Outlaws Look at Future While Celebrating '97 Season By Richard Day
LAS VEGAS, NV (November 6) - The Pennzoil World of Outlaws Series' 20th Annual Awards Banquet took on a futuristic look as the series celebrated its 20th season at the Monte Carlo Resort and Casino Thursday.
"Unless I'm talking to a driver who raced with us in the early years, I'm always looking to the future," World of Outlaws President Ted Johnson said as shimmering showgirls posed among the crowd of 500. "We've come a long way in 20 years, and we're always looking for ways to make the World of Outlaws better."
Johnson thanked Pennzoil for being such an outstanding title sponsor in its first year with the series.
"Pennzoil is proud and excited to sponsor the World of Outlaws," Pennzoil's Chief Marketing Officer Tom Floyd said. "I don't see anything but growth here. I went to the race last night (the finale at Las Vegas Motor Speedway), and was it exciting. It was a great example of what the series is all about. It's something we can take our Pennzoil customers to see, and our whole organization is tremendously excited about the series. We're looking forward to many years of involvement with the World of Outlaws."
Also representing Pennzoil was legendary Indycar racer Johnny Rutherford, who started his career racing sprint cars.
Johnson praised the efforts of TNN: The Nashville Network, which entered into a joint venture with the World of Outlaws 1 1/2 years ago and is responsible for the series' growing presence on national television. Representing TNN at the banquet were Director of Programming Brian Hughes, Vice President of Cable Networks Paul Morris, Director of Corporate Relations Nancy Neil and Director of Motorsports Mark Kuchan. Representing TNN's parent company, CBS Cable, were Peter Weisbard, Senior Vice President of Sales, and Walter Bodkin, Vice President of Advertising Sales.
"We have seen great growth in the World of Outlaws this year, and we're looking forward to a very exciting 1998," Hughes said.
Diamond P Sports producers Jim Roller and Jeffrey Green were also in attendance.
Johnson also applauded the series' car owners, calling them "the unsung heroes" of the sport.
The Pennzoil World of Outlaws Series rewarded more drivers with special awards than ever before.
"When we decided to run the tour this year, this wasn't exactly what we were working toward," Vivarin Perseverance Award winner Dion Hindi said. "It's really nice that our efforts were recognized though. Until you get out on the tour, you never really know just how tough it is to run with the World of Outlaws.
"I want to congratulate guys like Sammy (Swindell). I don't know how he's done this for 25 years. I'm only 27, so he's been doing this since I was two. I also want to thank Sammy. He helped us out a lot at the race track."
MBNA, the World of Outlaws' official MASTERCARD provider, rewarded Greg Hodnett with the Most Improved Driver Award and $4,000.
"I appreciate MBNA for sponsoring this award," Hodnett said. "The guys (the #11H Selma Shell Maxim crew) really worked hard. I think I'm the same driver I was a year ago, but they tell I'm getting a little bit smarter. I owe the improvement we saw this year to my car owner, Dave Helm. He spent his money as wisely as anybody could. Our crew chief, Sonny Kratzer, does a great job. When we're communicating well, we can usually finish up front. Sonny and our crew worked very hard to make this possible for me.
"The only problem I have is that next year I probably won't be eligible for this award, so if I could get MBNA to cancel my fiance's (Laura Hess) credit card right now, I'd really appreciate it."
Hodnett added he looked forward to racing with SmithKline Beecham products Vivarin and Nicoderm CQ as the team's sponsors next season.
Guy Forbrook, first-year crew chief on the #22 Pennzoil Maxim, received the Channellock Mechanic of the Year Award.
"Last year, when Jack Elden asked me to join his team last year, I didn't really know if I could take the miles the series involves. I had a lot of fun.
"I'd like to thank Jack and Carol Elden, Pennzoil, Jac and Patty Haudenschild and especially the guys who work for me. It's not easy. I can only do so many things and they have to do the rest. I owe this to all the guys who helped me out there."
The Manufacturers' Rookie of the Year Award, sponsored by Crane Cams, Gaerte Engines, J&J Auto Racing, Maxim Chassis, MSD Ignitions and Schoenfeld, rewarded Donny Schatz and Paul McMahan for their fine rookie seasons on the World of Outlaws' tour.
"I'd just like to thank Donny Schatz," said McMahan, the runner-up in the rookie race. "It's been a lot of fun racing with him this year. Toward the end, we fell off and he kept it going."
