Elvis Presley was still on tour, Lyndon B Johnson was on his way out of the oval office, America was racing to the moon and Pensacola, Florida was about to become a vacation spot for stock car fans with the birth of the Snowball Derby.

 

Tom Dawson was the owner and operator of Five Flags Speedway and they had big plans for a late season event that would stand the test of time.  

 

51 Gear 20% OFF SliderIt all came together in 1968 when Dawson promoted the first Snowball Derby which paid $1,000 to win.  The event would be held on Sunday, December 15th on a cold afternoon.

 

“One thing I can remember was how cold it was,” said current Five Flags Speedway race director Dan Spence. “It seems like it was one of the coldest days I’ve ever sat in the grandstands.  The purse for the race was $5,000 and that was a big deal at the time.”

 

Where you have cold you also had hot as the press tower was burned down before the event forcing track officials and the racing community to group together to pull off the first race.

 

“In the wee hours of the morning they started assembling something that would be ready for race time,” added Spence. “Some of the leftover wood and parts were burned in turn one to help people keep warm.”

 

On to the race, in the morning practice Alabama driver Red Farmer wrecked his car going on the backside of the track before the race even got started.

 

Wayne Niedecken Sr. won two of the first three Snowball Derbys, including the first in 1968. (Dave Westerman's Florida Racing Photos)

Wayne Niedecken Sr. won two of the first three Snowball Derbys, including the first in 1968. (Dave Westerman’s Florida Racing Photos)

“I remember Red (Farmer) went off the back straightaway and then next thing we knew he was in someone else’s car,” said Junior Niedecken. “It was all fascinating to me because we had all these NASCAR stars coming to run the race and it was 100 laps.  In those days 100 laps was a big show.”   

 

Bobby Allison sat on the pole as the first Snowball Derby went green.  

 

Farmer got another car and found himself leading the race as it closed in on the 50 lap mark.  Before he could get to halfway he rolled over and crashed out while leading the Snowball Derby.  

 

Junior Niedecken watched as his dad Wayne Niedecken took the lead. From there he would hold on for the win in the first Snowball Derby

 

“Dad was a racer and that was his profession,” said Niedecken.  “It was neat for him to win this big race, but more importantly it helped us get through the winter and improve the race cars for next year.  At the time it was a big win, but the meaning came with time as the event grew.”

 

Niedecken pulled into victory lane and the sun set on the cold Pensacola day.  As the fans and drivers left the track we are sure they wondered if the race would continue.  Little did they know they had just taken part in history.

50 for 50: Frigid Temps, Fire and the First Snowball Derby