SNOWBALL DERBY: THURSDAY NOTES   by Jeremy Troiano & Matt Kentfield
Garvey, Rogers, Adams, Cozzolino, Hanks, Query & Much more

It isn’t weird at all to see Mike Garvey at Five Flags Speedway on Snowball Derby weekend.  However, it is a little different to see him wearing a headset instead of a helmet. 
“I’ve raced with Ryan and he is a good racer.  We’ve got a good baseline on the car, so we know where to go.”


The Snowball Derby always draws some big names from the world of Short Track racing.  There are former ASA Champions, ARCA race winners, Southeast Series champions and race winners and many other drivers with all kinds of accolades. 

One of the biggest names in this weekend’s race is Clay Rogers. 
Mike Garvey (left) is helping out Ryan Crane this weekend at the Derby. (51 Photots)
Garvey is spending this Snowball Derby weekend as a crew chief instead of a driver.  Garvey is helping out young Ryan Crane try and go for the trophy.

“It’s definitely different,” said Garvey.  “It is a lot of fun though.  I’ve never been in this position, so it is pretty fun.  The car is running good, so who knows.  One of these days, I’m going to have to quite driving, so I guess I need something to do. 

“I knew of the Cranes, but didn’t really know them well.  The way it came about was though that they called Wayne Anderson and said they needed some help.  Wayne was racing and knew I wasn’t going to race, so he sent them my way. 
Rogers returned to the Snowball Derby for the first time since 2002, when he ended up nearly upside down, he the hood of another car late in the race while battling for a top-five spot.  He’s hoping for better things this time around, but they started off pretty rocky as well.

“This car was built for us last year, then Steve Wallace got it and was going to run it here (last season),” said Rogers, the former Pro Cup Series Champion who is moving to the Busch Series in 2006.  “Then, he put together a deal with Richie Wauters, so he gave the car back to Hamke.  We got it about a week and a half ago and here we sit.  We left the shop at 1am this morning, so it has been hell to get it ready.  It doesn’t even have decals on it.”
Clay Rogers got to the track very late on Thursday morning.
make changes, he may go down one avenue and we may go down another to see what things work better.”

The WereCrete team also has two cars running in the Snowball, just like they did in the All American 400 a few weeks ago.  They also have the same drivers as a couple of weeks ago, with Freddie Query driving the #8 and Jeremy Pate in the #22.

Even the Snowflake 100 will have a two-car team, as the WalTom Racing team puts Kelly Biers and Josh Adams on the track for the first time together for Saturday’s feature.


Thursday’s six-hour practice session was relatively uneventful for most of the Snowball and Snowflake drivers.
The WalTom team is one of the multi-car teams that are at the Derby.
“It makes it a lot harder to have two cars here,” said Wauters.  “It’s double the work, you know!  JR’s car has been good the whole time we’ve been here, but Steve’s car is new and it has been giving us some troubles.  It is a brand new car. But it is a new car and we haven’t quite got it figured out yet.

There are several other two-car teams ready to take Wauters’ Snowball title away from him, including the Country Joe Racing team.  Veteran Kevin Cywinski teams with young star Joey Miller to pose a strong threat to the Wallace-Norris pairing.

“We worked all year with Joey and it’s neat to see him have success,” said Cywinski.   “We both came here this weekend with the same setups in the cars.  When we
Rogers said he wants this year’s Derby to be better than the ones of the past for him.

“It seemed like when it always got down to the nitty gritty near the end of the race, stuff was always getting torn up and that is why I haven’t been back in a bunch of years.  You can’t hold a grudge forever though.  It is a big race and everyone wants to win it, especially for the prestige. 

“This car is Bill Boger’s. It doesn’t belong to me, my dad, troy or Johnny.  It is Bill’s and this shows his love for this type of racing.  Hopefully, things will go well for us.”


Just like the top NASCAR series, multi-car teams are invading the Snowball Derby. 

Some of the top drivers in the Five Flags Speedway’s pit area are teamed up to create powerful forces for Sunday’s 300-lap feature.  Richie Wauters’ team has the advantage of having the defending race winner Steve Wallace along side JR Norris to create one of the more potent tandems in race history.
slammed against the outside wall.  The crew was in he process of making repairs as practice continued.

Augie Grill, who won earlier this year in the Blizzard Series at Five Flags, broke the third-link bracket on the rear end, sending up a cloud of smoke.  He returned later on.


Even if a team is only preparing one car for the weekend’s festivities, Friday’s practice session is still pretty intense.  Just ask Mike Fritts. 

