PENSACOLA, Fla. – Saturday’s Last Chance Showdown for the 51st annual Snowball Derby could easily be a feature at any other short track in America, after multiple stars failed to post fast enough speeds during qualifying on Friday night.
From front to back, the field for the 50-lap dash to make the Derby is loaded with talent, including three Snowball Derby victories, three Snowflake 100 victories and a NASCAR Whelen All American Series national championship.
Paul Shafer Jr., who picked up an ARCA Midwest Tour victory in May at Jefferson Speedway, will start from the pole of the Last Chance Showdown alongside David Rogers, who won the Whelen All American national title in 1994 and is seeking to make his 33rd career Snowball Derby.
Should Rogers be successful in racing his way in, he would break a tie with the legendary Red Farmer for the most Snowball Derby starts in history.
“If you’re on the pole of the last chance race, you’re still in the last chance race,” Rogers said. “It is what it is. Sometimes, five thousandths of a second is what it comes down to and that’s how close it was.
“We struggled all week and that was the best the car has felt since we unloaded it, so I can’t complain. We’ve had to run this last chance race before to get in and the big question now is the rain.”
Rain began falling at Five Flags Speedway around 9 p.m. local time on Friday night and is expected to continue for much of the day on Saturday, leading to questions about when the Derby LCQ will run.
Regardless, Rogers is determined to give it his all, and if he misses the cut, then so be it.
“If we don’t make it, we didn’t deserve to be in it,” Rogers said. “That’s the format. Unfortunately for me, it always seems like when they took just 20 from time trials, I was 22nd or 23rd and then they took 30 and we ended up 32nd.
“We often come up short. It is what is,” he added. “We may get disappointed, but I did the best I could and we’re going to continue doing it.”
Steven Wallace, the son of NASCAR Hall of Famer Rusty Wallace, won the Snowball Derby in 2004 but then missed the show three years later, so he’s been on both sides of the equation in the past.
He’ll have to race his way in from the inside of the second row in Saturday’s last chance race to have a shot at his second Snowball Derby victory on Sunday.
“Man, this just hasn’t been a good week,” noted Wallace. “We broke both a rear end and a brake caliper in practice, and the whole time things haven’t turned out the way I’ve wanted them to turn out, at all.
“We’re not out of it, but I’m disappointed in myself and in how everything has gone so far.”
Then there’s Augie Grill, a two-time champion of the Derby who will have to charge forward from ninth on the grid and finish among the top four if he wants a shot at a hat trick of Tom Dawson trophies.
Grill was a tenth below the top 30 and landed an uncharacteristic 39th on speed in qualifying.
“It wouldn’t turn and it wouldn’t rotate, a problem we’ve had since we got here,” Grill said. “We get it turning better and it won’t drive off, and then we’re loose getting in.
“We’re going to take it to a friend of mine’s shop, work on it and hopefully make it better, but if we can’t get it turning right through practice, there’s no sense in trying it,” Grill added. “If that happens, we’ll just box it up and try again next year.”
Mason Diaz, who was hopeful of running double duty this weekend, timed in 44th of 47 cars and said he will scratch out of the last chance race due to engine concerns.
“It’s not blowing up yet, but we don’t want to risk it,” Diaz said. “We’ll focus on the pro late model and go try to win one there. It’s really disappointing, though. I wanted to run the Derby pretty bad.”
STARTING GRID: Snowball Derby Last Chance Race; Five Flags Speedway; Nov. 30, 2018
- Paul Shafer Jr
- David Rogers
- Steve Wallace
- Kason Plott
- Chris Davidson
- Carson Hocevar
- Boris Jurkovic
- Jerry Artuso
- Augie Grill
- Mason Mingus
- Patrick Laperle
- Mason Diaz
- Blaine Perkins
- Jack Dossey III
- Jan Evans