SNOWBALL DERBY: LEFTOVERS by Jeremy Troiano, Matthew Dillner, Mike Twist & Steve Neely
Mercer, Scott, Gabehart, Martin, Wallace & So Much More
CHAMP MERCER STILL SMILES AFTER REPEAT IS SQUASHED
In the past, when an incident or mechanical failure would put Eddie Mercer out of the running for a Snowball win, you would see a very different Eddie Mercer. You would see the anger and disgust in his eyes and in his voice. One year after finally netting a Snowball Derby win that had eluded him for so long, Mercer’s attitude is different. An innocent victim of an on-track skirmish, Mercer was still smiles as his car sat behind the wall and out of contention.
“Before if you interviewed me,” said Mercer, “I was knocked down [because] I still didn’t win the Derby. Well I have won the Derby now.”
But Mercer knew he had a fast racecar and if it weren’t for the misfortune would have had a shot to repeat. That possibility slipped away with his wreck.
“All I saw is the 45 (Dwayne Buggay) car sideways, said Mercer, who finished 29th. “I was right behind (Josh) Hamner and we were nose to tail. We went in to the turn and I saw Josh get on his brakes and I got under the brakes and slid underneath him. There was no stopping. We were running 100 mph nose to tail and the guy spins
Eddie Mercer (#72) didn't have the best race of his Snowball Derby career. (51 photos)
out in front of us so there was just nothing we could do. It tore the radiator out of it.”
Mercer knows now that luck and patience are the two keys to surviving and winning the Derby. But Mercer admits not all out there had the same philosophy.
“They went crazy as hell. David Hole is on the outside and I was just following the car in front of me. He just turns down in me and just spins us both out over there for no reason when we are just 100 laps in. We overcame that and was just riding around at about ¾ throttle and then it happened again. It just wasn’t meant to be.”
MADER AND GABEHART SHARE PLEASANTRIES
Dave Mader III and Chris Gabehart probably didn’t send each other Christmas cards following the Snowball Derby.
The two drivers got together not once, not twice, but multiple times during the middle stages of the Snowball Derby. Both drivers had their own views of what happened, but both made it through the encounters and continued racing on.
“There was some awful rough driving out there. I couldn’t believe how much I would get up to somebody and they would just chop me getting into the corner,” said Gabehart, a CRA Super Series regular. “I got into it with Dave Mader there for a bit. I had tires and he didn’t. He got loose in the center and I got into him and jacked him way, way loose. I let off because I felt bad about it. I didn’t want to wreck him. So I let him get going. Then, the next corner, I jumped on the outside of him and got all the way on the outside of him and he just doored me and nearly ran me into the wall twice. Then, I jumped underneath him, passed him and he never let up and nearly spun me.
“He is just a hard-nosed racer. His reputation over the years speaks for itself. He is a good racer and has won races, but his reputation speaks for itself. I think he just took this deal when I got into him a little more personal than he should have.
Mader, who eventually fell out of the event after getting into an accident with another driver, was not happy with Gabehart.
“He nearly spun me out twice there, but if it weren’t me or someone else capable, they would have spun out,”
Dave Mader (#30) and Chris Gabehart (#17) raced tough at Five Flags. Mader later found himself in the wall in a seperate accident.
said Mader. “Then he got into me again. There is just a point where as racers you have to put a stop to it. I let him get up on the outside of me and I roughed him up all the way down the back straightaway and let him go. We went into turns one and two and I didn’t dump him but I moved him out of the way just like he did with me. I had my spotter go over and ask his spotter ‘what are we gonna do?’ Are we going to do that or are we going to race? He came back over and said we were going to race.”
Mader even pulled up next to Gabehart under caution and gave him a message.
“I signaled to him ‘Hey, you want more?’ I can dish it out and I can take it. You just can’t take that stuff from some of these guys. There is no reason for people to do that kind of stuff because it results in what happened to us later in the event.”
GILL AND ROGERS WEREN’T HAPPY WITH SCOTT
Brian Scott had a fine top 10 finish in the Snowball Derby. He came home in the eighth position. But if you polled some of his fellow competitors after the race, he sure wasn’t going to win any most popular driver awards.