“Believe it or not, you’re thrashing, even if it is six hours,” said the short track veteran.  “It sounds like a lot of time, but it goes really fast and you have to really concentrate on what you’re out to do and to make the right changes.”
Practice was slowed a few times for various debris problems and for some liquid on the track. Only two cars lost control enough to bring out the caution.  Dave Mader III spun his #30 coming out of turn four, but kept it off the wall and continued on. 

“It was just a case of being out there on cold tires,” said Mader.  “There wasn’t anything wrong with the car or anything, I just lost it when I tried to get on the gas in the corner.  That was the first time we had been out there and the tires weren’t warm yet, that’s all that it was.”

The same could not be said for the Texas-based #03 of Matt Merrell.  Merrell spun coming into turn three and

Matt Merrell's day ended against the call.

Track officials didn’t have the transponders on the cars on Thursday, meaning there were no official times being kept.   It was hard to judge the cars that were quick, but many looked towards Eddie Mercer and the two Richie Wauters’ owned cars as some of the quickest around.

Mike Fritts
The practice session is the only on-track activity for the Super Late Model competitors on Thursday.  Friday the drivers have one more session before qualifying later in the day.  That leaves Fritts with the difficult decision to make; focus on qualifying or race setups on Thursday?

“Actually, we are trying to do both.  We’re going to focus on the race setup, but maybe we’ll hit on something for qualifying,” added Fritts.  “75-percent of the field here is someone that you have to watch on the time sheets, so even though you have to focus on the race setup because that’s where it’s going to count, you have to work on a qualifying setup too just to be in the race at all.”
up thse first couple of laps and by the time you get going, your tires are already done.  Really, you wasted $400 (on tires).  That is the only thing that comes with experience… its just dollars you know.”

Gary St. Amant was another of the late bloomers, as was Randy Gentry, Eddie Mercer and Dave Mader III.


Imaging loving the movies, but not getting to go for 13 months. Imagine playing baseball all of your life, then having to sit out and play nothing for 13 months, but just sit back and watch the games be played instead.

Welcome to the life of Zach Niessner.

The former ASA regular and Southeast Series race winner has struggled over the last 13 months, having to just sit back and watch the sport he loves to much.  This weekend though, Niessner is back in a racecar for the first time since he won the 2004 Southeast Series finale at Nashville’s Music City Motorplex.

Just like in years past, the track becomes quite busy early on Thurday with a lot of guys trying to get out on the track.  But, just like in years past as well, there are always a few veterans who sit back and wait for things to thin out a little bit before practicing.

“The track early in practice is just so dirty,” said David Rogers, who was one of those who didn’t practice until about two hours into the six hour Thursday practice session.  “Realistically, on a new set of tires here, you g out and they are done after five laps.  You are not going to learn anymore than you do in those first four or five laps.  If you go out when the track is dirty, you give
David Rogers at Pensacola

For all of those who have good looking Super Late Models, they have something a little bit extra to look forward to on Sunday.

This year, will again present the Best Appearing Car Award during prerace activities for the Snowball Derby.  Fans will be able too look at some of the finalists later in the week and let their preference be made in the RanderCar Web Poll.

The staff will decide the winner and announce it on Sunday.

Zach Niessner
“It is awesome to be back in a car,” said Niessner.  I told the guys when we were out there warming up that ‘I didn’t care if I went this slow all weekend, it was just fun to be back in a car.’  Someone else is paying the bills for this year, so that makes it a lot of fun.”

Niessner is running the #52 Pro Late Model for SS Racing in Saturday night’s Snowflake 100.

“November of last year was the last time I was in a car.  I guess that is 13 months.  So it has been a long time.  Everyone has told me that it was just like riding a bike and you can pick it up when you go back out there and I never believed them until I got out there.”

The competitors for the Snowball Derby and the Snowflake 100 get six hours of practice on Thursday.  Because both the Snowflake and Snowball cars practice on the track at the same time, preparation time is at a minimum.  Those hours may seem like an eternity or like a blink of an eye, depending on the amount of problems a team may incur.  When you have two cars to get ready, those six hours seem even shorter. 

That’s the situation that many drivers are facing.  A number of teams have brought two cars, one each for the 300-lap Super Late Model event and the 100-lap Pro Late Model Snowflake.  Among those drivers are David Hole and Landon Cassill.
That’s about where the similarities end between the two drivers.  Both Hole and Cassill are preparing cars for each of the races, and each has had a different route to where they are now during practice.

