SNOWBALL DERBY: SATURDAY NOTES   by Jeremy Troiano & Matt Kentfield
Drama At Five Flags Speedway

On Friday, things didn’t quite go veteran driver Ken McFarland’s way.  He qualified 31st for the Snowball Derby, missing the transfer spot by just one qualifying spot.  Therefore, he had to run the last chance race on Saturday night trying to transfer into the main event. 
“He was DQ’ed for soaked tires,” said Brooks.  “That is a big no-no.  My sniffer went off on them.  They checked out a lot softer than any other tires that I’ve checked all year.  I also smelt it. 

“I didn’t show him the durometer readings.  I had already had the tires broke down at that point.  I couldn’t show him the readings.  But he knew they were soaked. 

“I told them it wasn’t brake cleaner.  It wasn’t carburetor cleaner.  It wasn’t lacquer cleaner.  It wasn’t mineral spirits.  It is either Bobby Ray Jones soak or Grip.  I’ve soaked enough tires, I know the smell.”

The DQ moved Boris Jurkovic back into the Snowball Derby after he failed to make the show through the last chance event.

Ken McFarland had a look of dejection after getting disqualified from the Snowball Derby. (51 Photots)
McFarland did just that, leading all 25 laps of the last chance race.  However, when McFarland went through post-race tech, he was disqualified for using soaked tires.

“They are saying that my tires are soaked, by they won’t show me on the durometer,”  said McFarland.  “(Tech Director Ricky Brooks) is saying they are softer on the durometer than anything he’s seen all year long, but he won’t show me.  I have been saying just show me the durometer, but he won’t show me.  I said ‘you have a durometer right here, stick them.’ He just won’t show me.  I asked him whose they were softer then and he just said ‘anything I’ve seen this year.’ 

“I don’t know.  I just don’t know.  We can try to have Fritz (Augustine, fellow Five Flags Speedway official) talk to him, but I don’t think it is going to get anywhere.

“I said stick them and he wouldn’t.  I just don’t know.  I don’t know what to do.”

McFarland was visibly upset.  Tech Director Ricky Brooks commented on the situation.
Every year, there are always a few noteable names that miss the Snowball Derby for various reasons.

This year’s Snowball Derby DNQ list could have qualified as a top-notch feature at any track across the nation.

Some of the big names that missed the show included Stanley Smith, Ryan Mathews, Jeremy Pate, J.R. Norris, Jack Landis, Bubba Pollard, Travis Kittleson, Dale Little, Matt Hawkins, Chris Davidson, Scott Hantz
Bradley Riethmeyer, Dwayne Buggay and Danny Bagwell.

The biggest name was that of JR Norris, who was driving the #5 car for Richie Wauters.

“It's been a tough day, tough week and tough year,” said Norris.  “It just hasn't been my year. I thought it was going to end up being a good year and I ended up winning four or five races total. Just when everything seemed it was going to get going good it got worse.
JR Norris was one of the biggest names to load up.
the race you really see who is good and where they are good.”

On the opposite end of the spectrum was Landon Cassill.  Cassill finished fifth, the final car to transfer.

“My guys and I have put my heart and soul into this week so it is great to be able to be a part of the Snowball Derby and be on the front row for the Snowflake 100. I didn't know what was going to happen. Finishing fifth in that last chance race is better than finishing fifth in any race at a local track anywhere just because of the names that were in that race. It's just umbelievable to do that.”


There are always plenty of big names at the Snowball Derby.  But every year, there are also a few that are missing as well.  This year, one of the biggest names missing from the Super Late Model world was last year’s Snowball Derby pole sitter, Gary Helton. 
Jeremy Pate was also one of the DNQs
Ryan Mathews might have traveled the farthest to miss the event, coming from Wisconsin.

“I’m disappointed we couldn’t be competitive here,” said Mathews.  “We’ve never raced here before, but we talked to everyone we could, but just jumping in and trying to guess how to qualify, we ended up just a little free in qualifying.  I’ll probably come with a different package next year. 

“I’m hearing they’re going to repave this place, and that would definitely be to my advantage.  We had plenty of track time.  We threw everything in that we could think of.  In practice, you try to learn as much as you can, but in
“We are getting a new car this winter.  I’m been looking at the Grill cars and Hamke has really stepped up his program.  Plus, they are in my backyard now.”

Davidson was involved in an early accident, which put him behind.

