Winningest First Team drivers chosen All-America once again.
BURBANK, Calif. - The two drivers who have won First Team honors on the All-America Auto Racing Team more than anyone else - Steve Kinser and John Force - have been elected to the team yet again.
They are among the drivers chosen to the annual team by the members of the American Auto Racing Writers and Broadcasters Association. The team will be honored - and the winner of the coveted Jerry Titus Award announced - at the annual AARWBA banquet Jan. 11 at the Sheraton Suites Fairplex in Pomona, Calif.
For the second year in a row, but only the fourth time in the 33-year history of the team, the team comprises 13 drivers as a result of a tie in the voting. Two drivers are elected from each of six categories, but three will be honored this year in the At Large category.
Steve Kinser, the "King of the Outlaws," has been elected First Team for an unprecedented 15th time, his 20th selection overall - both the outright records for any All-America race driver. He won his 17th Pennzoil World of Outlaws championship in the 25-year lifetime of the winged sprint car series.
John Force similarly extended his championship records, winning NHRA's PowerAde Funny Car title for the 12th time, making it 11 in a row, and also pushing his career victory record to 106. Force has now been an All-America 12 times, 11 of those as First Team. His selection this year broke him out of a tie with Don Garlits, whose 10 First Team selections now stand third all-time.
Kinser leads the Short Track category of the team, and is joined by U.S. Auto Club standout J.J. Yeley, who won the USAC Weld Wheels Silver Crown championship and finished second in both the Sprint Car and Midget Car championships. It is Yeley's first time on the All-America team.
Force is joined in the Drag Racing category by Larry Dixon, who was a Second Team selection last year in his first All-America appearance, and now steps up to First Team after winning nine races and the NHRA PowerAde Top Fuel championship.
Force, a three-time winner of the Jerry Titus Award, signifying the team' s Driver of the Year, is in the running for an unprecedented fourth award along with Indy Racing League champion Sam Hornish Jr. and NASCAR Winston Cup champion Tony Stewart.
The Titus winner - the driver receiving the most votes regardless of category - is a carefully-kept secret until the AARWBA banquet in January. A new prize awaits the winner this year, an exquisite Maurice Lacroix Swiss watch, to be presented in a custom trophy display by Maurice Lacroix president Bob Siragusa. The winning driver will be in very good company, as the Maurice Lacroix Swiss is the official watch of the Indianapolis 500, the Brickyard 400, the Indy Racing League, the Miss USA Pageant and the Miss Universe Pageant. The winning driver's name also goes on the perpetual trophy, which encases an old typewriter and a helmet both used by Jerry Titus, a Trans-Am racer and motorsports journalist killed in a 1971 racing crash.
Hornish leads the Open Wheel category of the All-America team after becoming the first driver to win the Indy Racing League championship two years in a row. Hornish came from behind in the points by winning the final two races of the season after three earlier victories. It is also Hornish's second consecutive First Team selection.
Cristiano da Matta, the CART champion, also is named First Team for a second team, chosen this year in the Open Wheel category after winning in At Large as the Indy Lights champion 1998. This year da Matta dominated the CART circuit, winning seven times.
Tony Stewart broke out of a tight pack of contenders for the Winston Cup championship with six races left in the 36-race season, but did not lock up the title until the final race. He won three times - on the high banks of Atlanta, a short track at Richmond, and a road course at Watkins Glen. Stewart is an All-American for a seventh time, every time First Team but in three different categories. He won twice in Short Track when he raced with USAC, in Open Wheel when he won the IRL championship, and now for a fourth straight year in the Stock Car category.
Mark Martin is his teammate in the Stock Car category after persevering through the long Winston Cup season to be the final obstacle for the championship. Despite winning but once - the Coca-Cola 600 at Lowe's Motor Speedway - his 22 Top-10 finishes kept him in the hunt all the way. Martin matches Force as a 12-time All-America; it is his fourth First-Team vote.
