With only one race remaining at Five Flags Speedway before the Snowball Derby, a grand sum of 31 Super Late Model drivers made the trip to Pensacola to compete in the Southern Super Series Miller Lite 125 on Friday night.
In a race that was eventually won by Augie Grill, three past champions of the Snowball Derby, as well as a slew of up-and-coming drivers battled in the 125-lap event to gain valuable data and experience in advance of the Super Bowl of Short Track Racing.
Former Snowball Derby runner-up Jeff Choquette finished third on Friday night with a brand new chassis after starting the race in 10th. He believes that he and his Adrian Carriers team set themselves up nicely for the return trip in December.
“We had some new car blues,” Choquette said. “It was the first time the car had run 125 laps. We will work on it – take it back to the shop and fine tune on it — and pick up some more spots for the derby.”
Johanna Long, the 2010 winner of the Snowball Derby, did not share the same luck as Choquette. After sustaining left-rear damage due to contact with Todd Gilliland, Long steadily fell back but finished 11th with the aid of mid-race tire strategy. With the Derby only four months away, Long feels prepared to earn a second Tom Dawson Memorial Trophy.
“All in all, I feel like we have a really good car — especially a good setup for the Snowball Derby,” Long said. “I feel like every time you get in the car you learn something for every race.”
Harrison Burton, the 13-year old son of NASCAR Sprint Cup Series veteran Jeff Burton, also had a night that didn’t go entirely as planned.
Caught up in the multi-car accident on lap 75 that was caused by Gilliland — who spun his tires on the restart and subsequently stacked up the field — Burton’s car was never the same from that point on. With the tow off on the car as a result of the accident, he would limp around the track for the remaining 50 laps and finish 24th.
“We learned a lot here tonight,” he said following the race. “We definitely improved a whole lot and our car got better there on the long run and I learned a little more about my marks.”
“It was an all-around learning process tonight.”
Ross Kenseth, another second-generation driver, saw his hauler brake down twice on the trip to the Gulf Coast and was relieved to have better luck during the race itself on Friday night. Following a relatively quiet night on the track for the 21-year-old, Kenseth would finish ninth and return his No. 77 car to the hauler unscathed.
“We actually learned quite a bit,” he explained. “We felt like we probably had a sixth place car there but we just couldn’t catch a break on the restart. Every time on the restart, there was somebody two or three rows up that was off the pace.”
“The car returned in one piece – so I guess that was a positive.”
Snowball Derby festivities begin in Pensacola on Wednesday Dec. 3. The race itself is scheduled for 2 p.m. local time on Sunday, Dec. 7. Erik Jones of Kyle Busch Motorsports is the defending winner.