Craig Murto: Snowball Derby creates champions

CRAIG MURTO

The majority of major racing series have finished for 2015, but racing is far from over.

Dirt racing has its major events, such as the Knoxville Nationals for Sprint Cars and the World 100 for Dirt Late Models. Pavement Late Models also have their big events, such as the Oxford 250, the Winchester 400 or the Mason-Dixon meltdown. But no race has the national notoriety of the Snowball Derby.

The annual 300-lap race, held every December at Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola, Florida, creates champions. Chase Elliot is a former winner, as is Darrell Waltrip. Johanna Long, though without a ride in NASCAR due to lack of funds, is a former Snowball winner and seen as one of the top female stock car drivers in the country.

The first woman to win the Snowball Derby was Tammy Jo Kirk, who prior to racing cars was the first woman to earn a national number in flat track motorcycle competition. Kirk went on to become the first woman to compete in NASCAR’s truck series, driving for Geoff Bodine.

The Snowball Derby weekend consists of two major races, the Snowflake 100 and the Snowball Derby. The Snowflake 100 is for Super Late Models with crate engines that race as Pro Late Models in the deep Southeast. The Snowball Derby is for Super Late models with “built” engines. Some series, such as PASS, allow the crate cars to have a weight break and run as Supers.

Though Super Late Models exist in Virginia and the Carolinas only as a touring show, in other parts of the country they still compete for track championships. And, of course, the PASS South and CARS Tour that feature Super Late Models in our region are not the only series for those cars in the country. At the end of the year, champions from all over the country converge on Pensacola.

According to speed51.com, currently eight champions from the 2015 racing season are planning on chasing a Snowball Derby win. Among those is 2015 NASCAR K&N Pro Series East champion William Byron, who will be driving full time for Kyle Busch Motorsports in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series in 2016.

“I feel like the Snowball Derby is an end-of-the-year battle to go against guys from the Truck Series or Xfinity Series, as well as younger kids just trying to make a name for themselves in Late Models,” Byron said. “It’s awesome to be coming in as a champion after having a good year, but ultimately I have to earn my way into this race just like every driver out there.

“I feel like this race is known for growing drivers into young stars and it’ll make for a good story on Sunday if we can be battling with those guys.”

Another champion planning on making his second attempt at the Snowball Derby is 2015 CARS Tour Super Late Model champion Cole Timm.

“Anytime you get to race against the best of the best in Late Model racing, it definitely gives you a shot to prove to yourself that you have what it takes,” said Timm. “You also have the guys coming in who have experience racing in the higher NASCAR series, so it’s really a great chance to prove yourself against the best.”

Timm finished 18th in his first Snowball Derby start last year, going in with the confidence of being a champion will help the Mooresville, N.C., driver.

“Last year was a big learning curve for us,” said Timm. “I had never even been there at the racetrack before. … I think going back this year it’s definitely going to help us because we can put our focus on what we need to make the car better.”

Other series champions entered for the 48th Annual Snowball Derby include Southern Super Series champion Casey Smith and ARCA Midwest Tour champion Ty Majeski. The list of track champions include Blizzard Series (Five Flags) champion Casey Roderick, Viper Series (South Alabama) champion Hunter Robbins and Mobile International Speedway champion Junior Niedecken.

On-track activities start today for the opening practice rounds for the Snowball Derby and Snowflake 100. The top Snowball Derby starting spots will be set on Friday.

The Snowflake 100 takes center stage on Saturday, with the Snowball Derby on Sunday at 2 p.m. It is a race worth seeing. Fans unable to make it to Pensacola can watch all of the action through a live online pay-per-view broadcast on Speed51 TV. A four-day video ticket can be purchased now for $59.99 allowing fans to watch all of the action from Five Flags Speedway. Single-day video tickets are also available. Visit Speed51.com for more information.

Veteran motorsports columnist Craig Murto is a Linden resident.

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