CONCORD, N.C. – NASCAR Cup Series star Denny Hamlin started his career racing late models and if things go as planned, he’ll be back behind the wheel of one later this year.
In an interview with NBC Sports, the three-time Daytona 500 winner revealed he plans to climb behind the wheel of a super late model this year in an effort to prepare himself for the 54th Snowball Derby at Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola, Fla., on Dec. 5.
“I know personally I’m going to go and start racing more late models (in 2021),” Hamlin said. “It’s been a few years since I’ve done that. Really not Late Models like I’m used to running. It’s more on the super late models.
“I have maybe one race under my belt in my entire life in a super late model. The end goal being is to compete in the Snowball Derby. I’m going to spend the year kind of working through that process and trying to figure out what techniques I need to have and learning and getting better. That way I can continue to give back to the short-track community.”
Hamlin grew up racing late model stock cars, a different style of car than a super late model. While both cars compete on asphalt tracks, they chassis’ and engines are different and require different driving styles.
In years past Hamlin has hosted the Denny Hamlin Short Track Showdown, an all-star style late model stock car race featuring himself and other NASCAR stars battling local short-track racing stars. The last such race was held in 2018 at Virginia’s Langley Speedway and was won by Hamlin.
Hamlin has never competed in the Snowball Derby, though he said he’d love the chance to test his skills against short-track racing’s best at a time of the year when NASCAR’s engines are silent.
“It’s the part of the year where you start to get the bug again,” Hamlin explained. “Your season ends in the first couple of weeks in November and you enjoy some time off.
“It just seems like that first week in December you’re like, ‘All right, now what?’ and the Snowball comes on and you’re like ‘Gosh, I wish I was running the race.’
“I say that year after year. It’s something that I want to try to compete in. Now that I have my own race team (23XI Racing), I’ve got the equipment. I just need a car at this point. It makes it a little bit easier.”
Ty Majeski won the most recent Snowball Derby, held last December. Previous winners include three NASCAR Cup Series champions – Chase Elliott, Kyle Busch and Darrell Waltrip. Other previous winners include Erik Jones, John Hunter Nemechek, Donnie Allison, Pete Hamilton, Christian Eckes, Rick Bickle, Gary St. Amant, Bobby Gill, Gary Balough and Freddy Fryar.