When it was finally over, before he got to clutch the checkered flag and winner’s trophy, it seemed like Bubba Winslow forgot how to celebrate.
Either that or Winslow simply didn’t have enough time to get his bearings, as those closest to him created quite the celebratory scene in Victory Lane while Winslow’s helmet stay strapped on.
He barely had a chance to climb out of the car and pump his fists before friends and family mobbed him with warm, emotional embraces. Such is the reaction when a hometown boy wins at the Snowball Derby.
After countless years of trying in numerous classes at Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola, Florida, the 27-year-old Winslow scored his first career Derby title Thursday at the famed half-mile asphalt oval. He led nearly every lap of the 50-lap Faith Chapel Outlaw Stocks on night 2 of the 50th annual Snowball Derby.
“Man, this is unreal,” the Cantonment native said. “I don’t know if I could’ve ever dreamed this up. I wasn’t sure if it was ever gonna happen.”
Donald Crocker finished second and Brandon Spreen rounded out the podium.
Winslow outlasted a deep 29-car field and nine cautions, including four yellows in the final seven laps.
He assumed the lead from polesitter Corbitt Moseley on lap 6 when Moseley pitted to repair an exposed exhaust pipe.
Winslow went unchallenged early on, proving to be exceptional on restarts, which helped him pad his lead between a bevy of cautions.
He dodged a potential disaster with 35 laps completed when Dustin Knowles, a lapped car, spun in front of him between turn 1 and 2. Winslow did a masterful job to avoid Knowles and escape the scene unharmed.
“I told my wife (Ashley) earlier this week,” Winslow said, “this was the most nervous I had been because I knew we had a good racecar. I knew if we saved enough, we’d be hard to beat at the end.”
He was, although Wayne Niedecken, Jr. and Crocker made Winslow sweat it out.
Niedecken, Jr. ran in the top-five for much of the race and put his No. 31 directly behind Winslow’s No. 92 late in the race. But the son of the Snowball Derby’s inaugural winner, Wayne Niedecken, Sr., had his storybook run spoiled when Todd Jones spun Junior with five laps remaining.
That incident pushed Crocker to second and when Winslow finally showed a chink in his armor following his lone poor restart Thursday, Crocker attempted to slide underneath Winslow.
But Crocker couldn’t quite stick his nose far enough below Winslow, who recovered in time and pulled away.
“I had a thought, ‘Boy, I should move him,’ ” Crocker said. “But I run clean races.”
As Winslow basked in the glory of victory with Ashley and their two kids — 7-year-old daughter Taylor and toddler son Troy — he sought out his car owners, the father-and-son tandem of Ron and Scotty McDonald, who Winslow was grateful to for believing in him.
Amid the chaos and unbeknownst to Winslow, fans posed for selfies. Had he realized what was happening behind and all around him, Winslow might’ve flashed a big grin for them.
Instead, he was still busy trying to soak in that, at long last, he was a Snowball Derby champion.
“It’s gonna be hard to top this one,” Winslow said. “It’s real special.”
Barnhill Scores Sportsmen Snowball Win At 5 Flags
Victory never felt this sweet for Mark Barnhill.
Three years ago this week, Mark Barnhill left the Snowball Derby with a sour taste in his mouth, feeling as though he had been robbed of immortality.
Barnhill crossed the line first in the 2014 running of the Sportsmen portion of the Snowball Derby, but had his heart broken when Five Flags Speedway officials ruled Barnhill’s No. 3 was illegal in technical inspection and denied him a Derby crown.
Thankfully, history did not entirely repeat itself at the 50th annual Snowball Derby on Thursday night at the Pensacola, Florida raceway.
Barnhill set the fast time in qualifying, led all 50 laps of The Dock on Pensacola Beach Sportsmen portion of the Snowball Derby and safely passed the “Room of Doom” without incident to officially notch his first career Derby title.
“It feels like what I can only imagine those guys racing the Derby on Sunday get to experience,” said Barnhill, who lives in nearby Theodore, Alabama. “That trophy means a lot to me. I’ll never get a chance to get in a late model, so this is my Snowball Derby.”
It was an Alabama sweep in Victory Lane, as Lee Reynolds and Steven Allday finished second and third, respectively.
Barnhill, who had four wins during the regular season to finish second to Molino’s Brannon Fowler for the track championship, started from the pole thanks to a blistering qualifying time of 20.658 seconds.
The Sportsmen feature delivered a fine preview in qualifying of what was in store for the 50 lapper as the top-five cars were separated by less than one-tenth of a second.
Once the green flag dropped, though, they were all chasing Barnhill, who never relinquished his lead.
“We got a lotta good cars in this class, so this definitely means a lot,” he said. “Those 20 cars behind me wanted to be where I am. There can only be one winner, and I held them off. It was tough. I’m hot, too.”
Sweaty and out of breath, the subdued Barnhill showed a rare level of excitement in Victory Lane on Thursday when he celebrated by banging his hands on the hood of his No. 3 and wildly waving the checkered flag.
Reynolds, who was involved in an incident with Fowler early on, was just tickled he was able to navigate his way from the tail end of the field to score a runner-up finish.
“I couldn’t ask for better news,” Reynolds said.
Fowler saw his bid for a third career Derby championship come to a screeching halt with two laps to go. Running second to Barnhill, Fowler was trying to time his push for the lead when all his efforts came undone because he sustained a blowout to his right front tire.
It would’ve been hard to catch Barnhill, who was determined to not be denied on this night.
“I’m glad I got my hands on this one again,” he said.
5 Flags Speedway – Pensacola, FL
Snowball Derby – Nov. 30, 2017
Faith Chapel Outlaw Stocks
1. 92 Bubba Winslow
2. 1 Donald Crocker
3. 88 Brandon Spreen
4. 54R Travis Roland
5. 67 Aaron Williamson
6. 40 Todd Jones
7. 1B Roger Blevins
8. 03 George Gorham, Jr.
9. 9D Brooke Storer
10. 17 Chris Cotto
11. 28 Rick Oertel
12. 31 Wayne Niedecken, Jr.
13. 69 Mike Pollaro
14. 18 Jeremy Williams
15. 26 Corbitt Mosely
16. 41 Troy Grisafi
17. 32 Stuart Dutton
18. 33 Joe Bethea, Jr.
19. 00 Blake Williams
20. 6 Okie Mason
21. 14 Wesley King
22. 9 Kody Jett
23. 407 Jason Vail
24. 54 Conner Sutton
25. 92K Dustin Knowles
26. 91 Martin Gunter
27. 96 Rick Pollaro
28. 151 Gary Sutton
29. 60 Henry Wade
The Dock on Pensacola Beach Sportsmen
1. 3 Mark Barnhill
2. 32 Lee Renyolds
3. 65 Steven Allday
4. 50 Jim Pokrant
5. 81A Lewis Anderson
6. 31 Johnny Greene, Jr.
7. 97 Hunter Lambert
8. 44 Bobby Jones
9. 2 Paul Schloss
10. 00 Brannon Fowler
11. 23 Eli Bell
12. 55 Jimbo Walker
13. 16 Tony Boyd
14. 197 Tony Jones
15. 60 Jimmy Goodwin
16. 8 B.J. Leytham
17. 28 Dayton Sidner
18. 07 Johnny McNair
19. 29 Shanna Ard
20. 357 Jason Huffmaster
21. 1 Jonathan Langham