“The 01 car [Scott] that Freddie Query crew chiefs on hurt us,” said Bobby Gill, who crossed the finish line in second place before getting tossed out in post-race inspection. “I was telling my boys you can’t go on the outside and pass someone here. The kid was two laps down. He could have pulled up and out of the way and let us go. He held us up for four or five laps and that let the leader get away.
Clay Rogers passed Gill in the tech line, but would have liked to have done so on the track. Without Scott’s interference, he might have.
“We might have had a shot at getting Bob, but the 01 car just was in our way,” said Rogers. “Whoever that kid is that Freddie has driving that car… I don’t know. I hit him in the back end three times as hard as I could and I couldn’t get him out of the way. He must be a big Johnny Brazier fan. [Note – Brazier crossed the finish line first, but was disqualified]
Scott didn’t feel that he did anything wrong. After all, he was fighting for a top 10 finish in a very tough race.
Brian Scott (#01) had a good run at the Snowball, but he was on the mind of several other drivers.
“It’s just like that,” said Scott. “We ran good at the start and a lapped car with [new] tires just got into us. From there, I had to claw for every inch and every position. We got into some cars that I tried to avoid and I wish that we didn’t get into. Some cars got into me that I wish hadn’t have. It’s a game of give and take out there and it’s not the most friendly game.
“I was fighting for every inch. I thought if you were going to be a lap down, you were supposed to give them [the leaders] the outside. I was trying to give them the outside and I’m still learning, so I guess that I didn’t know how to give it to them.”
SCOTT SATISIFIED WITH EIGHTH PLACE
The controversy among a few fellow drivers wasn’t going to get Brian Scott down after the race though. Neither was a beat-up racecar. After all, Scott is now one of very few who can claim to have scored a top 10 in their first Snowball Derby.
“Our car might look like it didn’t finish the race, but we got a top 10 out of it,” said Scott. “I’m happy, my crew seems happy. It’s my first trip to the Snowball Derby. I’ll take it.”
QUIET GALE BOWS OUT EARLY
Cale Gale finished third in the Snowflake 100 on the Saturday night before the Snowball Derby. In the early stages of the Snowball Derby, it looked like Gale would better his performance. He led some laps but had to watch the rest of the race in the infield after a wrecking out early.
“I think we had a tire goin' down there on that last run there,” said Gale. “We got loose and spun out. We got hit and it knocked the panhard bar out of it. Tough luck, but we will be back next year and try better. I guess that happens every once in a while in racing. We ran third last night and I guess we will just smile after that and do better next time in the Derby.
Cale Gale (#83) led early before getting into an accident while leading.
YOUNG'S ROUGH RACE
Jason Young capped off his first Snowball Derby with a 20th-place finish. The Texan had high hopes but encountered a number of problems throughout the race.
“The car itself was really really good at the beginning of the race and through the middle, but the last set of tires hurt us and we fell back at the end of the race,” said Young, who then recounted his problems. “There were a couple of different times we got hit. Once, I got spun out and lost a lap and had to make it up. It was just a rough race, but that’s just how it is here at Five Flags.”
Young’s mediocre finish was less than expected, but he looked at this race as one step toward the future.
“All in all for the first Snowball Derby, it was a good experience and at least we can drive it on the trailer,” said Young. “We’re going to run the Blizzard Series races here, run at Mobile, try to run at Nashville, and try to do as much traveling as we can and hit the big races.”
NIEDECKEN WINS “HAL GOODSON AWARD”
Several years ago, Hal Goodson finished in the top-five in the Snowball Derby with a car that had more duct tape on it than body panels. The car looked like it had just finished with a demolition derby.
Since then, Speed51.com has given an unofficial honor to a competitor whose car finished the event with the biggest amount of damage, but was still running, nicknamed the “Hal Goodson Award.”
This year, the honor went to Junior Niedecken’s bent up and destroyed #99 car.
“Things started bad early,” said Niedecken. “We got into it with the #01 (Brian Scott) and Cale Gale. After that, it was hell to pay. I hit everything but the pace car. But if he was out there, I probably would have hit him too.
“I couldn’t see. It was very difficult. Half of the race, I
Junior Niedecken won this year's "Hal Goodson Award."
probably couldn’t see. But hey, at least we finished the race. And with the car looking like that, I’m shocked we did.”
Niedecken finished 18th.
