From the years 1985 to 1996, drivers from the State of Georgia won the Snowball Derby four times. Over the next few years, it looked as if the Peach State was not going to be a factor in Derby races of the future. Then came along Ricky Turner, an accomplished driver who had a date with destiny at the 2002 Snowball Derby.
Turner could not find the speed to be one of the front-runners in practice at Five Flags Speedway (FL) that year. He missed qualifying into the race through time trials but was given a provisional in the form of the 34th starting position.
Early in the race, Turner got tangled up a few times while trying to work his way through the field and suffered crash damage.
In the middle part of the 300-lap race, things started to come around for Turner and his team. The calls became the right calls to make and he bolted on new tires before the other leaders as the cautions cycled him to the front.
“We were chasing (Chris) Davidson who had a little bit older tires then we did and he actually led the white flag lap.”
From there, history was made as Turner took over the lead and led the only lap that mattered.
“We drove pretty hard on those last few laps to make it happen,” Turner stated. “In that moment, it was unbelievable. It was big for our team. We had won some big races, but nothing like the magnitude of the Snowball Derby.”
Turner and his family team was the little engine that could and some called it an upset as he brought the Tom Dawson trophy back to Georgia.
Eventually, Turner switched from the driver role to the crew chief role with Bill Elliott Motorsports and sat on the front row with Mitch Cobb for the 2008 Snowball Derby. From there, the driver became Chase Elliott, another Georgia Peach. The rest is pretty much history.
Turner put the young Elliott in contention for a Derby win twice before the stars lined up in 2011. This time, it was an epic five-lap dogfight with local driver DJ VanderLey. In the end, Elliott powered ahead on the final lap to win the race.
“That was pretty neat to watch those guys race that hard for the win,” Turner commented. “Of course, we had a lot of confidence in Chase that he could close the deal and hats off to DJ VanderLey who ran hard with Chase for that finish. It was pretty neat and pretty special.”
In 2015, Tuner and Elliott captured the Tom Dawson trophy for the second time.
“There is nothing else like winning the Snowball Derby,” Turner claimed. “We had some opportunities with Chase after the first win and things didn’t work out, but we were able to get a second win in 2015. It’s such a hard race to win and you respect it more each time it happens.”
The run with Elliott resulted in three wins in the Snowflake race and two Snowball Derby wins. Now, Elliott competed in the NASCAR Cup Series ranks as Turner has another young talented driver from Georgia who he’s taken under his wings.
Last year, Turner took Chandler Smith to a fifth-place finish in his first Derby run. Smith also finished third in the Snowflake 100 that same year.
“We are going to do all we can do to win the race,” Turner said. “Chandler has been doing a really good job and we know we are up against some really good drivers and teams. We just need to keep getting better.”
This year, Turner will have two more chances at visiting victory lane during the 50th Annual Snowball Derby week at Five Flags Speedway. Smith will run both races, the Snowflake and the Snowball, with Turner on the box looking for more Snowball Derby magic.
-By Elgin Traylor, Speed51.com Southeast Correspondent
-Photo credit: Speed51.com