PENSACOLA, Fla. — Story by Race Chaser Online Managing Editor Jacob Seelman — Philip Odom file photo —
It never looked like it was going to happen Friday night at Five Flags Speedway, but at the end of the night, reigning Modifieds of Mayhem Series champion Donnie Hamrac picked up his third-consecutive open wheel modified victory at the Snowball Derby in dramatic fashion.
Hamrac inherited the top spot after Jeff Letson spun two-time Derby champion Augie Grill with four laps remaining in the 50-lap modified A-main, then held off a hard-charging Korey Ruble on the final restart to notch the historic victory.
The last driver other than Hamrac to score a modified victory during Derby week was Billy Melvin in 2012.
“Man, this is just awesome!” Hamrac exclaimed in victory lane. “We’ve got one heck of a team and one heck of a car. To win this thing once is awesome; twice was unbelievable and now, I don’t even know what to say about three times.”
“I was sitting there saving my tires like I always do here, and I was hoping they’d take each other out … and give me somewhere to get through on the bottom,” Hamrac added of watching the late-race battle between Grill and Letson. “Luckily it all worked out for us, and hopefully we can come back and try to make it four in a row next year.”
Ryan Redmon grabbed the early lead away from Letson on the start of the modified feature, but a quick caution on lap three for a spinning Ty Roberts re-racked and re-stacked the field and set up an early scramble among the top handful of drivers.
Once the green flag returned, Redmon would dart out to a second lead over Letson and a hard-charging Augie Grill, who moved up to third quickly and was hounding Letson for the runner-up position when a scary crash resulted in a major red flag period on lap 14.
The No. 67 of Frankie Martin slammed the outside wall just past the entrance to turn one, with a suspected stuck throttle, and burst into flames before safety crews could arrive at the scene. Once track workers reached the car, the fire was rapidly extinguished and work began to extricate Martin, who was reportedly knocked unconscious in the impact, from his modified.
After several harrowing minutes, Martin was helped from his car and brought to the ambulance — where according to the announcing crew at Five Flags Speedway, he was sitting up and responsive to the paramedics assisting him. Martin was then taken by ambulance to a local hospital for further evaluation, and the race continued again following additional cleanup efforts.
On the restart, coming with 36 laps to go, Redmon spun the tires on the inside lane and allowed Letson to pounce and lead the event; the No. 131 would hold that position through the third yellow flag period of the night at lap 16, a slowing Rocky Rogers the reason for the caution. Another quick yellow on the following lap would not slow Letson, who held off the advance of the field through the halfway point.
However, the second half would see Sarppraicone make his charge. With 20 laps to go he charged past Todd Jackson for second, and three laps later he hooked bumpers with Letson for the lead before completing the move on the outside lane in turn three and driving off into the Florida night — temporarily.
A chain-reaction crash that started with slower traffic ahead of Sarppraicone ended with the leader crashed in a five-car scramble at the entrance of turn three with 10 laps to go, with Mike Maddox, Chris Cotto, Joe Aramendia and Kurt Jett all among those getting a piece of the incident.
Maddox explained his view of the accident on pit road, saying, “I saw the 17 (of Cotto) go spinning ahead of me and about three cars back it in from there. It was just a mess; nothing I could do.”
That would be the turn of events that handed the top spot over to Grill, who held Letson at bay until the race’s final caution with four laps to go — a double spin involving Jim Walls and Last Chance Showdown winner Brian Moczygemba setting up the race’s two-mile shootout to the finish and the game-changing caution on the restart.
Ruble had to start at the tail of the cars who qualified in on speed, but drove a masterful race and made his way methodically from 30th to finish second at the checkered flag, a half second shy of Hamrac’s bright blue No. 8.
“We just took them one by one and had to savor what we could,” Ruble explained. “We don’t have much tire left now, but that’s what you get when you don’t qualify well. We didn’t do that today and it cost us the race.”
