PENSACOLA, Fla. – Snowball Derby rookie Daniel Dye told SPEED SPORT on Thursday prior to opening practice that his first goal was simply to make the race.
After all, his birthday was Friday and the Deland, Fla., teenager wanted a useful gift.
“The racing gods can go ahead and start wrapping up my present; that would be really good,” Dye laughed. “In all seriousness, though, to be in a race like the Derby where they send nearly half the field home … just to make the race would be awesome.”
The racing gods laughed back and granted Dye’s birthday wish, with his No. 43 Halifax Health/Race to Stop Suicide Dodge Challenger SRT going sixth quick during Country Pleasin’ Sausage Qualifying on Friday ahead of the 53rd Snowball Derby.
His ‘present’ came in the form of a 16.380-second flyer for the newly-turned 17-year-old.
“We qualified pretty good. I didn’t think either of my laps were going to be anywhere close to where we needed to be. That’s all on me,” Dye noted. “I was a little bit all over the place. My second lap was better; I [almost] took the fence down with me on the frontstretch, but kept it out of (the wall).”
Dye also wasn’t shy about opening up in regard to the anticipation he felt before his qualifying run in his first-ever Derby attempt.
Even though he was still over the moon with relief while passing through post-qualifying technical inspection, Dye showed deep respect for all of the drivers that he had to be faster than to secure key track position for Sunday’s 300-lap race.
“I was worried about making the race for three weeks, probably longer, really,” he said. “There’s so many good cars here. I mean, we beat Kyle (Busch), Chase (Elliott), Bubba (Pollard), Connor (Okrzesik), Noah (Gragson) … all kinds of wheelmen that have won races all over the country. All types of Snowball Derby champions, and NASCAR champions, and we were faster than those guys. That’s a good birthday present.
“The racing gods, like I told you earlier, they gave me a present.”
Dye will line up on the outside row Sunday. At some places, the high lane can be a nightmare, but at a track like Five Flags Speedway, the top is a coveted advantage.
“[A sixth place start is] definitely something that helps our case. Starting deep in the field, you have a chance at getting into some of those mid-pack wrecks that take some guys out early, and we’re going to try and maintain [position] up in the front,” Dye explained. “I don’t know man. This race last year ended up being a wild card [at the finish].”
Dye had good reason to be wary after seeing the closing laps of the 2019 Snowball Derby, where frontstretch pile-ups late in the going wreaked havoc on many unsuspecting drivers.
“You just have to be there at the end, and have a good piece,” he said. “We’re in a good spot to stay out of the wrecks, so that’s kind of the main goal and we’ll see what we can do.”
Dye and the rest of the super late model field will have one last shot to adjust on their race cars when Happy Hour practice for the 53rd Snowball Derby hits the track at 11:45 a.m. CT Saturday morning.
The Snowball Derby last chance qualifier will follow at approximately 3:30 p.m. CT.