The 49th Annual Snowball Derby is bringing drivers of all ages and experience to Pensacola, Florida’s Five Flags Speedway this December to see how they stack up against the best of the rest. Among this group is a very fresh crop of racers that are learning the sport of short track racing while progressing rapidly.
At the end of 2013, Tyler Ankrum had conquered the quarter-midget world both at home in California and on the national stage. Since then he has moved east to North Carolina, taken on the rigors of Late Model racing and is now ready for the biggest and toughest stage of them all.
While he is just 15 years old and entering his first Snowball Derby, Ankrum already has studied up on how prestigious this great race is.
“It’s a huge honor to race in such a huge field and do my hardest. It’s crazy learning how many guys with big names, such elite drivers, have won this race. It just shows how prestigious it is,” Ankrum told Speed51.com powered by JEGS.
Even though Ankrum is a new kid in the Snowball Derby, he has already been to Five Flags for “summer school.”
“I’ve been to Five Flags a couple of times before. I’ve raced a few 100 lappers and I’ve done a lot of testing there,” Ankrum explained. “It’s nice knowing I got a little experience underneath my belt, but I don’t think anything I’ve learned in the past is going to help prepare me for the Derby. We have one more test there then we’re going in guns blazing.”
Ankrum’s approach to the Derby is to get the best education on the history of the race, the psychology of the event, and the physics required to achieving the most amount of speed. To do that, he has a great teacher helping him along the way.
“Clay Rogers is a huge help to me. He won the Snowball Derby, so I’m going to be relying on him a lot at the Derby,” he stated. “Just so he can help me stay calm, stay under control, because it’s a very intimidating race. This past year we went to Winchester and you look up the banking and see how fast the cars go; you think to yourself this place is way too intimidating. Now you go to the Derby, it’s not the racetrack that gets to you; it’s the people and the competition you’re up against. I’m going to be asking him a lot of questions. He told me he’s like the angel on my right shoulder, he’s going to be a huge help and I’m super excited.”
Before Ankrum can take on the exam that is the 300-lap race, he must make a passing grade in the crucible that is Derby qualifying.
“I’m putting my focus into almost all of it. You have to qualify into the show because the races to make it in is really tough,” Ankrum said. “I’ve been doing a lot of preparation of my own, preparing my mind before body, doing a lot on iRacing, talking with Clay and my crew chief Roger Johnson.”
While he would love to get a perfect score of achieving victory on his first try, Ankrum is keeping things real and plans to set a more reasonable expectation should he make it to race day.
“Obviously everyone would like to win, but I feel like the best and most realistic goal for me is to go in and do the best I can. If we can finish the race, it’s a long race, hopefully get a top 10, top 15 out of it. It’s the Snowball Derby; I would love to win the race, but it would be very tough to do going up against all those drivers.”
As important as Derby 101 has been in the past weeks and going forward, Ankrum has also been hitting the books and working hard in the real classroom, back in North Carolina. Not just to make sure the Derby doesn’t interfere with getting good marks, but also the reverse as well.
“I’ve been trying to get ahead, my teachers at Lake Norman High School help me get ahead in school, they give me work sheets early,” he said. “I’ve gone to all my teachers and told them the schedule and they just shake their heads. But I’m ready, I’m ahead in school and I’m heading down there to do the best I can.”
-By Connor Sullivan, Speed51.com CT, MA & Long Island Editor – Twitter: @Connor51CT
-Photo credit: Tyler Ankrum Facebook