One of the expected top contenders for the Bill Bigley Sr. Memorial 128 at 4-17 Southern Speedway in Punta Gorda, Florida ran the most laps in practice on Friday night and another won’t even make it to Saturday.
Ty Majeski made 142 laps throughout the five hours the track was hot but only at 10 laps per session. Making his debut at an unfamiliar track on an unfamiliar (American Racer) tire, Majeski had a lot to learn on Friday night.
Meanwhile, Stephen Nasse lost an engine in the final half-hour of practice and was forced to withdraw and move onto Pensacola and the Snowball Derby a day sooner than anticipated.
Jesse Dutilly posted the quickest time in practice with a 14.495 second lap -- a number that was put up in the final hour when the track was coldest but also closest to what it expected to be an unusually chilly race night on Saturday.
That was his 42nd of 43 overall laps.
For his part, Majeski had held the fastest time for most of the day but is still trying to learn a track that shares some similarities to another short track he has mastered for over the past decade.
"It's a cool little race track," Majeski said. "I think Turn 1 reminds me a lot of South Alabama with the way the bumps are. What you fight is the same. We have a decent car. We worked on it a lot. These tires don't fall off a lot.
"We were running same 14.60s there with 110 laps on the tires, so we have speed, but we just need to get it driving a little better."
Nasse found himself looking at the bright side after losing the engine on the track with 30 minutes to go because that was supposed to be his Snowball Derby powerplant. It was better to lose it during practice on Friday night in Punta Gorda than at any point during the preparation for the Tom Dawson Trophy.
"Thankfully that didn’t happen," Nasse said. "This is our backup car for the Derby so it would already have put us in an even tougher spot if we came back tomorrow and got in a wreck or something.
The option was there with the Hinde Racing Team offering Nasse a loaner engine or backup car.
"We were going to end up driving overnight to Pensacola after this race tomorrow to make our test on Sunday because we wanted to support this race, but it’s probably a sign that we need to get there sooner and just focus on the Derby," Nasse said. "Obviously, that’s the big one and it’s the one we’ve worked towards all year and we just don’t want to dig any deeper of a hole then what we might end up in.
"Just overall bad luck like we’ve fought all year long."
This weekend also marks the penultimate start in the storied stock car career of Rich Bickle. The midwestern legend posted the 15th quickest time, but that was largely inconsequential as Bickle was mostly focused on balance and tire elements.
"These tires are just very sensitive," Bickle said. "I’ve never been on these tires before. Air pressure makes them grow and shrink a mile. But we got it driving good, I think, and I think it will race good as long as the tires don’t change size.
"At the end of the day, the tires are round and black, and we’ll make it work."
Qualifying for the Bill Bigley Sr. Memorial 128 is scheduled for 5:30 with racing starting at 7. Racing America powered by Speed51.TV will carry live coverage from 4-17 Southern Speedway through the checkered flag.