Story By: CHUCK CORDER / 5 FLAGS SPEEDWAY – PENSACOLA, FL – Closing a chapter in life is full of bittersweet moments.
It’s a nostalgic time, full of reflection as jubilation memories come flooding back. But, there’s the heartbreak of saying goodbye.
It’s going to take a long while for Noah Gragson to feel the bitter instead of the outright sweet he’s basking in now.
The 20-year-old Gragson, a Las Vegas native, won the 51st annual Snowball Derby Sunday at Five Flags Speedway in his swan song for Kyle Busch Motorsports.
“After a two-year stretch with KBM,” said Gragson, who will be driving for JR Motorsports in NASCAR’s Xfinity Series in 2019, “it’s nice to get hang a banner up. It feels surreal; a dream come true.”
Gragson topped a field of 36 to capture short-track racing’s most coveted crown jewel and hoist the Tom Dawson trophy with, of course, the iconic plastic snowball that sits atop it.
He led twice Sunday for a total of 12 laps, but it was the last six that mattered most after he passed pole sitter Harrison Burton following a restart on Lap 294.
Gragson delivered a big-league burnout after he took the checkers, leaving a trail of smoke from Turn No. 4 to Turn No. 1. Gragson delivered on a tease he made during a pre-race interview with Speed51.com’s Bob Dillner that if he did win, he’d climb the catchfence. Once up on top, he flexed his firesuit muscles much to adulation of packed house.
“It feels so good to get a Snowball Derby win,” Gragson said. “To win my last race for Kyle Busch Motorsports before I make the move feels really special.”
Roush Fenway Racing driver Ty Majeski, who holds the Super Late Model track record (16.120 seconds) at Five Flags, put up a valiant charge toward Gragson in the closing laps, but finished as runner-up. A year after finishing second, West Palm Beach Late Model hotshoe Jeff Choquette rounded out the podium.
Choquette finished second at last year’s Derby to Kyle Busch, Gragson now-former boss. And, in another interesting connection to Gragson, Choquette’s pit crew was a JR Motorsports team.
“The pit crew did an awesome job,” Choquette said, crediting his professional crew’s speed. “It was just a matter of the car getting too tight late.”
“We didn’t take into account that it would be this dark.”
The race started nearly 90 minutes past its traditional 2 p.m. Sunday drop of the green flag because of the torrential downpour that rocked Pensacola throughout Saturday.
Track officials spent the morning drying the track with a road dryer donated by Panhandle Grading and Paving. After the speedway was deemed raceable, Chris Davidson, Carson Hocevar, Paul Shafer and Jack Dossey assumed the final four spots from the last chance race to round out the 36-car field.
|1||8||Noah Gragson||Las Vegas, NV||#18G|
|2||19||Ty Majeski||Seymour, WI||#91M|
|3||4||Jeff Choquette||Loxahatchee, FL||#9T|
|4||5||Connor Okrzesik||Mobile, AL||#14C|
|5||13||Casey Roderick||Lawrenceville, GA||#18|
|6||7||Chandler Smith||Talking Rock, GA||#26S|
|7||11||Donnie Wilson||Oklahoma City, OK||#2W|
|8||24||Tyler Ankrum||Colton, CA||#58|
|9||2||Cole Butcher||Porters Lake, NS||#53|
|10||1||Harrison Burton||Huntersville, NC||#12JB|
|11||18||Jeremy Doss||Upper Lake, CA||#75|
|12||20||Derek Thorn||Lakeport, CA||#43|
|13||9||John DeAngelis||Hubertus, WI||#7|
|14||15||Chase Purdy||Huntersville, NC||#81P|
|15||17||Jesse Dutilly||Bradenton, FL||#30|
|16||28||Derek Kraus||Stratford, WI||#9DK|
|17||34||Jack Dossey||Indianapolis, IN||#20|
|18||27||Kyle Plott||Marietta, GA||#4KP|
|19||30||Spencer Davis||Dawsonville, GA||#29SD|
|20||6||Logan Boyett||Pensacola, FL||#11B|
|21||33||Paul Shafer Jr||Portage, IN||#7S|
|22||26||Derek Griffith||Hudson, NH||#12G|
|23||22||Dennis Prunty||Knowles, WI||#42P|
|24||36||Kyle Bryant||Navarre, FL||#79KB|
|25||10||Raphael Lessard||St.Joseph, QC||#51L|
|26||12||Bubba Pollard||Senoia, GA||#26|
|27||35||Stephen Nasse||Pinellas Park, FL||#51N|
|28||21||Michael Atwell||Naples, FL||#51A|
|29||29||Corey Heim||Marietta, GA||#78|
|30||25||Kaden Honeycutt||Bridge City, TX||#37|
|31||31||Chris Davidson||Pearland, TX||#14D|
|32||3||Preston Peltier||Brighton, CO||#48|
|33||16||Perry Patino||Montgomery, AL||#89|
|34||14||Stewart Friesen||Sprakers, NY||#112|
|35||32||Carson Hocevar||Portage, MI||#14|
|36||23||Austin Nason||Roscoe, IL||#14N|