Wednesday, November 25, 2009

My racing wish list...

This time of year it’s pretty common for us to put together a wish list for the upcoming holiday season. If we don't put one together, we always seem to be asking someone else for theirs. I decided I’d put together a racing wish list since there isn’t much else filling up my racing schedule. Along with wishes for the local level, I added some NASCAR flair to the list even though it’s known that I’m not much of a fan of the “Hollywood” racing. While it’s obvious many (most) of these never have a chance of coming true, a guy can dream, right? Along with some serious thoughts and a few trips down memory lane, I’ve added a few items strictly for the purpose of spicing it up with a little humor. I’ll leave it up to you to determine which is which. With that said, here’s my list of wishes for this holiday season and looking forward to 2010:

1. I wish the races I want to attend aren’t scheduled on top of each other when the 2010 special events schedules are made public.
2. I wish more cars are painted free-hand and not covered in vinyl graphics.
3. I wish drivers’ meetings offer a little more variety and are less of a waste of time.
4. I wish the guy who goes to get another beer will wait until a caution or the end of the race before walking in front of me to get back to his seat.
5. I wish for tracks to work together to promote the sport in the interest of drivers and fans, despite the fact that they compete for those drivers and fans.
6. I wish for more fan appreciation nights so race fans can attend races at “throwback” prices once in a while to make a family night out affordable again.
7. I wish for fewer divisions and more competitive car counts.
8. I wish you could still get a few bucks to win a heat race.
9. I wish Danica Patrick all the luck in the world for any future NASCAR endeavors; she’s going to need it.
10. I wish I can see one entire night of racing when the caution flag never waves.
11. I wish people who live 100-plus miles away won’t call the track phone on race day to see if the races are still on despite the 90 degree weather and sunny skies, only to say, “Are you sure you’re still racing? It’s sprinkling where I live.”
12. I wish those same callers won’t ask, “Is it going to rain?”
13. I wish souvenir programs are worth buying every week just to get a points sheet.
14. I wish message board users will have more positive things to say to show support for the sport rather than just complaining to turn a few heads.
15. I wish for more first-time feature winners.
16. I wish for veterans of our sport to continue to make regular trips to the winner’s circle so we can remind ourselves once again of all they’ve done to make our sport great.
17. I wish for the 4-cylinder, hornet, flyer, front wheel drive, wild thing, etc. divisions to come together and decide on a common name.
18. I wish national anthem singers are required to go through an audition process.
19. I wish fountain Pepsi is available at every race track I plan to attend.
20. I wish all those people who think they can run a track better step forward to volunteer their services so they see it isn’t as easy as they think.
21. I wish Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch will just go away.
22. I wish double-file restarts are required within the first five laps of all features, but all subsequent restarts are single file.
23. I wish every caution flag requires the penalized driver(s) to place money into a pot to go toward the track point fund.
24. I wish for more Australian pursuits, cash dashes and king of the hill races.
25. I wish people won’t ask on a message board who won last week’s race when they could have easily logged onto that track’s web site in the first place to find the information they wanted or, hey, even gone to the race in question.
26. I wish every flagman waves the flying green with two laps to go.
27. I wish all drivers will attempt to score one feature just so they can see how much work it is and how impossible it is to “screw” them.
28. I wish tracks try more gimmicks to get fans to come to the races.
29. I wish points sheets are more available at tracks and that those point sheets include more stats, stats, stats.
30. I wish more people understand that running a race track goes beyond what happens between the time you open the gates on race day and the time you close them after the races are over.
31. I wish tracks have more specials that cater to the weekly drivers who support them throughout the season.
32. I wish Mother Nature will stay away on race day, but if she must make her presence felt I wish that she comes early enough so that other plans can be made and we don’t get caught in a deluge after hot laps.
33. I wish heat wins still warrant a picture of the driver holding a checkered flag.
34. I wish the term “B Mod” is changed to something that doesn’t force them into the role of “little brother.”
35. I wish for good, clean racing and for drivers to realize that “rubbing” isn’t racing… “the ability to pass a competitor clean because you can” is racing.
36. I wish to return to Boone for the Super Nationals after a five year absence.
37. I wish there is more corporate sponsorship at the local level.
38. I wish for fewer intentional yellows and more DQs.
39. I wish 30-plus drivers will commit to the entire Deery Brothers Summer Series for I.M.C.A. Late Models schedule.
40. I wish reflective decals are outlawed.
41. I wish more promoters will stick to the rules instead of making them up as the year goes on just to avoid confrontation.
42. I wish that car numbers include only numbers, no letters.
43. I wish NASCAR realizes that Saturday nights are meant for dirt track racing and to leave the pavement stuff for Sunday afternoons so I can enjoy my nap.
44. I wish for that guy in front of me to realize it’s a law… you’re not allowed to smoke in the grandstands.
