Over recent seasons, victory lane Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola, Florida, has been dominated by a triumvirate of strong Pro Late Model drivers. Bubba Pollard, Chase Elliott or Augie Grill have gone home with the winner’s trophy more often than not.
But in the most prestigious Pro Late Model event at Five Flags of them all, the Allen Turner Hyundai Snowflake 100 on December 3rd, several new names are hoping to take the spotlight away from the rest. Drivers like 2011 Five Flags Speedwya Pro Late Model champion DJ VanderLey and former Snowflake 100 winner Hunter Robbins lead the list of hungry drivers ready to take honors out of the Pro Late Model portion of Snowball Derby weekend.
VanderLey, fresh off the track championship, is hoping to ride that momentum right into victory lane on Saturday night December 3rd.
“Our car has been strong all season,” said VanderLey. “We’re going to try some new things soon and hopefully that, combined with the testing we’re doing, will work for us. When we put all of that together we should be in contention for it.”
In 2010, Five Flags Speedway ran 40-lap Pro Late Model events throughout their regular season. VanderLey was the king of those events. This year, the track upped the ante to 100-lap Pro Late Model events leading up to the Allen Turner Hyundai Snowflake 100 to better prepare the drivers for the endurance of the event. VanderLey thinks that move was just the ticket they needed to put themselves in contention.
“We have not won a race all year,” said VanderLey. “That is tough, but our car and entire program has just gotten better so all those long races definitely helped us in getting ready for the Snowflake. If we could bring together everything we’ve done all year and get our first win of the season in the Snowflake, that would be huge, and I think we have a really good shot at it too.”
Although he may have the momentum of the championship on his side, VanderLey has some stiff competition in his fellow Alabama racer and Auburn University classmate, Hunter Robbins. Robbins won the event at just 14-years old in 2005 and now thinks he has progressed enough as a driver to do it again against the current competition.
“I always joke around that I still can’t believe that I won that race,” said Robbins. “It was a long time ago, it was six years ago and I was only 14-years old. So I feel like now I have more feel for the cars and control, and I know what I want to do and what I don’t want to do. I feel like I’m a better racer now especially maturity and experience-wise. And for the past couple of years we’ve run the Snowflake I’ve gotten the feel like it’s harder now. But like I said, I’m ready for it and we’re really looking forward to it and I feel like we’ve got a really good shot this year.”
On paper it may look like the “Big Three” of Elliott, Pollard and Grill have the advantage due to the amount of time they’ve spent on the track this year between Pro and Super Late Model competition. But in the time that VanderLey and Robbins have been away from the track, they’ve been making progress in the classroom.
“DJ and I actually do take a lot of classes together since we’re both doing mechanical engineering,” explained Robbins. “We’re both kind of on the same schedule so we have had at least two classes together for the past year now. My GPA is pretty good, but his is probably better. I seem to only really pay attention in the classes I can relate to racing, that’s always really cool. Hopefully that will pay off for both of us this year.”
The 44th Annual Snowball Derby week kicks off on Wednesday, November 30th with the Cat Country/WEAR TV3 Green Flag Party. As the teams unload and begin the tech process, fans from 5pm to 9pm can meet the drivers and see the cars that will compete during Snowball Derby Weekend. The first on-track activity comes on Thursday, as practice for the Super and Pro Late Models commence. Later that evening, qualifying and feature action for the Five Flags Speedway Bomber and Sportsmen divisions will take place.
On Friday, December 2nd, it’s WXBM Pole Night, as the top 30 in Snowball Derby qualifying will be locked into Sunday’s 300-lap feature. More practice for the Snowball Derby and Snowflake 100 cars will take place, as well as a full card of Super Stock and Modified action.
Then on Saturday, December 3rd, it’s the Allen Turner Snowflake 100 time trials, qualifying races and the 100-lap feature, plus final practice for the Snowball Derby cars and a 50-lap last-chance qualifying race for the Snowball Derby.
Finally, the 44th Annual Snowball Derby will then go green on Sunday, December 4th at Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola, FL.
Tickets and reserved camping spots for the entire Snowball Derby weekend are still available, but going fast. To order tickets or to reserve a camping spot, call the Five Flags Speedway box office at (850) 944-8400.
For more information about Five Flags Speedway and the 44th Annual Snowball Derby weekend, please visit www.5flagsspeedway.com, www.snowballderby.com or contact the track by calling (850) 944-8400.