WHAT IFS? GENTRY LEAVES FOUR BEHIND THE WALL
Randy Gentry was left to think of the “what ifs” after his Snowball Derby. The South Carolina gentleman made up a lap and played the tire strategy game for the remainder of the race. But with a lengthy green flag run to close out the Derby, the tire conservation game bit him in the butt, resulting in a 12th place finish.
“The car I was along side of there turned down into me and turned both of us around, said Gentry. “We lost a lap there before we could get going. We came in and put fresh rubber on and went out there and made up the lap. After we made the lap we tried to get the tires back off the car and put the old ones on it that way we could conserve to the end. But if you look over there we have four tires sitting there. I can’t believe we ran that many laps without a caution at the end the way things were running. We got up to eighth there at one point.
“I know a lot of other guys had four tires left there at the end of the race. I couldn’t really hear my guys on the radio so I really didn’t know what lap it was. We had such a good car there from the middle of the race I was just looking forward to getting up there. If we could have caught that caution I honestly think we could have run in the top five.”
WALLACE HAPPY WITH HIS DERBY
Like any good racecar driver, Steve Wallace isn’t happy unless he’s winning. So finishing second (he crossed the line fourth, but was moved up after the two post-race disqualifications of Johnny Brazier and Bobby Gill) wasn’t all that impressive to the son of the former NASCAR champion.
“We started dead last and got up to fourth. I guess that’s not too bad of a race,” said Wallace after the race, but before the final disqualifications. “We just all keep beating around on each other too damn hard. It was a good Derby, but we didn’t finish where we should have. I had a second-place car. My car wouldn’t run on sticker tires though. It took 10 or 15 laps for my cars to get running.
“It was a rough derby. I was beating and banging all over people and they were beating and banging all over me.”
Steve Wallace (#66) goes three-wide.
Wallace plans to make the 2007 Derby better with a little bit more practice.
“We’ve got some stuff going for next year. We are going to come down here and run a couple of the Blizzard races for sure. It is hard on us to just come down here for one race and be a car capable of taking it to the rest of these guys like we want to.”
MIDWEST MEETS THE NORTHEAST DOWN SOUTH
One of the nicest things about the Snowball Derby is that racers from all across the country get to come together and race against guys that they might have never seen in action before. You can bet though that the best of those guys know all about their competition though and that there is a healthy amount of respect between competitors.
Take for example, Gary St. Amant. The Buckeye has won just about everything out there in the short track world and raced against almost every player in the game before. Well, almost every player. He had never met the unrelated Clarks (Johnny and Cassius) from Maine before. St. Amant enlisted Speed51.com’s help in introducing him to the PASS North terror twins.
It’s fair to say that everyone involved was humbled by that.
“Gary St. Amant came over and wanted to meet Cassius and I,” said Johnny Clark. “We all know what Gary has accomplished over the years in ASA, Pro Cup and all that he’s done. So it was cool to have him come over and shake our hands. He wanted to meet us and tell us it was cool for us to come down here and run as well as we have.”
MOD MAN MARTIN’S FAIRY TAIL ENDS WITH A THUD
Former Pensacola Modified competitor Tim Martin had a Cinderella weekend at the Snowball Derby. But the glass slipper shattered when he clocked David Hole in the drivers’ door. The wreck took Martin out of his first Snowball Derby.
“We were trying to hang on to the lead lap there and we went in three I seen the #0 and another car got together,” said Martin. “He was spinning up the track but then rolled down the track in front of me and I had nowhere to go.”
Even though the crash left Martin with a 31st place finish, he was proud of his super-Super Late Model effort.
“We came down here not knowing what to expect because they had 80 entries. We didn’t know if we could even make it into the field with it being our first year in the Super Late Models. We didn’t have much time to get this deal together. We thought it would be a great accomplishment just to make it into the race but then we got a top-10 qualifying spot and that makes us proud.”
Tim Martin had a good run going until...
Most of them were here with me this weekend, so I’m glad we could do it for them.
“So to go back to the shop and have to load everything up and send it back to South Carolina and not to be able to walk into the shop and work with these guys next year, no matter what level its at, is tough. I’m happy to win this race, but at the same time, I have to look toward next year and look at everything that we accomplished this year and know that we were not able to figure out a way to keep the guys together for next year.”
