“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.
Michael Jackson, Bruce Springsteen and Prince dominated the radio waves as Super Late Model teams rolled south for the Snowball Derby in 1984.
Five Flags Speedway was much like a packed jukebox with heavy hitters from all over the racing word making their way to Pensacola, FL. You had Dick Trickle, Mark Martin, Rusty Wallace, Jody Ridley, Butch Miller, Bob Senneker, Gary Balough, Ronnie Sanders and Mike Alexander.
In fact, looking at the 1984 starting lineup one could argue that it was the best Derby field ever assembled. As your eyes go up and down the starting lineup, only a true race fan would pick Butch Lindley against that bunch.
It’s not that Lindley didn’t have an impressive resume; he had won the Oxford 250, the All American 400 and the Milk Bowl in Vermont. Despite those marks, Five Flags Speedway and the Snowball Derby had never gelled well with Lindley.
The 1984 effort had Frankie Grill calling the shots on Lindley’s Neil Bonnett Race Cars entry. The No. 12 was rolling off 12th on Sunday in his V6.
It took a while before Lindley made his way to the front of the field that year; he assumed the lead on lap 174 and led all the way to 200 to get the win.
“This is by far the best field I have seen here at Five Flags,” Lindley told the Pensacola News Journal after the win. “We have tried to win here in the past and it hadn't worked.”
“I was so happy for him,” his crew chief Frankie Grill stated. “Butch never won a lot of money, so to win the Derby was like a big payday for him. I was happy for him more than anyone else. He was the nicest guy you’d ever meet.”
In an era when you had Gary “Hot Shoe” Balough, Rusty Wallace with his big hair, the Alabama Gang and all sorts of rowdy characters, Lindley was right there with the best of them.
“Butch was good just about anywhere he went to race,” Grill added. “That came from running 65 races a year in the Late Model Sportsman stuff with NASCAR. He could go just about anywhere and win.”
The Legacy of Lindley was not so much about wild antics on the track, but more about his character. He was smooth on the track and even smoother off it.
“Butch was a super nice guy,” former All Pro flagman Dan Spence commented. “The best way to describe him was a gentleman driver. He was a little more polished than the others at the time, but that was Butch.”
As the calendar switched to 1985, Lindley was on top of his game. He returned to Five Flags in March and won again. However, he would never run Pensacola after that race. In April, he was hurt badly in a wreck at Desoto Speedway while leading an All Pro race.
“When he got hurt that was the fifth race we had been to that year and we had won all of them up until that point,” Grill explained. “It was pretty big blow to me.”
Following the crash, Lindley would remain in a coma until his death in 1990.
When summing up Lindley’s career, Grill said it best in one line.
“He did it all.”
-By Elgin Traylor, Speed51.com Southeast Correspondent