PENSACOLA, Fla. – Snowball Derby week officially kicked off Tuesday night in downtown Pensacola with the annual Kickoff Party at Beef O’Brady’s on South Palafox Street, with a host of contenders for the Tom Dawson Memorial Trophy in attendance.

Among the drivers spotted on the floor of the restaurant run by former driver and car owner Tracy Goodson were Jett Concrete teammates Jeff Choquette and Stephen Nasse, both of whom expect to factor into the late stages of Sunday’s 300-lap super late model special at 5 Flags Speedway.

“If I could ever find some luck, I might actually win the dang thing,” Nasse joked with SPEED SPORT amid the dinner bustle. “I haven’t been able to buy a break the last few years, even though we’ve had good cars every time. Last year was just tough, being involved in that crash on the backstretch.

“We’re back, though. We’re here, we’re ready and I believe the winner is sitting right here in this chair,” he smiled.

Also among those in attendance were NASCAR Camping World Truck Series competitors Stewart Friesen and Tyler Ankrum, Kyle Busch Motorsports young gun Raphael Lessard and Cole Timm, who won the inaugural CARS Super Late Model Tour championship in 2015.

– Particularly notable among this year’s entry list is the absence of the reigning Tom Dawson Memorial Trophy winner, 2015 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion Kyle Busch.

Busch is in Las Vegas this week for the Cup Series Awards Show, but his team – Kyle Busch Motorsports – is fielding two cars in this year’s 51st running of the Derby.

The No. 18 Toyota will be driven by Noah Gragson in his final hurrah before moving up to the Xfinity Series with JR Motorsports, while Lessard will return to the No. 51 Toyota he drove to a fourth-place points finish in CARS Tour action this year.

Chandler Smith (26) and Jeff Choquette, seen here during the Winchester 400, will both race in the Snowball Derby this coming weekend. (Stan Kalwasinski photo)

– Chandler Smith found a quiet table away from the main floor to sit at on Tuesday night, but it was a convenient place to survey the prize he hopes to take home to Georgia at the end of the weekend.

Smith was seated just a few yards away from the Tom Dawson Memorial Trophy and was caught several times eyeing the golden snowball that sits atop the winner’s trophy. He’ll have veteran leadership in his pursuit of that goal, as Ricky Turner will serve as Smith’s crew chief for the Snowball Derby.

Turner is a former winner of the Derby as both a driver and a crew chief.

“Man, Sunday is the goal,” said Smith. “I want to be kissing the Snowball Sunday night. That would be huge, both for me and for the crew. Having Ricky at the helm does put a little extra pressure on, but you try to put that out of your mind and just go focus on performing in the race.

“Hopefully we can win this deal one of these days.”

– The Snowball Derby isn’t just prestigious because of the level of competition that it brings to the table each year; it also boasts one of the higher-paying purses in late model racing as well.

Sunday’s 300-lap race will pay out $25,000 to the winner and $1,500 just to take the green flag.

– Of the 53 projected entries for this year’s Snowball Derby, only one has previously stood in victory lane at the end of the weekend: 2004 event champion Steven Wallace.