Roll Tide. Race fans in Alabama love football. Growing up in the state that has produced National Champions countless times it becomes part of your Saturday as much as going to the race track.
1983 was a dark year for Alabama fans as Paul “Bear” Bryant (no relation to Tim Bryant) retired and passed away over a four week span.
Enter Mickey Gibbs, a young and up and coming driver who was living in Georgia at the time of the late race season in 1983 when the new race, the World Crown 300 was the buzz. Gibbs ran the $50,000 to win race and wasn’t a factor.
“My dad helped promote that race when we were in Georgia,” said Gibbs. “I don’t even recall if we ran it.”
Perhaps the reason he doesn’t recall it is because of what happened just a week later. Gibbs went to the Snowball Derby and put his name in the history book.
“I was in my 20’s back in those days and that race was the Daytona 500 or the Indy 500 depending how you want to look at it,” explained Gibbs. “It was the biggest race us short track guys got to run. It was the most prestigious. If you could go and make the Snowball you could have a pretty good weekend.”
Gibbs made the race and started 13th. A spot the race had never been won from. Gibbs went into the race with an open mind and hoped for the best.
“We had all these super hero drivers around us and I knew we had a good car, but sometimes you just need a little bit of racing luck,” said Gibbs.
Eyewitness accounts from the race tell us that Gibbs was a steady driver that day. He ran in the middle to the front half of the field and the car was in the mix until a late yellow.
“We had a late yellow and all the guys in front of me came for tires and we stayed out,” added Gibbs. “I had enough to hold them off, but they were coming. They ran out of time.”
Ray Stonkus was the crew chief on this effort as Gibbs was the first driver to win from the 13th spot. Ironically, Stonkus would guide fellow Alabama driver Rick Crawford to the win in 1989 from the 13th spot.
In a way, you could call it an upset with with how it went down because tires means everything at the Derby. Gibbs went to victory lane and was struggling for words after the win.
“It was like, ‘damn we won it,’” said Gibbs. “I didn’t have the word that day to describe it. To this day I can’t put it into words. It was one of the biggest wins in my racing career.”
It was the third win for an Alabama driver in the Snowball Derby. The Tide went 8-4 that year, but they won the Derby.
Gibbs moved away from the short tracks and tried his hand in NASCAR. He was not allowed to run Daytona one year because he didn’t have enough seat time. So he ran the ARCA race at Daytona and won. Gibbs ran the 500 the next week.
Nowadays he’s looking forward to the 50th running of the Snowball Derby just like the rest of us.
“It’s the best racing you will see anywhere,” said Gibbs. “I am look forward to it. Hopefully we can have an Alabama driver win again. Roll Tide.”
-By Elgin Traylor, Speed51.com Southeast Correspondent