By Craig Murto - firstname.lastname@example.org
Stars are made at the Snowball Derby at Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola, Fla., and Sunday afternoon in the 45th running of the prestigious event 16-year-old Erik Jones beat the best pavement Late Model drivers in the country to add his name to the history books.
Sprint Cup racer David Ragan started on the pole in a field that included Sprint Cup star and former Snowball Derby winner Kyle Busch, 2010 Snowball winner and Nationwide regular Johanna Long, Camping World Truck regular Nelson Piquet Jr., and 33 other racers who qualified out of more than 100 entries.
But after 300 laps it was Jones in victory lane, following a 20-lap nose-to-tale, side-by-side battle with Kyle Busch, who faded to third behind Florida Super Late Model competitor Jeff Choquette in the final two laps.
You'll want to remember the name Erik Jones. The young racer from Michigan first got behind the wheel of a racecar at the age of 7, and in 2007 won his first championship while strapped in a Quarter Midget. He then moved into Street Stock classes and continued winning. In 2010, at the age of 14, he began racing in the ASA Late Model Series, and won a race that year to become the youngest racer in the series' history. He went on to win a feature race at the prestigious Oktoberfest at LaCrosse, Wis., to become the youngest winner in that storied event.
In 2011, at only 15, Jones won the championship in the Jegs/CRA All-Star Tour, winning two features, leading the most laps, and setting seven fast times. He also won the Governor's Cup at Florida's New Smyrna Speedway, one of the most respected Super Late Model races run at the track.
And now in 2012 Erik Jones grabbed the trophy in the biggest Super Late Model race of the year by out-racing one of Sprint Cup's biggest stars. The win was extremely popular with the crowd at Five Flags, not just because Jones won, but because Kyle Busch did not.
Busch received a few cheers when he was introduced to the fans, but by the end of the day the standing-room-only crowd had demonstrated to Busch that they thought he was No. 1.
First Busch was racing for the lead with T.J. Reaid, a driver who actually competed in a Super Late Model for Kyle Busch Motorsports in the past. According to the Internet broadcast hosted by TV personality Bob Dillner, Busch was frustrated when Reaid chopped him off during their battle, and in the next corner hit Reaid's back bumper hard enough to spin him and cause an accident that collected a number of cars.
Busch was sent to the back of the field for that one. But later in the race an accident erupted among a group of cars Busch was racing, and Steve Wallace threw a hammer at Busch's car on pit road during the caution.
As one competitor observed after the race, Busch has a $1 million budget if he needs it to go out and run his Super Late Model as a hobby; these guys he's racing against don't have those resources. And they're trying to build a career, or are racing at the highest level they're ever going to achieve.
Unfortunately, Kyle Busch was fed with a silver spoon. He doesn't know how to show respect for the competitors who have all their money tied up in their racecars; anytime he ever wrecked a car, at any point in his career, somebody else opened their wallet to make repairs. If Kyle Busch wrecks his Super Late Model, it's no big deal, as he has a ton of money as a well-paid Cup driver; if he wrecks T.J. Reaid's Super Late Model, Reaid may be sidelined for weeks, as somebody who owns a small business or works 9 to 5 has to foot the bill.
It's commendable that Kyle Busch competes in short track races around the country. It shows that his heart is truly in the sport. He enjoyed winning the Winchester (Ind.) 400, he likes racing at the Slinger (Wis.) Nationals. He was disappointed when he crashed out of the All-American 400 at Nashville, and one of the wins he's proudest of is his Snowball Derby victory.
But Kyle Busch needs to show more respect for the racers who regularly compete in the short track ranks he's visiting. Racers such as T.J. Reaid or Erik Jones should be able to run with Busch and not worry about getting put in the wall.
-- Veteran motorsports columnist Craig Murto is a Linden resident.