Vidovich Crowned Champion in Reno
DAYTONA BEACH, Fl. (December 15, 2003) Auggie Vidovich from Lakeside, Calif. was crowned the 18th NASCAR Elite Division, Featherlite Southwest Series champion Saturday night in Reno, Nevada in front of more than 350 guests at the black tie affair held at the beautiful Eldorado Showroom. Vidovich had to wait his turn to visit the stage as the top twenty drivers were recognized as well as several special award winners.
Several special guests were in attendance for the banquet including 1961 Daytona 500 winner Marvin Panch and NASCAR NEXTEL Cup star Kurt Busch. Panch was voted as one of NASCAR's 50 drivers and attended the NASCAR Winston West banquet a night earlier in which former Winston West Series champions were honored.
Busch cut his teeth in the Southwest Series and won the series title in 1999 before entering the NASCAR Craftsman truck series. Busch presented the Ray Judy Award.
The top twenty drivers and top ten owners were recognized for their individual and team performances during the 2003 racing season. Each driver and owner received a beautifully etched acrylic plaque from NASCAR highlighting their achievement.
Finishing fifth in his first full season on the series, Dan Holtz from Pacific Palisades, Calif. thanked his owner Kevin Thompson for the opportunity to drive the Rialto Concrete Products Ford and confirmed that the team will contend for the 2004 series title. "We had a great year and now know what it takes to challenge for the championship," Holtz said. "Kevin (Thompson) and crew did an outstanding job this season, and I could not be more proud of the team."
2002 Southwest Series champion Eddy McKean from Jerome, Idaho let his competitors know that he would return next season and looked forward to competing for the 2004 series crown. "We accomplished a lot this season," McKean said. "To win twice this year was gratifying, especially winning at Phoenix where we have come close so many times. I can't wait for the first race in five weeks."
Finishing third in the final standing for the second consecutive year was Jim Pettit II from Prunedale, Calif. Pettit recognized his fellow competitors for the outstanding job they did all season and offered praise to his car owner Jesse Rhodes for the opportunity. "Jesse took a chance on me three years ago and I am happy that we were able to win this season and stand on stage here tonight," Pettit said. "I look forward to next season as I know that the competition will only get tougher. Each of these guys are top notch, which is what makes this series the best out there."
Eric Holmes of Escalon, Calif. completed his first full season on the series after several partial years of competition. Holmes stated that he and his team would be back next season and looked to sit at the head table after finishing second this season. "We had a great year, but Auggie was just so consistent," Holmes said. "We are ready for Phoenix and prepared to pick up were we left off. This series is a lot of fun and one that I grew up watching. I am thankful to Allen Beebe (car owner) for his confidence and support over the past several years. His teams have competed in the series since the beginning and I would like to be the guy that delivers a championship."
Before Vidovich took the stage, several people were recognized with special awards. Jim Pettit II won the Powerade Power Move-of-the-Race Award and the $5,000 cash award.
Craig Raudman of Bakersfield, Calif. won the Bud Pole Award winner for the second time in three years. Raudman collected five Bud Pole Awards this season and boosted his total to 24 Bud Poles which places his second on the all-time list behind M.K. Kanke who has 27. Raudman received a $5,000 cash bonus along with the award.
Joe Herold of Poway, Calif. was honored as the 2003 George Stiles Series Dedication Award winner. Eddy McKean was given the Sportsman of the Year Award, with Danny Burson of Albuquerque, NM claiming the Most Improved Driver Award.
JR Patton form Las Cruces, NM was honored as the 2003 Victory Circle Chassis Rookie-of-the-Year winner after his ninth place final point's finish. Patton also received a trophy and a $5000 cash award from Victory Circle Chassis'.
After all the special awards were handed out, it was time to hear from the guest of honor, Auggie Vidovich. Vidovich won the series title on the strength of consistency in his fourth year on the series. Vidovich was also honored as the series' Most Popular Driver.
"I can't thank my team enough for their dedication all season," Vidovich said. "We started the season on a race to race deal and knew that if we broke something it could spell the end. We just kept going one race at a time and were able come out on top. My family has supported me throughout my racing career and I owe everything to my mom and dad. They have made my dreams come true."
The banquet also signaled an end to an era and a new beginning. Featherlite has been the title sponsor of the Southwest Series since 1992 but passed the torch on to AutoZone who has become the new title sponsor for the NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division. AutoZone and its more than 3300 stores across the country will support each of the four series in the Elite Division through advertising, in-store promotions, and on-track functions.
The 2004 NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division, Southwest Series will begin its 19th season of competition in just five short weeks at Phoenix Int'l Raceway January 24-25. Log onto www.nascartouring.com for all the latest news regarding the NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division.