49th Annual Snowball Derby Goes to 15-Year Old Christian Eckes
After a two-day delay, the 49th Snowball Derby finally went green at 5:00 pm on Tuesday, December 6. The field of Super Late Model drivers fired up for 300 laps on Pensacola, Florida’s super fast half mile asphalt speedway with 36 of the best short track drivers in the country chomping at the bit after two straight days of rain delays.
Going green at 5:13 pm, Wisconsin’s Ty Majeski, recent winner of the Florida Governor’s Cup race at New Smyrna Speedway, jumped out to an early lead over Kyle Busch Motorsports driver and pole winner William Byron, holding the lead for the first 42 laps before surrendering the top spot to Georgia driver Casey Roderick. Roderick was involved in a wreck midway through the race, and finished deep in the field. Majeski regained the lead just prior to midway, losing it to Chad Finley a few laps later. Corey LaJoie took over the lead after the midrace point, with Finley regaining it a few laps later. For the next 50 laps or so, it was Finley and Majeski putting on a show running 1-2, with Majeski slipping to 5th with 35 to go.
Tempers flared late in the race when, on a restart, Florida’s Steve Nasse and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Rookie of the Year William Byron wrecked with 30 laps to go. On the restart, Finley and Majeski resumed their duel, but it was 2014 Derby Champion John Hunter Nemechek who fought to the front to take the lead from Majeski on lap 286, bringing Middletown, New York’s Christian Eckes to the front with him. Eckes and Nemechek duked it out to the final lap, with Eckes grabbing the checkers by a few feet. In the words of Speed51 broadcasters, it was “one of the most thrilling Snowball Derby finishes in history!” Eckes turned 15 on November 10.
One of the notable side stories in this year’s Snowball Derby was Orlando, Florida driver David Rogers qualifying for the Derby field for the 31st time. Only one other driver has exceed that total–Alabama legend Charles “Red” Farmer with 32 starts. Rogers has vowed to return after this year in pursuit of the top spot, a mark that is likely to stand for a long, long time. Rogers is 61 years old, but remains highly competitive on the Southeast’s short tracks. In his 31 Derby starts, Rogers has recorded eight top 10 finished and an average finishing position of 21st.
The Snowball Derby is recognized nationwide as one of the premier short track events, attracting the best of the best from around the country and including competitors from Canada. This year, 24 states and one Canadian Province are represented in the field. Through the years, the Derby crown has been captured by such motorsports notables as Pete Hamilton, Donnie Allison, Darrell Waltrip, Rick Crawford, Rich Bickel Jr., Kyle Busch, Erik Jones, and Chase Elliott, to name just a few. This year, the overall Derby event consisted of Modified, Super Stock, and Pro Truck events, in addition to Saturday night’s Snowflake 100, all leading up to the main event, the 300 lap Derby.