For 45 laps the fans in the grandstands at Five Flags Speedway waved their hats and flags, and jumped up and down as one of their heroes searched for his chance.
Wayne Niedecken, Jr. searched high and low for a way around Bubba Winslow lap after lap, but when the dust settled Winslow went to victory lane and Junior went home on the hook.
Running second, Niedecken was turned in a tussle for second between himself, Todd Jones and Donald Crocker. The three-wide battle ended up with Niedecken wrecked, and Winslow all alone out front.
“It would’ve been my night if I had not been run through,” Niedecken told Speed51.com powered by JEGS. “We had enough to pass the leader twice late, but the caution came out both times. No one seemed to be able to keep their cars under control there late. Outside restarts weren’t good for me, and on that last one we got hung on the outside and got run over.”
While dejected, Niedecken couldn’t help but smile knowing the fans were firmly in his corner and wanting another win.
“I’ve run here all my life,” Niedecken said. “I am so glad I have the support of the fans the way I do. We put on a good show for them, and one day we are going to win this thing.”
With Niedecken out of the mix, Donald Crocker stepped to the plate to battle with Winslow. On the final restart – with less than five laps to go – Crocker dove to the low side of Winslow in turn three, but couldn’t make the move stick.
With the win, Winslow put the cap on his own bit of Derby drama.
“This win is incredible,” Winslow said. “We let one of these slip away a few years ago after qualifying on the pole and leading the majority of the race. Now we have closed the deal and won it. It would’ve been fun to see how we sized up with Jr. there at the end, but we will take the win either way.”
Crocker held on for second after his failed slide job, and flashed an ear-to-ear grin during post-race tech while thinking about what might have been.
“When you are sitting here in the tech line, you think about what could have been,” Crocker stated. “I could’ve went up there and made a little contact and see what happened, but that’s not the way I want to race. I wouldn’t have done, but it does make you think.”
Winslow has long dreamed of winning a race on Snowball Derby weekend, and was taken back somewhat when he realized he finally got the job done on the race’s golden anniversary.
“A win on the 50th makes even more special. We have it and nobody can take it away from us.”
Barnhill Goes Flag-to-Flag to Bag Sportsmen Win
Alabama’s Mark Barnhill went wire-to-wire to capture the Sportsmen feature.
While Barnhill led every lap of the race, it wasn’t a simple Thursday evening drive in the Florida panhandle. Just past halfway, Jonathan Langham – who Barnhill nipped by 0.001 for the pole – worked his way to the rear deck of the leader.
Langham was getting ready to pounce for the lead, but it was not to be as the caution waved before he could make the move.
After fending off Langham’s run during the race’s midpoint, Barnhill found himself under attack once again in the later stages of Thursday’s 50-lap dash.
Jim Pokrant, Brannon Fowler and B.J. Leytham all took their shots at Barnhill, but none could get the job done in the race’s waning circuits.
“We have a bunch of good cars in this class,” Barnhill said in victory lane. “I was just saving my stuff there at the end. The harder I ran it, the free-er the car got. I just tried to keep it as straight as I could. It the end, it turned out for the good.”
Lee Reynolds worked his way through a late-race stack up to finish in the runner-up spot. Langham took the checkered in third, but was disqualified in post-race tech.
The Room of Doom claimed its first victim of the week, as tech officials ruled Langham’s valves and lifters to be non-compliant to the rule book.
With Langham’s machine thrown out, Steven Allday rounded out the podium and Pokrant finished fourth.
While not in a Late Model, Barnhill was nearly overcome with emotion knowing he was a winner at the 50th Annual Snowball Derby.
In victory lane, he choked back tears and fought threw his emotions.
“This is what I want,” Barnhill said while holding up the special checkered flag with the 50th Snowball Derby logo. “It means a lot. There was 22 cars behind me wanting to do the same thing I am right now. There can only be one winner, and I held them off.”
Race fans can find on-demand Trackside Now coverage of all of Thursday's on-track activities now by clicking here.
Both feature races can be watched on-demand by clicking here.
-By Ryan McCollough, Speed51.com Southeast Correspondent – Twitter: @RyanLMcCollough
-Photo credit: Speed51.com / MoJo Photos