45. I wish the one-spin rule in all qualifying events is included in the master set of racing procedural rules.
46. I wish for a master set of racing procedural rules.
47. I wish for all drivers to automatically fall into single file alignment when the caution flag is thrown and not try to advance position(s) under caution.
48. I wish for more victory laps with checkered flag in-hand.
49. I wish time limits aren’t necessary.
50. I wish more promoters will actually “promote racing” rather than just “put on races.”
51. I wish that more announcers will include hometowns when introducing drivers.
52. I wish cars are as nice to look at in August as they are in April.
53. I wish they take down that wall they built around Dubuque Fairgrounds Speedway.
54. I wish for people to stop looking at it as “moving up or down” divisions. All changes are lateral… racing is racing. Purse doesn’t dictate importance.
55. I wish for NASCAR to be less “Hollywood” and show more appreciation for its grassroots history.
56. I wish for my own, personal supply of tenderloins and racin’ taters from 34 Raceway.
57. I wish that the successful drivers of today remember how they were when they started racing when they get mad at the rookies and slower drivers of today.
58. I wish Jerry Blue was still a race track promoter.
59. I wish more drivers realize that qualifying for the feature is a privilege and not a right simply because you signed in at the pit gate.
60. I wish the folks selling beer will understand that cutting someone off is more important than making a buck.
61. I wish for more open trailers and low budget racing than enclosed haulers, big rigs and endless funding.
62. I wish it is more readily understood that a race isn’t won on the first lap.
63. I wish that more people will accept the fact that they don’t really know how to prepare a race track better than anyone else.
64. I wish for fewer drivers to race for points and more to race for their love of the sport.
65. I wish a driver will admit that the last caution actually was his fault.
66. I wish people accept that human element (on the part of both drivers and officials) is a special part of the sport, even when it comes to mistakes.
67. I wish the leaders will respect the lapped cars and realize that they, too, are racing for position.
68. I wish for junior fan clubs to be a point of emphasis at every track that holds a race.
69. I wish for Mark Martin to win that elusive championship.
70. I wish no track will run more than five divisions during its weekly show and no more than three divisions for any weekday special.
71. I wish for fewer mid-season specials that fall on back-to-back(-to-back?) weekdays.
72. I wish it is common knowledge that sometimes you do have to go slower to go faster.
73. I wish for Greg Kastli to return to victory lane in 2010.
74. I wish Larry and Kathleen Kemp would return home to Iowa.
75. I wish more racing teams come to the track dressed as a team.
76. I wish Hawkeye Racing News focuses on racing in this region like it used to.
77. I wish I lived in North Central Iowa so I could know what it’s like to go racing five nights a week in 2010.
78. I wish for Jill George to qualify for the World 100.
79. I wish all message board administrators require all users to provide their real names in order to be eligible to post and that said message board administrators confirm the users are who they say they are.
80. I wish all message board administrators require an IQ test upon user registration and that said message board administrators enforce a minimum IQ in order for an individual to become a member.
81. I wish message board users understand that freedom of speech doesn’t mean you are at liberty to say anything you want on the Internet.
82. I wish any track in Iowa will take the chance and schedule at least one race every month of the year.
83. I wish drivers don’t have to pay an entry fee to provide the entertainment.
84. I wish all tracks impose a penalty for all drivers guilty of speeding in the pits.
85. I wish all drivers show up on time (this means by check-in time, not in time for the first heat race).
86. I wish fewer (yes, fewer) cars qualify for features and that drivers are required to race their way in.
87. I wish people will understand that, even though they don’t care for a specific sanctioning body, it still serves as one more option for drivers and fans.
88. I wish I could have one more race burger and speed wheel from the Independence Motor Speedway concession stand like they had in the ‘80s and ‘90s.
89. I wish the layover flag was never invented.
90. I wish passing points are outlawed or designed in a manner that every driver, crewmember and fan understood who qualified and where they started in the feature before the feature rolled onto the track.
91. I wish attendance at racing banquets is mandatory.
92. I wish every kid who comes to watch the races can be given a checkered flag and a Sharpie so he/she can get autographs after the races.
93. I wish NASCAR can produce a Sprint Cup champion whose team isn't led by a cheater.
94. I wish intermission never starts after 9 p.m.
95. I wish for greater appreciation for all the excellent work track photographers do week in and week out.
96. I wish drivers would check in upon arriving every night instead of just wondering why they were left off the heat race lineup.
97. I wish drivers understood that they can approach a track official with a question after the races, but they shouldn't be sending their wife or girlfriend (or both!) to do their dirty work for them.
98. I wish I could see my dad in the old pro stock one more time.
99. I wish all promoters a successful 2010 season.
100. I wish for anyone who read this entire list to add a wish of their own to my list by commenting on this blog entry.
101. I wish for a safe, happy holiday season and an enjoyable off-season for all of my friends and family in racing.

