WS: WM: JRCS: TQ: DT: 2001 banquet report

White and Triple Crown Champions headline USAC banquet Racing champions representing the world's most diversified sanctioning body accepted year-end awards, including more than $350,000 in point funds, at Friday night's 46th USAC "Night of ...

White and Triple Crown Champions headline USAC banquet

Racing champions representing the world's most diversified sanctioning body accepted year-end awards, including more than $350,000 in point funds, at Friday night's 46th USAC "Night of Champions" National Awards Dinner presented by "The Road to Indy" at the Westin Hotel in downtown Indianapolis, Ind.

Texan Paul White, Arizona's J.J. Yeley, Hoosiers Dave Darland and John Wolfe, Illinois' Ross Fonferko and Californians Tony Hunt, Danny Ebberts, Scott Speed and Walt Johnson were saluted as 2001 driving champions.

White, of Temple, Texas, was honored along with his car owner, Paul Cook Racing of Mansfield, Texas, as champions of the Coors Light Silver Bullet Series.

Yeley, of Phoenix, Ariz., won the Stoops Freightliner National Sprint Car title, while the champion car owner in that series was Walker/Gratton Racing of Noblesville, Ind.

Darland, of Lincoln, Ind., shared the stage with WorldCom National Midget Car Owner Champion Steve Lewis of Laguna Beach, Calif. Darland's WorldCom National Midget Car title completed his pursuit of USAC's "Triple Crown," an honor which was recognized by NASCAR star Tony Stewart, who presented Darland with the initial "True Speed Triple Crown Award," consisting of a specially-crafted ring and a USAC Life Membership. Stewart also presented similar awards to Pancho Carter of Brownsburg, Ind., who became USAC's initial "Triple Crown" Champion in 1978. Stewart was then presented his own "Triple Crown" honors and USAC Life Membership by longtime USAC Midget Car owner Steve Lewis.

Dr. Pat Sullivan, a chief announcer for the Indy Racing League and president of the Hoosier Auto Racing Fan Club and renowned auto racing historian, served as master of ceremonies for Friday night's banquet, held in the Grand Ballroom of the Westin.

Topping the list of year-end prize funds were the $30,000 distrubuted to 16 different drivers in six USAC racing series by the Indy Racing League's "Road to Indy" program, as well as the $16,403 point fund checks collected by both White and Cook for their Silver Crown titles. Joanna Edwards, manager of Driver Development for the IRL, made the "Road to Indy" presentations.

Yeley, who collected multiple point fund and "Road to Indy" checks, joined White in the $20,000-plus category for the night and also accepted the USAC "Super License" from newly-elected USAC President/CEO Rollie Helmling for amassing the most total feature event points during the year. The license is good for all USAC racing series in the year 2002. Yeley also accepted the Oliver Trucking "Pole Award" for qualifying excellence during the 2001 Silver Crown campaign.

Tony Hunt of Fair Oaks, Calif. and Bob and Lori Scott of Paradise, Calif. were toasted as champions of the USAC Western Sprint Car Series, while Danny Ebberts of Canyon Lake, Calif. and car owners Thomas Ebberts of Canyon Lake and Vince Schlacter of Anaheim Hills, Calif. spotlighted the USAC WorldCom Western Midget Car Series. Walt Johnson of Sun Valley, Calif. and car owner Guy Barber of Camarillo, Calif. split the spotlight as champions of the USAC WorldCom TQ Midget Car Series.

Wolfe, of Winchester, Ind., was honored for his championship in the 2001 USAC Dirt-Track Regional Midget Car Series.

Ross Fonferko of Wheaton, Ill. and Scott Speed of Manteca, Calif. accepted laurels as champions of USAC's 2001 Russell Racing Series. Fonferko won the Yokohama Triple Crown Pro title and Speed earned the Formula Russell crown. Their awards were presented by Ron Landthorn of the Jim Russell Racing Drivers School.

