WE ARE READY TO RACE TONIGHT!
By Chuck Corder
Come hell or high water — which, coincidentally, there was a lot of Sunday at Five Flags Speedway — rain will not overcome snow this year in Pensacola.
Try as she might, Five Flags track officials are determined to not allow Mother Nature the upper hand for the running of the 49th annual Snowball Derby.
The rain might have won the first round Sunday, but the Derby will be run when the green flag drops at approximately 5 p.m. today.
“We were right on the verge of starting the race tonight,” said Five Flags promoter and track general manager Tim Bryant. “And we would not have been able to complete the race because of the rain that eventually came. That would’ve been a worst case scenario.”
It’s only the second time in the race’s distinguished history that weather has postponed the traditional date of the Derby being run on the first Sunday in December.
The first came 12 years ago in 2004 when the race was delayed to the following Saturday and was eventually won by Steven Wallace.
Bryant was equally concerned about accommodating the tens of thousands fans, some of which include those that have made the Snowball Derby a bucket list achievement.
“Some of our loyal fans have been here a few days already, and traveled a long way,” Bryant continued. “We wanted to give them the opportunity to see it while they were still here. And we wanted to provide a start time for our folks along the Panhandle who have to work and can get out to see the race.”
The 300-lap Super Late Model stock-cars race, considered the most prestigious event in the sport of North American short-track racing, was all set for its traditional 2 p.m. start time Sunday afternoon.
Unfortunately, a series of torrential downpours that swept across the Panhandle ruined those plans.
Bryant and track officials convened with drivers, which included Derby pole sitter William Byron, just before 6 p.m. in the tire shed with the skies momentarily calm.
After a cordial back-and-forth that included lighthearted conversations among all, Bryant made the call to push the race to tomorrow.
“I’m gonna have to go to Walmart and get some more clothes,” late model star Bubba Pollard joked.
Also agreed upon among the racers was the decision to go with “controlled caution” pit stops, which basically means the order the cars come into pit row will be the order they come off pit road. It’s a Snowball Derby first.
“It takes a little excitement away from the race off pit road,” Bryant said, “but it saves us teams because some were thinking about dropping out because a lack of crews.”
If today’s forecasts for more rain holds true, Bryant vows the show will and must go on. Rules state that the race must be run on the next clear day. Tuesday’s initial forecasts look promising and are considered a real possibility for deciding who will be the next driver to make history and hoist the Tom Dawson trophy.
“Since the Snowball Derby started selling reserved tickets in the 90s, we’ve always advertised the race would be run on the next available day,” Bryant said. “We’ll put some faith in the weather forecast.”
It was a muddy, soggy, sloppy day at the famed half-mile asphalt oval.
After ominous grey skies most of the morning, the sun finally busted through around 2 p.m. and that’s when officials first brought out the massive Darlington Raceway track dryer that has a jet engine attached to the back of it.
The dryer hugged the outside wall, doing a masterful job for about an hour. Right after track officials announced they hoped to begin the 300 lapper at approximately 4:30 p.m. Sunday, a shower that lasted literally 30 seconds spoiled those plans and the dryer’s efforts.
After a long refueling session, the dryer returned to the asphalt oval and began its arduous work again.
“It’s a lot to happening in a hurry,” Bryant said.