Tyler Ankrum enjoyed the most successful season of his young racing career in 2018, winning the 2018 NASCAR K&N Pro Series East championship and four races along the way. Now, with the year winding down, the 18-year-old racer is hoping to translate his great season into even more success during the 51st Annual Snowball Derby at Five Flags Speedway (FL).
Ankrum, who piloted the No. 17 DGR-Crosley ride to the K&N East title, plans on making a splash back into Super Late Model racing with his second attempt at the Snowball Derby and his first with his championship winning team.
“Having a really good season, how it correlates going into the Derby is just the simple fact that you have confidence to run with the best,” Ankrum told Speed51.com. “Really, that’s what the Derby is, is racing with the best. I mean, heck, qualifying for the Derby is probably the toughest feat of the entire weekend with the nervousness of trying to make the show.
“I think between K&N and Supers we won five or six races; we’ve had a lot of success this year. We’ve gone everywhere; we’ve led a lot of laps. We’ve competed against the best and we’ve shown that was can go to the Derby and show speed and show strength, and possibly win.”
Throughout the 2018 season, the San Bernardino, California native has shown that he has the skill to race at the front and the poise to be a great competitor.
In addition to his four K&N East victories at South Boston Speedway (VA), Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park (CT), New Hampshire Motor Speedway and Iowa Speedway, Ankrum also scored his first ARCA/CRA Super Series victory at Toledo Speedway (OH).
All in all, Ankrum is proud of what he has accomplished this season and hopes to continue that during the Snowball Derby. With changes to his Super Late Model equipment, he is sure that he will be someone to watch when the green flag is displayed on Sunday, December 2.
“We raced the Winchester 400, led laps. A lot of guys at that race are going to be at the Derby, and we finished top five,” Ankrum said confidently. “That race alone it shows we have fast cars. This year we got on board with Fury Chassis and Hamner Racing Engines. It’s been a really good change for us and overall it’s been a really good year.”
Although his success has certainly been worth remembering, Ankrum believes his 2018 season is best defined by the experience he’s been able to gain. The 17-year-old has a ton of it, and he’s certainly not ready to quit after the success he’s had already this year.
“I’ve had so much experience this year with the K&N car and the Truck,” he said. “I really feel like getting on the miles, seven-eighths and three-quarters race tracks, it really helps my experiences on these high speed, high-banked race tracks. There’s things you can pick up and learn from different series. There’s things I learned in the truck I’ve never experienced before. All the experience I’ve gained I think has really helped me a lot, and just knowing how to drive a Super Late Model.”
Ankrum knows how competitive the world of Super Late Models is, but he’s not willing to back down when it comes to the biggest stage in short track racing.
“Super Late Model racing is the toughest, most competitive racing in the country,” he stated. “I like to call it Cup racing on the short tracks. You have all these veterans like Bubba [Pollard], Steven Wallace, Jeff Choquette and Casey Roderick who have been doing it for a really long time; they have the experience, knowledge, the means and the money to do it. You’re racing against guys like that versus me who has been racing a Super Late Model for two to three years. Hopefully all the experience I can get will help me move forward and help me win the Snowball Derby.”
With a hopeful heart and a strong mind, Ankrum is ready to take on whatever stands between him and the coveted Tom Dawson Trophy.
“It’s my first Snowball Derby, so pit stop wise we have a team coming together and we’re going to be on the wide five which will play a part in it. I’ve had pit stop experience this year in the truck and I’ve been doing a lot of practice here at the pit school in Mooresville.”
If all goes well and he’s able to handle any potential bumps in the road, Ankrum believes he has the pieces of the puzzle to become the 36th different Snowball Derby winner.
“Getting good pit stops, trying to stay up front, and I’ve learned how important track position is this year in the K&N and the Truck this year. I just want to get all the track position I can, and stay inside the top five or top ten. Really at the end of the race, with about 100 to go, if you’re inside the top five or top ten I think you’ll have a shot because it’s the end of the race that gets rally hectic.”
Watching the previous versions of the Snowball Derby, knowing what the atmosphere is all about, and seeing the nerves, frustration, upset and triumph, Ankrum is prepared for what’s ahead.
“The Snowball Derby is probably the toughest and most intimidating race ever. You’re dealing with a lot of experience and a lot of knowledge. There’s so many great people in the Super Late Model world that work on race cars, it makes it very tough. If you can go out there and perform you’ll really get a lot of recognition from it.”
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.
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.
- Story by: Kendra Adams, Speed51.com Southeast Correspondent
- Photo credit: Speed51.com