Whether it be his intention or not, NASCAR Cup Series champion Chase Elliott is about to bring a fairly bright spotlight with him when he competes in two major short track events during this brief bit of down time prior to the restart of his regular job. The 25-year-old driver plans to race a pavement Super Late Model machine in the upcoming Snowball Derby at Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola, FL on December 6th. He will then make his first ever attempt at the famed Chili Bowl Nationals in a Midget Sprint Car during the week of January 11-16 at the Tulsa Expo Raceway in Oklahoma.
The Hendrick Motorsports driver’s intentions for the Snowball Derby were the first to be announced as he tweeted those plans on November 16th. He will compete in a car provided by legendary short track car owner James Finch in the 53rd annual running of that race.
The Dawsonville, GA native is certainly no stranger to pavement Super Late Model racing’s premier event. Like many up-and-coming stars, he used Late Models as a stepping stone toward the sport’s highest level. And in doing so, he earned trophies that many longtime competitors in that form of racing would be envious of. Elliott has made seven starts in the Snowball Derby with two of those entries resulting in victory(2011 & 2015). He is also a past winner of the All-American 400(2013) at Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway.
For a NASCAR star, particularly the champion of the top division, to devote himself to the Snowball Derby is significant in that this is a race that will require several days of commitment considering that activities begin as early as Wednesday with the actual race taking place on Sunday. Because most NASCAR drivers have scores of obligations with sponsors, media appearances, commercial shoots, and preparation for the fast approaching new season, there is very little free time, especially following a year in which sponsor representatives and other dignitaries were denied time because of pandemic restrictions.
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Elliott’s pledge to participate in Pensacola shows that racing is very much his first priority. And he no doubt wishes to give back to an event and a place that helped him become known as a racer in his own right rather than simply the son of former NASCAR champion Bill Elliott.
And as a result of his appearance, more attention than might have already been the given will be focused on this race. The Snowball Derby is already important to competitors and fans of short track racing. But in 2020, because a reigning NASCAR champion and the sport’s most popular driver is taking part, it will suddenly become more important to numerous people who might not have paid much attention otherwise.
The Snowball Derby will be aired live by Speed51.com
Speaking of commitments that will require multiple days of his time, the Chili Bowl certainly fits that bill. Days of racing take place just to get competitors to those ‘alphabet soup’ preliminary races that will ultimately set the starting lineup for the main event on Saturday evening. Just like with the Snowball Derby, there are places where Chase Elliott could have gone and likely places where his PR reps would rather he be, but he has chosen to race on a short track instead.
Of course, the Chili Bowl Nationals is one of those ‘bucket list’ events for many racers, no matter what their primary racing discipline might be.
Numerous NASCAR stars have competed in the Chili Bowl in previous years and plan to again in the 2021 version of the event. Some of those NASCAR stars have enjoyed great success inside the Tulsa Expo Center. Christopher Bell won there in 2017, 2018, and 2019 while Kyle Larson took the “Driller” trophy home in January of 2020. However, the fact that the reigning NASCAR Cup Series champion will take part this year brings a whole new level of focus to an already popular happening.
The Chili Bowl Nationals will be aired live by FloRacing.com
Many fans of short track racing tend to be critical of all things NASCAR. But no one can deny that whenever a NASCAR driver comes through the gates of a dirt or paved short track, it draws attention to that form of the sport. And that is even more true when that driver is the current NASCAR Cup Series champion and the sport’s most popular star.
Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association
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