Utica-Rome awards ceremony summary

VERNONA, NY- The last official event of the 2003 Utica-Rome schedule took place on November 15 when race teams, speedway staff, and fans converged at the Turning Stone Casino Resort for the 2003 Awards Banquet. The 2003 track champions in the...

VERNONA, NY- The last official event of the 2003 Utica-Rome schedule took place on November 15 when race teams, speedway staff, and fans converged at the Turning Stone Casino Resort for the 2003 Awards Banquet. The 2003 track champions in the weekly four divisions of DIRT 358-Modifieds, DIRT Sportsman, DIRT Pro Stocks, and Pure Stocks were crowned, along with the point champion of the six race Central New York Mini Sprint Utica-Rome Speedway Super Series. Well over 300 guests attended the evening's celebration.

The top 10 drivers in the CNY Mini Sprint Super Series were the first to honored for their efforts in the six race series held the speedway. Bryan Howland took top honors, edging Doug Norrie, Don Harvey Jr., Matt Norrie, and Blake Breen to take his first championship. Mike Emhof, Cory Sparks, Barry Virts, Bobby Breen, and Al Scerbo finished positions six through ten.

Next to take the spotlight were the Pure Stocks, where Art Newman gave an emotional speech when presented his first place trophy and point money, thanking his family and fellow drivers that helped him after a vicious flip almost ended his season early. Newman was consistent throughout the year, garnering two wins with thirteen top ten finishes to carry him to the championship. Herm Staats, Jim Thomas, Waylan Wilczek, Rick Condes filled out the top five positions and were all presented with their awards, with the remaining top ten drivers of Rick Trexler, Ted Crawford, Chuck Cushman, Dave Pope, and Phil Norman also recognized for their efforts.

Jerry Holmes completed his comeback for a short retirement to take second Utica-Rome Speedway Pro Stock track championship. Holmes returned to competiton this season and won six time en route the championship. The remaining top ten drivers of Brett Belden, Eric Vanderhoof, Jason Rood, Chad Ray, Brian Belden, Bill Knapp, Buddy Hencke, Joe Palmer, and Ed Ostrander also received awards for their hard work throughout the season.

In the competitive Sportsman division, Bill Shantel Jr. took home the championship on the strength of two wins and eleven top fives. It was Shantel's first ever track championship. 2002 Utica-Rome Speedway Sportsman champion Jamie Christian finished in second, with John Scarborough, Jessica Zemken, and Jim Roberts filling out the top five. Tim Mayne, Butch Reiter, Bill Price, Tim Clemons, and Steve Way were also honored for finishing in the top ten in the season long point standings.

On opening night, Dale Planck served notice to the rest of the field that he would be the driver to beat when he took home the victory. Planck added one more win, finished in the top five an outstanding twelve times, and survived a late season rally by Mitch Gibbs to take home his fifth Utica-Rome Speedway 358-Modified championship. Gibbs would finish just eight points behind in second to make it one of the closest point finishes in the speedway's storied history. Defending track champion Matt Sheppard finished third, 2001 champion Todd Burley was fourth, with Willy Decker finishing a strong fifth in the season standings. Also honored for their efforts were Mark Flach, John Ramsey, Paul Kinney, Jeff Kotary, and Dave Rauscher, who finished in positions six thru ten in the standings.

Kevin Crave, Matt Janczuk, Ed Ostrander, and Dave Janczuk were honored with Rookie of the Year awards for their respective divisions, with the Most Improved Driver award going to Mark Flach, Bill Shantel Jr., Brian Belden, and Phil Norman. The next award presented was the Hard Luck award, honoring those who were competitive most nights, only to find something go wrong. The first one went to Jim Thomas, who led the Pure Stock standings for most of the season, only to have mechanical problems drop him from contention in the final weeks of the season. In the Pro Stocks, Jason Rood was given the award for his tough luck in his attempt to repeat his Pro Stock championship. Paul Carey received the award in the Sportsman ranks, as he was constantly threatening to get his first victory, only to have motor woes end his season short. Going in the last night of points of the season for the 358-Modifieds, Mitch Gibbs led the standings only to have his title hopes disappear with a horrific flip down the bacstretch ending his title hopes and giving him the Hard Luck award.

The track champions in the regular four divisions all received championship jackets, plus two free season pit passes for the 2004 season along with their point money and trophy.

The final part of the event was when new Utica-Rome Speedway General Manager Chip Burdick addressed the partygoers, commenting on the new surface that was laid down prior to the banquet. Chip told everyone to keep an eye on the trade papers and the speedway website to keep up with the offseason changes at the fast half-mile. He also thanked the competitors, fans, and offficials for their patronage and support throughout the season. He also recognized Roger Heroux and company for their hard work during the speedway resurfacing.

A special thank you goes to Speedway Advertising, who gave $25 gift certifcate to the top ten drivers in the 358-Modified, Sportsman, Pro Stock, and Pure Stocks. They also donated three $100 gift certificates as door prizes to the drivers that were present. Also, a thank you goes to everyone who donated door prizes, which includes Gater Racing News, Apple Betty Resturant, and many more.

To keep up to date on all the latest information during the offseason, feel free to log onto the website www.uticaromespeedway.com or call the speedway at (315) 829-4557.

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Series Stock car
Drivers Jim Roberts