Coming off of turn four for the final lap Friday night at Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola, FL, Bubba Pollard had Mike Garvey breathing down his neck and a hard-charging Brandon Bendele approaching fast. Pollard made it across the line first, and Garvey held off Bendele, who had been a contender all the way. Fans witnessed Pollard celebrating his 18th overall win of the 2011 season and the 2011 Allen Turner Pro Late Model series championship.
The three Pro Late Model drivers accepted their trophies in victory lane at Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola, FL, were interviewed by announcers and journalists and had their photos snapped by a throng of photographers. It was the end to a great Allen Turner Tune Up 100, a race that was delayed for two hours after rain showers swept through the area, that saw lapped traffic play a large role in the outcome, and saw two of the region’s best drivers, Pollard and Garvey, battle for over half of the race.
The teams then brought the cars to the tech shed, and remainder of the night’s line-up of racing action went on with everyone in the stands thinking that Bubba Pollard had won his 18th race of 2011 and his fourth championship this season.
After all the pageantry and fanfare, it was time to take the cars to post race inspection. The dreaded “Room of Doom” where the top three finishers would face the foray of templates, rules and gauges in the inspection arsenal of lead technical inspector Ricky Brooks and his team of officials.
Pollard isn’t a driver that gets overly excited about his accomplishments. The reactions on his face are usually understated and reserved. This night was no exception. Quickly, however, the mood in the tech room changed. Normally a fast-paced, get them in and out procedure seemed to start dragging on.
Team owner Ronnie Sanders stood by with an increasing look of worry on his face as Brooks and crew dug deeper into the motor of the first place finisher’s car. They used a machine that Brooks calls a Cam Doctor to measure the components in the valve train. It was soon apparent that something wasn’t right. The tone in the tech area changed from celebratory to muted as the tech inspection team dove deeper into the engine, ultimately requesting that more components be removed for further inspection.
The time drug on, and after all the feature races had been run, and all the fans in the stands were gone, the top three Pro Late Models were still impounded, second and third place yet to be inspected. Phone calls were made, pow-wows took place as crews waited.
As the process went on, only Mike Garvey was willing to offer a comment at the time.
“It looks like it’s similar to what happened in Mobile,” said Garvey.
Garvey’s team was busted earlier in the season for having an illegal camshaft and rocker arms. That disqualified him from the win in Mobile, and now he sat waiting to hear his fate in Pensacola along with Pollard and Bendele.
After the long inspection process had finally ended, The Ronnie Sanders Racing team with diver Bubba Pollard, and the Tracy Goodson Racing team with driver Mike Garvey were disqualified for rules infractions in their valve trains.
“Pollard’s cam was illegal and Garvey’s lifters were illegal,” said Ricky Brooks. “The Cam Doctor proved it was wrong, but I learned from Garvey’s deal in Mobile that I need the parts in my hand for proof later on. I'm going to send the parts to Audie Technologies, let them put them in the bench model and backup my file that way I’ve got proof in case anything was to be said later.”
The Cam Doctor is a device used with software to measure the camshaft components. The cam is rotated by hand and simultaneous lobe travel and rotation are captured by an interface card and software and then saved to a computer hard drive for analysis. The results can be compared lobe to lobe for an evaluation of machining quality, and to validate if the camshaft was manufactured as expected. Brooks has certain numbers that are provided by each manufacture and in the case of Pollard’s car, those numbers were 0.080” out of tolerance.
After hearing the news, a dejected Pollard came out of the tech shed and walked away for a bit to collect his thoughts. While he composed himself, Mike Garvey and company loaded up their car and went home. Pollard soon returned but had little to say.
“It is what it is,” said Pollard. “They’ve got to do what they have to do.”
On Tuesday, McGunegill Engine Performance, the builder of the powerplant on Pollard’s car sent Speed51.com a statement taking responsibility for the error. (CLICK HERE FOR THE MEP STATEMENT)
That shifted the focus to Brandon Bendele. The same process took place tearing apart Bendele’s engine in just the same manner as Pollard and Garvey. After coming out clean and clear, Five Flags Speedway declared Brandon Bendele the winner of the race.
“It’s a good feeling,” said a tired Bendele. “I’d definitely like to be celebrating in front of a packed grandstand. We all talked about it and we feel okay with it. The rules are the rules and I commend Ricky for what they do. It would’ve been different if we weren’t running well, but we were right there with the 18 and the 1 car at the end of the race, so we feel like we are pretty deserving of it.”
Finally, the championship. Going into the race there was a 10 point gap between Pollard and DJ VanderLey. That equated to four positions that VanderLey had to finish ahead of Pollard to take the title. After crossing the finish line in fourth, and behind Pollard, VanderLey and his family ran team packed up and headed back to Mobile (AL). They were mere moments away from unloading their car at home when the call came in that there were issues in tech inspection. With haste, DJ VanderLey and father Dan VanderLey drove back to Pensacola and to the attention of Ricky Brooks’ team of officials.
Just as with Pollard, Garvey and Bendele, the same inspection process took place on VanderLey’s car. All the while, Pollard sat watching the events unfold, even as his own team had already left the track. The two never spoke to each other, as VanderLey was busy helping his father tear apart their car.
Shortly before 3:30 AM on Sunday morning, the results were in, DJ VanderLey’s car was cleared, and he was crowned the Allen Turner Pro Late Model Series Champion. Just as with Bendele when he was declared the winner of the race, the stands lay empty, the infield bare of all but a small group of team members, reporters and track officials centered around the tiny tech shed.
“We’ll take it,” said VanderLey. “I think we’ve had one of the best cars here all year long. We just needed some things to fall our way. I think that we could’ve had this won straight-up if not for running out of gas late in one or the races earlier this year.”
