Michigan Native Erik Jones Becomes the 2012 Snowball Derby Champion

Erik Jones at speed. (Photo: Branden Lines)

“I can’t believe it, I just cannot believe it,” proclaimed 16-year-old Erik Jones, from Byron, Michigan, after climbing out of his No. 4 Paragon Corvette Reproductions Chevrolet, the champion of the biggest late model race of the year – the 45th Annual Snowball Derby held at 5 Flags Speedway in Pensacola, Florida.

It came down to a 20-lap shootout between Jones and NASCAR star, as well as 2009 Derby winner, Kyle Busch. As the two battled side by side, the crowd rose to their feet and roared with excitement. In those short laps, Jones displayed his veteran driving skills and outperformed one of the nation’s best. Never missing his mark, he was able to pull away with three laps remaining and accomplish what 64 other drivers attempted this weekend.

“We just beat NASCAR star Kyle Busch,” Jones said. “I can’t believe it. Guys race for this championship for a lifetime and don’t get it. And for me, my first time, to get it? It’s amazing. I can’t put into words how excited I am. I was beginning to think we wouldn’t get a win in this season, who knew it would come down to the final race of the season? I can’t thank my crew chief, Rich Lushes, spotter, Branden Lines, and the rest of the crew enough. I can’t believe it, I just cannot believe it!”

Along with running the Snowball Derby, Jones ran in the Allen Turner Snowflake 100 on Saturday night. Qualifying in the 17th position, he knew he would have a lot of work ahead of him in the short 100 lap race. Adding communication malfunctions into the mix, Jones was able to keep his nose clean and finish fifth.

This is not the first time Jones has done the unthinkable against veterans. Last year at the age of 15, he was crowned the 2011 JEGS/CRA All-Star Tour Champion and then went on to lead all 200 laps of the prestigious Governors Cup 200 at New Smyrna Speedway.

For 2012, Jones filled his time switching between his late models and an ARCA car for Venturini Motorsports. In early March he became the youngest driver in history to race in the ARCA Racing Series. Concluding his 10 race season with four top five’s, five top 10’s, and leading an impressive 103 laps, Jones became someone everyone had to watch out for.

Now with the Snowball Derby victory under his belt, Jones is looking forward to finalizing plans for the 2013 racing season. To learn more about Erik Jones Racing be sure to check out www.erikjonesracing.com, follow him on Twitter @erik_jones, and “Like” him on Facebook.

To learn more about Erik Jones Racing check out www.erikjonesracing.com, follow him on Twitter @erik_jones, and “Like” him on Facebook. For more media information please contact Stephanie Bigelow, sbigelow@erikjonesracing.com or Elgin Traylor at 51 Sports, elgin@51sports.net.

Impressive Runs for Theriault in First Snowball Derby

The number 29 Checkered Flag Foundation Dodge Charger making a mock qualifying run Thursday afternoon. (Photo: Austin Theriault Racing)

PENSACOLA, Fla. – Austin Theriault finished fourth in the Snowflake 100 at Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola, Fla., on Saturday, December 1, and came within 60 laps of posting a second Top-5 finish on the weekend before an electrical issue ended his first Snowball Derby 300 prematurely on Sunday, December 2.

Theriault qualified 33rd for the Snowball Derby after finishing third in a large field in the 50-lap Last-Chance Qualifier on Saturday, and he drove all the way into the Top-10 at the midway point of the 45th annual 300-lap event. He managed to get on the same tire strategy as the race leaders by the time he was running as high as third with less than 60 laps remaining, but a broken power steering belt sapped his engine of power and forced him to retire early from the prestigious Super Late Model event.

Theriault, of Fort Kent, Maine, finished 20th in the Brad Keselowski Racing No. 29 Checkered Flag Foundation Dodge Charger.

“We didn’t get the finish we wanted on Sunday, but we ran up front and I learned a lot,” Theriault said. “I still want to work on qualifying. That’s something I can come out of the weekend shooting for next year. But all in all, I couldn’t ask for anymore. There’s nothing else we could have done. The guys did their best.

“We weren’t a lap down, we weren’t riding around in the back when the (battery) issue happened. We weren’t a slug out there. We would have been contending for a Top-5 and possibly a win. I’m not disappointed, and I don’t think anyone else is either.”

Theriault was the last car to qualify on time for the crate engine-powered Super Late Model Snowflake 100 on Saturday, and he drove from 30th-place on the starting grid to fourth at the checkered flag in a race that does not allow for pit stops for tires. Timely cautions and a well-handling race car allowed him to earn his way into the Top-5.

With a few more laps, he might have had enough car to contend for a victory.

“I thought we had a car that could definitely could compete for win on the long run,” Theriault said. “If we could get some early track position, we were going to have a shot at the win. We passed some cars early, got the cautions when we needed them, and finished in the Top-5. It was a good run for us.”

