The Kyle Busch Motorsports No. 51 has seen huge success at the Snowball Derby in recent years. Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drivers Erik Jones and defending race winner Kyle Busch have both gone to victory lane, as well as Christopher Bell in 2015 before a post-race technical inspection issue left him disqualified.
For the 51st Edition of the Snowball Derby, it will be 17-year-old Raphael Lessard behind the wheel of the KBM No. 51. After a down year in 2017, Lessard made the most of his opportunity with Kyle Busch Motorsports, winning big races such as the Short Track U.S. Nationals at Bristol Motor Speedway (TN) and the Redbud 400 at Anderson Speedway (IN).
Lessard will be attempting to make his third start in the biggest Super Late Model race in the country after two top 10 finishes with David Gilliland Racing (now DGR-Crosley).
After leading multiple laps in the final race of the Blizzard Series at Five Flags Speedway, he is confident about his team’s speed.
“We went there and raced back in September and the car was super good,” Lessard told Speed51.com. “It’s just something broke while I was leading at the halfway point of the race but I was superfast. I’m super excited to go back down there with the same car and hopefully keep it under me the whole race. I know we have a good baseline to go there and Kyle Busch Motorsports has always been really good at the Snowball Derby, so I’m super excited.”
The Kyle Busch Motorsports car has seen its success in recent years with some of NASCAR’s top stars. Overall, KBM has crossed the finish line first on four different occasions in 2008 (Brian Ickler), 2009 (Kyle Busch), 2015 (Christopher Bell) and 2017 (Kyle Busch). However, two of those wins (Ickler in 2008 and Bell in 2015) were stripped away in post-race technical inspection. They also picked up a win in post-race tech following the 2013 race when Chase Elliott was disqualified and Erik Jones inherited the victory.
When asked about the pressure that comes along with driving arguably one of the best cars in all of Super Late Model racing, Lessard admitted to feeling some of the pressure but believes his experience with the team throughout the season has alleviated some of it.
“There’s more pressure, but I’ve been racing with them the whole year, so I’m kind of getting used to that,” he stated. “I know I’m with a good team so I know the car’s going to be good and that takes some weight off your shoulders. I can’t wait to see what we’re going to have with those guys in practice because there’s always so many good cars there that you never know. So we’ll see how much speed we got, but I think we’re going to be one of the fastest cars there.”
While most teams would zero in on the race itself or Friday's qualifying being the most challenging part of the Snowball Derby week, Lessard pointed to another difficult task involved with the five-day event.
“Practice is very tough because you want to have as much practice as you can, but there’s so many cars and everything’s so tight,” Lessard said. “Sometimes in a thirty-minute practice, you can really only get on track once or twice, so it’s pretty stressful. You just have to stay calm and be ready for it.”
Come the first Sunday in December, he will look to do what Erik Jones also accomplished as a 17-year-old in the same equipment: win the Snowball Derby. And with his future uncertain as of now, Lessard has a little extra to race for.
“It will mean the world,” Lessard stated. “It’s the biggest race of the season and it’s the race that everyone wants to win. When I started racing in the U.S., I always looked for the Snowball Derby as the race I wanted to win. It’s like the Daytona 500 for the Super Late Models.
“I’m just super excited, and I want to win. I don’t know what I’m doing next year yet, so I’m going to try to do my best at the Snowball Derby and if I get a good result, it could help me with my future.”
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.
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.
-Story by Koty Geyer, Speed51.com State Editor (IN & MI)
-Photo credit: Speed51.com