When looking at the list of possible winners for the 49th running of the Snowball Derby at Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola, Fla., Christian Eckes likely wasn’t at the top of many lists.
The 16-year-old competitor had, after all, won his first super late model race the previous weekend at North Carolina’s Southern National Motorsports Park and was going up against some of the most experienced super late model drivers in the country.
Yet, somehow, Eckes managed to do the unthinkable and win what is considered the most prestigious super late model event in the country — a race that was delayed two days by rain and finally completed on Dec. 6.
“I’m just really pumped up,” Eckes said. “We had a lot of bad luck this year in the super late models and we really turned it around at the end of the year. We had a win (the weekend before) at the Thanksgiving Classic and then to come to the biggest super late model race of the year … I was just hoping for a top five. So to bring home a win in one of the biggest races is truly amazing to me.”
Eckes’ victory came in thrilling fashion as the driver of the Fury Race Cars No. 15 bested NASCAR Camping World Truck Series regular John Hunter Nemechek in a photo finish.
Eckes had to overcome problems on pit road and a crash not of his making in order to get into contention for the victory.
“I knew we had a pretty good car at the beginning when we were running top five, then we had the issue with our pit strategy,” Eckes explained. “Then we got in a wreck down the backstretch that took us out, but luckily we were able to fight back up through the field and get in the top 10.
“In my mind I thought we were done,” Eckes added. “I thought we were going to load up after the incident down the backstretch, but luckily we just had a couple little cosmetic issues and we were able to bounce back.”
Nemechek took the lead from ARCA Midwest Tour champion Ty Majeski on lap 287. In search of his second Derby victory, Nemechek looked to have the race in hand until Eckes made his late-race charge.
Eckes finally found a path to the inside of Nemechek coming to the flagstand with two laps to go. He made the pass but his lead was short-lived, as Nemechek pulled a crossover move exiting turn two. Eckes returned the favor racing to the white flag and having the inside lane turned out to be the difference as the duo drag raced to the checkered flag with Eckes edging Nemechek for the victory.