Bonus wish #102. I hope readers continue to support into the 2010 season and beyond.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Champions honored at 34 Raceway banquet

My three week banquet stretch came to an end with the awards ceremony for 34 Raceway this past Saturday night. The top 10 in final points in each of the six divisions were recognized and some other awards were also presented.

The final standings for each of the six divisions were as follows:
I.M.C.A. Late Model
1. Lonnie Bailey
2. Tom Darbyshire
3. Matt Strassheim
4. Colby Springsteen
5. Keith Pratt
6. Sam Halstead
7. Tom Goble
8. Mark Burgtorf
9. Tom Bowling Jr.
10. Matt Bailey

305 Sprints
1. Jayson Ditsworth
2. Matt Krieger
3. Kevin Hetrick
4. Matt Draper
5. Jarrod Schneidermann
6. Justin Newberry
7. Nick Guernsey
8. Jami Lusher
9. Bobby Mincer
10. Destini Clark

I.M.C.A. Modified
1. Scott Hogan
2. Josh Foster
3. Bill Roberts Jr.
4. Dusty Kraklio
5. Mike Weikert Jr.
6. Kevin Goben
7. Dean McGee
8. Tyler Vande Kamp
9. Andy Krieger
10. Jeremy Harris

I.M.C.A. Stock Car
1. Abe Huls
2. Darin Thye
3. Kirk Kinsley
4. John Oliver Jr.
5. Cale Samberg
6. Corey Strothman
7. Brett Timmerman
8. Chris Webb
9. Greg Johnson
10. Bo Hunter

I.M.C.A. Hobby Stock
1. Derek St. Clair
2. Tanner Thoman
3. Ray Raker
4. Dean Kratzer
5. Randy Wachter
6. Jarod Conrad
7. Victor Hastings
8. Eric Rowley
9. Sky Griffith
10. Lane Kauffman

1. Travis Demint
2. Travis Yakle
3. Chuck Fullenkamp
4. Tyler Whalen
5. Cory Sheetz
T6. William Michel
T6. Bill Whalen Jr.
T6. John Whalen
T9. Dakota Fenton
T9. Darin Smith

In addition to the speedway awards, a pair of drivers were acknowledged for the Dual on Dirt titles they earned in '09. The folks at 34 Raceway and the promoters of CJ Speedway in Columbus Junction offered incentives to the drivers who earned the most points between the two tracks in the Hobby Stock and Stock Car divisions. Drivers were required to compete in 85% of all points races between the two tracks to be eligible. Lane Kauffman was present to take home Hobby Stock honors. Stock Car champ Brian Holmes will pick up his hardware at the CJ Speedway banquet December 5 in Wapello.

While most track banquets are generally the same, it was nice to see track owners Amy and Jeff Laue, Scott and Lorrie Parish and Tom and Sue Bowling go the extra mile for their drivers. Regardless of the atmosphere, banquets generally run on a specific schedule - socialize, eat, collect the awards and get out the door. Although banquets don't provide the environment most racers are used to, I spoke with many in attendance who were impressed and thankful (Thanksgiving reference inserted here) for Saturday's festivities. For the third straight year, the folks at 34 reserved the banquet room at the Comfort Suites in Burlington for the annual affair. Some of those on-hand compared the environment to the I.M.C.A. national banquet. While that banquet (scheduled for next weekend in Lincoln, Nebraska) is a black tie affair, Saturday was a formal setting that still allowed for the "informalities" that make racing banquets fun. It wasn't black tie, random outbursts/comments added humor to the evening and the awards were wrapped up early enough so that you could get home to watch the news, if you were so inclined.

One reason many were grateful for the location was due to the fact that a number of those in attendance decided to stay at the hotel for the night. Among those was I.M.C.A. Modified track champ Scott Hogan who made a weekend out of it. He and his crew were telling me that they drove over two hours one way every Saturday night only to drive home after the races to get ready to race in Vinton on Sunday. They took advantage of this past Saturday night to stick around and enjoy their trip to southeast Iowa. Congrats to Hogan, by the way, on making the weekly long haul pay off with his 10th career track championship.

Along with Hogan, 305 sprint pilot Destini Clark was acknowledged at the start of the night. Clark made a four hour trip (that's a one-way trip) from home every Saturday to compete at 34. Spending eight hours on the road every weekend for one night of racing says a lot about that racing team's passion for the sport and it also speaks volumes for the racing program offered at 34 Raceway.

