By Alanis King, special to SB Nation Ranting and Raving
The 2013 Snowball Derby entry list features nearly 70 drivers who will climb aboard their Super Late Model (SLM) rides this weekend at Five Flags Speedway -- seeking first and foremost to earn a starting spot in the event, and secondly, to battle it out for 300 laps in an attempt to add a Tom Dawson Memorial Trophy to their mantel.
As typical of the Snowball Derby, the entry list is a "who's who" of the racing world, made up of standouts from a variety of disciplines who will come together to compete for the victory in a non-points, all star-type race around Pensacola's half-mile speedway.
Due to the competitiveness of the field, only a fraction of the drivers will qualify for the race -- a maximum of 37 total positions are up for grabs: 30 to be decided in Friday's qualifying session, four in Saturday's last-chance race, and three available provisionals.
Though not every driver on the Snowball Derby entry list will take the green flag on Sunday, SB Nation has compiled a list of competitors who fall into the "heavy hitters" category for this year's event. Drivers from various racing series -- NASCAR, ARCA, K&N, Southern Super Series, ARCA/CRA Super Series, Pro All Stars Series, etc. -- fall into the heavy-hitters classification, and ten of the toughest contenders who will be vying for this year's trophy are profiled below.
NASCAR heavy hitters:
The 2012 winner of the Snowball Derby will be returning to Five Flags Speedway looking for a repeat victory -- this time piloting the Super Late Model that he beat in last year's event with Kyle Busch behind the wheel. Jones will enter the Snowball Derby with momentum not only from his recent record-breaking NASCAR Camping World Truck Series (NCWTS) win at Phoenix International Raceway, but also from his recent SLM victory in the famed Winchester 400. Jones, in the No. 51 Kyle Busch Motorsports Camry, will have the opportunity to join the ranks of Augie Grill and Rich Bickle Jr. on Sunday and become only the third driver in history to score back-to-back Snowball Derby wins.
- One NCWTS win (Phoenix International Raceway)
- Winchester 400 winner (ARCA/CRA Super Series)
- One ARCA win (Berlin Raceway)
- Contributed to the winning of the NCWTS Owner's Championship in the Kyle Busch Motorsports No. 51
Other notes: Jones will be the first eligible driver for the past-champion provisional entry into the Snowball Derby, guaranteeing him a starting spot in this year's event.
At Canadian Tire Motorsports Park in September, Elliott became the youngest winner in NCWTS history -- a record expected to be broken by a young gun after the lowering of the age limit at certain tracks on the series' schedule for the 2013 season. That record didn't last long, however, as Snowball Derby rival Jones lowered the age of the youngest winner in series history even more at Phoenix International Raceway in November. Elliott, the driver of the No. 9 SLM and Pro Late Model (PLM), still holds the record of youngest winner in the 45-year history of the Snowball Derby to date, however, and is aided in this weekend's races by momentum from winning the recent Southern Super Series finale, the All-American 400 at Fairgrounds Speedway Nashville.
- One NCWTS win (Canadian Tire Motorsports Park)
- One ARCA win (Pocono Raceway)
- One ARCA/CRA Super Series win (Fairgrounds Speedway Nashville -- CRA/SSS combo)
- Two Southern Super Series wins (Montgomery Motor Speedway, Fairgrounds Speedway Nashville -- CRA/SSS combo)
- Named Georgia Racing Hall of Fame's Driver of the Year
Other notes: Elliott is also entered in the Allen Turner Snowflake 100, the PLM precursor to the Snowball Derby that will occur on Saturday night.
Other NASCAR notables on entry list
Landon Cassill, Cale Gale, Johanna Long (2010 winner), David Ragan, Steven Wallace (2004 winner), Dakoda Armstrong, Derek Thorn, Ben Kennedy
Southern Super Series heavy hitters:
Had Grill participated in the entire Southern Super Series schedule in the 2013 season, the No. 112 SLM likely would have challenged Bubba Pollard and Daniel Hemric in the title fight that came down to the season finale: the All-American 400 at Fairgrounds Speedway Nashville. Grill, who was stripped of a Southern Super Series victory after failing post-race tech at Five Flags Speedway, opted to take a hiatus from the series until he returned for the running of the World Crown 300 at Gresham Motorsports Park, and his respite from Southern Super Series contention lasted for total of three races. Grill shares a distinguished status with Rich Bickle Jr. -- who has recorded the most Snowball Derby victories of all time, five -- as the only other driver to record back-to-back Snowball Derby wins (2007, 2008), and will attempt to add a third, though not consecutive, victory to his resume this weekend.
- Three Southern Super Series wins (two at Montgomery Motor Speedway, one at Mobile International Speedway)
- One Bright House Challenge Series SLM win (New Smyrna Speedway)
- SLM Governor's Cup 200 winner (New Smyrna Speedway)
Other notes: Grill is also entered in the Allen Turner Snowflake 100, the PLM precursor to the Snowball Derby that will occur on Saturday night.
