Over the last 50-plus years, the Snowball Derby has established many traditions in the racing world. One of those traditions is that the race has become the first race on the winter schedule for many snowbird drivers from the Northern U.S. and Canada. Veteran North Ontario racer Jerry Artuso has gained a reputation of being one the most recognizable snowbirds in the Sunshine State winter after winter, with Five Flags Speedway being a top destination each year in December.
Naturally, he’s already back again on the Florida Panhandle, getting in some pre-Snowball testing on Monday at Five Flags. Running just a handful of races in 2019, Artuso still managed a solid run in CRA competition at Toledo Speedway (OH) in September. But, admits that at this point, it’s as if he is coming into a whole new season, rather than ending one like the rest of the teams entered.
“We tested today and we were okay, but we haven’t done a lot of racing this year. We did a little in the spring and once at Toledo in the fall, that’s it. The car started out pretty good, we just got it a little too free, and we got down a little bit. It was good for the amount of racing we’ve done. But now, it’s almost like starting over again,” Artuso told Speed51.
The Snowball Derby has not been the kindest to Artuso over the years, most recently missing the field in 2018. But, the tradition and atmosphere that comes with the Derby is the main reason the 55-year-old racer keeps coming back to Pensacola.
“I don’t know why I pick all of these hard races to get in, but it’s just fun to be here. Pretty much a win for me is just making the show and running all of the laps. It’s always a good time there, a lot of great people. The Bryant family has always been really good to everyone, part of what makes Five Flags and the Derby a fun race to come to.”
Nowadays, Florida is the main place you can find Artuso on-track, with the time being the winter months. Despite the lengthy trip down from his native Sault Saint Marie, it is ironically easier for his schedule during the entire year. It is a routine that he has kept up for nearly two decades now, with Artuso finding success at New Smyrna Speedway (FL) in February 2005, with titles that winter in both Florida Modifieds and Limited Late Models.
“My father-in-law bought a place down in Florida when we first started coming down for Speedweeks. It was probably more racing than we did most of the time up north, with those nine nights then. We just got hooked up with some good people, and the winter time is slower for us, so it’s actually easier to come down and race in the winter time then closer to home in the summer when we’re busy. That’s what keeps bringing us down here.”
In the present, the main goal is to make the cut and have a chance to take on what Artuso considers some of the top racers on the continent.
“I’m hoping to get qualified in, that’s the main goal, so we don’t have to race Saturday night. There are so many great drivers there, a lot of guys, like in the Southern Super Series are some of the best around. Really, they’re coming from everywhere. I’m old compared to lots of these guys, probably one of the oldest out there now. I guess I’m just lucky that I can still do it and still have fun with it.”
Race fans looking to make the pilgrimage to Pensacola for the Snowball Derby can order tickets for the event now at 5flagsspeedway.com.
For fans unable to make the trip, they can tune in to Speed51’s pay-per-view broadcast of the event. Now is the perfect time to order your video ticket and take advantage of early-bird savings. To order your early bird Snowball Derby four-day video package today, click here and use discount code “snowbird.” Individual video tickets are available for each day of racing; however, a four-day early bird video ticket offers a total savings of $38.
Individual video tickets can be purchased now at the regular price by clicking here.
For more information on the 52nd Annual Snowball Derby, visit Speed51’s Snowball Central.
-Story by: Connor Sullivan, Speed51 Northeast Editor – Twitter: @Connor51CT
-Photo credit: Speed51Photos.com