SNOWBALL DERBY LEFTOVERS: PART ONE   by Jeremy Troiano & Matt Kentfield
Rogers Does Well... Gill Does Well... Crate Engines Do Well...

Considering what he had to go through to get there, a third-place finish in this year’s Snowball Derby wasn’t all that bad for Pro Cup Series regular Clay Rogers.

Rogers again recalled the fact that he and his team didn’t even have their Snowball derby car until two weeks before the race.

“There isn’t anyone here that worked like we worked just to get to the racetrack.  This was the furthest thing from our mind until the flag fell at Lakeland (in the Pro Cup finale).  I am happy. 

“My Pro Cup crew chief, Bill Boger, actually owns this car.  So to give him a top-three finish when he hasn’t been an owner in a while is pretty cool.”
Clay Rogers   (51 Photos)
And considering the two cars that finished in front of him, he’ll take his third-place run in the season’s biggest Super Late Model race any day.

“There is a reason they call Eddie Mercer the ‘Mayor of Pensacola,’” said Rogers, who competed in his first Derby since 2002.  “He’s been here a thousand times.  He races here a lot.   And this (pointing to second-place Steve Wallace’s car) is the car that won the race here last year.  I’m not complaining or anything, but they have a lot of money and test time.  These two guys have been running straight-rail cars and All Pro cars all year long.

“So to finished third, behind these guys, is pretty cool.  This is a brand new, Hamke chassis.  I haven’t been in one of these cars in over two years.  This just shows you what happens when you get a good group of guys together.  You can win at anything. I don’t care if it is go-karts, late models or anything.”
It was a pretty smooth race except for the fact that Rogers had to come in to pit during one cation period when his hood was beginning to buckle.

“Who know what would have happened if I had not had to come down pit road and fix the hood.  We might have been alright.  I might have had a shot to win with track position.  The left front tires was hitting the fender so hard, it broke one of the braces.  It got air under it and broke one of the hood pins.  You don’t realize how fast you are going here until you watch the air on that hood.”


Rogers had to come down pit road to fix a buckled hood.
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Freddie Query had perhaps the most eventful day of any driver in the pit area on Sunday.  Query led laps, was involved in multiple incidents and finished the Snowball Derby with the most damaged car still running at the end.

Early in the 300-lap race, Query got together with polesitter and race leader Eddie Mercer, sending Mercer spinning between turns three and four, and giving Query the lead.
“I can’t afford to spend $35,000 on a competitive 9 to 1, and the deals we used to get buying the old Busch engines are all gone.  This is definitely how we get racers back to the track with a more affordable option.  It doesn’t obsolete what everyone else has; it is just a fair and affordable alternative that gives anyone a chance to win.  Plus, it is a guaranteed engine, if a rod or crank breaks, I don’t have to worry about the cost to fix it.  That is how great and reliable this package is.”

McGunegill Engine Performance, with the co-operation and guidance from Super Late Model officials at Champion Racing Association (CRA), has worked to produce a competitive Sealed Engine at a fraction of the cost of a top flight 9 to 1.  In the 2005 CRA season, drivers Rick Turner, Jeff Lane, and Billy Crane made all the shows, and each have commented that the low cost
Query led for several laps after the Mercer incident, but bad pit stops forced Query to race from the rear or middle of the field for much of the remainder of the race.  With just a few laps remaining, Query found himself on the outside of a three wide entry into the first corner.  Contact among the drivers was made and Query found himself on the short end this time, making contact with several cars as he spun.

Everyone’s telling me it was Steven (Wallace) that started it but I don’t know who it was.  “I know I was on the outside and all the sudden my spotter’s saying three wide.  I couldn’t do anything.  (Dave) Mader said Steven ran in there and popped him in the butt but I don’t know what happened.  I was up there where I shouldn’t have been and got into a wreck.

Query was most frustrated about his lack of success on pit road. 
“Eddie was a good one to follow and I was happy to do it,” said Query, who has had run ins with Mercer before at the Derby, including a few years ago.  “He knows what you have to run to save your tires all night long here.  So I was thinking, ‘okay, this is fine.’  Augie (Grill) was happy following me, so here we go, saving our tires and everything’s cool.  Then we have a restart. 