During the banquet, owner Amy Laue alluded to a number of special events scheduled for next season at the speedway. The Deery Brothers Summer Series for I.M.C.A. Late Models will kick off the season with the Slocum 50 next April. That race will feature an increased purse and pay $3,000 to win and $500 to start. A trio of Sprint Invaders events will take place throughout the season and, perhaps the biggest news of the night, USAC will make a Saturday appearance next season. That event will include non-wing action, including both Sprints and Midgets. I believe it was announced it was the series' first-ever visit to 34 Raceway and it will be the first time in the state of Iowa that two USAC-sanctioned events will appear at a track on the same night. The Lucas Oil Late Model Series will also be making its first visit to 34 Raceway next May. Along with its weekly show, race fans can expect more of the same, great racing action 34 Raceway has always come to provide.

Other Banquet Notes
Sixteen-year-old Hobby Stock driver Derek St. Clair earned his first career track championship this season at 34. Having never won a feature prior to this season, St. Clair earned 10 victories in 2009, six of which were scored at 34 Raceway. Apparently, one season in the Hobbies was enough for the young driver as he is expected to make the jump into the I.M.C.A. Stock Car division in 2010.

Darin Thye also hinted that he may be making a change in 2010. After walking off the podium to pick up his second place award for the Stock Car division, he walked by Hogan's table and joked to Scott that he was going to get him next year. A return to the Modified ranks in 2010 for Thye? We'll have to wait and see. Thye made a number of comments throughout the night (mostly for entertainment value... and this may very well have been one of those alcohol-induced "for your entertainment only" comments, as well), so we'll have to see what happens as the calendar approaches the new year.

I spent a few minutes speaking with CJ Speedway promoters Brian and Amanda Tipps. Knowing I work at Independence, they stopped me to talk about a race they are planning to schedule this summer with some Independence ties. Cam Granger, the promoter of Independence Motor Speedway and director of the DART Corn Belt Clash Series for Late Models, has been working out details with CJ to hold a Corn Belt race at CJ Speedway in July of 2010. Those details have been all but finalized so expect to see Late Models return to the Columbus Junction oval during the county fair next season.

Coincidentally, Cam has been working on expanding the schedule for the Corn Belt Clash Series for 2010. While he said a few dates and locations are still being finalized, it was already announced at Deer Creek Speedway in Spring Valley, Minnesota, that they would be holding two series events in 2010. Those events will include the series opener in April, along with the series championship next fall. Stay tuned for additional dates and a complete schedule in the coming weeks and months.

Thanks again to the crew at 34 for a fun night! Unless something unexpected pops up, Saturday night wrapped up my racing "events" schedule for 2009. I would like to thank Jeff Broeg, Barry Johnson and Sue McDaniel for asking me to be a part of My first season as one of their bloggers was a lot of fun and I anticipate next season being even better! I hope to be back on a fairly regular basis during the off-season to share news, notes, schedules and other tidbits about 2010 as next season approaches. Until then, I hope everyone has a great Thanksgiving holiday!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Awards presented at Independence Motor Speedway banquet

The top 10 in the final standings of each division were presented trophies at the Independence Motor Speedway awards banquet. Rookies of the year were also honored and other season-long accomplishments were recognized during the November 14 ceremony at the Buchanan County Fairgrounds.

The first season with Cam and Jodi Granger of CJ Promotions at the helm was a successful one as a large number of race fans and drivers turned out to support the season-ending event. The number of I.M.C.A. Modified drivers was a bit low due to racing in Las Vegas over the weekend, however all champions and many other drivers were present for the festivities. Jason Snyder, who jokingly sent me a text today asking if I shared any negative thoughts during the banquet about those not in attendance, can rest assured I didn't say a bad word about his absence to race in Vegas. Snyder, Troy Cordes, Vern Jackson and Justin O'Brien all reportedly tried their luck in Vegas with Jackson making the show and earning a 14th place finish among 262 Modifieds. I did pass word along to Jackson, though, that I planned to drink his share of adult beverages at the banquet in Indee. More on that later...

Josh Irvine was presented his second track championship trophy. Irvine joined exclusive company as he became only the second driver in the last 20 seasons at the speedway to earn multiple track titles in the Hobby Stock division. His first title came in 2007. Patrick Stansbery, the only other multi-time Hobby champ of the last 20 seasons, earned titles in 2002 and 2005. The breakdown of the top 10, along with other stats, went as follows:

1. Josh Irvine: 11 top-10s in 14 nights of racing, 10 top-5s, 9 top-3s and 7 wins. Irvine led the points for 9 weeks, picked up 7 heat race wins and led 59 laps of feature competition to lead all drivers in the division.
2. Quinton Miller: 13 top-10s, 7 top-5s, 2 top-3s and 1 win. Miller led the points for 2 weeks during the season, earned 2 heat wins and led 4 laps of feature competition.
3. Wes Stanek Jr.: 11 top-10s, 7 top-5s, 6 top-3s and 2 wins. Stanek picked up 1 heat win and led 22 feature laps.
4. Justin Lichty: 10 top-10s, 7 top-5s, 3 top-3s and 1 win. Lichty earned 3 heat wins and led 14 feature laps.
5. Matt Brown: 9 top-10s, 6 top-5s, 4 top-3s and 1 win. Brown earned 5 heat wins and led 21 feature laps.
6. Justin Hanson: 9 top-10s, 7 top-5s and 5 top-3s. Hanson picked up 1 heat win and led 10 laps of feature action.
7. Jeremiah Wilson: 7 top-10s, 6 top-5s and 2 top-3s. Wilson led 4 laps of feature competition.
8. Joe Sprague: 6 top-10s and led 10 laps of feature action.
9. Vince Buchholz: 10 top-10s, 5 top-5s and 3 top-3s. Buchholz led the points for 4 weeks and earned 2 heat wins.
10. Don Arnold: 6 top-10s, 2 top-5s and 1 top-3. Arnold scored 3 heat wins and led 10 feature laps.