Following a similar game plan in the Snowball Derby 300, Theriault worked his way into the Top-20 by the time the first caution flew. A good pit stop from the BKR crew gained him some more track position, and he avoided many of the wrecks that plagued the middle stages of the event to work deep inside the Top-10 to run third on Lap 200.

That’s when the battery issue reared its head and forced Theriault off the pace with 59 laps remaining. He was running eighth at the time.

“We were able to come out on the same tire sequence as the leaders. We didn’t have to waste a set of tires just trying to get track position,” Theriault said. “But by the time (the power steering belt broke and sapped the battery) and I felt it, the battery had already been drained. It was just a matter of time. I turned all the fans off, turned all the power off so we weren’t drawing any more power, but the damage had been done. It was a matter of time until it went away.”

Still, Theriault was encouraged by the team’s overall performance for the weekend – which included setting fast time in the first Snowball Derby 300 practice of the weekend and Top-10 speeds in all the Snowflake 100 practice sessions.

“Both of those races, the Snowball and the Snowflake, are some of the biggest races in the country,” Theriault said. “You definitely have the best drivers and best teams trying to compete for 30-something spots. To qualify for both in my first attempt, I am definitely proud about that.”

How Did the NASCAR Stars Do in the Snowball Derby?

Chase Elliott was one of many NASCAR stars in the 45th Annual Snowball Derby. (Photo: Bill Elliott Racing)

Kyle Busch

Kyle Busch was the best performer of the NASCAR contingent. He posted a drama-filled third place finish. Busch led only 15 laps, but battled up front late for 15 laps with eventual winner Erik Jones. Busch’s late race charge came after a mid-race tangle with former Kyle Busch Motorsports late model driver T.J. Reaid.

On lap 158, Busch dumped Reaid coming off of turn four. For his effort, Busch was sent to the rear on the following restart to the pleasure of the more than 20 thousand fans in the stands.

Busch angered many drivers, including former Formula 1 stand out Nelson Piquet Jr., and two Snowball Derby Champions; Chase Elliott and Steven Wallace.

Just before leaving Pensacola, Busch had this to say.

“I will be hated for life down here in Pensacola,” Busch said, “but if we get the chance to come back, hopefully we can come back and win it.”

Chase Elliott

After winning what many have declared the greatest Snowball Derby ever last year, Chase Elliott came into Pensacola with an edge as the favorite to repeat. Elliott would have to overcome many adversities to garner a fifth place finish on Sunday.

Early during the first official practice session, crew chief Ricky Turner discovered something amiss in the motor, and decided to make an engine swap.

Elliott, the son of NASCAR Champion Bill Elliott, found victory lane on Saturday by winning the Snowflake 100 pro late model event, the precursor to the Snowball Derby.

On Sunday, Elliott was a contender earlier until the lap 158 accident between Kyle Busch and T.J. Reaid left the defending Derby Champion a victim of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. The team fought to repair their racecar and salvaged a fifth place finish.

After the race, Elliott was very unhappy with Busch for costing him his chance at repeating as the victor as was quoted as having lost a lot of respect for Busch.

On Twitter, Elliott was humble.

“Tough one today. Had a good car, unfortunately caught up in a wreck. Came back to 5th though, guys never quit on me!”

“Did get a chance to talk to @KyleBusch about it after the race. Appreciate him doing that, cleared some stuff up.”

Grant Enfinger

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series driver Grant Enfinger is no stranger to Five Flags Speedway and the Snowball Derby. A native of nearby Fairhope, AL, Enfinger has always been a contender during the month of December in Pensacola, FL.

Enfinger ran a quite race in his Allgaier Motorsports, Goodson Racing super late model.

“Well, finished the Derby In one piece,” said Enfinger on is Facebook page. “Just didn’t have quite enough for the leaders on a short run. Solid finish of sixth.”

David Ragan

David Ragan was a superstar in the build up to Sunday’s race. Fast in the practice sessions all weekend long, Ragan pulled a play out Richard Childress’ notebook by not practicing much at all once the setup was dialed in.

His fast pace continued on Pole Night, by claiming the pole for the 45th Annual Snowball Derby, the first Derby pole of his career.

On Saturday, the team averted disaster after discovering broken parts in the rear end of his Ford. After changing the parts, Ragan took his super late model out during the pace laps of the pro late model Snowflake 100 to ensure the new pieces wouldn’t lock up.

On Sunday, however, Ragan’s luck seemed to run out. Ragan suffered from he told reports as a tire that came apart. After leading the first segment of the race, Ragan fell off the lead lap and spent the rest of the day trying to catch back up.

“Led some laps,” said Ragan. “Went a lap down mid race and came back to finish eighth. My guys worked hard and we had fun.”

