For the second straight year, my late fall trip south has been completed without delays, and with quite excellent weather and some exciting racing!
This year the week began in Mississippi, as I used a prize package I won earlier in the year for a three day, two night stay in Biloxi. The town is very clean and safe and the casinos are state of the art, but it is evident that they are still rebuilding after the tragic events as a result of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Maybe it was because I was there early in the week rather than the weekend, but many of the casinos were not very populated. Most of the poker rooms only had a handful of tables playing and the tournament I played in only had thirty-some players enter. Although I had a great time, luck was not on my side. Let's just say that the only profit I made in any session was $2.50 on a video poker machine. It would be neat to see in a few years how the town develops, hopefully barring any further roadblocks from mother nature.
From Wednesday on, it was time for me to travel to Pensacola for the 44th Annual Snowball Derby festivities. Once again, it was a superb time. Wednesday night was the Green Flag Party where fans can roam around the pit area and watch crews go to work in preparation for the next day's practice sessions. Also featured this year was the qualifying draw for both the Snowball Derby and the Snowflake 100 pro late model race, as well as some live music.
Thursday night was the Fast Eddie's Snowball Showdown at the local go-kart track and entertainment center, which featured a media race, drivers race and then heat races for the main event where fans could compete against the drivers and media for a very small fee. For the second straight year, I proved that I am not a race car driver after failing to qualify through my heat after three attempts. Although it was very brief, standing next to the eventual winner of the Snowball Derby and more than likely a future NASCAR star is indescribable and probably something that an ordinary race fan does not have an opportunity to experience just about anywhere else.
Friday was the site of Snowball Derby qualifying and the local Super Stock and Modified division features. I had the chance to witness 19-time late model winner in 2011 Bubba Pollard qualify on the pole and break a track record set by Gary Balough several years ago. The Super Stock and Modified races were unlike last year's crashfest and completed within a few hours with some decent racing.
Saturday featured qualifying for the Snowflake 100, last chance races for the Snowball Derby and Snowflake and the Snowflake 100 lap feature. The first 75 laps of the Snowflake were phenomenal and showed that these were some of the best pro late model drivers in the country. Then the last 25 laps occurred. The first 75 laps took less than an hour to complete, but after caution after caution the remainder of the race took about an hour and a half to conclude. For instance, there was so much attrition that 2010 race winner Chase Elliott finished fifth with no front end. Through it all, Augie Grill stayed out of trouble out front to become the first driver to win two Snowflake 100s and two Snowball Derbys.
Sunday's prestigious 300 lap race kicked off with some exciting green flag racing throughout the first half of the race. A mid-race incident took some of the top competitors out of contention. Chase Elliott was also involved, but managed to stay on the lead lap. The scariest moment of the race was with only a handful of laps to go when a multi-car wreck involved Derek Thorn, who's team traveled 36 hours from California to make the race, when his car clipped another car and flipped across turn one. Luckily he was okay. This was believed to be the first super late model at Five Flags Speedway to do such a thing. This set up a thrilling five lap dash to the finish between Elliott, who worked his way back to the front, and local driver D.J. Vanderley. The two raced side by side until the last turn of the last lap, resulting in Elliott winning by the smallest margin in Snowball Derby history.
It was certainly one if not the most exciting finishes of the year, and made it for me a requirement to work on coordinating getting a group together so I can make it to my third Snowball Derby in 2012. It was very nice catching up with old friends and meeting some new friends during the week, and I would recommend to anyone to go see this event at least once in their life. There is also so much to do in the area: Pensacola beach, downtown Pensacola, Naval Aviation Museum and nearby towns and beaches such as Mobile and Gulf Shores, Alabama just to name a few. I uploaded videos from just about every day of the week and they can be viewed at http://www.youtube.com/ajcrdstr24.
Now I count down the days until the Atlantic City Indoor Races in the new year. Until then, have an excellent Festivus and see you in 2012!