Crankbaits and spinnerbaits may be the best ways to lure an unexpecting largemouth bass into your boat on a hot summer morning. But there’s only one way to lure a NASCAR driver into racing just one more time before hibernating for the winter after an exhausting season… it’s called the Snowball Derby.
So many NASCAR drivers have taken the bait over the years to compete in the granddaddy of all short track races. Only four NASCAR Cup Series winners have actually won the Snowball Derby: Pete Hamilton in 1974, Donnie Allison in 1975, Darrell Waltrip in 1976 and then more than 30 years later, Kyle Busch just two years ago.
Several more drivers have attempted to conquer the Snowball Derby and lost, including some of the best of all-time: Dale Earnhardt, Sr., Bobby Allison, Bill Elliott, Rusty Wallace, Mark Martin, Matt Kenseth… the list goes on and on.
That list also includes David Ragan, who finished 27th after completing just over half the laps in last year’s Snowball Derby.
“My first Derby experience was fun until about halfway in the race; we got wrecked,” said David Ragan, driver of the number-6 car in the Roush Fenway stables this year. “I felt like we had a strong car, but never got up front to see what we really had compared to those top five guys.”
Ragan will get the opportunity to see what he has once again when the best Super Late Models hit the track for practice on Thursday, December 1st at Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola, FL.
“This year I’m going to take my car back down there. It’s a lot of fun to take your own car. You have your cousin, a couple of friends down to help you so that’s the way we used to race and that’s the way we’ll have a great time,” stated Ragan, who will drive a number-6 Super Late Model. “Being that this is one of the biggest Late Model races in the country, we want to go down there and run well. Now while I’m young and I have the money to go down there and do it, I want to do it.”
Ragan is statistically coming off of one of his best seasons on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series circuit. He scored his first win, and a big one at that, during the July race at Daytona International Speedway. He now finds himself in “job search” mode as team owner Jack Roush has said publicly he may not have the funding to have Ragan’s team continue next season.
While Ragan believes he will have a full-time Cup or Nationwide ride by his self-imposed December 15th deadline, he is looking to the Snowball Derby as a temporary diversion. At the same time, Ragan is serious about contending for the victory as his recent test at FFS indicated.
“We felt like we were pretty close,” claimed the 25 year-old. “It drives good; we’ve got a good group of guys going down so it should be pretty good mechanically. But we’re still relatively new (in the Super Late Model scene), my group of guys only go racing three, four, five times a year with our car so there are things we are going to have to learn on the fly over the weekend.
“We want to qualify in the top-10 or top-15 so we can manage our tires and manage the race so we can run the race we want to run. After watching that race last year I know anything is possible and I think we’ll be in the mix.”
Ragan also knows the immensity of this race. His family is rich in racing tradition. In fact, his father, Ken, is a former NASCAR Cup Series driver. Ragan, who hails from Unadilla, GA, admits the Snowball Derby has held a special place in his heart for some time.
“Being from Georgia, Ronnie Sanders was a guy that I looked up to and he won the Snowball Derby. I had raced a lot with Bubba Pollard and those guys (earlier in my career) that are now the “Kings of the Southeast,” so I just wanted to go have fun and be part of that.
“I was probably 14 or 15 and racing my Legends Car when I first heard of the Snowball Derby. I mean, it’s what all of us wanted to do, get a Late Model as soon as you’re old enough. We went and got a Late Model Stock Car when we moved to North Carolina, so I kinda got out of the Southeast style of Super Late Model racing.
“My friends would always go down there and tell me all the stories; how it was a packed place and that there were 75 cars that showed up to try to make the field. They’d tell me that there were guys from up north and out west that were there to battle the best from the Southeast. All the big names went down there.
“I was good friends with Joey Miller, when we were running our ARCA cars and I remember him going down and taking a bunch of cars for him and (Kevin) Cywinski. I watched all the updates online at Speed51.com and I was like, ‘Man, I wish I could be down there.’ I just never had the chance.”
Now Ragan does have that chance and a shot at the coveted Tom Dawson trophy for winning the Snowball Derby. But the question remains, what lures NASCAR drivers for this historic race? Ragan says it has a lot to do with the same vibe people get when they go to a Cup race.
“The raceday feeling at the Snowball Derby is pretty close to the feeling at a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race,” admits Ragan. “You get your pit set up, you warm your cars up, heck, you have to get there early cause there is a lot of traffic with all the fans that come to the race.
“It’s a cool feeling because there is so much history. You know if you can win that day your name is going to go in the record books and people are going to remember you for a long, long time. Any Late Model race you can win around the country is a big deal, but the big ones like the Snowball Derby, the Winchester 400, the World Crown, if you can win any one of those it’s kinda like winning the Daytona 500; you would always be known as a Snowball Derby champion.”
And that would put David Ragan ahead of such names as Earnhardt, Allison and Wallace in Snowball Derby lore.