Augie Grill Matures Into Snowball Derby Champion
In Victory Lane Twice as a Crew Member, Grill Finally Takes Trophy as a Driver by Matt Kentfield
In December of 1976, one-month-old Augie Grill got his first taste of the Snowball Derby at Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola, FL. As the son of noted chassis builder and car owner Frankie Grill, young Augie grew up at short tracks throughout the Southeast, but the Snowball Derby was always hallowed grounds for the entire Grill family.
But after being in victory lane twice in the 39 previous runnings of the Snowball Derby as both the son of a car owner and as a crew chief, it was time for Augie Grill to break out and add his name to the Derby winner’s list as a driver on December 2nd. The now-31-year-old took the lead from defending winner Clay Rogers on lap 265 and pulled away to become the 30th different winner in the 40th Annual Snowball Derby in the Panhandle of Florida.
“It doesn’t get any bigger than this,” said Grill. “This is the biggest race of the year, by far, for any short track racer. That’s all there is to it. You can ask any racer and they’ll tell you this is the one they want to win. The All American, the Winchester 400, I’ll take this one over any of them.
“Of the 40 Derbies, I’ve probably been to 25 of them. This race means a lot to my family. It means a lot to bring another trophy back to the shop.”
In the time since Grill’s first visit to Five Flags for the Snowball Derby in 1976, he had seen both the good and the bad of the Snowball Derby. He’s seen his family’s cars go to victory lane with Butch Lindley and then Wayne Anderson, with who Grill was Crew Chief in 2001. Grill has also seen disappointments, as his family’s chassis company was involved in the post-race technical inspection which led to the disqualification of Johnny Brazier in the 2006 Snowball Derby.
For the third time in the 40-year history of the Snowball Derby, Augie Grill made it a Grill Family Affair at Five Flags. (51 Sports Photo)
But there would be no technical controversies on this day. There was just a strong car driven by someone who wanted his name on the Snowball Derby trophy as a driver, not just as a crew member.
“I was walking back from tech and they were already walking back with my car. I was walking up the hill, and that’s when I realized I won the Snowball Derby. It’s a done deal now. That’s pretty awesome. There ain’t too many people who can say that.
Even with the damage to his #112, Augie Grill stayed out in front of the pack. (51 Sports Photo)
“This is the third Snowball Derby trophy we’ve got in our shop now. It definitely feels pretty cool now that I’m going to have one in there as a driver.”
Grill nearly won Saturday night’s Allen Turner Snowflake 100 at Five Flags in his #112 Pro Late Model, but had to settle for third. In Sunday’s 300-lap Snowball Derby Super Late Model race, he had to battle defending snowball winner Clay Rogers in the final stages of the race if he was going to be able to make it to victory lane during the weekend.
The final pit stop of the race came under a lap 225 caution set up the dramatic sprint to the finish for the leaders. Grill, who had been leading at the time of the caution, came to the attention of his crew for four tires, as did the rest of the contenders, including Rogers, Matt Hawkins, Josh Hamner and Jeff Fultz. Rogers won the race off pit road, followed by Hawkins and Grill.
Hawkins wound up tangling with Dave Mader III, just a few laps later after going back green, leaving Grill and Rogers to duke it out down the stretch for the win. On lap 265, Grill made the knockout punch.
“He (Rogers) was able to run really hard there for a few laps and stay in front of me,” said Grill. “He was kind of slow in the center, so I couldn’t really get a run off because I was right on his bumper at the center. I finally backed off a little bit and got a run and I was able to get on under him.
“I got into the back of Clay Rogers with about 30 to go and (the car) started running a little hot because there was some damage on the nose and the bottom of the hood. It got to about 240-degrees on the water, but it quit there. It never got any hotter. Once it stayed there, we figured it was going to be okay. As far as aero, we weren’t worried about it at all. I’ve seen Rich Bickle win this race with no fenders or hood, so I knew it wasn’t going to hurt there.”
Grill was not hurt mechanically by the contact, but Rogers was hurt emotionally by not being able to repeat his Snowball Derby effort because of the move by Grill.
“I’m pretty disappointed with Augie Grill,” said Rogers after climbing from his car after finishing fifth. “I don’t know if his car’s going to get through tech because he hit me so hard about five times that it had to have shifted the whole body down. If that’s how they want to race, then we’ll remember that. I don’t think we touched anybody all night long, but we took a lot of shots in the back.”
Matt Hawkins started off the day by leading much of the early going. The 19-year-old remained in the top-five throughout much of the race thanks in large part by his pit crew that got him off pit road either first or second every stop. Even after the tangle, while battling Mader for second on lap 254, Hawkins worked his way back up to the runner-up spot in the final 10 laps to clinch his best-ever Snowball Derby finish.
Matt Hawkins (right) drives under Jeff Fultz (left) for second late in the going. (51 Sports Photo)
“I thought we had them covered by a long shot,” said Hawkins. “Augie would have been tough, he always races hard. We were two tenths quicker when we got to second there. It is just tough to pass here. I got into Mader and that pretty much put us back to eighth and that was it.”
Jeff Fultz battled with Hawkins late, but had to settle for third, which was his best-ever Snowball finish.
“Our car was really good all race. I could pass anyone I wanted to. We had a couple of issues in the pits that cost us some spots and we got stuck in the back twice. We took our time and got back up there, though. At the end we were at the front, but the #2 (Clay Rogers) held me up just long enough that I burned my tires up. I just was so loose and we got into some oil that I was just sliding around so I couldn’t get up to Hawkins and Augie.”
2005 Snowball Derby winner Eddie Mercer finished fourth, while Rogers rounded out the top-five.
Not even front-end damage or the stout field chasing him down the stretch was going to keep Augie Grill from victory lane in the 40th Annual Snowball Derby.
“With 10 to go, I was thinking to myself, ‘am I going to win the Snowball Derby?’” said Grill. “Then with five to go, I thought, ‘We might win the Snowball Derby!’ Then starting off turn four on the last lap, I said, “I’m going to win the Snowball Derby.’ It’s hard to explain that emotion because this is it. This is the pinnacle. This is as big as it gets in short track racing.”