On this day in 1968 a race was born. Five Flags Speedway (FL) owner Tom Dawson had a vision that the Late Model cars were the future as the locals relied mostly on Modified cars to draw in the racing fans.
Dawson put together a 100-lap race for Late Models with a purse of $1,000. He had backing from the biggest names of the era to drive in it and the Snowball Derby was born.
Red Farmer was the pole sitter for the first race, but this came in a borrowed ride after he wrecked his own car on Saturday. That’s not all that happened on Saturday, as NASCAR driver Richard Petty had engine issues and was forced out of the Sunday race.
A press box fire and cold night awaited those who attended the first Snowball Derby in 1968. The race was traditionally run a week later then it normally is run nowadays. When speaking to people who were at the first race, the one thing they can tell you is that it was cold. One eyewitness account said that people were taking parts the burned down press box to have a fire barrel to keep warm in turn one.
33 cars started the race, but most of the names of the drivers who ran that day are lost in history. We can tell you that Wayne Niedecken, Sr. was the winner of the first race driving a '66 Chevelle. Bobby Allison was flagged second with Bobby Foster in eighth and Rufus Johnson and Donnie Allison having unknown finishing positions.
Farmer wrecked out while leading and never got to finish the race.
By 1970, the purse doubled and so did the distance, as the first two Snowball races were the only two run at the 100-lap distance.
A few years later in 1973, the race was moved up a week to help fight against the cold weather. To this day, this is the only Snowball Derby to be run on December 15th.
Racing America partners with TheThirdTurn for historical information and if you have any knowledge of the first race that we might have missed please email them at Tim@TheThirdTurn.com.
-Story by: Elgin Traylor
-Photo from Dave Westerman's Florida Racing History (floridastockcars.com)