Before Chase Elliott stormed onto the NASCAR Nationwide Series scene in 2014 and won three races en route to the point lead near the end of his rookie season, he was cutting his racing teeth and making a name for himself on the country’s short tracks.
Along the way, he won the 2011 Snowball Derby at Pensacola, Florida’s Five Flags Speedway, plus three Snowflake 100 Pro Late Model events at the half-mile track. His Snowball win was part of the unofficial “Short Track Grand Slam” that he accomplished by winning the four most prestigious Super Late Model events in the country – and more – before even reaching legal voting age.
Even though he has officially graduated to NASCAR stardom and is on the path towards a Nationwide Series championship this season, Elliott hasn’t forgotten his short track roots – roots he will return to this December.
Elliott has filed an entry to the 47th Annual Snowball Derby at Five Flags, which will be held on Sunday, December 7. The 18-year-old Dawsonville, Georgia native, who lost a second Snowball Derby victory in 2013 due to a technical violation in post-race inspection, will be out for redemption and an opportunity to return to the Late Model level on which he saw so much success in his young career.
“The Snowball Derby is a race I have always enjoyed going to,” said Elliott. “We thought about it a lot and we decided we want to go back to the Snowball Derby and we’ll see how it all plays out.”
Elliott will make his return to Five Flags for the first time since his disqualification for having tungsten, an unapproved weight material, inside his Snowball Derby-winning car last December. Twelve months later, Elliott will be out for redemption in this year’s Snowball Derby.
“It will always hurt,” said Elliott of his 2013 disqualification. “I have thought about it a bunch. I hate things ended the way they did, but there were so many things to be proud of that weekend. It’s amazing when one thing can make things go downhill so fast. When it’s all said and done we shot ourselves in the foot. That’s the bottom line.
“It would mean a ton to go back there and win. It would be a good feeling to have after a last year. It’s such a tough race to win and we hope we can have an effort to where we can go down there and contend for the win.”
Elliott has run only a pair of Super Late Model races this season while chasing a Nationwide title. First was SpeedFest at Watermelon Capital Speedway (GA) in January, an event he won. He later ran the Southern Super Series race at Montgomery Motor Speedway in May, where he suffered a mechanical issue while racing with the lead pack. Returning to the Late Model ranks after his Nationwide Series is concluded is just an extension of his passion for short track racing.
“I have a special place for short track racing in general in my mind,” said Elliott. “We have had lots of great memories there in the asphalt Late Model world. It makes it special to me that I can call my old Late Model crew guys and say, ‘Do you want to go run here?’ And they will.”
Elliott will enter only the Snowball Derby this year as his team no longer has a Pro Late Model in the fleet to chase a fourth Snowflake 100 victory. He will also be without his longtime Late Model crew chief Ricky Turner, himself a Snowball winning driver, who was on the pit box for every one of Elliott’s victories on the Late Model scene.
“Ricky will be with Anderson Bowen for the Derby,” added Elliott. “I am still close to Ricky. He’s committed to Anderson and I respect that and we’ll work around that. Basically the team will be about the same just minus Ricky.”
There is a chance that Elliott could be introduced during Snowball Derby pre-race ceremonies on December 7 as the 2014 NASCAR Nationwide Series Champion, but he’s not ready to get ahead of himself just yet.
“There is still a lot of racing left,” said Elliott of his Nationwide championship hopes. “Way too much racing left to think about it. It’s cool to think about our success in a year’s time. At the Derby last year I had no plans for 2014. So I didn’t really know how much racing I was going to be doing this year. Things had not come together with NAPA Auto Parts yet.”
Either way Elliott looks forward to one of perhaps many returns to the Snowball Derby.
“If I could, I would run the Snowball Derby each year honestly,” said Elliott. “I know we have to be confident that we can go down there and run well and we’ll keep going. Our schedule is hard to get open dates to run Late Models. However I’m free in December.”
Tickets for the 47th Annual Snowball Derby weekend at Five Flags Speedway are currently available by calling the track’s box office at 850-944-8400.
The 47th Annual Snowball Derby weekend kicks off with the Cat Country/WEAR-TV3 Green Flag Party on Wednesday, December 3. On-track activities start Thursday, December 4, for the opening practice rounds for the Snowball Derby Super Late Models and Snowflake 100 Pro Late Models. The Five Flags Butler U-Pull-It Bombers and Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Sportsman divisions will also have feature events on Snowball Derby Thursday.
The top Snowball Derby starting spots will be set on Friday, December 5 during WXBM 102.7 Pole Night at Five Flags. The Five Flags Super Stocks and Modifieds will also battle in their Snowball Derby features after Super Late Model qualifying.
The Snowflake 100 takes center stage on Saturday, December 6 as the top Pro Late Model racers in the country qualify and battle for 100 laps at Five Flags. In addition, Saturday’s action features the final 50-lap qualifying event for Snowball Derby drivers to make one last effort to qualify for the 300-lap Super Late Model race. The Pro Trucks will also have a 50-lap feature on Snowball Derby Saturday.
Then on Sunday, December 7, the green flag will drop on the 47th Annual Snowball Derby at 2pm CT at Pensacola, Florida’s Five Flags Speedway.
For more information on the 47th Annual Snowball Derby weekend at Five Flags Speedway, visit www.snowballderby.com.
– 51 Sports/Snowball Derby press release. Photo credit: Speed51.com