When David Rogers made his first start in the Snowball Derby, Jaws was shattering box office records and Wings, Wild Cherry and Queen were dominating the air waves.
Now, as he preps for his 31st start in short track racing’s most prestigious event, his desire to win is big as ever.
“I still love this race after all these years,” Rogers said. “We have come here for a long time, and just like every day, we come to win the race. We haven’t done it yet, but it would be a great thing to win this race. It is definitely not easy.”
Rogers has been a mainstay at Five Flags since that maiden trek in America’s bicentennial year. However, all Rogers has to show for his efforts is a pair if sixth-place runs and a handful of top 10’s.
For whatever reason, Rogers seems to be snake bit in Pensacola, despite years of dominating the central Florida racing scene. Rogers went 22-for-22 in 1994 at Volusia Speedway en route to NASCAR Winston Racing Series National Championship.
But the Derby has always eluded him.
“For whatever reason, this old race track has always been hard on me,” said Rogers. “We won more than 40 races down south, and then came up here and struggled. I’ve blown more tires getting to this race track than a lot of guys blow at this race track. We are definitely still trying.”
Also, looking for his first Derby win is Chandler Smith, a drive from Georgia, who is 47 years Rogers’ junior.
Sunday will be Smith’s first Derby start, and when presented with the thought of taking home the Tom Dawson trophy, he was taken back.
“I really just want to stay out of trouble, and finish it,” Smith said. “I don’t even know what to think about winning the Derby. It would be amazing.”
The two wheelmen couldn’t be more different, yet both are the same.
Rogers didn’t get behind the wheel of a car until he turned 18. Smith, who turned 14 in June, first sat behind the wheel of racing machine at age 4. Rogers is a grizzled veteran who learned car control and driving style on the clay ovals of central Florida. Smith is a tech-savvy teenager, and uses it to help his racing career.
However, when it all boils down. The two drivers – one an aging veteran looking for a career-defining moment, the other a young ace trying to climb the ranks – are just that.
They are race drivers. Put cars are on the track and trophy in victory lane, and they will be there.
“I am really impressed with all of these young kids who are able to get in a car and drive it as fast and smooth as they do,” Rogers said. “Racing is something that gets in your blood early and never leaves. It got it mine, and here I am 40 years later.”
Smith shares the same sentiment to his elders.
“Racing is something I enjoy,” Smith said. “It’s something fun to do, and I know I will want to race for as long as I can. It is my favorite thing to do.”
Smith qualified 26th for Sunday’s Snowball Derby, while Rogers will start shotgun on the field after taking a Blizzard Series provisional. Catch all the action of the 49th annual Snowball Derby by purchasing Speed51’s live pay-per-view broadcast. Green flag is scheduled for 2 p.m.
-By Ryan McCollough, Speed51.com Deep South Correspondent - Twitter: @RyanLMcCollough
-Photo credit: Speed51.com