Kyle Bentley was presented the championship hardware in the I.M.C.A. SportMod division. Bentley became the sixth different titlist in the SportMod/B Mod division in the six years the division(s) has competed at Independence. This year also marked the closest battle in division history (as well as the closest battle of the five divisions at the speedway in 2009) as only a single point separated Bentley and Jim Buhlman in the final standings.

1. Kyle Bentley: 11 top-10s, 7 top-5s and 2 top-3s. Bentley led the points for 10 weeks, scored 1 heat win and led 9 laps of feature action.
2. Jim Buhlman: 12 top-10s, 5 top-5s and 2 top-3s. Buhlman held the points lead for 1 week during the season and also picked up 1 heat win.
3. Joel Rust: 10 top-10s, 7 top-5s, 6 top-3s and 2 wins. Rust earned 1 heat race win and led 22 laps of feature action.
4. Danny Dvorak: 9 top-10s, 7 top-5s, 6 top-3s and led the division with 4 feature wins. Dvorak earned 6 heat wins and topped the division by leading 35 laps of feature competition.
5. Kaleb Bentley: 8 top-10s, 5 top-5s and 2 top-3s. Bentley also scored 1 heat win.
6. Josh Sherbon: 9 top-10s, 5 top-5s, 4 top-3s and 1 win. Sherbon led the points for 2 weeks, earned 3 heat wins and led 11 laps of feature action.
7. Chris Luloff: 6 top-10s, 5 top-5s, 4 top-3s and 3 wins. Luloff led the points for 2 weeks, earned 4 heat wins and led 28 laps of feature racing.
8. Mary Handberg: 6 top-10s, 3 top-5s and 1 top-3.
9. Kevin Robinson: 5 top-10s, 1 top-5 and 1 top-3. Robinson took 1 heat win.
10. Lucas Lundry: 5 top-10s, 2 top-5s, 1 top-3 and 1 win. Lundry scored 3 heat wins and led 32 laps of feature action.

Brian Irvine earned his first track championship in the Stock Car division to add to his 2004 crown in the Hobby Stock division at Indee. Since entering the Stock Car ranks at the start of the 2005 season, Irvine has amassed 28 feature wins in weekly competition in just 68 nights of racing in the division. That's a winning percentage of 41% over the last five seasons. It also gives him an average of 5.5 wins a year over that span. Coincidentally, Irvine thanked his crew and, most notably his wife, for their support this season. As reported earlier, Wendy Irvine has been battling cancer and I'm happy to say she was in attendance at the banquet. With only one or two more doctor appointments remaining, she has remained head-strong to defeat the cancer and is expecting a much happier and healthier 2010!

I hopped into the "way-back machine" to compare this season's final standings to previous years in the Stock Car division. The Stock Cars have raced weekly at Independence since the 1993 season and there has been only one other year that the top five were separated by a smaller margin. This season, the top five were separated by a mere 20 points at season's end. The only other top-5 battle that finished with a narrower margin was during Jerry Schipper's championship run in 1996. That season, only 14 points separated the top five in the final points. Over the course of the division's 17-year run at the speedway, the average margin from first through fifth has been 75 points.

1. Brian Irvine: 12 top-10s, 10 top-5s, 10 top-3s and 9 wins. Irvine led the points for 9 weeks, earned 2 heat wins and topped all drivers at the speedway by leading 106 laps of feature racing.
2. Jarod Weepie: 12 top-10s, 9 top-5s, 6 top-3s and 1 win. Weepie led the points for 1 week and led 7 laps of feature racing.
3. Dan Trimble: 12 top-10s, 10 top-5s, 7 top-3s and 1 win. Trimble earned 7 heat wins and led 35 laps of feature racing.
4. Phil Holtz: 12 top-10s, 11 top-5s, 3 top-3s and 1 win. Holtz was atop the standings for 2 weeks, earned 3 heat wins and led 11 laps of feature racing.
5. Norman Chesmore: 12 top-10s, 10 top-5s and 3 top-3s. Chesmore led the points for 1 week, scored 3 heat wins and led 15 feature laps.
6. Jason Hocken: 12 top-10s, 3 top-5s and 1 top-3. Hocken was the points leader for 1 week and led 7 laps of feature racing.
7. Kevin Rose: 11 top-10s, 1 top-5 and 1 top-3. Rose led 3 laps of feature action.
8. Justin Temeyer: 8 top-10s, 8 top-5s, 7 top-3s and 2 wins. Temeyer led the division with 8 heat wins and was out front for 84 laps of feature racing.
9. Mike Mauer: 8 top-10s, 1 top-5 and 1 top-3.
10. Austin Evens: 5 top-10s.

