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Snowball Derby

Observations: 53rd Annual Snowball Derby

Bruce Nuttleman

The finish to the 53rd annual Snowball Derby was everything that is still right about short track racing.

Ty Majeski and Derek Thorn, two drivers who bring nothing but talent to their respective teams, put those skills on display in a furious five lap duel to decide who earned their first Tom Dawson Trophy.

In an alternative universe, a less fortunate Majeski or Thorn lose control of their car while door-slamming and chopping each other off, and we’re instead talking about a third win for reigning NASCAR Cup champion Chase Elliott.

It’s a testament to their talent that we’re not, and it’s only a shame that there was only one winner on Sunday after Majeski cleared the Room of Doom and was officially presented the iconic trophy with a gold-plated snowball on top.

You have to think Thorn and Byron Campbell Motorsports will eventually get theirs, just like you had to assume Majeski and Team M would accomplish this goal after Majeski was crashed from the lead on a late restart in the 2019 race.

More than anything else, it was just refreshing to talk about the racers and the racing on Sunday night after a weekend largely spent debating the roles and decisions from race control and the inspection shed.

As refreshing as the Majeski and Thorn battle was, and many words have been spent towards the topic, we have to discuss Friday and Saturday nights — because everything building up to the main event left a lot of would-be viewers turned off.

Chandler Smith had his qualifying time disallowed on Friday due to a cell phone infraction while inside the impound area after he was the first to complete his two-timed qualifying laps.

It’s still a matter of debate whether Smith had the cell phone in his fire suit pocket or if it was in his hand, but either would be considered an infraction and chief technical inspector Ricky Brooks penalized him for it.

It’s worth mentioning that Smith would have missed the top-30 cutline regardless, but the disqualification was the difference between starting the last chance race from sixth or 21st. He went on to finish fourth on Sunday.

Then there was Saturday when Stephen Nasse was the flagged winner of the Pro Late Model Snowflake 100, but only after contact with leader Bubba Pollard that sent the No. 26 around on the frontstretch and the No. 51 first across the finish line.

Race director Nicholas Rogers reviewed the video, and within five minutes of the finish, had penalized Nasse to the tail-end of the lead lap. That propelled Jake Johnson to a surprise triumph.

This was one year after Brooks had disqualified Nasse from his flagged victory in the 52nd Snowball Derby for titanium brake components.

That was the fifth time in 15 years that Brooks had been forced to toss the flagged winner of the Snowball Derby. Regardless of what the rule book says, and if the punishment fit the crime, the narrative had begun to take hold by Saturday night:

Why is this race always about the officials?
Why should I care about watching this event if what I saw on- track doesn’t matter?
Ricky Brooks always has to make it about himself.

Right or wrong, and everyone certainly has a strong take about one of short track racing’s strongest personalities, those arguments were trending well into Sunday morning.

I wasn’t there for the Smith disqualification, so I can’t speak to how it transpired, nor am I technologically savvy enough to say if traction control technology is so advanced that it can be deactivated by the driver after he turned a lap from outside the car.

But a rule is a rule.

As for Nasse, understand that the protest of the results was about so much more than the 2020 Snowflake 100. Whether it’s justified or not, the Nasse and Jett families and crew chief Chris Cater have started to believe there is a target on their backs when it comes to Five Flags Speedway.

They believe Brooks knew the No. 51 featured an unapproved Brembo brake component well before race day last year and failed to point it out to them. They believed a relationship between PFC Brakes and the Room of Doom resulted in a representative from the rival manufacturer ratting them out.

Nasse and crew felt burned by an engine weight break rule instituted by Brooks that potentially played against them in May in the Baby Rattler at South Alabama Speedway.

Brooks publicly snapped at Cater during the drivers meeting on Sunday morning before the Derby.

It feels personal to Jett Motorsports.

The Reason Five Flags Speedway Stripped Stephen Nasse of the Snowflake 100 Win

In isolation, this was the sort of call that Rogers has consistently made in recent years as the Southern Super Series race director and in his similar capacities at Five Flags Speedway and Montgomery Motor Speedway.

If contact from behind sends another car around, the offending driver will be sent to the rear of the lead lap.

After a video review, Rogers determined that this is what transpired and the decision had nothing to do with personal animus or reputation.

