Over the last three years, Derek Thorn has been pretty much unstoppable when it comes to the Snowball Derby at Five Flags Speedway. Despite that, Thorn entered Sunday’s 300-lap contest having never won the prestigious event.
Now, in his 10th attempt at chasing the Tom Dawson Trophy, Derek Thorn will finally get the chance to take the trophy home, securing the victory in one of the most dominating performances in Snowball Derby history.
Leading an incredible 307 of 318 laps, Thorn’s No. 43 entry was untouchable, with none of the other 35 entries holding a candle to the eventual winner, as has seemingly been the case for the last three years.
In fact, over the last three runnings of the Snowball Derby at Five Flags Speedway, Thorn has led 846 of 918 laps (92.15%), in which time the eventual winners of the event led a combined 37 laps.
However, things didn’t come with ease for Thorn, who had to defend against Sammy Smith and Stephen Nasse throughout multiple late-race restarts, to find himself parked on the frontstretch at Five Flags Speedway with the victory.
“It took a minute, didn’t it? It took a few years,” Thorn said upon exiting his car. “This is the final race for Byron and Carol Campbell and it has been a hell of a 10-year journey, but I love my family, my crew, Mike Keen, Vicki Keen, the guys that work so hard to get us here, it’s been tough, but what better way to end your last race with Byron and Carol than to be the Snowball Derby champion.”
On the final restart of the event, things looked dire for a split-second, as Sammy Smith was able to peek to the inside three-wide heading into the first corner, forcing Thorn to run up the track. However, the strength of the No. 43 allowed Thorn to blast off the corner, easily clearing both Smith and Nasse behind him.
“It’s an emotional rollercoaster doing this stuff, we had plenty of restarts at the end for something to go wrong, I saw the 22 go three-wide into one and was like ‘oh god, not again, please not again.”
In just his third Snowball Derby attempt, Sammy Smith was able to score a runner-up result, marking his second consecutive top-five finish in the event for Donnie Wilson Motorsports.
After starting from the rear of the field, Stephen Nasse was able to record a third-place result, with Casey Roderick, and Cole Butcher completing the race’s top-five finishers.
William Byron finished the event in sixth, after running inside the top five throughout the majority of the afternoon, while Jake Garcia, Jace Hansen, Jacob Gomes, and Ty Majeski rounded out the top-10.
Majeski, who competed for the championship in the NASCAR Truck Series this season, was still able to hold onto a top-10 result, after taking some damage in a mid-race incident with Erik Jones, where the No. 91 hopped onto the left rear of the No. 4J.
After struggling early in the event, Daniel Dye rebounded to secure a 15th-place finish, while other drivers from the NASCAR world didn’t necessarily fair as well when the checkered flag fell on the 300-lap contest.
Derek Kraus, who advanced into the event through the Last Chance Qualifier, finished in 19th, while Noah Gragson finished 20th.
After running in the second position throughout most of the event, Josh Berry ran into some trouble late in the race, after a pair of incidents with Hunter Robbins, and then another late-race issue, relegating him to a finish of 25th, 14 laps down.
Jesse Love and Corey Heim both ran into issues throughout the event, finishing 27th and 28th, 28 and 47 laps down, respectively. After the aforementioned mid-race accident, Erik Jones left Pensacola with a 33rd-place finish.
The results for the 55th Snowball Derby are currently unofficial, and will not become official until the necessary post-race inspection processes have been completed.