Johanna Long

The 2010 Snowball Derby Champion, and NASCAR Nationwide Series driver, Johanna Long, was a non-factor in Pensacola this year. Long struggled all weekend long to find the handle in her Panhandle Motorsports super late model.

On the positive side, Long’s finish of 14th place bettered her result from last year. In the 2011 Derby she finished last, 37th place, after crashing in turn three on lap 97.

Steven Wallace

Steve Wallace had to use a provisional after failing to qualify on time during Friday’s Pole Night. Wallace worked his way toward the front and was making steady ground until an incident with Kyle Busch on lap 227. Wallace, Busch and Texas driver Casey Smith were racing in tight quarters, ultimately making contact and ending Wallace’s day.

Five Flags Speedway officials observed Wallace throwing a hammer out of his window toward the Busch pit after the incident.

“He got driving a little aggressive and he kind of tore up a lot of cars down here and I got maybe a little mad at him. That’s all I really want to say,” Wallace said on SiriusXM’s NASCAR Channel Monday morning.

Nelson Piquet Jr.

Nelson Piquet Jr. started his first Snowball Derby with high hopes of a strong finish and the chance to get experience in yet another form of racecar. Piquet, a former Formula 1 driver and current NASCAR Camping World Truck Series driver, was running well early until lap 125 when he collided head on with Daniel Hamric’s machine.

Piquet told reporters that he was really unhappy with the attitude of some of the drivers but as he left the speedway during a subsequent red flag, waved and gave a huge thumbs up to the fans in the stands, who cheered as he walked by.

Landon Cassill

After back-to-back fourth place finishes in the Snowball Derby, Landon Cassill was one of the favorites to win in 2012. Cassill had plenty of speed in his number 83 super late model, but tire issues plagued his weekend.

An out of round right rear caused Cassill precious speed in qualifying, forcing the NASCAR Sprint Cup driver to battle for a transfer spot in the Last Chance Qualifier. Unfortunately, Cassill used up his right rear tire during the 50 LCQ, and did not finish high enough to transfer, ending his bid at the Tom Dawson trophy.

Erik Darnell

Erik Darnell struggled all weekend long to find speed in his super late model. On his first pass through technical inspection, his car was discovered to be one inch too long, forcing his crew to spend a great deal of time to cut and shorten his car to meet the requirements.

After failing to qualify on time, Darnell loaded up and elected not to race in the Last Chance Qualifier on Saturday.

Daniel Hemric Takes Hard Hit in Derby: Goes to Hospital

Safety workers tend to Daniel Hemric’s mangled car after a collision in the Snowball Derby. (Photo: Full Throttle Racing)

A hard crash with NASCAR Camping World Truck Series driver Nelson Piquet Jr., Daniel Hemric on lap 125 of the 45th Annual Snowball Derby sent 2012 CRA JEGS All-Star Tour Champion Daniel Hemric to the hospital with concussion-like symptoms.

The crash, on the backstrech with Piquet Jr., was severe enough to bend Hemric’s steering wheel. Hemric climbed out of the car under his own power and initially refused treatment.

The cause of the accident was a blown tire on the blue Carswell Motorsports number 98 super late model. Nelson Piquet Jr.’s car was also destroyed in the crash. Nine different cars were involved in the melee.

The red flag flew to allow track officials to clean up the carnage and give safety workers a chance to take Hemric outside of the speedway and further evaluate the driver.

About 45 minutes later, the track once again went red to allow Hemric and crew/family members to leave Five Flags Speedway and seek further medical assistance. Hemric had begun experiencing head, neck, and back pain.

At 5:19 PM local time, some two hours after the incident, Hemric’s mother submitted a comment to Speed51.com’s Trackside Now coverage.

“Just talked to Daniel on the phone at the hospital. CT scan done, Looks ok, still some slurred speech, but keeping him overnight for observation and having an MRI in the morning for his jaw, spinal and head area. Prayers please. Thank you!!”

On Monday, Hemric’s mother once again updated the world on her son’s condition.

“I just talked to Kenzie (Ruston) and Daniel has stretched the muscles in the neck area. He will have to relax for about 1 week and then rebuild his strength in his neck. That is obviously great news. His shoulder is bruised and he is really sore but that is expected. Thanks for all the prayers and thoughts during this time. He should be released shortly from the hospital.”

Officially, Daniel Hemric finished 29th in the race.

[Video] Jones Beats Busch and Wins 45th Annual Snowball Derby

Erik Jones holds the Tom Dawson Trophy. (Photo: Erik Jones Racing)

Tempers flared, and sheet metal was wrinkled. That’s always the story at Five Flags Speedway in early December. Who can survive 300 laps and come away with the prestigious Tom Dawson Trophy? On Sunday, young Erik Jones did just that, besting some of NASCAR’s biggest stars and short track racing legends to win the 45h Annual Snowball Derby at Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola, FL.

