In a race full of surprises it might be fair to say that the most surprising thing to come out of the 47th Annual Snowball Derby was the second-place run by 16-year-old Dalton Sargeant. Sargeant, who hails from Boca Raton, Florida, has less than 10 Super Late Model races under his belt. Sunday’s Snowball Derby was just his second race ever at Five Flags Speedway (FL). Yet there he was, fighting for a win in the biggest short track race of the year.
While surprising might be the word many would use, it isn’t the word that Dalton and his car owner, Richie Wauters, would like to use.
“I figured a top-five would be possible and even a podium finish,” said Sargeant. “Looking at not only the team’s past, but our test and how we had run when we’d been there previously, I just keep getting more experience every time we run and get better and better.”
So did Wauters expect to see his young driver run so well in the biggest short track race in North America?
“Honestly, yeah,” Wauters told Speed51.com powered by JEGS. “We ran him once there earlier in the year and he did a great job. We ran eighth, but he showed he could do it then. I took Steven Wallace there at 16 and he won the race. I took Kyle Busch there at 16 and he ran really well before wrecking late. It’s kind of one of our deals. We enjoy taking young drivers and building them up and so far we’ve been fortunate enough to do that.”
But it isn’t just Sargeant’s age that had people surprised at where he finished on Sunday. John Hunter Nemechek is just one year older and he won the race. Instead, it’s the fact that Sargeant has little to no experience racing on ovals.
Sargeant left his hometown of Boca Raton for Europe to pursue a career in Formula One when he was just 12 years old. He ran through the various formula cars across the pond before deciding to come back Stateside to pursue NASCAR over F1.
“I’d actually run a few ovals when I was a kid,” he said. “I’d run some Bandoleros and I just remembered how much I enjoy running on the ovals. So I decided to come back and do that over IndyCar or Sports Car racing and I’ve loved it.”
That wasn’t the only reason he came back to ovals. The landscape of Formula One also played a big role.
“You look at Formula One and it seems that half the field is full of pay drivers that are bringing money to the sport,” he said. “And you look at NASCAR and it’s a better opportunity to have a career as a race car driver if that’s what you enjoy.”
The move back to America has been a good decision so far for Sargeant. Just days after his Snowball Derby run he announced that he’s signed with HScott Motorsports to run full-time in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East in 2015 in addition to running upwards of 20 Late Model events.
“It’s a big step in my career, going down the NASCAR path,” he said. “It seems like the K&N Series is great for young drivers moving up. I think it’s going to help me move up the ladder and hopefully get to Sprint Cup.”
Sargeant is a couple months away from the first green flag of his rookie K&N Series campaign, but he’s already set himself up with some lofty goals.
“Harry Scott has proven over the past few years that they have the best cars and they have drivers to get the job done,” said Sargeant. “I think it’s going to be tough between me and my teammates but also other drivers. I definitely look to go out there and run really well.”
Sargeant said he’d definitely be returning to Five Flags Speedway in early December to hopefully do himself one position better in the Snowball Derby. And he’s hoping that when he returns he’ll have a new title to accompany his name.
“I look to go out there and win a championship this year,” he said. “Ben Rhodes was able to do it in his rookie year. I think I’ll be able to go out there and contend for wins and contend for the championship.”
-By Rob Blount, Speed51.com Regional Editor (Long Island, CT and NJ) -Twitter: @RobBlount
-Photo Credit: Speed51.com.