“FASTEST CHICKEN IN THE SOUTH” FINISHES 4TH
Jeremy Rice’s rear bumper had an interesting slogan on it—“The Fastest Chicken in the South”. Whether the title was referring to the sponsor (a poultry cage company) or the driver is unclear, but either way, a lot of other drivers saw it out their windshields. That’s because the Royston, Georgia driver charged through the field from his 30th starting spot and avoided the numerous accidents in the race to finish forth in the Snowball Derby.
Rice’s car was also one of the cleanest-looking cars after the race.
“All we got is the grille mashed in a little bit, which is really clean for a Derby,” said Rice. “We’re really impressed, and if you come home sixth (prior to the disqualifications to the top two) and not even put a scratch on the car, you’re doing something there.”
As good as the finish was, it might have been even better if Rice’s pit strategy worked out.
“It was my call not to take tires on that last caution, and if we would’ve done that and changed tires we would have probably been a lot better off,” said Rice. “I told them I’d rather wait because 80 laps would have been a lot of laps on a set of tires and we ended up going 120 on a set. It was awesome when we got laps on the tires, though.”
Rice, a teammate to former NASCAR driver Buckshot Jones, was satisfied after his Snowball Derby weekend. “We’ve had real fun. It’s been like a mini-vacation.”
KARTS FUN, CARS NOT FOR CARLSON AT DERBY
“We were in the Derby,” snickered Scott Carlson as Speed51.com approached him at the end of the Snowball Derby. The Florida Late Model veteran then asked “Why do you want to talk to me? I didn’t do anything.”
Carlson may have been unhappy with his result at the Derby, but he did finish with a car in one piece and was the 11th car to cross the line.
“We didn’t have the best car. That was a fact. What really hurt us was a flat tire on that restart and it put us down a lap. We raced our way back up and finished 11th, one lap down. It’s not what we wanted.”
Carlson wanted a lot more out of his Derby but got a little closer when Johnny Brazier and Bobby Gill were disqualified. This moved Carlson up in the final tally turning his lack-luster day into a commendable ninth place finish.
Carlson was happy with his weekend overall, especially having fun hosting the “Snowball Showdown” at Fast Eddie’s Fun Center. The annual Go-Kart race pits drivers, crew members and racing personalities against fans. Carlson, who owns Fast Eddie’s, got
saw his comrades get in trouble on both tracks during Snowball weekend.
“Both races were pretty rough. Everything got banged up this weekend but I think the Fast Eddie’s karts made it out better than most of these cars.”
“We just like doing that event every year so everyone can come have fun. We had a real good turn out. It’s just another part of the Snowball Derby puzzle where everyone comes down here and races and wants to have a good time. Me and Bobby Gill are the same age and he’s out there racing against those young boys out there at Fast Eddies. I don’t think he has won anything yet but still comes out each year and comes out trying. He’s a competitor and I like to give him a hard time about all of that.”
DERBY IS A TIRING AFFAIR FOR MIDDLETON
Tires. The four round and black items that come between a race track and a racecar aren’t very fancy-looking or exotic, but they can make a major difference in the outcome of a race.
Jay Middleton found that out firsthand in Snowball Derby. Middleton finished 11th in the prestigious event, but if his tires had cooperated just a little bit more he could have possibly finished 10 spots higher for his #74 team.
“We got a flat tire around lap 125 and that was about it,” said Middleton. “It was all she wrote.”
Well, that wasn’t exactly all that was written. Middleton also had to overcome
another two sets of inconsistent tires to earn his near-top 10 finish.
“We had a real good racecar,” said Middleton. “The first set of tires that we had and the last set that we had were just terrible. The stagger went crazy and I couldn’t race on them. The third set that we had was just excellent. We almost would have been better off if we stayed on our third set. It would have been better to run 150 laps on our good set than 75 laps on one of our bad sets.”
CASSIUS IS FAST, BUT HAS LATE-RACE PROBLEMS
Cassius Clark’s first trip to the Snowball Derby involved leading some laps. Unfortunately for him though, it didn’t include a strong finish. Late race problems left him back in the 15th finishing position.
“We were messed up,” said Clark. “We had a flat tire on our first set and had to short pit. We were in position after that, but we had a stud come out of the left rear. When I came out, that bent the brake caliper and the brake locked up. It was like that for 150 laps or so and I was out to lunch after that. We had a decent car, but we never really did catch up after that.
“It’s nice [to run well at the Derby]. We were looking for a better result, but stuff happens. It’s a little disappointing, but there’s always next year.”
