The hot topic of the weekend carried over to The Morning Bullring on Speed51.com, with many guests on the show discussing Saturday’s announcement that controlled cautions would be introduced and live pits stops would be eliminated for the 52nd Annual Snowball Derby at Five Flags Speedway (FL).
Debate and conversation about the change reached its peak Sunday afternoon when NASCAR Cup Series driver Kyle Busch Tweeted, “Very poor decision. It was the last race where we all knew what it took to win, the last true race where every variable mattered. It’s the freaking SNOWBALL man. It’s the Daytona 500 of SLM racing. I’m disappointed to say the least.”
Busch, who won the Snowball Derby as a driver in 2018 and as an owner in 2019, followed his initial Tweet up with a number of responses, including one in which he stated, “SpeedFest doesn’t need pit stops. The SNOWBALL DERBY needs pit stops. It was ‘one of’ the last real races where all things mattered. Now I believe only Oxford 250 is.”
Five Flags Speedway owner Tim Bryant joined the show, discussing in further detail the decision to move away from the live pit stop format which, while common in higher level of motorsports, is unique in asphalt Late Model racing.
Bryant acknowledged that he understood and commiserated with concerns and complaints raised by drivers such as Busch on social media since the announcement, but ultimately felt he was acting in the event’s and sport’s best interest.
“It’s a call we didn’t want to make,” Bryant said. “I’m right with Kyle Busch, it’s the freaking Snowball Derby, man. From that standpoint, we probably held out longer than a lot of people wished we would have. But look, gosh, the cost of a pit crew was never intended for this kind of racing.
“We were working on a plan to keep any previous NASCAR over-the-wall guys from being eligible,” Bryant added. “We just haven’t found a way to this point to police that 100 percent.”
Connor Okrzesik, the winner of the ARCA/CRA Super Series feature at CRA SpeedFest this weekend at Crisp Motorsports Park (GA), was on the show to discuss his breakthrough victory. He offered his support of the decision to eliminate live pit stops.
“I mean, I agree with the call,” Okrzesik said. “Any way to save money for the racers is a good call, in my opinion. I can see it from the fan’s perspective of how they want the live pit stops and that excitement. I think it will be a better race with controlled cautions since we’ll have more than 14 seconds to work on the car and get it ready for the next segment. I think it’s going to make better racing and save $4,500 for all the racers. I like the call.”
Popular, outspoken racing veteran Kenny Wallace also joined the show. Wallace approved of the decision, but was quick and emphatic to note it was a small step towards solving much larger problems with asphalt racing.
“I feel very strongly that they are doing the right thing,” Wallace said. “Any time any association, whether it be NASCAR, the old ASA, IMCA, UMP, any and every single time there is a rules change, people b---- and moan and complain.
“This racing is completely, completely out of control right now,” Wallace added. “It’s unbelievable. This is a start. They have a long way to go. They have got to get rid of all this testing and practice.”
Wallace was particularly outspoken against the large amounts of testing before asphalt Super Late Model races such as the Snowball Derby.
“Everybody tests, everybody practices. So now there’s no advantage,” Wallace explained. “We’re just wasting all this money. If you’re a young kid, you just have to pay your dues. I’m sorry. You don’t need to test. You don’t need to practice. Take yourself two, three, four years to get going like the Busch brothers did. They didn’t get to practice or test. If you’re a kid and you’re going to the Snowball Derby, run the Snowflake. Your test will be ‘Run the Snowflake.’
“I know I’m right,” Wallace continued. “I paid my own bills. I did all this. This stuff is out of hand. We will literally drive the Super Late Model asphalt racing in the ground.”
Cale Gale, a former regular in the Snowball Derby and Snowflake 100, understood both sides of the argument but hoped the change would lead to more cars entering the 52nd Annual Snowball Derby.
“I think there’s debates from both sides of that,” Gale acknowledged. “I feel like your common guy, Tim and those guys are probably looking at a slight drop in car count here the last few years. They’re looking to cut costs and things like that. It’s something to consider. I think you might see some more cars come out.”
During his years competing in the event, Gale utilized both rented pit crews and “homegrown” pit crews consisting of his own crew members. He noted he was never in a position to have his pit crew determine the outcome of the race for him, but added that there’s more to success on pit road at Five Flags Speedway than hiring a professionally trained crew.
“You rent a crew from a Truck or Xfinity deal or something like that, a Late Model car is much different from that,” Gale explained. “It’s a much lighter car to jack it up. You still need to practice on that kind of car. The guys that can spend that time and prepare for that have their stud lengths right and everything correct. There’s a lot more that goes into it than the people.”
West coast racer Derek Thorn has competed six times in the Snowball Derby. He agreed with Wallace in saying this would be a small piece of the larger puzzle of containing costs for racers, but hoped that the controlled caution format would still require an element of speed and precision on pit road, if in a more relaxed manner.
“I’ve been thinking about it a lot,” Thorn began. “I’ve seen some of the stuff on Twitter. It’s tough. I feel like it’s the right direction. There’s a long way to go in regards to testing, tires, the length of the weekend. But I think the controlled caution will get some more cars to the track, guys that would otherwise shy away from that race. Hopefully it brings more cars, more people and the fans will still be able to enjoy it. I’d like to see a semi-controlled caution where it’s only two laps instead of four or five laps, but I haven’t seen the exact details.”
Two-time Lucas Oil Dirt Late Model Series champion Jonathan Davenport has established himself as one of the top dirt racers in the country, but little do most people know he once competed in the Snowflake 100 in 2001.
“I’ve seen a few things about the deal for the Derby, the pit stops and things like that,” Davenport said. “I actually went down there one time and raced. I didn’t run the Derby, I ran the Snowflake. I didn’t even know you were supposed to have a pit crew or whatever. We ended up making the race and hiring a crew from a team that didn’t make the race.”
Davenport also believes the move will help lower-budget teams compete at the Snowball Derby.
“I think it will be better for the lower-budget teams. Everybody is trying to make it more affordable in their own way. Some people disagree with it, and some people don’t. There’s not going to be one fix for everybody, but as long as everybody tries a little bit, we’ll figure it out.”
A poll conducted on the Speed51.com PFC Brakes Twitter feed showed that 53% of voters approved of controlled cautions, while 47% preferred the live pit stop format.
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-Story by: Zach Evans, Speed51.com Southeast Editor - Twitter: @ztevans
-Photo credit: Speed51.com