The Snowball Derby at Five Flags Speedway is 39 years old. In those 39 years, the race has seen a lot of things.
There have been last-lap passes for the win. There have been cars crashing while coming across the line to get the win. There have been wins given controversially before electronic transponder scoring was ever introduced. There have been dominating wins earned while others pointed cheating fingers.
But never in the 39 years of the Snowball Derby has the race win been taken away because of a post-race tech violation several hours after the race had ended.
Never had that happened, until Sunday night.
Alabama-native Johnny Brazier had the dominant car on Sunday, winning the 39th Annual Snowball Derby after starting from the pole. He bested fellow veteran Bobby Gill for the win. However, in post-race technical inspection, Brazier’s car was found to be over the allowed left-side weight and was subsequently disqualified. In addition, Gill’s car was DQed for being a quarter-inch wide on tread width.
“I wanted to win this race for a long time; before I ever even came down here,” said Rogers. “I did not want to win it like this though. I’d rather win it on the track, but I’ll take it. We had a great car tonight. Bill (Boger) gave me an opportunity to come down here and race. We did it with the old, nostalgic Terminal Trucking colors on the car. I don’t feel like the winner right now, but it is very special to have that trophy. I feel like we had a car that could have won the race. We definitely had a great car if not the best car.”
Rogers’ win and his emotional feelings following the post-race technical issues ended up being just the side note to what turned into a crazy sight in the tech area.
After all the Victory Lane celebrations were done, all of the top-five cars were found sitting in the tech area. Gill’s disqualification was handed down quickly and the team accepted it and rolled their car back to the truck. However, Brazier’s #71 and the rest of the cars remained sitting in tech while a crowd grew and things were discussed between officials, drivers and others.
About two hours later, the trophy was taken from Brazier and handed off to Rogers.
“My left side was 58.2-percent and they said they allowed 58.1-percent,” said a numb Brazier while loading up his car in the infield on Sunday night. “That comes out to be about three pounds. After 300 laps, we were three pounds heavy on the left side.
“I don’t feel very good right now. I think I got a raw deal. Like I told (the officials), my car got hit in the left rear during the race. It got hit hard enough to knock my transponder off the car. It could have knocked the rear end over a little bit. If it knocked the rear end over even an eighth-of-an-inch, it would have picked up a ton of left side.
‘I just really feel like my rear end got moved over when I got hit out there. I have no control over that. I just won’t know until I get back to the shop. I just think I really got a raw deal. I mean, if I was going to cheat, I could have done it with more than one or two points of a percentage. This car was fast all weekend long. I didn’t need to cheat.”
Five Flags Speedway’s technical director Ricky Brooks explained the ruling from his prospective. He said Brazier was 58.3-percent on left-side weight.
“He was three-tenths over on left (side weight) and if he would sit up in the seat it would flicker on four-tenths,” said Brooks. “The rule is 58.0 and I told him that after the race I would give him 58.1 and that’s all I’m giving. He was 58.3 and he was still leaning to the right a little bit. It’s cut and dry, the scales don’t lie.
“It’s very tough to make a decision like that. It is not a lot but where does it end? You have to give your tolerances and that is it. It’s like the templates. Everyone had to fix their bodies so they fit the templates.
“After the race we rolled him on and off the scales three times and it never changed. I’ve got lines painted and got backboards. The scales are just right for Super Late Models. There is only one way on the scales and one way off so everybody is getting the same thing.”
Some pointed that the tech people should let Brazier refuel the car. Brazier runs a GARC chassis, which have been known to gain left-side weight as the fuel load burns off. Therefore, a full fuel load would bring some of the left-side weight back to normal.
But track promoter Ricky Bryant pointed out that letting cars refuel has never been a policy of the track.
“Some cars are built to gain left-side weight as they burn off fuel,” said Bryant. "That is an unfair advantage. If it was proper or common procedure to fuel up cars after a race, we would have done that. But that is nothing that we’ve ever done down here. We didn’t let any other of the competitors do it and they all passed their weight requirements.
“I’m not a tech guy. That is why we have what we think are proficient people doing that job here. At a race like this, there are a lot of people here and thankfully, there were people from other sanctioning bodies. We conversed with all of them too before making this decision.”
Brazier didn’t seem as concerned with the refueling issue as he was with the damage he incurred on the car during the race.
“I have no control over their scales or if I get hit on the racetrack. I have no control over that. If you wreck real bad and tear your body parts off and win, they let you but them back on. I just don’t know. I think it has to do with the possibility of the rear-end being moved over some.”
“If he got hit that hard in the left rear the car wouldn’t have run that well at the end of the race,” said Brooks.
Another point on contention for Brooks was the fact that in races past at both Five Flags and Birmingham, both of places where Brooks has teched, Brazier has been close to the allowed left-side eight if not over.
“I pulled out the records from the last time he was here and he was 58.3 in pre-tech when he arrived at the track,” said Brooks. “He fixed it and raced. I went to Birmingham and teched a race and he was flirting on the same note there. I warned him there ‘do not come to the Snowball like that.’ And you see what happened.