“I’m disappointed, but we put ourselves in this situation,” said Davidson, a Southeast Series regular.  “We were racing down the front straightaway, somebody put a bumper underneath of me and turned me around.  That sealed the deal for the rest of the night.  We’re usually pretty good here and usually race good, but if you’re not in the race it doesn’t matter.”
Senter, running in just his fourth Super Late Model series race of 2005, qualified an impressive 15th for Sunday’s Snowball Derby.  The GAS Series is a Pro Late Model (two-barrel carb) series.

Helton has been roaming the pits though, working with some of the teams who run his company’s Volunteer Race Engines.

“It is tough,” said Helton.  “We have always been here every year for quite some time now.  It is hard to miss this race.  I guess we are saving money, but it is still pretty tough to be here and not be racing. It hurts to not be out there running.

“I broke my collar bone about four weeks ago.  We had it plated and screwed together.  He wanted me to wait about four more weeks.  So, about the middle of January, I should be good to go.   I’ll be good for next year.”


For the second year in a row, the Georgia Asphalt Series champion has turned in an impressive effort during the Snowball Derby weekend. 

This year, Joey Senter is leading the GAS charge.
Gary Helton is at the Derby, but is not driving.
“There is a lot more horsepower in these cars.  They handle about the same.  You have to have a little more finesse.  There are just some things we are not used to, so we are having to get used to them.”


During Saturday morning’s driver’s meeting, CRA Super Series founder RJ Scott made an big announcement for the Super Late Model world.

CRA officials, along with several other sanctioning bodies, are working to form a four- or five-race series that that will help push Super Late Model racing into the forefront.

“It will include Nashville’s All American 400, the Snowball Derby, SpeedFest and the return of the Winchester 400,” said Scott.  “All that stuff is hoping to have a big ‘Four Crown’ type of deal.  We are trying to bring back some of the great Super Late Model races.
Joey Senter
“There are a lot of big names here,” said Senter.  “I’m really pleased with the effort we’ve had some far.  If you look at some of the names behind us, or those in the last chance race, you’ll know why.  This is a good field, so we are having to pick our stuff up.  This is a brand new car.  It is Port City North car.  They always give us good stuff.”

“Earlier yesterday, we worked on our qualifying setup just to get in the field.  Then I got behind Scott Carlson, who is a good local guy, to see his line and learn something.” 

There has been a little bit of a learning curve from the Pro Late Models to the Super Late Models.
“That is planned for the Oct. 14 and 15 weekend.  It is a non-Cup Sunday, which is big.  That is three weeks before Nashville, which gives the guys a good turnaround.  Then there is a month before Snowball, and another month and a half before SpeedFest.  That gives the guys time to do their own thing around the country, then have some fun late in the year.   We want the best of the best to be able to get together for a four-race shootout.”

More details will be finalized soon.


Growing up in the the Mobile, Alabama suburb of Irvington, Cale Gale knows about the history of the nearby Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola, Florida.  Gale has his eyes set on making the short trip home with a Snowball Derby trophy by race’s end on Sunday night.  Judging by his 13th place qualifying run on Friday, Gale has a great opportunity to win the biggest race of his career in his first Derby start. 
“We are looking at having a $100,000 bonus to win all four.  Another bonus if you with three.  Another bonus if you win two and so on.  We are also talking about having a point fund and a points battle.”

CRA officials have been working to bring prominence back to Super Late Model racing for some time.

“We are wanting to bring more uniformity to what we are doing and help develop popularity in more areas.  We want to bring Super Late Model racing to what it used to be, when you had a racecar that you could go run with at different places around the country.  For a number of years recently, that wasn’t the case.  But now, we are getting back to that.

“With the promoters getting together to do things like this, it is really exciting for the racers, the teams and the fans. Things are still being finalized, but all of the parties have agreed to pursue it.

This will hopefully start with the return of the Winchester 400 in 2006.
There is some big news coming for Super Late Models.
We tested here Wednesday and got it as good as we wanted it to be.  We struggled a little bit yesterday morning but got it to the way I like it during the afternoon.  Last night in qualifying we had a pretty good run.  If anything we were a little loose off, but it wasn’t too bad.  We’ll just have to see what happens on Sunday, but I think we’ll be good.”


Matt Merrell was perhaps the most excited Snowball Derby driver to not make the starting field through time after qualifying on Friday.  Merrell struggled throughout Friday’s practice sessions and even slapped the wall with the driver’s side of his car halfway through. 

After some hard work by the crew, Merrell got back on the track late in practice and was even able to get even more speed out of his car in qualifying giving him hope for Saturday’s practice and last chance qualifier. 
Cale Gale at speed.
“To start 13th in my first Derby is pretty special,” said Gale.  “Especially considering all the good cars that didn’t get into the race yesterday, we’re very happy to be where we are for the race.  It’s going to be a long 300 laps, so we’re hoping just to stay on the lead lap and finish in the top 15.”

