Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race winners Kyle Busch, Chase Elliott and Erik Jones have all won the Snowball Derby at Florida’s Five Flags Speedway.
Held every December since 1968 on Five Flags Speedway’s half-mile, semi-banked asphalt oval, the 200-lap Snowball Derby annually draws the best field of super late model competitors in the country to battle for the $25,000 winner’s prize.
While the purse is nothing to sneeze at, it’s not the biggest prize available to asphalt late model racers in the United States. If the purse isn’t the reason competitors flock to Florida every December, what is it?
In a lot of ways, the Snowball Derby is a proving ground for racers who are searching for an opportunity to advance their careers. A perfect example is 23-year-old Jones, who won his first Snowball Derby in 2012 after a thrilling battle with Busch.
“I think you just look at the caliber of drivers and cars that come to that race,” said Jones, who won the Snowball Derby again in 2013 on his way to a full-time NASCAR career. “As far as a super late model goes, I don’t think there is a better field during the year that you can really go and run in. If you can beat those guys, you’ve set a precedent on yourself that you can do it at that level.
“There are guys that race that race that have never been in a Cup car that are just as good as any guy in the field out here. I think you can kind of show that and if you can do that there (win), then I’d say you can probably go win anywhere.”
The list of the last 10 Snowball Derby winners reads like a who’s who of up-and-coming racers. Along with Jones, Busch (2009 and 17’) and Elliott (2011 and ’15), other competitors to win the event and go on to bigger and better things include John Hunter Nemechek, Christian Eckes and Noah Gragson.
Nemechek’s victory came in 2014 and by September of the following year he was gracing victory lane in the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series. He’s since gone on to win six Truck Series races and one NASCAR Xfinity Series event, earning a full-time Xfinity Series ride with GMS Racing.
“It takes everything to go right, a lot of talent, a lot of hard work and determination to win the Snowball Derby,” said 22-year-old Nemechek. “It’s a very hard race to win. Some of the best names coming up through the ranks in the past have actually won that race.”
A deeper look into the history books supports Nemechek’s statement.
The first Snowball Derby was won by Wayne Niedecken on Dec. 15, 1968. In the years that followed, some of racing’s top stars visited victory lane at the Derby.
Daytona 500 winner Pete Hamilton graced victory lane at the Derby in 1974, Donnie Allison claimed the 1975 running of the race and three-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Darrell Waltrip won the 1976 edition.
Some of the nation’s top short-track stars have also conquered the Snowball Derby. Midwestern short- tracker Rich Bickle holds the record for the most wins in the Derby with five triumphs that came between 1990 and ’99.
Butch Lindley, Jody Ridley, Gary St. Amant, Dave Mader III, Tammy Jo Kirk, Butch Miller, Jeff Purvis, Clay Rogers, Bobby Gill and Augie Grill have all had the pleasure of celebrating a Snowball victory.
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