Trackside Tidbits. Season Championship & Banquet night.
Season Championship night saw five champions crowned. Think the last time we crowned five champs on the same night was in 2007 when it was the OSLMs, Figure 8s, and the Street Stocks A, B, and C divisions. This year, along with the weekly divisions (OLMS, Figure 8s, Street Stocks A and B divisions) the Enduro class crowned their champion too (normally they run an event after the season for the local divisions is completed). Three of the champions have been there before … OSLMs, Eric Lee; Figure 8s, Billy Earley and Enduro, Derrick Sheppard. Both Street Stocks A and B divisions had first time champions in that division.
Eric Lee put together a nearly perfect year in 2022. In the last 22 years, no driver has ever finished all the races either as the victor or in second place. (although, it happened twice in 2022, more on that later). Eric tied the record of most OSLM features in a year, with Paul Pelletier in 2012. He breaks Paul’s average finish of 2.0 from the same yr. Eric’s previous record was 3.88 in 2011. “I can't believe we. We started out of the gate pretty good, and I feel like every week we just got a little bit better, a little bit better, a little bit better and usually we go the opposite. So, really just hats off to all my sponsors, my crew. I want to thank my crew, my dad Steve, Rob, Todd, Ron, Jeff and Gary and my sponsors Lee Motorsports Inc., Action Drywall, Lixey Storage, Rosbrough Trucking and Glefke Tree Service. Without these guys, it wouldn't be possible. But yeah, probably my 20 some years of racing, that's got to be the best year I've ever had. The last several weeks we haven’t had any cautions in our features. There’s a lot of good drivers out here. Everybody's given enough room and driving smart. So, it makes the racing out here a lot of fun. No one's tearing up equipment, which is always a plus. Awesome.”
Conner Zbozien finished second in points, a career best. “We wrapped up our 2022 Flat Rock season last night in the Moran Chevrolet/Magic Racing #45! Congratulations to Eric Lee and team on their championship! Finished second overall in points, one feature win, one heat win and two fast times. Every week brings us new challenges. This week, our set up was different due to the engine swap and started with a pretty awesome car which got a little loose towards the end of the race. I was pushing hard to get around Dennis to see if I could get close to Eric but just couldn’t make it happen. I’m incredibly grateful for the opportunity this year to drive for Pat Moran and Dick Barker. It has been a great learning experience. We have had a fun season working through this transition and have truly met two of the most generous and kindest people out there. The things that they both do for this sport and people is beyond amazing. We have had an incredible support team this year from the pit crew, my Dad, Mom, sister Lauren, grandpa, Daryl, Emily, Patti, Tim, and Tom. Our fans have been great! We love talking and seeing you guys at the track! Thank you to our sponsors! , Moran Chevrolet , McQuade Heating and Cooling, PPG, Painter Supply and Equipment, The Pleasure Zone, Michigan Independent Door Co, JV Auto, Next up for this team is the Toledo Glass City 200! Saturday September 17th.”
Finishing third in points was George Rangel who ran his first full season in quite a while. It’s his highest points finish. I can only get back to 2006 points standing but 14th was his best points finish in that timeframe and that was last season.
Chris Benson finished fourth in points, also the best finish he’s had since a sixth in 2014. Like George I can only go back 16 years.
Our two Rookies, Jimmy Pankow and Joshua Spindelman ended up finishing seventh and eighth in points, finishing 55 points across. My rookie records that I found in banquet articles on the ARCA website go back to 2007. As near as I can figure the closest rookie battle was Kevin Butzin, and Brian Norton in 2009, they finished 85 points apart in 12th and 14th position respectively. During this time frame we had two co-rookies: Hayden Sprague and Connor Zbozien in 2019 and Randy Cronenwett Jr and Jeremy Vanderhoof in 2008 (they finished 11th and 13th but 135 points apart). We’ll have to wait about a month to find out if Jimmy and Joshua share the title or which one wins it outright.
Hayden Sprague ran his second race of the season, finishing fourth. Last time he drove Bobby Blount’s car, but tonight he was in his own car. He said he hopes to be back in 2023 for the full season.
Jeremy Vanderhoof won the Street Stock A Division Championship. Although he’s not a rookie in the division, it is his first full season running the division. He started mid-2021. Jeremy has two Figure 8 championships (2010-2011) and four at Toledo (2006, 2011, 2014-2015). As well has he runs in Figure 8s, it surprised me only had six championships, but he told me, many years he raced for wins, not points. “Man, what a battle. Just first foremost, Greg Studt. He had the dominant car this year, I think he won six races. And two weeks ago, we were racing for the lead, and he got into me and he tapped out. There aren’t many racers or people around here that would tap out in that situation. So, my hat's off to him and his crew. They had the dominant car this year. But I got to thank my father-in-law for putting me in this car, Clyde McKee. Dan Doyle race engines, Patrick Signs, Aero Truck Parts, SP Guns and Ammo, Seigel Chiropractor. The Drive Train Specialist sponsor our division every week for the last … I don't know how many years All the fans that come out. Just keep coming out. And finally, I want to thank my wife and kids, they are here every week working on this thing. Man, what a tough division.”
