In 1976, Pat Bryant (formerly Davis) fell in love with the Snowball Derby at first sight.
The North Carolina native had been around racing all her life, but the Snowball captured her heart. Shortly after that, her family moved to Florida and since then she’s never missed an edition of the prestigious Super Late Model race held each year at Five Flags Speedway.
“My dad owned a race car and we ran during the first Snowball Derby with a Mini Stock and we won the race,” Bryant said. “The driver was Bob Jones. It wasn’t more than that, the race was just really special even back then, and I loved it right away.”
From her first race in 1976 when she sold tickets to today, the Snowball Derby has become a huge part of Bryant’s life. As the office manager and wife of Five Flags Speedway Promoter Tim Bryant, Pat works around the clock to provide fans and racers with a great experience every December.
Although she won’t take the credit because she’s a team player, Bryant is the glue that keeps the race together in many ways.
“I have worked everywhere around this track. From the pit gate to concessions to scoring,” she said. “I have been a little bit of everywhere at Five Flags. I worked with the traveling series (All Pro) with Bob Harmon and he really held me learn what you need to do to put on a race.”
Bryant credited Harmon as the main rescue of the organization for putting on races, and that ultimately led her to the office managing portion at Five Flags. She is unseen to most throughout the weekend as she’ll be in the office doing papers for scoring, checks and helping prep for the weekend.
“We have over 100 people on staff for Derby weekend,” Bryant said. “It starts in April for the most part, but we are even prepping things well before that. Taking entry forms and sending out ticket renewal information starts early each year.”
As soon as the Derby is over, work begins for next year as fans ask about tickets, camping and drivers want to prep with entries, tires and test dates.
“We have fans who come from almost every state, from Washington to Maine” she added. “To be honest, our fans from Canada have tripled in the last few years.”
Even after 40-plus Snowball Derbys, Bryant is like a kid at Christmas on Derby week. When the haulers and teams start rolling in and the fans come in to pick up tickets, it makes her giddy with excitement.
“After all these year I still get excited to watch haulers pull in,” Bryant added. “Wednesday when we park them in the infield is almost as exciting as race day.”
It’s not all been fun and games for Bryant who nearly missed the 1999 Snowball Derby after back surgery in November of that year. She attended the race in a wheel chair, but she was there nonetheless.
1999 was also the year of the big scoring mess with the $100,000 bonus battle between Bobby Gill and Rich Bickle Jr.
“I was pretty glad I was not in the tower that night for that one as a scorer. I had to sit in the pits on that one.”
This time around, Bryant will be in the office doing everything she can to make the Snowball Derby an event people fall in love with, just as she did in 1976.
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 a Black Friday / Cyber Monday sale.
With the purchase of a four-day video ticket, new subscribers to the Speed51 Network will receive three free months of premium access, a $30 value. To take advantage of this Black Friday sale, click here.
Individual video tickets for the Snowball Derby 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: Elgin Traylor, Speed51.com Southeast Correspondent
-Photo credit: Speed51Photos.com