The Rattler 250 Super Late Model race was jeopardized late last week when the scoring tower at South Alabama Speedway caught fire during an overnight thunderstorm early on Thursday morning.
The cause of the fire was never confirmed but track officials believe it was triggered by an exposed electrical wire. Regardless, the accident forced a hasty rebuild of the office in advance of track activity, which begins on Friday morning.
The speedway received assistance from over 50 volunteers, including 1977 Snowball Derby winner Ronnie Sanders. Combined, the group completed work on the new tower in just six days. According to the track’s operations manager, MaLeah Hill, rescheduling the season-opening event for the Southern Super Series was never an option.
Her father, John Dykes, is the owner of South Alabama Speedway and immediately began compiling a list of supplies he would need for a rebuild even before the flames were extinguished by local firefighters. The project began as soon as the fire department gave its approval.
The new tower ended up in the same location as its predecessor and will have all of the basic functions needed to officiate the Rattler.
“I can’t thank everyone enough for coming down and pitching in,” Hill told RACE22.com on Tuesday. “Ronnie drove all the way from Georgia to bring over and install a sink and Chris Cotto supplied us with the paint. We had 30 people combined come in on Saturday to help us finish up and clean up all the garbage. I can’t say thank you enough.”
The Rattler 250 is one of the more storied events on the short track schedule but has received an extra boost this season in becoming a Southern Super Series event.
The race has been run under the CRA banner in the past and PASS reached in subsequent years but Dykes preferred that the race remain standalone barring the right scenario presenting itself. Hill explained that the Southern Super Series became that fit following an exciting debut season in 2013.
“We watched this series explode in a very quick amount of time,” Hill said. “We saw the positive press and I saw first-hand what it could bring to a track.
“We enjoyed doing this race on our own but when the family sat around for Christmas and talked about it, we all agreed that the Southern Super Series was the best fit.”
The entry list for the 2014 race reads like a best-of list from the short track ranks with Johanna Long, Kyle Benjamin and John Hunter Nemechek joining championship hopefuls Daniel Hemric, Bubba Pollard, Hunter Robbins and Justin South.
The latter is especially pleased that the race will go on as the former ARCA Racing Series regular will make his Southern Super Series debut this weekend.
“The fact that John Dykes had so many people show up to help rebuild his tower is a testament to that track and to that family,” South told Short Track Scene. “It speaks volumes that within three hours of the accident, that they had 20 volunteers, for free, up there and ready to work.
“John is a real good promoter and an equal human being and I’m excited to race at his track again this weekend.”
The Southern Super Series is a second-year Super Late Model tour that consists of 16 events spanning four Southeastern states.
The series is affiliated with the Snowball Derby (the champion receives an automatic berth) and the points-paying events contain four of the most historic short track events in the country including the Rattler 250, the Alabama 200 (Montgomery Motor Speedway), World Crown 300 (Gresham Motorsports Park) and All-American 400 (Fairgrounds Speedway Nashville).
Second SSS Race at Opp Possible in 2014
South Alabama Speedway could host a second Southern Super Series event this season if the Rattler is deemed a success, Short Track Scene learned on Tuesday.
Speedway operations manager MaLeah Hill confirmed that a second date has been circled and a final decision will be made after the Rattler has concluded.
“We left a date open that’s either-or, depending on how this works out and if the Southern Super Series wants to come back,” Hill said.