Noah Gragson kisses the trophy after winning Sunday’s 51st annual Snowball Derby at Five Flags Speedway. (Jacob Seelman photo)

Rogers, a five-time champion of the former Hooters Pro Cup Series, won the race in 2006 after apparent race winner Johnny Brazier was disqualified during post-race inspection.

“I didn’t realize how many big names had won it and how big of a deal it actually was,” Rogers said. “I don’t think anybody can actually understand until they go experience for themselves what it’s all about. Once you get down there and see how much all the other competitors put into it, then the gravity of the whole race and what it means to everybody really starts to set in on you.”

Busch, who had already made a name for himself in NASCAR by the time he won his first Snowball Derby in 2009, believes the Derby is one of the most challenging late model races to win in the United States, meaning only the best of the best are able to earn a visit to victory lane.

Busch says those who excel at the Derby are more likely to go on to have long careers in auto racing.

“It is one of the hardest late model races to go out there and run and to win,” Busch said. “The competition there is stiff. There are going to be guys that hit that and hit it right. Whether it’s myself or Erik Jones or Christian Eckes or Bubba Pollard or whoever.

“Sometimes it turns into a crap-shoot race at the end because a lot of crashes happen and stuff like that, but the two years that I won we had an 80- and a 90-lap run to the end of the thing. We didn’t have that short-stint stuff.”

Elliott, who used his first Snowball Derby win to help elevate him to a career with Hendrick Motorsports, echoed Busch’s sentiment.

Harrison Burton (12) battles Cole Butcher at the start of the 51st annual Snowball Derby at Five Flags Speedway. (Jacob Seelman photo)

“The Snowball Derby is a hard race to win. Granted, you have to have a lot of things go your way from the standpoint that you have to have fast cars,” Elliott said. “You can’t go down there and expect to be competitive in something that’s not competitive from a car standpoint.

“Sure, there are things that have to go your way, but it’s a hard race win. In the short-track world, that’s kind of the race of the year I feel like in the super late model ranks.”

To prove how difficult the Snowball Derby is to win, it’s worth looking at some of those who haven’t won it. Busch mentioned Pollard, who is a perennial contender at the Snowball Derby, but he has yet to find victory lane at the event despite multiple victories in other races at Five Flags Speedway.

Others who have tried and failed to win the Snowball Derby include Mark Martin, Bobby Allison, Dick Trickle, Harry Gant, Rusty Wallace, Matt Kenseth, Joe Shear, Neil Bonnett and Red Farmer.

It’s a testament to how difficult the Snowball Derby is that those famous names have tried — and failed — to win the 200-lap affair.

“It’s really just the strength of the field,” said Jones. “You look at the Xfinity Series field for example; there may be seven cars that can win on a given week on a normal oval. Maybe seven. You look at the Snowball, there is a good 15, 20 guys in that race that can win.

“Really, just making the field is a challenge. I’ve been close to not making that race before and making it in is a hard-enough feat and it’s really even tougher than that with everything that goes into it.”

Elliott, who made seven Derby starts between 2009 and ’15, says that from a super late model standpoint there is no bigger race than the Snowball Derby.

“That’s kind of the race,” Elliott noted. “People come from all around the country to go run it. From a competition standpoint, you’re not really going to find any more competition in that level of racing than at the Snowball Derby.”