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When Tyler Ankrum made an off-season switch from Late Model Stock Cars to Super Late Models, the Snowball Derby was always the intended destination.

In addition to the added diversity of talent, Ankrum and his family just wanted to routinely face tougher competitio and that made straight-rails a no-brainer. Primarily competing in the CARS Tour this season, Ankrum was slow out of the gate and top-10s didn’t come easy.

Ankrum actually felt overwhelmed as a result of the transition phase.

“A lot of it was just not having a notebook,” Ankrum said. “There was a lot to learn when I first got into a Super and I needed to be more mature as a driver too. I was trying to drive a Super Late like a Late Model and you just can’t do that… I felt down on myself because the results weren’t there.”

Then came new crew chief Roger Johnson and mentor Clay Rogers — the five-time Pro Cup champion and 2006 Snowball Derby winner. They changed Ankrum’s mindset and instilled both results and confidence.

“They’ve been hugely influential,” Ankrum said. “They’ve helped me learn a lot. I could lean on them forever and they’ve shown a lot of patience. We kind of share this tough, not everyone gets a participation trophy mindset and I think that’s been big for us.”

The results started to come late in the season with a fifth in his final CARS Tour start. He also had good showing against elite fields at Lucas Oil Raceway, Winchester and the Florida Govenor’s Cup at New Smyrna Speedway.

Ankrum feels like his No. 58 team is starting to hit its stride in advance of the biggest start of his career — The Derby.

“We were really fast at the open test,” Ankrum said. “We worked on long runs. We got that where we wanted and didn’t focus on qualifying runs until the end. We were fast overall and left there feeling pretty comforable. Qualifying is really important, and I’m a little anxious, but the test calmed my nerves.”

But again, it’s the Snowball Derby, and it’s Ankrum’s first attempt. He’s allowed some nervous energy. His track record in Late Model Stocks suggests he will be fine. And an entire year’s worth of Super Late Model seasoning has led to this.

This is what they’ve worked towards.

“Races like the Snowball Derby is why we wanted to move to Supers,” Ankrum said. “I needed to be diverse, but I needed to race against guys we could race against at the next level. This is stronger competition. These cars have more power too and I just think this is where I need to be to take the next step.”

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.

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