The Snowball Derby brings the best of the best in Late Model racing to Pensacola, Florida each year. However, the driver standing in victory lane after 300 laps at Five Flags Speedway isn’t always one of the faces you’d expect in the star-studded field. Here are 10 of the biggest upsets in the history of the Snowball Derby.
10) Johanna Long – Ok, so we can already hear some people yelling about this one. The funny thing about Johanna Long’s Snowball Derby win was that we didn’t expect it that year. In 2009 we did, after she sat on the pole for the race as the defending Blizzard Series champion. Maybe it was luck or the spotlight that shifted that allowed her to sneak up and win the Derby in 2010. The race was a strange one with a late long green flag run that saw the deck get re-stacked when Donnie Wilson spun Bubba Pollard from the lead. From there on, Johanna got tires and worked her way to the front to seal the deal.
9) Erik Jones – In his first Snowball Derby, Erik Jones impressed the crowd as he went toe-to-toe with Kyle Busch for the win. The emotion of Jones in victory lane was pure Derby magic, as he even knew he likely should not have been able to do what he did. However, he made history on that specific day.
8) Mickey Gibbs – Gibbs was a good driver, and he had Ray Stonkus as a crew chief, but the way it went down was one of those nine times out of 10 scenarios. Gibbs stayed out after a caution with 15 to go and another quick yellow set up a five-lap dash for the cash and he was able to pull away for the win.
7) Clay Rogers – Rogers came from 27th and from 3rd off the tech line to score his lone Snowball Derby win. To look at all that had to happen to get him to victory lane, you could call this a minor upset. Rogers has mentioned he had better cars in qualifying trim, but that was one of the best short-run cars he’s had at the Snowball Derby.
6) Dave Mader III – Back in 1978 it was a big deal that Dave Mader, III won the Snowball at a ripe old age of 23. It was also a big deal that he beat out a young upstart named Mark Martin for the win. Martin had won the Redbud 300 that year as well as the New Smyrna World Series of Asphalt Stock Car Racing title in the Super Late Models.
5) Travis Braden – From 30th to victory lane and all that after coming back from a spin. He was in the next-to-last caution before a big wreck wiped out several key runners. From there, he ended up second at the checkered flag and then won the Snowball Derby in the tech line. It was a great example of being good and lucky at the same time.
4) Noah Gragson – Sure, he was a Kyle Busch Motorsports driver and he had seen success with a Winchester 400 win, but many didn’t see him as a Snowball Derby hopeful. It was a timely caution and being in the right place at the right time for Gragson to get away from Ty Majeski, who had a great long run car. Gragson could fire off and get away for a Tom Dawson trophy.
3) Christian Eckes – Many people had never heard of Christian Eckes before 2016, but after he blew by Ty Majeski and John Hunter Nemechek to win the Snowball Derby, he was the hero of the night. He got hot at the right time and won his final three starts of 2016, which happened to be the Thanksgiving Classic Super Late Model race, the Myrtle Beach 400 and the Snowball Derby.
2) Gene Morgan – There was a lot that played into the scenario where Gene organ could be a Snowball Derby winner. The 1982 race weekend was basically all run in one day, as rain killed the Saturday schedule. This pushed the feature well into the night and cold temperature made for tough track conditions and passing. Morgan got to the front and never yielded to veteran Five Flags drivers, taking what some consider one of the first upsets of Snowball folklore.
1) Tammy Jo Kirk – Before electronic scoring was around, things happened that people swear by and many claim that Tammy Jo Kirk was down a lap when she won the Snowball Derby in 1994. She’s always claimed she was on the lead lap and that her win was legit. It was hard for Eddie Mercer to swallow, but he got his win 11 years later. Still, the 1994 race is considered by most the biggest upset in Snowball Derby history.
-Story by: Elgin Traylor, Speed51 Correspondent
-Photo credit: Speed51Photos.com