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Snowball Derby

Snowball Derby Qualifying Guide: How to Make the Biggest Race of the Year

It’s the biggest race of the year and nearly 20 cars will be sent home

There is only three drivers on the premises who is guaranteed a starting spot in the 53rd Snowball Derby and that comes as a huge relief to defending winner Travis Braden, Southern Super Series champion Stephen Nasse and Five Flags Speedway champion Bubba Pollard.

Due to their accomplishments, the trio will make the field of 36 regardless of their respective qualifying efforts. That means just three of the 53 drivers set to take two timed laps know their Sunday plans.

“This place is like home to us,” Pollard said. “So to have won the championship and have that guaranteed starting spot, it’s a big deal. We hope we don’t need it, but it’s something that we for every year because we want to support the track, but because it’s gives us that extra cushion too.”

For everyone else though, this is the most dramatic time trials session in all of motorsports.

The session will lock-in the top-30 based on qualifications. Two provisional starting spots will also be awarded to the Southern Super Series and track champion, thus Nasse and Pollard. If those two drivers qualify inside the top-30, the provisional will go to the next driver in line in the track and touring series points.

If needed, Braden would make the field as a 37th entry if he is unable to make the show on time.

After that, the final four starting positions will be given to the top four finishers from the 50 lap last chance showdown on Saturday afternoon.

“The most intensity that we’ll feel all weekend may very well be in the couple of hours that precede Friday night’s pole position qualifying,” says Snowball Derby promoter Tim Bryant.

It never fails that every year a surprise driver fails gets bumped. Last year, it was Nasse, who failed to make the show but had his championship points to fall back on.

You can feel the mood in the air. Drivers, typically affable and personable, go stoic and stone-faced as they wait in line and watch the first couple of cars go out.

Not even defending pole winner Derek Thorn is immune to the pressure.

“You go into like a trance,” Thorn said. “I don’t talk to anyone. You just sit in the car and you make sure you’re ready to go. You can’t give up a single tenth – not against this field.”

Daniel Dye entered the Snowflake 100 last year, but this will be his debut appearance in the Snowball Derby. Is he nervous for Saturday night.

“I wasn’t until you asked me, but now I am,” Dye said with a laugh.”I’m not too nervous because I think we have a good car, it’s just up to me, right? Plus I go out near the end so I’ll pretty much know as soon as I get off the track if I’m in or not.

“But I suck at qualifying, especially here, so I have some work to do to make sure that we get in.”

Traditional wisdom states that the later a driver goes out, the cooler the weather is, and the faster a lap time she or he will put down.

However, Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola is unique due the humidity-based mist that films over the track in December. It makes the racing surface greasy and can come and go at any point of the night. For that reason, many drivers want to go out sooner, especially given the way time trials has played out in recent years.

“We’re taking a different approach this year,” Ty Majeski said. “We have the same package as last year. We’ve refined it over the past year or so. We’re working on Q trim, where we usually put all of our focus on race trim. There’s a lot on the line in qualifying this year and we’re going after it.”

Majeski is referring to a series of bonuses if the pole winner can also take home the Tom Dawson Trophy.

Between the Phoenix Construction Back to Front Challenge and the Pit Pay Pole Challenge, this year’s Snowball Derby winner could take home $55,000. The race pays $25,000 to win, while the Pit Pay Pole Challenge offers $5,000 to win from the pole.  The Back to Front Challenge adds another $25,000 if the fast qualifier elects to start from the rear of the field and wins the race.

“You’d be crazy not to take it,” Majeski said of the Back to the Front Challenge. “Obviously, it’s going to be incredibly hard to set fast time against this field. Everything has to go your way. There are so many variables in qualifying. All we can do is get the car as close as we can and for me to do the best job I can, and hopefully the stars align.”

Qualifications for the Snowball Derby begin at 6 p.m. CT and will air on Speed51.TV.


  1. Michael House
  2. Chandler Smith
  3. Kason Plott
  4. Boris Jurkovic
  5. Perry Patino
  6. Casey Johnson
  7. Augie Grill
  8. Connor Okrzesik
  9. Chris Davidson
  10. Derek Kraus
  11. Travis Braden
  12. Justin Johnson
  13. Dalton Zehr
  14. Kyle Sieg
  15. Casey Roderick
  16. Ty Majeski
  17. Mason Diaz
  18. Noah Gragson
  19. Kodie Conner
  20. Derek Griffith
  21. Bob Lyon
  22. Stephen Nasse
  23. Hunter Robbins
  24. Carson Hocevar
  25. Kyle Plott
  26. Kaden Honeycutt
  27. Chase Elliott
  28. Jesse Dutilly
  29. Kyle McCallum
  30. Colten Nelson
  31. Austin Nason
  32. Gabe Sommers
  33. Kyle Busch
  34. Ross Kenseth
  35. Michael Atwell
  36. Matt Craig
  37. Logan Boyett
  38. Kyle Bryant
  39. Jake Garcia
  40. Paul Shafer, Jr.
  41. Cayden Lapcevich
  42. Ryan Crane
  43. Derek Thorn
  44. Jeremy Doss
  45. Preston Peltier
  46. John DeAngelis
  47. Jeremy Pate
  48. Bubba Pollard
  49. Dan Fredrickson
  50. Daniel Dye
  51. Sammy Smith
  52. Cole Butcher
  53. Corey Heim
  54. Hudson Halder
  55. Grant Enfinger

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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. John Roberts

    December 4, 2020 at 5:56 pm

    Wouldn’t it be wild if Chase and Kyle failed to qualify?

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