Dominant was the only way to describe Darin Duffy's success in the Modified division in 2009. Not only did he blister the field by finishing in the top-5 every night this season, his margin of victory was far from the norm. I stayed in the "way-back machine" to compare his accomplishment to those of past Modified champs. Not only was his 50-point margin over second-place Troy Cordes the largest in 16 years, close battles atop the Modified division have been the norm in recent years. Other Modified champs and their margins of victory are as follows:
2008: Troy Cordes won the division by 3 points
2007: J.D. Auringer by 1
2006: Jerry Luloff by 5
2005: Jerry Luloff by 4
2004: Vern Jackson by 15 (the last double-digit margin of victory)
2003: Scott Hogan by 13
2002: Troy Cordes by 10
2001: Darin Duffy and Jerry Luloff tied (co-champions)
2000: Jerry Luloff by 21 (last win by 20+ points)
1999: Jerry Luloff by 20
1998: Scott Hogan by 10
1997: Scott Hogan by 43
1996: Steve Droste by 9
1995: Steve Droste by 18
1994: Steve Droste by 40
1993: Owen Grube by 56 (the last margin of victory larger than Duffy's 50-point margin this season)

1. Darin Duffy: 14 top-10s, 14 top-5s, 11 top-3s and 7 wins to lead the division. Duffy led the points for 13 weeks, earned 6 heat wins and led the division by running out front for 78 feature laps.
2. Troy Cordes: 12 top-10s, 8 top-5s, 7 top-3s and 1 win. Cordes led 6 laps of feature racing.
3. Jerry Luloff: 8 top-10s, 5 top-5s, 3 top-3s and 1 win. Luloff led 1 lap of feature racing and scored 4 heat wins.
4. Justin O'Brien: 8 top-10s, 4 top-5s and 2 top-3s. O'Brien picked up 1 heat win.
5. Max Corporon: 8 top-10s, 7 top-5s, 5 top-3s and 1 win. Corporon led the points for 1 night, earned 4 heat wins and led the points for one week (following his opening night win).
6. Johnathan Thimmesch: 8 top-10s, 4 top-5s and 1 top-3. Thimmesch earned 4 heat wins and led 1 lap of feature racing.
7. Ronn Lauritzen: 6 top-10s, 4 top-5s, 2 top-3s and 1 win. Lauritzen led 16 laps of feature action and earned 3 heat wins.
8. Ray Lundry: 6 top-10s.
9. Jason Snyder: 4 top-10s, 4 top-5s, 2 top-3s and 1 win. Snyder scored 2 heat wins and led 18 laps of feature competition.
10. Tony Olson: 6 top-10s.

Darren Ackerman claimed his third division title in the Late Model division and second outright championship. Ackerman also earned title honors in 2007 and shared the championship with Curt Martin in 2004. Ackerman was also the only driver in the top-10 in the division's final standings to earn a feature win. I wasn't able to find an accomplishment similar to that in the last 20-plus seasons at the speedway. Although the points remained close throughout the season, Ackerman pulled away to a 24-point margin in the final standings for the largest margin of victory since Martin earned Late Model title honors in 2005.

On a side note, while feature wins were rare among the final top-10, the Late Model division was the only division this season to have every driver in the top-10 earn at least one heat win. In addition to that, every driver in the top-10 in Late Models earned at least one top-3 feature finish. The SportMod division was the only other division to boast that stat in 2009.

1. Darren Ackerman: 10 top-10s, 8 top-5s, 4 top-3s and 3 wins. Ackerman led the points for 10 weeks, scored 3 heat wins and led 73 laps of feature racing.
2. Travis Smock: 10 top-10s, 6 top-5s and 4 top-3s. Smock led the points for 1 week and earned one heat win.
3. Curt Martin: 10 top-10s, 6 top-5s and 4 top-3s. Martin led the points for 2 weeks, scored 1 heat win and led 3 laps of feature racing.
4. Darin Burco: 8 top-10s, 6 top-5s and 3 top-3s. Burco earned 2 heat wins and led 24 laps of feature competition.
5. Brian Hunter: 9 top-10s, 3 top-5s and 2 top-3s. Hunter scored 1 heat win.
6. Greg Kastli: 8 top-10s, 5 top-5s and 2 top-3s. Kastli earned 2 heat wins.
7. Jon Passick: 6 top-10s, 4 top-5s and 2 top-3s. Passick led 11 feature laps and earned 4 heat wins.
8. Dale Hackwell Jr.: 5 top-10s, 2 top-5s and 1 top-3. Hackwell led 14 laps of feature racing and picked up 2 heat wins.
9. Drew Johnson: 5 top-10s, 1 top-5 and 1 top-3. Johnson scored 2 heat wins.
10. Tyler Bruening: 8 top-10s, 4 top-5s and 1 top-3. Bruening earned 4 heat wins.

