Jeremy Pate never pictured this moment two years ago.
Who could’ve though?
When a freak, on-the-job accident nearly severed his right arm in 2016, Pate’s fate in racing looked bleak, to say the least.
“I got in a real low spot,” said the 41-year-old Pensacola, Florida driver. “Getting off the pain medications, that was hard. I didn’t know what the future held for me. But at the end of the day, this is what I love to do.”
Pate’s passion for racing carried him from a valley of misery to his sport’s highest peak Thursday night at Pensacola’s Five Flags Speedway and the 51st edition of the Snowball Derby.
Pate won the 50-lap Faith Chapel Outlaw Stocks feature on Day 2 of the Derby, besting a stout and fast field of 31 cars.
“We had a hotrod,” he said. “We ran a whole 50 laps during practice just to set the pace and know what it felt like to run that many laps on a day like today.”
The wise strategy paid off. He took the lead on lap 26 with a bold and stunning pass of then-leader Derrick Griffin.
But, Pate had a rocket ship, too. He climbed quickly from his 13th starting spot and assumed the lead just past the halfway point of the race.
“We had a real good racecar,” Pate said. “We were never the fastest, but the car was on a rail. Tonight, we struggled during the middle of the race. But, when we got into clean air, I knew we were gonna take off.”
He survived the final two of seven total cautions with quality restarts and was one of the few cars to dodge trouble all night.
Well, that is, until his celebratory burnout.
“All I had to do was not wreck it,” Pate said, “and, thankfully, I waited until the end to put it in the wall.”
While Joe Betheam, Jr. and Donald Crocked finished second and third, respectively, the major storyline was Griffin’s untimely fall after a meteoric rise earlier in the night.
After a pair of drivers dismantled the previous track record of 17.590 seconds, Griffin delivered a mic drop when his lightning fast lap was a full three-tenths faster than everyone else.
That theme continued early into the 50 lapper until mechanical issues swung the door wide-open for Pate.
As he drove his car to Victory Lane, Pate was already pumping his fists.
His emotions, clearly evident in his eyes, told the story of how far he has come in two years.
“This is so awesome,” Pate proclaimed. “I’m just a dumb redneck from right down the way on a dirt road here in Pensacola. This is as good as it gets.”
Ard Keeps Local Streak Alive With Sportsmen Crown
Shanna Ard had won track championships at Five Flags Speedway, but never the big one.
December after December for almost two decades now, Ard has set his sights on coming home with a Sportsmen Snowball Derby title.
Each time, Ard come up painstakingly short and has watched someone else hoist that trophy.
That all disappeared Thursday night at the famed half-mile asphalt oval. Ard won The Dock on Pensacola Beach Sportsmen 50-lap Derby with 2017 champion Mark Barnhill finishing runner-up and Jason Huffmaster rounding out the podium.
Going back to Caleb Burkett’s win in the Lloyd’s Glass Pure Stocks Derby on Wednesday night, Pensacola drivers have now won the first three races of the year’s greatest short-track racing week.
“I’m kinda speechless really,” Ard said. “It’s unbelievable that after 18 years of trying this, I finally won. We’ve finished in every position of this race for so long, but tonight we’re No. 1.”
Finally a champion at the Derby. And it was a championship decision to pass then-leader B.J. Leytham in the final 10 laps despite a wad of lapped traffic.
As Leytham and Ard navigated the rest of the 22-car field, choosing the right groove seemed paramount.
When Leytham chose inside and could not avoid running into the back of Jim Pokrant, Leytham lost speed and drifted up the track. Sensing opportunity knocking, Ard dove low under Pokrant and quickly put some distance between his No. 29 and the No. 8 of Leytham.
Ard showed patience and experience by saving the rubber on his tires for the end of the race.
“It was our race to lose, and we lost,” said Leytham, who unofficially finished second before being disqualified in post-race technical inspection. “I’d rather be sitting right there where Shanna is.”
Late Model Notes
-Jeff Choquette was quickest overall in Thursday’s Snowball Derby Super Late Model practice with a lap of 16.525 seconds. Jessee Dutilly was second quick wiht a lap of 16.575, followed by Derek Thorn, Ty Majeski and Senoia, Georgia’s Bubba Pollard.
-Derek Thorn was fastest in Thursday practice for the Pro Late Model Snowflake 100, set for Saturday night. Thorn turned a lap of 16.858 seconds. Carson Hocevar, Connor Okrzesik, Chase Purdy and Mason Diaz rounded out the top five. Dawsonville, Georgia’s Spencer Davis was sixth fastest.
Action continues on Friday, as drivers will compete for the pole for Sunday’s race with qualifying for the Snowball Derby. The Modifieds will also be on track for their 50 lap feature.
On Saturday, the Pro Late Model drivers take center stage for the Snowflake 100. Also, the final qualifying spots for Sunday’s Derby will be set with a 50 lap last chance qualifying race, along with a 50 lap feature for the Pro Truck division.
That all leads up to Sunday’s 51st running of the Snowball Derby, set to take the green flag at 2 pm CST.
For more information on the Snowball Derby, visit 5FlagsSpeedway.com.
5 Flags Speedway – Pensacola, FL
Snowball Derby – November 29, 2018
1. Jeremy Pate – Pensacola, FL
2. Joe Bethea, Jr. – Deatsville, AL
3. Donald Crocker – Citronelle, AL
4. Conner Sutton – Pensacola, FL
5. Jason Vail – FL
6. Okie Mason – 8-Mile, AL
7. Chase Oliver – Rainbow City, AL
8. Todd Jones – Pace, FL
9. Chris Cotto – Milton, FL
10. Jonathan Langham – Irvington, AL
11. Brooke Storer – Zephyrhills, FL
12. George Gorham, Jr. – Auburndale, FL
13. Bubba Winslow – Cantonment, FL
14. Stephen Nasse – Pinellas Park, FL
15. Kyle Peters – Clermont, FL
16. Robert Barker – Boerne, TX
17. Jason Welch – TX
18. Roger Blevins – Bartow, FL
19. Derrick Griffin – Pensacola, FL
20. Adam Briggs – Lakeland, FL
21. Kevin Chase – Gulf Breeze, FL
22. Tim Martin – Amite, LA
23. Adam Crawford – Mobile, AL
24. Gus Moody – Mount Juliet, TN
25. Rick Pollaro – Canyon Lake, TX
26. Kody Brusso – Pensacola, FL
27. Jason Furrow – Thomasville, AL
28. Stuart Dutton – Tallahassee, FL
29. Charles Skipper, Jr. – Panama City, FL
30. Rocky Boyd, Sr. – Pensacola, FL
1. Shanna Ard – FL
2. Mark Barnhill – Theodore, AL
3. Jason Huffmaster – Irvington, AL
4. Chad Robinson – Mobile, AL
5. Steven Allday – Citronelle, AL
6. Hunter Lambert – Pensacola, FL
7. Tommie Blocker – Irvington, AL
8. Tony Jones – Wilmer, AL
9. Billy Hoover – Pensacola, FL
10. Jason Gammon – Hollis, ME
11. Paul Schloss – Palm coast, FL
12. Paul Mathis – Pensacola, FL
13. Dayton Sidner – Pensacola, FL
14. Lee Reynolds – Mobile, AL
15. Jake Moore – Pensacola, FL
16. Jim Pokrant – Milton, FL
17. Nathaniel Grice – Pensacola, FL
18. Tony Boyd – FL
19. Jimmy Goodwin – Cantonment, FL
20. Garrett Cobb – Pensacola, FL
DQ: B.J. Leytham – Mobile, AL