“50 for 50” is a new series on Speed51.com that will tell the 50 best stories to have ever come out of the Snowball Derby. The stories will focus on the legendary tales of the event as we prepare for the 50th Annual Snowball Derby on December 3.
In 2014, Speed51.com ran into the original first lady of the Snowball Derby. Tammy Jo Kirk became a legend on a fateful day in December 1994 on the Florida Panhandle. Many swear to this day she was a lap down at the end of the race, but Kirk didn’t really mention much about that when we talked to her a few years back.
No matter what story you believe, the fact is that Tammy Jo Kirk was the first female to win the Snowball Derby and they can’t take that away from her.
Everyone remembers the night Johanna Long won the Snowball Derby. The hometown girl thrilled the Pensacola, Florida crowd by taking the Snowball Derby win in 2010. Some may not know she was not the first lady to win the Snowball at Five Flags Speedway. Twenty years ago, in 1994, a Georgia driver by the name of Tammy Jo Kirk captured the race that helped to catapult her into NASCAR rides in both Nationwide and Trucks.
The year prior to her Derby win she had finished 10th, but 1994 was special and all the cards played out in her favor.
“There was like 100 cars there racing from all around the country. We spun out twice and still won the thing,” Kirk explained. “In the end, it came down to a green-white-checkered finish and I’m glad there was nothing more as I don’t think the car would have made it.”
The car rolled into victory lane with the right front shock almost falling off the car. Her victory kept Eddie Mercer out of victory lane; the Pensacola legend would have to wait 11 years to erase the tough memory of finishing second to Kirk.
At the time, Kirk joined Ronnie Sanders, Jody Ridley and Bobby Gill as winners from the Peach State. Since her win, Ricky Turner and Chase Elliott have added to the legacy of Georgia drivers winning the big race.
“Georgia is a state that produces so many racers,” Kirk said. “The Elliotts and so on and so on. There are so many racers. I don’t know if we have a lot of racing or if we just have a lot of competitive people that live in Georgia. But there are a lot of people that are tied to the Derby. Jody Ridley is what got me into asphalt racing. I was racing motorcycles to start with so Jody helped me get into this.”
These days Kirk is home in Georgia working on Motorcycles.
“It’s Kirk Cycle. We are a Honda dealer,” she said. “I’ve been in business since ’92. I was struggling when I was racing and running my business and now since I’m not racing I’ve really put my effort into it and it’s really grown really big.”
Kirk says it’s hard to go to the race track when she’s not racing.
“Maybe someday we’ll go back to watch the Derby. It’s hard for a former driver to not be racing. It took me a few years to understand what that win meant to me. Twenty years later I realize how big of a deal it was.”
-Story and photo from Speed51 Archives