Three of the nation’s most accomplished veteran wheelmen will have to race their way in to the 50th Annual Snowball Derby.
Five-time Snowball Derby winner Rich Bickle, former NASCAR Wheelen All-American national champion David Rogers and Northwest racing legend Garrett Evans were all not quick enough to make the field in Friday’s qualifying session and will start Saturday’s Last Chance Race.
Bickle who has searched for speed all week long, said his car came to life somewhat during the morning practice sessions. However, he admitted not being at Five Flags for more than a decade played a role in his sub-par effort.
“This car we have down here has been so awful,” Bickle said. “We stayed here until 1:30 in the morning, and today the car finally started to come to me. It has been so long since I’ve been here, we didn’t know what to do to it for qualifying. We loosened it up, but went way to far.”
Bickle officially timed in 46th of 53 cars taking time, however the wily veteran isn’t worried about his Derby odds.
He’s got a plan for the last chance race, and it has served him well for decades.
“I’m going to just stay out of everyone’s way,” said Bickle. “I am going to let them go hell bent for leather and burn their s---up like they do. Around lap 25, I am going to start making my way back up towards the front. We have the car today that can come off the corner square and be decent.”
Rogers has made 31 Snowball Derbies in his storied career in the Sunshine State.
He has seemingly done it all in short-track racing, but Friday’s qualifying session presented him with a brand-new challenge.
“I spun down the backstretch, but I didn’t hit anything, so I don’t know how much it hurt the car,” Rogers said. “That is the first time in 44 years I have ever done something like that. The front end hit the track real hard, so I think that was probably the difference in being in and being where we are. Dragging the race track for two laps just don’t get it done.”
Evans, a seven-time series champion in the Great Northwest, hasn’t enjoyed his week on track along the Gulf Coast.
His bright blue No. 64 machine clocked in just 51st quick, and he will now be forced to drive his way into the 50th Annual Snowball Derby.
“We have thrown everything at this car trying to get it better,” Evans said. “It has all new front spindles, suspension, lowers arms and more. All the changes didn’t help. I don’t have anything to lose at this point. We don’t have anywhere to go but to the front. The car is off, but we will try to race in.”
“We have thrown everything at this car trying to get it better,” Evans said. “It has all new front spindles, suspension, lowers arms and more. All the changes didn’t help.”
Also in the Last Chance Race are former Five Flags Speedway Pro Late Model track champ Garrett Jones, Midwest stars Brandon Oakley and Derek Kraus, five-time PASS National champion Ben Rowe, local stars Donald Crocker, Jeremy Pate and Kyle Bryant and more.
Race fans can watch Saturday's Last Chance Race and Sunday's main event via a live, television-style broadcast on Speed51.com.
-By Ryan McCollough, Speed51.com Southeast Correspondent - Twitter: @RyanLMcCollough
-Photo credit: Speed51.com / MoJo Photos