Should that call be made? From a racer’s standpoint, probably not.

It’s my opinion that racers should be allowed to police themselves. If Pollard felt wronged by Nasse, and it seems like he wasn’t that bent out of shape over Saturday night, Nasse would owe him one down the road.

Ethically right or wrong, that’s one thing NASCAR absolutely gets right, its self-policing garage.

P.S.: Matt Kenseth on Joey Logano at Martinsville was so beyond Boys Have at It.

Even more frustrating for Nasse is that no matter where you stand on Rogers or his policies, Pollard likely brought some of it upon himself.

Knowing that he had a faster Jett Motorsports No. 51 behind him, Pollard appeared to drive in the corner extra deep, and Nasse rolled in even faster. Pollard appeared to jam the brakes, in the hopes of settling the car from any potential contact from behind, but the No. 26 likely had too much rear brake and slid the back.

Pollard stayed on the brake to keep Nasse behind him and it resulted in a spin.

https://twitter.com/speed51dotcom/status/1335445715103911943

If you don’t believe Pollard would have made his feelings known, look no further than CRA Speedfest at Cordele in January, when the two drivers were involved in a similar incident but also an intense argument. Pollard was livid and Nasse responded with double birds.

If Pollard felt like the contact was egregious, he would have said so, instead of issuing this tweet.

At the same time, the rivalry between them is so intense that Pollard wasn’t going to employ the tap rule and give Nasse the win. That’s just not happening between them right now. And for anyone hoping track owner Tim Bryant would sympathize with Nasse after a 30 minute conversation in the tech shed, the moment he overturns Rogers decision — essentially questioning the decisions — he’s going to need a new race director.

It’s a no-win scenario from an emotional standpoint, but by-the-books from a procedural standpoint.

So, when it comes to Brooks, Rogers and Five Flags Speedway officiating, the decisions in a vacuum are consistent and that’s all you can ask for.

Brooks publishes a rule book and it is the responsibility of the teams to prepare a car that meets the rules. Rogers makes that contact call as consistently as anyone. In his eyes, the alternative is the wild wild west and leaders who are a sitting duck on the final corner.

The frustration from fans, new and old is understandable, because no one goes to the race track to see officials. What other event has a tech shed as iconic as the Room of Doom? With respect to the late Lumpy Lemke or the CRA’s Eddie Chew, what other tech directors can you name?

Instead of talking about the best time trials show in motorsports on Friday night, or Thorn’s second straight pole, the story was about Brooks and Smith.

Instead of talking about an exciting race on Saturday, one that saw Pollard, Nasse and Thorn go three-wide on a late restart, the story was Rogers and race control.

That’s why it was such a relief that Sunday wasn’t tarnished by anything.

Once Majeski crossed the line, the results were as official as any Snowball Derby could be just seconds after the race, because crew chief Toby Nuttleman isn’t going to fail tech.

There isn’t a more meticulous car builder in the infield than Nuttleman, and there isn’t anything about TobyCar built Super Late Models that would come to his surprise.

So, instead the story is rightfully about Majeski and Thorn, two talented racers who should be racing on Sundays at the highest levels, and who are currently only a handful of professional short trackers who driver for someone else and do so without bringing a check.

The story is about a race that generated a lot of passing, numerous strategies, and countless storylines throughout 300 laps.

It was about what two men were willing to do to reward the teams that invest in them and wanting to give them the most prestigious prize in pavement short track racing.

It was about the Tom Dawson Trophy and everything that remains right about the discipline.

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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. Anonymous

    December 11, 2020 at 11:57 am

    That’s crap Matt. The Florida hate for Bubba Pollard is ridiculous. Y’all cry all the time when Nasse can’t get his way. At some point, Nasse is going to end up like Matt Craig’s father did at Hickory last year. But whatever,.

  2. Matt Weaver

    December 11, 2020 at 12:01 pm

    What exactly is crap? I said the penalty was deserved based on precedent. I’m not sure what you take you wanted to read here.

  3. David

    December 11, 2020 at 4:21 pm

    Lol, the Florida hate for Pollard???? I don’t know about central Florida, but he’s more than beloved by fans at Five Flags in Pensacola……your comment is ridiculous!!

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