Super Late Models
Miss Snowball Derby Pageant, Snowball Derby Preview This Weekend
Nov 13, 2023
Back in 2012, a relatively unknown 16-year-old from Byron, Michigan named Erik Jones wrote his name in the record books by winning the Snowball Derby at Five Flags Speedway.
One year later, Jones added another chapter, becoming only the third back-to-back winner of the event, joining the likes of Rich Bickle and Augie Grill. He remains the most recent back-to-back winner of the Super Late Model crown jewel event.
After several years away from the event while climbing the racing ladder, Jones has once again made it a habit to take part in the Snowball Derby on an annual basis. He returns again in 2023, and he’s just as excited to take part this year as he was 11 years ago.
“I always look forward to the Derby,” said Jones while appearing on Five Flags Speedway’s ‘In The Groove’ podcast. “Going through the year, running the races we do in the Super, it all feels like a buildup to the Derby. It’s been like that for the majority of my Super career. I’m always excited about it and definitely getting prepared to go down there.”
Jones reflected on that pivotal race in 2012, when he held off the likes of Kyle Busch and Jeff Choquette to score the Tom Dawson Trophy. At the time, Jones was a relative unknown in the short track racing world outside of the Midwest.
“I would say I was definitely unknown in the southern region. We had won a handful of races in the Midwest, in crate cars and some Supers, but we hadn’t traveled far to win any major Super Late Model race.
“That year, we were really throwing our chips in. We really didn’t run a ton of races in the Super. We were trying to really go down to the Derby and figure out how we could run well down there.”
Suffice to say Jones ran well. It proved to be a perfect weekend with the perfect outcome. Jones led 124 laps that day, taking the lead for the final time from Kyle Busch on lap 284. From that point forward, Jones’ name was on the map.
“It changed my career in a huge way. I never really had any NASCAR opportunities before that. That was the first time I had guys trying to get ahold of me to try to take that next step.”
One of his biggest advocates in that regard was none other than Kyle Busch. They had already started forming a working relationship at the track, but the Snowball Derby win proved to be a catalyst towards future opportunities at Kyle Busch Motorsports.
“I knew Kyle a little bit before that. He had called me to test his car at Nashville. He was going back and forth between there and Talladega. I just drove as a favor more than anything. Then we went down there and beat him, and he was a huge advocate for me with Toyota at the time, trying to get into the Truck Series.
“I had opportunities to run a few races for him, ran five races for him after that. We ended up winning one, and after that it was pretty much game on. Things went really fast and didn’t slow down until even now.”
Since then, Jones’ career has taken him to the top of the NASCAR world, driving the famed No. 43 for LEGACY MOTOR CLUB. However, the two-time Southern 500 winner still relishes the opportunity to return to Five Flags Speedway to compete in the Snowball Derby.
“There’s nothing like Sunday morning at the Snowball. It gives me chills thinking about walking in there that morning, clearing out the haulers, getting your stuff ready to go. That’s a feeling that’s hard to match in racing for me.”
Even with his name already on the Tom Dawson Trophy twice, Jones still has the desire to win the race again. If anything, he believes it would be even more meaningful to go back to victory lane in the Snowball Derby at this point in his career.
There’s nothing like Sunday morning at the Snowball. It gives me chills thinking about walking in there that morning, clearing out the haulers, getting your stuff ready to go. That’s a feeling that’s hard to match in racing for me.
“I don’t think there’s anything I look forward to in Super racing as much as getting down there and trying to win another one. I’d love to get down there and win another one. I think the feeling would be much different now than it was 10 years ago.
“I appreciated a lot what the race was when I was 16 or 17. As you grow older and go through more experiences and different things, you gain a lot of appreciation for history and different things in the sport. The race has become bigger and bigger year by year. To grab another one of those would be an awesome bookmark. I think about it a lot.”
In his eyes, the level of competition in the Snowball Derby rivals what he faces on a typical Sunday in the NASCAR Cup Series.
“It’s some of the toughest and most competitive racing I do. The Cup Series is hard, for sure, but I would say going down and trying to win a race like the Derby is just as hard as trying to win a race on Sunday. When you can sit in victory lane at the end of the day and can say you’re a winner of the Snowball Derby, it compares, for me, to any race you win on Sunday.”
-Photo credit: Will Bellamy/Racing America