USAC Special Recognition Awards were presented to Ron Hemelgarn of Toledo, Ohio (Individual) and K & K Insurance of Fort Wayne, Ind. (Corporate) for their continuing support of USAC activities. Accepting for K & K was Ned Hart, the Senior Motorsports Sales Executive for K & K.

Retiring USAC President/CEO John Capels and his wife Dana were dually recognized. John accepted the prestigious Eddie Edenburn Award for lifelong contributions to the sport and Dana received the Diana Fell Gilmore "Woman Behind the Scenes" Award from Michigan's famed racing Gilmore Family.

World renowned announcer Bob Jenkins of Carmel, Ind., who served as the USAC National Awards Dinner emcee until last year, received the prestigious Roger McCluskey "Award of Excellence" from Roger, Jr.

Bill Simpson of Indianapolis was recipient of the Jack O'Neal CNA Safety Award, presented for the first time in three years, in recognition of his outstanding contributions to the field of auto racing safety.

Scott Simpson, Director of Advertising & Promotions for Phoenix International Raceway, accepted the USAC Race Organizer of the Year Award for International Speedway Corporation, which was prevalent on many fronts during the 2001 USAC racing season.

Longtime racer and car builder Bob East of Indianapolis was awarded USAC's "Jim Blunk Award" in recognition of his many contributions to the sport of Midget auto racing. Bob's son, Bobby, was honored with the USAC Motoring Division's Bob Stroud Memorial "Rookie of the Year" Award in the WorldCom National Midget Car Series.

Valvoline and Rubicon Promotions presented the prestigious "Jimmy Caruthers Award" to Kevin Bloomstran of Lebanon, Ohio for his spirit and determination in recovering from serious injuries to compete as both a driver and car owner in USAC's Silver Crown series.

Weld Racing of Kansas City, Mo. presented their annual USAC "Mechanic of the Year" Award to Bobby Barth of Alexandria, Ind. for his yeoman work in various USAC racing series during 2001.

Walt Dunkerson of Indianapolis was recognized for his long tenure as a USAC Registrar and accepted the USAC Winners Circle Club's Ross Hadley Award.

Sprint car participants Eric Gordon, Tracy Hines and Walker/Gratton Racing accepted distinctive awards for 2001 Sprint car achievements. Gordon was the recipient of a special award honoring him as the winner of this year's "Little 500" at Anderson, Ind., USAC's first involvement in the 53-year-old race. Turbines, Inc. presented Hines and Walker/Gratton Racing their "Checkered Flag" awards recognizing qualifying achievement in the Sprint car series.

Series "Rookies of the Year" and "Most Improved" Drivers, were also honored, including the aforementioned East. Keco Coatings recognized youthful Aaron Fike of Galesburg, Ill. as the Silver Crown "Rookie of the Year," while the University of Northwestern Ohio presented Ed Carpenter of Indianapolis the Sprint Car "Rookie" award. Hoosier Tire "Most Improved Drivers" included Jerry Coons, Jr. of Tucson, Ariz. (Silver Crown) and Levi Jones of Olney, Ill. (Sprint Car), with the Josten's National Midget Series "Most Improved" Award going to Steve Paden of Downey, Calif.

Grand Champions of the Quarter Midgets of America gathered on stage for a tribute from the audience, representing USAC's initial season as the National Headquarters for the QMA. They included youngsters from all over America.

Ginny Spillman of Auto Racing Ministries kicked off the evening with touching renditions of God Bless America and the National Anthem, while husband Tim Spillman of ARM delivered the invocation.

Visual presentations were courtesy of Lingner Group Productions of Indianapolis.

--USAC--

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Series Other open wheel , USAC
Drivers Tony Stewart , Scott Speed , Dave Darland , Danny Ebberts , J.J. Yeley , Tracy Hines , Aaron Fike , Eric Gordon , Paul White , Pancho Carter , Steve Paden , Jerry Coons , Tony Hunt , Ed Carpenter