model veteran David Rogers.
Whether its qualifying on time for the 52nd Snowball Derby on Friday night or having to race his way into the field via the last chance race, Rogers’ presence was a welcome sight as he is making his first appearance of the season following a year-long bout with lymphatic cancer.
He was cleared to race in November, successfully meeting a self-imposed goal of returning in time to race in the Super Bowl of Short Track Racing.
Rogers was actually already stricken with the ailment during his last racing appearance, failing to qualify for the 2018 Snowball Derby. He felt a sickness in his stomach that he couldn’t shake and was diagnosed with cancer after the new year.
He lost 80 pounds during his battle with the disease but has impressively recovered in time to fulfill the vision that kept him going throughout the summer — returning to work on his car and sharing a race weekend with his No. 11 T.M. Ranch Racing Team.
During his bout with lymphatic cancer over the last 11 months, David Rogers says it was this visual of being able to work with his team and targeting a return in time for the Snowball Derby that strengthened his resolve.
He's back and has no plans to slow down. pic.twitter.com/7AdiTiuuqA
— Matt Weaver (@MattWeaverAW) December 6, 2019
“The biggest thing is, we came because we wanted to compete,” Rogers said. “You know, it’s important for us to make the race and all that, but it’s important just to be back. This was kind of my goal when I found out and I went through everything.
“You know, everybody was praying for me and helping me out, and they helped me get through this. But I’ve got to tell you, I hadn’t been in the car until the Gov Cup. I got in it and drove a couple of laps. And when I got out, I wanted to work. I wanted to make it go faster. I realized I still had the heart and drive to do what I loved doing for the longest part of my life.”
When Rogers was diagnosed, he asked Bubba Pollard to drive his car during the World Series of Asphalt. He won three races and the Speedweeks championship in a substitute effort. He also finished second to Jeff Choqutte in July’s Clyde Hart Memorial.
And while one would think seeing his car and team in victory lane would have inspired Rogers, that actually wasn’t the case at all.
“It pissed me off,” Rogers said. “I haven’t won in a while and then he gets in there and wins in my car and I wasn’t even strong enough to go to the race track.”
He says that half-joking, of course.
The 1994 NASCAR Whelen All-American Series champion was proud of his team and was excited to have Pollard drive the car. He says the most successful driver of this decade in his Senneker chassis should make him even better now that he’s cleared to compete.
“It was great,” Rogers said. “It really was. It was good for me. Good for my guys. Good for the TM ranch guys and good for Bubba. It allowed him to race while sending his own car some other places too. So, it worked out really good for both of us.”
It’s no secret that Rogers isn’t fully-recovered yet. He’s only gained back 10 pounds of the 80 that he’s lost. He’s heard the talk that he might not be able to go the full 300 laps if he makes the race on Sunday, but after beating cancer, who is to question the resolve?
“I thought my neck and back would be real sore after practice, but so far it’s been pretty good,” Rogers said. “I tested at new Smyrna and we ran probably, a 25-lap run, 100 percent. And I didn’t fall out of the seat.
“So, I think, with the controlled cautions, I can run 75 laps and take a breather and be right back on the wheel for another 75 laps if it comes to it. I still feel the adrenaline from being in the race car and that’s the best medicine I’ve had all year. And it’s tastes a hell of a lot better too.”
Rogers put on a strong face during the past year.
He told this website and others that he had every intentions of racing again but conceded on Thursday that he didn’t really know if it would be possible. And at 65-years-old, he wasn’t even sure if he would race again even assuming he recovered from the ailment.
“The biggest thing was my wife and daughter, you know,” Rogers said. “They’ve had to put up with me being in pretty bad shape. They had to take care of me. That was hard for me. So, I had my doubts when I got back in the race car. What if I didn’t want to do this anymore? What if I got in a bad wreck and needed them to take care of me again? To have to see that?
“But they know how much I love this. But I ran this first practice session and got out of the car and immediately wanted to pull the hood up and make it go faster. I want the good and the bad that comes with racing and I know my family is with me too.”
This isn’t a retirement tour either.
Rogers knows he’s not at 100 percent yet. However, this Derby plays out, he wants to spent the rest of the month recovering. He wants to build his strength. He plans to race in the Red Eye 50 at New Smyrna in January.
And he wants to be back to full strength in February for the World Series.
“You know, hopefully we can make the race and and run the Derby and then have a good finish,” Rogers said. “And then, you know, the Red Eye and Blizzard races are coming up too.
“I want to get back on the horse.”
And if that horse carries him to a Snowball Derby start on Sunday, it would also break a record with Red Farmer for the most starts.
And that’s having beat cancer to do it.