Mike Miller, B division champion, his first, is also in his sophomore year in the division. “I can’t believe it, it's just an awesome feeling (winning the championship). I didn’t think I could win a championship, the way I race out here and at Toledo. everyone that's watched me over the years, oh man, they're behind me 100%. I want to thank my crew Adam and Christopher Mallia … Frank Loving was a big helper all my career, but he passed away earlier this year, so this season was for him and Christopher's mother Carolynn who also passed away and was a supporter of me. Lonnie York and Craig Lange were big helpers this year and I had a lot of other people helping me out this year too. And I want to thank my sponsors Martin's Tire and Sales, Father & Son Muffler, Flying V Motorsports, Fire Motorsports, Tommy Boy Towing. Tom O'Leary III and Howard Kelley were the ones who helped start my career so of course I gotta thank them a ton.”
Billy Earley, like Eric Lee, won his sixth championship in the Figure 8 series. “It’s great we won the race and championship on the same night; it was fun battling Greg for the win he sure did make me work for it. I would like to thank the good lord, my dad and family and Steve Bunge at B&H Race Parts for all the support. I’m blessed just to get one championship but to win 6 is humbling! Thank you everyone that comes out to support us.”
Greg Studt was trying for his third consecutive championship in the Street Stocks A division, but although he had the most wins (five), Jeremy Vanderhoof took home the championship. “Yeah, I mean, we had a lot of good starting spots this year. We had a mishap last week, I made a mistake, and it took me out of the championship hunt. I’d like to congratulate Jeremy Vanderhoof and Clyde McKee, both very deserving of this championship. It was a good battle all year long. I've battled Jeremy several years out here. He's a real tough competitor. Real hard to beat.”
Oddly both feature winners in the Street Stock Division, were not the champions. Jeremy Cronenwett won his first career feature tonight, “Happy to get our first feature win. Been running mostly with the A main lately, but this is good group of guys. Appreciate getting our first trophy. Thanks to my crew and family, a good batch of them are standing back there by the car and to the fans for coming out.”
Back in Eric Lee’s quote I said he wasn’t the only one to finish races in first or second this year. Taylor Papineau did it in the Street Stock B division, eight races with six wins and two seconds place finishes. It tied the number of six wins by Jimmy Rae in the B division in 2009 (the most B division wins as of 2000). Taylor finished fourth in the B division points, 545 behind Mike Miller. He was so many points behind because three times his qualifying time moved him to the A division feature.
Eric Lee won his sixth Outlaw Super Late Championship (2004, 2008, 2009, 2011, 2021, 2022), going back-to-back for the second time in his career. “Back-to-back is awesome. Last year it was a struggle. We got it done but it felt like we were in defense mode the second half of the year. Then starting off this year we got off to a good start and just kept the momentum going. It felt as if we got a little bit better every single week and had an awesome year. Six championships is by far the best year I've ever had racing in my whole career, 30 years of racing cars, Go-Karts and everything else and I just couldn't do it without my dad. He's been awesome … to do whatever it takes for us. My crew, all these guys are outstanding every week, always there to support me, feed me … probably the best fed crew in the whole pits every single week. So, thank you guys. And really, I think after 30 years of racing this first year I've never replaced the body panel on my car. Thanks to all the competition and all the guys that we race against, you guys are awesome. A lot of great racing clean racing all year. Just an outstanding year for us. Thank you to everyone I gotta say thank my family business, my dad, our car sell business, Rob, Accent Drywall, and just everyone that helps us. It's been a real team effort and just been an amazing year for us.”
Billy Early also won his sixth championship in the Figure 8 division. His is the short but sweet acceptance speech. There’s a longer one below from what he sent me after the season. “Thanks to all the drivers in the Figure 8 division, love you guys. Steve and Julie (Bunge), B&H … Thank you. Six championships, to win one is hard, but six, it's just mind blowing, but I'll take it. Thank you.”
