SNOWBALL DERBY LEFTOVERS: PART TWO by Jeremy Troiano, Matt Kentfield & Dan Butler
Rogers Does Well... Gill Does Well... Crate Engines Do Well...
STEVIE MERCER GOES BEYOND THE CALL OF DUTY FOR EDDIE
How far would you go to help a family member fullfill his or her dream? Would you climb underneath a running automobile while being dowsed with gasoline? Since the risk of serious if not fatal burns is so great, most of us would have some serious doubt about it.
Just moments after climbing out of his car to celebrate his first Snowball Derby win on Sunday, Eddie Mercer found out that his little brother, Stevie, had silently put his life on the line to help get him to victory lane.
It didn't take Stevie long to come up with an idea, one that only a very, very loving brother would agree to.
Stevie ran back to the team's hauler and grabbed their spare firesuit, some gloves and some bubble goggles. Stevie's idea was to crawl under the car during the next pit stop and hold the valve in place from underneath the car which would allow the fuel to get into the fuel cell. The idea was not well received throughout the team's pit, but Stevie knew it was the only way to keep Eddie going and he was willing to do it.
"I just kept saying 'don't tell Eddie, don't tell Eddie’ to the guys, because if Eddie found out what I was going to have to do, he would have called it quits for the day."
On lap 145, with Eddie running on fumes, the decision was made to pit for fuel. For Stevie, it was "go time".
"He pulled it in and I snuck underneath the car as quick as I could," said Stevie, "grabbed a hold of the valve and shut my eyes and mouth. It was awful, I had fuel pouring into my nose, into the goggles, just everywhere!"
Eddie Mercer comes in for a stop. (51 Photos)
When Mercer and Freddie Query got together in the early stages of Sunday's Snowball Derby, most saw it as a harmless spin. Mercer didn't hit the wall, he got the car turned back around, ducked into the pits for some fresh rubber and got in line for the restart. His pitcrew however noted a potential disaster, but chose not to tell Eddie. When Query's car made contact with Mercer's left rear, it broke the drylock fuel valve which meant that no fuel could get into the car.
"Basically, we were done. He was going to run out of fuel and our day would have been over, " said Stevie Mercer. "So we switched our radios off of Eddie's channel so we could discuss the situation and come up with a solution."
While Stevie was laying under the car, covered in highly flammable racing fuel, his tire guys where hard at work changing the tires.
"I just kept thinking about those lugnuts and how they can make a spark when they are removed so quickly, and the hot exhaust, I was just thinking of everything, it was scary!"
With fresh tires and 10 gallons of fuel in the car, Eddie was back on the track, still unaware of the huge risk his brother had just taken for him. As Eddie was getting back into the pace line, Stevie was flushing his eyes while the crew poured water from the cooler on him to help dilute some of the fuel from his skin. 155 laps later, Eddie Mercer had become the 38th annual Snowball Derby champion, with the help of his little brother.
Eddie Mercer (left) gives an award to his brother Stevie (right).
with everybody else. It just seemed like we could never overcome it. Every time we got up closer to the front the caution would come out and everybody would come take tires. They’d pass us back and we’d have to do it all over again.”
With just a handful of laps remaining, Brazier’s run again was halted by a pileup in turn 2.
“I got in a wreck in the end that started two or three cars up ahead of me. I tried to slow down but somebody got into the back of me. That’s just how my day went, you know?”
“It was a frustrating day. The first wreck was really frustrating because it was early and we were just riding. The one at the end was just as frustrating because everyone was racing hard and I saw it coming. That’s just part of it.”
27TH DOESN’T SHOW WHAT ANDERSON REALLY HAD
There is very little doubt that Eddie Mercer has one of the fastest cars at Five Flags Speedway on Sunday. So did Steve Wallace. So did Clay Rogers. Each of which finished in the top-three, behind Mercer.
But there was on driver who appeared to have a car that could have matched any and all of the top-three drivers. That would be the #84 of Wayne Anderson.
