When Tom Dawson had a vision of a big end-of-the-year race called the Snowball Derby, he probably didn’t imagine that the race would turn into a battle of chassis manufacturers. As we visited earlier in the 50 for 50 series, cars were home built until the mid 70’s before the chassis makers began making the speed plants that would rocket drivers to victory lane.
Names like Hamke, Port City, Dillon, Lefthander, Fury and Rander have tasted victory at the Derby throughout its 50-year history. However, one name has stood above the rest over the decades and the wins seem to keep coming from a race shop located in Dolomite, Alabama. That race shop is the home of Grand American Race Cars, which has a long history of success at Five Flags Speedway and the Snowball Derby.
“You can look back at the pictures and you can see that over the years everyone would jump to whatever was the fastest car at the time,” said Snowball Derby scorer and historian Don Hallford. “People would switch to keep up with the times, but Grand American has always been there.”
The operation is run by Frankie Grill and his son Augie Grill, a two-time winner of the race. Success started early and runs decades deep. It started with a combination of Neil Bonnett Racecars with Frankie in the 80’s.
“1984 was the first time we won the Snowball Derby,” Frankie Grill said. “I worked with Freddie Fryar one of the years he won it, but I didn’t own the car.”
Grill is not always the car owner, but his rides win on a regular basis. Jody Ridley took the chassis to victory lane in 1985; Bobby Gill did the same in 1993.
With a young Augie Grill as crew chief and Frankie as the car owner, they won the 2001 Snowball Derby with Wayne Anderson behind the wheel. Six years later, they did it with Augie as the driver.
“You can say we have had a lot of success at the Snowball Derby,” Frankie Grill stated. “Butch Lindley was one of the best we had at getting around Pensacola, but my son was pretty good too.”
Augie Grill would come back in 2008 to win the race again. GARC would win two more Derby races with Chase Elliott driving their chassis in 2011 and 2015.
In the Snowflake, the record is just as impressive as they have won seven of the last eight races. With one of the top Pro Late Model driver this season, Casey Roderick, piloting a GARC race car, the record could go even deeper.
GARC and Neil Bonnett Race Car Snowball Derby Wins
2015 Chase Elliott
2011 Chase Elliott
2008 Augie Grill
2007 Augie Grill
2005 Eddie Mercer
2002 Ricky Turner
2001 Wayne Anderson
1993 Bobby Gill
1989 Rick Crawford
1985 Jody Ridley
1984 Butch Lindley
-By Elgin Traylor, Speed51.com Southeast Correspondent