Jeremy Vanderhoof has won six championships in the Figure 8 division he’s most known for but is a first-time champion in the Street Stock A division and in his first full season driving the division (he raced about half of 2021 in the division). “I've been running Figure Eight for a long time we got into the Streets Stock division. And man, what a division it's tough. There are so many fast cars, so many great drivers. It is by far the most competitive division I've ever run in. I don't know, we just tried every week, week in week out, we never ran the same setup twice. We just tried to improve and improve, and you know, it just fell where it fell. Obviously, Greg Studt probably had the most dominant car this year. And he and I had that one race where he tapped out. So going forward in our division, I plan around Street Stock for a while. Hopefully everybody can take an example on what he did with that because all he had to do is not tap out, we both went to the back and he probably would have been standing here not me. So, hats off to him, his dad and everything they accomplished this year. I think they won like seven races. Moving forward with our team I got to thank all of our sponsors. That's what makes it possible week in, week out. My wife Melissa, the four kids. Avery, Aubrey, they were our crew this year, so, we got them involved. We got them changing tires, checking stagger, all that stuff. You know, I double checked most of it and probably messed it up more than they probably had it right and I messed it up. But just getting the kids involved helps the future in the sport. I don't know. I’m just very, very humbled to be racing that Flat Rock. I got to thank Ron Drager, Scott Schultz, all the officials, the all the employees that show up week in and week out to give us a place to race to make it possible. I've raced a lot of different racetracks across, you know, three four different states and Flat Rock by far is the most organized racetrack that you'll go to you'll go to some racetracks, and I even know what's going on when you're racing, what's going on when you're practicing. What you're getting paid, any of that, so anyone that comes to Flat Rock is by far getting the top of you know, of the racetracks across the country. I got thank DTS for sponsoring the division, all the division sponsors and anyone that sponsors a racecar. If you guys need something in life, call somebody (a driver). Somebody has a sponsor on their car that does what you need and give them what you need. To my father-in-law Clyde McKee, that guy has been racing for a long time, he's put his heart and soul into this division, to the sport. He tows out there each weekend we go racing. I'd like him to come up right now and please come up here and get your 2022 Street stock champion owner’s coat.”
Mike Miller is another first-time champion, winning the Street Stock B championship in his sophomore season. “I gotta say what it's been a great first few years of streets stocks, you know winning championship this year after finishing second last year in my rookie debut. After getting the points lead this year, the main goal was to show up and make sure I started each race. Some nights that were really hard, but we still made a good season out of it. And even though I didn't win a feature, everyone saw I was playing some restarts, they’re my weakness, but we still made the best of it. And that's all I could ask for. I just want to thank the Lord God, you know get helped us out a lot and blessed me in a lot of good stuff and I want to thank everybody that's helped me get to this point, my family, my crew, my especially. all you guys all my racing friends that helped me out again at this point. I couldn't ask for anymore. Thanks again and I look forward to 2023.”
Derrick Sheppard won his second career Enduro Championship, his first was in 2018. “First, I just want to thank my dad for everything that he's done … all times all year at a lot of fun. Thank you to my mom, too. Thank you to John and Paul Pelletier, Leonard Roberts, everybody else that helped this year. Had a great time racing with everybody. It was fun being back on the street tires and I got a lot of good races with Rayce Metdepenningen again, and just a lot of fun. So, thank you everybody.”
Randy Padgett won the Factory Stock Championship, our third first time champion (all in the Street Stock division). “A lot of mixed emotions right now, but I'm gonna try to get through it. At the beginning of the season, we weren't sure what we were gonna do with the tire change and everything. And then what came, and we found ourselves racing for a championship. I mean, it doesn't get better than that. My hats go off to Steve Smith, the 23 team. He was hard all year he was there at our door. But I mean, we got it but Steve, I know you were there, dude, and you're gonna be there and years to come. But it was hard because any week any car in our division was up. Anybody could have won it. So that's what made it tough. We just did our homework and went to work and came to the track each week prepared. I'd like to thank my wife, my kids, my crew, all my friends, family that are here, but my crew Ryan he did a lot to help me get this championship so all them this is just as much there's my thanks
Jim Froling won his third Late Model Sportsman Championship (2008, 2013, 2022). “I’ll try to keep this quick. I can't thank my team enough, Wolverine Motorsports, Carl, Sandy, and so forth but I want to make a special tribute here to people very important to me. My mom and dad are here tonight. Thank you for being here. They've supported me so much please give him a round of applause. This is a big objective for them to be here. So, thank you for that. And I told a few other people my mom who hasn’t been able to be too many races this year when I first started race and she said, ‘I don't really want to be doing this but if you're going to be good’, so I tried so I think thank you for that encouragement. I got to thank Bob Stewart who was my spotter this year. We've become great friends over the last couple of years. Thank you for being a part of this. I have got to thank my wife Amanda, who again for reasons I don't understand, tolerates all this so thank you. I got two wonderful kids who have supported me. So, I thank them very much. And I'll conclude here with a guy I gotta mention, a lot of you know him, probably don't know how significant he's been to me here and racing as Mr. Brian Pelkey. We've become good friends here in the last couple of years. Brian, would you please come up here? Brian has supported me in a couple of really good ways. It’s helped out a lot. And he helps a lot of people here, a lot of people probably don't know that. And Brian, you've always ever been a champion? There's all these other guys. I got this for you (champion owner’s jacket). You've earned this. Thank you for being a part of this.”