50th "Night of Champions" banquet report

2005 CHAMPIONS TOASTED AT USAC "CHAMPIONS NIGHT" INDIANAPOLIS FETE CELEBRATES 50 YEARS OF MOTORSPORTS Champions of 2005 United States Auto Club racing series highlighted honorees at Saturday night's USAC "Champions Night" at ...

2005 CHAMPIONS TOASTED AT USAC "CHAMPIONS NIGHT"

INDIANAPOLIS FETE CELEBRATES 50 YEARS OF MOTORSPORTS

Champions of 2005 United States Auto Club racing series highlighted honorees at Saturday night's USAC "Champions Night" at the Westin Hotel in downtown Indianapolis.

Emcee Jack Arute, who will anchor USAC's 2006 Outdoor Channel television programming, saluted driver and car owner champions, Rookies of the Year, Most Improved Drivers and numerous special award recipients during the festivities in the hotel's Golden Ballroom.

Special guests among the attendees included 1960 Indianapolis 500 winner Jim Rathmann of Melbourne, Fla., 3-time Indianapolis 500 winner Johnny Rutherford of Fort Worth, Texas, USAC's all-time leading Stock Car feature winner Don White of Keokuk, Iowa and four-time USAC driving champion Gary Bettenhausen of Monrovia, Ind,

National driving champions Dave Steele of Tampa, Fla., Levi Jones of Olney, Ill., Josh Wise of Riverside, Calif. and Robbie Ray of Davenport, Iowa topped the list of recipients of year-end cash and commemorative awards. Each also received a "Key to the City" of Indianapolis, while Wise was honored as USAC's 2005 "Super License Champion," earning more National points than any other driver.

Steele won the 2005 Weld Racing Silver Crown title, while Jones was the Valvoline National Sprint Car Champ, Wise claimed the National Midget crown and Ray was the National Ford Focus titlist. National car entrant champions were East/Stewart Racing of Indianapolis (Weld Racing Silver Crown), 2B Racing, Inc. of Fairmount, Ind. (Valvoline National Sprint Car), Wilke-Pak Motorsports of Milwaukee, Wis. (National Midget) and Tracy Trotter of Houston, Tex. (Ford Focus). The titles were Steele's second, Jones, Wise and Ray's first, East/Stewart's fourth in a row, 2B's first, Wilke's third and Trotter's first.

Other driving champions honored Saturday night were: Kody Swanson of Kingsburg, Calif. (Valvoline Western Sprint Car), Jerome Rodela of El Monte, Calif. (Western Midget), Damion Gardner of Concord, Calif. (Valvoline CRA Sprint Car), Jimmy Wysong of Salt Lake City, Utah (Young Automotive Rocky Mountain Sprint), Tate Martz of Rushville, Ind. (Midwest Ford Focus Midget), Chase Scott of Concord, N.C. (Carolina/Virginia Ford Focus), Alex Harris of Simi Valley, Calif. (California Paved Ford Focus), Chase Barber of Morgan Hill, Calif. (California Dirt Ford Focus), Jasiel Randolph of Tulsa, Okla. (Oklahoma Ford Focus), Michael Sboro of Watertown, N.Y. (Northeast Ford Focus), Brad Kuhn of Avon, Ind. (Regional Midget), Jonathan Hendrick of Fortville, Ind. (Kenyon Midget) and Jamie Williams of Columbus, Ind. (Regional Ford Focus).

United States Rally Champions Tom Lawless of Yonkers, N.Y. and Jason Gillespie of Queens, N.Y., were presented distinctive USAC awards by series principals, who included Ray & Donna Hocker, Ivan & Olga Orisek, Roger & Lynnette Allison, John Shirley and Kendall Russell.

