Southern Super Series
Viewer's Guide to the Southern Super Series
Mar 9, 2022
With all due respect to Kasey Kahne at Atlanta Motor Speedway with a giant toothbrush, Christopher Bell’s reaction to his prize for winning the Rattler 250 in 2015 might be one of the absolute best Victory Lane moments in stock car history.
The signature event at South Alabama Speedway might be the one event a year where drivers are not entirely committed to winning. It’s closer to 95 percent, but it’s certainly not 100 thanks to the presence of the rattlesnake draped over your neck in Victory Lane.
"I’m not a snake guy, but I guess I can handle that one if it means I’m here in Victory Lane," Bell said afterwards.
But his face told a completely different story.
The tradition dates back to the inception of the race nearly 40 years ago as a sister event to the City of Opp Rattlesnake Rodeo. Both events had snake handlers, beauty queens and of course … the snake itself.
This was expanded in 2005 when Jason Hogan won the first snake head trophy for his victory. That design has since been modified from a head in a glass case to an entire coiled up rattler. Combined with the winner having to pose with the real thing, second place might be the real winner on Sunday.
Bubba Pollard won the race back in 2012 and honestly doesn’t remember interacting with the fanged serpent.
It might be emotional scarring.
"I still don’t like snakes and don’t want nothing to do with them," Pollard said. "If we can win our second Rattler, I think it will be pretty cool and pretty special. Back then, I was younger and I really don’t remember it much … But I don’t deal well with the snakes. About a couple of feet is the closest I’m going to get to him; he can stay at the front of the car and I’ll stay at the rear of the car and we’ll be just fine."
Kim Burton’s brother-in-law, Ward, deals with snakes on the regular through his nature preservation foundation but a love of the serpents haven’t crossed over to their side of the household. When her son, Harrison, won the race in 2018.
Her response was right there with Bell’s.
2018 Snowball Derby winner and current Xfinity Series contender Noah Gragson attended that race in 2018 as a crew member for Carson Hocevar and may have left more scarred than any driver that came before him.
“If I were leading this race on the last lap, coming to the checkered, I would act like it was running out fuel,” Gragson said. “I would come over the radio and say ‘I’m coming to you, boys.’ I would give it to second if I were leading this race. But all jokes aside, hopefully I get the chance to come down here some day and race it.”
Jeff Fultz of FURY Race Cars won the race back in 2010 and declined to take a picture with the snake. He wants to win the trophy again, but still wants no part of the snake.
“A few years ago, when I won that deal, they wanted to put that snake on my shoulders and I told ’em no way, keep it at arm’s length to take the photo and get it out of there; I hate snakes,” Fultz said. “Of course, at my age, if we win this thing again I might ask them if it bites and how long before it takes effect. I might just be willing to risk going out on top.”
This weekend is the first time Matthew Craig and JCR3 Racing has made the trip to South Alabama Speedway but he's not afraid at all.
Bring on the rattlers.
"Not at all, in North Carolina, at the house, we had copperheads everywhere growing up," Craig said.
The race will pay at least $15,000-to-win at a minimum and $1500-to-start but the poisonous exchange rate on Sunday might have someone second-guessing their life choices coming to the checkered flag.
"You might see a little less hesitation coming out of Turn 4 if the snake was lined across the start-finish line," Pollard said.
Ty Majeski has had that feeling four times and it doesn’t necessarily get easier.
"I still won’t want to do it,” Majeski said. “You get out of the car and you see that staring at you and you think to yourself, ‘What am I doing here?’
"But it’s all good. This is an important race and that snake is what we all talk about. You’re not comfortable with it but you want to have that experience. It’s special."