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Storylines in Advance of the 53rd Annual Snowball Derby

Here’s everything you need to know in advance of the Super Bowl of Short Track Racing

Bruce Nuttleman | STS

There hasn’t been much to celebrate in 2020 but the most stacked entry list in recent Snowball Derby history is certainly one of them.

This is the first time since the turn of the century that the lineup will include two NASCAR Cup Series champions, and the two most recent champions at that, in the form of Chase Elliott and Kyle Busch. There are also six former winners in the field: Elliott, Busch, Noah Gragson, Augie Grill and defending winner Travis Braden.

In total, there are 55 drivers on the final entry list, steady from last year, meaning that time trials on Friday will remain the most intense qualifying show in motorsports.

Bubba Pollard enters his 15th year chasing the Tom Dawson Trophy as the most decorated short track racer of his era, but this time returns with a different team, driving the No. 71 for TK Racing with crew chief Butch VanDoorn.

Stephen Nasse crossed the finish line first last year but was stripped of the victory in post-race technical inspection. Ty Majeski led the most laps in 2019 but was denied due to a disastrous restart that wiped out half the remaining field in the closing laps.

Redemption is on their minds.

There are so many good stories to be found across 5 Flags Speedway over the next five days, and that’s just a brief snippet of them.

Here are the topics we’re paying attention to during Snowball Derby week.

NASCAR STARPOWER

Busch and Elliott will earn the headlines, and rightfully so, but there is no shortage of names familiar to NASCAR national touring fans as well. Noah Gragson has become a regular in the NASCAR Xfinity Series for JR Motorsports but won the Tom Dawson Trophy the last time he was here in 2018 and will reunite with Richie Wauters Motorsports for the 2020 race.

The NASCAR Truck Series will be well represented, headlined by 2015 ARCA champion Grant Enfinger, who has seven top-10s in nine Snowball Derby main event starts.

Several other Truck Series regulars, who have also been Derby regulars over the past decade, will also be represented in the form of Derek Kraus and Chandler Smith.

But again, the spotlight doesn’t need to find Elliott and Busch because they brought theirs with them. The two most recent NASCAR Cup Series champions will be looking for their third wins in the event. Busch won his Dawsons in 2009 and 2017. Elliott captured his in 2011 and 2015.

They bring a tremendous amount of attention to the Derby and will serve as gateway ambassadors to the discipline.

QUALIFYING FRIDAY

It’s the most exciting time trials show in all of motorsports.

The best way to describe Snowball Derby qualifying is Indianapolis 500 Bump Day during the heyday of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing. Only 30 drivers, of the 55 on the entry list, will lock into the main event from time trials, with everyone else who doesn’t have a provisional being forced into a last chance race.

There are only two drivers for sure locked into the main event: Defending winner Braden and reigning 5 Flags Speedway track champion Bubba Pollard. If Pollard drives into the field via time trials, that free pass will be passed throughout the top-10 in track standings if anyone needs it: Stephen Nasse, Jeremy Pate, Jake Garcia, Connor Okrzesik, Hunter Robbins, Boris Jurkovic, Kaden Honeycutt, Daniel Dye and Chris Davidson.

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BUBBA POLLARD’S NEW TEAM

This will be the 15th time the most decorated driver in Super Late Model racing has made the December trip to Pensacola but is still seeking the big prize. The 33-year-old has won virtually everything else in the discipline, including more races and championships than anyone else at 5 Flags Speedway, but just hasn’t found the combination of speed and fortune needed to add his name to the Tom Dawson Trophy.

To do so, Pollard has aligned himself with the most successful team in Super Late Model racing in 2020 with TK Racing and VanDoorn Racing Development, who swept the CRA Triple Crown races this summer with Carson Hocevar in the Redbud 400, Money in the Bank 150 and Winchester 400.

Pollard has spent the past several seasons driving a Senneker Race Cars chassis and sent the combination out a winner last month in the Florida Governor’s Cup at New Smyrna Speedway. Pollard is hoping that same speed will power his veteran experience to the front of the field on Sunday at 5 Flags Speedway.

THE FAVORITES

Sure: Elliott, Busch, Pollard and Nasse are the favorites, but who else is in that group?