Gale is one of the hometown heroes at Five Flags, as the young driver won the third round of the Blizzard Series for Super Late Models.  With many fans in the grandstands cheering him on, Gale is focused on success in his first Snowball start.

“With this being one of my home tracks, we really wanted to try to qualify in the top 15 from the time we got here.
”We luckily didn’t have to do much to the car after hitting the wall,” said Merrell.  “We had to get a lower A-arm and fix the ball joint and some other things like the sway bar, but it wasn’t too bad.  We were right back on the track after that and I think everything’s squared away now and we can be good today.

Despite not making it into the Derby on time, Merrell was optimistic for his chances to make it in through the last chance race based on his improvement from practice to qualifying on Friday.
“We were pretty happy with the qualifying run even though we didn’t make the field,” said Merrell.  “We picked up over a half second in qualifying from practice yesterday so that was a big confidence booster for us.  I think we can get into the top five in that last chance race and make it into the race.

“We luckily didn’t have to do much to the car after hitting the wall.  We had to get a lower A-arm and fix the ball joint and some other things like the sway bar, but it wasn’t too bad.  We were right back on the track after that and I think everything’s squared away now and we can be good today.”

Unfortunately, he didn’t make the show through the last chance race and was one of several drivers going home.


The biggest event in Saturday’s practice session came early in the session when David Rogers was sent spinning into the turn three wall after trying to avoid the car of Snowflake 100 competitor Brandon Sager. 

Sager was traveling down the backstretch at a slow pace after just leaving pit road.  With Rogers at full speed down the backstretch, Sager merged into the groove just at the time as Rogers was racing in it.  The cars made contact and both sustained heavy damage, leaving both drivers dejected.
Matt Merrell
suspension out of it and the body is a mess.  Hopefully the officials will be a little lenient on the ABC body rules when all’s said and done.”

Sager’s machine also sustained heavy damage in the incident, but the youngster took the blame for himself.

“My spotter cleared me and I wasn’t clear, that’s what happened,” said Sager.  “I hate that it happened, I do.  All my car needs is a door, a fender, and a bunch of other stuff, but we’ll be alright.”

Despite his crew’s best efforts to repair the car, Sager’s machine was not able to make it into the Snowflake 100 race, falling just a few positions short of transferring into the main event.


He won the pole for the Bomber feature on Snowball Thursday and went on to win the feature.  Then his brother won the pole for the Snowball Derby on Friday.  So it was up to Stevie Mercer to keep the trend going and win the pole position for the Snowflake 100. 
David Rogers car was wrecked in practice on Saturday afternoon.
“I have no idea what happened,” said Rogers.  “I was just trying to make a long run out there and the boy in the #8 car was just going so dang slow and suddenly he just came right up onto the race track.  I don’t know if he got loose or was trying to shake his car down or what, but I tried going by him and wham!”

Rogers’ damage kept him from getting back on the track on Saturday.  The team spent the entire afternoon and night working on it to get it back together in time for Sunday’s 300 lap Derby feature.

“The car is pretty bad,” said Rogers.  “Hopefully by tomorrow’s race we can have it back together, but there’s a lot of everything that we have to fix.  We knocked the
“Maybe we can even make it three poles for the weekend for the family,” said Mercer. 

Although he fell short of the pole, his 23rd place qualifying run put him safely in the Snowflake.  In just his third Late Model race of his career filled with much success in street stock divisions, Mercer is still adapting to the art of driving a Late Model in the biggest race of his young career in the division. 

“I’m getting pretty comfortable in the car,” said Mercer.  “I’m not used to cars like this, that’s for sure.  Going into the corners in the Bomber car, if it breaks loose I can expect it to come back to me.  The steering is just so much quicker in these cars, they’re a whole different animal.  We practiced good yesterday and I think we can probably get a good qualifying run, maybe even a top 10. 

Mercer wound up finishing 20th in the Snowflake.


Eddie Mercer talks with his brother Stevie on Saturday.
The front bumper of Bubba Pollard’s car featured a special variation of the Chevrolet markings that traditionally adorn stock car bumpers.  Instead of the “Monte Carlo” decal that usually is put across the center of the bumper, Pollard’s Snowball Derby entry featured the words “Monte Comma.”

Now if you were paying attention in English class, a comma is a form of punctuation used to slow a reader down to add emphasis to a phrase.  A comma is not a state of health, that’s a coma. 

If only Bubba Pollard’s crew had gone to class that day.
“When we were leaving Birmingham one night, some of the guys on the crew were talking about the car being wrecked and how it looks like it’s got a coma,” said Pollard.  “So we started calling the car Monte Coma.”

