As 2018 draws to a close, only the 51st Snowball Derby looms for the best Super Late Model drivers in the land. It is the one race that if won can make an entire season for a driver and team, regardless of any woes they may have experienced during the first 11 months of the year.
This year, the “Oklahoma City Bandit” Donnie Wilson is one driver who is looking to turn around 11 months of struggles by kissing the Tom Dawson Trophy in Five Flags Speedway victory lane.
In some ways, the turnaround has already begun for the veteran driver, with Wilson keeping his nose clean throughout both October and November. Even with the task being made easier with the rain out of the All American 400 at Fairgrounds Speedway Nashville, Wilson has been excited about the race cars his team has brought to the tracks this fall, and he is sorry to have missed a first chance to prove it.
“We’re in the process right now of getting ready for the Snowball Derby, but we’re in good shape,” Wilson told Speed51.com. “The unfortunate thing with what happened with Nashville and the rain out on the one hand was a bad deal in that we couldn’t race. On the other hand, we didn’t have to worry about having a torn up car, so it makes prep work for the Derby easier. We test next Saturday at Five Flags Speedway, looking forward to that.”
While Wilson was happy with what he had in his No. 2w, he was especially pleased with the speed his teammate Cole Butcher had during Nashville qualifying.
“I don’t have to tell anyone that we’ve had about the worst year you can have. But, we had a good run at Winchester, Mobile was just a little driver error on the pit stop, and Nashville before the rain we had Cole qualify second while we tried some things on my car and qualified 11th. I feel like we’ve been making gains even with as bad a year we’ve had. We just got behind on some cars that we had torn up which caused a lot of issues. But we finally got everything all straight and squared away, so I think we’ll be fine for the Derby.”
In fact, Wilson isn’t even thinking much about the Derby’s 300 laps, but rather the two laps of qualifying he will face on Friday, November 30 at Five Flags Speedway (FL) in order to make the critical top 30 bubble and avoid the 50-lap Last Chance Race on Saturday.
“It’s all about qualifying there, that’s our biggest concern because this is the first year in a while I haven’t had a provisional to fall back on,” he stated. “We’re going to be concentrating on qualifying for sure. The goal is to qualify in the top ten or five, that usually keeps you out of the junk, at least early on. Being 15th on back makes for a long day. So that will be our biggest challenge.”
Overall, Wilson is excited about what he sees all across the board, including with Butcher. While Wilson knows there’s plenty he can do for Butcher, the young Canadian driver has progressed to the point at the Derby where he could possibly return the favor to Wilson.
“Cole is a really good driver, I like him a lot. He’s a good kid and he’s done real well in my equipment, so I’m happy to have him for another year at the Derby. He finished 15th last year while we got in a wreck. The year before that we finished fourth. We’ve been up and down, hopefully this is an up year at the Derby and we’ll have a shot to kick the door down and finally win in Pensacola.”
Not only is Wilson eager to put the entire season behind with a Derby victory, but also all the close calls he’s had over the years, including a runner-up finish in 2010 and a fourth-place effort just two years ago after starting 21st.
“It would certainly be a turnaround for the entire season, but that’s our goal every year: to win races, including the Snowball Derby. The year’s not over; we’re hoping to cap it off with a win and put the bad luck away. We’ve also got a second, a fourth, and some other good finishes there. We’ve always been there, we just got to get that last little bit. I’m not going to quit until we do.”
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: Connor Sullivan, Speed51.com Northeast Editor – Twitter: @Connor51CT
-Photo credit: Speed51.com