Clark had a busy week leading up to the Derby. On the Saturday night before the race, he won the Mason-Dixon Meltdown at South Boston Speedway. Then, his team towed back to the hills of Maine, went through their racecar and turned around for a trip to Florida.
Cassius Clark (left) and Johnny Clark (right) both had solid runs at the Snowball Derby.
“We’ve been pretty busy flying, driving and everything else. I haven’t had much time to slow down. But there have been a few things. We did a radio show and some other interviews. We’re looking forward to the future to see what will happen now.”
Sleep wasn’t the only thing that left Cassius less than 100% for the Derby either. He was also still nursing a broken finger from a September wreck at Beech Ridge. He didn’t let that bother him though.
“It wasn’t too bad,” said Clark. “It’s a little bit sore, but you’re usually sore after a race anyways.”
JOHNNY CLARK NABS A TOP 10 FINISH
The other Clark from Maine, Johnny Clark (who is not related to Cassius) also made his first trip to the Snowball Derby and came away from a 10th-place finish.
“It was a pretty good race,” said Clark. “We needed a caution with 50 to go to put another set of tires on. We were going to put on an old set that only had 20 laps on them. We would have been a lot better off. We kept trying to make the car better. We opened up the rear stagger a little bit and the car just got too loose there at the end.”
Clark wasn’t surprised at all about how much tire wear there was at Five Flags Speedway.
“It’s as bad as I thought it would be. It’s pretty bad. They said that it would be and they were right. This place is worn out. Eddie Mercer told Cassius and I before the race that we might think that we’ve been loose before, but we’ve never been loose until we raced at Pensacola. That is the truth.”
So will Clark be back for the 2007 Snowball Derby?
“I think so. The car is in one piece and we had a lot of fun. It just kind of stinks where we finished. We were all right and we should have ended up fifth or sixth. But that’s all that we had for a car. That’s too bad, but 10th is all right too.”
HOLE SCORES CAREER-BEST RUN
Prior to this past weekend, hard-luck racer David Hole laid out his goals for what he hoped to accomplish in this year’s Derby. At the top of that list was actually finishing one. In Sunday night’s event, he finally accomplished that, finishing in the 19th spot.
“I think this is my eighth or ninth Snowball. I hadn’t ever made it past lap 200, and today we finished one,” said Hole. “I’m so excited. I’ve had a rough year.”
This year has been a tumultuous one for the Georgia native.
“Ever since the win at the start of the year at the Rattler, I’ve had nothing but bad luck,” said Hole. “The last nine races, I’ve crashed in every one…bad. I just couldn’t get the monkey off of my back. Two races I was leading, as a matter of fact, and wrecked. No fault of my own, just
David Hole (#0) goes for a spin after a tap from Steve Wallace (#66).
something I couldn’t avoid or somebody hit me or something like that.”
The weekend started out looking like much of the same for Hole, who was involved in a Friday morning practice crash.
“We started in practice, got wrecked by a guy who didn’t know what he was doing, a local guy,” said Hole. “It messed up my car pretty bad.”
The crew thrashed all day Friday to fix it up in time for qualifying that night, even bringing welding equipment in to repair it. From that point on, Hole’s goals for the rest of the weekend were just to finish and then see where they are.
“We were able to make it in the last chance race, we finished that one,” said Hole. “Then we ran the Snowflake and finished that one, started last and finished decent. Then today, I didn’t care where we finished. I knew our car was bent and we didn’t have a winning car, but we did have a strategy set up and would have been good if we had gotten one more caution to get some tires and maybe get a top 10.”
CRANE ENDS UP ON THE DERBY PODIUM
Ryan Crane’s fortunes during the 39th Annual Snowball Derby changed more often that a stoplight.
The rising star set himself up for a run at the checkered flag, saw a rare long green flag run at the end of the race take a shot at the victory away from him, crossed the finish line in fifth place and later passed two cars in technical inspection.
The end result for Crane was a third-place finish out of nearly 70 entries for the race. The post-race boost came when apparent winner Johnny Brazier and runner-up Bobby Gill were disqualified.
“We’ll take it,” said Crane. “This is a big race for us…the biggest race of the year. I would have been happy with fifth, but now we are really happy with third place.”
The Five Flags track is notorious for being hard on tires and tires are
limited to how many they can change during the running of the race. Crane’s team saved their final set for a late-race caution that never came. Their strategy could have won the race if the conditions were right, but that didn’t quite happen.
