Zane Smith will make his way back down to Pensacola, Florida during the first week of December with one thing on his mind: Redemption.
Last year Smith was running third in the late stages of the 48th Annual Snowball Derby at Five Flags Speedway. John Hunter Nemechek was running second, but he had a fire under his car. The smoke got so bad that Smith couldn’t see off turn four and checked up, allowing Chase Elliott to sneak by.
At the time, that pass only appeared to count for one spot better on the podium. But ultimately, that pass by Elliott on Smith proved to be the winning move after Christopher Bell was disqualified in post-race technical inspection, handing the win to Elliott.
That could have been Smith, who was making his first Snowball Derby start, handling the Tom Dawson Trophy. Smith could be a Snowball Derby winner. But Smith is not a Snowball Derby winner; he’s a Snowball Derby runner up. And that’s something he’s thought about all year long.
“It still hasn’t gone out of my head, for sure,” Smith said. “Whenever someone brings it up it bothers me. I want to say it’s something that you move on and learn from, but damn that’s a big one to lose for something so dumb, really. If I didn’t check up for that we’d be talking about how I won, but instead it’s about how I got second.”
Smith, 17, is headed down to the 49th Annual Snowball Derby with Fury Motorsports. He’s made one prior start with Fury at North Carolina’s Hickory Motor Speedway. He led seven laps before falling out of the race early with a mechanical failure, which has been a constant theme for Smith in 2016.
However, the performance at Hickory has Smith’s confidence back up as high as it’s been all year.
“Going off of our first race with them, that obviously went really well at Hickory before the parts failure,” he said. “That’s something that’s been going on with me all year long. It’s just a bad luck deal. To finally get a good run again is what I honestly needed a lot. It just brought the confidence back up a little bit.”
While Smith of course is hoping for a second chance at winning the Snowball Derby, he said right now he is focusing all of his attention on NASH 102.7 FM Pole Night on Friday, December 2.
“All I’m honestly asking for after my first experience at the Derby is just to get into the thing,” he said. “That’s the biggest part. I started 21st or 22nd and by lap 100 I was leading the thing. All that matters is if you have a really good long run car. But at the same time you have to have a good qualifying run just to get into the thing. I definitely don’t want to be in that last chance race for sure.”
While qualifying has most of his attention right now, Smith is still thinking about the Tom Dawson Trophy and how his name could have been on it as a Snowball Derby winner and what that would mean.
“I always knew what it looked like. I have an obsession with trophies. When I saw it on race day, Bob Dillner was taking a picture with it, and I honestly just couldn’t stop looking at it. It’s just one of the coolest trophies you’ll ever see with the crystal-looking snowball on top of it. But it’s not even just the trophy. It’s the background of the race. Look at everybody that has won it. To add your name to that would just be huge.”
But in order to put his name on that trophy, Smith first has to prove he learned from 2015. When the laps start to wind down, Smith said he now knows what to do.
“I guess if there’s smoke down in three and four this time I’m definitely not checking up.”
The 49th Annual Snowball Derby weekend kicks off on Wednesday, November 30 with the Cat Country/WEAR TV3 Green Flag Pit Party and Qualifying Order Draw Down.
Thursday, December 1 will see the Super Late Models take to the track for the first official Snowball Derby practice. The night will be highlighted by a 30-lap race for the Butler U-Pull-It Bombers and a 50-lap event for the Dock on the Beach Sportsmen division.
The top Snowball Derby starting spots will be set on Friday, December 2 during NASH FM 102.7 Pole Night. The Faith Chapel Super Stocks and the Modifieds will each run 50-lap features.
The Pro Late Models take center stage on Saturday, December 3 for the Allen Turner Hyundai Snowflake 100. The 50-lap Last Chance Qualifier for the Snowball Derby and a 50-lap feature for the Beef O’Brady’s Pro Truck division will also run on Saturday night.
Then on Sunday, December 4 the green flag will fly over the 49th Annual Snowball Derby. The 300-lap race will begin at 2 p.m. CT.
For more information on the 49th 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 Pat Bryant at [email protected]
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-By Rob Blount, Speed51.com Southeast Editor – Twitter: @RobBlount
-Photo Credit: Speed51.com photo