PENSACOLA, Fla. — Though he was the king of NASCAR’s mile-and-a-half tracks during the 2017 season, former NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champion Johnny Sauter’s much-anticipated Snowball Derby debut only took a mile and a half to go horribly wrong on Thursday.
Making just three laps around the half-mile Five Flags Speedway, Sauter barely turned a full circuit before heavy smoke from the back of his No. 5 Smokey Mountain Herbal Snuff machine forced him back to the pit area and sent the team scrambling to fix a fluid leak.
When he returned to the track, his second lap of 16.969 seconds (106.076 mph) shot him up to 17th on the board before disaster struck the third time around.
Sauter entered turn three and his brake pedal went “right to the floor,” sending the Wisconsin native hard into the outside wall at the exit of turn four and destroying the right side of the car.
The veteran driver quickly leapt out of the machine to survey the damage, but the battered mount was loaded onto a rollback and towed back to the pit area, Sauter’s only car demolished and his hopes of making the field for the 50th annual Snowball Derby dimmed considerably.
“We had an oil line loose on our first run … and then on the second run the brake pedal went to the floor and it was on from there,” said Sauter. “I don’t know why; I rebuilt the whole caliper.”
“I guess I got about six laps (in total) here, so maybe it’s enough for me to come back next year and try again.”
The green mount, Sauter’s only race car on the property in Pensacola, was deemed irreparable by the driver.
“I can’t fix it … I mean, the drive shaft came out of it, it took the oil tank out … it’s beyond repair. I don’t know. I may just need to go home, collect my thoughts and see what’s up.”
Without a backup car on the property, the only way Sauter would have a shot to qualify into Sunday’s 300-lap race is if he hops in another driver’s backup car and attempts to time his way in.
Sauter confirmed that he has been offered potential rides by other teams already in light of the crash, including Kyle Busch Motorsports, whose namesake will also attempt to make the golden anniversary of the Derby this weekend.
But the veteran stressed that if the situation wasn’t right, he’ll head back on the road towards home in Wisconsin.
“We’ll see what happens,” Sauter said.
Smokey Mountain, Triple K Construction and Deppe Enterprises backed Sauter’s maiden trip south for the Derby this week, a surprising first for the Wisconsin native who was a star in the late model ranks before he went NASCAR racing, ultimately winning his first NASCAR Camping World Truck Series championship last year.
Sauter’s brother Tim scored back-to-back Derby top 10s, finishing fifth in 1997 and ninth in 1998, while his father Jim scored a 15th-place result during the 1980 edition of the winter classic.
But for Johnny Sauter, at least this year, his fate at the Derby is now out of his hands.
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, as well as a periodic contributor to SPEED SPORT Magazine.
Seelman grew up in the sport, watching his grandparents co-own the RaDiUs Motorsports NASCAR Cup Series team in the 1990s.
The 23-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 the Must See Racing Sprint Car Series.
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