Car entrant champions honored Saturday night also included TK Motorsports of Kingsburg, Calif. (Valvoline Western Sprint Car), Rodela (Western Midget), Ron Chaffin of Madera, Calif. (Valvoline CRA Sprint Car), Jeff Spiers of Boise, Idaho (Young Automotive Rocky Mountain Sprint), Gregg Steele of Shelbyville, Ind. (Midwest Ford Focus Midget), Real Race Cars, Inc. of Concord, N.C. (Carolina/Virginia Ford Focus), Harris (California Paved Ford Focus), Bret Barber of Morgan Hills, Calif. (California Dirt Ford Focus), Randolph (Oklahoma Ford Focus), Steven Sboro of Watertown, N.Y. (Northeast Ford Focus), Steve Kuhn of Avon, Ind. (Regional Midget), Gary Hendrick of Fortville, Ind. (Kenyon Midget) and Jamie Williams (Regional Ford Focus).

In addition to year-end point fund cash awards, top drivers and car owners also received cash and product certificate awards from the University of Northwest Ohio, Valvoline, K & N Filters, Mechanix Wear, ICard, JE Pistons and Weld Racing.

USAC National Sales & Marketing Director Steve Farmer addressed the audience regarding USAC's corporate involvement and its new television programming on the Outdoor Channel.

Scott Denby, Business Manager for Ford Racing, represented his company in making the Ford Focus presentations along with USAC National Ford Focus Coordinator Eric Bunn, and Weld Racing President Greg Weld, a former USAC National Sprint Car Champion, made the presentations of his company's awards to the Silver Crown Series recipients.

Robert Writesman, Manager of Circle Track Motorsports for Holley Performance Products, Inc., presented the company's Earl's Fast Qualifier Awards to USAC's 2005 qualifying champions, while USAC President and CEO Rollie Helmling presented year-end Indy Racing League awards to USAC's 2005 driving champions. Irish Saunders, pavement race tire manager for Hoosier Racing Tires, and John Summers, Manager of Hoosier Tire Midwest, also presented distinctive Hoosier jackets to each USAC driving champion.

Longtime USAC participant and Board Member Don Kenyon of Lebanon, Ind. was the recipient of USAC's Special Individual Recognition Award, while Kevin Miller, Marketing Manager for Mopar Performance Parts, accepted USAC's Special Corporate Recognition Award for Mopar.

Former USAC Statistician and Historian and current Indianapolis Motor Speedway historian Donald Davidson of Speedway, Ind. was presented USAC's prestigious Eddie Edenburn Award by USAC Vice President of News & Communications Dick Jordan.

Roger McCluskey Jr. presented USAC's Roger McCluskey Award of Excellence to reknowned television personality Dave Despain of Fairfield, Iowa in memory of the late USAC driver and official.

Ford Racing's Supervisor of Performance Equipment Hank Dertian accepted the Jim Blunk Award for the company's significant contributions to the sport of Midget racing.

Indianapolis Motor Speedway Corporation President/CEO Tony George received the Jack O'Neal Safety Award as the driving force behind the introduction of safer barriers which have had such an impact on our sport. Kevin Forbes, Director of Engineeering and Construction for IMS, who supervised the installation of the barriers and played a role in their development, accepted the award on behalf of George.

Track announcer Danny Williams accepted USAC's "Race Organizer of the Year" award on behalf of Indiana's Gas City I-69 Speedway from Sprint Car Series Coordinator Greg Staab, while mention was also made of the Jan. 7 presentation of USAC's Western "Race Organizer of the Year" award to Don Kazarian of Perris (Calif.) Auto Speedway.

Darren Hagen of Riverside, Calif. doubled up on "Rookie of the Year" awards from the University of Northwest Ohio, claiming the National Sprint and National Midget honors. Josh Wise earned the Weld Racing Silver Crown Series "Rookie" award, while James Robertson, Gary Winters and Robbie Whitchurch were saluted as top Ford Focus "Rookies." Robertson, of Indianapolis, was the top Midwest neophyte, while Winters, of Salisbury, N.C., was selected in the Carolina/Virginia series and Whitchurch, of Chico, Calif., was tops in the California series. Making the UNO "Rookie" presentations was Andy O'Neal, Dean of the College of Technologies.

