Ryan Bleich was just like you not that long ago.
A member of the Five Flags faithful, enjoying the Friday night action while daydreaming about competing on the famed half-mile asphalt oval. Bleich, a south Florida transplant, attended his first Snowball Derby more than a decade ago at Five Flags Speedway.
“I think I could do this,” he told wife Debbie from the bed of his truck, as they watched cars roll through the turns.
Bleich has turned dreams into reality. The 33-year-old finished fifth in the Lloyd’s Glass Pure Stocks points race two years ago and he will help usher in a new class Friday at Five Flags as part of the ARCA Menards Series East Pensacola 200 weekend.
Bleich will be one of about a dozen cars competing in the Story and Bleich Roofing Crown Stocks series. Bleich is the co-owner of Story and Bleich Roofing. The Zoom Equipment Pro Trucks and Pure Stocks will share the marquee with the Crown Stocks debut Friday. Grandstands open at 5 p.m. Friday, qualifying at 7 and racing at 8.
Gates open at 1 p.m. Saturday with Modifieds of Mayhem qualifying at 4 and the ARCA General Tire Pole Qualifying set for 4:30. The Modifieds will race at 5 p.m. and will be followed by an autograph session at 5:45 approximately. The ARCA Menards Series East kicks off its 2023 season when the Pensacola 200 rolls off at 7:05 p.m. Call the track office at 850.944.8400 for admission information, including two-day packages.
The Crown Stocks series is an entry-level class that is cost effective for grassroots drivers. Old Ford Crown Victorias, Crown Victoria Police Interceptors and Mercury Grand Marquis will make up the cars competing in the division, which is popular in south Florida.
“This is all meant to be stock,” Bleich said. “We’ve done some testing to see what they can do. They’re pretty fast. Just two seconds off Pure Stocks times. They have these divisions racing all over the country.”
He believes the success at other tracks will translate well at Pensacola’s high banks. Bleich’s confidence is one of the reasons he jumped at the chance to be a title sponsor for the class.
“More than any class, this should be about what the driver can do as opposed to deeper pockets,” he said. “It kind of levels the playing field. The ability to show off your skill is what makes it most exciting to me.”
Bleich is excited to perform well in front of family and friends Friday night. He and Debbie’s three children—11-year-old daughter Lilly, six-year-old son Ryan and four-year-old Rhys—all race go-karts at Sunny South in Grand Bay, Ala. Bleich will be racing in memory of John Story, his business partner’s father who passed away recently and a Five Flags fixture over the years.
“I have high hopes for this class,” Bleich said. “I’m excited to be on a good show for all the fans.”
-Story by: Chuck Corder/Five Flags Speedway