The fans had their say and here are the first batch of winners of the 2009 “51 Awards for Short Track Racing. The awards were determined based on the votes of fans at the short track website Speed51.com.
Crankiest Personality - Bobby Gill - His nickname is “Black Sunshine”, so what more can you expect from the voters in this category?
Actually, Gill just squeaked out a small victory when all of the votes were added up. He only came out ahead of Ted Christopher by three votes…those were votes and not three percentage points either…which is pretty amazing given the thousands of fans who voted.
Best Tour - CRA Super Series - Fans are always loyal to “their” short track tour and lately more and more of those fans have been drawn to the CRA Super Series. The CRA is one of several Super Late Model tours across the country that are enjoy relative success right now in down economic times. Fans across the Midwest have grown to enjoy watching their tourers like Johnny VanDoorn and Scott Hantz do battle with invaders like Kyle Busch in the big CRA shows. The series have even gotten involved with several large Southern events such as The Rattler and SpeedFest, to grow their fan base even more.
The CRA had plenty of competition in this category. Finishing in second place, less than four percentage points back, was the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour - whose fans are so passionate that an extreme group of them often refer to themselves as the “Torch and Pitchfork” group due to their love of Modifieds and dislike of “taxicab” racing.
Most Improved Short Track Driver - Ryan Preece - Usually it takes years, even decades, of experience to become a championship contender on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour. Looking back through the title fights of the past several years, we see men like Hirschman, Christopher, Flemke, Marquis and Stefanik battling for the crown. But Ryan Preece stepped up to play the role of a championship contender in 2009 while still just a teenager. Preece didn't win the championship, but he fought a valiant battle with Donny Lia and Ted Christopher for the title. He also won a pair of races, including one on bullring at Riverhead Raceway (NY). Preece has definitely flattened out the learning curve on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour and our voters agreed - giving him a slight victory over TJ Reaid and Drew Brannon in this category.
Biggest Surprise of the Year - Kelly Moore and Cody Bodwell - We can't remember a more bizarre night at the races than we saw this past season at White Mountain Motorsports Park (NH) when the PASS North teams were in town.
In the Late Model undercard for the night, Cody Bodwell exited the track and headed towards the outside pit area at a high rate of speed. He put his foot to the floor and found that the brake pedal went straight down. Faced with a Jersey Barrier in his path, Bodwell steered to the side and winged a chain link fence. He then zoomed through the pit area and shot the gap between the a few haulers - without hitting anyone. Next, he hit another chain link fence and launched himself into the woods and down an embankment. A number of trees and small saplings stopped his #73 car before it ended up in a river down below.
Bodwell walked away and after chainsaws and a front end loader were dispatched, the car was towed away to race the next weekend. Everyone who witnessed the wreck just shook their heads about what seemed like a “once in a lifetime” wreck.
They were wrong. Not only was the wreck not “once in a lifetime”, it wasn't even a “once in a night” wreck.
In the PASS main event, Kelly Moore got bumped into the outside retaining wall on the backstretch. His car rode this wall and then launched across the pit exit and over the head of PASS official Bruce McMahon. After bouncing like a pinball between those walls, the car flipped in the air and landed upside in a cloud of smoke on top of the same jersey barrier that Bodwell avoided earlier in the evening. The car's rollcage was crushed and Moore, a tall man, had a bit of trouble exiting the car because of that. But he didn't have a scratch on him either.
The fans at the track that night was stunned and the fans who voted for the 51s agreed - giving the night a wide victory in this category.
A trio of surprise victories - Brandon Johnson in the ASA Late Models at Rockingham, Luke Fleming in the NASCAR Whelen Southern Modifieds at Bowman Gray and David Wilson in the Pro Cup race at Hickory finished in the second through fourth positions after the ballots were counted up.
