Qualifying is always a stressful endeavor at the Snowball Derby at Five Flags Speedway. With a massive bonus on the line for the 53rd Annual Snowball Derby, qualifying took on extra importance during the first day of practice.
Between the Phoenix Construction Back to Front Challenge and the Pit Pay Pole Challenge, this year’s Snowball Derby winner could take home $55,000. The race pays $25,000 to win, while the Pit Pay Pole Challenge offers $5,000 to win from the pole. The Back to Front Challenge adds another $25,000 if the fast qualifier elects to start from the rear of the field and wins the race.
With all that money on the line, drivers were particularly interested in dialing in their qualifying trim on Thursday.
Derek Thorn was fastest in two of the three practice sessions for Snowball Derby competitors on Thursday, turning in a time of 16.414 seconds for his fastest lap of the day.
Thorn was pleased to see he still has a fast race car despite an incident at Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway while battling for the lead with Carson Hocevar in the All American 400 last month.
“These guys have been working hard,” Thorn told Speed51. “This last year out west, we’ve had a good year and found things that really worked. Nashville had some nice speed, just not the finish we hoped for. It’s nice to see the car is still fast after getting torn up at Nashville.”
Now, Thorn’s focus, like many others, turns to Friday’s Country Pleasin’ Sausage Pole Night on Friday.
“Just try not to mess up qualifying,” said Thorn. “It’ll depend on when we go out tomorrow. We’ll make the most of the car, make it good for the race and hopefully it’ll have some good speed.”
Kaden Honeycutt was second-fastest on the day, with a time of 16.461 seconds. His focus was almost entirely on qualifying over the course of the three practice sessions.
“We’ve tried multiple different things,” said Honeycutt. “We’ve tried opening stagger and different shock packages. We’ve been in qualifying trim all day. We’ve been working all hard day.”
Florida’s Stephen Nasse was third-fastest in Thursday’s practice, with a lap of 16.490 seconds. While he spent most of the day getting the car dialed in, a mock run at the end of the day gave Nasse confidence going into Friday.
“The first two rounds, we really just focused on getting the balance of the car right,” explained Nasse. “Before we put tires on it, we wanted to make sure the car was as close as we could. We’ve got it pretty good. I messed up my line, you can’t be perfect all the time.
“The good thing is, that 51 car has raw speed. We have a shot at that bonus. That’s what we come for. Hopefully we can put things together and not mess things up from here.”
Ty Majeski cashed a check worth more than $10,000 at the ARCA Midwest Tour’s Oktoberfest 200 this year, thanks in part to a challenge to win from the rear of the field after setting fast time in qualifying. Thus, it’s no surprise to see he is also eyeing the Phoenix Construction Back to Front Challenge.
“We’re really happy with it in race trim,” said Majeski. “The bottom felt really bad in qualifying last year, so we’re trying to get our travels right for qualifying. Obviously, there’s a lot more on the line this year in qualifying with the bonus, so we’re putting more emphasis on our qualifying. We know our race trim is good right now.”
While those drivers enjoyed fast race cars as they eyed the qualifying bonus, others endured struggles. One such driver was Jeremy Pate, whose car went up in smoke during final practice with an oil leak after fighting issues most of the day.
“We started on race stuff and were okay,” said Pate. “When we went to our qualifying setup, we had an alternator wire go bad and smoked out the car. We got it fixed, went back out, had an oil leak and oiled the car down. We fixed that, went back out and had a car spin out in front of us.
“We abandoned three mock runs and we thrashed at it, but it’s back exactly like we were at the Derby last year and good again. It’s been a long day, more downs than ups, but we’re going to finish on a good note.”
Paul Shafer, Jr. and his team have also thrashed for most of the week at Five Flags Speedway. That adventure continued Thursday, following a broken driveshaft that may have been a product of the engine change necessitated by an issue from a private test Monday.
“We had a lot of the car apart,” said Shafer. “The engine was out of it, the transmission was out of it. When the driveshaft got put back in, it was off-center and it ended up breaking.”
Still, Shafer, Jr. is happy with the car’s balance from the track time he did enjoy, even though he was 46th on the overall time sheet for the day.
“I think the car’s really good. The speed doesn’t show it, but we’ve only put one set of tires on since we’ve been here. It feels comfortable. It’s showing good speed, we just aren’t throwing any money out of it.”
Two drivers saw their Snowball Derby attempts end during the first practice session of the day. Bob Lyon hit the wall in turn one, while Michael House suffered an engine failure which sent his car into the turn three wall. Both drivers did not have backup cars at Five Flags Speedway, and will not be back in action.
Race fans unable to attend the 53rd Annual Snowball Derby can watch that all-important Country Pleasin’ Pole Night Friday, Sunday’s 300-lap main event and much more on Speed51.TV. Click here to order your video ticket today.
-Story by: Zach Evans, Speed51 Content Supervisor – Twitter: @ztevans
-Photo credit: Speed51 Photo