Not many people were focused on John Hunter Nemechek one year ago at the 47th Annual Snowball Derby. The questions going into the race surrounded drivers such as Bubba Pollard, Chase Elliott and Erik Jones. Nemechek wasn’t exactly an underdog, but he definitely wasn’t a favorite either.
Fast forward one year and now Nemechek is heading to the 48th Annual Snowball Derby, which will be broadcast live on Speed51 TV, as the defending champion and one of the favorites to win the most prestigious short track race in the country.
The 18-year-old driver can’t wait to head back to Five Flags Speedway (FL) during the first week of December as the defending winner of the race. Despite the added pressure and attention, he says that he and his NEMCO Motorsports team are just as relaxed as they were one year ago.
“I wouldn’t say there’s any pressure to come back and try to repeat it,” said Nemechek. “It feels good to be going back there to defend our title. We had a great car last year. I look forward to going back and trying to get another victory there. I’d say there’s going to be more smiles and a little seriousness, but more smiles going back to Pensacola this year.”
Nemechek’s Derby win, at the time, was the biggest win of his young career. Now he said it’s tied at the top of his list with his first NASCAR Camping World Truck Series victory at Chicagoland Speedway (IL) this past September. But the emotion that hit Nemechek when he won the Derby was unlike anything else, because the full magnitude of what he accomplished wasn’t realized until a couple of weeks after the victory.
“It was like ‘We really accomplished that?’” said Nemechek. “Some emotion got me right after the race, but I really think that all of the emotion got to me a week or two afterwards. At the time you don’t really think about it. It’s a huge accomplishment because you’re caught up in the moment, but you can’t really describe that.”
The second-generation driver now heads to the Derby looking to join an extremely short list of drivers that have won back-to-back Snowball Derbys. Rich Bickle (1990-91 and 1998-99), Augie Grill (2007-08), and Erik Jones (2012-13) are the only three drivers to win back-to-back Derbys.
“To go down there and repeat would definitely be a hard accomplishment to do,” said Nemechek. “I don’t think there’s been that many that have gone down there the following year and have defended their title. It would be quite an accomplishment to go back there and repeat.”
In addition to repeating as Derby champion, Nemechek is also eyeing a potential sweep of the weekend as he will also race his Pro Late Model in the Allen Turner Hyundai Snowflake 100 on the eve of the Derby.
“We were close last year,” said Nemechek who has finished second in the Snowflake each of the last two years. “Hopefully we can get both of them this time.”