Less than one year ago, Dalton Sargeant entered the 47th running of the Snowball Derby as a relatively unknown name in the short track racing world. Driving for car owner Richie Wauters and Wauters Motorsports, the Boca Raton, Florida driver surprised everyone by crossing the finish line second on that day in December. This year, following a successful NASCAR K&N Pro Series East rookie season and his debut in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, he’ll head back to Five Flags Speedway on December 6 as a well-known name looking to improve his finish by one spot.
“The Derby is definitely one of the biggest races of the year to run and I think we had a really good performance last year coming home second,” said Sargeant. “Overall, for my first year of stock car racing, that was my highest achievement.”
Heading into last year’s Snowball Derby, Sargeant had only a limited amount of experience racing stock cars on ovals. At the age of 12, he left Florida and went to Europe to pursue a career in Formula One racing. He later made the decision to come back to the United States in an attempt to climb the NASCAR ranks, and before the 2014 Snowball Derby he only had a handful of Super Late Model starts under his belt.
Although he was working with a team that previously won the big event with Steven Wallace in 2004, the second-place finish one year ago even surprised him.
“I definitely knew that we’d be able to finish top 10, but I didn’t necessarily think we would be able to run top-five,” Sargeant said. “It was definitely a little bit of a surprise. I knew going into it that we’d run really well looking at Richie Wauters, his past and how well he had run there the past several years even winning a Snowball Derby at one point with Steven Wallace. I think overall I had high hopes going into it and everything just went really well that weekend. We executed really well and ended up having a good finish.”
Now looking forward to the 48th running of the Snowball Derby, Sargeant believes he and the Wauters team have what it takes to do one spot better. Part of that is because of the additional oval experience he has gained since last year, but a lot of it has to do with the driver he’ll be calling his teammate that weekend.
“I’m going to have (NASCAR Camping World Truck Series driver) Daniel Hemric as my teammate and in my opinion Daniel is one of the best Super Late Model racers out there, if not the best,” Sargeant stated. “I think being able to work with him throughout the entire weekend that we’re going to have another really good shot. Three-hundred laps is a long race, so you just have to be patient and not get frustrated too much and just try to stay out of the race to be there at the end.”
Despite a limited amount of starts at Five Flags Speedway, Sargeant has experienced success in the races he’s been able to finish at the tough half-mile oval. In addition to his second-place finish in the Snowball Derby, he also has finishes of fourth and third in Southern Super Series races held at the track in 2015.
Sargeant points to his ability to save his equipment and tire management as the key factors that have led to his success.
“It seems like at Pensacola with the track being so abrasive and tires falling off so quickly, I think I do a pretty good job at managing my tires throughout the entire race,” Sargeant explained. “I think the longer races it helps us even more than some of those shorter 100 lap races like we ran earlier this year.
“I think when we go back to the Derby, I’m once again looking forward to having live pit stops again. That’s always challenging, but I think having some more experience doing that now we’ll be even better coming in the pits. You can always gain a few spots there. I think overall that we’re going to be in good shape.”
One struggle that Sargeant won’t have to overcome as much this year will be the nerves of competing in the most prestigious Super Late Model event in the country. He admitted that he was a little bit nervous one year ago ahead of his first start in the race.
“I think before the race I was definitely really nervous just knowing how many cars were there and how difficult the field was,” said the 17-year-old. “Before I even went out to qualify I was a little bit nervous and shaking a little bit. Once we went out and qualified, we were locked into the race and I could kind of relax a little bit.
“I feel like going in this year we’re definitely going to try to qualify a little bit more towards the front and just now that I’ve already run it once it’s going to come a lot easier to me. I should be a little more relaxed this year.”
In order to win the race, Sargeant will need to beat a list of drivers that includes former race winners, Super Late Model champions, NASCAR XFINITY Series champions, NASCAR K&N Pro Series East champions and more. With the best of the best competing in the race, it provides a spotlight for those like Sargeant hoping to climb the NASCAR ladder.
“You look at some of the previous winners and what they’ve gone on to do, such as Erik Jones this year running full-time trucks with Kyle Busch Motorsports and how well he’s been able to run. It’s a huge race and there’s just so many big people who look at the race so if you’re able to go out there and run well and execute well, it’s going to help you out a lot further on throughout your career.”
The 48th Annual Snowball Derby weekend kicks off with the Cat Country/WEAR-TV3 Green Flag Party on Wednesday, December 2. On-track activities start Thursday, December 3, 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 4 during WXBM 102.7 Pole Night at Five Flags. The Five Flags Faith Chapel Super Stocks and Modifieds will also battle in their Snowball Derby features after Super Late Model qualifying.
The Allen Turner Hyundai Snowflake 100 takes center stage on Saturday, December 5 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 Better Built Tool Box Pro Trucks will also have a 50-lap feature on Snowball Derby Saturday.
Then on Sunday, December 6, the green flag will drop on the 48th Annual Snowball Derby at 2 p.m. CT at Pensacola, Florida’s Five Flags Speedway.
For more information on the 48th Annual Snowball Derby weekend at Five Flags Speedway, visit www.snowballderby.com. All media credential requests and inquiries for the Snowball Derby can be sent to Matt Kentfield at [email protected] and/or Pat Bryant at [email protected]
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-51 Sports/Snowball Derby Press Release. Photo credit: Dalton Sargeant Facebook