Five Flags Regulars Defend Their Turf Against Derby Invaders
Grill and Pollard Set to Take on “Out-of-Towners” Like VanDoorn
By Ally Fulson - Twitter: @allyfulson
One of the greatest accomplishments of the Snowball Derby is the quality of drivers and teams it draws year after year.  Champions from all over the short track world will migrate south to Pensacola, FL for this winter classic.  Among them this year is two-time CRA Super Series champion and former All American 400 winner Johnny VanDoorn.  But he’ll have some still competition from the Five Flag Speedway regulars who are ready to defend their turf.  Blizzard Series Champion Augie Grill and one of the hottest Super Late Model drivers in the Southeast, Bubba Pollard want to keep the Snowball Derby trophy in their area.    

After posting three wins at the Florida half-mile in 2011 thus far, Bubba Pollard thinks he’ll certainly be able to use his experience at the track to his advantage as a solid starting ground, but knows it won’t be an easy task this year.

“It’s going to be hard because it’s going to be so different,” said Pollard.  “We’re used to impound races (with the Blizzard Series) and we’re not going to have that anymore.  And with weather having changed so much, that’s going to have a big impact on how the car drives.  It won’t be like the races we ran there all summer.  So you know it’s going to be almost a level playing field (with all the other drivers coming in).  We might have a little bit of an edge when we get there, but all in all it’s going to be pretty much the same for everyone.”

And when it comes to drivers from all around the country coming south onto his turf seeking the Tom Dawson trophy, Pollard sees them all the same – just more competition to beat.

“It’s just more cars, more racers,” said Pollard.  “It’s good to have different people come down and race with different guys to see how you stack up against different people.”

And while Pollard and his three wins in 2011 are hoping to rise to the top against the stiffest Super Late Model competition in the country, two-time Snowball Derby champion Augie Grill also has a pretty big vote of confidence going into the 300-lap main event.

“Having the championship this year and having won it before definitely don’t hurt,” said Grill.  “But it does get harder and harder every year.  That’s the reason we run down there all year though, to get that experience and those notes to help us when it comes down to Derby time.  Now we’ve just got to use our hard work all year long to work against everyone else’s hard work and try to be the best.”

Meanwhile, from the opposite perspective, two-time CRA Super Series champion Johnny VanDoorn isn’t letting anyone else’s home track advantage slow him down, in fact, he’s actually benefitting from it.

“When it comes to a starting point, that’s where I might say I’m at a slight disadvantage,” said VanDoorn.  “Anytime you have a home track advantage it’s a definite benefit.  Knowing the tires and the track and all the little things that go along with it is huge.  They (Grill and Pollard) are definitely going to be at a big advantage having been there all year, especially with a new tire.  But I’ve got some notes to go off of from last year and some info from people who have been down there more than we have, that has given us a game plan to go off of.  When you go down there once a year for the Derby you’ve got to be on top of your game because, in a way, you’re already a couple laps down because those guys have such a big advantage starting.  You’ve really got to be on top of your game and be prepared for anything.”

VanDoorn, who has found bad luck in his past two Snowball Derby runs, is looking to improve upon those misfortunes to add his name to the historic Snowball Derby trophy with the knowledge he’s gained from those previous attempts.  VanDoorn also corroborated Pollard’s excitement to pit the best of the best against each other to see how they truly stack up in the world of Super Late Model racing.

“I’m not exactly planning to do anything different this year than my normal routine,” said VanDoorn.  “We’re just going to be more aware of certain things that we learned down there last year.  We’ve worked on some things that will kind of give us a head start and I’m looking forward to going to the biggest late model short track race in the world.  I mean, if you want to see how you stand or how you rank, this is the race.  If you can be competitive and win the race you can walk away knowing you’ve beat the best and that’s just great.”

Local regulars like Augie Grill (top, Photo) will have their hands full with "outsiders" like Michigan's Johnny VanDoorn (bottom, Chuck Gonzalez Photo) in this year's Snowball Derby.)