he off season wasn’t just about basking in 2008 accomplishments for Philip Morris. It also provided the carrot-on-the-stick for him to repeat his performance in 2009.
He’s off to a perfect start. The two-time NASCAR Whelen All-American Series champion won his first race of the season last weekend at South Boston (Va.) Speedway and he’s looking forward to opening night at his home track, Motor Mile Speedway in Radford, Va., next weekend.
“It was probably the most I’ve ever felt appreciated in my life as a race car driver,” Morris said of the whirlwind of activities that followed his championship season. “To be acknowledged the way we have been – it’s just much easier to make the sacrifices right now, because we know what the reward is.”
In addition to the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series national championship, Morris was also the 2008 NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Virginia state champion.
One of the highlights of Morris’ off season was being recognized by Governor Tim Kaine in a visit to the state capitol in Richmond.
“It was really impressive because it’s so official,” Morris said. “It was really neat to go there. They welcomed us in, and the Governor was really personable and easy to talk to. He’s a race fan – he remembered all the Virginia greats – so we had a common ground. And he’s an outdoorsman, so we talked about camping and hunting and fishing. It was really cool, just like talking to a buddy.”
The 43-year-old from Ruckersville, Va., was accompanied on the trip by his wife, Donna.
Morris had 14 wins, 23 top fives and 26 top 10s in 28 starts in 2008. He won his sixth Late Model Division title at Motor Mile and became just the second driver to win multiple NASCAR Whelen All-American Series championships. Larry Phillips, of Springfield, Mo., won five championships between 1989-96.
In addition to his 2006 and 2008 national championships, Morris finished third in the national standings in 2007. He collected 38 wins in 81 races in those three seasons. He’s had strong starts before, but none like this year.
“This is the first time we’ve ever come out of the box with a ‘W’,” Morris said. “We’re totally motivated as a team not to get behind this year, so we’ve been working a little bit harder to make sure we’re ahead of the curve.”
Virginia has a long history in NASCAR. Current NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers Elliott Sadler, Jeff Burton and Denny Hamlin are from Virginia, and Motor Mile, South Boston, Old Dominion Speedway and Langley Speedway are important members of the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series program.
Just 26 drivers out of the thousands of participants in NASCAR’s grassroots, local-racing program – which encompasses tracks throughout the United States and Canada – earned a similar honor as U.S. state or Canadian provincial champion.
Morris was also honored in November at the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Awards Banquet at the Rio All-Suite Hotel in Las Vegas, and he participated in the Champions Events in Los Angeles surrounding the NASCAR Toyota All-Star Showdown in January.
The NASCAR Virginia champion was determined by the driver’s highest 18 finishes at NASCAR-sanctioned tracks within the state.
The crowning of champions in a U.S. state or Canadian province continues a tradition of honoring the best short-track racers which dates back to the earliest days of NASCAR.
Since its inception, the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series has served as a springboard in the careers of many top drivers. NASCAR stars Greg Biffle, Clint Bowyer, Jeff Burton, Kurt and Kyle Busch, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Carl Edwards, Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, Bobby Labonte, Jamie McMurray, Elliott Sadler and Brian Vickers all began their careers racing their local short tracks.