IRL: Indy Racing Northern Light Series banquet report

FORT WORTH, Texas, Sunday, Oct. 7, 2001 - Sam Hornish Jr. and Panther Racing were the centers of attention Oct. 7 at the 2001 Indy Racing League Championship Banquet, earning $1 million and the Northern Light Cup for their ...

FORT WORTH, Texas, Sunday, Oct. 7, 2001 - Sam Hornish Jr. and Panther Racing were the centers of attention Oct. 7 at the 2001 Indy Racing League Championship Banquet, earning $1 million and the Northern Light Cup for their championship-winning season. Hornish won his first Indy Racing Northern Light Series championship in just his second season of Indy Racing and first with Panther Racing, which joined Indy Racing in 1998. Hornish won the title with 503 points and three victories - including the season-ending Chevy 500 on Oct. 6 at Texas Motor Speedway - in the No. 4 Pennzoil Panther Dallara/Oldsmobile/Firestone. Tony George, Indy Racing League president and chief executive officer, presented Hornish and the Panther team ownership group with the Northern Light Cup and a $1 million championship bonus during the gala ceremonies at The Speedway Club at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth. "It's been a great season," Hornish said. "The Pennzoil Panther guys have done a great job." Hornish already is relishing his role and responsibilities as series champion.

"I'm very excited," Hornish said. "It's a good thing. Since I came in the league, I've tried to show I'll do anything. I want the league to succeed. It means a better livelihood for me. It would mean I'm always going to be able to race and have a place to race. It has given me my first shot at a major open-wheel series and being able to run at the Indianapolis 500." Hornish, 22, became the youngest driver to win a major-league open-wheel championship in modern American motorsports history. He was a model of consistency, recording 10 top-three finishes in 13 races. "It's just been one of those years," Panther co-owner John Barnes said. "Somebody asked me earlier does this remind me of any other championship year? I think only Al Unser Sr. in 1970 does it compare to. "We finished all but seven laps of all laps in competition. We led the most laps by probably two or three hundred. To take Sam in only his second year, actually year and a half, of IRL racing, it's just been tremendous to watch him."

Indianapolis television broadcaster and Indianapolis Motor Speedway public-address announcer Dave Calabro was the host of the banquet, which started with a special tribute of remembrance to the victims of the terrorist attacks Sept. 11 in America. Performers from the award-winning Cirque du Soleil and musical group K.C. & The Sunshine Band provided entertainment during and after the ceremony.

The 2002 Indy Racing Northern Light Series season starts March 2, 2002, with the Infiniti Grand Prix of Miami at Homestead-Miami Speedway. It's the first of a record 15 races. "I know when it comes around to the beginning of March, we'll definitely be ready to go again," Hornish said. "I think we're going to have an even better year next year."

A recap of the other awards:

Indy Racing League Achievement Award: Steve Keifer *Indy Racing League Director of Operations John Lewis presented this award to Indy Racing League Transportation Coordinator Keifer for his extraordinary and tireless contributions to the success of the Indy Racing League.

Indy Racing League Special Recognition Award: Dr. Kevin Scheid *Scheid, an orthopedic surgeon at Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis, earned this award for his outstanding work with injured Indy Racing drivers.

Chevy Rookie of the Year Award: Felipe Giaffone *Nate Love, regional marketing manager for Chevrolet Car, presented the award and a $50,000 bonus to Giaffone for leading the rookie standings in the 2001 season with 304 points in his No. 21 Hollywood G Force/Oldsmobile/Firestone entry. Giaffone finished sixth in the final Indy Racing point standings, the best result by a rookie since the league's inaugural season in 1996.

Pennzoil Chief Mechanic of the Year Award: Simon Morley *Jim Postl, CEO of Pennzoil Quaker State, presented Panther Racing chief mechanic Morley with a $25,000 bonus for winning this award. Morley's skill and leadership helped Panther Racing and driver Sam Hornish Jr. win three races and the Northern Light Cup in 2001.

MBNA Season Pole Award: Greg Ray *Parish Henry of MBNA presented this $20,000 bonus to Ray, who earned four MBNA Pole Awards during the 2001 season, more than any other driver.

EMCO Gears Out Front Award: Sam Hornish Jr. *Dan Cota of EMCO Gears presented this $10,000 bonus to Hornish, who led 765 laps this season in his No. 4 Pennzoil Panther Dallara/Oldsmobile/Firestone, more than 300 laps more than any other driver.

IRL Crew Most Popular Driver Award: Sarah Fisher *Carl Lundin of the IRL Crew and last year's Most Popular Driver Award winner, Al Unser Jr., presented Fisher with this award after Fisher, driver of the No. 15 Walker Racing Kroger Special Dallara/Oldsmobile/Firestone, was voted the most popular driver in Crew and fan balloting throughout the season.

Championship Team Sponsor Award: Pennzoil *This award was presented to Jim Postl, CEO of Pennzoil, for the company's longtime primary sponsorship of Panther Racing, which won the Indy Racing championship this season with driver Sam Hornish Jr.

Championship Team Manager Award: Kevin Blanch *Panther Racing team manager Blanch accepted this award for his hard work in helping Panther and driver Sam Hornish Jr. win the Northern Light Cup in 2001.

Promoter of the Year: Eddie Gossage *Director of Indy Racing Marketing Matt McCartin presented this award to Gossage, executive vice president and general manager of Texas Motor Speedway. Texas has played host to nine Indy Racing events since 1997, more than any other track, and its innovative promotion strategies have helped TMS draw the largest crowds in the series outside of Indianapolis.

Engine Manufacturers Recognition: Oldsmobile *Indy Racing League President and CEO Tony George presented this award to Doug Stott, assistant brand manager for Aurora, in recognition of Oldsmobile's fifth consecutive engine manufacturers' championship and its longtime commitment to Indy Racing. Oldsmobile, withdrawing from motorsports after this season, powered the winner in 12 of 13 Northern Light Series races in 2001. Olds has won every manufacturers' championship since it debuted its normally aspirated Indy Racing League engine in 1997.

Manufacturer Awards: *These representatives accepted awards on behalf of their respective companies for achievement in Indy Racing:
John Biddlecomb, G Force Technologies Ltd.
Caterina Dallara, Dallara Automobili
Peter Digby, Xtrac Ltd.
Bernard Dudot, Infiniti Sports
Al Speyer, Bridgestone/Firestone, Inc.
Brad Stout, Delphi Automotive Systems

Highlights from the 2001 Indy Racing League Championship Banquet will be broadcast on a tape-delayed basis on ESPN2, with air time and date to be announced later.

-IRNLS/IMS-

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Sarah Fisher , Greg Ray , Felipe Giaffone , Al Unser Jr. , Brad Stout , Al Unser Sr. , Tony George , John Lewis , John Barnes , Sam Hornish Jr.
Teams Panther Racing