After 39 Years, Snowball Derby History Runs Deep
Legends Have Been Made at the Derby, While Others Have Gone Winless
There are 28 men and one woman (Tammy Jo Kirk) that can call themselves a Snowball Derby winner. Most have only done it once. Six racers - Wayne Niedecken, Dickie Davis, Freddie Fryar, Gary Balough, Gary St. Amant and Bobby Gill - have two victories to their name, while Rich Bickle is in his own zip code when it comes to Derby victories. The short track legends has won the race a total of five times.
Some former winners have also had success at the top levels of NASCAR. From Donnie Allison (Snowball winner in 1975), Pete Hamilton (1974) and Darrell Waltrip (1976) to eventual Truck Series notables Bickle (1990, 1991, 1996, 1998, 1999), Ted Musgrave (1988), Rick Crawford (1989) and Butch Miller (1987).
The late Charlie Bradberry was poised to move up to NASCAR’s top levels as well. After winning the 2004 Snowball Derby, the young Alabama driver got his feet wet in the NASCAR
Butch Miller won the Snowball Derby in 1987.
Craftsman Truck Series and Busch Series. Sadly, he lost his life in a traffic accident at the age of 24 before getting his big break.
Clay Rogers won last year’s race and currently competes in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series.
Mickey Gibbs and Jeff Purvis complimented their Snowball Derby victories with legendary careers in dirt track Late Model racing. Both men also competed in what was then known as the NASCAR Winston Cup [now Nextel Cup] Series.
Some former Derby winners made a name for themselves out of the driver’s seat as well. Freddie Fryar went on to become a crew chief in the top levels of NASCAR, while Ed Howe founded Howe Racing Products – a company that builds cars that compete in the Derby today.
There are a few events in motorsports where joining the winner’s club takes even the most accomplished driver to another level. There’s the Indy 500, where since 1911, only legends have graced the famous Borg-Warner Trophy of winners, there’s the Daytona 500, as evidenced by the vigil each year by media and fans to watch if the late Dale Earnhardt could finally win the race (he did in 1998 after heartbreaking years of effort) and in the short track world, there is the Snowball Derby, held since 1968 at Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola, Florida.
Mark Martin raced in the Derby eight times, grabbing a pole, but only a best finish of second. Matt Kenseth raced in the Derby twice back when he was an up and coming short tracker. His best result? A finish of 16th. Kyle Busch finished 33rd in his only Derby start, but he’s out to better that this year, having entered the race in with his own #51 Super Late Model.
Bobby Allison has 16 Snowball Derby starts in his career, but his best finish of second-place is just one spot shy of making him a Derby winner. His sons Davey and Clifford each competed in the Derby as well. Buddy Baker, Neil Bonnett, Stan Fox, Harry Gant, Bobby Hamilton, Tommy Houston, Jack Ingram, Ernie Irvan, Tiny Lund and Ken Schrader are other racing legends who have competed at the Derby without a win.
A member of the Wallace family has won the race, but it wasn’t who you might first think. Rusty Wallace competed in nine Snowball Derbies, but could only grab a best finish of second in both 1979 and 1985. His jovial brother Kenny has been there too, but without a finish better than 20th. Instead, it was Rusty’s son Steve Wallace who wheeled a Richie Wauters-owned machine to victory in the 2005 version of the Snowball Derby, as a wide-eyed and wide-open teenager.
Wayne Anderson (L) and Gary St. Amant (R) are both former Derby winners.
Hall of Fame-caliber drivers like Butch Lindley, Jody Ridley and Wayne Anderson have also won the Derby. Ridley is widely considered one of the most consistent Snowball Derby drivers of all time, with 12 top-five and 16 top-10 finishes in his 26 career starts.
Even today, there are former Derby winners still getting it done in short track racing. 1994 and 1997 Derby winner Bobby Gill won another USAR Pro Cup Series National Championship (his career fifth title in the series) this season. Two-time Derby winner Gary St. Amant won the Pro Cup Northern Series crown this past season while competing with Gill for the Pro Cup National Championship.
And while the Snowball Derby might create big names out of its winners, having a big name does not ensure any success in the race.
Earnhardt Sr., Bill Elliott, Bobby Labonte, Terry Labonte, Sterling Marlin and Kyle Petty have all raced in the Snowball Derby and not even cracked the top 30 finishing positions.
Who are some of the short track legends who have gone winless in the Derby? That list seems like a Hall of Fame roster in itself.
Dick Trickle has won over 1,000 features in his career, but the Derby was not one of those. Former ASA National Tour champions Johnny Benson and Kevin Cywinski have gone winless in the race. Dick Anderson has won just about everywhere in Florida, but his best finish in five Derby starts was 17th. Freddie Query has been to the Derby 10 times, but third is his best result. Mike Alexander won the pole for the Derby twice, but could only grab a best finish of fourth. Bob Senneker, Mike Garvey, Mike Cope, Garrett Evans, Robert Hamke, Junior Hanley Pete Orr and Jim Sauter are among the other heavy hitters to strike out when it has come to Derby wins.
Even Tim Bryant, current promoter of Five Flags Speedway and the Snowball Derby, started seven Derbies, with a best finish of eighth.
Nobody has come as close though as the legendary Red Farmer though. The leader of the “Alabama Gang” started 32 Snowball Derbies, but his best finish was second-place.
Will another legend be born this year in the Derby, will a former Derby champion have a repeat performance or will a long-struggling veteran finally win the big race? The answer will become known on the afternoon of December 2nd, when the 40th Annual Snowball Derby gets underway at Five Flags Speedway.
Tickets and RV Parking spots for the 40th Annual Snowball Derby are still available, but they are going fast. Four-day advance Reserved seats are only $70. For more information on tickets and RV passes, contact Five Flags Speedway at 850-944-8400 or order tickets online at www.snowballderby.com
Bobby Gill won the Snowball Derby 10 years ago and he's still going strong as proven by this year's USAR Pro Cup Series title.