The American Auto Racing Writers and Broadcasters Association (AARWBA) began celebrations for its 50th anniversary tonight in Pomona.
More than 300 members of the media, friends, honorees and race fans came to the Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum and Sheraton Suites Fairplex ballroom to recognize individual achievements of the past racing season and prepare for the coming year.
Many members of the 2004 All America First Team were on-hand to collect their Horsepower trophies, including open wheel honoree Tony Kanaan, the Indy Racing League IndyCar Series champion; Bobby East, USAC national midget champion in the short track category; Canadian Corvette racer and champion Ron Fellows and Grand American Rolex Daytona Prototype titlist Italian Max Papis (both road racing). Papis' teammate (and co-honoree) Scott Pruett was snowbound in Oregon.
The inimitable John Force picked up his 13th - and tenth consecutive - Horsepower statue in drag racing; first-time First Team winner Bill Auberlen represented the Grand American Rolex GT class (at-large); Thiago Medeiros (at-large), who won half the Menards Infiniti Pro Series races en route to his championship also made the trip out west.
Announcer Dave McClelland stepped in for intended speaker Bob Jenkins in doing the emcee job tonight. Accepting for absent drivers, Ford Motorsport's Kevin Kennedy took NASCAR NEXTEL Cup champ Kurt Busch's award in stock cars while Shav Glick, Hall of Fame writer for the Los Angeles Times came to the stage for second place Jimmie Johnson in the same discipline.
Schumacher Racing's public relations director Mike Lewis accepted Tony Schumacher's Horsepower trophy, while one of AARWBA's founders, Bill Marvel gave thanks on behalf of Steve Kinser, the World of Outlaws' most dominant driver who is currently tearing up Australian tracks.
J.C. Agajanian Jr. came to the stage to accept awards for both touring series champions: Martin Truex Jr. in NASCAR's Busch Series and Bobby Hamilton, who brought home the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series title.
In addition to picking up hardware for the absent Busch, who was testing in Florida in preparation for the upcoming Daytona 500, Kennedy announced Ford's new Sweepstakes Motorsports Journalism Award of Excellence tonight, a $1000 stipend to a journalist for a story about Ford Racing. Sweepstakes was the name of Henry Ford's first title-winning car; his prize back then was $1000 for a championship.
Although he only received honorable mention (and at least five percent of the votes cast) Jon Fogarty, the two-time Toyota Atlantic champion who will be driving in the Rolex Series this year came to Pomona for this event.
By far the biggest announcement of the evening released the names of AARWBA's 12 nominees for Newsmaker of the Half-Century, a prize that will be voted upon by the entire membership. After culling 50 names, the group's board of directors settled on the top 12 and unveiled their choices tonight.
Considered for this prize are (alphabetically): Mario Andretti, Kenny Bernstein, Dale Earnhardt, John Force, A.J. Foyt, the France family, Jeff Gordon, Dan Gurney, the Hulman-George family, Wally Parks, Roger Penske and Richard Petty.
The Newsmaker of the Half-Century will be revealed during a public ceremony this May at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway prior to the running of the 89th Indianapolis 500 Mile Race. The winner will receive a specially commissioned painting and AARWBA will make a donation to the winner's favorite charity.
Bernstein, the drag racer who at one time owned teams in drag racing, Indy car racing and in Cup was given a special award for his achievements as a Pioneer in Racing. First to run 300mph in a drag racer, Bernstein also saw wins for his three different teams in three diverse series during the same year.
Racing insurance purveyor John Gorsline has given a scholarship through his Gorsline Company to a deserving young driver since 1995. This year's winner is Colin Braun, 16, of Ovalo, TX, who will receive support during the 2005 racing season from the Speed Secrets Driver Development Services. Braun receives a comprehensive career plan and coaching services to complement and enhance his driving talents.
Braun begins his 2005 campaign next month in the Rolex 24 at Daytona, where he'll be driving a TRG Porsche along with two other 16-year-olds, Brad Coleman and Adrian Carrio. This trio will have the services of Ross Bentley as their fourth driver on the aptly named Team 16. Interestingly, the three younger drivers' ages add up to Bentley's current age of 48.
This year AARWBA resurrected the James P. Chapman Award of Excellence in Racing PR and gave the prize to a stunned Doug Stokes, who performs those duties at Irwindale Speedway, the stellar half-mile oval les than 15 minutes from Fairplex.
In the 35 years presenting the All America team, the American Auto Racing Writers and Broadcasters Association has had a special prize for its top vote getter.
This year's Jerry Titus Award, named for the late journalist/driver went to Kanaan, the IndyCar Series champion who finished every lap of the 16-race season, earned three victories and brought home results in the top five over 15 consecutive races; his sole finish outside the top five was eighth in the season-opening race at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
During his acceptance speech, Kanaan noted that when Bernstein began his 26- year association with Budweiser beer, the Brazilian was only three years old, no doubt causing KB a bit of mental anguish.
AARWBA 50th anniversary celebrations will continue through the 2005 racing season. This group is the longest-lived professional organization of its type and lists members from around the world. Major Golden Anniversary sponsors include Porsche, Toyota, the Indy Racing League, NHRA, American Le Mans Series, Champ Car World Series, Honda and other proactive members of the motorsports community.