SNOWBALL DERBY: THURSDAY NOTES by Jeremy Troiano, Matthew Dillner & Steven Neely
Big Teams, Big Drivers, Absent Drivers, Old Drivers & More
SUPER LATE MODEL “SUPER” TEAM
If you’ve been to any of the big Super Late Model shows in recent months, you’ve sure to have seen the red WearCrete Super Late Models. Sometimes, Jeremy Pate has been behind the wheel. Sometimes, it’s been Clay Jones. In Nashville, Jeff Fultz joined the fray.
At the Snowball Derby, team owner Curtis Venable couldn’t decide which guy he wanted to drive his cars. So he just decided to field cars for all three.
“We ran two cars at Winchester and Nashville,” said Venable. “This is the first time we’ve ever tried to run three cars and its mind-blowing. The pressure is on to try and get all three cars ready to go. Luckily, I’ve got three good guys here. (Jeremy) Pate is a good driver and has a good feel of things here. (Jeff) Fultz is a great racer and his reputation speaks for itself. Clay is new and a
Curtis Venable has three cars at the Derby with drivers Jeremy Pate, Jeff Fultz and Clay Jones.
phenomenal driver. He’s got a way to go, but he’s got a lot of potential.
“It’s pretty neat to have three cars here. Actually, it’s mind boggling. We are the only three-car team here. People walk by and look at one car, then pause and look at the second car and they look at the third car. People will come and look and see if it is different drivers or what. I don’t know if any three-car teams have ever made the Derby. That is something to look into, but I’d like to be the first one if it’s never happened.”
DEFENDING CHAMP LOADS HER UP WITH A SMILE
Last year, Snowball Derby winner Eddie Mercer didn’t hit the track for practice until late in the first day at Five Flags Speedway. This year, he barely hit the track at all. A crowd gathered around the #72 as it was loaded up on the hauler late in the day. Some onlookers scratched their heads, but Mercer remained cool as a cucumber with his trademark grin.
“We’re putting her up,” said Mercer. “We weren’t even going to run today, but decided to get in and try a lap. It’s hard to get a lap out there. We got about a half of a lap out there and then they threw the yellow for the funeral (a funeral in the area interrupted practice). We decided to load it up. Maybe we will get a lap in tomorrow. We are real good in race trim and will get a qualifying run in tomorrow.”
SUPER TEAM VERSION 2
While Curtis Venable’s team might be doing it with numbers at the Snowball Derby, veteran crew chief Bill Boger is doing it with experience. In 2006, Boger has fielded a Super Late Model is select shows for newly-crowned Pro Cup Champion Clay Rogers. He’s race with PASS South, at Speedfest and other places.
Now, Boger has added a second team to his stable for the Snowball Derby. And his second driver? Bobby Gill. Not only that, but both cars are running “retro” black and green colors, with Terminal Trucking pasted on the quarter panels.
“I grew up watching Bob run these Super Late Models with these colors on them when he was running for Terminal Trucking,” said Rogers. “Bob was a huge help to me when I first started racing Hooters. Through our connections with Bill (Boger), we have a lot of faith in our abilities. Bill has helped both of us a ton. Bob and I have gotten to be pretty good friends the last two or three years.
Clay Rogers (left) and Bobby Gill (right) are two different type of people... but now teammates.
“I like the way he drives his car and the fire he’s got. And I’m beginning to understand where he is coming from with his attitude sometime. I think if you have Bobby Gill as a friend, you’ve accomplished something.”
QUICK JOHNNY CLARK DECIDES TO RUN DOUBLE DUTY
Fresh off his second-place finish at the Mason-Dixon Meltdown at South Boston Speedway (VA), Johnny Clark unloaded a rocketship at Five Flags. The Maine-native turned a lot of heads by turning the quickest laps in the first and fifth practice sessions, which put him second overall at the end of the day. It didn’t take long for Clark to take a liking to the worn out Pensacola pavement.
It didn't take long for Eddie Mercer to load his car up.
“It’s an awesome race track,” said Johnny. “It’s a driver’s track. You can bail ‘er off into the turns… on new tires of course. It reminds me a lot of Darlington, when I got to do the test (Gong Show) there with Roush. They say at Darlington you are screaming for tires after about five laps. I think I was crying for them after two laps here.”
Between the two big Super Late Model shows, Clark and his team had some help from Dennis Reno setting up the car at RPM Motorsports in Birmingham, Alabama. And as if the work involved in the quick turnaround wasn’t enough, the team decided late on Thursday to roll out their second car and enter it in the Snowflake 100 and pull a double-duty weekend.
Johnny Clark's team brought out their second car to possibly run it in the Snowflake 100.
“We had the second car here and that car ran real good at South Boston. So we said ‘lets roll it out and put the same set up in it as we have in this car and try the Snowflake.’ I think it will help us out a lot for the Snowball and tell us a lot about the big race on Sunday.
But Clark said the team won’t lose their focus on the reason they made the long trip down south.
