After a frustrating year in the Sprint Cup Series for new team Front Row Motorsports, David Ragan is just hoping to have a little fun this weekend in the Snowball Derby Super Late Model race in Pensacola, Fla.
Ragan is driving his family-owned Super Late Model this weekend with sponsorship provided by Palm Beach Grading. His No. 77 is a throwback to his father Ken, who competed in Late Model races using the same number.
This is the third consecutive season in which Ragan has competed at Five Flags Speedway and he’s hoping that his third time is the charm. He’s struggled in his two previous attempts with finishes of 27th and 18th, respectively. Ragan believes he’s brought his fastest Late Model to the show and expects to compete for the pole on Friday night.
“I think we have a great shot at it – or at least a top 10,” Ragan said. “But if you miss the set-up or have a parts malfunction, you very well could be on the outside looking in and having to rely on the last chance race. So while it’s always in the back of our minds, I think the pressure of qualifying in the Sprint Cup Series has prepared me for anything.
“But it’s always a little nerve-racking, that’s for sure.”
A total of 67 drivers will try to qualify for the 37-car field during time trials on Friday night. The track will take the fastest 30 times and will lock those drivers into the field. The remaining cars will run in a 50-lap qualifying race on Saturday night, with the top four finishers advancing to Sunday’s main event.
The final two spots, if necessary, will go to the previous winner and current track champion. Those two drivers are Chase Elliott and Bubba Pollard. If they qualify for the race on time, the two provisionals will be offered to second and third place in the Track’s championship standings and so forth until the field has been set.
Ragan spent all of Thursday morning's practice session outside of the top 10, but admitted that he wasn’t too concerned about practice times this early in the weekend. For Ragan, Thursday was about getting back into the rhythm of driving a Super Late Model. He hasn’t competed in this style of racing since June’s World Crown 300 in Jefferson, Ga., a race he finished third behind Elliott and Pollard.
“We’re not too concerned about practice times on Thursday,” Ragan said. “Today has been more about going through some of the motions and getting familiar with the track and car.”
He went on to top the second afternoon practice session with a 17.024.
Despite having competed in the Sprint Cup Series since 2006, Ragan still views the Snowball Derby as one of the more important races of his season. While he considers Super Late Model racing a hobby, Ragan is taking the challenge of winning Sunday’s race very seriously.
“The Snowball Derby is definitely a challenge,” he said. “We enjoy coming down here. Our Late Model team runs four-to-five races a year and it’s kind of our weekend hobby. We do it for fun but we take it very seriously.
“We’re trying to get better and better each time out and this is one of the tracks we’ve struggled at in our first two times coming down. We’ve had some success, won races and even sat on the pole but we just haven’t had that kind of success at the Snowball Derby. That just gives us motivation to keep trying and working harder to get a good run. We feel like we have as good of a shot as anyone here."
Ragan believes a win in the Snowball Derby would rival the biggest victory of his career, which came at Daytona in the 2011 Coke Zero 400. He compared the Derby to some of the most historic races in the country including the Southern 500, Coca-Cola 600 and Daytona 500. He’s hoping to add his name to a Tom Dawson Memorial Trophy that also includes Pete Hamilton, Darrell Waltrip, Donnie Allison and Kyle Busch.
“It’s a classic race that has a lot of history that dates back 50 years or more,” Ragan said. “They’ve had a lot of champions and great drivers win at this track and it’s very similar to the history of all these other great races. We want to be a part of that history.”