PENSACOLA, Fla. -- Chase Elliott may have inadvertently awakened the sleeping dragon in outdueling John Hunter Nemechek on Saturday night in the Allen Turner Snowflake 100 at Five Flags Speedway in the night before the Snowball Derby.
Nemechek led 32 laps on Saturday but was unable to hold off the Elliott Buzzsaw, finishing second in a frantic duel between two second-generation Late Model superstars. But Nemechek was not as disappointed as one would think, as he is already looking ahead to Sunday's Snowball Derby, where he seems to believes that his car is even better than his Snowflake entry.
It only has to improve by one position on Sunday for Nemechek to make history and become just the third 16-year-old driver to win the Snowball Derby -- a feat that he says would mean everything to his team and family.
"It would mean a lot obviously," Nemechek said. "This race is such a big deal and I can't describe what it would mean to me. But I've always wanted to be here. I want to break records and win races and that's what I've done so far."
His confidence is expected to be paired with the best car of Nemechek's short career on Sunday too -- at least in the words of NEMCO car chief Austin Pollak.
"I honestly believe that our Derby car will be so much better than the one we had tonight," Pollak said. "Every time (John Hunter) gets into a car, he learns something new. These races are about attrition, saving tires and he's really starting to adapt."
It could be said that he was taught yet another lesson on Saturday night -- this time at Elliott's hands. The 2011 Derby champion, and now three-time Snowflake 100 winner, might have taught him one too many in hindsight.
"We've finished second so many times and just drives me to get better," Nemechek says. "I'm so tired of finishing second, and while I'm proud to have been able to do it, I'm not here to finish second."
In recent memory, the Snowball Derby has produced two things above all else -- emotional victory lanes and triumphs that propel prospects like Johanna Long, Chase Elliott and Erik Jones into the national spotlight. It would be only fitting that Nemechek continue that trend on Sunday afternoon by hoisting the Tom Dawson Memorial Trophy.
And history will remember that Elliott perhaps instigated it all -- teaching Nemechek one too many lessons on a brisk Saturday night on the Florida Gulf Coast.
Continuing coverage of the Snowball Derby can be found on the Ranting and Raving short track blog. Visit our Facebook page for all the updates and links to our stories leading up to the Super Bowl of Short Track Racing.