“We came off two on the restart and Eddie just didn’t go.  I got down under him and I got up to his door and I could’ve looked eyeball to eyeball with him.  He ran me down into the grass down there and we both almost wrecked.  What do you do?  I was lucky I didn’t get hurt any worse than I did and he’s lucky he won the race.”
Freddie Query had an eventful race, as evident with this spin late in the going.  (Dan Butler Photo)
who finishes the Snowball Derby with the most wrecked race car.  Several years ago, Goodson finished the Derby with a destroyed car held together by miles of duct tape.  Query’s #8 took the title this year, with damage on all four corners.

“You know, the wheels and tires never got hit.  I saw Rich Bickle win this thing two or three times with no fenders, no nose, no hood and I’ve seen countless others do it.  So really I don’t get too discouraged if the fenders and stuff get knocked off because you can still win this race as long as the wheels and tires are still going in the same direction.”


Looking down on pit road after Randy Gentry spun on lap 103, you would’ve thought you went to a professional wrestling match and a Snowball Derby broke out. 

Query's car looked worse for wear after the race.
“One of my biggest weaknesses is usually my crew.  That’s why I don’t run any more than I do.  It’s normally me and my wife and anyone I can find to go with me.  When you have to make pit stops, it hurts me.  A guy like Ryan Crane comes in the pits 15th and comes out fifth.  I come in the pits fifth and come out 25th.  You can’t come here and do that.  I know it and I’ve done it before.  I’ve also come here with good pit crews and dang near won the race.  If I ever come back there may be something that goes wrong, but I’ll have good people in the pits.”

Despite his disappointing Snowball result, Query did receive a consolation prize.  The unofficial award, dubbed the “Hal Goodson Most Damaged Car To Finish The Race” Award, is jokingly given to the driver
When Gentry got to Cywinski’s pit area, he stood at the bottom of the Country Joe Racing pit box and shouted at Cywinski’s crew chief, Mike Chaffee.  Crew members jumped in, but Gentry would not back away, and pushing ensued. 

“I told his crew that I’m going to do all that I can to get my car rolling so that I can bust his ass.”

“It’s just super disappointing because it’s three years in a row we’ve had the car to beat down here and we just couldn’t get the finish,” said Chaffee.  “We’ve just had bad pit stops every time that have screwed us so it’s our own fault.  The last stop we had a lug nut off so they brought us back in.  The 09 car thought that Kevin wrecked him but Kevin said he never touched him.  They were coming to kick our ass.  It was pretty awesome watching the cops haul him away though.”

Gentry’s car was too damaged for repair, but Cywinski saw the whole incident as a non-issue from his standpoint.

“Nothing happened between me and Gentry,” said Cywinski.  “He just got loose going into turn one and lost it all by himself.  I didn’t get into him.  I hope that’s what my crew told him too.”

Gentry lost a lap to the leaders early, but had made it back up and pulled ahead of race leader Kevin Cywinski when Gentry took trip hard into the wall.  Gentry immediately jumped from his wrecked race car and took off like a bull, heading towards Cywinski’s pit area.  After some pushing and shoving between Gentry and Cywinski’s crew, order was restored, but Gentry’s calmness wasn’t.

“Kevin Cywinski is a dickhead,” said Gentry after the pit road skirmish.  “We were up there a lap down, but I was staying ahead of him trying to get a lap back.  I gave him a lane and instead of going to the outside he turned me.”
Randy Gentry (left) is calmed down by secutiry after a mid-race accident with Kevin Cywinski.
Instead St. Amant stayed on the track when the leaders pitted for their final set of tires short of 100 laps remaining.  The drivers on fresh tires quickly made their way back to the front, leaving St. Amant struggling with the laps winding down.  A late caution with 25 laps remaining allowed St. Amant a chance to change his tires for one last shot at the win, but his #7 machine had to settle for a hard fought sixth place finish.

