It’s a matter of inevitability.
Each December, the elite of Super Late Model racing travels south to Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola, Florida in pursuit of Snowball Derby glory, but fail to even make the 36-car main event.
That trend will repeat itself based on Friday qualifying for the Super Bowl of Short Track Racing.
That session locked 30 drivers in based on their speeds and two others based on their Southern Super Series and Five Flags Speedway championship points respectively. But the remaining 15 drivers look very much like a Super Late Model All-Star Race. And only four of them will advance into Sunday’s main event.
Paul Shafer has won World Series of Asphalt and ARCA Midwest Tour races this season and will line up alongside 1994 NASCAR Whelen All-American Series champion David Rogers.
There is no silver lining in starting the last chance race from the front row.
“If you’re on the pole of the last chance race, you’re still in the last chance race,” Rogers said. “It is what it is. Sometimes, a five-thousandths of a second is what it came down to and that’s how close it is.
“We struggled all week and that was the best the car has felt since we unloaded it, so I can’t complain. We’ve had to run this last chance race before to get in and the big question now is this rain.”
The forecast calls for a 80 percent chance of rain on Saturday.
On to last chance race tomorrow, just missed it. Sucks, but we made big gains for qualifying, we still have a shot, I promise. #SnowballDerby
— Paul Shafer Jr. (@ShaferRacing7) December 1, 2018
Rogers is looking to make his 33rd start, is still looking for his first victory, and hoping to avoid his fifth DNQ. He is currently tied with Red Farmer for the all-time lead in Snowball Derby appearances with 32.
“If we don’t make it, we didn’t deserve to be in it,” Rogers said. “That’s the format. Unfortunately for me, it always seems like when they took just 20 from time trials, I was 22nd or 23rd and then they took 30 and we’re 32nd.
“We often come up short, it is what is, and we get disappointed, but I did the best I could and we’re going to continue doing it.”
Steven Wallace won the Snowball Derby back in 2004, but also failed to make the show in 2007, when he was the instigator of the infamous sockets in his pockets incident. Wallace brought a Rusty throwback paint scheme to this year’s race but struggled all week.
First it was a rear-end differential issue and then just a lack of speed. The race no longer rewards a previous winner with a guaranteed starting spot, so Wallace is going to have to race his way in.
“We broke a rear end in practice, and broke a brake caliper, too,” Wallace told Speed51.com. “It has been a really tough weekend for us. I’m just extremely disappointed in myself about how everything is going. It is not how I wanted it to turn out.”
And then there is two-time Snowball Derby (2007 and 2008) winner Augie Grill, who was an entire tenth off the pace needed to make the show on time.
“It wouldn’t turn, it wouldn’t rotate, a problem we’ve had since we got here,” Grill said. “We get it turning better and it wouldn’t drive off, and then we would be loose getting in.
“We’re going to take it to a friend of our shops, work on it and make it better.”
And if the proprietor of Great American Race Cars can’t, he will just load it up and take four hours north to his home in central Alabama.
“If we can’t get it turning right through practice, there isn’t no sense it,” Grill added. “We’ll just box it up and try again next year.”
Even one of the rising stars of short track racing in Carson Hocevar, couldn’t believe he found himself facing this scenario.
“I didn’t see this coming,” Hocevar said. “We didn’t have a lot of mock speed and there was room to gain, and we did gain it, but obviously not enough.”
And yet, he remains confident for Saturday.
“I don’t think we’re going to have too much of a trouble,” Hocevar said. “But I would have said the same thing about qualifying and we’re sitting here 40th.”
The starting lineup for the Snowball Derby last chance race can be found below. The race is scheduled for roughly 5 p.m. CT but that could be altered depending on the rain that started falling on Friday night on the Gulf Coast.
- Paul Shafer Jr
- David Rogers
- Steve Wallace
- Kason Plott
- Chris Davidson
- Carson Hocevar
- Boris Jurkovic
- Jerry Artuso
- Augie Grill
- Mason Mingus
- Patrick Laperle
- Blaine Perkins
- Jack Dossey III
- Jan Evans