PENSACOLA, Fla. – Snowball Derby qualifying traditionally produces a smattering of surprise efforts as drivers fight to make the top 30 and lock into the race, but perhaps none were as notable as Perry Patino on Friday night.
Patino had never driven a super late model prior to this week, but he took his Bobby and Roger Reuse-prepared No. 89 machine and locked it into the show in his first Derby attempt, qualifying 16th overall with a time of 16.537 seconds (108.847 mph) that ranked inside the top five at the time of his run.
The 19-year-old University of Alabama student called making the Derby one of the proudest moments in his entire racing career.
“With this being my first time in a super late model … I’d never qualified one of these things, so I really didn’t know what to do other than to barrel it off into the corner,” Patino recalled. “On the first lap, I drove it off into the corner like a pro (late model), and it didn’t go so well … so the next time through I did what everyone told me to do, kept it on the bottom and it stuck, thankfully.
“This is an amazing feeling. I wanted to do this for all my guys. I’m so happy to be in the damn Snowball Derby.”
Patino then equated the Super Bowl of Super Late Model Racing to the Super Bowl of Stock Car Racing.
“I feel like this proves to everybody that I can handle the super and that it wasn’t a mistake for us to come up here and do this,” Patino noted. “I’ll tell you what, this is like the Daytona 500 for us. I’d rather win this race all day than any NASCAR race.
“This is one of the biggest milestones of my career and now we just have to go and build on it.”
– Among those who weren’t surprised by Patino’s effort was his car owner, Roger Reuse, who noted all along that he felt the No. 89 team had a shot to make the field on speed.
“This may have been a surprise to a lot of people, but it wasn’t at all a surprise to me,” Reuse said. “I knew my driver could do it. It’s just a cool feeling … Perry did something last night that a lot of drivers have never done. We knew he had the speed; we just had to go do it.
“He’s actually the second AIR Company driver to make the field in his Derby debut,” added Reuse. “Dillon Oliver did it for us in 2011. Now we’re just hoping for a solid race on Sunday.”
– Patino wasn’t the only lesser-known name to put up an impressive effort during time trials on Friday night. Wisconsin’s John DeAngelis Jr. and Florida’s Michael Atwell both had solid speed in practice on Thursday and followed those efforts up with qualifying runs that put them both in Sunday’s field.
DeAngelis will start ninth for the 300-lap Snowball Derby feature, while Atwell will roll off from 21st.
A year ago, Atwell was relegated to the Last Chance Race and failed to transfer, so this year’s turnaround was welcomed by the 19-year-old Naples driver.
“It’s absolutely a relief,” Atwell said of making the show. “I honestly believe we left some speed on the table; I had a moment there off turn two … but it doesn’t matter. We’re in the show. That’s what’s important.”
– NASCAR K&N Pro Series West star Derek Kraus was sweating bullets for the second half of Friday night’s qualifying session, as his name crept closer and closer to the 30th-place cutoff.
Kraus had to run the last chance race in both 2016 and 2017, so when qualifying was over and the 17-year-old was finally back in the Derby on pace alone, he let a huge grin of accomplishment cross his face.
“It’s not what we came here to do, and not what I wanted, but I’ll take it,” admitted Kraus, who will start 28th on Sunday. “We’re still struggling a bit, but at least we don’t have to stress on Saturday. That’s something I’m thankful for.”
– Stephen Nasse was understandably frustrated after missing the top 30 in Snowball Derby qualifying Friday night, but back to smiling on pit road just minutes later after learning that he had a provisional starting spot for Sunday’s Snowball Derby.
Nasse was awarded the Blizzard Series provisional by virtue of his performance in the Five Flags Speedway super late model mini-series throughout the year.
“Was I disappointed to not get in on speed? Obviously, I was, but I’m thankful for the provisional,” Nasse noted. “It’s never the way you want to make the race as a driver, but the rain started right as I went out … and sometimes, being the last to qualify isn’t always best.
“We will be good on Sunday, though,” he vowed. “I’m certain of that.”