It was to be the race’s finest hour, but in the end it was a PR nightmare. 1999 was built as the Big Bonus at the Snowball Derby as three drivers had a shot at a $100,000 bonus if they could win the race.
The drivers were involved were four-time Snowball Derby winner Rich Bickle, 1992 winner Gary St. Amant and 1993 and 1997 winner Bobby Gill. In the quest for the big money you had seven Derby wins represented. The trio had won all but two Snowball races dating back to 1990. So what could go wrong?
The day started with a 30 minute delay because of an issue with the caution lights. From there only 60 odd laps would be run before rain would slow the race for several hours. At this point Gary St. Amant had already been eliminated leaving just two for the money.
The Pensacola News Journal reported the race didn’t go back green until 5:23pm.
The race went well into the night thanks to 16 yellow flags for 131 laps. Gill got to the front and held off a hard charge from Rich Bickle to take the win and $100,000 bonus. Bickle was upset and spun Gill going into turn one.
Turns out what the fans saw on the track was not for the lead as Gill was ruled to be a laps down at the finish giving the win to Bickle. This conclusion was not reached until well after midnight.
“It’s not the way we wanted to win the race,” said Bickle. “We wanted to do it out there on the podium.”
Bickle at least got to celebrate his other four wins on the frontstretch.
Gill later stated that scoring mistake was made when they told him to line up with the lead lap cars, the crew informed race officials they were a lap down. This lead to the confusion.
“I think they made a mistake,” said Gill the next day.
Bickle lapped Gill on lap 219, however Gill got that lap back. Officials said that Gill had lost another lap in the pits earlier. A check of score cards and video showed the same thing. With the $100,000 bonus on the line plus the $25,000 for winning the race the track made sure things were right.
The strange footnote to this story is that Bickle passed Tracy Goodson with two laps to go in what would have been a big win for the local driver. He had to settle for third.
-By: Elgin Traylor, Speed51.com Southeast Correspondent