Trevose, PA — January 25, 2009 – By Tom Skibinski, DIRTcar Racing Northeast PR Director & Ernie Saxton, EMPA President
*Ace Lane Jr. Photo: Billy Decker (L), WRG President Tom Deery, EMPA President Ernie Saxton (R)
Punctuating his most successful season in a motorsports career spanning 27 years, 2008 Advance Auto Parts Series Mr. DIRTcar Champion Billy Decker was honored still one more time Saturday evening as he received the prestigious Richie Evans Memorial/EMPA Northeastern Driver of the Year award.
“I’m just very proud of our entire program,” remarked Decker, 44, who secured the first Mr. DIRTcar crown for owners John and Laura Wight since joining LJL Racing in 2004. Scott Jeffery also served as crew chief when Decker garnered his first overall Big-Block Modified title in 1998. Decker finished his 23rd season of Big-Block competition atop the list with 22 feature wins after matching all-time Advance Series winner Brett Hearn’s single-season tour mark of 10 victories.
“We really had a rock solid program from start to finish. For the last 10 years we always seemed to have some good parts, just couldn’t put enough together and keep it there the whole season. This time around we had the ability to win every race. Sometimes you like to say it was a good second or maybe you feel lucky to come away with third, but our goal still remains to win every race we compete in. To be honest, anything else is somewhat of a failure. I don’t want to be a hog about it but I’d like to win 50 more this coming year,” Decker smiled.
DIRTcar Racing continued to maintain a strong presence as it once again took center stage at the 41st Eastern Motorsport Press Association (EMPA) working convention and awards banquet held January 23-25 at the Radisson Hotel & Conference Center.
World Racing Group President and Chief of Operations Tom Deery joined the DIRTcar team in attendance or the dinner ceremonies while WRG VP Public Relations Chris Dolack earlier spearheaded the group’s presentations in the customary Saturday press conferences.
World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series PR Director Tony Veneziano, World of Outlaws Late Model Series PR Director Kevin Kovac and Advance Auto Parts Super DIRTcar Series PR Director Tom Skibinski, along with Decker and WoO Sprint Kevin Gobrecht Rookie of the Year award recipient Lucas Wolf, also flanked Dolack on stage in the morning, addressing area media, answering specific questions and providing schedule information for the upcoming season.
Decker’s recent recognition as EMPA’s Northeastern Driver of the Year made it three straight for DIRTcar Big-Blockers as Hearn (2007) and Alan Johnson (2006) won the award following their own Mr. DIRTcar title runs. Since it was officially designated as the Richie Evans Memorial Award in 2002, Johnson (2003) and Hearn (2002) again were honored while Kenny Tremont garnered the same award in 1999 after winning the Rite Aid 200 at Super DIRT Week.
Still more DIRTcar connections were made on this special evening when Northeast Modified Hall of Famers Carl ‘Fuzzy’ VanHorn (driver) and Tony Ferraiuolo (car owner) were inducted in the EMPA Hall of Fame. Along with Supermodified star Bentley Warren, former Reading Fairgrounds Speedway announcer Warren Ruffner and EMPA co-founder Miles “Red” Kirsch, also making his way into the EMPA Hall was Sprint car racing standout Smokey Snellbaker, who won the 1979 Super DIRT Week Sprint Car Championship, while low budget sprint car racer Craig ‘Cricket’ Keel from Weedsport, New York was voted the Junie Donlavey Spirit of the Sport Award winner.
In other special award presentations: National Hot Rod Association Top Fuel racer Tony Schumacher was named the Al Holbert Memorial/EMPA Driver of the Year Award winner; Teenage sprint car talent Cody Darrah received the New England Race Fuels John Blewett III Young Gun Award; Kyle and Pattie Petty were the recipients of the first EMPA Humanitarian Award, which included a $1,000 donation to the Petty’s Victory Junction Camp.
The Ace Lane Memorial Photographer of the Year award went to well known freelance photographer Lew Brubaker; Dave Dalesandro took home the Art McHugh Memorial that goes to an individual that works behind the scenes for the betterment of EMPA; Dino Oberto, a writer for the Hazleton, PA Standard Speaker newspaper, was honored with the prestigious Frank Blunk Memorial for his outstanding journalistic efforts.
Ernie Saxton, long-time president of the organization, presented special appreciation awards to people who had supported the organization with special effort during 2008. Included were Joe Kaminski, NASCAR’s Jim Hunter and Vern and Diana Townsend. Saxton has announced that he will not seek re-election when his term expires in 2010. He has been president for most of the organization’s 41 years.
Winners in the Valvoline/EMPA Writers Contest included Bruce Bennett, column in Flat Out magazine; Chris Romano, feature article in Motorsport; Dino Oberto, news article in Area Auto Racing News; Ron Hedger, race report in National Speed Sport News and personality profile in Speedway Illustrated.
Top awards in the Brice NAPA Auto Parts EMPA Photography Contest went to Todd Dziadosz, Action; Bruce Bennett, Action Sequence; Ace Lane, Crash Action Portfolio of the Year; Bob Yurko, Feature; Bob Yurko, Picture Story; Jim Smith, Portrait & Personality and Best of Showand Todd Dziadosz, Pure Art, Action, and Unpublished Color.
All writer and photography contest winners received beautiful plaques along with cash awards. More than $4,000 was paid out.
Representatives of the NHRA, Pocono Raceway, Indy Racing League, ARCA, ARDC, World Racing Group, ESPN and NASCAR participated in the weekend of activities including a full slate of press conferences.
Sponsor support for the annual EMPA Convention came from Pocono Raceway, NASCAR, NHRA, IRL, SPEED, ESPN and World Racing Group. More than 100 media representing newspapers, radio, TV and the internet attended the convention.
Plans for the 2010 convention will be announced in the near future. Information on membership and other details about the EMPA is available by e-mail Esaxton144@aol.com or telephone 215/752-7797.
Headquartered in Roanoke, Va., Advance Auto Parts, a leading automotive aftermarket retailer of parts, accessories, batteries, and maintenance items in the United States, serves both the do-it-yourself and professional installer markets As of April 19, 2008, the Company operated 3,291 stores in 40 states, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. Additional information about the Company, employment opportunities, customer services, and on-line shopping for parts and accessories can be found on the Company’s web site at www.advanceautoparts.com.
The Advance Auto Parts Super DIRTcar Series for Big-Block Modifieds is brought to fans across the Northeast by several sponsors and partners, including series sponsors Advance Auto Parts, Hoosier Racing Tire and Sunoco Race Fuels. Promotional partners include AMB i.t., Rite Aid Corporation and the University of Northwestern Ohio and the contingency sponsors are Bert Transmission, Bicknell Racing Products, Bilstein Shocks, Brodix Cylinder Heads, Crane Cams, Integra Shocks, MSD Ignitions, Motorsports Safety Systems, Penske Shocks and Wrisco Industries.