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Thursday Snowball Roundup: Recap of Night 1 of the 56th Snowball Derby

Here's a roundup of Thursday's action from Five Flags Speedway. The 56th Snowball Derby week concludes on Sunday.

Loper honors father, celebrates emotional 4th Pure Stocks Derby championship

As one of his six victories in 2022, Robert Loper celebrates after winning on April 29, 2022 at Five Flags Speedway.
As one of his six victories in 2022, Robert Loper celebrates after winning on April 29, 2022 at Five Flags Speedway.

Only one thing would’ve made Robert Loper’s night sweeter at Five Flags Speedway: If his dad could’ve celebrated another Pure Stocks Snowball Derby title with him.

As Loper stood in Victory Lane on Night 1 of the 56th annual Snowball Derby presented by Hooters and Safe Locator, his thoughts drifted to his late father, who passed a few weeks ago. Despite the loss, Loper felt his father’s spirit throughout Thursday night.

“It (stinks) that he’s not here, but he was with me in the car,” the Theodore, Ala., driver said.

“One of the last things he said to me was, ‘Damn, I’m gonna miss the Derby.’ He’s not missing tonight, baby.”

Loper scored an unprecedented fourth career Pure Stocks Derby crown thanks to some heroic driving down the stretch. After leading for most of the race, he trailed 2022 Derby champ Jimmie Hollingsworth as the final laps of the 35-lapper ticked off.

Following a series of cautions, Hollingsworth led what remained of the 22-car field back to the green with 33 laps complete. As the leaders exited Turn No. 2, Loper pulled off a nifty slingshot maneuver to get to Hollingsworth’s inside. The pair raced side-by-side until Loper reclaimed the lead and darted for the checkered flag.

“People get anxious on those restarts,” Loper said. “Hard work paid off in the end, and we worked our butts off.”

As one of his six victories in 2022, Robert Loper celebrates after winning on May 14, 2022 at Five Flags Speedway.
As one of his six victories in 2022, Robert Loper celebrates after winning on May 14, 2022 at Five Flags Speedway.

Hollingsworth, a year after capturing his first Pure Stocks Derby title, finished runner-up and Mason Johnston rallied home in third.

Hollingsworth took the lead on Lap 31 when another restart allowed him and B.J. Leytham to catch up to Loper and break the tight grasp he had on the race. Hollingsworth’s advantage was short-lived, as Loper wouldn’t be denied his date with destiny.

“I had a blast racing with Robert,” Hollingsworth said. “I was banking on two in a row this year. But the faster car won tonight. I’m proud of myself, finishing just one spot short.”

Loper has now won two of the last three Pure Stock Derbys and four in the last eight years. Oh, and he also set a new track record in qualifying with a blistering time of 21.253 seconds, besting Johnston’s previous mark by nearly a full tenth of a second.

“It’s amazing. I don’t know how to express it,” Loper said of another Derby title. “It’s just as exciting as the first one. I didn’t think I could top it, but it keeps getting better.”

Patrick sets track record, coasts to 2nd career Sportsmen Snowball Derby victory

James Patrick has his eyes set on hunting big-money races come next season.

After scoring large purses at Mobile International Speedway and South Alabama Speedway outside Opp, Patrick has an urge to fish in deep waters and focus on more than just track championships.

He reeled in a whopper Thursday night at Five Flags Speedway as the 56th annual Snowball Derby presented by Hooters and Safe Locator opened. Patrick absolutely crushed the competition, leading from flag-to-flag and capturing his second career Sportsmen Snowball Derby championship.

“We had clutch issues the first of year, and that probably prevented us from being the track champions over here,” said the Mobile driver, who won his first Sportsmen Derby in 2020.

Patrick rightly earned the Victory Lane spotlight with his dominant performance in The Dock on Pensacola Beach Sportsmen 50-lap feature. In addition to his win, Patrick set a new track record (19.456 seconds), topped the mark he previously held by .027 seconds.

Runner-up Chad Robinson did his best to steal it with a spectacular performance. The Mobile driver started tail end after deciding to race mere hours before the green flag dropped and arriving late.

Robinson’s decision seemed jinxed as the opening green flag dropped. He unintentionally ran into the back of Howard Langham as cars ahead of them attempted to avoid a car that couldn’t get up to speed.

“As soon as I looked up, they were stopping,” Robinson remembered. “They stacked up on the start, I ran into Howard and thought my day was over with.”

Instead, Robinson came into the pits where his team went to work. They wasted no time in ripping off the hood, front fender and any other piece of body damage preventing their driver from returning to the racetrack.

Robinson slowly began to pick cars off one-by-one, as he made his march to the front.

“I was sitting at the shop (Thursday) afternoon, and I had an itch to race,” he said. “(Car owner) Eddie (Shoemaker) said, ‘Well, what are you waiting on. Let’s load up.’ ”

“I’m stupid. At 6 o’clock, we didn’t have a right side or a front end. Ain’t anybody better than Eddie. He’s the best. I don’t know what to say. I don’t give up. I should’ve done more prep, but it was a blast.”

Molino’s Brannon Fowler, the 2021 Sportsmen Derby winner, rounded out the podium.

Davis dominates, collects 2nd Pro Trucks Snowball Derby Win

Steven Davis makes the most of his opportunities. Especially when it comes to Five Flags Speedway.

The Theodore, Ala., driver raced only three times in 2023 at the famed half-mile asphalt oval. Davis won each time he made the journey across Mobile Bay. Neither of his first two victories held a candle to standing in Victory Lane on Thursday night at Five Flags. But how could they really? It is the Derby after all.

Davis kicked off the 56th annual Snowball Derby presented by Hooters and Safe Locator by leading all 50 laps of the Zoom Equipment Pro Trucks Derby. The win is his second Pro Trucks Derby crown (2015). Series track champion Grant Thompson finished second to Davis and Treyce Capers rounded out the podium.

“This is what you work for every year,” said Davis, who celebrated with some magnificent donuts just in front of the flag stand. “We had a really good truck and there are so many people that help us. I’m very thankful.”

Thompson grabbed the pole, but watched his advantage quickly evaporate when Davis stormed past him on the outside at the drop of the opening green flag.

The first caution flew with 18 laps complete, but that did nothing to slow down Davis. He padded his lead throughout, opening it up in the final 10 laps and winning by more than two seconds. Not even lapped traffic could make a dent in Davis’ cushion.

“We didn’t get the best starts,” Thompson said. “We spun the tires. We had a really good truck, but we just got beat tonight.

“I’m very happy for season we had. It feels great to be a two-time champ. But I wanted another Derby win so bad. But it is what it is.”

Capers was pleased with his performance after wrecking out in the 2021 Pro Trucks Derby race and finishing ninth last year.

“Third is a big improvement,” said the Hurley, Miss., driver. “We’ve been working hard for it. To be able to finish second in points and now third at the Derby is a big accomplishment for us.

“You can’t ask for anything more other than finishing second or first. We’re going for that first next year.”

Chuck Corder is a freelance contributor for the Pensacola News Journal. For future race recaps, please visit pnj.com.

This article originally appeared on Pensacola News Journal: Thursday Snowball Roundup: Recap of Night 1 of the 56th Snowball Derby