"Most Improved Driver" awards were distributed to Brad Kuhn (National Midget), Mat Neely of Robinson, Ill. (Valvoline National Sprint Car) and Wayne Reutimann Jr. of Zephyrhills, Fla. (Weld Racing Silver Crown).

The Lincoln Electric National Mechanical Achievement Award went to Scott Benic of Fairmount, Ind., while mention was made of previously presented Western and Lifetime awards to Bruce Bromme of Templeton, Calif. and George Bignotti of Las Vegas, Nev. respectively. Benic wrenched for National Sprint Car Champion Levi Jones, while Bromme assisted CRA Sprint Car king Damion Gardner. Bignotti earned the initial Lifetime Award in recognition of his significant successes in USAC-sanctioned events.

Ted Abdon, Director of Motorsports Marketing for Mechanix Wear, presented his company's brand-new "Most Valuable Pit Crew Champions" award to the members of Team Six-R Racing, who earned third-place in the Weld Racing Silver Crown Series. Team members included Brian Tyler, Jack and Greg Steck, Mike Lawson, Bill Ertel, Tom Johnson, Clifford Heeter, Daryl Guiducci and Larry Farno.

Ford Focus Midget Car Chief Mechanics of the Year were also recognized: Mike Robertson of Indianapolis (Midwest), Victor Quinones of Pen Argyl, Pa. (Carolina/Virginia), Bret Barber of Morgan Hill, Calif. (California) and Tom Sewell of Tulsa, Okla. (Oklahoma). Gary Huffman of Denver, N.C. was celebrated as the National Ford Focus Chief Mechanic of the Year for his work on Robbie Ray's machine.

Eric Gordon of Greenfield, Ind. accepted yet another distinctive "Little 500 Winners Award" from Kevin Kotansky, district advertising manager for race sponsor Kroger, celebrating his record seventh victory in the 500-lap sprint car classic.

Long-time USAC official Dave Petrali of LaVerne, Calif. was presented the USAC Winners Circle's Ross Hadley Memorial Achievement Award by USAC President Rollie Helmling.

Quarter Midgets of America Grand National Champions also were presented USAC Performance certificates by National Coordinator Eric Bunn and driver Dave Darland in recognition of their 2005 championships.

USAC Vice President/Competition Director Mike Devin presented Appreciation certificates to interns from the University of Northwest Ohio who assisted USAC officials in the field during 2005. They included Adam Bonci, Brian Ginett, Chris Hawley, Jake Lobins, Jared Mowery, Brent Moye, Brent Sorenson, Dave Thomas and Kyle Wetsle.

Devin was surprised later by one of his former Indianapolis 500 drivers, Rutherford, who presented a unique Ron Burton artwork specially-commissioned by USAC in recognition of his retirement as a USAC Vice-President, Technical Director and Competition Director.

USAC Chief Starter Tom Hansing presented checkered flag awards to USAC Regional driving champions Kuhn, Hendrick and Williams.

Second and third-place drivers and car entrants in various USAC racing series also received their year-end recognition and awards.

Floral decorations were provided by Jockish Flowers of Indianapolis. Tim Spillman of Auto Racing Ministries delivered the invocation, while his wife Ginny sang the National Anthem. Video presentations were courtesy of Dean Mills Video Productions and Dick Wallen's Racing Classics.

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Series USAC
Drivers Brad Kuhn , Dave Darland , Dave Steele , Brian Tyler , Eric Gordon , Levi Jones , John Shirley , Josh Wise , Wayne Reutimann , Darren Hagen , Jordan Dick , Damion Gardner , Chase Scott , Jonathan Hendrick , Robbie Ray , Johnny Rutherford , Robbie Whitchurch
Teams Williams