The Snowball Derby held each year at the Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola, Fla. is one of the crown jewel events in the world of Asphalt Late Model racing. Dating back to 1968, some of the most legendary names in American racing have graced victory lane at the conclusion of the main event. Darrell Waltrip, Donnie Allison, Butch Lindley, Jody Ridley, Kyle Busch and Chase Elliott are just a few of the recognizable figures to have taken the checkered flag from this historic race.
Just making the show is a remarkable accomplishment for many of the entrants. And one driver who will be making his first attempt at taking the green flag for the Snowball Derby on Sunday, December 2nd will be Pro All Stars Series National champion Derek Griffith.
The 21-year-old native of Hudson, NH looks forward to taking his shot at the legendary event and he believes his team will be putting their best foot forward when cars take to the track for practice on Thursday morning. Griffith and his crew will be debuting a new Fury Race Car that was picked on the way to the Sunshine State and they look forward to building a strong relationship with Fury guru Jeff Fultz in the process.
So does the PASS championship and the new car give Griffith a boost of confidence going into the weekend?
“For sure, especially getting teamed up with Fury,” Griffith stated in an interview with InsideCircleTrack.com. “It’s a brand new car that we’re picking up along the way. We’re meeting Jeff there so that’s pretty exciting. To say the least, his cars go pretty good down there and I’m excited just to have a new piece of equipment. That’s pretty cool for me. We’ve had a pretty good season but it got a little dry there in the middle. But to come out of it with the championship and a second place finish(in the Mega Meltdown at Hickory) was good for us and it kind of got us back going.”
Griffith’s No. 12G had been an aging Lefthander Chassis and the driver felt as if his equipment needed an upgrade. His first attempt at the Snowball Derby provided an excellent opportunity to make the change.
“This is a brand new deal,” Griffith explained. “We’ve always had in-house stuff, it’s a Lefthander that we’ve run for four seasons now. It’s done me well, we won a couple of championships with it and we’ve won a bunch of races. It’s been a good car, but she’s getting old and it’s time to put her to sleep. It’s so tough to keep up with everyone. Everybody’s got new equipment and it’s time for us.”
The deal with Fury has been in the works for some time but is just now coming to fruition.
“We just ordered it a few weeks back and it’s going to be done Tuesday(last week),” the racer said. “We just want to be 100% prepared for the Derby. Fury has been hauling ass and it’s just hard not to go with someone who’s committed to making his stuff really good. He wants his drivers to win, he’s out there, he’s at the track, he’s telling you stuff, and he’s not afraid to help anyone out. That’s nothing bad against Lefthander, but they’re a little too far out of the way and with everything that’s going on the Fury’s are flying. We’ve hopped on the ship and we’re trying it out.”
The historic significance of the race considered by many to be the premier event in this form of racing is not lost on the young driver.
“The Snowball Derby is like the Daytona 500 of the Super Late Model type stuff,” he pointed out. “You’ve got guys like Kyle Busch and Bubba Pollard and guys like that who go down there to run that race. If you run Super Late Models that’s the race you want to win, it’s the race you want to be in. It’s pretty exciting, like up here we have a race called the Oxford 250(Maine’s Oxford Plains Speedway) and people compare those two as the top dogs for races.”
The fact that so many of the top stars in all of racing enter the Snowball Derby offers confirmation of the race’s importance. NASCAR Camping World Truck Series regulars Noah Gragson, Grant Enfinger, Stewart Friesen and Harrison Burton are among those already entered in hopes of taking the green flag for the 300-lap affair.
“Those are the guys you look up to on TV every week,” Griffith said. “We all want to be there at some point. Everyone likes to say it but Super Late Model racing is like the purest of asphalt Late Model racing. You’ve got these guys who run Cup like Kyle Busch, love him or hate him he’s a racer and he races every kind of circle track race car there is. He can run it all and he wants to run a Super Late Model and he wants to run the Derby. It’s cool to see someone you look up to who wants to come to your level, it’s a funny thing because they’re the elite and they come to race with us. And it’s not always that they just show up and win. They’re the best of the best which makes it pretty cool to see that aspect of it.”
One thing Griffith will have to adjust to is the format. Qualifying rather than heat races determine the majority of drivers who will make it to the Sunday afternoon main event.
“The Derby is a different animal in itself because you’ve got to time-trial even to make it in where in the (Oxford)250 you pick for a position in the heat races,” he explained. “There’s all kinds of difference. Down South everyone’s got their big motors and you have Cup driver’s sons like Harrison Burton and John Hunter Nemechek racing. There’s so many who try to make it in and don’t. This race is on everyone’s bucket list. Not everyone gets to try it and not everyone gets in. Just to go down there and to try it is a dream.”
Another aspect of this race that all drivers and teams must be prepared for is the meticulous inspection process that all cars will be put through. But Griffith believes that provides the best situation for all involved.
“Ricky Brooks has the ‘Room of Doom’ but we deal with him at SpeedWeeks and some other races that we’ve gone to,” Griffith recalled. “He don’t give no one no breaks and it’s the same for everyone. If you’re spoiler is a quarter-inch too high, you go back and fix it. If your deck lid is a quarter-inch too high, you’ve got to go fix it. Everything that’s not right has to get fixed and he’s on top of it. It’s good to see that. It’s not that people mean to but some of these tech guys sometimes let stuff get away that probably shouldn’t have. It’s good because you want to see someone like that because you know no one is getting an advantage.”
So what is the ultimate goal for Derek Griffith going into his first Snowball Derby?
“I would just like to get down there and be fast and be able to get in. I love time-trials but we don’t get to do it up here very often. I’d like to qualify decent and make it in. I’ve seen some of the best guys not even make it in. As long as we make it in and be able to race, especially with a brand new car and take it from there.”
Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association
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