David Rogers finished 33rd in the 52nd Annual Snowball Derby presented by BJ’s Wholesale Club at Five Flags Speedway (FL), falling out of the running after just 79 laps due to a crash. The race ended far sooner than Rogers had hoped, the kind of run that typically wouldn’t be very noteworthy.
However, his 33rd-place finish represented more than another race at another track for the Florida legend. It marked a major victory from his battle with lymphoma in 2019, as well as a record-breaking moment in the storied history of the Snowball Derby.
Rogers had not competed in nearly a year after learning he had lymphoma while undergoing a routine stomach surgery. He was unable to make the Snowball Derby after finishing ninth in the Last Chance Qualifier, but received the “Derby Dedication Award” to start 37th with a provisional.
Rogers had mixed emotions about accepting the provisional, which allowed him to break a tie with Red Farmer for most starts in the event with 33.
“The promoters had talked about it, the track people and the fans and whatever,” Rogers told Speed51. “They said they wanted me to be in the race. I said I don’t feel that’s fair.
“I was torn between taking the spot and not taking the spot. There’s a lot of people that came here to race and didn’t make the race. Why am I more deserving than they are?”
However, between his own health scare and missing the field in 2018, Rogers knew better than anyone there was no guarantee he’d have another shot at competing in the great race.
“Looking back at it, we started talking about it and said, you know, if we don’t go in the race, like we did last year, we didn’t make the race, the way things turned out the way they were, there was no guarantee I would be back this year. Whether it was mind and body or any part of it. The way it worked out, we were able to come. It also could have worked out the other way where I wouldn’t have even been around. It was some pretty serious stuff that I went through.”
The provisional proved to be like many aspects of his battle with cancer. The outpouring of support he received from racing fans was a constant reminder during the battle of how much he meant to them.
“My wife explained it to me. I couldn’t understand, why me? Why did I get cancer? Why did I have that problem? She explained to me, Jesus has a plan. It might not be just about you. I thought, well, it is all about me, because I’m selfish. Yeah, it is about me!
“As time went on, I realized there were so many people that my struggle was touching because they had either been involved in people in their lives that had struggled and worked so hard to try to fight off cancer.”
However, the ovation Rogers received during driver introductions made it clear to him that he made the right choice when he accepted the provisional offer.
“The cheers that came about, that made me feel like those people realized that,” he said. “I’m glad I took it. When the crowd cheered, I felt like I should be in the race. It all worked out for the best. The race didn’t work out so good. It would have been nice to finish the race or have a top-10 finish, but hey, this is racing.”
Before the race, Rogers had the opportunity to meet with Red Farmer before breaking his record for most Derby starts. The famed Alabama Gang member reminded Rogers one record remained intact.
“Red come down, he and I took some pictures and we talked about it. Like he said, when he started doing it, he didn’t plan on setting any records. He was just doing it because he loved racing. He knows I love racing. He told me a couple of years ago, ‘You ain’t going to break my record, anyways.’ I said, ‘I ain’t trying to break your record. I’m just trying to keep racing.’ He said, ‘The reason you aren’t going to break my record is mine were consecutive.’ I said, ‘That’s a great thing, Red. That’s something you’ll always have.’”
Rogers’ day on track ended after 79 laps, collected in an incident with Derek Kraus and Lucas Jones. The incident caused significant suspension and wheel damage, preventing Rogers from continuing.
Still, the veteran racer was back at the Snowball Derby. Until the crash, he was feeling like himself again in the race car, excited to compete once again.
“I was good. The car wasn’t great. I wasn’t having problems. I actually feel as good in the car as anywhere. That’s a plus.
“I feel good. This was my goal. The sad part is, it didn’t last longer than it did. The good part, the wonderful part is, at least I got to be part of the Derby. Whether I made the race or didn’t make the race, just being here and feeling like I could be part of it, that was a plus. Just being here in general, not necessarily at the Snowball Derby, just being here is a big plus for me. There were times where I wasn’t real sure that was even going to be part of the deal.”
Even the negative emotion of disappointment after an early exit in the race left Rogers feeling positive, because it told him he still had a desire for racing.
“It’s nice because I have the same feelings I have normally when I get knocked out of a race or fall out of a race early. That’s a good thing. My head and my heart are still in racing.”
Regardless of the final result or the records broken, Rogers leaves this year’s Snowball Derby knowing the impact he has had on fans and an appreciation of what he has overcome to make the race a possibility.
“The big picture might not have been for me. It might have been for all the people my story touched, all the people who got involved in my story and wanted me to come back.
“When all is said and done, all the pains and agonies that I went through, the medicines and what have you, the bottom line is racing is a sport that you’re not guaranteed any spots there, either. It worked out that way, too.”
-Story by: Zach Evans, Speed51 Southeast Editor – Twitter: @ztevans
-Photo credit: Speed51 photo