Fresh off his first career NASCAR Cup Series championship, Chase Elliott is returning to a place where he began his path to stardom. Elliott will return to the 53rd Annual Snowball Derby this December to chase the biggest prize in pavement Super Late Model racing.
Elliott earned his first career championship in NASCAR’s premier series at Phoenix Raceway on November 8 and did it in dramatic fashion by winning the season finale. While the NASCAR offseason is now underway, Elliott will spend December 2-6 at Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola, FL chasing his third victory in the crown jewel race.
Before reaching the highest level of NASCAR, Elliott cut his teeth in Super Late Models. Elliott last competed in the Snowball Derby in 2015, claiming his second career win in the event. He has competed seven times in the Snowball Derby, with a win in 2011 to go along with his 2015 triumph.
Now, the hunger to return to Five Flags Speedway has driven Elliott back to the Snowball Derby.
“I obviously still have a lot of interest and an emotional, raw connection with short track racing,” Elliott said. “The Snowball is an event that played a big part in my career and having the opportunities I’ve had. It was an event I was tired of watching every December (on Speed51), so I’m ready to give it another go.”
The Snowball Derby is the biggest race of the year for pavement Super Late Models. Each year, the top short track racers in the country convene at Five Flags Speedway during the first week in December to compete for the coveted Tom Dawson Trophy with a snowball adorned to its top.
The allure of the Snowball Derby was massive during Elliott’s formative years and his magnetic attraction to the event has not waned one bit.
“When I was coming along, that race was larger than life to me. All the hype around it, racing Late Models around the Southeast. As we started traveling around the country and doing different things, that race was always the crown jewel.
“It’s a special race to me, and it’s meant a lot to my career. The area has meant a lot to my career. I feel like the fans around that region have watched my career progress when a lot of people didn’t. I’m excited to see the people again, and to try to be competitive.”
Being competitive may sound easy enough for a reigning NASCAR Cup Series champion. However, Elliott expects a strong challenge as he returns to Super Late Models against the best in the business.
“I definitely don’t think it will be easy,” he said. “When you step into somebody’s sandbox, no matter what you are racing, it’s going to be hard. I expect that to be the case getting back into this.”
Elliott will be competing in a car provided by James Finch. Finch is best known as a car owner in NASCAR’s top divisions, going to victory lane with the likes of Brad Keselowski, Kurt Busch, Jeff Purvis, Randy LaJoie, Jimmy Spencer, Jamie McMurray, Johnny Sauter and Mike Bliss.
However, the Florida native is a long-time supporter of grassroots racing in the Sunshine State, and played an integral role in Elliot’s Snowball Derby return.
“I talked to [Finch] about three or four months ago, and he asked me if I’d ever do the Snowball again. I said I’d really like to, I just hadn’t found out how to make it work with my time and Ricky [Turner]’s time.
“He said, well, I’ve bought a couple cars. If you want to finish one out, you can finish it, do your thing, and run it down there. That’s where the conversation started.”
Elliott will also be working again with Ricky Turner, a former Snowball Derby winning driver in his own right and the crew chief who worked with Elliott during his ascent through the Late Model ranks.
“I went to Ricky with it and told him James had offered us a car. It got us further down the road than we would have been starting from scratch. All the pieces came together. Ricky, in his spare time, Will, who works with him, and myself, were just able to take evenings and time when he wasn’t super busy and finish the thing out.”
Turner will remain as crew chief for Jake Garcia, a young driver he has been mentoring the last couple of years.
Limited tickets are still available for the Snowball Derby on December 2-6 at Five Flags Speedway. Visit www.5flagsspeedway.com or call the track office at (850) 944-8400 to order your tickets today.
Fans unable to make the trip to Florida for this year’s Five Flags Speedway will be able to watch the 53rd Annual Snowball Derby live on Speed51.TV. Click here to learn more and order your video ticket today.
-Story by: Bob Dillner, Speed51 Founder & Zach Evans, Speed51 Content Supervisor
-Photo credit: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images