For years, the Racing America powered by Speed51.TV staff has awarded the Hal Goodson Award to the competitor who overcomes the most adversity during the Snowball Derby race weekend. This year, the nod goes to Carson Hocevar, who overcame engine issues in qualifying to race his way into the Derby, then charged to a seventh-place finish.
Five Flags Speedway has long been a thorn in Hocevar's side. Going into the 54th Annual Snowball Derby presented by Hooters, Hocevar had made just one Derby in three attempts, with just a 35th-place finish after an early suspension failure to show for the lone start.
"It wasn't even the Derby, it was just that race track that was snake-biting us," said Hocevar. "We couldn't run good in the Blizzard races when we'd show up, whether it was bad luck, a handful of combinations or just bad race cars."
When qualifying rolled around on Friday night for the Snowball Derby, it appeared that long-standing heartache would continue. Engine issues led to a 34th-place qualifying effort, relegating him to the Last Chance Qualifier for the fourth straight year.
"I finally felt confident that we had the race car that could easily get in the show and run top-15 and lead us in a direction rather than fighting for 30th. Then, with our motor issues and everything, it was a letdown in itself knowing we had such a good race car."
An engine change quickly lifted spirits in the Hocevar camp, as the No. 14 went ninth-fastest in final practice on Saturday. Still, there were plenty of nerves for Hocevar.
"Saturday, I was a wreck. Emotional, couldn't figure it out. I was more confident for Sunday than Saturday, knowing anything can happen in the LCQ. You've got to run top four, and it didn't go well last year. What if it's not the motor?
"When we got into final practice and turned laps and were ninth on the board, I could finally relax a little bit and understand we'll be just fine."
After finishing third in the LCQ, Hocevar turned his attention to Sunday's 300-lap main event. It did not take long for Hocevar to announce his presence, making his way as high as 11th in the running order before lap 40.
"It was fun to just keep going. We got to 11th really quickly. We had to pump our air pressures a lot, knowing how fast Derek Thorn and them were at the beginning. We had to pump our pressures up to make sure we didn't go a lap down.
"We fell back a little bit and made some adjustments. One, it was the right adjustment but we overdid it. On the last run, we really nailed the adjustment and drove up to seventh. It was like, shoot, can we add 100 laps? That was the adjustment I needed 100 laps ago."
When the dust had settled, Hocevar finished seventh, overcoming all of the adversity from the weekend as well as the immense pressure of past Snowball disappointments.
"It's big for myself, big for VanDoorn and big for the whole company, just to finally go down there and run halfway decent.
"To finally put together a good run, it washed the monkey off our back."