Duke's Take - 44th Annual Snowball Derby
Our Matt "Duke" Kentfield Gives His Random Thoughts on the Derby
By Matt Kentfield - Twitter: @mattkentfield
NOTE:  The opinions and thoughts expressed in this article are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of Speed51.com, its staff, sponsors or supporters.

-  That Chase Elliott kid just may be okay in this sport.  He’s got a Cup Champ as a dad.  He’s got a Hendrick Motorsports development deal.  He’s got the best of everything.  He won SpeedFest, the Winchester 400, and now the Snowball Derby at just a week past his 16th birthday.  Poor kid doesn’t have a chance (he said sarcastically). 

-  They say “no one ever remembers second place,” right?  Well, that may be the case most of the time, but I think years from now, we’ll remember the battle that Chase Elliott put on with Mobile, Alabama’s D.J. VanderLey.  VanderLey gave it his all and was door-to-door with Elliott in the final laps before losing ground in the last two turns.  A win would’ve been one of the biggest Cinderella stories in Snowball Derby history, but a second-place run may have solidified VanderLey’s place as the counterpoint in the thrilling battle for the Tom Dawson Trophy in 2011.

-  Speed51.com celebrated its 10th anniversary as the Official News Site of the Snowball Derby.  51’s coverage has grown from writing stories to Trackside Now, radio broadcasts, photo galleries, videos and all the things that we did last week.  It’s been a fun ride and we’re pumped to keep doing it.  Five Flags Speedway GM Tim Bryant and his entire staff are awesome to work with and if every series and track were as “racer-first” as he is, the short track would be a much better place.

-  That said, there are some series and tracks who feel that live coverage (such as our Trackside Now) keeps people from actually going to the race.  Show of hands… how many people will try to go to the Derby in coming years after experiencing the excitement on 51 this year?  Yeah.  Judging by all the people who said, “After hearing about this race on 51, I had to come this year,” the grandstands in Pensacola will continue to be packed.  That’s something we are extremely proud of at Speed51.com.

-  When Derek Thorn was the last driver to make it into the Snowball Derby on time, I thought it was a sign that the Californian’s bad luck for the weekend had gone by the wayside.  Boy was I wrong.  The dude blew two motors before qualifying, but still made the show.  Then in the race, he gave the Snowball Derby it’s most memorable crash in recent history.  Thorn’s car was destroyed when his car went barrel-rolling through turn one.  He was okay, but man did he have a rough weekend.

-  I really wish I had an explanation for the carnage at the end of the Snowflake 100.  For 73 laps it was more or less a clean and green race, but then came the final 27 circuits.  Sitting in the press box, I figured eventually the drivers would smarten up and stop wrecking each other.  I was wrong.  I know 100 laps is a short time to get to the front, but it doesn’t mean wreck every car on your way there. 

-  I really wish the people that were bashing Stephen Wallace’s entry into the Snowball Derby would shut their traps.  Yeah, I know Wallace has had a rough year in the Nationwide Series, but he’s a former Snowball Derby winner.  Honestly, just about every time he’s in a short track Late Model event, he runs pretty clean.  He wanted to run the Snowball Derby.  He didn’t have to.  He wanted to.  Why should he be crucified for it?  It just stunk that his car wasn’t very good during Derby weekend to put on a show for the fans.

-  I’m going to propose a new race director’s rule.  Drivers under the age of 18 get thrown out of a race the second time they cause a yellow.  I’m all for young kids battling in these events.  I’m not a fan of teenagers who are bulls in china shop like I saw Saturday night in the Snowflake.

-  How about Heath Hindman?  The guy doesn’t talk much.  He’s not the flashy profiler that many of his fellow Super Late Model drivers are.  He just got it done in the Snowball Derby without much fanfare.  Kudos to him and his family-and-friend crew for a fifth-place finish.

-  Also, I have to give kudos to the Kenzie Ruston team for lending some pit support to Hindman’s team after the young lady was out of the race.  After admitting they were a bunch of “Hillbillies,” Hindman’s team bowed out for Ruston’s hired-gun pit crew for the remainder of the race and it paid off nicely for Hindman.

-  The two-tire per pitstop rule was intended to save teams some money.  Unfortunately, several teams still had “hired” pit crews to make those stops.  The verdict is still out on the new rule and it’s something Tim Bryant told us he would be examining for next year.

-  The Twisted Tea qualifying draw was pretty entertaining during the Green Flag Party on Wednesday.  Hopefully more fans turn out for it in 2012.  Things like that are meant to get fans and drivers to interact and this year the drivers did their part by sticking around after tech. 

-  The go-kart races were thoroughly entertaining over at Fast Eddies Fun Center Thursday night.  You think the Snowball Derby is intense?  Try putting those drivers, plus a bunch of crew members, media people and fans that don’t get the glory on a track at the same time.  I think I heard (and distributed) more F-bombs in a few hours’ worth of go-kart races than in the movie Scarface.

-  We didn’t see a whole lot of issues in tech this year.  Perhaps Ricky Brooks’ plan – which has been much scrutinized over the years – is finally coming to life: Equally legal fields. 

-  I don’t want to toot my own horn, but I was the only 51 staff member who picked Chase Elliott to win in our published picks for the Snowball Derby.  Toot.

Derek Thorn's weekend came to a flipping end.  (Speed51.com Photos)
DJ VanderLey (4) and Chase Elliott (9) put on a battle for the (young) ages for the Snowball Derby win.
Heath Hindman (91, foreground) was a feel-good story of the Snowball Derby.