It was amazing that Johnny Brazier wasn’t dizzy by the end of the Snowball Derby. Brazier started third, ran with the leaders several times, but ended up spun around both early and late in the race. When he was able to stay at the front through pit strategy, leaders on new tires quickly sped past him. It was a difficult day for Brazier to say the least.
“Early in the race we were just sitting there and riding because we had a good car,” said Brazier. “We were making laps running third or fourth. Somebody got into the back of me and spun me around and it turned our day around. It changed all of our strategy because we had to come in and take tires, throwing us off sequence
spun, I got on the brakes really hard and I guess it broke the trailing arm bracket.”
Despite the issues, Anderson was in a very good mod following the race and called it one of the best Derbys he’d seen.
“It was a good Derby. Everyone I come to is a good one though. This field is full of great racers and tonight, most of them showed it.”
DRAWDY’S RETURN NOT AS WELL AS HE’D LIKE
Justin Drawdy did not get to race as much in 2005 as he would have liked, but there was one event that he was not planning to miss for the world. The 38th Annual Snowball Derby at Five Flags Speedway (FL) is the biggest short track race in the country and one that Drawdy had really looked forward to.
What he got out of the event was a mixed bag. Drawdy qualified his #12 Drawdy Brothers Construction car an impressive sixth out of the field of over 60 cars, but a promising race ended for the Florida driver on lap 165.
Unfortunately, the final rundown will show Anderson with a 27th-place finish.
“I had an awesome race car,” said Anderson, who led 26 laps on Sunday. “We just got pitted out of sequence. I thought more people would stay out and the whole field pitted when we were leading that one time. I figured if we could get about 20 laps, we’d be ok. And we did. So we came in and got hung in the back.
“We came back to fifth or sixth and I came in again and ran over the air hose. They backed the car up, but it got hung under the car. That put me in the back. So we were coming back again and when Freddie (Query)
Wayne Anderson's #84 ended the night on jack stands.
SENTER HOPING FOR BETTER NEXT YEAR
After qualifying 15th for his first Snowball Derby, 2005 Georgia Asphalt Series champion Joey Senter had his sights set on a strong finish. But Snowball debuts seem to be either pleasing or frustrating, and for Senter it was the latter.
A crash early in the race put a damper on Senter’s Snowball weekend. Undeterred, Senter is already looking forward to next year’s Snowball.
“We hit pretty hard,” said Senter. “I got into David Hole, then somebody got into me and spun me around. It was just a racing deal.
“I thought we had a pretty good car, too. It’s just a shame and we’ll have to regroup and come back again next year and hope to do better.”
HOGAN NOW A TIRE CHANGER
Justin Drawdy's car sits stalled on pit road on Sunday.
“We had a pretty good car,” said Drawdy. “The motor stopped running there on the frontstretch. It just quit and doesn't have any oil pressure so I have no idea. It just completely shut off.”
The DNF was hard to take.
“It's so disheartening,” said Drawdy. “You work all year to come to this race. It is the biggest race around with the best racers. So it is real disappointing when you can't finish the race. We had a pretty good car. We've been here since Wednesday so that makes it even harder. It's not just good enough to be in it for us now. We've done this race and now we want to win it and put on a good showing.”
But Drawdy isn’t hanging his head too low. He’s already looking past the short off-season to next year.
“Hopefully 2006 will be a better year for us,” Drawdy said. “Now we can close the chapter on 2005 and open up a new one with Speedfest in January.
so I went down there and did what we had to do.
“I don’t think we lost but maybe one spot all day. I guess that isn’t bad for a racecar driver turned tire changer.
“I would grade myself with an 85-percent. I changed about 12 tires in the last year and a half. I guess that wasn’t too bad.”
FOURTH PLACE BITTERSWEET FOR GRILL
A fourth-place finish for Augie Grill would normally have left the driver excited about such a strong result. Racing with the leaders all afternoon left Grill in a position for a top-five finish and that’s just what he got. After the race though, Grill was more disappointed about contact with Landon Cassill late in the event than happy about his fourth-place finish.
“My car was good. The car was good the whole race,” said Grill. “But I hate that I got into Landon Cassill with about 15 or 20 to go. The car just wasn’t turning as well as it was all day. I was hoping to get up and race with Eddie (Mercer) and Steven (Wallace), but it wasn’t meant to be I guess.