Jones, starting his first Snowball Derby, led 124 laps en route to the win, and was almost speechless in victory lane.

“We won the Snowball Derby!,” said Jones. “We beat Kyle Busch! I just can’t believe it. To beat a NASCAR star, in my first Derby? It’s really amazing.”

Busch finished third after battling hard with Jones in the final 20 laps. Jeff Choquette slipped by Busch late but by then, Jones was sailing off into the sunset. The third place finish was Choquette’s best Derby finish.

Following the race, Busch made his way to victory lane to congratulate Jones on his win.

“Erik just drove a great race at the end and did what he had to do,” said Busch.

Busch battled for the lead late after overcoming a penalty from about halfway through the race. The 2009 Snowball Derby winner dumped T.J. Reaid coming out of turn four on lap 158, causing a multi-car crash that also collected last year’s Derby winner, Chase Elliott. As a result, track officials sent Busch to the back of the field for the ensuing restart, a common practice in short track racing.

“I blame myself for giving them the opportunity to make that call,” said Busch. “We were hard racing and I was on the outside of, I think, the No. 99 car (Casey Smith).

“I stepped on the gas with the edge to the corner and T.J. didn’t go right away. And I hit him. I tried to check up and get off him, but he lost it and stacked up a lot of good cars and I hate it for those guys.”

Busch’s explanation fell on deaf ears with the majority of the field, including T.J. Reaid. After the race Reaid, who had been a serious contender until the crash, was the first person to meet Busch at his driver’s side window. Security officials quickly removed Reaid from the situation.

“I guess he got pissed off I got him on the restart,” Reaid said. “Typical him: He’s going to fucking cry.”

Chase Elliott fought back to finish fifth with a mangled racecar and cut straight to the point during a post race interview in victory lane after congratulating winner Erik Jones.

“I’m disappointed. We should be here,” Elliott said. “The only thing I’d do different is I’d tell Kyle Busch to not come down here and race with us. He needs to show respect to all drivers.”

Busch made a quick departure from Five Flags Speedway following a trip through the scales in post race technical inspection.

“I will be hated for life down here in Pensacola,” Busch said, “but if we get the chance to come back, hopefully we can come back and win it.”

Jones, however, took his time as the his car underwent technical inspector Rick Brooks’ “Room of Doom”, enjoying every second of it. On Twitter, Jones’ summed up his day.

We won the snowball derby!!! #snowballderby #ejr4 @ Five Flags Speedway http://instagr.am/p/SwcrCLhGjR/ 

Video Highlights of the 45th Annual Snowball Derby: 

Direct Video Link >> http://www.pnj.com/videonetwork/2006154402001?odyssey=mod%7Ctvideo2%7Carticle&nclick_check=1

RESULTS – 45th Snowball Derby, Five Flags Speedway, Pensacola FL

Fin St # Driver Laps Led
1 9 4J Erik Jones 300 124
2 14 29C Jeff Choquette 300 0
3 4 51 Kyle Busch 300 15
4 34 67 Jeff Fultz 300 0
5 5 9 Chase Elliott 300 0
6 30 36 Grant Enfinger 300 0
7 17 71 Kyle Benjamin 300 0
8 1 77 David Ragan 300 31
9 28 41 Chris Davidson 300 0
10 2 8 John Hunter Nemechek 300 46
11 25 25 Ross Kenseth 300 0
12 15 45 Dwayne Buggay 300 0
13 26 2 D.J. Vanderley 300 0
14 31 10 Johanna Long 300 0
15 24 2W Donnie Wilson 300 0
16 12 22 Hunter Robbins 299 12
17 16 7 Chuck Barnes, Jr. 299 0
18 19 84 Clay Alexander 297 0
19 29 21J Kyle Jones 283 0
20 33 29T Austin Theriault 249 0
21 22 99S Casey Smith 228 43
22 37 66 Steven Wallace 226 0
23 27 11 David Rogers 226 0
24 18 96 Ben Kennedy 221 0
25 11 0 Brad Rogers 201 0
26 3 41R T.J. Reaid 164 29
27 7 26 Bubba Pollard 158 0
28 23 5 Nelson Piquet, Jr. 125 0
29 8 98 Daniel Hemric 125 0
30 36 11B Logan Boyett 125 0
31 35 1 Mike Garvey 123 0
32 10 51 Stephen Nasse 117 0
33 6 4 Jeremy Pate 116 0
34 32 20 Brian Campbell 112 0
35 31 10K Paul Kelley 45 0
36 13 49 Augie Grill 38 0
37 20 10D Steve Dorer 1 0