“We came down here and tested and we had pretty much the whole day to ourselves with both cars,” said Hole.  “In the test, we were able to take our time with both cars and get them going good so all we’d have to do is just work on them a little bit this weekend.  Now we basically just try to get the Snowball car completely dialed in, then I’ll get in the Snowflake car and get that going.  The Snowball car is our top priority.”

For Cassill, just getting either car onto the track has been an adventure.  The first time he took to the Five Flags half-mile was nearly two hours into practice.

“We’ve been working really hard all day getting the Snowball car ready.  We want to work on the two cars as much as possible, so it’s been tough not having been on the track yet.  I’m not frustrated about it, but we have to work hard again this afternoon to work on them both.”


With over 120 entries in both the Snowball and the Snowflake events combined, technical inspection is a long and detailed process.  Inspection opened Wednesday afternoon and went long into the night.  Many drivers were left in line Wednesday and had to go back through Thursday. 

David Hole's #0 Snowball Derby car.

CRA Super Series regular Chris Gabehart is a Snowball Derby rookie this year.  After several years on the CRA tour, he’s decided to head south for the winter and try his hand at beating some of the best and brightest in the business.

Another thing he loves about Florida is the beautiful weather.

“I’m excited about the weekend though,” said Gabehart.  “The weather is a whole lot better here than it is in Indianapolis.”
Hunter Robbins
Snowflake driver Hunter Robbins was one of the drivers left on the short end of the stick Wednesday.  After hours of waiting to pass through the tech line, two hours of practice had come and gone Thursday, leaving Robbins thrashing to get track time.

“We spent about five hours in the tech line last night and we just got through right now, so it’s a little disappointing,” said Robbins.  “We came down here to test and get some ideas on what to do so I’m not too worried about just getting through tech now.  It’s part of it.  It took a long time the last few days, but I think we’ve got a head start from our test to still be okay when we go out this afternoon.”
But outside of the weather, things have been a learning experience for Chris at this year’s Snowball.  Not only that, but he’s got a great field of drivers to beat.

“It is one tough racetrack, kind of like the NASCAR guys consider Darlington,” added Gabehart.  “It’s cool though.  I’m really pleased with the car so far, which I’m worried about because I know this is a tough place to get the car dialed in for a long run.  We are making sure to cross our Ts and dot our Is, but right now, I feel pretty good about it. 

“This is a very impressive field.  I think Nashville (the All
Chris Gabehart's #10
American 400) was impressive and this is equally impressive.   What is so stout about this field is that you have to race the racetrack so much more.  This is a difficult racetrack.  At Nashville, there is a whole lot of grip and a lot of cars can go fast.  Here, it takes a whole lot of finesse and setup savy.  Just a lot of extra things that some of he best are going to struggle with.  That is what makes this race so neat.”


The ASA Late Model Series is quickly becoming one of the most competitive short track touring series in the country.  Young talent and determined veterans battled each week in the series, but now that the 2005 season is over for the ASA Late Models, several teams decided still wanted to give their stuff one more run.
A handful of ASA Late Model drivers and teams made the trip to Pensacola to take part in the Snowflake 100, including Jesse Smith, Peter Cozzolino, Brent Downey, Zach Niessner (running an SS Racing car driven during the year in the ASA LM Series by Chase Austin) and Keeton Hanks.  The 2005 ASA Late Model Championship winning team, WalTom Racin,g brought two entries to the Snowflake 100 for Kelly Bires and Josh Adams, two drivers that were impressive in a recent tryout to select Stephen Leicht’s successor to the WalTom Racing seat. 

“We liked these kids at the test we had a few weeks back (to determine the driver of the WalTom ASA Late
ASA Late Model driver Brent Downey
Model in 2006) and we wanted to see how they’d be in traffic,” said Wally Gleitsman, co-owner of WalTom Racing.  “Basically it’s great experience for these kids to work with Howie (Lettow, WalTom Crew Chief), which is good because we’re lacking out there now.  We need to find some speed though.”

Likewise, Hanks is struggling to find speed for his Snowflake entry. 

“We’re chasing ourselves right now,” said Hanks.  “The track has changed some over the course of the day.  The track is just so much different than anything we usually run and it just eats tires up.”

The ASA Late Model guys are optimistic for success in the Snowflake, but touring series experience does not necessarily mean success at a star-studded event such as this.

“I think an ASA Late Model guy can win, but the track experience is key,” said Cozzolino.  “It’s definitely one of the more competitive crate motor series out there, but here you’re going to have some of the local guys are going to be real tough.  We’re in their backyard now.”