PENSACOLA, Fla. – Derek Thorn outdueled Augie Grill to take the victory in a rough-and-tumble 21st annual Allen Turner Hyundai Snowflake 100 Saturday night at Five Flags Speedway.
Thorn battled past Grill on a lap-65 restart, following a caution for the spinning car of Mason Keller, and never looked back after that.
The California native opened up a 1.173-second margin over Grill en route to his first win of any kind during Snowball Derby weekend, leading the final 36 laps uncontested in the Campbell Motorsports No. 43.
After earning the pole on Friday night for Sunday’s Snowball Derby, Thorn gave himself a shot to sweep the weekend by virtue of his Saturday performance. His mind wasn’t on that just yet as he climbed from the car, however.
Thorn’s focus was on soaking in a long-awaited victory at Five Flags Speedway.
“Man oh man, if you’d told me that we’d win the pole this weekend for the Snowball Derby and then go out and win our first Snowflake 100, I would never have believed you,” Thorn said in victory lane. “We were OK until the middle portion of the race, but we weren’t that great. I knew Bubba (Pollard) was saving behind me, and Augie was good for a while there out front of everyone.
“I was just kind of winging it, to be honest,” Thorn continued. “Augie and Pollard are both phenomenal here so I was just trying to go to school and learn what I could from those guys while we were all riding. Obviously, they know more than I do, so I was trying to stay patient … until the end. Augie kind of left me a hole getting into three; I got a run on the backstretch after he’d kind of closed the door on the other restarts, and we made a little bit of contact there, but he was just trying to shut the door on me.
“I was worried we wouldn’t be good enough at the end, but the car was good. I’m really happy tonight.”
While Thorn was the class of the field down the home stretch, Grill was the star of the Snowflake 100 for its first two-thirds, leading the opening 64 circuits and pulling away from the pack on numerous restarts.
However, Grill “got caught sleeping” when the race went back green on the 65th round, shuffling him back to third as both Thorn and two-time Snowflake 100 winner Bubba Pollard got past him.
From there it was a game of catch up for the Alabama veteran, and while he re-passed Pollard for the runner-up spot coming to 20 to go, Grill was too late to make a charge back at Thorn by that point.
“I don’t know what more I could have done. I’d gotten a little bit tight, but not enough to really be bad,” Grill told SPEED SPORT. “I mean, I was matching his times there at the end, and every third lap I’d be faster, but I couldn’t do that every lap. Hats off to Derek, though. He had a great car. He caught me sleeping on that restart and was able to get a nose under me down the back straightaway. It kind of caught me by surprise, to be honest, and Bubba was able to follow him by.
“After that, we had a caution and went back green, and it just took me too long to get back by Bubba before he was gone. I think I closed back on him a little bit, but it wasn’t enough to do anything.”
Teenager Sammy Smith completed the podium in the Anthony Campi Racing No. 81, followed by Justin South and Stephen Nasse, who came from 20th to fifth with a strong run through traffic.
Pollard faded to sixth inside the final 10 laps, ahead of Jackson Boone, Brandon Oakley, Jake Johnson and Kyle Plott.
The first 25 laps ran uninterrupted, but after that, cautions were the proverbial order of the night. In all, seven yellow flags slowed the pace over the 100-lap distance.
Saturday’s most-serious incident occurred on lap 54, when Jarrett Parker lost brakes and spun before his car was hit by the oncoming machine of Justin Bonnett. The contact dislodged the fuel cell from Parker’s vehicle and sent it careening across the pavement in turn three, with flames erupting in its wake.
In all, four cars were involved in the fiery crash.
Bonnett, the grandson of the late Neil Bonnett, was awake and alert after being aided from his machine, but was transported to a local hospital for further evaluation and treatment.
Derek Thorn, Augie Grill, Sammy Smith, Justin South, Stephen Nasse, Bubba Pollard, Jackson Boone, Brandon Oakley, Jake Johnson, Kyle Plott, Jett Noland, Dan Leeck, Daniel Dye, Mason Diaz, Dustin Smith, Rodrigo Rejon, Trever McCoy, Jake Griffin, Kyle McCallum, Chris Hacker, Ryan Paul, Mason Keller, Dylan Fetcho, Carson Hocevar, Mike Garvey, Wayne Anderson, Jo Jo Wilkinson, Stacey Crain, Jarrett Parker, Justin Bonnett, Perry Patino, Brandon Curren, Connor Okrzesik, Bill Melvin, Elliott Massey, Cody Brake, Jacob Beasock.