Rookie awards were also presented to the highest finishing first-year drivers in each division. While some drivers may have had time behind the wheel in similar divisions, drivers were awarded based on their first season of competition in their respective divisions at Independence. Rookies of the Year awards were presented as follows:
Justin Hanson: I.M.C.A. Hobby Stock
Joel Rust: I.M.C.A. SportMod
Phil Holtz: I.M.C.A. Stock Car (also National I.M.C.A. Rookie of the Year)
Justin O'Brien: I.M.C.A. Modified
Jared Fuller: I.M.C.A. Late Model

Joel Brasch was the recipient of the Hard Luck Award for the season. Brasch, who has been a faithful competitor at the speedway in the I.M.C.A. Late Model division in recent years, suffered incredibly bad luck during the opening stages of the season. His struggles were so tough that he didn't make it past hot laps the first month of the season. Mechanical problems kept Brasch from earning any points despite his perfect attendance during those first few weeks. The bad luck followed him through to the end of the season when he failed to make the season championship feature event in the division.

As part of their awards, all Rookies of the Year and the Hard Luck Award winner were given free track registrations for 2010, along with free pit stalls, a value of $80 for each driver. In a random drawing that included all drivers in attendance, I.M.C.A. Late Model veteran Rick Wendling won a free 2010 I.M.C.A. membership, courtesy of I.M.C.A.

Final Notes
It was great to get the chance to hang out and chat with drivers and fans "out of their element" throughout the evening. With no line-ups to write down or strategy to put into place, visiting with everyone made for an enjoyable evening. The band Blue Skyy from West Union also provided the night's entertainment. Thanks to those guys for coming down and joining the party.

The one regret I do have is consuming all of those beverages I should have left behind the bar in Jackson's absence, as mentioned above. Someone, who shall remain nameless, revealed that I stepped out of character in Burlington to take a couple of drinks while standing on my head during the July 4 rain-out earlier this summer. For those who left early this Saturday, I revisited that moment and proved the story to be true. Thanks to Janet Luloff for her support of my bad decision and to Cam and Jodi for not laughing... too hard.

Next up for me will be the end of my three banquet stretch in as many weeks. I'll be down in Burlington next Saturday for the 34 Raceway banquet. Jeff and Amy, just so you know, I have no intention of doing any head-stands next weekend, with or without a drink in my hand. See you there!

Monday, November 9, 2009

Sprint Invaders Series celebrates 2009 with annual awards banquet

BURLINGTON, Iowa (Nov. 7) - When I was a staff member at Hawkeye Racing News, we were in search of a catchy title for the numerous banquet photos we ran every year. Since banquet time always seemed to hit just prior to the holidays, we settled on "Celebrate the Season" atop the photo spreads we ran in the "off-season" issues. It served to encompass the approaching fall and winter holidays, as well as to recognize all of the drivers for their accomplishments throughout the course of the season. Pretty cool, huh?

To lead up to the Thanksgiving holiday later this month, I started a three week stretch of banquets with a visit to Catfish Bend Casino in Burlington for the Sprint Invaders awards ceremony this past Saturday night.

The top 14 in series points were presented awards, starting with 14th place Donnie Steward and culminating by awarding Bobby Mincer the series championship. To qualify for the season-ending hardware, the drivers were required to compete in a minimum of 12 of 16 series events. Final driver standings were as follows:
1. 15 Bobby Mincer
2. 51J Ryan Jamison
3. 29 Matt Rogerson
4. Y2 Mike Houseman, Jr.
5. 99 Jimmy Davies
6. 53H Matt Harms
7. 84 Ben Wagoner
8. 80X CJ Houseman
9. 4J Justin Parrish
10. 14P Kaley Gharst
11. 40 Andy Huston
12. 29X Russ Hall
13. 3 Matt Sutton
14. 16HD Donnie Steward

The top 14 car owners were also awarded trophies based on points earned. Those standings included:
1. 15 Bobby Mincer
2. 51J Terry Jamison
3. 29 JKG Motorsports
4. 14P Randy Plath
5. Y2 Mike Waddell
6. 99 Jimmy Davies
7. 53H Dave Harms
8. 84 Brian Wagoner
9. 80X CJ Houseman
10. 4J Justin Parrish
11. 3 GRIT Motorsports
12. 40 Andy Huston
13. 29X Russ Hall
14. 16HD Heartland Harley-Davidson

A number of things impressed me throughout the course of the evening. Not only was there nearly perfect attendance (27/28 and far too uncommon for most banquets) for all drivers and car owners receiving awards, but they were all given the opportunity to speak when given their awards. At many banquets I've been to through the years (and I've been to a lot of them), keeping things "on schedule" seems to be more important than giving the participants their due. Not only were all recipients given the chance to speak, but everyone took advantage of the opportunity.

