You have to see it to believe it. That’s what every Speed51.com staff member has been told before they go to their first Snowball Derby. In fact, that’s what got Speed51 to the Derby in the first place.
Back on the ASA National tour, short track legend Gary St. Amant told Speed51.com owner Bob Dillner that he had to attend the Snowball Derby. That was enough to get the 51 train rolling to Pensacola, and now some 18 years later the race bears the Speed51.com crest for the 51st running of the historic Super Late Model event.
It didn’t start that way. In fact, truth be told, not a single computer was brought to the track in 2001 when Wayne Anderson won the Snowball Derby. Audio recorders and still cameras were the tools back then for a small but enthusiastic crew.
With affiliations to NASCAR, the Dillner brothers of Bob and Matt brought television cameras to the Derby to get highlights back to the racing world. Those cameras paved the way for bigger and better things.
When Trackside Now came along in 2007, the number of computers grew. In just a few years, other locations around the track would have computers to allow for faster updates from 51 staffers who were basically in each turn of the race track.
Soon, it could be done by phone and still photos of the on-track action could be seen in a matter of moments by race fans worldwide.
In 2009, Kyle Busch won the Snowball Derby on the first flag-to-flag radio broadcast by Speed51 Radio. That week over 20,000 people watched the Snowball Derby coverage on Trackside Now.
To put that into prospective, over 250,000 people watched live Trackside Now coverage last year.
Along the way, Speed51.com has built a relationship with Five Flags Speedway with both entities having respect for what it takes to put on the event at the track and on the World Wide Web.
A giant leap was made in 2014 when Speed51.com offered the first live pay-per-view broadcast of the Snowball Derby. The live broadcast featured multiple cameras, an in-house broadcast team and pit reporters.
Since that first broadcast, the pay-per-view coverage has grown to include all features during the week and even Late Model practice rounds in recent years. The number of computers, tablets and equipment used to accomplish all of this rivals a full-blown race team.
The honor of being a part of the Snowball Derby never felt more uplifting than one year ago during pre-race ceremonies when Tim Bryant and his staff surprised Bob Dillner and his staff by unveiling the 51st Annual Snowball Derby logo that included the “51” crest.
The back story of the number 51 is the birth of racing for the Dillner family who watched Bob Dillner Sr. and his brother John race on Long Island at Islip Speedway (NY). The track is gone and Bob Sr. left us a few years back, but he’d be honored to know what his number means to fans, short track racing and the Snowball Derby.
Speed51.com at the Derby Timeline
2001 – The Speed51.com staff attends the Snowball Derby for the first time with no computers.
2002 – The first Snowball Index is debuted at the 2002 Derby and the Speed51.com website goes blue (or frozen) for the first time.
2003 – Speed51.com owner Bob Dillner flies from the NASCAR banquet in New York with Charlie Bradberry on Saturday night. On Sunday, Bradberry wins the race from the back as Dillner was shooting highlights for SPEED channel.
2007 – For the first time, live updates are available from the Snowball Derby via Speed51’s Trackside Now coverage. 51 starts wall-to-wall coverage from Wednesday on for fans all around the world to see the historic race and the events leading up.
2009 – Speed51.com presents their first live radio broadcast of the Snowball Derby. Elgin Traylor and Mike Twist were on the call of the first Snowball Derby on Speed51 Radio.
2010 – The Snowball Derby staff from Speed51.com hits double digits with 10 on-site workers.
2014 – Speed51.com brings live video to the Snowball Derby with a multi-camera production. Like the radio broadcast, the video stream featured live reports from pit road and victory lane. The last live television broadcast was 1995.
2017 – Race historians and 51 staff introduce the 50-for-50 series reliving the past years of the Derby, the war stories and people involved with the most prestigious short track race in America.
2017 – The staff at Five Flags Speedway have a unanimous vote to incorporate the Speed51.com crest into the Snowball Derby logo for the 51st running of the Snowball Derby.
2018 – Speed51.com plans over 100 unique and exclusive stories leading into the 51st Annual Snowball Derby.
-Story by: Elgin Traylor, Speed51.com Southeast Correspondent
-Photo credit: Speed51.com