Drivers Have Always Liked A Good Snowball Fight
By Rick Minter | Senior Writer
Long before Homestead-Miami Speedway landed the final Sprint Cup race of the year, the stock car racing season ended in Florida, at Five Flags Speedway in the Panhandle city of Pensacola.
The Snowball Derby is the race where drivers from across the nation, short trackers and NASCAR stars alike, square off for bragging rights in what is generally considered short track racing’s premier event.
Cup driver David Ragan is among the entries this year. He’ll be making his first Derby attempt and will do it in his own Late Model racer.
“We are all racer, and we want to go race with the best of the best,” he said. “We don’t get a chance to run every weekend like a lot of these guys do. The first Cup off weekend in December there is usually no racing going on, so this is the perfect time of year to go race.
“It is the best of the best of short track racers down there. It is going to be a challenge. If it was going to be a cake walk I don’t think anybody would want to go down there. It is a tough race. For me, it is all about learning something else, being competitive and seeing what I’ve got.
“By no means do I think we are going to go down there and win just because I race a Sprint Cup car. These guys will probably teach me a lot.”
One of his potential teachers is a student himself. Chase Elliott, the 15-year-old son of Cup driver Bill Elliott, is this year’s champion of Five Flags’ Blizzard Series, and he also won the Miller Lite Series at nearby Mobile (Ala.) Speedway, making him the youngest driver ever to win the Gulf Coast championship, which goes to the best driver at the two tracks.
To win those titles, he had to outrun many of the drivers who will be among the favorite in this weekend’s 43rd annual Derby, a race won last year by Kyle Busch.
But Elliott has shown that he can run and win against the likes of Augie Grill and Bubba Pollard, and Busch for that matter. The two ran wheel to wheel at the front of the pack in several short track races this summer.
And in the other two major season-ending short track events, Elliott has a runner-up finish in the All-American 400 at Nashville Fairgrounds Raceway and a victory in the Winchester 400 at Winchester Speedway.
If he were to add the Derby trophy to his personal case, he’d join a list of winners that includes NASCAR stars like Friday Hassler, Donnie Allison, Darrell Waltrip, Pete Hamilton, Jody Ridley, Rick Crawford and Kyle Busch and legendary short trackers like Ronnie Sanders, Rich Bickle, Freddy Fryar, Wayne Niedecken, his own crew chief Ricky Turner and one of his chief rivals this season, Grill.
He’d also be doing something that some of auto racing’s all-time greats haven’t been able to do. Among the drivers who have run the Derby without winning are Dale Earnhardt, Mark Martin, David Pearson and Elliott’s own father, Bill Elliott, who ran the Snowball twice, in 1981 and 1982, but failed to finish either time.
“To join the names that have conquered the Snowball Derby would be unbelievable,” Elliott said. “The amount of hard work and effort, not only from the driver but also from all the great teams that stood behind them in their victory, is amazing.
“It would definitely be something to be a part of that group of drivers.”
– Rick Minter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org Comments