For as long as Five Flags Speedway has existed, Ken Jernigan has been attending races.
The track, which is located in Pensacola, Florida and the host of Sunday’s Snowball Derby, opened for business in 1953. Jernigan, who is now 76, remembers visiting the track with his family while it was being built.
When the NASCAR Cup Series ran its only race at the half-mile oval on June 14, 1953, Jernigan was there. He still vividly remembers watching Lee Petty, father of seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Richard Petty, racing his No. 42 Dodge against men like Herb Thomas, Buck Baker and Tim Flock.
“As a little guy I remember going out to Five Flags Speedway with my dad and uncles to see the new track that was being built,” Jernigan said. “As a little boy I watched Lee Petty race his Dodge. They had a bunch of top drivers from that era out there racing.”
Jernigan is a familiar face in Pensacola as the owner of Kenneth E. Jernigan & Associates, a company that specializes in official jewelry for businesses, the military, fraternities, sororities and honor societies.
He’s run his business since 1976, but it wasn’t until 2012 when he was able to merge his day job with his love for racing at Five Flags Speedway by creating the official champion’s ring for the winner of the Snowball Derby.
He said a conversation with friend and two-time Snowball Derby winner Dickie Davis led to an introduction to Five Flags Speedway promoter Tim Bryant. Jernigan pitched the idea of a champion’s ring that would be awarded to the winner of each Snowball Derby.
“A fellow named Dickie Davis, he won the Snowball in ’71 and ’73, and he was a longtime friend. He and I had talked and he said, ‘I need to let you meet Tim Bryant,'” Jernigan said. “I met with Tim, and right off the bat I said I wanted to do something for the Snowball Derby and your family. His family is the nicest people that you would ever meet. He and I started the program to design a ring.”
The process to design the Snowball Derby champion’s ring took nearly a year, with the first one going to the 2012 winner of the event.
The ring, made from a special jeweler’s alloy, features Five Flags Speedway’s familiar stylized “5” on the top, with “Snowball Derby” champion on the left and “Champion” on the right of the track’s stylized number. The top of the ring features 18 to 20 cubic zirconia stones with stippling used to help accent the stones and design.
The left and ride sides of the ring are customized each year, with one side featuring the driver’s name, car number and Five Flags Speedway logo while the other side features the year and image of the Tom Dawson Trophy, the hardware that goes to each Snowball Derby winner.
“I wanted something that was going to be really special,” Jernigan said. “The size of this thing is probably close to a football Super Bowl ring with the size and the design and stuff. We made it happen.
“I’m like a little old lady sometimes. I wanted it to be right.”
Jernigan also designed a pendant featuring the top of the Snowball Derby champion’s ring, which is also awarded to the race winner each year.
The first driver to receive a Snowball Derby champion’s ring was current NASCAR Cup Series driver Erik Jones, who received it following his victory in 2012. He added a second ring one year later, making him the first and, so far, only driver to have two Snowball Derby champion rings.
Each year after Victory Lane ceremonies are complete for the Snowball Derby, Jernigan quickly meets with the winning driver to get his or her ring size and mailing address. Once the winner is confirmed following post-race technical inspection, Jernigan begins the process of creating the champion’s ring.
In addition to Jones, John Hunter Nemechek, Chase Elliott, Christian Eckes, Kyle Busch, Noah Gragson, Travis Braden, Ty Majeski, Chandler Smith and Derek Thorn are the other drivers to receive a Snowball Derby champion’s ring.
Busch’s ring is a little different from the others. For winning the 50th running of the Snowball Derby in 2017, Busch received a 10-karat yellow gold ring.
The ring, which will be awarded for the 12th time this Sunday during the 56th running of the Snowball Derby, has quickly become just as sought after as the familiar Tom Dawson Trophy.
Each year drivers approach Jernigan and tell him they want their own Snowball Derby champion’s ring. Thirty-six drivers will have the chance to earn one Sunday afternoon.
“This is a very special program and a very special ring,” Jernigan said. “The young men that come here to race, they know about this ring, and they all want one. That’s for sure.”