“I gotta thank car owner Alfred Gay and everyone that’s come along on this journey with me; we’ll try and get them again next year.”
Kyle Purvis, early leader Redmon and Maddox rounded out the top five, with Maddox making a surprising charge back towards the front after being involved in the late race accident.
In other racing action, 1978 Snowball Derby champion Dave Mader III handled the field in the 50-lap Faith Chapel Super Stock feature, leading all but two laps and driving away to the victory in that event.
Weathering a race that saw more than a half-dozen caution flags, one red flag period and a brief challenge by Patrick Thomas on laps 22 and 23 in traffic, Mader cruised to the checkered flag ahead of Dustin Knowles, Colin Allman, Todd Jones, and Joe Bethea.
“I’m the first driver to win during Snowball week in three [different] classes!” Mader said upon making it to victory lane. “I won the Sunday race in 1978 and took the Saturday race [now the Pro Late Model Snowflake 100] before too, but this is my first win in this class. This is awesome — a real special night, for sure.”
Thomas came home in 15th after falling out of the event just past the halfway point.
RESULTS: 48th annual Snowball Derby Weekend Friday Night; Five Flags Speedway; Dec. 4, 2015
Faith Chapel Super Stock A-Main (50 laps): 1. Dave Mader III; 2. Dustin Knowles; 3. Colin Allman; 4. Todd Jones; 5. Joe Bethea Jr.; 6. J.R. Skipper; 7. Gary Sutton; 8. Blake Williams; 9. William Skaggs; 10. Alexa Anderson; 11. Lee Carter; 12. Corbitt Moseley; 13. Kody Jett; 14. Scott Bramlett; 15. Patrick Thomas; 16. Randy Thompson; 17. Bubba Winslow; 18. Mark Shipman; 19. Dayton Sidner; 20. Daniel Parker; 21. Wesley King; 22. Bill Cooley; 23. Johnny Allen.
Open Wheel Modified Last Chance Showdown (15 laps; two transfer): 1. Brian Moczygemba; 2. Boz Scaggs; 3. Christopher Hogan; 4. Larry Hughes; 5. Justice Evans; 6. Skylar Strength; 7. Dustin Jackson; 8. Keith Joiner; 9. Jason Huffmaster; 10. Cameron Berry; 11. Mark Villarreal Jr.; 12. Scooter Grice; 13. Okie Mason; 14. Ryan Worsham.
Open Wheel Modified A-Main (50 laps): 1. Donnie Hamrac; 2. Korey Ruble; 3. Kyle Purvis; 4. Ryan Redmon; 5. Mike Maddox; 6. Logan Bearden; 7. Donald Crocker; 8. Billy Melvin; 9. Todd Jones; 10. Timmy Moore; 11. Jim Walls; 12. Johnny Walker; 13. Jeff Letson; 14. John Thomas; 15. L.J. Grimm; 16. Josh Goodwin; 17. Parker Pugh; 18. Joe Aramendia; 19. Augie Grill; 20. Ian Webster; 21. Brian Mocygembia; 22. John Sarppraicone; 23. Todd Jackson; 24. Adam Crawford; 25. Ty Roberts; 26. Chris Cotto; 27. Jason Morman; 28. Boz Scaggs; 29. Troy Gray; 30. Chase Oliver; 31. Rocky Rogers; 32. Frankie Martin.
About the Writer
Jacob Seelman is the Managing Editor of Race Chaser Online and creator of the Motorsports Madness radio show, airing at 7 p.m. Eastern every Monday on the Performance Motorsports Network. Seelman grew up in the sport, watching his grandparents co-own the RaDiUs Motorsports NASCAR Cup Series team in the 1990s.
The 21-year-old is currently studying Broadcast Journalism at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, S.C., and is also serving as the full-time tour announcer for both the United Sprint Car Series and the Must See Racing Sprint Car Series.
Email Jacob at: email@example.com
Email Race Chaser Online: firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow RCO on Twitter: @RaceChaserNews