Mader, Rogers & Niedecken Are True Snowball Derby Veterans
After Starting In The ‘70s, All Three Still Racing For Wins In 2007
That year also saw three other names, Dave Mader III, Junior Niedecken and David Rogers, grace the results. It was the first time that those three drivers had competed in a Snowball Derby at the same time. Mader had made his first start two years prior, Niedecken one year before. Rogers was making his first ever run at the Derby trophy.
In 2006, all three drivers were still racing in the Snowball Derby together. All three started the event, led by Niedecken’s 18th-place finish. Years and years after all of those other names have retired or passed on, Mader, Rogers and Niedecken are still racing and still doing it together.
As the Snowball Derby celebrates its 40th Anniversary in 2007, Mader, Niedecken and Rogers head the list of seasoned veterans. They raced with each other for the first time back in the ninth-running of the Derby and all three drivers are once again entered, looking for a return to the glory days.
Even years after starting his racing career at the Snowball Derby, Dave Mader III (#30) led laps at last year's Derby.
Mader’s lone win in the Derby came in 1978, when he passed Mark Martin for the victory.
“Naturally, the win sticks out the most as my favorite Derby memory,” added Mader. “I have had a lot of memorable races at the Derby, but the win would have to be at the top of the list. We beat Mark Martin to do it on the last lap. We got by Mark in three and four coming to the white flag. I can see it like it was yesterday. It was very exciting.”
Niedecken, who is a hometown favorite at Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola, Florida, home of the Snowball Derby, remembers his second-place finish to Rich Bickle Jr. as a favorite memory. That came in 1990.
The race included names like Neil Bonnett, Bobby Allison, Donnie Allison, Red Farmer, Rick Crawford, Mike Alexander, Freddy Fryar, Butch Lindley and Joe Shear. A racer from Kentucky, making a name for himself on the national stage, won the ninth running of the annual Snowball Derby. His name was Darrell Waltrip. The year was 1976.
Dave Mader III (Left) and Junior Niedecken (right) talk at the Snowball Derby a couple of years ago.
Still searching for that first win, and the thrill of just racing, keeps Niedecken coming back every year, despite the changing faces around him.
“I thrive on the competition,” said Niedecken. “I thrive on another good run. I thrive on getting a win. You are only as good as your last race. I grew up in this. I grew up with a father that raced for a living. That race generally brings the best for everyone around down for the race. The camaraderie and the competition bring us all back every year.
“And the race is still just so big. It’s the last remaining crowing jewel of short track races. If you look around, there has been some resurgence of some of the races of that nature, like the Winchester 400. But really, if you look at it, the Snowball Derby has been there every year and never faded. Everyone looks at it as a crown jewel.”
The camaraderie is something that Rogers, whose best Derby finish is a seventh, loves about the event.
“My best memories are just from the friendships and the people that you meet. I raced
with Pete Hamilton. I raced with Mark Martin. I raced with Rusty Wallace. That is something that has changed a lot. It has changed on the track, but its changed a lot more behind the scenes. The days of going and having a beer together and sitting around talking is gone. All of the young kids can’t do that. They have to go home with their parents. I have such great memories of the Derby with the changing years.
“Those memories are the best memories I have, even more than the racing part. The race is still stressful just to make the race. The racing itself is still fun, once you get in the race. Those times are a lot of fun. The stress of looking out there and going to the track and having so many entries there to make the race is enormous.”
Of course, over the years, the Derby has changed too. Mader talks of how the cars have changed, as does Rogers. Niedecken says the way the competitors race each other has changed over the years. That could be attributed to the fact that today’s racers are younger, despite guys like Mader, Niedecken and Rogers racing year after year.
“(The younger crowd) makes you step your game up,” said Niedecken. “With that youthful vigor, there is no fear there. They don’t know what it is like to slap that wall that hard. They don’t know what it’s like to hit it so many times. You have to dig down deep and be on top of your game these days.”
The younger drivers of today’s Derby aren’t like the younger guys of yesterday’s Derby, though, according to Rogers.
“The young guys don’t have a name yet because they come on the scene and everyone wants them to be the next superstar. If they don’t make it, most of the time, they go
David Rogers has always felt right at home at FIve Flags.
away, which is too bad, because a lot of them have a lot of talent. I guess we are just from the old school. If you put a lot of these young guys in this position that we veterans are in, and the way we used to do it and still do it sometimes, I don’t know if they would all be here. We had to start saving money all year long just to be able to afford to go to the Derby in the old days.”
Despite all of the changes, both in the cars, in the competitors and in the feel, the race will always have its veterans.
And both Mader, Niedecken and Rogers don’t plan on going anywhere anytime soon. That is why the Snowball Derby means so much to them and why they keep coming back, year after year.
“The race is so much bigger now because it’s been around for so many years,” added Mader. “My dad was on the pole in 1970 and I can remember almost all of them after that. The track has improved a lot. The cars are so different. The people have changed. The race is harder now. There is a lot more competition. But it’s still the Derby. It’s been 29 years this year since I won the darn thing. I would like to win it at least once more. Actually, I’d like to win it about four more times.”
Niedecken has yet to win a Derby, but he's been close.
“Snowball was always the last race of the year and it was the one you always wanted to win... it still is,” said Niedecken. “It was the thing to put an end on the season. So all of the champions and all of the race winners that you read about in Speed Sport News, because that was the only place you could get your news, came to the Derby. It’s still that way today. And that is what brings us all back here every year.”
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.
For more information on the 40th Annual Snowball Derby event, contact Matt Kentfield at (704) 788-2134 x 5 and visit www.snowballderby.com.