Super Late Models
Snowball Derby Run Fills Brad Keselowski with Nostalgia
Dec 1, 2022
Having raced for a championship this season, William Byron was required to attend the Cup Series championship banquet in Nashville, but his crew chief and Wilson Motorsports Super Late Model No. 24 was sitting empty without him during practice for the 55th Snowball Derby.
That’s the bad news.
The good is that Byron already tested late last month with Rudy Fugle in attendance and left Pensacola that week feeling confident enough that they wouldn’t need a reserve driver to test the car without him. Fugle is working alongside the Wilson Motorsports crew this week and Byron says watching their car sit on the scales was more nerve-racking than he expected.
"I don't know, he was pretty stressed out," Byron said with a laugh. "But seriously though, he's fine. He's down there doing tech and everything. He's fine. There's practice today and we don't have anyone practicing the car so it's kind of just sitting there, cleaning up a few things. Hopefully the weekend goes well. It would be a cool win for sure."
When asked why he seems so mellow about other teams turning laps, but not his, especially if Fugle is a little nervous, Byron said it was about providing balance.
"We have to balance each other out; opposites.," Byron said again with a laugh. "When he gets stressed, I have to be calm. It's the nature of crew chief, driver relations, trying to keep us grounded and working in the same direction."
All joking aside, Wilson Motorsports is such a large organization and their HAMKE Race Cars are built so similar that the 24 team is learning just through the data acquired by the No. 22 and No. 53 cars driven by Sammy Smith and Cole Butcher.
Fugle has spent enough time in Super Late Model racing to see how quickly the Wilson team has grown over the past decade. In fact, there's some Kyle Busch Motorsports people in the mix when Rowdy and Hamke merged.
"It's amazing how fast this team has gone from, you know, Donnie driving primarily or having one other person driving his car and then boom, it blows up," Fugle said. "It's huge. They have so many smart people over here, and people I have worked with before at KBM and people you see around the NASCAR garage with wins and championship experience.
"They have Gere Kennon, who won a Busch Series championship before I was born. Yeah. It's fun and the infrastructure Donnie has created is really incredible to see now first hand."
This isn’t the first time Fugle has joined Byron in an official capacity in a Late Model race. Sure, Fugle has tagged along for a couple of races this year but Fugle has even spotted for Byron when he was driving Super Late Models for Kyle Busch Motorsports.
With the Cup Series moving to a spec platform this season, Fugle says it’s fun to come Super Late Model racing during a lull in the off-season to play with a car that has a lot of different adjustments and R&D built into it.
"It's a fun car to work on because there is almost unlimited options for what you can try over a week like this," Fugle said. "If I were starting from the beginning, I could make this car whatever I wanted it to within the rules and chassis design. You can really crack your mind open to make speed. It's rewarding to be a part of this week."
Byron gets a lot out of them from behind the wheel too.
"I just really like those cars," Byron said. "I really like the speed of them, the horsepower. They're pretty light weight. The competition is good. There are a lot of guys I'm not used to racing. I enjoy the competition and enjoy the fact that it's something different that I don't always get to do."
That and the fact there less pressure when he gets to do this nowadays.
"What I got out of it was the immediate fun, a kind of relief," Byron said. "It was not like racing the Cup car. It was different. It was not as stressful working with the team because, frankly, there's not as much on the line. There is still prize money but I'm there to have fun. I enjoyed that immediately.
"But, as soon as I got into it, I realized how productive it was for me to do it and how much I was learning. As I did it more often, I learned different nuances, that were helping me in the Cup car -- it gave me a broader skillset."
Byron says he gets asked about winning so many times in a Super Late Model and if it made him more confident in the Cup car. He says it does but not in the way he gets asked.
"There is a technical side to this car, that makes you better," Byron said. "It all applies to the Cup side. Every step of the way, trucks and Xfinity, each car made me better once we started racing in the Cup Series."
Byron says he expects the win to go through Derek Thorn, Ty Majeski, Josh Berry, Erik Jones and his teammates.
The 2016 Snowball Derby pole winner said there is still a pressure in racing this weekend. It's a matter of pride, but it's on a completely different scale from what Byron, Fugle and spotter Branden Lines do on Sundays now.
"You have to remember when you get in the Cup car, it's your job and there are a lot of people you're trying to provide for and do a good job for," Byron said. "There's a weight to that. You want to provide for those guys that work non-stop at the shop. So there's a much broader net. So when you go to the short track level, it's you and six or so other guys. It's not an entire company or manufacturer. That's the difference.
"There's natural pressure with what we do at the Cup level because it is the number one motorsport level in the us. There's a lot of pressure from the people who have a lot riding on that."
This? It's about having fun and establishing some pride at Donnie Wilson Motorsports.