It’s a long way from Frank Kimmel’s small-town southern Indiana roots to the top of the ARCA RE/MAX Series record books, but the veteran driver has become a familiar fixture on stage at ARCA’s National Championship Awards Banquet. The Clarksville, Indiana native was formally honored Saturday night for his record-shattering eighth national championship at the Northern Kentucky Convention Center in Covington, Kentucky during the 54th annual ARCA RE/MAX Series national championship awards ceremony.
In all, Kimmel walked off with the lion’s share of a record $900,000 in year-end cash and product awards. While the most substantial portion came from RE/MAX, presented by VP of RE/MAX Int’l Randy Morse, Kimmel received checks and products from Lincoln Electric, Holley, Cookies BBQ Sauce, Casite, Sunoco, SK Hand Tool, Hoosier Racing Tires and Ford.
“This has been one of the most special nights of my life,” said Kimmel. “Everyone in my family is here tonight except for my oldest brother Tom.” Kimmel’s “family” on his big night, which also included a sea of volunteers, filled 10 tables of 10. “I’d just like to thank Larry Clement (car owner); he always gives us what we need to do the job, and my brother Bill (crew chief). A lot of people don’t realize that he gave up a professional driving career to be my crew chief. I really want to thank Shane Upchurch and Brian Horstman. Those two kids won the championship for us. They were in the shop every night till 10, 11 o’clock, and sometimes later than that. No job was two big for them; they’re just great kids. I’ve got to say that I think the highlight of my night was watching the Jack Bowsher tribute. As special as our night is, this night was even more about him, and rightfully so.”
Ron Drager of ARCA (L) and RE/MAX's Randy More (R) present ARCA champion Frank Kimmel (C) with his new hardware. (B. Costanzo photos)
Bowsher, who passed away this past April, was posthumously recognized as the Guest of Honor. The audience, approaching 600, was treated to big screen tribute to the life and career of the man who touched so many in the ARCA world over the course of a racing career that lasted nearly 60 years. The audience responded with a standing ovation.
ARCA Matriarch/Co-Founder Mildred Marcum, who will celebrate her 93rd birthday on January 6th, was among those in attendance. The evening also included a 2006 year-in-review video along with video tributes for drivers who finished in the top-20 in final 2006 ARCA RE/MAX Series points. Car owners one through 10 were also recognized.
ARCA President Ron Drager presented Kimmel with a framed collection of photos celebrating his eight national titles. But perhaps it was Kimmel’s brother and crew chief Bill Kimmel who received the biggest surprise of the night: Keys to a brand new, fully-loaded Ford F-150 Lariat pickup truck. Ford Racing Aerodynamics engineer Bernie Marcus formally presented the keys to the truck.
Champion Kimmel stands next to the 2006 ARCA Rookie of the year - Blake Bjorkland.
“I know no one is going to believe me but I actually don’t know what to say,” said Kimmel. “You know, I’m waiting for the punch line or something to let me know that this is all a joke. I’m getting ready to turn 50 years old and I have never had a new vehicle my whole life, so this means a lot to me. I’m humbled.”
Bobby Gerhart received accolades for his second-place points finish and was joined on stage by his brother Billy Gerhart, who serves as his car owner and crew chief. Billy Venturini and his car owner and mother Cathy Venturini received honors for finishing a career-best third in points, while Ryan Howard and car owner Mark Gibson were formally honored for their fourth-place points finish. Fifth-place points finisher Blake Bjorklund earned the 2006 Rookie of the Year award and the Bill France Triple Crown. The Country Joe Racing driver was accompanied on stage by his car owner Kevin Cywinski.
Others honored on-stage included sixth place points finisher Todd Bowsher and his mother Julie Bowsher, Ryan Foster and his car owner Frank Kimmel (seventh),
Jason Hedlesky and his car owners Bill Wells and Nevie Richardson (eighth), Brett Rowe (ninth) and Justin Allgaier and his father and car owner Mike Allgaier (tenth).
Later in the evening, ARCA president Ron Drager presented Julie Bowsher (widow of Jack Bowsher), with the Marcum Award to recognize her long-time commitment to the ARCA organization. She received a standing ovation for the accolades.
In recognizing ARCA’s commitment to high education, Bob Loga Scholarship recipients included Holly Kimmel and Jennifer Spriggs. Other scholarship recipients, compliments of series sponsor University of Northwestern Ohio, included Brandon Herb, Joshua Timmerman, David Wolf, Josh McKee and Andrew Kreutzjans.
ARCA Vice President of Competition Joe Wells presented the manufacturer award to Dodge. Denise Berecz, Dodge Motorsports Program Manager, accepted the award on behalf of the company, which earned seven victories in ARCA RE/MAX Series competition in 2006.
The ARCA Spirit Award was presented to Steve Motsinger for his long-time support and commitment to sponsoring ARCA RE/MAX Series race events at Salem Speedway via Eddie Gilstrap Motors. Motsinger, whose company has sponsored race events at Salem for the past ten consecutive seasons, was instrumental in solidifying further sponsorship support for the biannual race from the Kentuckiana Ford dealers.
A number of ARCA RE/MAX Series host racetracks had a presence at the banquet. Included were Roy Mott (promoter of Toledo Speedway), Kevin Gregory (Corporate Partnerships Executive at Michigan Int’l Speedway), Mary Morris (Director of Events at Daytona Int’l Speedway), Jim Tretow (Vice President of Media and Communications for the Milwaukee Mile), Lisa Battles (Public Relations Manager for Talladega Superspeedway), Dan Stuart (Director of Sales for Kentucky Speedway), Andy Vertrees (Chief Operating Officer of Iowa Speedway), Stann Tate (PR Director of Kansas Speedway), and Beverly and Owen Thompson and Richard and Robin Deaton from Salem Speedway.
Herb Adcox presented the HG Adcox Sportsman of the Year award to Brad Smith, who finished 14th in driver points in 2006.
Barb Determan, from the Board of Directors for the National Pork Board, presented the 2006 Pork Pole Award to Steve Wallace, who led the way with four Pork Poles during the 2006 race season.
Additional awards were presented at a press conference earlier in the day. The next scheduled event for the ARCA RE/MAX Series is a three-day Daytona International Speedway test session December 16-18, in preparation for the February 10th, 2007 Daytona ARCA 200.