Ty Majeski led the most laps last year and looked poised to win before an ill-fated restart eliminated him and several others from contention. Casey Roderick won the All-American 400 last month in just his fifth start as a driver owner after his split from Ronnie Sanders Racing last year.

SRL Southwest Tour champion Derek Thorn captured the pole here last year and won the Pro Late Model Snowflake 100 as well. He contended for the win in the All-American 400 last month before a crash with Carson Hocevar ended his chances. He will be a factor on Sunday as well.

Hocevar swept the CRA Triple Crown and is looking to add the Derby to his resume.

Matthew Craig is the winningest driver in the Carolinas over the past five years and has paired with NASCAR winning and Late Model Stock winning crew chief Marcus Richmond.

As we saw last year, Travis Braden winning after crashing out in Happy Hour practice, and then crossing the line second but winning due to the Stephen Nasse disqualification. Anything can happen if you’re running in the top-10.

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‘THE UNDERDOGS’

Even though the headliners will receive much of the attention this week, there are so many good stories throughout the entire field.

Dan Frederickson has been winning races across the Midwest for 15 years but is starting to tackle the Snowball Derby with regularity.

There are drivers who have won races across the country, but in December at 5 Flags Speedway become definition underdogs, but it still wouldn’t be surprising to see them in contention on Sunday evening.

We’re talking local aces like Logan Boyett, or Carolina ace Kodie Conner, Southern Super Series contender Kyle Plott, Berlin race winner Boris Jurkovic or Daniel Dye fresh off a runner-up run in the Florida Governor’s Cup.

The point being: an underdog in the Snowball Derby main event just means you’re a regional superstar wherever else you travel in the country.

THE BROADCAST

This is the sixth year the Snowball Derby will be broadcast to a national audience via Speed51.com, but it’s even more important this year due to the pandemic keeping families at home this winter and with the increased interest in the race due to the NASCAR champions and stellar entry list.

As a result, there is a tremendous amount of pressure on the digital staff of Speed51 to get this right in terms of broadcast quality and reliability.

They’re up to the task.

Speed51 founder and president Bob Dillner has learned much over the past decade in terms of broadcasting the race over the radio and now via video. They’ve taken some hits as well in terms of lags and broken streams.

Much of the summer was spent towards building a new Speed51.TV and the platform is said to have addressed every complain filed by customers over the past several years.

SNOWFLAKE 100

The Pro Late Model main event on Saturday is the most prestigious race for the crate Late Model cars as well.

That race is just as star-studded as the Super Late Model race as well. Bubba Pollard, Stephen Nasse, Derek Thorn, Matt Craig, Kyle Plott, Connor Okrzesik, Hunter Jack and John DeAngelis are all poised for double duty.

NASCAR team owner Justin Marks will make his Snowflake 100 debut. NASCAR Xfinity Series driver Josh Williams will make his Pro Late Model return. Fresh off winning the Prelude to the Florida Governor’s Cup, Ryan Luza will race in the Snowflake.

It’s the perfect prelude to the Snowball Derby itself.

SUPERSPREADER DERBY

It’s the pink elephant in the room.

COVID-19.

It would be irresponsible to not acknowledge the novel coronavirus as an element to the Snowball Derby. Nearly 20,000 will be in attendance on Sunday and many of them will be here throughout the entire week.

The race will take place in Florida, which has not imposed any restrictions over the summer, and this Snowball Derby will be contested pretty much like any other that came before it.

This isn’t to be patronizing, but if you’re attending the Snowball Derby, try to wear masks, mind your physical distance where possible and wash your hands. Do the right things by those around you.

Escambia County reported 739 new COVID-19 infections last week as its cumulative cases since the pandemic began grew to 16,729, according to the latest report from the Florida Department of Health. That’s the third consecutive week that Escambia County has topped 700. The county saw 800 new cases from Nov. 16 to 22 and 793 new cases from Nov. 9 to 15.

Santa Rosa County reported 432 more new cases last week to reach a cumulative 7,387. The week prior, the county 437 new cases.

The two counties nearest to 5 Flags Speedway has seen a steady and alarming increase in COVID-19 cases.

