There have been 31 fewer Snowflake 100s than Sunday’s 50th annual Snowball Derby at Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola, Florida.
While the country’s preeminent Pro Late Model race might not have the history of its big brother, it has had its moments.
In 2010, a then-15-year-old Chase Elliott came from near the back of the pack to win the first of his three Snowflake 100s. Last December, Augie Grill was overcome with emotion in Victory Lane when he celebrated his third ’Flake.
But, arguably, no prior ’Flake began with quite the bang that reverberated Saturday night around the famed half-mile asphalt oval.
Bubba Pollard, who can boast more than 100 career Late Model wins, and Jeff Choquette engaged in an epic battle of door-to-door racing and lead changes that brought a packed house roaring to its feet.
Pollard finally pulled away from Choquette on lap 45, easily handled the one caution down the stretch and cruised to Victory Lane for his second career Snowflake 100 win. The first came for the Senoia, Georgia speedster in 2014.
“This thing is bad,” Pollard said of his No. 26 car on Saturday. “It shows what we’re capable of. Good racecars and this great team behind me is why things have seemed easier this year. I’m grateful for a lot this week, but things have been especially smooth because of quality racecars.”
He’ll go for an unprecedented sweep Sunday afternoon at the golden running of the Snowball Derby, a 300-lap race for Super Late Models.
But it will be a tough encore after his spellbinding performance Saturday. Never doubt Pollard, who starts outside Row 1 Sunday, though. That only adds more fuel to his motor.
“That’s what we came to do,” Pollard said of the potential sweep. “It gives us a lotta confidence knowing the cars are nearly identical. Day racing vs. night racing might be a little tough, but the plan is to win both.”
He won Saturday from the pole after a blistering qualifying lap of 16.702, a full tenth faster than Chandler Smith’s run, which saw the Jasper, Georgia driver qualify second.
In winning, Pollard denied PLM track champion Casey Roderick of Lawrenceville, Georgia, who won all four 100-lap races during the regular season at Five Flags, of a season sweep and his 19th Late Model victory of the year.
“We built this car, in part, because Casey Roderick was winning every Pro race this year,” Pollard said.
Spencer Davis had a phenomenal night, as well. After a mediocre lap in qualifying, Davism who hails from Dawsonville, Georgia, climbed through the 36-car field to come home as runner-up. Anthony Cataldi impressed by hustling from his 28th starting spot and rounded out the podium.
“We knew we had a lotta work to do starting 16th,” Davis said, “and we were able to take advantage of some people’s misfortunes.”
Choquette started fourth, but was pressing Smith for second within the first 10 laps and finally made the pass on lap 12.
Choquette set his eyes on the polesitter and first began engaging Pollard following the first restart with 14 laps completed.
Pollard elected to start on the outside lane, a selection he made four separate times Saturday, but it was Choquette dashing to clean air.
“He wanted to lead, so I let him go,” Pollard said. “It was fun.”
The fun continued for the fans too, as the back-and-forth with Choquette was edge-of-your seat stuff.
Pollard responded to Choquette’s lead by slingshoting underneath and the two were side-by-side for two full laps before Pollard’s No. 26 machine reclaimed it on lap 17 from Choquette and the No. 9.
Following a long red flag delay to clean up a turn 4 mess that involved more than 10 cars — one of which was partially airborne because a car rammed into its bumper and lifted it off the pavement as the car’s front end was boxed in by two more cars — Pollard continued to keep Choquette at bay until Choquette pulled back ahead on lap 28.
After Pollard had taken reins of the race at the 45-lap mark, the last caution came with 68 laps completed. This time, Pollard chose the inside lane.
“I determine if I restart on the inside or outside depending on how the car behind me reacts to the groove they’re running,” he explained. “I wanted to see what he had. I knew I had to pick the bottom late in the race because (Choquette) wasn’t getting good runs through (turns) 1 and 2.”
VanderLey Erases Bad Derby Memories, Scores Pro Truck Victory
With a full moon dancing across a pitch-black sky Saturday at Five Flags Speedway, the Pro Trucks portion of the Snowball Derby weekend certainly had a touch of the strange.
There was a fight in the grandstands. A driver got out of his truck on the back stretch to give a rival a piece of his mind during a late caution before race officials escorted him off the raceway. And, speaking of yellows, there were 11 of them in the 50-lap race.
Through it all, D.J. VanderLey maintained his resolve and made a triumphant run to not only racing, but the famed half-mile asphalt oval.
VanderLey, originally from Mobile, Alabama, purged ghosts from past Decembers and his emotions bubbled over in Victory Lane with his first career Derby win.
