The journey to the 51st Annual Snowball Derby at Five Flags Speedway (FL) began on Thursday, as Super Late Model teams practiced for the first time. While some teams gained valuable knowledge for Sunday’s race, others face an uphill battle after running into opening-day adversity.
Jeff Choquette set the fastest lap of the day, clocking in at 16.525 second around the Five Flags half-mile during the third and final practice session of the day.
Choquette didn’t put much stock in posting the fastest time, but was pleased to get through the day knowing he has a fast race car that can compete with the stars in the Snowball field.
“I felt like we executed the day well,” Choquette told Speed51.com. “Practice doesn’t pay. There’s probably plenty of other cars that could have put down a good lap or maybe didn’t get a clean lap and weren’t able to show what they really had.
“Practice is a little deceiving, you can say, but it’s always nice to be able to be somewhere up front,” Choquette added. “Hopefully we can carry that into tomorrow night and get us a good starting spot for the Derby and focus on race runs.”
Ty Majeski set the fastest time in the first session and placed second on the time charts for the second session. He was pleased with the day despite one missed opportunity.
“I think it’s okay. The track’s going through a lot of changes, so we’re just trying to keep up with all that. We did a mock qualifying run at the end. Had a little bit of a miscommunication and got a bad read. We’ll regroup. We only have two sessions for tomorrow, we’ll try to get some speed into it.”
Both Choquette and Majeski noted that changing conditions throughout the day made the practice session particularly interesting, but also helped them prepare for several possibilities that could come up on race day.
“It started out cloudy, and then it got cloudy, and then it got sunny again,” Choquette said. “Just trying to dodge it a little bit and see what track conditions are going to be like and make sure we’re ready for all of it.”
“A lot of cars, a lot of practices today with the Pro Lates, we’re all on the same tire,” Majeski said. “A lot of rubber got laid down today. The track tightened up quite a bit, lost grip. The track temps went up before cars got out there. You get a sense of how it’s going to be on Sunday.”
While Majeski and Choquette learned from the day, others spent valuable time behind the wall. One of those drivers was Steve Wallace, who needed to replace the rear-end on his entry.
“We broke a rear-end,” Wallace said. “All of a sudden, the car just started reacting really, really weird. We found ourselves making a lot of changes, and the car wasn’t reacting to it. It was just doing goofy stuff on the straightaway, spinning one tire and doing stuff it shouldn’t.
“We believe the rear-end’s broke,” Wallace said. “Which we’ve had happen here in the back and stuff, so we just made the decision to swap rear-ends in our racecars.”
Stephen Nasse experienced a similar issue, and thought he had a gameplan. However, that plan quickly faded.
“I know my guys, they really wanted me to come here and pick a car and stick with that one,” Nasse explained. “When you’ve got two really good race cars, it makes it really tough. We tested the Senneker and the Fury back-to-back. The Senneker was a little bit better. I ended up spinning out in my mock run in the Senneker. The track was so cold, tires were so cold. I just moved it around once.
“We came back here to practice, the car is just wicked tight in the center, with no drive up off,” Nasse continued. “The first thing that comes to my head and the crew’s head is the Gleason. The first time we had this car here, at the last Blizzard race, I qualified third, had a really fast car. I had one Gleason go out in practice and had another one go out in the race.”
Rather than swapping out the faulty parts and pieces, Nasse climbed in his Fury race car. Unfortunately for him, he faced an equally surprising and frustrating issue in it – lack of speed.
“When I had this one go out in practice, I didn’t even want to deal with that. I know my other car is fast. Let’s just unload it and put this one away. So we unload the other one, and it wasn’t as fast as I thought it was. It really had good speed, good drive, good turnability on the test day. Today it’s just gone. I don’t know what happened to it. It really scares me.
“In the Senneker car, even with the bad rear-end, we were running better fast times than I could with my Fury with good stuff,” Nasse said. “I was like, guys, I know you guys are going to hate to hear this, but I need the other car back. I’ll take the chance with the rear-end deal.”
Both Nasse and Wallace agreed – the work today is worth it to put your best foot forward in the Snowball Derby.
“It’s a little bit of a burden,” Wallace said. “But we came down here to give everything we had.”
“I’d rather get all my bad luck out of the way and get the hard work done early in the week,” Nasse said. “It’s the first day, we’ve got plenty of time to do all the work we need to do. I would rather it happen this way than have it happen on qualifying day or something.
“I’m not too upset about it, but it’s obviously not the best scenario,” Nasse concluded. “We’re going to make the most of it.”
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 Zach Evans, Speed51.com Southeast Editor – Twitter: @ztevans
-Photo credit: Speed51.com / MoJo Photos