“We’ve got a set of tires lying over there,” said Crane after climbing out of his racecar. “We had that long run and we were hoping to come in an (lap) 240 or 250 and we just didn’t get the chance. The race just kept going on and on and on. There is just so much going on out there and there is so many different strategies. You get shuffled to the front and to the back and to the front. It makes things very interesting. You never know where you’re at. One time you might be 20th and then you will be fifth.
“That long run killed us. I think if we could have come in and got tires, I think we would have had a chance. Johnny [Brazier] was real strong. That was 120 laps on a set of tires at Pensacola and that is unheard of. Just for us to be able to hold onto a top-five considering that is nice.”
CANADIAN INVASION STEALS A TOP-FIVE FINISH
The happiest people in the pits after the race just may have been Shaun McWhirter and his team. They took home a fifth-place finish in their first Derby outing and that feat wasn’t lost on them as they loaded up.
“We finished seventh [which would become fifth after tech inspection] and the car is all beat up,” said McWhirter. “I can’t believe that. It’s good for our first time and for being Canadian and all. I ran three races down here, two here and one at Mobile, this summer. We keep our cars at Frankie Grill’s. It’s all his stuff. I just drive it. Frankie Grill, Augie and this whole crew is why we did so well out there. My whole crew is Canadian. They’ve never done
Shaun McWhirter's #31.
this before, I’ve never done this either. I’ve come down to watch Augie a few times.”
McWhirter’s finish didn’t come easy.
“I’m a piñata out here,” McWhirter said. “I was getting hit all around. It was a very long day. We had a wreck there at the beginning and went a lap down. I think that we went a lap down in the pits too. I don’t know. I thought that we were only one lap down on the track and we made that up. Then we were running in the back and they told me over the radio that I was another lap down. So we put some new tires on, got that lap back and that is what we finished on.”
FOSTER CONCLUDES “EVENTFUL” DERBY WEEKEND
Ryan Foster’s Snowball Derby weekend finally came to a close with a 17th-place finish. Like many of his competitors, tire strategy dictated his finish.
“We were doing good at the beginning, but then towards the end, we could’ve used another caution with about 20 laps to go,” said Foster. “We have four tires still sitting there. I think if we would have had another caution we could have gotten some of those positions back. It just didn’t work out the way we wanted.”
Foster seemed pleased with the progress his team made on his car, but was still disappointed that they could not regain track position.
“We were too loose in and we had to come in and adjust the sway bar and lost a few spots, and from there it just got worse,” said Foster.
For Foster, it was a series of highs and lows over the course of the weekend, from winning the driver’s race in the seventh annual Snowball Showdown, to qualifying a disappointing 37th for the Derby, to winning his last chance race to earn a spot in the field.
“My Derby experience has been good. It’s been eventful, for sure. In the end I wish we could have done better.”
GILL GOING TO SPEEDFEST?
Bobby Gill had a blast at the Snowball Derby. Granted, his disqualification following what was a second-place finish might have put a damper on things, but racing the #5 Bill Boger-owned Super Late Model was a welcome getaway from his Hooters Pro Cup schedule.
Now, we might see Gill in the #51 again. And at a track that the veteran knows all too well.
“We are going to go to Lakeland Florida and have some more fun,” said Gill after the Derby. “(Robert) Hamke has been building this car for a while and I got it three weeks ago and took it to my house and had some fun
Bobby Gill's #51
with it. We’ve got a new Jeff Hamner spec motor in it and the thing ran super tonight. I’m looking forward to running it down in Lakeland in January.” (However, the Hamner spec motor is not legal in CRA competition and Speedfest at Lakeland, FL is a CRA-sanctioned event)
Gill has 12 career Hooters Pro Cup Series wins at USA International Speedway.
BUSY WEEK HAS BAD ENDING FOR NORRIS
JR Norris had quite a busy week, but the young Alabama racer was hoping to save the best for last. After spending three days in New York City to be honored as the final NASCAR Southeast Series champion during Champions Week, Norris caught a flight south and hopped into the #5 Richie Wauters-owned Super Late Model that fellow competitor and close friend Jason Hogan had qualified for the Derby in his place.