Best Track - Five Flags Speedway (FL) - It's the home of the Snowball Derby, it's the home of the Blizzard Series and it's the home of teen sensation Johanna Long. After the votes for the 51s were added up, Five Flags Speedway has also been confirmed the place where the most short track fans like to watch a race.
With just over 30% of the total vote, Five Flags won a fairly sizable victory this time around, but there were some other very worthy tracks that earned plenty of votes as well.
Finishing second in this category is the place where Vermonters love to spend their Thursday nights during the summer - Barre's Thunder Road Speedbowl. This tight quarter mile features many moonlight ACT stars in the Late Model division and a few other classes including the entertaining Junkyard Warriors.
Bowman-Gray Stadium, the backdrop for the History Channel's “Madhouse” show rounded out the podium finishers.
Best Feud - Ted Christopher vs. Donny Lia - Throughout the season, there were plenty of headlines on Speed51.com and Speed 51 Radio about Donny Lia and Ted Christopher. They clashed at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, they clashed at Bristol and they clashed on the airwaves. This rivalry actually dates back several years to when the two had their run-ins at Smyrna Speedweeks, but it kicked it high gear this year when they fought for victories and the championship on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour.
There was some good old fashioned mudslinging too - with TC calling Lia “Donny Diharria” and Lia called TC a “fossil”. That wasn't enough though as Lia eventually referred to Christopher in a 51 Radio interview as “the dumbest f--k in the world” before stating that “we don't like each other very much.”
Over half of the fans who voted in the 51s voted this feud as the top feud in 2009. The next highest vote getter, with a relatively tiny 15% of the vote, was Preston Peltier vs. the rest of the PASS South roster, after he was involved in several altercations during the early part of the season.
Rookie of the Year - Chase Elliott - What Chase Elliott accomplished in 2009 would have been impressive for even the most skilled veteran. But doing it as a rookie was truly mind-boggling and it earned him nearly as many voters as podium finishers Parker Kilgerman and Ross Kenseth combined.
Elliott, the son of 1988 NASCAR Cup Champion Bill Elliott, won races in GAS, on the ASA Southeast Asphalt Tour and in PASS South this past season.
Photo of the Year - Jamie Williams (Unity) - Race car drivers who value their equipment ought to look for where Jamie Williams is standing during a race and drive very carefully in that part of the racetrack. The Mainer's crash photos are legendary and he always seems to have a knack for standing right where the action unfolds. This year, Williams shot a stunning photo of Chris Staples rolling his PASS North Super Late Model at Unity Raceway (ME) and that was good enough to earn the fan vote for Photo of the Year. Williams also finished in third place for his SpeedFest shot of Zach Reardon on his side after a wreck.
Finishing in second place was a photo of Cassius Clark walking on the hood of Spencer Wauters after a wreck in the PASS South race at Greenville-Pickens Speedway (SC). Clark wasn't happy with Wauters and wasn't afraid to tell him so - which Richard Bossario caught on film.
Driver of the Year - Bubba Pollard - We saved the biggest one for last and it was a close fight to the finish. When the dust settled, Bubba Pollard won the Short Track Driver of the Year award by only 19 votes over NASCAR Sprint Cup driver Kyle Busch.
Busch won SpeedFest, the Winchester 400 and the Snowball Derby in the same season with some pretty good equipment. Pollard won more than his fair share of Super Late Model and Pro Late Model races as well - but with only a fraction of the budget that Kyle Busch Motorsports had to work with.
Pollard had 12 victories in 31 starts on the year. Those victories included wins in the Blizzard Series, Viper Series and Miller Lite Super Late Model Series at Mobile.
Finishing third in the balloting was Eddie MacDonald, who won the Oxford 250, ACT Invitational at New Hampshire Motor Speedway and finished second in NASCAR East Series points.
PASS National and South SLM champion Ben Rowe and ASA Midwest champion Steve Carlson rounded out the top five vote getters.
That's not all - the remainder of the 51 Winners will be announced next week here on Speed51.com and on the 51 Radio show, so stay tuned!