In need of investment advice? Robert Loper is your guy.
Instead of spending $150 for a new nosepiece, Loper and his team sealed the edge of the No. 15’s hood with long, thick swaths of orange duct tape.
They spent their money wisely in other areas, hoping to get the Irvington, Alabama driver back to Victory Lane in the Lloyd’s Glass Pure Stocks portion of the 50th annual Snowball Derby Wednesday night at Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola, Florida.
The decision paid off, to say the least.
Loper got his second career division Derby win, kicking off the event’s golden anniversary in grand fashion.
“This means a whole lot to me,” said a soggy Loper, doused in a post-race celebration with a few adult beverages by his team following his burnout down the front stretch.
“I had a lotta people close to me pass away this year. There were a lotta hard times this season. This makes it worth all we went through.”
Fellow Alabama driver Tommie Blocker finished second and Pensacola’s Sarah Dority rounded out the podium for her best career Derby finish.
“Thanks to the fans for cheering me on tonight and all season,” an exuberant Dority said.
Loper’s win, his second in three years (2015), marked the fifth consecutive year an Alabama driver hoisted the Pure Stocks Derby checkered flag and winner’s trophy. The last Pensacola driver to win a Pure Stocks Derby title came in 2012 with Michael Nelson.
Despite the losing drought, the opening night of the Derby had a Pensacola feel to it early on.
Robert Balkum, desperate to get the Derby monkey off his back, set a new track record (21.315 seconds) in qualifying to claim the pole.
Unfortunately, his night ended in the first 10 laps when his new white No. 52 blew a transmission. That opened the door for Loper and a slew of other Alabama drivers, including Chad Robinson.
Robinson and Loper waged an epic battle for much of the race. The pair swapped leads several times in a thrilling affair until lap 40.
That’s when Gulf Breeze’s Robert Riley, a lapped car, spun between turns 1 and 2 right in front of Robinson, leading at the time, and a hard-charging Loper running second.
Loper went high to avoid Rilery while Robinson opted to go low. Robinson’s decision proved costly as his red No. 10 couldn’t avoid Riley’s orange No. 95.
Robinson slammed into Riley, ripping off the entire right side of Robinson’s machine and nearly pinning it against the inside guard rail at the bottom of turn 2.
“I saw (Robinson) go low and I was lucky to be the only one of us to avoid (Riley),” Loper said.
The vicious collision marked the sixth caution of the night.
During the regular season at the half-mile asphalt oval, which spans from March to September, the Pure Stocks run 20-lap features. With an additional 30 laps Wednesday night, much of the 21-car field struggled with mechanical failures and fell by the wayside.
Loper’s ability to time his restarts each time throughout the night played a major factor in his victory.
“I’ve gotten some great training on restarts from my team,” Loper said. “There are whole lotta people that have helped me this year behind the scenes. It’s been a tough year for us. This feels great.”
The 50th annual Snowball Derby weekend continues on Thursday, with racing running through Sunday afternoon. Visit 5FlagsSpeedway.com for more information.
5 Flags Speedway – Pensacola, FL
Snowball Derby – Nov. 29, 2017
Lloyd’s Glass Pure Stocks
1. 15 Robert Loper
2. 71 Tommie Blocker
3. 91 Sarah Dority
4. 42 Brandon Sidner
5. 97 Robert Barber
6. 30 Bobby Suarez
7. 29 Matt Thompson
8. 86 Jonathan Smith
9. 19 Darrell McDonald
10. 27H James Hollingsworth
11. 49 Jay Whalen
12. 10 Chad Robinson
13. 95 Robert Riley
14. 22 John Kevin Merritt
15. 21 Butch Harville
16. 11L Cameron Leytham
17. 24 Caleb Burkett
18. 22H Michael Hurst
19. 16 Rocky Boyd II
20. 1 Corey Boddle
21. 52 Robert Balkum