“I’m worn out,” said VanderLey, who finished a close second to Chase Elliott in a memorable battle for the 2011 Snowball Derby crown. “I haven’t raced in two years now. That was a long night.”
He assumed the lead following a caution on lap 33, withstood a few more yellows down the stretch and held off Andrew Johnson and Logan Boyett, who finished second and third, respectively.
“It was back-and-forth the whole night for us, but congrats to D.J.,” said Boyett, who will make his fifth career start in today’s big race. “That was fun, and we had a heckuva race.”
A full 36-truck field certainly made things interesting Saturday night.
Jarrett Parker and Steven Davis, the past two Pro Trucks Derby champions started on the front row with Parker on the pole.
Both had disappointing nights. Parker’s ended when he was trying to hold onto the lead while battling Cody Haskins in turn 2. The two cars got loose and Parker’s No. 46 wheel-hopped the No. 2 truck. Parker’s tail end swung around and slammed into Haskins, who careened into the outside wall.
Parker’s machine suffered too much damage from the incident. Davis struggled all evening and finished 23rd.
VanderLey, after battling James earlier in the evening for the third spot, took over the lead following the incident between Parker and James.
The ride to the win in the final 17 laps wasn’t a smooth one. VanderLey had his challengers, one of the biggest coming from short-track ace Bubba Gale.
Following the eighth caution of the night with 45 laps completed, VanderLey led the decimated field to the green flag with Gale sitting fourth.
Gale made a big move and pulled even with VanderLey on the back stretch. Going into turn 3, though, Johnson saw an opportunity to contend for the lead and made it three-wide.
Everyone had a feeling that it wasn’t going to end well, and it didn’t. With Gale and Johnson sandwiching him, VanderLey had nowhere to go and was forced into Gale, who spun out.
VanderLey had another strong restart and was less than a front stretch away from the white flag when a wreck occurred behind him to bring out the 10th caution.
That meant a green-white-checkered finish. It took two attempts for VanderLey to get to the checkered flag as another caution left only 11 of the 36 trucks that started the 50 lapper out on the track.
On Sunday, the attention moves to the Super Late Models for the 50th annual Snowball Derby.
For more information, visit 5FlagsSpeedway.com.
5 Flags Speedway – Pensacola, FL
Snowball Derby – Dec. 2, 2017
Allen Turner Snowflake 100
1. 26P Bubba Pollard
2. 5D Spencer Davis
3. 00A Anthony Cataldi
4. 9JC Jeff Choquette
5. 112G Augie Grill
6. 43S Justin South
7. 51SN Stephen Nasse
8. 78 Corey Heim
9. 95G Derrick Griffin
10. 18R Casey Roderick
11. 14H Carson Hocevar
12. 99N Junior Niedecken
13. 46W Cole Williams
14. 22D Steven Davis
15. 12L Dan Leeck
16. 26CS Chandler Smith
17. 51K Zachary Knowles
18. 51F Eddie Fatscher
19. 00C Brandon Curren
20. 55BO Brandon Oakley
21. 16T Scotty Tomasik
22. 24D Mason Diaz
23. 14O Connor Okrzesik
24. 21P Ryan Paul
25. 2A Austin Wood
26. 24 Christopher Tullis
27. 97A Cole Anderson
28. 30K Bobby Knox, Jr.
29. 15J Jake Johnson
30. R7 Ryan Worsham
31. 21J Brandon Johnson
32. 04 Corey Roper
33. 51P Perry Patino
34. 11M Jordan McCallum
35. 12G Joe Graf
36. 4M Elliott Massey
1. 38 D.J. VanderLey
2. 66 Andrew Johnson
3. 9 Logan Boyett
4. 12 Brandon Burk
5. 6 Okie Mason
6. 39 Mark Chrudimsky
7. 37 Kaden Honeycutt
8. 13 David Webster
9. 06 Dale Sheen
10. 28 Shawn Paul Lehman
11. 1 Jonathan Langham
12. 96 Rick Pollaro
13. 21 Jason Welch
14. 52 Eric Courville
15. 54 Bubba Gale
16. 58 Mickey Dearman
17. 26 Ray Hoey
18. 67 Daniel Bradford
19. 40 Craig Roper
20. 15 Colt James
21. 12 Adam Haugh
22. 41 Troy Grisaffi
23. 95 Steven Davis
24. 48 Tovia Grynewicz
25. 2 Cody Haskins
26. 46 Jarrett Parker
27. 9 Chris Wagner
28. 56 Darryl Rudd
29. 15 Mark Lindley
30. 14 Adams Briggs
31. 29 Shanna Ard
32. 05 Brandon Leonard
33. 68 Lori Lindley
34. 51 Trevor Bowen
35. 55 Hunter Hall
36. 12 Eric Wallace