They all went on to big accomplishments in their racing careers after winning the Snowball Derby, but the Derby memories come back to them like a cool Pensacola morning breeze. Dickie Davis, Butch Miller and Rick Crawford remember the day they won the Snowball Derby so well.
For Davis, Miller and Crawford, winning the Snowball Derby was a dream that came true. Seeing as more than 500 drivers have tested the biggest and most prestigious Super Late Model race in the country, only 32 have accomplished the feat. That stat alone shows how tough it is to get the title of Snowball Derby winner. These three drivers earned it – Davis on two occasions – as a feather in the cap of great racing careers.
“It’s probably one of the best wins we’ve ever had," said Miller, who won in 1987. "It’s one I will always remember and always cherish. We’re on the back of that t-shirt – that’s pretty cool."
The t-shirt is a symbol of excellence ike the Green Jacket at Augusta or the Borg-Warner Trophy at Indy. A checkered flag at the Snowball Derby lands a driver in racing immortality. The winner gets his or her name etched on the trophy, the track t-shirts, the commemorative posters and much more.
"It’s remarkable what the Bryant’s have done here," said Davis. "It just keeps getting bigger and bigger and I’m impressed."
Davis was a pioneer in making the Snowball Derby what it is today. Back in the 1970's, the race was only a 200-lapper. Davis found a way to win the race twice, years before anyone else ever came close.
"I got protested in both of my wins and one time was for fuel and the other one – I don’t even recall what it was," said Davis. "Anyway, I survived both protests and was lucky enough to win two of them and I run second in the next two. I ran 200 laps without pitting for gas one year. Donnie Allison came back the next year and done the same thing because I ran second behind him. I was anticipating him going in for tires and gas and he didn’t."
Years later Rick Crawford had a strange twist of emotions in the Derby. He dominated in 1988 and got stuck deep in the pack after a long red flag period to get medical attention to Mike Alexander after a bad wreck. The cars sat and cooled off. Crawford was never the same and ended up second to Ted Musgrave. The next year, the Derby trophy went home with Crawford.
"I think Rich Bickle ran second to me, how about that?" joked Crawford. "The year before that, Musgrave beat me and I ran second so I came back with vengeance in ’89. I didn’t lead as many laps in ’89 as I did in ’88. I was on the pole in ’88 and ran second. (The win) is one of the greatest victories I ever had."
While Davis and Crawford keep making return trips to the Snowball Derby, Miller watches from afar. His racing season, now in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series in a mostly start-and-park effort while grooming younger drivers, is done by Derby time. He seldom heads south for the Snowball Derby, but he misses the way it was.
"Yea I do (miss going to the Derby every year). It was the end of the year and you went down and you had a good time," said Miller. "You went to Mesquite Charlie’s and you had steaks. You went to the Holiday Inn and you had beers. Everybody was on the racetrack and at each other’s throats but they were arm-in-arm in the evening. It’s really the way it should be and I still wish it was."
Davis, in recent years, has enjoyed the young talent coming up the ladder. Last season at the Derby, he was impressed with the run of a young Chase Elliott in the Snowflake 100.
"I’m gonna tell you, that Elliott boy put on a real good show and he’s got a lot of talent – an awful lot of talent to be 15 years old," said Davis. "I was impressed by the way he set up some of the veteran drivers and it looked like it was drawn out on a chart for him to do it. But he did a good job, a tremendous job, and the boy is going to be tough when he gets into NASCAR at 18."
2011 saw Crawford take the reins of Mobile International Speedway (AL), a sister track to the site of the Snowball Derby. Although he's looking to keep his operation strong at the track 45 minutes West on I-10 from Five Flags, Crawford still looks back fondly on his days competing in the Pensacola sun.
"I always wanted to win that Snowball Derby," said Crawford. "That always will be a piece of my heart there at Five Flags Speedway."