OPP, Alabama (May 31, 2020) — After being delayed for two months, and the ever present threat of weather, the 44th Annual Hardee’s Rattler 250 has now officially come and gone. Ty Majeski is enjoying his win, having kissed the snake for the third time, while Bubba Pollard won the Baby Rattler 125. Before we completely put this year’s event in the rearview, let’s take a look at a few tidbits from the weekend.
One of the traditions that goes along with winning the Rattler is the opportunity to kiss a rattlesnake. Yes, kiss a rattlesnake.
Opp, Alabama is famous for its Rattlesnake Rodeo held every March for the past 56 years. The rodeo features among other things a myriad of musical acts, a crafts fair, various festival vendors and of course, plenty of rattlesnakes.
This year’s rodeo was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and with that so was the kissing of the live snake. While social distancing and virus concerns were part of the reasoning, the main reason was the weather.
March in Opp is much more fair, and the snakes are more docile. In May, the humidity and heat are starting to creep in and with that the tempers of the snakes as well, making handling them much more dangerous.
As a safety precaution, a plastic snake was presented to, and draped around the neck of winner Ty Majeski in place of the real deal for victory lane photos.
The Midfielder: Hunter Robbins
Hunter Robbins is no stranger to South Alabama Speedway. Over the course of eight seasons, Robbins has 18 starts in the now mothballed Viper Pro Series, with two wins, two poles and 103 laps led. He has three starts with one top five in the Pro Late Model Baby Rattler 125.
In the Rattler 250, Robbins had four starts with three top fives and a best finish of second coming in 2007. Robbins had not entered a Rattler 250 since 2014 but for 2020 is continuing his partnership with Ronnie Sanders Racing, which started back in December at the Snowball Derby.
For this Rattler, Robbins looked strong throughout the practice sessions, and qualified sixth for the main event. Come Sunday, Robbins just didn’t seem to have the feel that he needed in his car, and ran in the mid-pack throughout the race.
In the end, Robbins would finish 12th, smack in the middle of the field.
There were a lot of rookies taking their first shot at the Rattler 250 this year, but let’s zoom in on just a few.
Sammy Smith. Driving for Kyle Busch Motorsports, Smith led all rookies in this year’s race, finishing in fourth and running in or near the top five all race long. Smith is racing for KBM, but is also receiving support and help from Anthony Camperetto and Anthony Campi Racing, the team that won the 2019 Rattler 250, and finished in second place this year. Going into the 2020 Ratter, Smith had already scored a convincing win during Speedweeks at the World Series of Asphalt, again, driving for KBM.
Daniel Dye. Hailing from DeLand, Florida, Daniel Dye ran the double, racing in both the Baby Rattler 125 and Rattler 250 for Ben Kennedy Racing. Dye saw his fair share of struggles in the Baby Rattler, which included a mid-race off track excursion, hitting a tree off the banking in turn two. In the Rattler 250, Dye ran a solid, yet quiet race that resulted in a solid seventh place finish for the rookie Super Late Model driver.
On his social media, Dye said, “The Super race today though was pretty good. Jimmy Kitchens had me covered real good on the spotter’s stand and kept me out of trouble and let me know everything I needed to know. Glenn Garrison and the guys made good changes and put us in a good position to finish in the top 10 and we did by finishing 7th. Thanks to Robbie Reeves for the water and ice too haha. It was 90+ degrees and being in the car for 250 in that heat was pretty tough but I made it through. Thanks to all of our sponsors for your help in my career. It truly wouldn’t be possible without you all.”
Hudson Halder. This young driver found himself in the middle of some controversy during this year’s Rattler. After staying out during a caution that saw the leaders pit, Halder, who hails from Cumming, Georgia, restarted the leader. He was quickly passed by Bubba Pollard, but held onto the second spot a little longer as Ty Majeski and Connor Okrzesik swarmed in. He now found himself in a threewide scenario on the tight 4/10 mile oval coming off of turn two. The confines made passing on the outside hard, and there was simply not enough room for all three drivers. Majeski made the pass low as Halder drifted up and into Okrzesik, who then made contact with the wall that led to him spinning off the banking in turn three. This led to a long remainder of the event for Okresik, but Halder was able to hang in and battle, ending his rookie effort in the Rattler with a solid eighth place finish.
Jake Garcia. There were a lot of high hopes for Jake Garcia coming into this Rattler weekend. He was coming off winning the prestigious Alabama 200 at Montgomery Motor Speedway in March prior to the nationwide shutdown for the COVID-19 pandemic. Prior to that, Garcia crossed the line third, and was later awarded second at Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola, Florida after Stephen Nasse failed tech in the Snowball Derby.
In the Ratter 250, his first attempt, he struggled. The car’s handling just wasn’t there and the young upstart, led by crew chief and former driver Ricky Turner, just couldn’t find what they needed. In the end, however, Garcia managed a top 15 in his first Rattler 250, and the racecar was loaded into the hauler clean.
What Happened to Ryan Paul in the Baby Rattler?
Ryan Paul was a contender in the 15th Annual Grasshopper Pro Late Rattler 125. While many thought the battle was going to be between Bubba Pollard and Stephen Nasse, and it was… Paul was there every step of the way, finding himself in second place in the final third of the race.
Paul struggled on the restarts but once the car got going, it flew. Until a late race caution with only a handful of laps to go. On the next to last restart, something went amiss with the all black number 18 car. Paul told PixelatedSPEED that he thinks it was some kind of misfire in the electrical system, enough to cause the car to bog down at the restart.
Paul came down pit road to the attention of his crew, and out of contention for the race win.
SAS and the Struggle to Get the Show Going
This year’s Rattler 250 for many was up in the air once the COVID-19 pandemic swept the nation, closing sporting events down across the country. For two months, nobody was quite sure when or how racing would return.
The team at South Alabama Speedway worked closely with local officials and health experts to find and develop the guidelines and precautions needed to make the show a go. When the time came, and the state allowed the speedway to reopen, the team at the track was ready.
The speedway put on one hell of a show, and by all accounts it was a resounding success.
On social media, South Alabama Speedway Operations Manager MeLeah Hill commented on a photo snapped by a fellow track worker Erin Sanders that summed up the weekend:
“My parents work so hard and they LOVE this place!!!! After three failed attempts to get the Rattler Weekend going — they BOTH got to give their Rattler Drivers a nice way to show their love during the wave lap!!!!”
The photo was taken as the field of drivers past by the flag stand on the customary “wave lap”, generally a salute to the fans, but on this day, the Dyke’s family took the opportunity to wave to them instead. A fitting gesture.
Later, the South Alabama Speedway Facebook page made simple post that says:
“Our next Local Race will be on June 13.
Super Stock, Street Stock, Roadrunner, Coyote, Cuplite, Mini-Sportsman, Mini-Cups
More information to come- Rest of the season schedule will be updated SOON.”
Late Model racing is back in Alabama and the folks at South Alabama Speedway kicked things off in fine style.
– Daniel Vining, Twitter: @danielvining
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