Pensacola, FL – For years now Five Flags Speedway has been the destination for racers from all over the country in the month of December. The Snowball Derby is a race that really needs no introduction at all. Some of the biggest names in short track racing and NASCAR have competed. This year saw an entry from one of the Mid-Atlantic’s very own – Mr. Mason Diaz.
Diaz, just 16 years of age from Manassas, Virginia, has spent most of his racing career in an INEX Legend car running at Southern National Motorsports Park in Kenly, North Carolina while making the transition to stock car racing with the help of Late Model veteran Mike Darne. Coming off of a successful weekend at the 2016 Thanksgiving Classic winning a unique Legends Cup race and finishing third in the main event, Diaz packed his race bag up and headed south to attempt to enter his very first Snowflake 100.
“We knew we were fast enough,” Diaz commented about practice earlier in the week. “Couple practices towards the end we were top ten; it was just a matter of making it into the race.”
With the Snowflake being an impound race Diaz and his crew were not allowed to touch the cars after they went through technical inspection which set them up for the nerve-wracking qualifying session. Going into Saturday the team figured times would be close to 16.8, when cars started clocking in times down in the sixes, Diaz knew he just had to hit his marks and drive his line.
“I knew the car was fast enough it was just a matter of if I could put the lap down,” Diaz said. “The first lap I ran a 16.84 which put us in the race alone and the second lap was a 16.82 so we knew we were good.”
A new track in a new state running with drivers you are not familiar with can be tough. When it came down to race day Diaz just took things one position at a time working his way to the front and staying out of trouble.
“It was pretty much all a new experience for me,” Diaz said. “My thing was just making the race. During the race, I just wanted to keep the car in one piece and finish the race. I don’t think I was ready for a top ten finish myself.”
Diaz started the race off strong passing cars right from the start. Running the inside lane around Five Flags Speedway along with a few cautions flags throughout the night allowed for Diaz to pick his way through the field one at a time. Spending most of the event running mid pack late race cautions, along with some smooth driving, is what Diaz attests to helping him with the top ten finish.
“I followed behind some of the guys that run down there regularly,” Diaz said about his finish. “Augie Grill, who went on to win the race actually started behind me, so I followed him a lot throughout the race and just learned everything I could.”
Keeping the nose clean and running behind some of the veterans on the race clearly paid off for the young Virginia who gets to take home a top ten finish in one of the biggest Pro Late Model races in the country. Things did not come easy for Diaz who told us there was a rather large learning curve when it came to the lines around Five Flags, it was certainly something he had never experienced before.
“I have never run a track with a swooping front stretch in a big car,” Diaz commented for one. “Also turns one and two can kill you! Three and four are important too but the lines you run there are just so important in the first two turns. Mike Darne Racing gave me a great car this weekend and turn three and four was such a dominant corner for me in my book and is where I made most of my passes.”
Diaz also went on to comment how the racing surface mimicked Myrtle Beach Speedway – a track he has yet to compete on in any form of racing – when it comes to the tire wear. He went on to explain tire management was something similar to Hickory Motor Speedway and how important it was to keep the right rear tire on the car to take you to the end.
After traveling almost a thousand miles, entering a race where you know there is a potential to not make it in on time, in one of the largest stages of his young career we ask Mason, pretty much knowing the answer already, what this finish meant to him and his career moving forward.
“This is a huge confidence booster,” said Diaz. “Most people say it’s harder to make the Snowflake than it is the Derby with these cars being so close and a lot of drivers running both. It’s just huge for me especially with the top nine cars were ones that run there locally and have been running for years.”
The Snowflake 100 puts a cap on Mason Diaz’s 2016 campaign and the top ten finish was like the cherry on top for Mason Diaz Racing. The guys will have a few short months to prepare things for next season, which already looks to be a busy one for the guys.
“We are going to run speed weeks down at New Symrna this February,” Mason told The Weekly Racer. “We are going to run Late Model Stocks for most of the year and go for Rookie of the Year in the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series in both North Carolina and Virginia for sure. Maybe see how things go in South Carolina depending on how many rookies run and maybe even for the entire nation, just all depends on how things go. We are also going to shoot for state titles in Virginia and North Carolina as well.”
To follow Mason through his journey in 2017 head over to his Facebook page, Mason Diaz Racing, and give them a like.