When pointed out that what his bumper actually says, Pollard backed away and pinned the blame for the error on his crew.

“Oh,” said Pollard.

“You’ve got to talk to the boys about that, it’s not my fault.”

Snowball Derby polesitter Eddie Mercer’s #72 was noticeably missing form the practice sheets on Saturday for most of the session.  Mercer waited until the last few laps of practice to get on the track to dial his car in for Sunday’s 300 lap Derby.

Snowball Derby and Snowflake Late Models were on the track for the first 2 ½ hours of practice on Saturday before Derby cars were allowed to practice by themselves on the track for an hour.  Mercer hung around the pit area until the last few minutes of practice before putting laps on his machine.

“We’re just waiting to get a long run,” said Mercer.  “We wanted to wait until the end of practice to get out there because we only wanted to put in one good long run because we know we have a good car.  We know where we’re at, we just want to give one more run before the race.”


After Snowflake qualifying, Keeton Hanks had the biggest smile of all the Late Model drivers in the pit area.  In his first ever Snowball Derby 100 lap race attempt, Hanks set the fastest time, but was nearly immediately disqualified from his pole winning run in post-qualifying technical inspection.
Hanks went from being excited to bummed in the matter of one sentence from head technical inspector Ricky Brooks.  Brooks told the Hanks team to either make their ignition box work in accordance with the rules or not be able to race.

“His rev limiter in the MSD box had been disabled,” said Brooks.  “He had the correct chip in the box but it had been disabled.  I got a test chip and used it for every car and it was set at 2000 rpm.  I let his guys bring their motor all the way up to 5000 rpm and it never went off.  So I told them to shut the motor off.  If they change the box and it he could burp my chop then he can run the last chance race.”

As Hanks choked back his emotions, he had to go back to the drawing board.

“They’re saying the box is illegal,” said Hanks.  “I don’t know how it could be.  I just don’t know.”
Keeton Hanks' shirt said it all on Saturday.
Hanks’s team managed to make their ignition box fit Brooks’s guidelines and were allowed to enter the last chance Snowflake qualifying event.  Hanks transferred into the feature, but again was disqualified for too much left side weight in post-race tech.


If you were to see Jesse Smith standing next to his #81 Snowflake 100 entry, you’d probably think he’s an eager young fan waiting for a driver’s autograph. Smith, however, is well on his way to being one of the drivers whose autographs will some day be quite valuable.

Standing at 5 feet tall on his tippy toes, the 16-year-old Smith turned many heads with his Spam-sponsored Pro Late Model in practice for the Snowflake.  Although he had to transfer through the last chance qualifier, Smith was a wide-eyed youngster when it came to the excitement of running in his first Snowball Derby. 

“We were decent in practice and I think we’ll be pretty good in qualifying trim,” said Smith.  “This is my first Snowball.  It’s a great race, a lot of great cars, and it’s just a great experience.    It’s a great race to come to and show what you’ve got and I’m really excited about it.

Smith raced to 15th in the ASA Late Model Series points in 2005, his first behind the wheel of a high-powered 2-barrel Late Model.  A strong rookie season this season has Smith excited for the future.

“We ran ASA Late Models all year this year,” said Smith.  “We had a good season and some great experience for my first year in Late Models.  I’ve been racing for 10 years but this was my first in a Late Model and I’m really looking forward to building on next season. I think then we’ll be a real contender.  We’re busy getting ready for next year already and I’m looking forward to it.  But I really want to do well this weekend.”

Many people may not have ever heard of Allen E. Brown, but if you have you know how much of an expert he is on race tracks across the world. Brown is the man behind the popular "National Speedway Directory" which lists every active racetrack across America and abroad. He has also authored the book "America's Speedways Past and Present" which goes deeper than the directory including many facilities that no longer exist.
Jesse Smith gets interviewed by's Matt Kentfield.
Brown made his return to the Snowball Derby and Five Flags Speedway. He was quick to point out that although the Speedway may have changed a lot over the years, the signifigance of the Derby has not..

The one thing that stands out on my mind are the two times I had been here before were before the wall was put up. When you ran off the track here you would run off the track all together. Except for in turn four of course. That is where they had the serious problems like Mike Alexander getting injured there. It is just such a unique event because there is nothing going on in the country that is running this weekend. Over the years every hot shot in paved late models have been here one time or another. Look, you had Rusty Wallace and now his kid won the
Allen E. Brown seels his books at Five Flags Speedway.
race last year. You have generations of racers running this event. It's hard to describe it to anybody how big this show is.