Five Flags Speedway (FL) continued its pre-Thanksgiving tradition on Saturday by hosting the Snowball Derby Preview, a 10-hour open practice offered to teams from any tier of asphalt racing to prepare for the biggest short track racing event of the year.
Sweetening the deal and appealing to their competitive nature, officials dedicated the last three hours of the Preview to the “Dash for the Cash” competition, a chance for drivers to make money by running the fastest transponder-scored lap for their class out of two, 10-minute practice sessions.
A total of seven divisions— Super Late Models, Pro Late Models, Modifieds, Pro Trucks, Outlaw Stocks, Sportsman and Pure Stocks— were represented in the competition at the Pensacola gem, though one young driver was able to snag the cash for two of them.
Okrzesik was able to run the fastest lap for the Super Late Models (worth $500) and the Pro Late Models (worth $300) over big names like NASCAR K&N Pro East Series champion Tyler Ankrum.
With the Derby now less than two weeks away, Okrzesik is thankful for the double dose of reassurance.
“It’s definitely a good feeling,” Okrzesik told Speed51.com. “We knew we had a fast car the last couple of races here. This just gives us the confidence now that we’re going to be one of the contenders for both races.”
While Okrzesik only had to travel across Mobile Bay to be at Five Flags for the day, there were several teams that made a cross-country trek just in time to participate in the Preview.
Canadian driver and three-time Milk Bowl champion Patrick Laperle enjoyed unloading his car into a sunny afternoon of practice after persevering through heavy precipitation on his way down south.
“I got a phone call from Martin Latulippe last Wednesday who said, ‘Wanna go to Pensacola?’ I said, ‘Really man, oh yeah!’” Laperle explained. “It took us 34 hours to get here, we got stuck in a snow storm in New York. It was awful . . . sleeping on the highway for five hours. It was crazy, but we got here.”
Saturday was Laperle’s first time touching tires with this particular half-mile of asphalt, though it didn’t take long for the 42-year-old to notice the speed of the track or the ages of drivers running circuits alongside him.
“Martin came here a few years ago but for us, the Laperle team, it’s out first time,” Laperle said. “To be here is a blast. I just want to do my best and have fun, but those kids up front are fast.”
Also traveling hundreds of miles from home to get some reps in before the Derby was Kyle Purvis, a Modified driver from the Midwest. During the competition later in the evening, Purvis ran what would hold as the fastest time for the Modifieds. His time, 17.300 seconds, was 1/10th of a second shy of breaking the track record.
“Derek Griffin and I, we were talking that we didn’t really know what the track record is, but we knew we had a good car all day today,” Purvis said. “I hope we can come back here in a couple of weeks and try to win this deal.”
The 1/10th of a second that Purvis needed to set a new track record went to Chad Robinson, a Sportsman driver, who took home the cash for his division while making history. Robinson’s time of 20.173 seconds ousted out Steve Buttrick’s three-year-old record set on December 2, 2015.
Caleb Burkett was overall fastest for the Pure Stocks while Logan Boyett (Pro Trucks) and Todd Jones (Outlaw Stocks) topped the charts for their respective divisions.
Fans who missed watching the Snowball Derby Preview live can watch it on-demand on the Speed51 Video Network by clicking here.
Race fans unable to attend the 51st Annual Snowball Derby in person will be able to watch a pay-per-view broadcast all week long on Speed51.com. Five-day video tickets can be purchased now for $74.99 ($35 savings) to watch all of the action. Click here to purchase your video ticket today.
The 51st Annual Snowball Derby will take place on Wednesday, November 28 through Sunday, December 2 at Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola, FL. For more information regarding the event, visit Snowball Central presented by Schaeffer’s Specialized Lubricants.
-Story by: Melissa Strahley, Speed51.com Gulf Coast Editor
-Photo credit: Speed51.com