It has been a few years since Jason Hogan has competed in the Snowball Derby as a driver. But the last few years, he’s been around the track. Last year, he was a part of the winning Richie Wauters team with driver Steve Wallace.
He was again a part of the Wauters team this year, but when it came time to race, he was drafted by the #16 Bob Blount team with driver Bobby Gill to change tires.
“You have a driver and team in need and I was here to help out,” joked Hogan. “Na, really, it was cool to get to change tires for Bobby Gill. He is a great racecar driver. They needed some help and I didn’t have anything to do,
Jason Hogan (center) gets ready to change tires for Bobby Gill.
MADER ON PIT ROAD MORE THAN THE TRACK
Dave Mader III has been around long enough to know that some years, you are on, while other years, you are just a little bit off.
“I think he thought or somebody told him there was more space there than there really was. When his spotter cleared him he just came down. It wasn’t on purpose but it happened. I wheel hopped his left rear and it bent something on my right front.
Even though he felt bad about the Cassill incident, Grill could still smile about his top five run.
“I’m still happy with fourth. It’s the first time I’ve ever been here for the Snowball and actually finished so that’s a great accomplishment. My only goal when we came here was to finish. Maybe we could contend and race for the win, but I’m more than happy just to finish and be on the lead lap. To be in the top five, I couldn’t ask for anything else.”
With a top five run in this year’s Snowball experience, what would Grill grade his effort?
“On a scale from 1 to 10, I’d give us an eight. My pit crew is a bunch of friends I have from high school and a couple parents of friends from high school. I lost a little time in the pits, but I can’t blame them for that. I don’t pay any of them anything, so I’m happy that as a team we could get a good finish.”
the ill-handling car, Mader was will able to come home with a lead-lap, 13th-placce finish.
“You just try to be a hero. We just weren’t that good today. We made up two laps. We finished 13th. Gosh, I’m tickled to death.
“This place is miserable when you are not right. It is so much fun when you are right. That was 22. We’ll come back for 23 next year.”
QUIETLY, GILL HEADS TOWARD THE FRONT
Three-time USAR Pro Cup champion Bobby Gill did his talking with his race car at the Snowball Derby. He posted decent times in practice all weekend and qualified in the middle of the pack. Surely no one expected him to make much noise in the race, right?
Gill didn’t need to be fast all weekend, just in the race. He stayed out of trouble and worked his way through traffic at a steady pace to capture fifth place, his best finish ever in the Snowball Derby. Although he was satisfied with his top five run, Gill knows he could’ve had more.
Dave Mader III struggled on Sunday.
This was one of Mader’s off years. But that didn’t stop him from making the most out of his Derby.
“When we unloaded, we weren’t good,” said Mader. “Yesterday, at the end of practice, we were the best that we had been, which wasn’t very good. We were at the back and when you are running poorly, you have to come in and try to make adjustments. What are you going to lose? One or two positions? We were trying to set up for the long runs on the tires.”
Mader visited pit road more times than any other car during the 300-lap race. Despite all of those troubles and
“We had a pretty good day to finish fifth,” said Gill. “We’ve never finished in the top five here so that was a pretty special accomplishment. We just could never get in the gas with these sealed motors. If everyone had to run these motors we’d all be in the same boat. Only two of us were running these motors and we both were just lighting up the tires in the corners. I think if we ran at a track that had some good asphalt we’d be the ones to beat, but it’s been a long weekend. We took it home fifth and we’ll take that.”
Gill admits he had to be a little lucky to have such a good run on Sunday.
“Towards the end there some of the lap cars would not give you the room that you needed to race. I think the last few restarts we all had to dodge those lap cars, even having to go between cars three deep to do it. We got pretty lucky to not get involved with one of them.”
ROGERS REBOUNDS FROM SATURDAY
Things were looking rather bleak for David Rogers on Saturday morning. That is when his #11 crashed after contact with another car in morning practice. The damage was extensive, but not bad enough to keep him out of the starting lineup.
