First Winners of the 51 Awards Are Announced
Top Rookie, Promoter and Development Team, Plus Hard Luck Racer, Are Revealed
You voted and over a two-week period, Speed51.com will reveal the winners in the 2008 51 Awards. These awards contain 36 categories related to short track racing during the 2007 season. Fans voted over a one-month period and their ballots were verified and tabulated. Watch Speed51.com daily to see more winners with the biggest honor, Short Track Racer of the Year, being announced on March 17th live on Race Talk Radio.
Short Track Rookie of the Year
Is it any surprise that Joey Logano was the big winner here? After all, he won everything else in his first season of NASCAR Grand National level competition, why not the fans’ vote as Short Track Rookie of the Year?
Logano started his year by hopping into a Modified for the first time at New Smyrna Speedway during Speedweeks and nearly winning with it. Then he entered his first NASCAR West Series event at Phoenix. And he won. Then he entered his first NASCAR East Series race at Greenville-Pickens. And he won. He went to New Hampshire International Speedway for the first time. And he won. He went to New Hampshire International Speedway for the second time. And he won. He went to the NASCAR All-Star Showdown at Irwindale. And he won.
Get the picture? Logano’s final numbers for his rookie season in NASCAR included the BES title, five BES victories, one West Series victory and the All-Star victory.
PASS North pilot Trevor Sanborn finished over 400 votes behind Logano, but normally his impressive season in a Super Late Model would have been award-winning. Sanborn took on big names like the Rowes and Clarks to post three runner-up finishes in the North and one in PASS South. He also finished fifth in the standings.
ASA Midwest’s Jonathan Eilen won a race and finished sixth in points. He was voted third in the 51s for his efforts. Rounding out the top five vote-getters were Jeffrey Earnhardt (NASCAR Busch East Series) and Johnny Van Doorn (CRA Super Series).
Notably, Bobby Grigas, III finished just out of the top five thanks to his solid season on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour. NASCAR might have overlooked Grigas in their Rookie of the Year program, naming a driver who made 11 starts on the Tour back in 1990 as their top “rookie” instead, but our voters didn’t.
Best Development Team
The fans made this category a blowout. The winner gathered three times as many votes of the runner-up. Who were those winners? The boys and girls of Andy Santerre Motorsports.
ASM tackled the NASCAR Busch East (now Camping World East) Series with returning young driver Sean Caisse and total touring newbie Jeffrey Earnhardt this season. Caisse finished second in points, which was no surprise, but Earnhardt was the one who really turned heads. Despite a limited driving resume of dirt mini stock and a few Late Model races under his belt, Earnhardt stayed out of trouble and learned a massive number of lessons from team owner Andy Santerre, himself a four-time champion in the series.
Earnhardt finished sixth in his first start of the year at Greenville and third in the season finale at Dover. In between, he amassed a total of six top 10 finishes in 13 starts and secured the fifth position in the point standings.
Also deserving mention is that ASM helped out Corey Williams (Earnhardt’s car chief) on his PASS South effort. Williams scored his first three Super Late Model victories with guidance from Santerre.
Eddie Sharp Racing was second in the voting for good reason. The ARCA powerhouse ran two teams in 2007 with rookie Michael McDowell winning four events, nine poles and finishing second behind Frank Kimmel in the standings. Ken Butler, III and Josh Wise shared the other entry, with Butler winning his first career ARCA race and Wise coming very close as well.
King Racing, which has honed the skills of NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour youngster James Civali was third in the fan voting, with PASS North operation Cushman Competition finishing fourth, thanks to Trevor Sanborn’s Rookie of the Year campaign in the series. TD Racing Development, which won the ASA Late Model title with Travis Dassow, was fifth in the balloting.
Just about every race car driver in the land dreams of running their own race track someday. They brag of how they would run things on their watch, but few ever put their money where their mouths are. Fewer still are successful at it.
An exception is Tim Bryant, who took over at Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola a few years ago. He was the promoter at first and eventually became the track owner.
The Andy Santerre Motorsports team of Jeffrey Earnhardt (Top - #1 car) and Sean Caisse (Bottom - #44 car) put both entries in the top five of the NASCAR Busch East Series point standings in 2007.
Whether it is the Snowball Derby, Snowflake 100, Blizzard Series or just a weekly show, Tim Bryant's Five Flags Speedway packs in the fans.
Bryant has somehow managed to make the legendary Snowball Derby even bigger through his promotional efforts. He’s boosted up the track’s Blizzard Series for Super Late Models with car counts in the 30-40 range for each event. He’s made tech tougher, appointing Ricky Brooks as a technical inspector, who has been questioned for his thoroughness and toughness, but never his fairness or consistency.
The Speed51.com fans recognized Bryant’s achievements and voted him as the Promoter of the year in this edition of the 51s.
The race was close, though. There were only a dozen votes that separated the top three in the balloting.
Steve Einhaus and Tim Olsen of the ASA Midwest Tour were just nine votes in arrears for the efforts that they’ve given to make the Tour a household name in short track racing. Tom Mayberry of the Pro All Stars Series was three ballots behind them thanks to his efforts in forming the PASS North and South Super Late Model tours, rescuing that form of racing in two regions of the country, as well as three other PASS touring divisions.
Not far behind Mayberry was another Tom. Fourth in the voting was Tom Curley of the ACT Late Model Tour, whose crate engine formula has boosted car counts and closed up competition at tracks throughout New England and Quebec.
Clay Campbell of Martinsville Speedway rounded out the top five thanks to his track’s promotion of a major Late Model Stock Car race every year, as well as for giving the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour a huge stand-alone weekend of racing at the Sprint Cup-level facility every season.
It’s the award that nobody wants to win because it just proves that no matter how hard you work and how talented you are, some days just aren’t your days…and some years just aren’t your years.
Clay Rogers has done everything right in short track racing. He’s won the USAR Pro Cup championship. He’s won the Snowball Derby. He attracted enough attention to gain a ride in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series for a team that had been in the division since its inception in 1995.
So after he had a solid year last season, Rogers appeared set to become another short tracker made good for 2008. Then he got a call on his cell phone at the Snowball Derby in December. The team was closing its doors and Rogers was now without a ride. It was too far into the off-season for most of the good short track rides to still be unclaimed as well. Rogers is still working towards a deal and he can sure wheel a car or truck, but will he get another great chance to showcase that skill?
Rogers was voted as having the worst luck by a moderate margin over Mike Stefanik of the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour. After winning the Tour title in 2006 (his seventh), the 68-time Tour Modified winner looked for another great year in ’08. Getting caught in a wreck in the season opening race at Thompson wasn’t good, but only finishing on the podium twice during the entire season was worse. A change in crew chiefs, a switch in engines and just plain bad luck kept Stefanik back to seventh in the final standings. A bright spot though was a victory in the Fall Final at Stafford Motor Speedway (CT).
Travis Benjamin was third in the voting. This PASS North standout has seen just about anything happen to him as he has chased his first victory on the tour. Like Stefanik, his bad luck seemed to wear thin late in the ’07 season, so this coming year could be a big one for the Mainer.
Georgia’s Bubba Pollard (GAS and SLM) and Modified / Busch East Series master Jerry Marquis rounded out the top five in the luckless voting.
Stay tuned to Speed51.com from now until March 17th to find out the other 32 winners of the 51 Awards
Joey Logano stood tall over the rookie field.