As we continue to close in on the 50th Annual Snowball Derby, we at Speed51.com continue our look at the history of the event through the years. Our newest feature takes you through the race decade-by-decade and give you a look at each year’s race.
Today we take a look at the 1980s, a decade which featured a track record that stood for 30 years. If you missed our look at the 1960s, you can catch up on that by clicking here. Take a look back on the 1970s by clicking here.
December 7, 1980
Pole Winner – Gary Balough (16.33 seconds)
Race Winner – Gary Balough
Weather – Partly cloudy with temperatures nearing the 70s.
Special Note – Gary Balough set a track record that would stand for over 30 years. His mark of 16.33 seconds was the first lap ever officially in the 16 second bracket for Late Models at Five Flags Speedway.
If you like speed, the 1980 Snowball Derby was one to talk about. Crazy body rules and soaked tires led to a lightning fast 1 hour and 23 minute saga that ended with Gary Balough riding one of the most iconic cars in Derby history to victory lane. His car was so fast that year that he was blistering tires before limping home on the final circuit to beat Jody Ridley.
Pole Winner – Freddie Fryar (17.12 seconds)
Race Winner – Freddie Fryar – Second Win
Weather – Cool with temperatures in the 60s.
Special Note – Bobby Allison ran against his son Davey Allison in this race. It was one of two times that a father and son raced together in the Snowball Derby.
It looked as if there was going to be a driver who left Pensacola with a second career Snowball Derby win, but the driver that ended up winning the race wasn’t who many expected to win throughout the day. Ronnie Sanders was the fastest car on the track, but a socket came off an air wrench, costing him a lap and his second victory. Polesitter Freddie Fryar rose to the top and held off Jerry Lawley for his second Snowball Derby win.
December 5, 1982
Pole Winner – Rusty Wallace (17.21 seconds)
Race Winner – Gene Morgan
Weather – Rainy with temperatures in the 50s to 60s at race time.
Special Note – Rain washed out the racing card on Saturday, forcing time trials and racing to take place on a long Sunday. The race ended at dark for the first time in history.
Freddie Fryar needed a little luck and another lap to become the first three-time Snowball Derby winner. Instead, Gene Morgan got away from the pack and was able to hold off Fryar for what some considered an upset win. Fryar finished second for the second time in his career.
December 4, 1983
Pole Winner – Mark Martin (17.38 seconds)
Race Winner – Mickey Gibbs
Weather – Partly cloudy with temperatures in the 70s.
Special Note – For the second time in his career, Jody Ridley finished second in the Snowball Derby.
1983 was one of the few times when the winning call was to go against the right call. A late caution set up a dash to the finish as Gary Balough and Alton Jones came in for tires, handing the lead to Mickey Gibbs. The Alabama driver had been lurking all day and assumed the lead. Cautions resulted in the final 15 laps turning into a five-lap dash with Balough and Jones unable to get back to the front.
December 9, 1984
Pole Winner – Mike Alexander – (17.04 seconds)
Race Winner – Butch Lindley
Weather – Temperatures in the mid 60s.
Special Note – Lindley drove a Bonnett/Grill chassis, the first of many GARC chassis to taste victory in the Derby.
Butch Lindley made history by becoming the first driver to win the Snowball Derby in a V6. Lindley had all the right things go his way in 1984 as he picked up his lone win. Mike Alexander led the most laps followed by Rusty Wallace who was third behind another V6 in the likes of Butch Miller. The top five might be one of the most decorated in Snowball history as Lindley beat out Miller, Wallace, Jody Ridley and Dick Trickle. They combined for three Derby wins, four All American 400 victories, three Winchester 400’s, three Florida Governor Cups a World Crown 300, Oxford 250 and a Milk Bowl triumph.
December 8, 1985
Pole Winner – Mike Alexander (16.688 seconds)
Race Winner – Jody Ridley
Weather – Partly Cloudy with temperatures in near 60 degrees.
Special Note – Mike Alexander sat on the pole and became only the second driver to win back-to-back pole awards. Pete Hamilton did it before him in the 1970s.
For the better part of the 1980s, Jody Ridley was a bridesmaid. That all came to an end in 1985 when the Georgia driver took home the Tom Dawson trophy at the Snowball Derby. In his 15th Snowball start Ridley held off Rusty Wallace to score the win after leading 117 of 200 laps. After the race, he dedicated his win to defending race winner Butch Lindley who was critically injured in 1985 and would later pass away in a coma in 1990.
December 7, 1986
Pole Winner – Gary Balough (16.767 seconds)
Race Winner – Gary Balough – Second win
Weather – Sunny with temperatures in the 60s.
Special Note – 1986 marked the 11th and final top 10 run for Derby hero Freddie Fryar. He would only make three more starts after 1986.
It’s almost hard to imagine that there were 16 lead changes during a race in which Gary Balough started from the pole and led 131 of the 250 laps on his way to victory. It was the second Derby win for Balough and second from the pole. Balough finished the year as the All Pro Champion as Butch Miller chased him across the line. The 16 lead changes was the most at the time until it was beaten in 2000.
December 6, 1987
Pole Winner – Butch Miller (16.723 seconds)
Race Winner – Butch Miller
Weather – Cloudy with temperatures in the 60s.
Special Note – Mike Alexander finished fourth for his career best at the Derby. He would be suffer a severe injury in the race one year later.
Riding a six-cylinder, Butch Miller led 144 of the 250 laps to cap off his amazing season that saw him win over 20 times. Miller won the Anderson 400 and the Winchester 400 leading into the Derby in December. Miller won from the pole and beat out Red Farmer for the win. A young Eddie Mercer finished third for his first Derby podium finish.
December 5, 1988
Pole Winner – Rich Crawford (16.913 seconds)
Race Winner – Ted Musgrave
Weather – Sunny with temperatures in the mid 60s.
Special Note – Jeff Purvis finished on the podium for the first time. He would end up with six top-three finishes in the race.
For the second year in a row, it was a V6 powerplant that tasted victory at the Snowball Derby. This time it was Wisconsin driver Ted Musgrave who scored the win with Howie Lettow as his crew chief. The race was dominated by pole sitter Rick Crawford who finished second. Late in the race, Mike Alexander was badly injured and his racing career was never the same after.
December 4, 1989
Pole Winner – Eddie Mercer (16.950 seconds)
Race Winner – Rick Crawford
Weather – 52 degrees and sunny.
Special Note – Joe Nemechek finished seventh and won the All Pro title over Rick Crawford.
After finishing second the year before, Rick Crawford came back to the Snowball Derby and finished the job. Eddie Mercer led the most laps for one of his first Derby heartbreaks. A little-known driver named Rich Bickle finished second, setting himself up for future Derby success in the 1990s.