Champions Night report

J.J. Yeley & his teams earned over $420,000 during 2003! USAC's 48TH "Champions Night" celebrates his "Triple Crown" The United States Auto Club celebrated J.J. Yeley's remarkable "Triple Crown" Championship Friday night as USAC participants ...

J.J. Yeley & his teams earned over $420,000 during 2003!
USAC's 48TH "Champions Night" celebrates his "Triple Crown"

The United States Auto Club celebrated J.J. Yeley's remarkable "Triple Crown" Championship Friday night as USAC participants split up cash, product, accessory and contingency awards posted during the 2003 season. USAC's 48th "Champions Night," presented by the University of Northwestern Ohio, was held in the Capitol Ballroom of the Westin Hotel in downtown Indianapolis, Ind. in conjunction with this weekend's Performance Racing Industry trade show at the nearby Indiana Convention Center.

Yeley's season, which produced only the second single-season sweep of USAC's coveted "Triple Crown" of National Championships, also produced an all-time record 24 feature victories and earned total prize money of $421,185 for he and his various racing teams.

Yeley, of Phoenix, Ariz. captured the Weld Racing Silver Crown, National Sprint Car and National Midget Car titles as well as Earl's Plumbing Fast Qualifier Championships in the Silver Crown and Western Midget Car Series.

Michael Lewis of Noblesville, Ind., Steve Paden of Downey, Calif., Robbie Ray of Davenport, Iowa, Todd Hunsaker of Chino Hills, Calif., Josh Lakatos of Pasadena, Calif., Rick Ziehl of Las Cruces, N.M., Jim Waters of Salt Lake City, Utah and Bruce Feldman of San Ramon, Calif. were honored as 2003 USAC driving champions. Car Entrant champions for 2003 honored Friday night included Bob East & Tony Stewart (Indianapolis & Rushville, IN), Tony Stewart Racing (Avon, IN), Steve Lewis (Laguna Beach, Calif.), Western Speed Racing (Caruthers, CA), Richard Farrier (Downey, Calif.) and Mark Ray (Davenport, Iowa).

East/Stewart won the Weld Racing Silver Crown entrant's title, while Tony Stewart Racing won the National Sprint Car entrant's crown and Lewis earned his ninth National Midget entrant's title. Lewis and Western Speed Racing were tops in the Western Sprint Cars, while Paden and Farrier were winners in the Western Midget Cars. Ray, Hunsaker and Lakatos were champions of the 2003 Ford Focus Midget Car Series (Indiana and California), while Ziehl won the Southwest Sprint Car crown and Waters was the 2003 USAC/SLVRA Port O' Call Rocky Mountain Sprint Car Champ. Southwest Sprint Car Series Coordinator Hal Burns was on hand to present Ziehl's award, while Jamie Allison, Manager of Ford Racing Performance Parts, presented the USAC Ford Focus Championship awards.

On hand to make the Weld Racing Silver Crown Series presentations were Greg and Taylor Weld. Greg was USAC's 1967 Sprint Car Champion.

Yeley's awards included the three driving championships, two Earl's Plumbing Fast Qualifier titles, a special championship jacket from Hoosier Racing Tires, the USAC Super License, a USAC Life Membership and the True Speed "Triple Crown Award," consisting of a ring now owned by only four driver in USAC history -- the others being Tony Stewart, Pancho Carter and Dave Darland. Nelson Stewart, Tony's dad and Racing Team Manager for Tony Stewart Racing, presented J.J.'s True Speed Triple Crown Award ring.

Friday night's function was emceed by renowned auto racing announcer Pat Sullivan and attended by a capacity audience of nearly 600.

The USAC President's Award, not presented since 1992, was resurrected and presented to Eldora Enterprises, Inc. in recognition of this year's extremely successful "Mopar Million Sprint at Eldora," which offered an all-time record Sprint Car purse of $1 Million! USAC President/CEO Rollie Helmling made the presentation to Earl & Berneice Baltes, the race organizers at Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio, which hosted the historic event.

Sullivan was the surprise recipient of USAC's Special Individual Recognition Award, presented by USAC President/CEO Rollie Helmling in recognition of his many contributions to USAC and the sport.

National Speed Sport News of Harrisburg, N.C. was presented the USAC Special Corporate Recognition Award by Mr. Helmling in recognition of their tremendous coverage of USAC racing events since the club's inception in 1956.

Don Smith of Terre Haute, Ind., a longtime supporter of USAC racing as a race organizer, was presented the prestigious Eddie Edenburn Award for his lifelong contributions to the sport of auto racing.

Team Six-R Racing was presented the 2003 USAC "Race Organizer of the Year" Award in recognition of their successful Weld Racing Silver Crown events in Indianapolis.

Larry Rice of Brownsburg, Ind. accepted the prestigious Roger McCluskey "Award of Excellence" from Roger McCluskey, Jr. Rice is known for his USAC driving accomplishments (Silver Crown and National Midget Championships) and his work as a television commentator and insurance representative.

Dick Jordan of Indianapolis, Ind., USAC's VP/News & Communications, was subsequently surprised as a second recipient of the Roger McCluskey "Award of Excellence" in recognition of his 35 years of service to USAC in various capacities.

Mikel Hartman, Valvoline Motorsports Marketing Manager, presented the prestigious "Jimmy Caruthers Award" to Dave Darland of Lincoln, Ind. in recognition of his spirit and determination, in memory of USAC's late driving champion. Assisting in the presentation to Dave was Judi Malone Caruthers.

