‘There’s nothing quite like it’: Erik Jones, Ryan Preece, other Snowball Derby entrants describe ‘the Daytona 500 of short track racing’

Erik Jones
Erik Jones (Photo: Adam Fenwick/NASCAR)

Of all the marquee events in pavement short track racing throughout the United States, the Snowball Derby stands out among the rest.

Since 1968, Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola, Florida has been the gathering spot each December for many of the best in NASCAR and short track racing to battle it out for 300 laps. Awaiting each driver in Victory Lane is the opportunity to hoist the Tom Dawson Trophy and join an elite group of individuals who have a Snowball Derby win.

Wayne Niedecken’s triumph in the inaugural Snowball Derby helped lay the foundation for what the event is today. He is one of a few drivers who have multiple Snowball Derby wins alongside names such as Kyle Busch, Erik Jones, Bobby Gill, Augie Grill, Gary Balough and Chase Elliott, the latter of which remains the youngest winner in the history of the race.

RELATED: 2023 Snowball Derby entry list breakdown

No driver has more victories in the Snowball Derby than short track veteran and former NASCAR Cup Series driver Rich Bickle. During his career, Bickle won the Snowball Derby a record five times from 1990-1999 before electing to hang up his helmet during the 2021 edition of the event.

Other notable Snowball Derby victors include NASCAR legends such as Darrell Waltrip, Donnie Allison and 1970 Daytona 500 winner Pete Hamilton. Tammy Jo Kirk made history in 1994 as the first female winner of the Snowball Derby before Johanna Long joined her in that category in 2010.

A healthy group of teams are set to make the pilgrimage to Pensacola this week for a busy week of on-track action. Four NASCAR Cup Series drivers in Jones, William Byron, Ryan Preece and Carson Hocevar are on the preliminary entry list alongside short track standouts Bubba Pollard, Stephen Nasse, Preston Peltier, Derek Thorn, William Sawalich and more.

With anticipation building for the 56th running of the Snowball Derby, those who are competing talked about why this race means so much to them.

Erik Jones
Erik Jones in action during the Money in the Bank 150 Super Late Model race at Michigan’s Berlin Raceway on June 7, 2023. (Emily Elconin/NASCAR)

Erik Jones: No. 4 Vast Racing Products Toyota (2012, 2013 winner)

“I came into the 2012 Snowball Derby with some limited options beyond late models, and at the time, I didn’t see an opportunity to do much more than that. Those 2012-13 races really opened my world to the NASCAR side of things and trying to get opportunities to move over there and race forward.

“I wouldn’t say I was the only person that has been in that situation, but it really did change the course of things and help propel my career.”

William Byron: No. 24 U.S. Radiators/PFC Brakes Chevrolet

“[The Snowball Derby] is important just because I enjoy giving back to that aspect of the sport. I feel like it’s very competitive and there’s plenty of competition at that level, just like there is at the Cup level. It’s a good chance to challenge myself against those people and it’s a historic race when you look at the list of people who have won it.

“It’s cool to see people like Donnie Allison, Kyle Busch and others who have won that race in the past.”

Ryan Preece: No. 62 Morton Buildings Ford

“I’m really looking forward to the Snowball Derby. It’s the biggest Super Late Model event in the country, and it’s highly anticipated every year. There’s nothing quite like it for racers and fans. To be a part of it is really exciting, and to be behind the wheel of the No. 62 is awesome.

“We’ve been prepping for this for a while now, and I’m ready to chase the Snowball Trophy and hopefully bring it back to North Carolina.”

Two-time CARS Tour champion Carson Kvapil seeks to improve upon a 12th place run from his debut Snowball Derby attempt last year. (Photo: Adam Fenwick/NASCAR)

Carson Kvapil: No. 35 Keen Parts/CorvetteParts.net Chevrolet

“I feel that the Snowball [Derby] is that one Super Late Model race everyone pays attention to. I believe that the Snowball has a huge amount of competition, and to win that race, everything has to go your way, and obviously you have to have a fast car. Running my dad’s car is always fun to do when I am not running with the JR Motorsports team in Late Model Stocks.

“Hopefully we can find some speed for this weekend.”

Treyten Lapcevich: No. 32 Glenn Styres Racing Toyota

“[The Snowball Derby] is really special. It’s a race I’ve grown up watching, and I know a lot of big names have been made there. It’s really special that I’m able to go there with the family team and have my own family with me, too. It’s going to be a lot of fun, and I’m really excited for it.”

Caden Kvapil: No. 32 Keen Parts/CorvetteParts.net Chevrolet

“The Snowball Derby is one of the most prestigious races in short track racing, so it makes it really important to myself because you are racing the best of the best. In the one week you’re here, you can learn so much about the track, car and your racing. The prestige of this event makes the short track scene a whole lot better since it is so known for the awesome racing it puts on.”

Luke Fenhaus: No. 26 Rackley W.A.R. Chevrolet

“The Snowball Derby is what everyone looks forward to all year long. It’s the Daytona 500 in short track racing where all the fans and racers end their year at. It’s the greatest week in short track racing and also the hardest.”

Fresh off an All American 400 victory at Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway, 2023 ARCA Menards Series East champion William Sawalich seeks to win the Snowball Derby in his first appearance.(Photo: Lachlan Cunningham/ARCA Racing)

William Sawalich: No. 2 Soundgear/Starkey Hearing/ Toyota

“[The Snowball Derby] means a lot. It’s a really cool race, and it would mean a lot to win it. There’s so much prep before that race, and all the teams put a lot of hard work into the cars before even testing. It’d be pretty cool to win that one.”

Travis Braden: No. 21 Cook Electrical/Jett Motorsports Toyota (2019 winner)

“The [Snowball] Derby is such a spectacle from start to finish, and like most historic events, it seems to become more meaningful to the competitors and loyal audience with time. Speaking of my own experience, having not raced in the south much throughout my career. And not getting my first start in the Derby until 2019, I didn’t always understand the extent of what it means to chase that Tom Dawson Trophy as an outsider.

“Now, after competing in the event twice, the anticipation is massive each year as the regular season championships wrap up and focus shifts to, ‘Who will win this year’s Derby?'”