Inspectra Thermal Solutions will have installed temperature check stations at the entrance of the speedway for all attendees to pass through this week. The track is encouraging fans and participants to wear a mask. Hand sanitation stations have been placed throughout the facility.

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ENTRY LISTS

SUPER LATE MODELS

PRO LATE MODELS

SCHEDULE

WEDNESDAY, DEC. 2

9am Rig Parking By Line-Up Order in Parking Lot
11am Tech Opens Super Late Model & Pro Late Model
5pm Cone Up at Tech Line Tech closed to all cars after cone
6pm PFC Brakes Qualifying Draw Live Broadcast on Speed51.TV
8pm Green Flag Pit Party Muscogee Ridge Music at PFC Stage
10pm Pits Closed

THURSDAY, DEC. 3

8am Pits Open
9am Driver’s Meeting Near Tech Area
10am Super Late Model Practice Snowball Derby
11am Pro Late Model Practice Snowflake 100
11:45am Lunch Break
12:15pm Super Late Model Practice Snowball Derby
1:15pm Pro Late Model Practice Snowflake 100
2pm Super Late Model Practice Snowball Derby
3pm Pro Late Model Practice Snowflake 100
4:30pm Drivers Meeting Pro Trucks, Sportsmen & Pure Stocks
5pm Practice Pro Trucks, Sportsmen & Pure Stocks
5pm Speed51’s The Bullring Live in Fan Zone
6:45pm Qualifying Pro Trucks, Sportsmen & Pure Stocks
7:45pm Opening Ceremonies
8pm WCI Parts Pro Trucks 50 laps
Dock of Pcola Beach Sportsmen 50 laps
Lloyd’s Glass Pure Stocks 35 laps

FRIDAY, DEC. 4

8am Pits Open
9am Driver’s Meeting Super Late Model & Pro Late Model
10am Super Late Model Practice Snowball Derby
10:45am Pro Late Model Practice Snowflake 100
11:30am Modified Practice
Noon Tech Closes Super Late Model & Pro Late Model
Snowball Derby Qualifying Tires Released
1pm Super Late Model Practice Snowball Derby
2pm Pro Late Model Practice Snowflake 100
Mods to Pre-Qualifying Tech
3pm Modified Qualifying Lock in 28
Super Late Models to Pre-Qualifying Tech
4:30pm Modified Drivers Meeting Turn One
5pm Speed51’s The Bullring Live in Fan Zone
6pm Country Pleasin’ Sausage Pole Qualifying Super Late Models
7:45pm Pre-Race Cermonies
8pm Modifieds of Mayhem Series Finale 75 laps

SATURDAY, DEC. 6

8am Pits Open
8:30am Pro Late Model Qualifying Tires Release Tech Area
9am Driver’s Meeting SLM and PLM
10am Pro Late Model Practice Snowflake 100
11am Outlaw Stock Practice
11:30am Snowflake 100 Cars to Pre-Qualifying Tech By Group
11:45am Super Late Model Practice Snowball Derby
1:30pm Outlaw Stock Qualifying Lock in 28
2pm Snowflake 100 Qualifying Lock in 30
Snowflake Last Chance Race 50 laps / Transfer 4
Snowball Derby Last Chance Race 50 laps / Transfer 4
Outlaw Stocks B-Main If necessary
6pm Drivers Meeting Outlaw Stocks
6:45pm Pre-Race Ceremonies
7pm Allen Turner Hyundai Snowflake 100 100 laps
Faith Chapel Outlaw Stocks 50 laps

SUNDAY, DEC. 7

7am Pits Open Crew Members Only
Haulers Exit (By 9am)
8am Pits Open All With Pit Passes
9:30am Driver’s Meeting Tech Area
10am Worship Service Frontstretch Area
Noon Pre-Race Show Begins Live on Speed51.TV
Engine Warm-Ups Cars to Grid
Pre-Race Festivities Begin
12:30pm Snowball Derby Class Photo Frontstretch Stage
Recognition of Track Champions & Other Dignitaries
1:15pm Driver Introductions
Best Appearing Car Award
1:45pm Invocation / National Anthem
2pm 53rd Snowball Derby 300 laps

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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.

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