Before Gary Balough, before Bobby Gill, before Rich Bickle there was The Beaumont Flyer, Freddie Fryar. He was was one of the original bad boy out-of-towners of the Snowball Derby. The heroes of Pensacola for the locals were the locals, and out-of-town drivers couldn’t cut it on the half-mile of Five Flags Speedway for many years.
The likeable Beaumont, Texas driver who was originally from Tennessee took to the Pensacola oval like a duck in water.
Success came early as he posted a runner-up finish in the 1971 race to Dickie Davis and was a part of the first Snowball Derby protest which was an alleged scoring error.
“They wouldn’t accept my protest they said,” explained Fryar about 1971. “They had two guys up in the tower scoring and they would call out the numbers as they crossed the line. They made a mistake somewhere. I tried to plead with them that I won the race. To this day I swear to you I won the Snowball Derby in 1971.”
After a few top five runs it took a few years before Fryar got a chance to put things right. The year was 1979 and the speeds were up for the Snowball Derby and so was Fryar. He started on the outside of the front row and raced among the leaders early on. Butch Lindley looked to have the best car as he paced the field for 87 laps.
Fryar found himself nearly lapped and almost a non-factor. A timely caution allowed Fryar to get back on the lead lap. They he took the lead on lap 181 and led the rest of the way to capture the Snowball Derby. When he climbed from the car he screamed “about time” in victory lane.
“Winning the Snowball Derby was like winning the Daytona 500,” said Fryar. “It was one of the best days of my life up until that point.”
It was only fitting that Fryar won the race that year as he won 28 times in 32 races before the Derby and he hadn’t run Five Flags at all that season.
A year later the outlaw bodies were in play and the speeds were a half-second faster or more. Fryar was a bit outmatched and was never really a factor after leading 14 laps and finishing 10th.
1981 was a chance to return to glory and Fryar started off on the right foot by winning the pole for the Snowball Derby. Despite the qualifying run his car was not good on the short run.
“The car we had in 81 and 82 was really good after 10 laps,” said Fryar. “It would take several laps for it to come in and once it did it was tough to beat.”
Along the way he used 10 tires in a 200-lap contest thanks to flats and him choosing to use the lighter and cheaper tires. It all panned out for him to take the lead with about 50 laps to go to win the race.
“It’s still a big thrill to win,” said Fryar after the win in 1981 to the local newspapers. “Now I can go for three next year. We won by having less problems than anyone else.”
Fryar was set for 1982 and a bid for three Derby wins in four years. All the stars looked to favor the defending winner, but when the weekend came in 1982 all sorts of crazy broke out.
Rain washed out the full day of action on Saturday pushing all on track action to Sunday. Time trials and the main event happened on the same day. It made for a long day that turned into a night race.
Fryar suffered a flat tire and was forced to take tires before lap 100. As the race shuffled around Fryar got to the front, but Gene Morgan was better with fresher tires and the race ended with short runs which did Fryar in.
“I really think we could have had won three times,” explained Fryar. “Running at night and the tire going down early ended our chances.”
Fryar ran fourth in 1983 and was never a major threat in the race again. He ran for the final time in 1991 which was his 20th race in the Snowball.
We asked Fryar what he thought about his nickname which we think came from the All-Pro Series and we learned of another nickname.
“I didn’t care for the Flyer,” said Fryar. “I liked it in Texas when they called me the Bayou Bandit. That was a cool name.”
Now Fryar looks forward to a historical year as the Snowball Derby turns 50 come December.
“I still enjoy going to this day,” said Fryar. “It meant so much to me back in the day and I thought it was the best place in the world to win a race.”
-By Elgin Traylor, Speed51.com Southeast Correspondent