The Southern Super Series season may have ended with Pollard in second place in the points standings, but not before the No. 26 SLM encountered adversity in the season finale at Fairgrounds Speedway Nashville. Pollard's first trip to the home of the All-American 400 in the Southern Super Series was in the season opener, and he kicked off the year with a win at the track. In the series' season finale in Nashville, however, a late-race incident with Kyle Benjamin resulted in Pollard losing the title by a single point to Daniel Hemric. Pollard's year in the Southern Super Series wasn't without success, though -- he recorded three wins, his most recent trip to Victory Lane being in the series' final event at Five Flags Speedway this season. A victory at Five Flags Speedway was one that Pollard eyed all of 2013, as he has won at least one event at the track for multiple consecutive seasons, and the runner-up finisher in the Southern Super Series championship standings has two chances to capture another trophy in Pensacola this weekend.
- Finished second to Daniel Hemric in the inaugural Southern Super Series standings by one point
- Three Southern Super Series wins (Fairgrounds Speedway Nashville, Gresham Motorsports Park, Five Flags Speedway)
- Broke SLM track record at Five Flags Speedway with a time of 16.145 seconds (111.5mph) on May 24, 2013
Other notes: Pollard is also entered in the Allen Turner Snowflake 100, the PLM precursor to the Snowball Derby that will occur on Saturday night.
SLM racing is a well-known discipline for Hemric, the winner of the 2013 Southern Super Series points championship. Hemric's impressive racing career to date earned him a NCWTS start at Martinsville Speedway with Sharp Gallaher Racing this October, but his debut was marred by mechanical issues early in the race. Though it was not originally planned, Hemric received another chance to race the SGR No. 6 Truck at Phoenix International Raceway -- bringing it home in 13th position. Hemric enters this year's Snowball Derby, held at the track where he earned his first-ever Southern Super Series victory after Augie Grill was disqualified in post-race tech, with momentum from his championship-winning 2013 season and without worry of making or missing the race due to Hemric's possession a provisional starting spot if needed. The No. 98 Carswell Motorsports SLM looks to cap off its triumphant year with a Snowball Derby victory, which would be Hemric's first.
- Inaugural Southern Super Series champion by one point over Bubba Pollard
- Two Southern Super Series wins (Five Flags Speedway, Mobile International Speedway)
- Two Pro All Stars Series SLM wins (Southern National Motorsports Park, Dillon Motor Speedway)
- Two NCWTS starts (Martinsville Speedway, Phoenix International Raceway)
- Blizzard Series champion (Five Flags Speedway's SLM points championship)
- Gulf Coast Championship Series champion (Mobile International Speedway and Five Flags Speedway's SLM points championship)
Other notes: Hemric will be the first eligible driver for the Southern Super Series provisional entry into the Snowball Derby, guaranteeing him a starting spot in this year's event. Hemric is also entered in the Allen Turner Snowflake 100, the PLM precursor to the Snowball Derby that will occur on Saturday night.
John Hunter Nemechek
While running primarily Super Late Models in 2013, Nemechek also branched into the NASCAR K&N Pro Series in February, and rounded out the year by making his first NCWTS start at Martinsville Speedway in October. Nemechek has yet to score his first SLM career victory despite finishing third in the Southern Super Series points standings, and has a chance take his No. 8 car to Victory Lane this weekend at Five Flags Speedway. Last year, Nemechek started on the outside pole position in the Snowball Derby, second only to David Ragan in his qualifying effort. Nemechek led a total of 56 laps in the 2012 race, eventually taking the checkered flag in tenth position, and the 16-year-old driver will attempt to add another young name to the Snowball Derby winner's list on Sunday.
- Finished third in inaugural Southern Super Series points standings
- Two NCWTS starts (Martinsville Speedway, Phoenix International Raceway)
- Miller Lite Series champion (Mobile International Speedway's SLM points championship)
- Made NASCAR K&N Pro Series debut at the UNOH Battle at the Beach at Daytona
- Two NASCAR K&N Pro Series East starts (Five Flags Speedway, Richmond International Raceway)
Other notes: Nemechek is also entered in the Allen Turner Snowflake 100, the PLM precursor to the Snowball Derby that will occur on Saturday night.
Robbins, who won the 2005 running of the Snowflake 100 at age 14, returns to Five Flags Speedway this weekend on the entry list for both the PLM and SLM races. For the 2013 Southern Super Series season, Robbins piloted the No. 18 Ronnie Sanders Racing SLM -- owned by the winner of the 1977 Snowball Derby -- and will be behind the wheel of the No. 18 again this weekend. Though Robbins failed to make it to Victory Lane in the Southern Super Series this year, he made a strong campaign for the win at the season finale, the All-American 400 at Fairgrounds Speedway Nashville, ultimately finishing third in the race. Robbins, who is currently earning a mechanical-engineering degree at Auburn University, heads into the weekend attempting to acquire a Tom Dawson Memorial Trophy to display alongside the trophy he was awarded in the 2005 Snowflake 100.
