PENSACOLA, Fla. – There’s something to be said for how difficult the Snowball Derby is to make when two of racing’s rising young stars barely found themselves among the top 30 qualifiers for Sunday’s race.
Spencer Davis and Corey Heim were the last two drivers in on speed after Friday night’s stressful two-lap time trial session, squeaking into the most prestigious super late model race in the country after both struggling for speed at various points during the week.
Davis, in particular, endured a rough road before cinching up his fifth feature appearance at the Derby. He fought issues with his super late model all week in practice, with spotter Tim Fedewa noting at one point that “we could move the trackbar a foot and it seemed like it wouldn’t do a thing to help the car.”
However, when it mattered most, Davis’ Frankenstein-esque No. 29 – a car he acquired from Stephen Nasse by trade following a race at Montgomery Motor Speedway in 2013 – had just enough speed in it, qualifying 30th and taking the last guaranteed spot in the show on time.
“Man, when we ended final practice we were 43rd or 44th out of 47 cars and we were scratching our heads wondering how we were even going to make it in,” Davis told SPEED SPORT. “Since Wednesday, our week hasn’t been good enough, but we pulled all our notes out and somehow qualified 30th.
“That’s barely enough to make it in, but it’s good enough and takes a big load off our shoulders because I know our car is better on long runs than short runs,” he added. “I’ve said ever since my first Derby interview this year that qualifying in is the first hard part, and the second 50 percent is making it to lap 300 on Sunday.”
It almost seemed appropriate that the final battle for position to make the Derby came down to Davis and Nasse, considering their car swap from five years earlier, but Davis had resigned himself to being out of the field before the final times came in.
“Every time you see Stephen Nasse come up to qualify, he’s a pole run guy, and we were talking that we were probably going to end up on the pole of the last chance race and go from there,” Davis recalled. “We were 30th with four cars to go and I figured we’d be good until Stephen went out, but the Good Lord above smiled on us, let it cool down and let it start sprinkling a bit … and I think that hurt some guys and helped us out some.
“I’ll take it any way I can get it,” said Davis of making the Derby. “I’d rather have luck than be fast any day. This feels like waking up on Christmas morning and finding everything you wanted under the tree.”
For 16-year-old Heim, he was overcome with joy at qualifying for his first Snowball Derby as a rookie, setting the 29th-fastest lap in his No. 78 Fab Specialties entry.
“I’m just humbled to be here right now,” said Heim. “After I ran my lap, I didn’t think it would be good enough, to be honest. As long as we’re in, though, that’s all that matters. This is a stout field and I’m excited to get going now and get ready for the big show on Sunday.”
Much like others in the field, Heim wasn’t immune to the nerves of Snowball Derby qualifying day.
“It’s crazy. I was super nervous when I went out, because we had been having troubles all weekend,” Heim noted. “We just hadn’t found speed all week, but we threw something at it right before qualifying and it stuck.
“I was on edge before and after qualifying, but here we are. It just feels good to be able to take a deep breath and say that I’m in the Derby. That’s a pretty dang cool feeling.”
Others who just found their ways into the Derby through time trials included NASCAR K&N Pro Series West hotshoe Derek Kraus, PASS national champion Derek Griffith and NASCAR K&N Pro Series East champion Tyler Ankrum.
All three of the aforementioned drivers qualified 24th or worse, but still locked into the Derby on speed.