Rogers made it on Sunday, and finished 23rd, five laps down.
“We are real lucky just to be able to get the car here,” said Rogers. “The guys worked really hard to get the car fixed. If we would have been as bad as we were tore up at any other race, we would have loaded up and went home.
“In the race, the car wasn’t good or it wasn’t bad, but I am sure there are some things that were tore up or bent that we didn’t see or we didn’t find while we were fixing it.”
Rogers had to make a couple of green-flag stops after his ride started smoking thanks to a leaky oil line. However, he got back out on the track and finished the race. Like a true veteran though, he got back out on the track and finished the race in the right way.
“I decided to ride and stay out of everyone’s way,” added Rogers. “We were four or five laps down. I know what this thing means to everyone that is here and racing. I respect racing too much to get right up there in the middle of it all.
“Yeah, I might have made a coupe of those laps up, but I might have caused a guy that could have won the race not to win it. And I don’t want that. When I am running good, I hope they will extend me some of those courtesies.”
MOTOR WOES END NIEDECKEN’S BID FOR DERBY WIN
If the Snowball Derby winner was to be determined by popularity, either actual winner Eddie Mercer or Junior Niedecken would take the title. Unfortunately for Niedecken, the race is won or lost on the track, and this year’s running of the Derby.
Niedecken slowed short of the halfway point in the race and pulled his #99 machine behind pit wall. His 26th Snowball Derby wasn’t one that goes on record as one of the best ones, but Niedecken isn’t going to give up.
“I think I lost a cylinder,” said Niedecken, who finished 31st. “It started smoking a few laps earlier and rather than keep running it I pulled it in for the day. I’m frustrated, I had a really good car and I thought I had something, but things didn’t work out. We’ll be back to try again.”
RICKY TURNER’S DAY ENDS EARLY
While Eddie was celebrating in victory lane, he was still unaware of what had happened, until he went to look at the damage done to his car earlier in the race.
"I remember looking at it (fuel valve) and asking one of my crew guys how the heck they got fuel in there", Eddie said, "and when they told me what Stevie did, I was a little upset. I'm sure glad I didn't know about it until after the race. I wanted to win real bad, but I sure don't want anybody getting hurt especially my little brother".
On Tuesday night, the Mercer family, friends and crew gathered together to celebrate their big win at a local restaurant. They used the opportunity to present Stevie with a special award for his bravery and going above and beyond the call of duty.
"My sister Wanda over at Compu Graphix made me up a little trophy called the Gas Guzzler Award for all the fuel I swallowed. She presented it to me in front of everybody. It was real neat." said Stevie. "I'm just so happy for Eddie, I'm glad it's over. Now my main concern is what to get him for Christmas, you know, what do you get for a guy that has everything".
BRAZIER’S ROLLER COASTER DERBY
Johnny Brazier''s #71
However, things changed quickly for Jurkovic when Ken McFarland’s car was deemed illegal after the last chance race and Jurkovic was moved up and eventually into the Derby.
Come Sunday, Jurkovic just rode around and learned how to drive the 300-lap Derby race, being that it was Jurkovic’s first trip to the half-mile.
“We had a good car. We just made some bad decisions there,” said Jurkovic. “I am just glad to be here and glad to be in one piece. We will come back next year.
Boris Jurkovic's #53
“We have never been here before this year. I’ve never even seen the racetrack.
“It is a tough little racetrack. I have never seen a place like this. Cywinski warned me on the deal and gave me a heads up on what to expect. I guess until you come here, you can never understand what it is telling you.
“I would grade my weekend a ‘C.’ We were just a middle of the pack car. What are you going to do though?”
Boris finished 16th.
SHOCKING! MIDDLETON STRUGGLES
Patience is an attribute needed to have a successful run in the Snowball Derby at Five Flag Speedway (FL). Jay Middleton had that covered, for this year’s running of the annual short track race. However, he didn’t foresee an unusual problem with a shock that would ruin his day and lead to a 35th-place finish.
“We never really got hold of the car all weekend,” said Bradberry. “In the race, we were going to try to late pit everybody because my car just wasn’t as good as everybody else’s. So we thought that could get us up there. My car was so good at the end, but I got caught up in a wreck there and there wasn’t anything I could do.
