The AARWBA Jerry Titus Award candidates

The AARWBA Jerry Titus Award candidates
Dec 17, 2003, 10:54 PM

Each year the professional members of the American Auto Racing Writers and Broadcasters Association (AARWBA) vote by closed ballot to select the year's Auto Racing All-American Team. The highest vote-getter - among all categories - receives the ...

Each year the professional members of the American Auto Racing Writers and Broadcasters Association (AARWBA) vote by closed ballot to select the year's Auto Racing All-American Team. The highest vote-getter - among all categories - receives the Jerry Titus Award, named for the journalist-racer who embodied the spirit of motorsports coverage even as he took part in competition.

Scott Dixon celebrates championship.
Photo by Michael Kim.
Coming at the end of each race sanction body's season, it would be easy for members to merely check off series winners in each category but this year AARWBA voters went for the jugular and named drivers noted for their competitive juices as well as their results. As always, the First Team receives the most number of votes, followed by a Second Team and then by drivers who rate Honorable Mention by earning 5% of the total vote.

Two drivers receiving First Team honors in the Open Wheel category got there by virtue of championship in their disciplines but theirs was a tie with a driver who garnered sufficient votes to make it a three-way tie. Scott Dixon took the title in his first year as an Indy Racing League IndyCar Series driver by recording three wins in 16 races, five pole positions, nine top 5 finishes, 11 top-10s and leading 748 laps in Team Target's #9 Panoz G Force/Toyota/Firestone, for Chip Ganassi's IndyCar squad. The Kiwi was as cool and collected as a wizened veteran.

Paul Tracy notched his first championship in CART's Bridgestone Presents the Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford - in this, his 13th season of series competition. Canadian Tracy pummeled his competitors with seven victories in 18 contests, six pole positions, 10 podiums and a series of sound bites that held interest in the Champ Car series to a premium. The Thrill from West Hill finished out of the points only four times while driving the #3 Team Player's Lola/Ford-Cosworth/Bridgestone car.

This duo of champions were out-pointed by Brazilian Gil de Ferran, driving his final season of IRL IndyCar Series competition for Marlboro Team Penske in a #6 Dallara/Toyota. There was an aberration in de Ferran's season, though, as he ran a Panoz G Force/Toyota at the 87th running of the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race and managed to return from a one-race hiatus following an accident in the second event of the year to win at Indy. Lying fifth in the title fight going into the final round at Texas Motor Speedway, de Ferran nearly did the impossible by winning MBNA pole, the Chevy 500 and leading the most laps to gain second place in the final standings.

Matt Kenseth poses with the Winston Cup Series Trophy.
Photo by Autostock.
The final NASCAR Winston Cup season championship went to Roush Racing's Matt Kenseth, who won only one race in his #17 DeWalt Ford but managed to keep hold of the top spot through his exemplary consistency, giving Jack Roush his first Cup championship. Kenseth is joined on the AARWBA Stock Car First Team by Ryan Newman, driver of the #12 Alltel Dodge from the Penske South stables who led all comers by winning eight races in the 36-event marathon and garnered the most votes in his category.

In Road Racing, veterans prevailed with Trans-Am champ Scott Pruett gaining top vote status after an absence of nine seasons. Pruett's title-winning drive for Paul Gentilozzi's Rocketsports Jaguar team garnered the sometime CART commentator a seventh visit to the All-American First Team. Canadian Ron Fellows joins Pruett on the First Team as the American Le Mans Series GTS co-titleholder (with Johnny O'Connell) for Pratt-Miller's Chevrolet Corvette team, Fellows' second straight year on the First Team. Fellows also drove two very competitive races for Dale Earnhardt Inc. at both NASCAR road race venues, Sears Point Infineon Raceway and Watkins Glen.

While it might never happen in a quarter-mile drag race, the top AARWBA vote-getters in the Drag Racing category tied in the number of votes collected: they are the NHRA's Larry Dixon, Top Fuel titlist for Don Prudhomme and Tony Pedregon, who knocked out his own boss in NHRA Funny Car by beating John Force. This is Dixon's second straight championship and First Team honor; Pedregon ended Force's 10-year stay atop NHRA's championship ladder and in AARWBA's First Team voting.

J.J. Yeley seeks to stretch his record.
Photo by Kenneth Plotkin.
Voters in the Short Track category previously had the option of voting for open- and closed-wheel competitors. For 2003 that changed as voting was in open-wheel only, dominated by the second-ever USAC Triple Crown champion J.J. Yeley and perennial World of Outlaws "King" Steve Kinser. Yeley won the USAC Silver Crown, Sprint and Midget series and also bagged an unprecedented 24 wins on the year to gain only his second All-American nod. Kinser snared his 18th WoO crown and thereby extended his own lasso on All- American honors: it's the King's16th time on the First Team and 21st honor overall.

This year AARWBA initiated a Touring Series category and first-time winners on the First Team are Brian Vickers, who claimed the NASCAR Busch Series title in the final race of the year at Homestead-Miami Speedway and Frank Kimmel, who earned his fifth ARCA championship in 2003. This is Kimmel's first time on the First Team after having to battle unsuccessfully against Kinser in the Short Track category.

Feeder series champions took honors in the At-Large categories for 2003 All- American Team honors, both with seven-victory seasons in a 12-race campaign, using the same car number. Briton Mark Taylor drove the #4 Fulmar/Panther Dallara/Infiniti to seven wins as a rookie in the Menards/IRL Infiniti Pro Series. A.J. Allmendinger moved up as champion of last year's CART Barber/Dodge Pro Series to drive the #4 RuSPORT Swift/Toyota to seven wins in CART's Toyota/Atlantic championship. This is the first All-American Team honor for both of these young lions, who are moving up the ladder again in 2004.

This year's Jerry Titus Award Winner will come from these 15 nominees, all of whom had terrific seasons racing in American-based competition. The top vote getter - and all of the winners -- will be feted at the 34th annual AARWBA banquet, which is being held this year at the Sheraton Suites in Pomona, CA, next door to the NHRA Museum. First Team honorees receive the distinctive Horsepower Award trophy created by fine artist Hector Cademartori.

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