Tuesday, January 28th, 2014
Eldora earns honors and passes out annual awards
By Mike Ernst
ROSSBURG - The harsh winter weather that smothered the Grand Lake area over the weekend could not keep more than 400 people from crowding into the Eldora Ballroom on Saturday night as Eldora Speedway celebrated the culmination of the 2013 season with the annual awards banquet.
While track champions Matt Miller (UMP Late Models), Jerry Bowersock (UMP DirtCar Modifieds) and Barney Craig (Eldora Stock Cars) were the toast of the affair, Eldora Speedway officials have also received several major awards in the past few weeks.
During a meeting attended by safety and security specialists from facilities hosting NASCAR National Series events, the one half-mile clay oval, owned by three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Tony Stewart, was honored with two prominent awards. The awards recognized the 1-800 CarCash Mudsummer Classic for the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, marking NASCAR's first dirt race in nearly 43 years.
The Teamwork Award, presented by NASCAR's Medical Liaison department, celebrated the Premier Health Infield Care Center team assembled at Eldora by Miami Valley Hospital and CareFlight.
"The Eldora team went above and beyond our expectations to provide NASCAR and the competitors a safe and comfortable environment. The assembled team's hard work, dedication and commitment to excellence for their first-ever NASCAR National Series event was amazing," stated Lori Sheppard, NASCAR Senior Manager Medical Liaison.
Moments later, Eldora was again summoned to the podium by NASCAR's Track Services department. Eldora Speedway and Michigan International Speedway were named co-recipients of the 2013 Mission Award honor for their spirit of collaboration and cooperation for the inaugural running of the 1-800 CarCash Mudsummer Classic.
"The exceptional teamwork to meet the rigid NASCAR standards in the presentation of their debut NASCAR Camping World Series event made NASCAR's return to dirt track racing a success," said Mike Phillips, NASCAR's senior manager of track services.
Last week Stewart and Eldora General Manager Roger Slack were named 2013 Promoters of the Year by the North American 410 Sprint Car Poll.
The voting panel of media members, promoters, sanctioning officials and manufacturers selected Stewart for the first time in the promoter category while Slack was previously named Promoter of the Year in 2007 while at The Dirt Track at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
The duo joins Eldora founder Earl Baltes, who received the award six times between 1986 and 2004, until selling the legendary half-mile high banked clay oval to Stewart in time for the 2005 season.
"This is a real honor to be recognized in the Promoter category. Owning a historic facility like Eldora is a huge responsibility and not something we take lightly as we plan for the future," said Stewart, the three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion. "I am especially proud of Roger and everyone at Eldora. They complement each other well, work together as a team and the gains we have made the past few years enhancing the fan experience demonstrate their commitment to excellence each time we open the gates."
Miller's 2013 Eldora championship was his fourth Late Model championship at the track adding to his championship runs in 2000, 2008 and 2010. Miller, from Whitehouse, won four feature events at the track in 2013 including three preliminary wins during The Dream and World 100.
"All the credit really goes to (car owner) Rick DeLong," Miller said of his car owner, who also picked up the Best Appearing Car award during the evening. "He is the one that puts all the work in. I was about to give this all up a couple of years ago and he talked me into coming back and we are having a blast racing together."
The Modified championship was Bowersock's third in the division and is the Wapakoneta veteran's fourth overall championship after also winning the 2001 Late Model title.
"We had a lot of luck throughout the season and a lot of things went our way," said Bowersock. "A lot of other guys had fast cars all year as well but things broke our way. Al Austin (car owner) and the rest of the team really worked hard and brought a fast car to the track every week."
Craig dominated the Stock Car division winning all but two races during the season to win his second consecutive track title and his fifth overall.
"I really don't know what to say," the soft-spoken veteran from Lima said. "I love racing here and look forward to every race. This is a special place for my family and I could not do it without all of their support."
The top 15 in each division were honored with a trophy and a check for their respective take from the track's point fund. Local driver Ryan Sutter, of Coldwater, finished 15th in the Late Model division and also won the division's Rookie of the Year Award, while also picking up the third-place check and trophy with the Modified.
Derrick Austin (Modified) and Chris Douglas (Stock Car) joined Sutter as Rookie of the Year honorees, while the Most Improved Driver honors were bestowed upon Duane Chamberlain (Late Model) driving for St. Henry car-owner Bill Dues, Aaron Orr (Modified) and Paul Pardo (Stock Car). Having the Best Appearing Cars in 2013 were Miller (Late Model), Brandon Vaughan (Modified) and Casey Barr (Stock Car). Recognized for their run of Hard Luck were Jacob Hawkins (Late Model) in another Dues-owned entry, Mike Dirksen (Modified) and Dean Pitts (Stock Car).
Veteran Stock Car driver Earnie Woodard picked up what is considered to be one of the most prestigious awards of the year, the Chick Hale Sportsman of the Year trophy. Eldora ticket manager Tess Thwaits was named Woman of the Year. Ed Muleski was tabbed as the Joe Mercer Memorial Fan of the Year with Phil Westfall capturing the Mechanic of the Year hardware. For their outstanding stable of race machinery, St. Marys' Eric Brock's Best Performance Motorsports was announced as the Owner of the Year.