PENSACOLA, Fla. – Gulf South race fans are used to seeing Wisconsin’s Derek Kraus unload at the Snowball Derby with his family’s black and orange No. 9 car, but that wasn’t the case this year.
Instead, Kraus has become somewhat of a “hired gun” for the 52nd running of the historic super late model event, driving this week for Donnie Wilson as he pursues his first Derby victory.
The reigning NASCAR K&N Pro Series West (rebranded as ARCA Menards Series West for 2020) champion has struggled to find speed and luck at Five Flags Speedway in the past, but is hoping this weekend will be different.
“It’s been fun so far. We learned a lot Thursday during practice,” Kraus told SPEED SPORT. “We struggled in the first two, but I feel like we found a pretty good baseline to start on tomorrow. We ended up 12th or 13th in the last practice then, but the most important thing is qualifying on Friday night.
“We’re going to have to try to make (the) top 30, and hopefully we get in the top 30 and start with good track position for Sunday.”
Kraus’ deal to drive for Wilson wasn’t something that was planned out weeks or months in advance, but rather came together when one of the Stratford, Wis., young gun’s normal crew members couldn’t make the trip south for Snowball Derby week.
“It really didn’t start long ago; it was very recent. We decided to go this route because one of the main guys that works on our race cars back at home, he works at UPS and this was one of their busiest times of the year. So he had to be at home working and couldn’t get off. And we felt that if he couldn’t go, we couldn’t find the right amount of people to come down here and be competitive.
“From there, we found Donnie Wilson; we felt that he’s a really good guy and he has a really good team,” Kraus added. “He’s got a really good team surrounding me. They’ve set out to rock and we’re ready to go.”
Though one might think that being “just a driver” would be an advantage to Kraus instead of also working on his own equipment, the teenager doesn’t view it that way and said the pressure of the Snowball Derby “is still very much there.”
“Man, it’s the same Snowball Derby,” Kraus noted. “It’s the same top 30 (rule) as we’ve had to deal with for a while. You still have to get locked in. It’s like the only thing different is that I have a Lefthander (Chassis) back home and this is a Rowdy (Manufacturing) car, but so far it has been going really well.
“Hopefully I have a good qualifying answer. We need one after the last few years.”
While Kraus has focused solidly on his race pace during practice sessions to this point, he said he still doesn’t know what kind of speed he’ll have for the Derby itself.
No one really will, he noted, prior to Sunday afternoon.
“I don’t really think you know (if you can win) in this race until you’re 50 or 100 laps into it,” he said. “We have to finish this thing to have a shot. You have to first finish to finish first; at least that’s what they all say.
“We know we’ve got to have a good, good, good qualifying effort to get good track position. If we can do that, you’ll see us in the mix when we get to the big show.”