In racing, we always talk about the "family" aspect of the sport and how we get to know fellow competitors, crews and fans. What was evident on Saturday night more than I've noticed at any other awards ceremony was that these guys and ladies meant every word they said. The theme repeated itself throughout the night. From the first trophy presentation to the last, everyone expressed their gratitude for everyone involved in the series. From fellow competitors to car owners, and even track officials and series personnel, there was a sense of pride to be a part of an organization that I'd never seen before. The respect the Sprint Invaders drivers have for each other was evident and mentioned with nearly every award presentation.

This was reinforced when the awards didn't stop at points and on-track successes. Along with awarding Ben Wagoner as the series' rookie of the year and Ryan Jamison the hard charger, a number of special awards were handed out. Justin Parrish took home the Kevin Doty Memorial Perseverance Award, presented by Doty's son. In addition to inductions into the Sprint Invaders Hall of Fame and "gag gift" awards for best and worst draws for the season, a series of special awards were presented to close the night.

A number of individuals were presented with hardware based on voting by their peers, all registered members of the Sprint Invaders. While championships and points trophies are great to earn based on your team's hard work, it was fantastic to see additional recognition given by fellow competitors and members. To some degree, I'd think these types of awards would mean more.

Although he finished 10th in points for the season, Kaley Gharst earned the Brian Hetrick Memorial Driver of the Year Award. Prior commitments prevented Gharst from running a full schedule, however his successes this season earned him the respect of his peers to warrant DoY honor. The 14P team must have made a profound impact on the series members this year as they also took the Rich DeReu Memorial Owner of the Year and Walter Rockhold Memorial Automotive Machine Mechanic of the Year Awards.

The Galen "Shep" Shepherd Memorial Crew Member of the Year Award went to former sprinter Mike Houseman Sr. and the Gary T. Williams Snap-On Tools Hard Luck Award went to Mike Houseman Jr. for the burns he received in a crash earlier in the season. Houseman Sr. hinted that he may still have some laps left as he stated he's been considering a return to the race track to do more than wrench on the cars.

Series official Jeff Campbell, who I had the pleasure of sitting with at the banquet, was genuinely shocked and humbled at being recognized as the Bud Taeger Official of the Year Award winner.

While the awards were handed out over the course of two hours, it was well-deserved that everyone involved had their chance to express their thanks for the series and its members. Most notably was Mike Houseman Jr., who thanked the Sprint Invaders organization for its help with his medical bills after the fiery crash that left him with severe burns earlier this season. A benevolent society, the Sprint Invaders does more than organize races for drivers and fans. It supports its members financially during times of need. Houseman stated he had upwards of $20,000 in medical bills and, with the help of fund raising efforts throughout the season already established at its events, Sprint Invaders was able to assist Houseman with those financial struggles.

One other major announcement prior to the evening's events came from Lee County Speedway promoter Tery Hoening. Hoenig addressed differences he and the Sprint Invaders have had in recent years, resulting in the series being removed from the Lee County schedule. Hoenig stated both parties have put their differences aside and annoounced three dates will be on the 2010 series schedule at Lee County Speedway. Among those will be a June hospitality race, the July fair race and the series championship in September.

Also in attendance was a representative from Dirt, Dust and Speed, who followed the Sprint Invaders throughout the season, stopping at nearly half of the series events in 2009. They are working on a video to highlight the season and offered a four-minute teaser of the viseo they're putting together. They plan to have the full-length video available in the coming months. If the final product is as nice as the clip they offered at the banquet, sprint fans in the area will want to get their hands on a copy.

In closing, I think I speak for everyone in attendance when I extend my thanks to Matt Rogerson. Matt single-handedly entertained the crowd throughout the evening with his witty (not-so-sober) banter and quick one-liners. From a gag gift parking ticket award for fellow sprinter Russ Hall to start the evening, his little dance(?) displaying his "designer jeans" partway through the night, to lobbying for a ride for 2010, Matt made it a night not many will soon forget. If a car owner doesn't come through for 2010, you definitely have a career in stand-up comedy if Ron White decides to call it quits, Matt!

Thanks to the entire Sprint Invaders crew for a great night! Up next,
I'll dust off a suit for the awards banquet at Independence Motor Speedway this Saturday night followed by the 34 Raceway banquet on November 21.