In July 2020, veteran chassis builder Robert Hamke passed away. The former driver was a part of almost every Super Late Model race in the south over the past 20 years, and this past Sunday's Snowball Derby at Five Flags Speedway was no different.
Many of the fans saw the door panels and body work come off the race-winning car of Chandler Smith in technical inspection. What they might not have seen was the chassis serial number. In an everlasting tribute to Hamke, the number was 74, the racing number that Robert used as a driver as well as car owner for his development team.
“We planned it that way,” said Wilson Motorsports Competition Director Bond Suss. “In the summer, I knew they were getting close to that number on the chassis side and I told Donnie (Wilson) that I wanted to get that number.”
Suss grew up knowing about Robert Hamke, but their relationship grew once they were racing in the same places in ARTGO, ASA and the All Pro Ranks. As a driver, Wilson was also a Hamke regular customer.
“Robert Hamke was a big part of my life and not just in racing,” said Suss. “He did a lot for the sport and we wanted to find a way to honor him. We had Molly Helmuth come and document the car being built on video to make it special. I am really happy with how that turned out.”
It’s fitting that the first race for the car was the Florida Governor’s Cup 200, a race that Robert Hamkie won in 1969 and 1977 as driver. Chandler Smith sat on the pole and led 115 laps before trouble ended his day.
Race number two was the Snowball Derby.
“Truthfully we wanted to wait and run the car next year, but we needed a car for Chandler, and when he drove it he said this is what I want to race with. I think the magic was there for it all to come together.”
Smith qualified second and went on to win the race with a car that is extra special to those who worked on it or with Robert Hamke.
This was not the first win for Hamke Racecars at the Derby. They won their first Snowball Derby with Bobby Gill in 1997. They returned to victory lane with Steven Wallace in 2004 and Clay Rogers in 2006. In 2009 and 2010, they went back-to-back with Kyle Busch and Johanna Long. They added a pair more with Erik Jones and John Hunter Nemechek.
Chassis 74 is scheduled to ride again in 2022, but for now it's a pretty hot piece with a Tom Dawson Trophy on its resume.