If they made a movie about the history of the Snowball Derby, I don’t know who would play Stephen Wallace’s character, but I do know he would definitely be scripted in it. That’s because the Snowball Derby (at Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola, FL) has been such a big part of Stephen Wallace’s life.
“I’ve starred in the Snowball Derby movie many times,” Stephen Wallace told us the other night as he and fellow Snowball Derby winner Clay Rogers tried to rig up some sort of a “hog-cooker” contraption in Wallace’s garage.
That’s right; a lot of us forget that Wallace is a former Snowball Derby champion. It’s something that his father Rusty Wallace, a former NASCAR Cup Series champion, and Uncle Kenny Wallace, a multi-time NASCAR Nationwide Series winner, never accomplished. Yet, this kid, who has hit the wall plenty of times this year in his own Nationwide Series ride and has had his hair pulled by the crew chief of a competitor in the series, has hoisted the Tom Dawson trophy above his head in Snowball Derby victory lane.
His triumph came in 2004. How or why did that happen? It’s a question that is asked often in the Snowball Derby circles. The answer is simple: Stephen Wallace is a good short track racer.
In just five Snowball Derby starts, Wallace has one win, four top-five finishes and 127-laps led.
“I’ve certainly had my fair share of stories at the Snowball Derby,” admitted Wallace, who is now 24 years-old. “I’ve been in trouble there; I’ve won races there; I’ve had fun; I’ve been thrown out, the whole nine yards.
“The wildest Snowball Derby ever was my first one because I black-marked Freddie Query’s helmet.”
The projector for this movie just came to a screeching halt. Let’s play that one back again.
“I was really aggressive; it was my first year with full-bodied stock cars,” said Wallace. I drove into turn three and I drove way over my head and I hit Freddie Query so hard that my right front tire climbed up his door, ripped his window net off and literally put a black mark down the side of Freddie Query’s helmet. My right front tires smashed him in the helmet.”
Fortunately Query was ok, but this writer does remember that scene well, as do I remember a couple of other scenes that could have come straight from Hollywood.
“Sockets in the pockets, the ‘Sh—house Bandit’ from the porta-potties (incident) – I’ve done a lot of stuff,” added Wallace.
Wallace was initially referring to the 2007 incident when he got caught stuffing sockets in his pockets so that his car would make weight to qualifying for the Snowball Derby. As far as the incident with the porta-potties, it’s a sensitive subject for obvious reasons. We better not discuss that one.
“I’ve got my act together now though,” stated Wallace. “The past two years we’ve been down there we’ve run really well (finished third in the last attempt in 2009) and I haven’t gotten in any trouble. So I’m really excited to get down there and try to win the 44th annual Snowball Derby.”
This year he reunites with his car owner from the ’04 triumph, Richie Wauters.
“We’ve got a sponsor, we’ve won the race before, I love Richie Wauters because we always run well together, it’s exciting; it’s a vacation and it puts some closure for me to this year.”
And this year has been a difficult one. In addition the aforementioned “hair-pulling” incident, Wallace scored just five top-10 finishes in 34 NASCAR Nationwide races. Even more difficult than that is the fact that the team (Rusty Wallace Inc.), owned by his father, lost its primary sponsor, Five-Hour Energy, to the Cup Series with Clint Bowyer and Michael Waltrip Racing. The Snowball Derby helps calm the seas of a difficult season, but Stephen will tell you, he did not expect to be racing in it.
“I personally was not planning on going to run it because we are putting a lot of effort into the Nationwide team trying to find sponsorship for next year. I’ve been really focused on that,” he said. “I’ve been going for nine or 10 years; I’ve always had the itch to go down there because I have a good time. This year I was just going to rent a house and I was going to hang out.
“But if you know Richie (Wauters) like I do, he’s very desperate to go to the Snowball Derby cause he loves that race like I do. So I called Brendan Gaughan’s dad, Michael; he’s one of the nicest people I’ve ever met in my life and he takes care of all of my big short track races that I do. He said, ‘Hell yeah, we’re going to the Snowball Derby!’”
So with South Point Resort and Casino adorned to the side of his Super Late Model with the #66 on the side (his father Rusty’s short track number), Wallace is set to star in this year’s Snowball Derby movie once again. Being competitive in races such as this helps Stephen with the difficulties of the year gone by.
“I’ve been running my Late Model Stock Car here in the Southeast,” added Wallace, who won two races in the Carolinas near the end of the season. “With the way our Nationwide program has been going with not really running as well as we wanted this year, to be able to go out with my Late Model Stock Car makes you feel good about yourself.
“I drive in the Nationwide Series, but my pride and joy is short track racing. I worked a lot on my own Late Model Stock Car stuff and I love the Snowball Derby. It’s my roots, my dad’s roots.”
And the fact that Stephen has won the Derby and his dad never did, still sticks in the side of Rusty as was evident when this writer brought that up to him in passing at the NASCAR finale in Homestead, FL. At the same time, Rusty’s son takes a lot of pride in the fact that he won the prestigious race for his family.
“To be able to win the Snowball Derby was huge for me. To be able to sit back on Speed51.com and look at the race winners and see my name is incredible. I mean, you have Gary Balough, Darrell Waltrip, Wayne Niedecken; it’s incredible, the list of winners goes on and on. My dad never won the race; my Uncle Kenny never won the race. I always heard all these stories about going to the Snowball Derby, about how cold it was, how many cars were there and how tough it was from those guys. So to be able to put our last name on all the t-shirts, all the pictures and the poster, it really means a lot to me.
“And I tell all my NASCAR buddies, you will not believe the facility (Five Flags Speedway) and what they do for the Snowball Derby. They have motorhome spots, security, parking assistance and so many other amenities, plus the place is packed. I’m not kidding; it’s like going to a Cup race. It’s the pinnacle of short track racing.
“I was really fortunate to run the Daytona 500 this year, but the Snowball Derby is right there with it. And it’s a helluva lot more fun I can promise you that.”
What we can promise is that Stephen Wallace brings a fun side to the Snowball script and plenty of entertainment to boot. It might not be PG-rated, but Stephen Wallace is a star, and a shining one at that, in this year’s Snowball Derby movie. How will it play out? That’s something for the actors and actresses to decide.