NASCAR Winston Racing Series toasts its champion By Brett Borden

ORLANDO, Fla. (Nov. 5, 1999) Jeff Leka was the man of the hour Friday night at the NASCAR Winston Racing Series banquet at Disney Contemporary Resort. As they like to say in these parts, it's a small world after all. NASCAR Winston Racing Series competitors from around the country convened at the Contemporary Resort for a magical night next to Mickey. With fireworks going off as they always do at the Magic Kingdom next door, NASCAR created its own to honor its champions and the man of the hour, national champion Jeff Leka.

Leka, the Buffalo (Ill.) Soldier who won the Heartland Region competing every week at Macon (Ill.) Speedway, was the last to speak in the three-hour ceremony. He had a lot of people to thank for his award.

"Winning the NASCAR Winston Racing Series National Championship is a dream come true for everyone involved with our team," Leka said, "and without my family, car owners and team I wouldn't be able to stand before you tonight and accept this championship."

Leka had quite a day. Earlier he and the other nine regional champions got to visit Daytona International Speedway for a photo shoot. It was Leka's first visit to the motorsports mecca, but not his first unique Florida experience of the week.

"I was playing golf when I hit the ball in the water, and as I'm getting the ball with the ball retriever this six-foot alligator is sitting right there," Leka said. "I really made him mad when I hit him on the head."

The competitors who chased Leka all season long know just how the gator feels. It seemed a Leka victory was par for the course all season long.

Also honored Friday were 109 other drivers from the nearly 100 tracks in 36 states, and 10 mechanics for good measure.

Dr. Jerry Punch hosted the event. He compared Leka to a Super Bowl winning quarterback or a World Series MVP.

"Whenever a sports star wins 'the Big One' -- a Super Bowl or a national championship -- he always looks directly into a television camera and exclaims 'I'm going to Disney World'. Well, tonight it is NASCAR's turn to shine in Walt Disney World."

And shine they did. From tracks all over the United States, the people who make up the NASCAR Winston Racing Series lit up the night, making their own Magic Kingdom indoors.