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SNOWBALL DERBY COVERAGE

By Mike Twist
AUGIE GRILL WINS THE SNOWBALL DERBY AFTER POST-RACE TECH DRAMA
Ickler Disqualification Leads to Controversy and Second-Time Winner
Over the last dozen laps of the 41st Annual Snowball Derby at Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola, Florida, Augie Grill drove like a man possessed.  The fact that he had won this race one year before didn’t satisfy his hunger for victory.  In fact, it might have just added to his appetite.  During those laps, Grill wheeled his #112 through lapped traffic and chased after Brian Ickler.  But when the race hit 300 laps, the checkered flag waved and Grill just didn’t get to Ickler in time.

“I just wanted to win,” said Grill, minutes after the race ended.  “It’s a competitive spirit.  Every race that I’m in I want to win, no questions asked.  I really wanted to win this one.”
The real drama of the 41st Annual Snowball Derby came about two-hours after the race.  (TOP) Brian Ickler and the Kyle Busch Motorsports team celebrate in victory lane.  (SECOND FROM TOP) The moment of truth, Chief Tech Inspector Ricky Brooks places the trophy on Augie Grill's car declaring him the winnner. (THIRD FROM TOP) A dejected Brian Ickler watches his win disappear. (BOTTOM)  Augie Grill was all smiles in the makeshift tech-area victory lane.  (51 Sports Photos / Jamie Williams Photos)
It turned out that Grill didn’t need to catch Ickler on the racetrack though to win the Derby.  Two hours after the race concluded, he was named as the winner after a thorough technical inspection.

The moment where Grill was given the victory was just as dramatic as any pass on the track.  There was a 30-minute meeting under the flagstand between track owner Tim Bryant, chief technical inspector Ricky Brooks and race director Dan Spence, Sr.  After the meeting broke up, Brooks returned to the tech area.  A half dozen police cars also rolled into the area to keep anything evil from happening and then Brooks walked out of the tech shack with the winner’s trophy and silently placed it on the roof of Grill’s car.  Grill’s crew, family, friends and fans all cheered when they witnessed the trophy there.

“We kind of figured this would happen for the last hour and they were all in a meeting talking about it,” said Grill.  “I hate to win one like this.  I’ve been thrown out of qualifying and races. so it is what it is.  I’ll take it.  I think my car was faster than his anyways.”

Meanwhile, Ickler was just as silent as Brooks as he walked off into the darkness.  Speed51.com caught up with him as he was leaving the tech area to make it back to his team’s transporter.

“They threw me out for having a brake blower,” said Ickler.  “I guess that you aren’t allowed to have electric fans for your brakes.  I have no idea.  I never had even driven this car before this weekend and I hope it doesn’t hurt our reputation.  A lot of guys got thrown out here this weekend for stupid stuff and we got thrown out for having an electric fan on our front tires.

“It was right out there in the open and that stuff was on there all week. These cars have been through tech I don’t know how many times.  This is a Kyle Busch Motorsports car and these are my guys here…we haven’t touched it.  We don’t race these short track cars enough to know the rules.  It’s their job to tell us.  If it rolls through tech, we should be able to race it.  It’s not like there was a big carburetor or something like that on the car.  It was something that was minute and they screwed us.”

Brooks disputes the possibility that the part had been on Ickler’s car all race weekend.

“It is in bold print in the rulebook that the blower can’t blow on the bead [of the tire],” said Brooks.  “Those were not on there yesterday.  They told me that they put them on there yesterday.  It’s black and white and in bold letters.”

Brooks was clearly not happy about having the make the decision. 

“It was real hard,” said Brooks.  “I wanted to get out of here.  I didn’t want to find anything.  When you check something simple and find something, what do you do?  I wasn’t going to look the other way.”

Ickler seemed to think though that Brooks and company had it in for him and his Kyle Busch Motorsports team.

“It’s politics here at Five Flags Speedway and there are reasons why a lot of big names don’t come here anymore,” said Ickler.  “It took a lot of money to come down here and then we had this stuff pulled on us.”

But Ickler wasn’t the only driver to feel the wrath of the tech shack this weekend.  As chronicled in our Trackside Now coverage, the Richie Wauters-owned #5 team went around and round with track officials this weekend after being caught with soaked tires in their possession.  Stephen McCurley had a problem in post-qualifying inspection and eventually missed making the show because of that.  Even Grill himself had his qualifying speed disallowed after a roof height violation.
The end result of the weekend though is that Grill will go down as a two-time winner of the Snowball Derby.  The Alabama driver, who is the son of famed car builder Frankie Grill, has secured a place in the history books by becoming only the eighth multi-time winner in the history of the Derby.  Grill joins Rich Bickle, Gary St. Amant, Freddie Fryar, Wayne Niedecken, Dickie Davis, Bobby Gill and Gary Balough on that list.  Only Bickle, who won the event in 1990,1991,1998 and 1999, has won the race in back-to-back years like Grill now has.

“That is unbelievable.  I think that only Rich Bickle has done that before, so it is pretty neat.  It is very special for sure.”

Grill attributes his recent run of victories to just gaining more experience both in and out of the car.
Grill came from the rear to win the 41st Annual Snowball Derby.  (Jamie Williams Photo)
So was it possible that if Grill hadn’t been penalized and started the race in the first few rows of the field instead of near the back, he might have beaten Ickler on the track and made post-race tech a non-issue? 

“No, because there were a few times when I was in front of him and they would pit and beat us out with their crew,” said Grill.  “It wouldn’t have mattered if I started on the pole or a lap ahead – they were probably going to beat us out of the pits.”

“It is a little bit of everything,” said Grill.  “I’m getting better as a driver and getting better at setting them up to my liking.  I’m getting better on everything and learning more and more.  I hope I’m not done learning and we can do this more and more.”

Now, Grill will head back to his shop and prepare for the 2009 season and a run at becoming the first three-in-a-row winner of the Snowball Derby.  He’ll also probably see a spike in business at his family’s GARC racecar building enterprise.

“Hopefully, this will make the winter a little busier than it was going to be,” said Grill with a smile.