“I came here to win the Snowball Derby and that is what we are here to do. So far so good and it seems like we have a lot of speed.
HOGAN FAST AT DERBY… BUT NOT RACING
Jason Hogan topped the charts in the final Snowball Derby practice on Thursday evening. All day long, the former All American 400 winner and former NASCAR Southeast Series Rookie of the Year was fast.
Only problem is that come Sunday, Hogan won’t be in the starting field.
Hogan is practicing and qualifying the Richie Wauters-owned #5 that JR Norris will be racing on Sunday. Norris is in New York, participating in activities for all of the NASCAR Touring Division Champions.
“Yeah man… I’m the ultimate sub,” joked Hogan. “Na really, I’m just enjoying doing this for JR and for Richie. I’m glad that they asked me to do this. Richie has brought a great piece down here for JR and I’m just trying to help them get it dialed in.
“Charlie Bradberry did that a few years ago by being in
Jason Hogan is running a car without his name on the door this weekend.
New York and coming down here and winning the race after starting in the back. I’m sure JR would love to do the same thing this year.”
CASEY SMITH BATTLES GREMLINS
While some drivers are busy setting up their cars for qualifying Friday night, others have had a rough time even getting on track. Such was the case for Casey Smith, whose Snowball Derby weekend had run into trouble before they even left.
“On the way down here, we had a fuel line clog up in the hauler,” said Smith. “So we were like 10 miles from the house and had to turn around and go back.”
Unfortunately, that wasn’t the end of Smith’s problems. When he finally managed to get on the track and practice, he immediately encountered a series of troubles with his new #99 car.
“During the first run, the tire got up in the fender and about ripped the fender and the whole door off. Then we ran a soft setup and the oil pan scraped the ground and we had to patch that up. It’s just gremlins in a new car.”
Casey Smith had some issues on Thursday.
CLARK’S HEAD STILL SPINNING
Cassius Clark has had quite a week. On Saturday night, Clark had traveled from his home in Maine to win the Mason-Dixon Meltdown at South Boston Speedway and the $12,500 winner’s check that went with it. Not only that, but Clark also got a free entry and a free set of tires to the Snowball Derby. So he decided “what the heck.”
Clark made the crazy turnaround from driving back up to Maine from South Boston, then all the way down to Pensacola, all in hopes to add yet another trophy to his case.
“It’s been crazy, even before we went to South Boston,” said Clark. “We then did that, headed back and had a day to work on this car before turning back around. The guys left on Wednesday and got here about 4am on Thursday morning. Its just been nothing but racing lately.
“We didn’t do a whole lot to the car… just really went through it. We had planned on going back, so that is what we did. We weren’t really prepared to come down
Cassius Clark is new to the Florida scene.
here anyway. it just made for some more driving. We missed yesterday and getting the haulers in, but they were nice enough o get us a good spot right up front here.”
Clark was ninth quick in the final practice session of the day.
FIRST WRECK OF THE SNOWBALL COMES BEFORE CARS HIT THE TRACK
So far the wildest incident of the 39th Annual Snowball Derby came on Wednesday night during the pit party. While the band played on the front-stretch, a golf cart driven by Steven Wallace’s spotter Frank Bolter and car owner Richie Wauters flipped over while entering pit road.
“We just picked up Richie’s new golf cart,” laughed Bolter. “I don’t know what happened. We were following these other guys down the banking and it just went over. I think Eddie Mercer was trying to sabotage Richie and gave him a bad handling golf cart.”
Wauters hopped off the cart in mid-flip and escaped injury. However, the car owner known for being meticulous was left with a scratched up new set of wheels.
“I let the rookie, Frank (Bolter), drive. Now, it’s a brand new golf-cart and all we did with it is come down the front stretch. He leans over and tells me it is under-powered
The only casualty in this accident was Frank Bolter's shoe.
so I say let’s bring it over to Mercer to tune it up. He takes a hard left and there it was we flipped over.
“We have a scratched up golf-cart, but hey… Frank owns a decal company, he can fix it.”
SCHILD RETURNS TO DERBY AFTER 30-YEAR ABSENCE
The Snowball Derby attracts drivers from all walks of racing. Some drivers return year after year chasing the elusive dream to win the prestigious event. The 39th edition of the race has another familiar face back in the pit area; Larry Schild. Schild made the trip from Texas to take another shot at Derby glory.
“The last time I was up here at Five Flags was 1976,” said Schild while eating a meatball by his racecar. “We ran the Snowball back then and it was a 200-lap race. I ran with guys like Cale Yarborough, Darrell Waltrip, both Allisons, Freddy Fryar and all the hot dogs. We finished 22nd that day, but what it doesn’t say in there is that I blew up with about 30-laps to go and was in the lead. I went from Jack Ingram and all the hot dogs of that day to being here 30 years later.”
Schild has competed in the Snowball Derby twice, in 1972 and ’76, with his best finish coming in that ’76 running.
“I’m 60-years old but hell, let’s give it another shot.”