- Finished fifth in inaugural Southern Super Series points standings
- Two PLM wins (Montgomery Motor Speedway, Mobile International Speedway -- Lee Fields Memorial 100)
- Recorded a best finish of third in Southern Super Series competition (Fairgrounds Speedway Nashville -- All-American 400)
Other notes: Robbins is also entered in the Allen Turner Snowflake 100, the PLM precursor to the Snowball Derby that will occur on Saturday night.
Other Southern Super Series notables on entry list
Mike Garvey, D.J. VanderLey
ARCA heavy hitters:
Though Benjamin just recently became of age to legally drive on the streets, the 16-year-old Late Model star has been behind the wheel since age six. His 2013 season consisted of the usual -- a packed schedule of Late Model racing -- but the young driver ventured into other disciplines as well with debuts in ARCA and the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East. Benjamin spent the 2013 season making a name for himself; he broke the record for youngest ARCA winner in series history at Madison International Speedway and won a second ARCA race at Salem Speedway, finishing his ARCA season with two wins in a mere eight starts. The No. 71 car is entered in both the SLM and PLM races this weekend at Five Flags Speedway, the site of Benjamin's sole Southern Super Series win this season.
- Made ARCA debut at Mobile International Speedway, finishing second
- Two ARCA wins (Madison International Speedway, Salem Speedway)
- Finished third in NASCAR K&N Pro Series East debut at Dover
- One Southern Super Series win (Five Flags Speedway)
- Four World Series of Asphalt Stock Car Racing SLM wins during Speedweeks (New Smyrna Speedway)
- Rattler 250 SLM race winner (South Alabama Speedway)
Other notes: Benjamin is also entered in the Allen Turner Snowflake 100, the PLM precursor to the Snowball Derby that will occur on Saturday night.
Other ARCA notables on entry list
Mason Mingus, Grant Enfinger
Other Super Late Model heavy hitters:
During his 2013 season, Kenseth raced SLMs in various different series: the Pro All Stars Series, Southern Super Series, and ARCA/CRA Super Series, as well as made his ARCA debut in August. Kenseth's first ARCA start also resulted in his first pole position in the series; he led the field to the green flag at Madison International Speedway and took the checkered flag in sixth position. Kenseth's best start in the Snowball Derby was on the outside pole position in 2009, and he earned his only Snowball Derby podium to date in 2011 with a third-place finish. This Sunday, Kenseth will aim to better that finish behind the wheel of the Generation 3 Motorsports No. 25 SLM.
- One ARCA/CRA Super Series win (Lucas Oil Raceway)
- Three Pro All Stars Series SLM wins (two at South Boston Speedway, one at Autodrome Chaudiere)
- One ARCA start (Madison International Speedway)
Other notes: Kenseth won two of the most prestigious races in SLM competition, the Winchester 400 and All-American 400, in his 2012 season.
The success that Reaid has met in his SLM career led to an offer from Sprint Cup Series driver Kyle Busch to take over the Kyle Busch Motorsports No. 51 SLM during 2010 and 2011, and Reaid's first year with the team proved to be successful -- boasting an All-American 400 win. After competing for Bill Elliott Racing for a portion of 2012, Reaid returned to his father's team, Reaid Motorsports, and the driver aims to bring a Snowball Derby trophy home to the family shop this year. In 2013, Reaid recorded one win in eight Southern Super Series starts -- the win coming at Five Flags Speedway in May, and he returns to Pensacola this weekend looking for a different outcome than he faced in last year's Snowball Derby. Despite starting third in the 2012 event and proving to be a contender by leading in the opening laps, Reaid's chances at a trip to Victory Lane were lost after making contact with former SLM owner Kyle Busch while battling for the top spot just past the halfway point in the race. As a result, the No. 41 car will roll into Five Flags Speedway eying redemption -- and the trophy -- in this weekend's running of the Snowball Derby.
- One ARCA/CRA Super Series win (Anderson Speedway)
- One Southern Super Series win (Five Flags Speedway)
Other notes: Reaid has wrecked out of both of his former Snowball Derby starts (2010, 2012).
Other Super Late Model notables on entry list
Mason Massey, Jeff Choquette, Donny Wilson, Austin Theriault, Stephen Nasse, Preston Peltier
The 46th Annual Snowball Derby will occur on December 8, 2013 at 2:00pm CST. The Super Late Models will run a scheduled 300 laps at Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola, Florida.
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.