Because of the driver change, Norris had to start at the rear of the field. That didn’t matter though, as he used the right combination of patience needed to survive and aggression to stay within sight of the leaders to put himself in a great position as the laps wound down. Unfortunately, the rear end on the #5 car failed and dropped Norris out of the race with a 24th-place finish.
“We were real fast. I never really ran the car 100%. I just didn’t see the point in it because I was trying to save the car for the end.”
All of Norris’ race has been devoted to positioning himself well for a shot at the victory.
“We came in, put some tires on and it was going to be the right move. With that solid green flag run, if it had just held together we would have had the car to beat. The car just stayed good all day. But when you have a mechanical problem, there isn’t a whole lot that you can do.
“Patience is the key to this race. You need to have a lot of it and know when to run and when to take it easy. I was telling myself all race long to be smart, be patient and to give and take. When guys with new tires pulled up to me, I let them go. It just didn’t pay off.”
Sunday night, after exiting from the race, Norris was worn out after such a whirlwind week.
“I’m so tired right now, I can barely hold myself up. Now I just want to go and lie down somewhere.”
MADER DOESN’T LIKE THE TASTE OF CURRY
Dave Mader III and his crew pointed over to Tim Curry’s car as it was towed by their wrecked racecar. They were displeased at the on-track incident that knocked both cars out of the race.
“Well, obviously he turned me around,” said a disgusted Mader. “We went down into one and he turned me around and I tried to save it but as it was going around it got into the wall.”
Curry had a completely different view of the incident.
“Getting in turn one and coming off of turn four I drove up right along side the 30 car all the way up to his left front tire,” said Curry. “He didn’t want to give up the spot and just flat out wrecked us. He just came right down into us. I guess his spotter never told him we were there. It is a shame because I think we had a real good chance at finishing in the top-three.”
“I don’t know what he is going to say,” added Mader. “I would like to hear it…or read it. He knows he messed up. What am I going to do go? Go over and pull his band aid off? He hates it too I am sure.”
Both drivers couldn’t possibly be pleased with a 25th (Mader) and 16th (Curry) place finish.
CHOQUETTE’S SNOWBALL MELTS EARLY
Jeff Choquette is used to being a threat to win anytime that he takes to the track. When he qualified in the second row for the Snowball Derby, it looked like that race would be not exception to his pattern. However, things soured for the young Florida racer early on and he struggled to a 21st-place finish.
“We didn’t really have a car that was good enough and capable of running up front,” said Choquette. “We didn’t get to come back and get our third set of tires. Some of the other guys did and they were better than I was, but at least I made it [to the finish].
Jeff Choquette spins at Pensacola.
“It was a rough day. We were good in qualifying, but we just need to come back for next year and work on our race trim. Hopefully, we’ll just make it [in qualifying] again.”
ENFINGER ECSTATIC OVER DERBY TURNAROUND
Grant Enfinger’s weekend looked bleak after last Friday night’s qualifying for the 39th Snowball Derby. After a stout field of 66 cars that took qualifying times, Enfinger could only manage 46th. He even had to transfer into the show by finishing in the top three of his last chance race, and he did it with the help of this year’s Blizzard Series champion.
“Dave Mader was on the radio with me all night last night during the last chance race and it helped us get in,” said Enfinger. “We weren’t exactly where we needed to be in that race, so we made some adjustments and the car was definitely better.”
Enfinger used the momentum from Saturday night’s last chance race to move up through the field on Sunday afternoon.
“The car was just awesome from about lap 0 to 50 on tire runs, but after that it gave up some,” said Enfinger. “To start 34th or wherever we did, and make it up to third towards the end, that’s pretty good.”
Enfinger tried to hold his position on old tires on the notoriously abrasive surface at Five Flags Speedway, to no avail.
“I never ever would have thought we would have gone 80 laps at the end on tires,” said Enfinger. “We ended up having 135 laps on our tires. We gave up to everybody else on the long run, but man we were awesome at the beginning.”
Late in the running, Enfinger was hoping for a caution, but also hoping that he wasn’t the reason for it.
“I think the 01 (Brian Scott) tried to get the caution everyone was looking for on me down in turn three with about 20 to go,” said Enfinger, looking over the car. “I don’t see anything on the right rear but I thought it hit the wall. I had to chase it up there. He dumped us, but it’s the Derby and it happens.”
Enfinger completed the impressive turnaround by finishing 14th, one lap down.