PENSACOLA, Fla. -- The NASCAR Pro Series East is set to debut in Pensacola, Fla. tomorrow night for the NAPA Auto Parts 150 at Five Flags Speedway.
If the name of that track sounds familiar, it should. The Florida half-mile is also the home of the prestigious Snowball Derby Super Late Model race which is held here the first weekend of December every year.
Saturday's race will actually mark the first time NASCAR has raced at Five Flags Speedway since the track's first event in 1953 -- a Grand National (now Sprint Cup) Series race won by Herb Thomas. Now NASCAR is back, hoping to establish a new tradition.
So it's a big deal.
The NAPA Auto Parts 150 was designed to be the perfect marriage between elite short track competition and the NASCAR ladder system. The Pro Series East (alongside its Western counterpart) is the highest regional development series in NASCAR just below the Camping World Truck Series. The drivers competing in Saturday's race are all chasing a lot more than a trophy - they are competing for a chance to impress their way to a National Touring Series opportunity.
For defending Pro Series West champion Dylan Kwasniewski, the Pro Series East is about proving that he's the best of his generation.
"The East Series is real important - even a little more important that the West," Kwasniewski said. "It's a top-level feeder series. Many of the drivers in the East are backed by Sprint Cup teams. Gibbs, Turner Ganassi and Hendtick - they are all reflected here. The East is a taste of what's to come and beating the competition here is a sign that you're ready to move up."
It also helps that several of the tracks in the East Series are also featured in the Nationwide and Sprint Cup Series. Kwasniewski won the East season-opening race at Bristol Motor Speedway and the tour will also make stops at Richmond, Dover and New Hampshire, making the East a sort of indoctrination into the highest level of NASCAR.
From a fan's perspective, the East Series is must-see TV (all races are broadcast via tape delay on SPEED) because the circuit is mostly comprised of short tracks, including locations the Cup Series previously visited like Bowman Gray Stadium, Myrtle Beach and Greenville-Pickens. It's the type of racing fans demand out of the Sprint Cup Series and a discipline Kwasniewski says is sorely under-utilized at the upper-levels of NASCAR.
"This kind of racing is a blast," Kwasniewski said. "These tracks are bumpy and rough but pretty fast at the same time. I prefer short track racing over anything else I've done in my career and I hope to see it make a bit of a comeback over the next few years."
The NAPA Auto Parts 150 begins at 8:00 EST at Five Flags Speedway. NASCAR Home Tracks will provide Race Central Live race day coverage on their website throughout the day's festivities.