Darland also assisted USAC Quarter Midgets of America National Director Eric Bunn in distributing recognition plaques to 2003 Grand Champions of QMA, many of whom were in attendance.

Mickey Holmes, of Motorsports Marketing for Lincoln Electric of Cleveland, Ohio presented their annual USAC "Mechanic of the Year" Awards to Galen Fox of Avon, Ind. and Larry Trigueiro of Caruthers, Calif. for their mechanical excellence during 2003. Fox received the National award for his duties on the Silver Crown Championship Car driven by Dave Darland, while Trigueiro was presented the Western award for his work on Western Sprint Car Champion Michael Lewis' Sprint Car.

The Wilke Racing Family of Milwaukee, Wisc. was recognized for their many years of dedicated support of USAC Midget Car racing as the recipients of the Jim Blunk Award.

USAC VP/Competition Director Mike Devin presented the CNA Jack O'Neal Safety Award to Sid Waterman of Waterman Racing Components of Gualala, Calif. for their innovative fuel pump designs, which have significantly reduced fire hazards in our sport.

Longtime USAC official Dennis Johansen of Stockton, Calif. was recognized for his many contributions to USAC and the sport of auto racing as the recipient of the USAC Winners Circle Ross Hadley Memorial Achievement Award. The award was presented by Winners Circle President Paul Allen.

Eric Gordon of Greenfield, Ind. picked up yet another "Little 500 Winners Award" following his record-tying fifth victory in the prestigious Anderson, Ind. Sprint Car spectacular in 2003. Anderson Speedway race organizer Rick Dawson presented the award to Gordon.

Pat Johnson of Burbank, Calif., who was unable to attend, was named winner of the Diana Fell Gilmore "Woman Behind the Scenes" Award and accompanying $2,500 check. The award was delivered by Beth Gilmore to USAC VP/Western Operations Tommy Hunt, who will make the formal presentation to Pat at the January 17 Western Awards Banquet in Sacramento, Calif.

Series "Rookies of the Year" were also honored by the University of Northwestern Ohio. The Weld Racing Silver Crown "Rookie of the Year" award went to Ron Gregory of Noblesville, Ind., while the National Sprint Car award went to two drivers, Michael Lewis of Noblesville, Ind. and Mat Neely of Robinson, Ill. Ryan Durst of Lincoln, Neb. won the Bob Stroud Memorial National Midget Car "Rookie of the Year" Award. The presentations were made by UNO President Dr. Jeff Jarvis.

Series "Most Improved Drivers" honored Friday night by Jostens included Tyler Walker of Los Angeles, Calif. (Weld Racing Silver Crown), Marc Jessup of Camby, Ind. (National Sprint Car) and Tom Hessert of Cherry Hills, N.J. (National Midget Car).

Irish Saunders of Hoosier Racing Tires made a special presentation of Championship Jackets to Yeley and Ray and announced similar jackets would be presented to Western Champions at the January 17 Sacramento banquet.

Chris Bowers, Director of Driver Development for the Indy Racing League, also presented "Road to Indy" post-season checks to each USAC Champion Car Entrant.

Tracy Hines of New Castle, Ind., and Michael Lewis joined Yeley is accepting year-end cash bonuses from the Earl's Plumbing Fast Qualifier Championships, presented by Robert Writesman, Manager of Circle Track Motorsports. Hines raked in $10,000 for his National Sprint Car and National Midget Car qualifying titles, while Lewis earned $5,000 for his one-point margin over Tony Hunt in the Western Sprint Car qualifying points.

Second and third-place drivers and car entrants in five USAC racing series were also honored Friday. They included Dave Darland and Tracy Hines (Silver Crown drivers), Indiana Underground Construction and Gratton Racing (Silver Crown entrants), Jay Drake and Hines (National Sprint Car drivers), Keith Kunz Motorsports and Dynamics, Inc. (National Sprint Car entrants), Hines and Bobby East (National Midget Car drivers), Wilke/Pak Motorsports and Steve Lewis (National Midget Car entrants), Tony Hunt and Rick Hendrix (Western Sprint Car drivers), Ken Pierson and Lori Scott (Western Sprint Car entrants), and Josh Wise and Jerome Rodela (Western Midget Car drivers) and Rodela and Charles Wise (Western Midget Car entrants).

USAC Sales & Marketing Director Steve Farmer extended thanks to USAC's corporate sponsors and partners and made several announcements regarding USAC's plans for the upcoming racing season.

Ginny Spillman of Auto Racing Ministries began the evening with the National Anthem, while husband Tim Spillman of ARM delivered the invocation.

Atmosphere and images were provided by Stoudt & Gallant Associates of Cincinnati, Ohio, while floral contributions were courtesy of Jockish Flowers of Indianapolis.


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Series USAC
Drivers Tony Stewart , Michael Lewis , Dave Darland , J.J. Yeley , Tracy Hines , Tom Hessert , Jay Drake , Bobby East , Eric Gordon , Ron Gregory , Tyler Walker , Pancho Carter , Rick Ziehl , Steve Paden , Josh Wise , Marc Jessup , Ryan Durst , Josh Lakatos , Jordan Dick , Tony Hunt , Rick Hendrix , Robbie Ray