A Dream Come True
Many short track racers can claim that winning the Snowball Derby is a dream of theirs, but Johanna Long literally grew up in the shadows of Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola, Florida. She watched her father Donald race there, she learned how to driver a racecar there too….and she learned pretty darn well. At the age of 18, Long won the 43rd Annual Snowball Derby and proved that with enough hard work and support from those who love you, dreams can and do come true. No matter what accomplishments that Long goes onto in her racing career, and we suspect there will be some lofty ones ahead of her, we're not sure if any of those can be any bigger to her than winning the Derby for the first time
Bubba Pollard wasn't in his familiar #18 at the Snowball Derby, even though it was the same car that he's run this year. Instead, Pollard changed his number to #08 and added a camo paint scheme to honor his friend Beau Slocumb, who has recently had a recurrence of cancer. Slocumb was right down there cheering Pollard on too, and if not for some late race contract, the #08 just might have won the race.
The Race For the Best Dressed Car Goes Online
It's become a tradition that Speed51.com has sponsored the Best Appearing car award at the Snowball Derby with fan votes deciding the winner. This time around, teams lobbied hard for the award online. Within just an hour of announcing our nominees, we started seeing Facebook campaigns to get fans to come out and vote from at least three of the teams involved. In the end, it was a feel-good story, and not campaigning, that made the difference - as Pollard's Beau Slocumb-themed #08 won the award.
There are a lot of times in racing when the provisional starting spots go to the squirrels. However, the quality of the drivers who received Snowball Derby provisional starts just goes to so how impressive the entry list for that race is. Three future Hall of Fame short track drivers - Mike Garvey, Jeff Fultz and Clay Rogers - got the provisionals this year. When you think of all of the races and championships those three have won, it is staggering. To know that they all needed just a little extra help getting into the Derby tells a story of how great this race really is.
Crane Gives Up
While some drivers would do anything to get into the Snowball Derby, there are others who just don't seem to have those competitive fires burning as hot. Despite having what appeared to be at least a fighting chance of advancing into the Derby through a last-chance race, Crane decided to pack it up and not even start that consi. "I just don't want get out there," said Crane.
Dinner of Champions
What do you do after winning either the Snowball Derby or the Snowflake 100? Well, this year teen winners Chase Elliott and Johanna Long ended up sharing a Papa John's Pizza in the infield of Five Flags Speedway (FL) after the races were all wrapped up for the week.
Drivers Who Weren't Driving
The Snowball Derby is such a big race that a number of accomplished drivers who weren't even racing were spotted in the pit area throughout the weekend. That list included 1971 Snowball Derby winner Dickie Davis, Former NASCAR Cup Series champions Bill Elliott and Matt Kenseth, multiple-time NASCAR Cup Series race winner Sterling Marlin, former Snowball Derby winners Bobby Gill, Gary St. Amant, Gary Balough, Freddy Fryer and Ricky Turner were there along with Kenny Wallace and his nephew Steven (who are both NASCAR Nationwide Series drivers - along with Steven being a former Derby winner too), NASCAR Truck Series driver Rick Crawford, Wisconsin Super Late Model rising star Rebecca Kasten, former All-American 400 winner Jason Hogan and 2010 PASS Modified championship car owner (and occasional driver) Dave Weir.
A Whole New Ballgame
Entering the Snowball Derby can be a humbling experience no matter who you are. NASCAR driver David Ragan makes his living driving at tracks like Daytona, Talladega, Indianapolis and Darlington, but he was very open about one thing during driver introductions for his first Snowball Derby. “I'm a rookie,” Ragan proudly told the crowd as he was introduced by 51's own Bob Dillner.
How many short track races have their own Wikipedia page? Well, the Snowball Derby does. Now that is a real modern-day sign of just how big of an event that it is.
Not a Happy Camper
Casey Smith was running third with five laps to go in the Snowball Derby. But his hopes of battling for an underdog victory ended after some wild and crazy racing on the final few laps. After the race, Smith wasn't very happy with a few people - including race winner Johanna Long and NASCAR driver David Stremme.
“She decided to knock me out of the way which she didn't have to in order to win the race…She can go ahead and plan for the roles being reversed anytime I race around her in the future,” said Smith about Long.
His criticism of Stremme was even more pointed - “He spends two or three times more money and sucks the same as always. That must be why he gets fired from every NASCAR ride he's ever had and can't even keep the start and park ride he did have,” said Smith in a team press release this week.