In 2020, no racing operation has been spared some type of hardship. But through it all, there have been those drivers who have managed to the make the most of the opportunities before them, and grow as a competitor. One such driver is Derek Griffith and he is ready to take what he has learned, and go for an upset at the Snowball Derby.
Following his Derby debut in 2018, along with a year of hard knocks in the Northeast Super Late Model ranks; the Hudson, New Hampshire native showed improvement at Five Flags Speedway during the 2019 running, showing more speed in both qualifying and the 300-lap race.
Since that time, much has happened and changed for ‘D-Griff’ in his racing world. A Super Late Model title, along with a runner-up in his ARCA Menards Series East debut during the World Series of Asphalt Racing at New Smyrna Speedway (FL) led to a whirlwind tour once the racing community emerged from the bunker after the initial COVID-19 outbreak.
Continuing to team with Chad Bryant Racing for select ARCA Menards Series and ARCA East races, many of which were on larger speedways across America, Griffith added to his racing resume. At the same time, he picked up a further quartet of wins across New Hampshire with his trusty No. 12G LCM Motorsports Super Late Model.
For the past month, Griffith’s mentor and boss Louie Mechalides has been hard at work prepping their best car for battle, and they are just about ready to march south for the 53rd Annual Snowball Derby.
“We are just about finished up with it, putting the finishing touches on the car we had there last year, same car we won the championship with at New Smyrna. Got new body panels on it, just getting it ready to go. We should have it 100% ready to go Sunday or Monday. We’re going to go a little early for extra practice and hopefully we’ll benefit greatly,” Griffith told Speed51 on Friday.
The hard lesson of the 2019 Snowball Derby for the 12G camp, was that of pit strategy. Something, that is on the top of Griffith’s mind heading back to Pensacola, Florida.
“As far as last year’s Derby, one thing that sucks is we missed it on pit strategy. We stayed out a little too long and it really hurt us. We had a good car, it’s just that I couldn’t get my lap back because of how fast Ty (Majeski) was. As soon as I’d gain the spot for the free pass, he’d be lapping someone else. That was tough to keep up with, but we had a good car, we actually ran with Bubba (Pollard) in the third or fourth position on track, just one lap down; I drove my way there and stayed there a good portion of the race,” Griffith explained.
“Other than the Oxford 250, we don’t have races with pit stops back home. For us, it’s a whole different deal. But, now we have some races under our belt, and hopefully we can call it right this time.”
This December will actually mark D-Griff’s second appearance at Five Flags Speedway in 2020. Just one month ago, Griffith entered the ARCA East Pensacola 200, running in contention before late race contact sent him sliding into the Turn 1 wall. Despite the disappointment, it was a day that might have helped him turn a corner in learning how to tame this rough and tough short track.
“Everything helps, even running the ARCA race at Pensacola is going to help me a ton. Those cars are different to drive, but it really helps pinpoint your weak spots in what your doing wrong. It’s exaggerated, I think the best way to put it, and I learned a lot from just that race. A whole year can change someone a lot. I’m very happy with how the ARCA program ended up, finishing off on a strong point, and just managing to learn a ton. I think a lot of it can transfer over to the Derby.”
Add to that a proven car for racing in the South, Griffith feels there is the potential for something greater this December.
“I feel like we’ve made a lot of progress with our Super Late Model program the last two years, even at tracks we were weak at, either back home like at Oxford or down there with the championship at New Smyrna, a place I really struggled at.”
But, it is not so much the confidence that has grown for Griffith, but rather his excitement. Even though he is still a newbie to the Snowball Derby, D-Griff has already learned that confidence will only get you so far in this racing classic.
“Making the show both times and improving last year, it’s hard not to feel a little confident as far as rolling in goes. I think it’s more excitement, the best way to put it. Anything can happen at the Derby. You saw last year, the craziness that unfolded, anything can happen in this race. Just hope I can make it in and tough it out to be there at the end.”
Through all the experiences that Griffith has had in the past year, and even further back, one thing remains the same; he is still as humble as ever, chasing his next great racing dream.
“I don’t know about being a favorite, it’s cool how we gained a lot of fans over the last year and a half, including down south. We see a bunch of people asking for hero cards over the entire country, and it’s neat for me to see something like that. To be honest, I’m small-time compared to the people we race against. I still remember the little kid at Hudson Speedway driving a VW Golf, now here we are running at such a high level all around, even with the Super Late Model.
“I still consider myself as that all the time. I have a regular daytime job. We do this out of a ‘mom & pop’ shop. It’s cool to be considered on par with a lot of guys who treat this as their fulltime job, really the best in the country. It means a lot.”
-Story by: Connor Sullivan, Speed51 Northeast Editor – Twitter: @Connor51CT
-Photo credit: Speed51