Augie Grill is no stranger to victory lane at Five Flags Speedway (FL), but there was something special about winning Saturday’s Snowflake 100.
Grill started in 21st and quickly made his through the field, to put himself in position to outduel NASCAR Camping World Trucks star John Hunter Nemechek on a late-race restart. Grill, now a three-time winner of the Snowflake, choked back tears in victory lane.
“To me, this is one of the biggest races in the country,” Grill said. “It’s not the Snowball, but only the best Pro Late Models are in this race. To come from 21st to first really makes this special. It is great to take a step forward, and not a step back with my driving. It feels really good.”
Grill has won 17 different races at Five Flags Speedway in his career. The tally now gives him the modern-era recorded for most Late Model wins at the Pensacola half-mile. Included in that total are two wins in the Snowball Derby, and now three in the ‘Flake. His third Snowflake 100 ties Chase Elliott’s mark for all-time wins in the event.
In victory lane, Grill celebrated like a driver half his 40 years. He climbed on the window seal, raised his arms to the crowd and soaked in the water shower from his crew and the roaring applause from a packed grandstand.
The fans’ hero was back where they felt he belonged.
“It feels great for me, a 40-year-old man, to outrun some of these kids that do it all the time,” said Grill. “I am blessed to get to do what I love. I love to race cars and drive them for a living. Nights like tonight are what you spend those hours in the shop for.”
Nemechek started on pole, and followed Casey Roderick for the first half of the event. Nemechek picked a time to jump Roderick for the lead and appeared to be headed for back-to-back wins in the Snowflake; however, it was Grill who tamed Five Flags in the end after taking the lead for good on lap 87.
After the race, Nemechek criticized race officials for what he felt was a missed call on the final restart.
“I just thought the leader was supposed to re-start the race,” said Nemechek. “I guess that’s up to the race director on who goes first and when the flag gets thrown. We got beat on that restart, and I just didn’t have enough to get back by him.”
As one would think, Grill disagreed with Nemechek’s take.
“I took off when he did, and I beat him to the flag,” Grill said.
Grill, the mastermind behind the Grand American Race Car (GARC) dynasty, has seen a chassis from his Alabama shop win seven of the last eight Snowflakes. Over the past few seasons, Grill has raced less and worked more.
There was even a point during Saturday’s race, the thought of a client car in victory was probable yet again.
“Under one of the cautions, I was running sixth and saw Casey Roderick up there battling with Nemechek,” said Grill. “I thought ‘Well, maybe he can get by and win this thing.’ I wasn’t sure about my car at the time. I love for customers to win, but it feels better for me to do it.”
Roderick faded to 29th after a familiar foe reared its ugly head once again.
“Something is going on there and we need to figure it out,” Roderick said of his ignition-system issue. “It did the same thing earlier this year at Montgomery. Every time I got in the gas, it would spit and sputter. It’s just tough to know how good the car was tonight.”
14-year-old Chandler Smith, on the eve of his first start in the Snowball Derby, drove a solid race and brought home a very respectable third-place run. Smith might quite possibly be racing’s future, but Saturday evening belonged to a man caught somewhere between racing’s present and its past.
Grill got a high five from his son and a hug from his dad in victory lane. The chassis man from Alabama couldn’t help but enjoy one more trip to the top of the Late Model world…and it may not be his last.
“It’s been a rough last couple of years because we haven’t been able to do a whole lot of racing,” Grill said. “It just feels like sometimes we have really good cars, and then it goes kaput. We have good cars, and this is what we needed. I just love this sport and proud to be part of it.”
For a full on-demand recap of all of Saturday's action from the 49th Annual Snowball Derby, visit Speed51.com's Trackside Now coverage presented by Ford Racing and Schoenfeld Headers.
-By Ryan McCollough, Speed51.com Deep South Correspondent - Twitter: @RyanLMcCollough
-Photo credit: Speed51.com
Allen Turner Snowflake 100 Official Results
|2||8N||John Hunter Nemechek|
|11||01S||Derek Scott Jr.|
|31||30||Bobby Knox Jr.|