Every year nerves are shot in the hours leading up to the most crucial qualifying session of the year for Super Late Model drivers at Five Flags Speedway (FL). For the 47th running of the Snowball Derby, the theme came down to those needing an opportune moment to shine when it counted on Friday evening.
Hunter Robbins, needing a spark to end an up-and-down season, secured the pole position for the Derby, knocking hometown favorite and girlfriend Johanna Long off the pole. The couple will lead the field to green for the 300-lap feature Sunday afternoon.
The pole was a bit of a surprise for Robbins, as he had not found himself near the top of the charts during the day’s practices. Robbins started the season driving for former Derby champion Ronnie Sanders but halfway through the season split ways and resurrected his family’s late model program. The Robbins clan has been scraping together funding here and there through the summer in order to just make it to Pensacola.
“We spent a long time working on this thing, picking and choosing our races,” Robbins, a driver who has never started better than 12th in a Snowball Derby before this weekend, told Speed51.com powered by JEGS. “We’ve been really underfunded this weekend, and we bought one set of practice tires.”
The fast qualifying effort may not have been possible without Long and team.
“We borrowed a set of tires from Johanna,” said Robbins. “We were saving our set of stickers for today and wanted to make our mock run.”
While Long, the 2010 Snowball Derby winner, was not able to match her 2009 fastest qualifying run, Long had no hard feelings about missing the top spot.
“I’ve worked some hours for them,” joked Long. “It’s awesome to see Hunter get the pole. He deserves it so much. He works his butt off to make his race car fast, so it’s awesome to see him do it.”
More importantly for Long’s Scott Carlson-owned team, it was a valiant effort for a group that has struggled to make the field during the past few seasons.
“It means so much to me, growing up watching Scott race for all these years racing with my father,” said Long. “They work really hard, lots of nights away from their family.”
In addition, the emotions ran high for Scotty Ellis who made the field for his first Snowball Derby and will start an impressive fifth.
“I’ve got a lot of people to thank,” said Ellis. “The whole Pollard family and Jody (Wilkerson) who came down to help me this week; this has been a team effort. I tell people all the time that if it wasn’t for Bubba (Pollard) I would have quit five years ago. This is only our third race this year so he takes care of the car.” Ellis is piloting a Super Late Model he bought from Pollard at SpeedFest in January and the Snowball will only be the second time the machine will see action this season.
Heavy hitters and popular names will also be well represented in the front rows when the Snowball Derby rolls off. John Hunter Nemechek, looking for a signature Super Late Model victory to complement a season of domination in Pro Late Models, will start 3rd. Two-time Augie Grill will start on the outside of him in 4th as he looks to end a miserable streak of Derby luck since his last victory in 2008. Erik Jones, looking to become the first driver to win three consecutive Snowball Derby-s, will start 10th.
David Rogers received a Blizzard Series provisional and will start his 30th Snowball Derby on Sunday. Approximately 25 drivers will start Saturday’s Last Chance race, including Travis Braden, Johnny VanDoorn, Austin Theriault, and Harrison Burton.
Although there were no issues in post-qualifying technical inspection, chief technical inspector Ricky Brooks did limit a handful of drivers to one qualifying lap due to various infractions.
Failure to present carburetors to tech on time cost practice leader Anderson Bowen as well as 2013 fast qualifier Chase Elliott. Snowball Derby first timer Corey LaJoie was also held back and barely eked into the field.
On Saturday, December 6, it’s the Allen Turner Hyundai Snowflake 100 time trials, qualifying races and the 100-lap feature, plus final practice for the Snowball Derby cars, a 50-lap Pro Trucks feature and the 50-lap last-chance qualifying race to lock the final cars into the Snowball Derby.
Finally, the 47th Annual Snowball Derby will then go green on Sunday, December 7 at 2 p.m. ET at Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola, FL.
The full 47th Annual Snowball Derby weekend schedule is available at www.snowballderby.com.
Tickets and reserved camping spots are still available, but going fast. To order tickets or to reserve a camping spot, call the Five Flags Speedway box office at (850) 944-8400.
For more information about Five Flags Speedway and the 47th Annual Snowball Derby weekend, please visit www.5flagsspeedway.com, www.snowballderby.com or contact the track by calling (850) 944-8400.
-By Aaron Creed & Tim Quievryn, Speed51.com Correspondents
-Photo Credit: Speed51.com