Schatz delivered the most emotional speech of the evening when he received the Rookie of the Year Award.
"I really appreciate this award," Schatz said. "I'm excited. There should be three. It was a lot of fun racing with Paul and Dion this year. I'm looking forward to coming back next year."
Jeff Swindell, who finished 11th in the driver standings, had a good reason for missing the banquet. His wife, Sissy, went into labor during the Gold Eagle Nationals' championship feature and delivered their first son, Asa Jeffrey, Thursday.
Tenth-place car owner and driver Joe Gaerte thanked his friend, Scott Benic, for starting the year as his crew chief. "Things just weren't working out for us at the start of the year, so we thought it would be best for both of us to go our separate ways. He helped me tremendously getting the team started."
Defending World of Outlaws champion Mark Kinser thanked his sponsors, including Wirtgen America, and added, "I appreciate Chuck Merrill, who believed in me when nobody else did."
Gil Sonner, owner of the #47 Casey's General Stores Maxim, thanked Art and Carol Malies, calling the co-pilots of Workin' Woody the least appreciated people on the World of Outlaws' tour.
Sonner had an interesting description of how it is competing with the Pennzoil World of Outlaws Series.
"My sponsor told me one day we weren't doing very well, and I told him, 'racing with the World of Outlaws is like having a basketball team and having to play the Chicago Bulls every night.'"
Stevie Smith, who ranked sixth in driver points and seventh in car owner points, congratulated Sammy Swindell for winning his third World of Outlaws championship and noted that it takes a family and a total team effort to race with the series.
Fifth-ranking driver Jac Haudenschild thanked Jack and Carol Elden for giving him "a ride for so long. It's nice not to have to look for a ride. They've been great car owners for the five years we've been together. I also want to thank Pennzoil, Guy Forbrook and the rest of the crew for all the hard work they did this year."
Elden thanked all the crew members, crew chiefs, drivers and World of Outlaws officials.
"This is an unbelievable undertaking every year," Elden said. "Most of these people have to be away from home for nine months and they work 80-to-100 hours a week. It's unbelievable that all of you and all of us are getting this done. I'm very proud to be part of this, and it's been a great experience in my life."
Elden thanked Forbrook for the improvements he made to his team. He also congratulated Forbrook on his engagement to Janelle Wolfe.
Steve Kinser, who won the first Pennzoil World of Outlaws Series championship in 1978, said the 1997 season was one of the best he had ever seen with the series.
Keith Hylton, co-owner of the #10 Vivarin J&J with Dave Blaney, said he will miss "The Buckeye Bullet" when he heads to NASCAR's Busch Grand National series next season. Hylton and Blaney will continue to co-own the #93 Amoco J&J, which will be driven by Blaney's brother, Dale.
"I've really enjoyed racing with the World of Outlaws, but now it's time to give something else a try," Blaney said. "Vivarin has been a great sponsor these last seven years.
"We had a good year, winning the Amoco Knoxville Nationals and "The Big One." We just had a hard time keeping up with Sammy and Mark a lot of the time."
Blaney added that his Busch Grand National commitment is for 21 races, so he will be able to drive another Amoco-sponsored sprinter in select World of Outlaws events.
Sammy Swindell received $75,000 for winning the drivers' championship and another $37,500 for finishing second in the owners' standings.
"We're really happy to win our third World of Outlaws championship," Sammy said. "It's something we set out to do, and we're glad we achieved it. We won two championships with Laverne Nance in 1981 and 1982. That was a long time ago. We haven't run for the championship many times since then.
"We really appreciate all Channellock has done for us these last two years. We're glad to win a championship for them. I have to thank Goodyear. We've had a close relationship ever since they got back into dirt racing. Gaerte Engines has been with us for a long time, and has always supported us.
"I also have to thank my crew. The guys a great job for me all year. Keith Lani, Glenn Stewart and Richard King worked really hard. We couldn't have won the championship without them."
"That's the most I've ever heard Sammy talk at one time," Bill DeArment, Chief Operating Officer of Channellock, said.
DeArment presented Swindell with a banner emblazoned with the word, "Congratulations" and the signatures of all 550 Channellock employees.
Many of the promoters who own or lease the tracks the World of Outlaws visits were in attendance. They met with series officials earlier in the day to finalize plans for the 1998 season. WoO