“I just explained to Johnny that he was wrong and that I had already warned him. I drug my notes out from the Pensacola race. He may have fixed it but I showed him where he was wrong when he arrived here. I reminded him of Birmingham when he was flirting on that same note. He was 58.1 up there. He said it was my scales. It’s not my scales. I weighed every car on the same scales all weekend. At Birmingham I didn’t even take my scales.”
Brazier was still at a loss after the explanation. He pointed back to the possibility of the damage done to when he got hit on the track.
“Ricky is going back and looking at his notes and because I have been over on left-side weight here before, there is no bend to him,” said Brazier. “I don’t know. I went across to qualify and I was 57.7% on their scales. I haven’t changed anything on the car. The race is over and now their scales is saying I’m 58.2%.
Over the last couple of years, Brooks has been the subject of a lot of controversy. Some haven’t liked his style, while some say he’s been too strict. No matter the feelings toward him, Brooks was going to stick behind his decision and his rules.
“I don’t like the controversy, but if I am going to be a tech-man I am going to be a tech-man the way that I wanted it teched when I was racing,” said Brooks. I’m not going to be a tech-man that looks the other way. If that is what it takes I need to quit because I am not going to be a tech-man any other way. No matter who it is.
“I don’t want to do anything to hurt the racetrack at all. Since I have been doing this I have been straight across the board with everybody and everyone has respected that. Last year it was pretty rocky. It was my first Snowball. This year, everything went great. Everybody thanked me for being the way it was. This Snowball here was a joy. We’re all tired, but everyone respects us for what we did.”
The decision wasn’t easy for Brooks and obviously didn’t sit well with Brazier, but it had lasting effects on everyone involved, including track promoter Bryant.
“It is a very hard decision to make, especially when it is a popular win with a popular driver,” said Bryant. “Johnny Brazier has been down here several times and people really like him here. Nonetheless, it was a great Snowball Derby victory for Johnny. We couldn’t be any more disappointed too though.
“When the cars go through their technical in inspection, it doesn’t matter who they are or how popular they are, they are all treated the same. It wasn’t really a gray area. It was an area that had been stressed highly in our driver meetings all week long. Was it a violation that was intended? Probably not. But it’s unfair to the guy behind him to allow wider tolerances than you say you are going to allow.
“I feel devastated for Johnny and his whole team. From a selfish standpoint, I feel for us too. It tarnishes a Victory Lane ceremony that was wonderful for Johnny and his entire team. We don’t like to award the trophy in the dark dungeons of the tech station.
“We know there will be some negative fall out for this and I hate that, but ultimately, we are seeing some of the best racing we’ve seen in years. Guys know the rules and we do our best to tell them over and over and over again exactly what the rules are. We are doing everything we can to make this a fair deal down here, but ultimately, the responsibility falls back on the racers.”
All of the post-race controversy has and will take away from how special the win is to Clay Rogers, who has had one of the most emotional weeks of his life.
Last Saturday night, Rogers won his second USAR Hooters Pro Cup Series Championship in the last three years. Then, he found out that his East Coast Motorsports team would not be together in 2007. Those emotions, coupled with the stress and all that went on following the Derby, got to Rogers after the race and the emotions boiled over as he shared a long hug with his friend and crew chief Blake Bainbridge.
“Its just stress,” said Rogers. “Winning the Hooters Championship and winning a bunch of races this year with (crew chief) Blake (Bambridge). He is a really good friend of mine and we work really well together. The year meant so much to me and all of the guys on my crew. Most of them were here with me this weekend, so I’m glad we could do it for them.
“So to go back to the shop and have to load everything up and send it back to South Carolina and not to be able to walk into the shop and work with these guys next year, no matter what level its at, is tough. I’m happy to win this race, but at the same time, I have to look toward next year and look at everything that we accomplished this year and know that we were not able to figure out a way to keep the guys together for next year.”
“It’s been an emotional week. I’m just proud of everything we were able to accomplish this year. I’m just glad we were able to come to this race and we’ve got the trophy to take home with us. But I’m scared because I don’t know what we’re doing next year. There are so many things running through my head right now, I just can’t enjoy it yet.
“I have given my whole life to racing. It’s really hard to be at such a loss now.”
Despite all of the emotions that were going through his head, Rogers was able to look and reflect on the fact that he had just won the Snowball Derby.
“To have your name on that list at the end of the day is amazing. Ten years from now, when people look through the books, they’ll see my name on that list and that is all that matters to me. One day my kids will get to look at that and hopefully that will mean as much to them as it means to me.
As the officials handed the trophy to Rogers, they also stripped Johnny Brazier's name off it.
“This is for my Dad and everyone that has supported my racing. Years ago, I didn’t know anything about this race. Then, I came down here and ran a car in 2000. To see what this race means to people and to see the crowd and the number of competitors and to see fans that have come here for 39 years and to see Bobby Gill’s name on their twice… how can you not be proud, even how things unfolded.
“We’re still Snowball Derby winners.”