Column By: HOLLY CAIN / NASCAR – CHARLOTTE, NC – Perhaps a future NASCAR Xfinity Series or maybe even a future Monster Energy NASCAR Cup champion will be crowned Saturday night in Charlotte as the industry celebrates 115 champion drivers from its thriving regional, local and international series at the Charlotte Convention Center.
Competitors from the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour to both of the NASCAR K&N Pro Series – East and West – to NASCAR’s Pinty Series and the hugely popular NASCAR Whelen Euro Series will be duly celebrated alongside the best in short track local racing that compete in the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series from all around the country.
“They are a vital piece in the fabric of our sport,” NASCAR President Steve Phelps wrote in the awards’ program. And certainly these drivers represent the sport in important ways.
The list of honorees includes 57 track champions from Mike Looney, who won 12 of 16 races at Virginia’s Motor Mile Speedway to Tyler Tanner who earned championship honors from Evergreen Speedway in Washington state. It will also include Jacob Goede, who won his sixth straight Late Model championship at Elko Speedway and his sixth straight Minnesota championship en route to earning his first NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Division I national championship.
National champions from all of NASCAR’s Whelen All-American Series divisions will be celebrated, led by eighteen-year-old Bryan Narducci, who won his second straight Division III national title racing in the SK Light divisions in Connecticut. He’ll share the spotlight with B Modified driver Clint Johnson from Missouri (Division II champion), Narducci, 4-Cylinder driver Corey Holtzlander from Michigan (Division IV), Sportsman Compact driver Dustin Grout from Iowa (Division V) and Sportsman Compact driver Tyler Hoover from Iowa (UNOH Youth Achievement Award)
Eighteen-year old Nick Sanchez, of Homestead, Florida, will receive the prestigious Wendall Scott Trailblazer Award. A thriving participant of REV Racing and the NASCAR Drive for Diversity Driver Development Program, Sanchez earned his first Late Model win this year at South Carolina’s Myrtle Beach Speedway. He earned an amazing 19 top-10 finishes in 20 starts in his first fulltime Late Model season. And he made his NASCAR K&N Series East debut this season with a pair of top-10 finishes in three starts.
The highly competitive NASCAR K&N Series West will celebrate its champion, 18-year-old Wisconsin native Derek Kraus, who won a series best five races and earned 13 top-10 finishes in 14 starts. Seventeen-year old Jagger Jones will be honored as that series’ Sunoco Rookie of the Year. Jones comes from one of the country’s most successful racing bloodlines – his grandfather Parnelli Jones won the 1963 Indianapolis 500 and his father P.J. was an IMSA GTP talent who also has nearly 100 starts in NASCAR’s three national divisions.
Jagger won his first NASCAR K&N Series race in October and earned a pole position and eight top-five finishes. He finished three points ahead of another young driver many are watching, 18-year-old Hailee Deegan. Deegan won her second and third K&N Pro Series West races, edging Jones at Las Vegas Motor Speedway’s dirt track for her second series victory and then taking her third win later at Colorado National Speedway.
Sam Mayer, also from Wisconsin, won both the K&N Pro Series East championship and the series’ Sunoco Rookie of the Year honors with four wins and 11 top-five finishes in 12 races. He became the youngest NASCAR regional or national champion at just 16 years, three months and eight days. NASCAR’s Drive for Diversity participant Chase Cabre finishes second in the championship with a pair of victories and seven top-five finishes.
Not only will the sport have a chance to celebrate and reflect on all the accomplishments of the 2019 season, the work of these drivers indicates good things for the future as well.