“We had a solid top 10 car, maybe even a top five car,” said St. Amant.  “We knew that when everybody pitted, if we had pitted too then that’s probably what we would’ve ended up with.  We didn’t come down here to run fifth, though.  The only way that we had a shot at winning was to stay out and let everybody stay out and use up their tires.  That’s what we did and I think Charlie Bradberry had the same idea.  We were the only ones that had new tires at the end.  We just had a little bit too loose of a race car all day.  The car turned good all day, we just lacked forward bite.  We were a rocket ship for about 10 laps there after the restart but then it just got too loose. 

“All in all it was a good run for us to come all the way back up from the back to sixth.  Coming to Pensacola with the competition they have here and to finish sixth is a good run for us.”


There were a lot of guys that you could have pointed to on Sunday and made special mention of as to having good runs.

But at the end of the night, a lot of eyes were on young Landon Cassill, who finished second in Saturday night’s Snowflake 100 after dominating most of the event.
Typical Gary St. Amant... always smiling.
The Snowball Derby typically has one of the best fields of Super Late Models in the country in terms of talent and car counts.  When Gary St. Amant says that this year’s Snowball field is the most impressive that he’s ever seen, it’s an eye-opener. 

“This might have been the toughest field of Late Models I’ve ever seen anywhere in the country on any given weekend of racing,” said St. Amant.

Even with all the talent in the Snowball field, St. Amant was still able to leave Pensacola with a solid sixth place finish.  The race was not without incident for St. Amant, as late in the race his car sustained damaged in a crash involving Freddie Query, forcing his team to change up their pit strategy for their final pit stop.

“Freddie Query got turned and I checked up,” said St. Amant.  “Then I got jacked sideways, I hit Freddie, then somebody hit me in the left side.  Nothing really bad happened, we hurt the body a little bit.  We lost track position right there and that really forced our hand on what to do.  Had we been up there in the top five like we were running then we probably would’ve come in and took tires with everyone else.”
Despite that though, Cassill went from just making the Derby (he was the final car to get a transfer spot in the Last Chance race) to nearly picking up a top-five finish in just his second Derby outing.

“If I had to grade the weekend, I would grade It was an A.   “We were at the bottom of the bottom before.  We were right up there and we were able to run with Eddie Mercer, Clay Rogers, Steven Wallace and others.  To be able to run with those guys and pass them and dice around with them and to get taken out by them; it is an honor to be here and to be a part of the Snowball Derby.”


Country Joe Racing had what looked to be on paper one of the best opportunities for victory in the Snowball Derby.  With two strong entries, steered by talents like Joey Miller and Kevin Cywinski, it was hard to bet against Country Joe’s stable.
Landon Cassill's #7 at speed Saturday.
Cassill ran as high as third at one point on Sunday.  He looked certain for a top-five or top-10 finish before getting spun by Augie Grill with 25 laps to go.

“I think we could have gone a lot longer on those first set of tires,” said Cassill, reflecting on his eventual 18th (and final car on the lead lap) finish.  “I was really conserving them.  The pit crew from Curb Records got us out fast.  That was awesome.  But by the time we had our third set of tires, I was in third and just riding, following the leaders.  I was ready to kick it in gear and got run over by the #112 (Grill).  That hurt us.”
But a lot can happen in 300 laps, and a lot did happen to both Miller and Cywinski.   Both drivers were involved in incidents that put their respective cars out of the event before it’s conclusion.

Miller was involved in a mid-race crash that put a hurting on his #15 Country Joe Homes machine.  Normally a driver would be disappointed with crashing like Miller did, but he kept the race’s outcome in stride.

“We had a part break,” said Miller.  “That is just part of racing.  But I’m not frustrated, I had fun this weekend.”

Cywinski’s day was going much better than Miller’s, as the three-time ASA champion was in the hunt all afternoon long.  He held the lead for 60 laps through the middle stages of the 300-lap race before coming to pit road on lap 167 along with the rest of the leaders. 

