PENSACOLA, Fla. – He didn’t have the fastest car at the beginning of Sunday’s Snowball Derby, but when it counted most, there was no stopping Ty Majeski at Five Flags Speedway.
In his seventh attempt to win super late model racing’s most prestigious event, the 26-year-old paced 24 of the final 26 laps in an overtime finish to finally finish the job.
Majeski, from Seymour, Wis., led the Super Bowl of Late Model Racing on a late restart one year ago only to be crashed out coming to the green flag. That night, he felt dejection.
This time around, Majeski was overcome with jubilation and relief after charging to the lead before the final competition caution of the 300-lap super late model classic and then fending off a final charge from polesitter and race-long dominator Derek Thorn.
As he pulled into victory lane, Majeski was nearly in tears before climbing atop his race car for a raucous celebration and, later, hoisting the iconic Tom Dawson Trophy proudly.
“I can’t even describe this feeling. Man, this is so cool,” said Majeski in victory lane. “What a crowd here. Thanks to everyone for coming out. That was cool; it was an awesome race with Derek. I have so much respect for him. He’s such a great race car driver and that battle was really clean at the finish there.
“I was a little worried after that first run when we fell back a little bit, but we made great adjustments all day and put ourselves in position (to capitalize) at the end.”
After declining the Phoenix Construction Back to Front Challenge, Thorn led 250 of the first 276 laps from the number one starting spot Sunday afternoon.
His Campbell Motorsports-prepared No. 43 appeared to be the class of the field and Thorn looked poised to finally capture the elusive Tom Dawson Trophy in his eighth try.
But Majeski, making his seventh straight Derby start, had plenty to say.
His No. 91 iRacing.com/Phoenix Construction Ford came to life inside of 40 to go, and like flipping a light switch, Majeski began eating into Thorn’s 1.3-second lead like clockwork.
Two tenths, then three tenths came out of the margin as Majeski rapidly closed. Finally, with 24 to go, Majeski caught Thorn and made his bid for the top spot in turn three.
He swept to the inside and took command two laps before the final competition yellow of the night waved on lap 278, at the end of the third 75-lap green flag run of the event.
Following a cycle of controlled pit stops, racing resumed with 15 laps left, and Majeski quickly escaped Thorn’s clutches before a stack-up back in the pack produced the fifth and final caution of the race with 13 to go, when Boris Jurkovic slapped the wall in turn one.
Cleanup ensued before a final sprint to the finish, which required five laps of green flag racing under Snowball Derby rules and pitted Majeski and Thorn alongside one another on the front row.
When the green flag waved for the final time on lap 298, Majeski lost out at first, ceding some ground slightly as Thorn fought ahead by a half car length on the outside lane.
At one point, the pair even banged off of one another as they fought tooth-and-nail for Snowball Derby glory, especially considering neither one had ever won the event.
But Majeski had the short way around and, in his mind, the better race car at the end.
He forged back past Thorn with three to go and never looked back, ultimately taking the checkered flag in front by .301 seconds to become the 39th different winner in Snowball Derby history.
Thorn settled for a disappointing second after dominating for the second year in a row, with reigning NASCAR Cup Series champion Chase Elliott coming out of Saturday’s last chance qualifier, starting 31st and racing his way to a third-place finish.
Chandler Smith crossed fourth after also transferring in from the LCQ and rolling off 34th, while his Wilson Motorsports teammate Kaden Honeycutt filled out the top five.
Sixth through 10th were Cole Butcher, two-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Kyle Busch, Grant Enfinger, Derek Griffith and Kyle Plott.
Defending event winner Travis Braden came home 13th after being one lap down earlier on. Meanwhile, two-time Derby champion Augie Grill was never a factor, finishing 21st.
Perennial contender Bubba Pollard battled an ill-handling race car all day and retired after just 107 laps. He was credited with a 34th-place finish of the 36 cars that started the race.
1. Ty Majeski, 2. Derek Thorn, 3. Chase Elliott, 4. Chandler Smith, 5. Kaden Honeycutt, 6. Cole Butcher, 7. Kyle Busch, 8. Grant Enfinger, 9. Derek Griffith, 10. Kyle Plott, 11. Corey Heim, 12. Jeremy Doss, 13. Travis Braden, 14. Daniel Dye, 15. Derek Kraus, 16. Cayden Lapcevich, 17. Jeremy Pate, 18. John DeAngelis, 19. Matt Craig, 20. Paul Shafer Jr., 21. Augie Grill, 22. Kyle Sieg, 23. Ross Kenseth, 24. Jake Garcia, 25. Boris Jurkovic, 26. Dan Fredrickson, 27. Jesse Dutilly, 28. Casey Roderick, 29. Stephen Nasse, 30. Michael Atwell, 31. Hunter Robbins, 32. Chris Davidson, 33. Preston Peltier, 34. Bubba Pollard, 35. Logan Boyett, 36. Mason Diaz.