VERONA, N.Y. -- On Saturday night, November 15th the final checkered flag was waved for the 20th Anniversary Tour of the Empire Super Sprints (ESS) at the luxurious Turning Stone Casino Resort in Verona, N.Y. Positioned at the head table for the...
VERONA, N.Y. -- On Saturday night, November 15th the final checkered flag was waved for the 20th Anniversary Tour of the Empire Super Sprints (ESS) at the luxurious Turning Stone Casino Resort in Verona, N.Y. Positioned at the head table for the first time was Mercer, Pa.'s Mike Lutz as he brought home the coveted ESS championship besting young star Justin Barger in a thrilling point championship chase.
Lutz collected over $9400 from the over $52,000 in cash and prizes that was handed out to twenty of ESS' brightest stars. In the championship winning envelope was a check for $5,000 cash for his winning title and another $700 cash from other awards. Lutz also took home a free top and front wing from Top Flight wings and four free torsion bars from Sway-A-Way making the annual banquet a very lucrative evening for the 18 year sprint car veteran. Lutz was joined by his father, wife, young daughter, crew, and friends making for a very emotional evening.
The night was also in honor of Mike and Deb VanDusen as the winning cars owners. The VanDusen's have been a mainstay in ESS since the mid-80's and this championship also marks the very first for the family from Otego, N.Y. The championship winning ProSpas sponsored #58 was in the banquet hall for all to see making for a true sprint car atmosphere.
Other special awards filled the evening that was kicked off with special guest speaker Brad Doty:
The annual Jereco Engines and Parts rookie of the year went to teenage sprint car hopeful Nick Fratto. The Geneva, N.Y. chauffeur made all but one ESS show in 2003 and finished 17th in the final points. Fratto's sharp looking #F1 Stealth sprinter was also in the banquet room.
The Foar Score Fan Club/Brodix Cylinder Heads Most Improved Driver went to Barger in a very well received award. Barger collected a check for $500 and another $500 for being the VSM Abrasives Canadian Invasion points champion just nipping Don Sharp Jr. for that crown.
The Car-Mate Trailers Perseverance Award went to Quebec's Alain Bergeron and he took home a check for $300 in a well deserved presentation. Bergeron makes several eight plus hour tows to attend all ESS events. But, none other than his entry in a hot August night in Brockville, Ontario just a mere twenty-four hours after receiving second degree burns in a jet-ski accident made Bergeron the hands down pick.
Jeff VanDusen won three dashes during the season on his way to winning the Walt's Hobby Dash Series point title. The young 20 year old received a check from Walt Throne for $700 for his accomplishment. Lance Yonge and Bubby Kerrick also took home cash from Walt's Hobby for taking second and third on the dash series.
Lutz was also honored with the Gater Racing News Lap Leader Award for leading the most A-Main laps during the 2003 season. Gater News' Joey Patrick was on hand to present the $300 check and several Gater subscriptions as well.
The mechanic of the year award voted on by all race teams was a popular choice as big, Don Sharp Sr. was announced as the winner. The father/son team from Grafton, New Hampshire makes many of their long tows by themselves and always attend each ESS event with great enthusiasm.
The most prestigious award of the evening is the annual John Zentner Memorial Award given to a person or persons that have shown dedication beyond expectations to the entire family of ESS. This year's recipients were Whit and Gail Yonge, parents of ESS standout Lance Yonge. The Yonge's have towed the ESS merchandise trailer to each event for countless number of years just for the love of friends, fans and competitors of ESS.
For the first time in many years, a new award was given out and the person that received the first award will be honored every year at the banquet with his name inscribed on the plaque. The first Excellence in Sprint Car Racing award went to none other than Mr. ESS, Mal Lane. After 40 years of being a driver and car owner Lane has sold all his racing equipment and will enjoy his summers as a spectator. Lane and his business Lane's Yamaha will stay aboard ESS as new for next year will be the Lane's Yamaha Halfway Bonus at each event. All in the Mohawk Banquet room cheered loudly in response to the first ever Malcolm Lane Excellence in Sprint Car Racing Award.
Many product giveaways were presented: Nick Fratto won the ASCS heads from Brodix Cylinder Heads, Don Sharp Jr. won the Simpson Vudo Helmet along with a Simpson helmet bag from Area Auto Racing News and helmet detailing from Koncept FX. Troyer Speed and Custom offered $1000 off a Maxim frame and Jeff VanDusen won that award. Tim Kelly, Doug Emery and Mike Woodring won autograph cards from Hi-Performance Racing Cards, DB Racing supplied three front axles and the winners were Doug Emery, Randy Years and Lance Yonge. Rob Dietrick, Tim Kelly and Jeff VanDusen won headers from Schoenfeld, Weld Motorsports provided large certificates and the winners were Lance Yonge, Bubby Kerrick and Don Sharp Jr. Leaf Racewear also provided two giveaways and the winners were Don Sharp Jr. and Alain Bergeron. Mike Emhof Motorsports and TP Wings also provided certificates that went to Bob Podolak and Mike Lutz. A set of torsion bars from DMI went to Bubby Kerrick and a free set of headers from Zemco was won by Mike Stelter.
Other sponsors that provided either cash or product during the night were: Hoosier Tires, Sander Engineering, Outerwears, MSD Ignitions, Real Racing Wheels, MRE Productions, HRP, Hazlitt Vineyards, Design 500, Hank's Performance Products, KSE Racing Products, Frankland Racing Supply, Pro Shocks, Behrent's Performance Warehouse/Mechanix Wear, QA1 Precision Products, AFCO Shocks, Bailey Racing Products, Kreitz Oval Track Parts, J&J Auto Racing, DSR Fuel Systems, American Racer Tires, VRP Shocks, Saldana Racing Products, Joe Hunt Magnetos, Earl's Indy, Speedway Advertising and Maxim Sprint Cars.
Earlier in the day the annual rules meeting was held with the Hoosier Tire voted in again with the same compounds used as last year. The tire deal will be done through Bicknell Racing Products. No other major changes were announced. ESS President Dick Carbery also mentioned that ESS will be back at Can-Am and Merrittville after a year off and the schedule is shaping up to be over 30 dates.
As it was a snowy, winter weekend in upstate, N.Y., but the heat was turned up by all in the sprint car world of the Empire Super Sprints. The 20th Anniversary Tour was not only very exciting but successful and everyone involved with the 360 sprint car organization would like to thank the competitors and fans for making the year a memorable one.