Over the past decade, the Snowball Derby has become an ultimate destination to test the growth of young up-and-coming drivers. But it also still remains a big way to end the year for many veteran racers as it has for the past 48 years. One veteran gearing up for the 49th edition of the race at Five Flags Speedway (FL) is 61-year-old David Rogers, the only driver to participate in one Snowball Derby in each of the last five decades.
This season he will attempt to make his 31st start in the Derby, a feat that eluded him last year, putting him within one start of the record (32) set by Red Farmer. Rogers is one who has experienced many of the different textures the race has taken over the years.
“I’ve been racing since 1973. I’ve missed a few of them for different reasons, not getting to go and not making the race, but we’ve been going for a long time that’s for sure,” Rogers told Speed51.com powered by JEGS. “I think the first time we went was 1976, we’ve been doing it for a long time. Over the years the Derby’s been, for a while it was NASCAR, a while it was Outlaw, and then it went back to local rules and it’s been pretty much all over the board.”
In a career that includes wins over all five decades, with domination in the State of Florida – including a Speedweeks championship, two Governor’s Cup trophies at New Smyrna Speedway, multiple track championships and a NASCAR National title – it is perhaps time and progress that is his biggest foe, especially in the Snowball Derby.
“The biggest challenge is just that, it’s a situation where for a lot of years the rules were a little different than what I was used to racing,” Rogers explained. “A lot of times we would take a car that maybe wasn’t as competitive as we would’ve liked it to have been. But it was the idea of getting to go to the Derby that made all that worthwhile. We’ve done that over the years, then we had cars that we run at Pensacola only just to try and have a little leg up on the competition and that didn’t seem to work as good as winging it and going.”
But the biggest challenge of all is the one that faces all racers young and old: making the final field on Sunday afternoon.
“To me it’s always a tough race to make,” Rogers stated. “I don’t know if I’m not a good qualifier or what have you. There’s so many good cars there and it’s such a struggle and it’s one of the few things in racing that I really get nervous about instead of getting excited. That kind of creates that qualifying problem I think.”
For the 30 times he has made the big show, Rogers has yet to score his first Tom Dawson trophy. His best performance came early on, with a fourth-place in 1979, but has shown strength in his veteran years with sixth-place runs in 2008 and recently in 2013. But there has been plenty of struggle including years where he has a dominant cars only to develop unforeseen problems such as in 1994 when he dominated the Florida racing scene only to come to the Derby, battle motor troubles and just make the field to finish 12th.
It is a race that while it has been special, has also been a nemesis.
“It’s been that way. Not that I didn’t always didn’t go to win the race or try to win a race.” Rogers said. “Back in years past, I’m talking lots of years ago, me and all of the crew, I’ve never had a lot of hired help, we do it as a hobby and for the fun of it. We work all year and that’s kind a long weekend, to start with it was a long weekend, now it’s a week, that we would go out there and enjoy it. It was about just being there and being a part of the deal, go out drinking and have a good time was more of the mindset that I had instead of concentrating on winning the race.
“A lot of times during those years we would run 50 to 60 races during the year. It was kind of like, this the last deal for a while, that’s what went on back in the day. It’s always been something that I’ve wanted to do, anybody that goes there to race, that’s what you want to do. I would’ve never thought I couldn’t win the race, you could always win the race. It’s a matter of being in the right place at the right time for that race.”
While Rogers thinks that he does have a good racecar to run with for this season, it is all a matter of matching that speed with survival.
“I think we got a good racecar. Again, if, the big thing is if I can get qualified and make the race,” he commented. “I think I got as good a chance to win the race as anybody in the race. It’s one of those races where it’s not all about being just the fastest car at the race track; you got to use your head and be smart and have something to race at the end, and be around at the end. At the end there’s not a lot of cars running on the lead lap. It’s about being around realistic for the last 25 laps and having a good enough car to stay on the lead lap, then you got a good chance of winning the race.”
The 49th Annual Snowball Derby weekend kicks off on Wednesday, November 30 with the Cat Country/WEAR TV3 Green Flag Pit Party and Qualifying Order Draw Down.
Thursday, December 1 will see the Super Late Models take to the track for the first official Snowball Derby practice. The night will be highlighted by a 30-lap race for the Butler U-Pull-It Bombers and a 50-lap event for the Dock on the Beach Sportsmen division.
The top Snowball Derby starting spots will be set on Friday, December 2 during NASH FM 102.7 Pole Night. The Faith Chapel Super Stocks and the Modifieds will each run 50-lap features.
The Pro Late Models take center stage on Saturday, December 3 for the Allen Turner Hyundai Snowflake 100. The 50-lap Last Chance Qualifier for the Snowball Derby and a 50-lap feature for the Beef O’Brady’s Pro Truck division will also run on Saturday night.
Then on Sunday, December 4 the green flag will fly over the 49th Annual Snowball Derby. The 300-lap race will begin at 2 p.m. CT.
For more information on the 49th Annual Snowball Derby weekend at Five Flags Speedway, visit www.snowballderby.com. All media credential requests and inquiries for the Snowball Derby can be sent to Pat Bryant at [email protected].
Race fans unable to make their way to Pensacola, Florida during Snowball Derby week will be able to watch all of the racing action live on Speed51.com. Four-day video tickets are now available at a savings of $20. Visit Speed51.com today for more information.
-By Connor Sullivan, Speed51.com CT, MA & Long Island Editor – Twitter: @Connor51CT
-Photo Credit: Speed51.com