We questioned the fact that VanderLey left the facility before tech results were official, then was called back. Both Ricky Brooks and VanderLey were fast to respond assuring that everything was on the up and up.
“I’d already seen the motor and it had all my seals on it from top to bottom,” said Brooks. “I used the Cam Doctor on it just like the others, pulled the oil pan, I even had Phil Harper here, an authorized rebuilder, as a back up.”
“We were at home, an hour away,” said VanderLey. “There’s no way we could’ve changed anything and had all the grease and oil, the heat still in the engine in that amount of time.”
After mother nature tried to foil the night’s plans, a great Pro Late Model race was held, featuring an epic battle between two of the region’s top drivers. Being only half of the story, however, the event was soiled by the same two drivers being disqualified for valve train infractions.
As a result, Brandon Bendele picked up his first win in Pensacola and solidified himself as a true threat heading into December. Finally, DJ VanderLey went home with his second Five Flags Speedway Pro Late Model championship in a row, and did so without a victory in the season. Bubba Pollard and Mike Garvey walked away empty handed, but still carry the momentum of impressive seasons into the prestigious Snowflake 100, to be held at Five Flags Speedway on December 3, 2011.
Final practice was scratched after rain showers dumped enough precipitation to throw the night’s schedule out of sync. The storms did, however, lower the air and track temperatures going into pole-qualifying. Qualifying took on an added importance for this race, as the fast qualifier receives 15 bonus points for first, and each position gets one point less down to zero. With the Allen Turner Pro Late Model Series title on the line, Bubba Pollard and DJ VanderLey needed every point they could get as there was only a nine point gap between the two.
The speeds were fast and the times were quick, with Mike Garvey busting out a near record-setting time. Pollard came in just behind to pick up 14 points, and DJ VanderLey was third quick, getting 13 points. With qualifying complete, there would be a gap of 10 points for VanderLey to overcome. That meant that VanderLey would need to finish at least four positions ahead of Pollard to win the championship. All that remained was the dice-roll, which put Brandon Bendele and Josh Hamner on the front row, and sent Garvey and Pollard to the third row.
At the start of the race, Brandon Bendele shot out of the pack like a cannon ball while Josh Hamner fell into the clutches of Chris Davidson. Davidson once again showed his early run might, however he would soon settle into a top five position. Pollard and Garvey quickly found themselves racing nose to tail behind Bendele. Bendele was able to stay out front for nearly half of the race, and was a threat for the win from the drop of the green flag.
“We were kinda pacing ourselves out in the lead,” said Bendele. “It was really cool because I’d never led here ever, so that was fun. We had a really good car, I felt like we had a car that was capable of winning.”
Lapped traffic soon became an issue as the leader came up on the slower car of Kevin Chase. He and rookie Madison Schneider were well off the pace throughout the night, with Chase initiating a very close moment on lap 44.
“Lapped cars were very difficult tonight,” said Bendele. We talked in the driver’s meeting earlier today about having them hold their line. We had one car that went into one; the car went up the race track and I was already committed down low, then he just came across our nose and allowed the 18 (Pollard) and the 1 (Garvey) to get by me.”
The three-wide, almost four-wide, moment going into turn one allowed Pollard to take the lead. Pollard recounted the dramatic moment after the race and racing around lapped traffic in general.
“The last race we had here we had some problems with lapped cars, and tried to discuss it in the driver’s meeting,” said Pollard. “Everyone’s out there to learn, it’s just hard racing between everyone. You get to a lapped car and you don’t know which way to go, or where they’re going to go. Brandon went to the inside, I went to the outside... I think me and Mike went three wide with a lapped car as well. It’s tough racing out there. These guys got to learn somewhere, it’s just part of racing.”
The lapped traffic kept the field separated enough to allow Pollard and Garvey to separate themselves from the rest of the pack, where a classic duel between the two greats unfolded. They fought neck and neck, nose to tail, lap after lap. Garvey stayed glued to the back bumper of Pollard waiting for the fellow Georgia native to make a mistake.
On lap 60, lapped traffic played a roll once again as Tyler Edwards held up Pollard just enough to let Garvey squeeze by on the inside. The lead was short lived as a caution fell just eight laps later. On the ensuing restart, Pollard was able to regain the lead and kept it for good. On the final lap, Garvey was mere inches from Pollard’s bumper as they crossed the line.
After the race, Pollard and Garvey both talked about how fun it was to race each other so hard for so long.
“Mike had a good car,” said Pollard. “He’s had a good car here and at Mobile the last couple of races and has just had some bad luck. He was a little better than me I think. We got out front after a restart after he had passed us. I felt like we had to be out front because our car wasn’t good enough to be in second, to make the pass for the win. I felt like I needed to be out front and let him chase me and see if he would use up some of his equipment. I think we both got every bit out of the cars as we could. I was really free and I think he was too. Just tough racing, it’s good to race with someone like that... he’s a good racecar driver.”
“The car was great all night long, we qualified on the pole,” said Garvey. “It took us about four or five laps to get up to speed, once we got up to speed we were about the same, then after 10 laps we thought we were a little faster than Bubba. Getting to him and passing him are two different things. I gave everything I had and he gave everything he had. It was close but we just couldn’t quite pull it off.”
Garvey also noted just how close the two driver’s cars were in the race.
“The cars were so close to being equal,” said Garvey. “Both cars were really, really good. Bubba is awesome, he’s a really good racer and is not going to mess up. I could get to him, I got underneath him a couple of times but I couldn’t pass him without running into him, and I’m not going to do that to pass him. Bubba is a good friend of mine, and I’ve got a lot of respect for him. I raced as hard as I could and the best I could do was second.”
Alas, the thrilling battle was all for naught, as race, and the championship, were truly decided in the tech shed.