PENSACOLA, Fla. – Though racing action for Saturday was washed out by several rounds of torrential rain that moved through the Florida panhandle, Snowball Derby Sunday dawned bright and optimistic over Five Flags Speedway.
A quickly-drying race surface was greeted by the traditional exit of the team haulers from the infield of the Florida half-mile, in preparation for the last chance race and 300-lap crown jewel feature.
California’s Jeremy Doss, who will start 18th Sunday afternoon, noted that “there’s just something special” about taking a moment to watch the haulers leave and soak in the atmosphere before getting down to the business at hand of racing in the ‘Super Bowl of Super Late Model Racing’.
“It’s a pretty neat thing and just cool to watch all the buildup to the Derby on Sunday morning, with the haulers going out and then all the pre-race festivities that lead into the race,” said Doss. “I’m pretty pumped up for the race. I want to get going, even though it’s going to be tough seeing how the track takes rubber. We haven’t dealt with a green race track all week, so it’s just one more challenge.”
Doss will have veteran crew chief Rich Lushes, who called the shots for Myatt Snider in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series this season, on top of his pit box for Sunday’s Derby.
“Having Rich on our side is very big. It’s very important and I’m very thankful to have him again this weekend,” Doss noted. “Last year, he got us out front to lead some laps and put us in position to have a shot at the end of the race, and I believe we can go out and have a shot at doing that again today.”
– The emotions for this particular Derby Sunday are different than in past years, as the Last Chance Race is being held just prior to the finale due to Saturday’s rainout, as opposed to on Saturday like usual.
That means that the drivers who locked in via qualifying on Friday are breathing easy, while those who have to run the 50-lap qualifier are sweating bullets as they try to secure their spot in the starting field.
“It’s a weight off our shoulders,” noted Florida’s Michael Atwell, who qualified 21st and is in the show. “I’ve still got a few nerves, but those are pre-Derby jitters and we can handle those,” he grinned.
“I’m just thankful I don’t have to stress about that 50-lap deal at noon.”
On the flip side of that coin is Mason Mingus, who has fought mechanical trouble all weekend and has to come from deep in the qualifier if he wants to make the Snowball Derby.
“We really wanted to wake up and not have to run the last chance race at all, but we’ve been fighting,” said Mingus. “We broke two rear ends and just can’t get luck on our side. It’s pretty intense, but we’ll make the best out of it that we can. I think we’ve got a pretty good race car.”
– Pro late model standout Giovanni Bromante is in the pits this weekend at the Snowball Derby, but he’s not wearing a driver’s suit and won’t be partaking in the action from behind the wheel on Sunday.
Instead, Bromante will be watching from the Anthony Campi Racing pit area, as he’s still recovering from a compression fracture of the T4 and T5 vertebrae in his upper spine.
Bromante did tip, however, that he plans to be racing super late models full time with Campi’s team next season, hopefully capped off by his first attempt at making the Snowball Derby next December.
– The infield was soggy on Sunday, but that hasn’t dampen the spirits of fans or drivers in attendance. A healthy turnout was already filling the grounds at 10 a.m. CT, with no rain in sight and blue skies above.
The track surface itself was still somewhat damp at first glance, but sunshine and a slight breeze were helping track drying efforts and a noon-time racing kickoff is still planned.