2016 has been the biggest season of Noah Gragson’s young racing career. The Las Vegas native scored a total of four wins between the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East and West, was a contender for the championship in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West, made his NASCAR Camping World Truck Series (NCWTS) debut and announced that he’ll be full time in the NCWTS in 2017. But Gragson still has a chance to make 2016 a season he will never forget.
During the first week of December, Gragson will make his way to Pensacola, Florida for the 49th Annual Snowball Derby, his second attempt at the biggest pavement short track race in America. Gragson crashed in last year’s Derby, which resulted in a re-broken arm and a 25th-place finish.
This year, Gragson is making his return to Pensacola, and this time he’ll be driving for Richie Wauters, a past winner of the Snowball Derby.
“I think we’re going with more confidence, more experience, and I’ll be in good hands running with Richie Wauters,” said Gragson. “He has the experience as well down there. A lot more than I do, so he knows how the race track changes and the effect on the cars and everything.”
While Gragson’s confidence is higher than last year, he said he’s cautiously optimistic for this year’s run.
“It’s still a hard race, so I’m not getting my hopes too high,” he said. “Who knows if I’ll even make the race. A lot of good guys go home from that race. I’m just looking forward to getting down there and giving 100-percent.”
Gragson said that he had one big takeaway from 2015, and that was to not let his hopes get too high.
“It’s a privilege to make the race,” Gragson commented. “You shouldn’t go to that race thinking you’re going to make the race. If you do make the show… you just can’t get your hopes up because it’s a long week and anything can happen.”
That doesn’t mean that Gragson, 18, hasn’t thought about what it would mean to have his name on the Tom Dawson Trophy. The Las Vegas driver said winning the Snowball Derby would be by far the biggest accomplishment of his short racing career.
“It would be number one. It’s everything. You’ve seen the guys that have won it. Kyle Busch, Erik Jones, Chase Elliott, those guys are racing Sprint Cup. It’s a career changer,” Gragson stated. “For someone who only started racing four and a half years ago, if I do win it, it would be a dream that I didn’t think could ever come true.”
The 49th Annual Snowball Derby weekend kicks off on Wednesday, November 30 with the Cat Country/WEAR TV3 Green Flag Pit Party and Qualifying Order Draw Down.
Thursday, December 1 will see the Super Late Models take to the track for the first official Snowball Derby practice. The night will be highlighted by a 30-lap race for the Butler U-Pull-It Bombers and a 50-lap event for the Dock on the Beach Sportsmen division.
The top Snowball Derby starting spots will be set on Friday, December 2 during NASH FM 102.7 Pole Night. The Faith Chapel Super Stocks and the Modifieds will each run 50-lap features.
The Pro Late Models take center stage on Saturday, December 3 for the Allen Turner Hyundai Snowflake 100. The 50-lap Last Chance Qualifier for the Snowball Derby and a 50-lap feature for the Beef O’Brady’s Pro Truck division will also run on Saturday night.
Then on Sunday, December 4 the green flag will fly over the 49th Annual Snowball Derby. The 300-lap race will begin at 2 p.m. CT.
For more information on the 49th Annual Snowball Derby weekend at Five Flags Speedway, visit www.snowballderby.com. All media credential requests and inquiries for the Snowball Derby can be sent to Pat Bryant at [email protected]
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-By Rob Blount, Speed51.com Southeast Editor – Twitter: @RobBlount
-Photo credit: Speed51.com/Rick Ibsen