The Road Racing category salutes two veteran drivers - Ron Fellows and Boris Said - who have never been First Team before and who both won their first major series championships.
Fellows, chosen four times previously as Second Team or Honorable Mention, led the category with his GTS class championship in the American Le Mans Series. Fellows won seven of the 10 races as lead driver of the factory Corvette team, and also was on the GTS-winning Corvette team at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Said drove the SCCA Trans-Am Championship in a Panoz Esperante, winning eight of the 12 races and finishing on the podium 11 times. Actually, he won seven in the Panoz, then with the championship assured his team put a Mustang on the track for the series finale at Virginia International Raceway to give Ford its 100th Trans-Am victory. It is Said's first-ever All-America selection.
The At Large category encompasses drivers from a broad variety of series. The three drivers chosen First Team came from oval, drag and road racing.
Leading the category is A.J. Foyt IV, the winner of the IRL's Infiniti Pro Series in its inaugural year. The young Foyt won four times. His grandfather and car owner was formerly a 13-time All-America chosen First Team six times.
Tied in the voting were Frank Manzo and Bryan Sellers - a longtime veteran drag racer and a young-gun road racer.
Manzo is the NHRA Lucas Oil Top Alcohol Dragster champion after a season that was only one round shy of perfect - four National and six Divisional victories. He won the same championship in 1997 when he was elected Honorable Mention on the All-America team.
The 21-year-old Sellers is the SCCA Formula Ford Zetec 2000 champion, and is making his first All-America appearance. He won eight FF2000 races, and last winter also won two races in New Zealand as part of Team USA and finished second in that championship.
With 13 drivers on the First Team, only 11 make the Second Team. They include Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves, NASCAR champions Greg Biffle from the Busch Series and Mike Bliss in Craftsman Trucks, Prototype road racing champions Tom Kristensen from American Le Mans and Didier Theys from the Grand-Am Rolex series, and IHRA Top Fuel champion Clay Millican who put together a 10-race winning streak. Also named Second Team were Grand-Am GT champion Bill Auberlen, NHRA Top Fuel runner-up Kenny Bernstein, IRL third-place driver Gil de Ferran, Winston Cup's third-placed Kurt Busch and Winston Cup Rookie of the Year Ryan Newman.
Among drivers named Honorable Mention, who received at least a 5 percent vote, was Winston Cup rookie Jimmy Johnson, a three-time winner. A rarity in All-America voting, Johnson was not on the ballot but was selected on write-in votes. Also earning Honorable Mention were Matt Kenseth, a five-time winner in Winston Cup; Terry Borcheller, Grand-Am SRP-II champion; NHRA Pro Stock champ Jeg Coughlin Jr. and Funny Car runner-up Tony Pedregon; ARCA champ Frank Kimmel; ASA champ Joey Clanton; SCCA Pro Rally champ David Higgins, and IHRA Funny Car champ Jimmy Rector.
The annual AARWBA banquet is open to the public. Information is available from AARWBA president Dusty Brandel at 818-842-7005 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The 2002 All-America Team:
Open Wheel: Sam Hornish Jr., Cristiano da Matta
Stock Car: Tony Stewart, Mark Martin
Road Racing: Ron Fellows, Boris Said
Drag Racing: John Force, Larry Dixon
Short Track: Steve Kinser, J.J. Yeley
At Large: A.J. Foyt IV, Frank Manzo, Bryan Sellers
Open Wheel: Helio Castroneves, Gil de Ferran
Stock Car: Kurt Busch, Ryan Newman
Road Racing: Didier Theys, Tom Kristensen
Drag Racing: Kenny Bernstein, Clay Millican
Short Track: Greg Biffle, Mike Bliss
At Large: Bill Auberlen
Open Wheel: none
Stock Car: Matt Kenseth, Jimmy Johnson
Road Racing: Terry Borcheller
Drag Racing: Jeg Coughlin Jr., Tony Pedregon
Short Track: Frank Kimmel, Joey Clanton
At Large: David Higgins, Jimmy Rector