Loose lug nuts forced Cywinski to pit a second time under the caution, placing him deep in the field on the restart.  Just a few laps later, Cywinski was caught up in a crash involving David Rogers and Boris Jurkovic, putting an end to his day and dashing any hopes for a Country Joe Racing victory.
Kevin Cywinski's #1 (top) and Joey Miller's #15 were both heavily damaged in seperate accidents on Sunday afternoon.  (Dan Butler Photos)
“The 111 (David Rogers) and the 53 (Boris Jurkovic) cars got together,” said Cywinski.  “They were racing hard and the 53 car got shot out and I had nowhere to go.  It’s frustrating, but it’s part of racing.  The car’s pretty beat up, though.  The mistake on pit road got us back there and that’s what happens.”


It has been some time since a Pensacola-based driver has won the Snowball Derby.  Eddie Mercer changed that this year.  And because of that, there were a lot of happy people, including one of Mercer’s biggest rivals, fellow Pensacola-native Scott Carlson.

Carlson was a front runner all night long, but finished a somewhat disappointing ninth at the checkers.  Despite that though, there was little doubt that he was happy to see Mercer take the checkers.
“I feel very good for him,” said Carlson, who has tried to win the Derby 12 times.  “I would have felt good for any of the Pensacola guys.  We race here all year long.  This is a big race for us.  A lot of these guys come in for just one race a year and whip up on us like they have been doing.  We shouldn’t allow that.  It didn’t happen this year.  Fortunately, Eddie had a good car tonight.  He had the car to beat today.  It’s good for him.

“We started 30th, so we had a tough qualifying run.  After we changed our first set of tires, my crew got me out quick and we gained a lot of positions there.  We worked our way around there and just followed the leaders.  We were just in the top-five most of the day. 
Scott Carlson
“When we changed those tires at the end of the day, I think those were the worst tires we had all day.  I just kind of went backwards from there.  I don’t know.  We are happy and we have a car in one piece.  I think we are in pretty good shape. 

“We got a top-10 and the car is in one piece; that is pretty good for this year.  I am not satisfied with it, but I will settle for it.  My hat’s off to (Eddie) and his crew though.  Maybe next year, I’ll be in that position.”


CRA Super Series regular Chris Gabehart was a Snowball Derby rookie in 2005.  After 300-laps, he felt like anything but a rookie, grabbing a lead-lap, 15th-place finish.

“I had no idea what to expect coming into the weekend,” said Gabehart.
The future of high-powered, lower-cost racing took a great leap forward at the Snowball Derby, when all three teams using the low cost and guaranteed McGunegill Sealed Engine made the starting field for the 38th Annual Snowball Derby. 

When all was said and done, the three McGunegill Sealed Engines finished third (with Clay Rogers) and fifth (with Bobby Gill) and 18th (with Landon Cassill).  Cassill was running third with 20 to go, but spun late while battling for the victory. 

“This is a great package,” stated Gill, who drove Bob Blount’s #16 ride to a top-five run.  “Its one of the most ‘drivable’ engines I have ever raced.” 

Blount’s #16, with J.R. Norris behind the wheel, also has a successful outing with the same car/engine package at Nashville in the All American 400 just a few weeks ago, where they qualified second and led a large portion of the event.  
Both Bobby Gill's (#16) and Clay Rogers' (#2) cars had the McGunegill engines in them.
One thing he didn’t expect was how tough his race would be, thanks to a minor, two dollar part failure.

“I hope the next time I come back, my power steering belt stays on,” added Gabehart.  “It came off about 15 laps into the race.  I really wish more people knew that, because I think we had a better car than I could show. 

“I fought as hard as I could fight.  The car was as good as or better than I was.  We were a solid top-10 car.  I am not going to say we were a winning car, but we were a top-10 car.”
Chris Gabehart pits his #17 during the Derby.
Looking back on his Derby, and probably his season, Gabehart started to show how important racing his to him as his voice cracked.

“These big races are all about racing smart and I like to think that is what I excel at.  With any luck at all, I can get someone to know that.  This is a very small team and we work hard.  We don’t have a lot of experience, but we work hard.  We come to these races because that is what it takes.

“I can do this.  I want to get someone who can see it.”