Story By: CHUCK CORDER / FIVE FLAGS SPEEDWAY – PENNSACOLA, FL – Where did Josh Berry come from?
The murmurs buzzed through the bleachers of a jam-packed Five Flags Speedway Friday night during Super Late Model qualifying for the 55th annual Snowball Derby presented by Hooters.
With an overflowing crowd expecting California driver Derek Thorn to claim his fourth consecutive pole for the biggest race in America, it will be Berry who leads the field to the opening green flag of the 300-lap race Sunday.
The 32-year-old driver laid down Friday night’s fastest lap (16.333 seconds) of the 50 drivers who took time and hoped to make the Derby without relying on provisionals or Saturday’s last-chance races.
“It’s pretty awesome,” said Berry, who is driving the No. 26 for War Rackley Racing out of his native Tennessee. “I can’t thank this team for bringing me here to race. It’s been a lotta fun. We’ve had a good week. We’ve worked smart and made the car better each time we’ve been on the racetrack. That’s all you could ask for.”
Berry has made only one previous Derby start, finishing in the top-30 after starting sixth for JR Motorsports in 2019. Berry, who won three NASCAR Xfinity Series races this season for Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s team, came to Pensacola hotter than a pistol. He won the Thanksgiving All-Star Classic last Sunday in Kenley, N.C., and pocketed a cool $50,000. It was his 100th career win for JR Motorsports.
Despite not earning the pole, Thorn never disappoints at Five Flags. His time of 16.378 seconds will put him on the outside of Berry come Sunday.
The most exciting 90 minutes in short-track racing was thrilling, as usual. Seventeen-year-old Conner Jones went from outside the starting field on his first lap to top of the heap on his second lap before ultimately yielding to Berry and Thorn. Jones will start third Sunday.
Past Derby champs and NASCAR stars Erik Jones, Ty Majeski and Noah Gragson all made the race along with Bubba Pollard—still searching for his first career Derby title—William Byron, Hunter Robbins and Jake Garcia among others.
Augie Grill and Stephen Nasse earned Derby provisionals for their top-10 season performances in the Deep South Cranes Blizzard Series and Southern Super Series, respectively.
LINE UP FOR SUNDAY SNOWBALL 300
1 26 Josh Berry, Statesville, NC
2 43 Derek Thorn, Bakersfield, CA
3 44 Conner Jones, Fredericksburg, VA
4 54 Matt Craig , Kannapolis, NC
5 30 Noah Gragson, Mooresville, NC
6 32 Carson Kvapil, Mooresville, NC
7 2 Gio Ruggiero, Seekonk, MA
8 16 Jacob Gomes, Manteca, CA
9 14 Austin Nason, Roscoe, IL
10 18 Ryan Luza, Cypress, TX
11 8 Jase Hansen, Evans, CO
12 4 Erik Jones Byron, MI
13 24 William Byron, Charlotte, NC
14 26 Bubba Pollard, Senoia, GA
15 91 Ty Majeski, Seymour, WI
16 53 Cole Butcher, Porters Lake, NS Canada
17 35 Jake Garcia, Monroe, GA
18 4 Luke Fenhaus, Wausau, WI
19 21 Corey Heim, Marietta, GA
20 18 Hunter Robbins, Pensacola, FL
21 44 Jeremy Doss, Upper Lake, CA
22 43 Daniel Dye, Deland, FL
23 33 Dustin Smith, Mobile, AL
24 51 Albert Francis, Zanesville, OH
25 26 Casey Roderick, Pulaski, MS
26 98 Blaine Rocha, Oakdale, CA
27 65 Tyler Tanner, Mooresville, NC
28 22 Sammy Smith, Johnston, IA
29 69 Michael Hinde, Hernando, FL
30 51 Jake Finch, Lynn Haven, FL
31 48 Preston Peltier, Brighton, CO
32 9 Derek Kraus, Stratford, WI
33 21 Jesse Love, Redwood City, CA
34 1 Michael House, Columbia, TN
35 112 Augie Grill, Hayden, AL
36 51 Stephen Nasse, Pinellas Park, FL