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Snowball Derby pit stop rules change debate spills onto Twitter

Bruce Nuttleman

The decision by Five Flags Speedway to eliminate live pit stops has polarized the short track industry.

There are those who feel the decision was a long time coming, especially the face of teams more frequently hiring NASCAR pit crews at a cost of around $5000 for a race that pays $25,000 to win and $12,500 for second. Only six positions pay $5000 or more. The Snowball Derby only pays $1500 to start for over half of those who make the main event.

On the other side are those who feel the stature of the Snowball Derby warrants the best teams, the best cars, the best drivers … and yes, paying for the best pit crews.

The two arguments were highlighted by Chase Elliott and Kyle Busch, two NASCAR stars who have also won two Tom Dawson trophies apiece.

Elliott, however, won his Snowball Derby races with a family pit crew that also worked on his car throughout the week. Busch, of course, won his races with his NASCAR pit crew.

In fact, during the 2018 Snowball Derby, Kyle Busch Motorsports drivers Noah Gragson and Raphael Lessard regularly exited the pits first and second regardless of where they were running inside the top-10.

Gragson won the race.

Very poor decision. It was the last race where we all knew what it took to win, the last true race where every variable mattered. It’s the freaking SNOWBALL man. It’s the Daytona500 of SLM racing. I’m disappointed to say the least. https://t.co/xs2jJ02xU1— Kyle Busch (@KyleBusch) January 27, 2019

Respectfully disagree. How many W’s would @TyMajeski have down there if he and KBM swapped out pit crews for the final stop of the day only🤔— Chase Elliott (@chaseelliott) January 27, 2019

Not my problem. Budget for it.

Those that can’t afford the pit crew prolly aren’t going to b contending for the win anyway. Reality sucks! https://t.co/bZemYv9yms— Kyle Busch (@KyleBusch) January 27, 2019

For reasons better and worse, NASCAR style pit stops certainly have made the Snowball Derby one of the most unique … and challenging Late Model races on the schedule.

While the cost is certainly initiative for some teams, the fact that many cars feature wide five hubs have complicated pit stops each December at Five Flags Speedway too.

Even in December, Harrison Burton was forced to go off strategy late in the race because his pit crew struggled to change tires on the wide five hubs without losing spots on pit road.

Infamously, Stephen Nasse got into a physical altercation with his pit crew when they sent him onto the track with a loose wheel on two different instances before he crashed in the closing stages of the race.

Far too often, the events on pit road took away from the action on the track, which is certainly engaging enough to make pit stops seem an excessive expense in today’s current short track climate.

After losing the first one due to slow stops with wide 5 wheels, I don’t sympathize because it was his own fault for taking the same thing back the next two years.— Corey LaJoie (@CoreyLaJoie) January 27, 2019

if you have a solid crew, the rotating weight saved with wide 5s is worth giving up 2 sec on a stop.— Corey LaJoie (@CoreyLaJoie) January 27, 2019

It’s not free to switch a car over to 5 on 5s. We have the budget to go to the derby and be competitive, but we don’t have the budget to build a car specifically for that race. I’m not looking for sympathy. We’ll be there next year with wide 5s regardless of the format. https://t.co/A1m8mwkpnF— Ty Majeski (@TyMajeski) January 27, 2019

Ultimately, it’s probably a fair assumption to say that most teams like the idea of live pit stops, while also taking umbrage with spending thousands of dollars on professional crews … or worse.

Here’s a member of Chase Elliott’s … now Chandler Smith’s crew:

1)A group that worked on the car Thurs-Sun. We volunteered to practice many a weeknight after our day jobs and put in the work to be decent. This effort was over 5+ years. Won many pitstop races over ‘pros’ even with wide 5’s. We probably lost him a race or 2 but he stuck with it— Darron Turner (@Darron_Turner) January 28, 2019

2) With that said, the rule had to change. Nobody wants to do it that way anymore. They would rather pay the $5k and complain instead of doing it themselves. $5k for 3 pitstops is crazy for a late model team. I can tell you the #9 pitcrew never received $5k for 3 pitstops.— Darron Turner (@Darron_Turner) January 28, 2019

It matters if you are the one paying the bills. https://t.co/XFBZbuGdBW— Jeff Burton (@JeffBurton) January 28, 2019

This comes in the aftermath of Bubba Pollard’s attempt to turn the drivers’ meeting at Speedfest on Saturday morning into a sort of town hall. The de facto face of modern Super Late Model racing today said he felt unnerved that rules were constantly thrown on drivers without their consultation.

Pollard’s back-and-forth with Champion Racing Association race director Glenn Luckett came after Five Flags general manager Tim Bryant made the announcement about the 2019 pit stop procedures.

READ MORE: Bubba Pollard engages CRA track promoters in spirited back and forth at Speedfest drivers’ meeting

Well all the promoters, track owners, series directors all seem to have a voice but u know what’s missing in that group? The drivers, owners, chassis builders, racers. Bubba and I talked. We r sickened that decisions keep getting made and yet our phones never ring. https://t.co/yrvjEynxvg— Kyle Busch (@KyleBusch) January 27, 2019

Perhaps, there was a third camp in this entire debate that said pit crews aren’t nearly the problem that testing regulations or tires are … the point Pollard was trying to make on Saturday morning.

My $.02 – pit crews are the wrong expense to be complaining about. 5 hotel nights for one race, 3 days worth of practice tires. 👎 Pit stops add to the event. When I was late model racing, I looked forward to live pit stops. Added to the race, prepared me 4 next level.— Christopher Bell (@CBellRacing) January 28, 2019

You should see the tire bil, pit pass and hotel. 😳— David Stremme (@DavidStremme) January 28, 2019

Big races cost a lot to do it will never change only thing that ever will change is amount of days on race weekend and limit testing is only thing that will actually cut cost— donnie wilson (@d82wilson) January 28, 2019

One thing is very clear here. There is a direct and upward trendline between expenses in racing and the addition of more rules.

What would it look like without the addition of rules? Noone knows for sure. But I can tell you, FOR SURE, rarely does a rule actually save money.— Chris Gabehart (@CG1751) January 27, 2019

And we’ll leave you with the originator of the controlled caution rule that the Snowball Derby will utilize next season, Midwest Tour promoter Gregg McKarns.

Not sure how removing the importance of hired crews which are only involved with a team for a few hours in Dec, diminishing the importance of real crews, is a bad thing? We have had great success in the Midwest and the races have been great.— Gregg McKarns (@GreggMcKarns) January 28, 2019

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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.

3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Raymond

    January 28, 2019 at 10:10 am

    May be an outlier here, but I am OK with either. The rules apply to all. The lamentations over the rules? That will always occur.

  2. Darren Kranz

    January 28, 2019 at 9:20 pm

    I find its actually insulting to the real crew members of teams who volunteer 100’s of hours a year and time away from their families to have to sit on the sideline at a major event and watch 5 strangers get paid $5,000.00 for less than 1 minutes worth of work. As for mega millionaire KB who marvels at his ability to “budget” and “win” with his Nascar sponsors paying all the bills……FU

  3. Johnny Bear

    February 26, 2019 at 10:26 pm

    Wanna make it a fair and interesting race, make it so any driver under a Pro contact cannot run it.
    If you want the pro’s, make the Snowball and Snowball Sr.!

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