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Snowball Derby

Snowball Derby eliminates live pit stops for 2019 race

In the name of cost containment, Five Flags Speedway general manager Tim Bryant has decided to eliminate an expensive but unique element of the most prestigious Super Late Model race in the country.

When the 36 teams that qualify for the Snowball Derby wake up on the first Sunday of December, they will no longer have to worry about how live pit stops will affect their race or their checkbooks.

That’s because the 2019 race will feature controlled cautions in lieu of live NASCAR style pit stops. That means that drivers will no longer lose laps under caution while on pit road. Additionally, the order that drivers come down pit road will also be the order in which they come out.

In shorter words, the racing will be limited to the race track instead of on pit road, and who has the best pit crews. Strategy will still play a role in deciding the outcome of the 300-lap race as teams will need to decide when to visit pit road.

“A lot of thought went into it, and honestly, we were late to the party when it comes to controlled cautions,” Bryant told Short Track Scene on Saturday after the decision was announced during the drivers meeting for CRA Speedfest at Watermelon Capital Speedway in Cordele, Georgia. “With the fans in mind, they love live pit stops and we do too, but this is about the cost and what it takes to bring the best pit crews in.

“We have such a tough level of competition at the Snowball Derby, and like NASCAR, the race on pit road was becoming more and more important, and teams were starting to spend more to get that advantage.”

To Bryant’s point, teams were spending close to $5,000 for some pit crews.
Noah Gragson won the 2018 Derby for Kyle Busch Motorsports, in a race where he and teammate Raphael Lessard routinely came off pit road 1-2.

Southern Super Series champion Casey Roderick approves.

“I agree with it,” Roderick said. “It costs too much money when you think of what we’re racing for. We have to look at the costs of things and the teams that can’t afford a really good pit crew.

“Look at the KBM cars, they got out 1 and 2 over and over again last month, with their hired guns. They’re really quick. There are teams that can’t afford to do that. I feel like I had a top three car at the Derby, but I just couldn’t keep up on pit road.”

Bryant said several teams expressed that to him over the past few weeks leading up to the decision.

“We felt like that had priced some of our competitors out of what they could typically afford and we wanted to make sure they could compete,” Bryant added. “It was a tough decision, but we’re comfortable with it, and with the distance of the race, that teams will be able to employ different strategies.”

The format originated in the Midwest by ARCA Midwest Tour promoter Gregg McKarns. The format has become popular all over the country and has been institited in major races like the All-American 400, Florida Governor’s Cup 200, Winchester 400 and Winter Showdown.

The format was even instituted in Late Model Stock racing during the 2018 Thanksgiving Classic at Southern National Motorsports Park in North Carolina.

Of course, pit crews were negatively in the news this past December when Stephen Nasse got into a physical altercation with his paid pit crew after they left him with a loose wheel on two different occasions.

Obviously, Nasse applauded the change.

“There are so many elite pit teams, and only so many of them come to the Derby, so a lot of teams have to settle for mediocre options,” Nasse said. “So people like me get stuck with those.

“I hate it for the crews that really like doing the Derby, and don’t do it for the money, but this eliminates that problem for many of us. Like so many things in racing, it had become about who had the most money to spend so I’m personally glad that’s not on the table anymore.”

“We have such a tough level of competition at the Snowball Derby, and like NASCAR, the race on pit road was becoming more and more important, and teams were starting to spend more to get that advantage.”

To Bryant’s point, teams were spending close to $5,000 for some pit crews.
Noah Gragson won the 2018 Derby for Kyle Busch Motorsports, in a race where he and teammate Raphael Lessard routinely came off pit road 1-2.

“We felt like that had priced some of our competitors out of what they could typically afford and we wanted to make sure they could compete,” Bryant added. “It was a tough decision, but we’re comfortable with it, and with the distance of the race, that teams will be able to employ different strategies.”

Of course, pit crews were negatively in the news this past December when Stephen Nasse got into a physical altercation with his paid pit crew after they left him with a loose wheel on two different occasions.

Obviously, Nasse applauded the change.

“There are so many elite pit teams, and only so many of them come to the Derby, so a lot of teams have to settle for mediocre options,” Nasse said. “So people like me get stuck with those.

“I hate it for the crews that really like doing the Derby, and don’t do it for the money, but this eliminates that problem for many of us. Like so many things in racing, it had become about who had the most money to spend so I’m personally glad that’s not on the table anymore.”

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Matt Weaver is the owner and founder of Short Track Scene. Weaver grew up in the sport, having raced himself before becoming a reporter in college at the University of South Alabama. He is also the associate motorsports editor of Autoweek Magazine and its website, which allows him to cover the highest levels of the sport.

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Silas Sexton

    January 29, 2019 at 9:37 am

    Have not missed a Derby in over 20 years but the 2018 will be my last. No need to run a 300 lap race if there are controlled pit stops. Just run a 100 lap race and call it. Contrilled pit stops on a 300 lap race is just like running 3 100 lappers. No strategy, no fun for the fans, I’m finished.

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