“Some guys got together ahead of me, everybody got on the brakes. Somebody got into Johnny Brazier and then I hit Brazier. Then somebody got into the back of me. It was just a racing deal.
Charlie Bradberry's #78
“I always have fun coming down here, but I didn’t finish as good as I wanted. I didn’t come down here to finish second. I came here to win, so anything less than that is disappointing.”
NO LUCK FOR HOLE
Now that David Hole took care of winning the 100 lap Snowflake Pro Late Model event in 2004, all that’s left for him to complete the Snowball Derby weekend trophy case is to win the crown jewel 300 lap Super Late Model race.
First, Hole has to finish a Derby. Hole was the victim of circumstances in a pileup early in Sunday’s Snowball Derby that ruined his chances for another year.
“It was another one of those bad luck deals,” said Hole. “They all wrecked in front of me in three and four. I got slowed down no problem but the guy behind me didn’t and nailed me and turned me sideways. I think I hit Bobby Gill because he couldn’t slow down and hit my left front and broke the tie rod.
“It was just one of those unlucky Derby deals. I haven’t finished one yet. There’s nothing we can do about it. We’ll get one one of these days, we just have to get a little luck.”
FROM JUST IN TO TOP-20 RUN
There was a moment on Saturday that Boris Jurkovic and his #53 team started loading up their trailer to head home. They failed to make the Snowball Derby field through qualifying and finished one spot out of the transfer spot in Saturday night’s last chance race.
Getting taken out in a crash is frustrating for any driver. Being involved in a crash early in a race is even more frustrating. To crash early in the Snowball Derby; it’s even worse.
That’s why Ricky Turner’s frustrations are understandable. Turner was involved in an incident between turns three and four just 25 laps into the Snowball Derby. The crash destroyed his #28 car and left the driver steaming.
”I don’t know what happened,” said Turner. “I saw a
Ricky Turner's day ended early, against the wall.
couple cars get together up in front of me and I got run into from the back, that’s about all I know happened.
“The car’s just tore up. There was nothing I could do about it. There’s nothing you can do when you get run over by a bunch of idiots.”
LATE-RACE STRATEGY BACKFIRES ON BRADBERRY
Charlie Bradberry knew he didn’t have a car good enough to win the Snowball Derby on Sunday afternoon. That still didn’t mean that he wasn’t going to try.
Bradberry came in for tires late in the race to hopefully pass cars on older tires in the closing laps, but the plan backfired as an incident with about 25 laps to go forced Bradberry to come from the rear again. He fought back all the way to 11th at the end of the race, but being just outside the top-10 was a disappointment for the 2003 Snowball Derby champion.
“We were just out there riding around,” said Middleton. “We came out there during the race and it starting doing this funny thing. What ended up happening was the left front shock was blown out. We put a new one on there and it lasted for about five laps and did the same thing. It did the same thing at New Smyrna last week.
The parts failure was one that Middleton had never experienced before, and not something that his team could have prevented either.
“It's weird because as you turn the car to the left I can feel there bound letting up on the shock. It is real disappointing. I know everything that goes on this car and we worked so hard this weekend. We don't build our shocks in house and I don't know what the problem is there. It just makes us look bad. We have six weeks to figure it out.
“The other day we were running long runs and it was 20 degrees
Jay Middleton's crew goes to work to try and replace the right front shock.
colder. I'm thinking that maybe when it got hotter today that the fluid got real thin. It just felt like it had nothing to grab on. Pro Shocks have been great for us. We have been running them for as long as we have been racing. We have never had this problem before. We will figure it out and get back out here and be competitive.”
”It's real disappointing that something little like that takes you out of a race like the Snowball Derby,” said Middleton. “I know I have a good car so it is hard to take. There were a lot of guys who went home and didn't even qualify. Everybody here respected half of those guys that went home. They are all champions and winners at different tracks and in different series everywhere. I was lucky enough to make the race. I was confident we would though. I never had any doubt that we wouldn't make the Snowball Derby.”