For nearly two months, Late Model fans from throughout North America made their way to Speed51.com to place their votes for the 2016 ARBodies Late Model Most Popular Driver Award. Hundreds of racers from touring series and local short tracks received votes, and after tabulating thousands of votes it was a driver from the province of Quebec winning the award for the first time.
Raphael Lessard, a 15-year-old Late Model driver from St-Joseph de Beauce, QC, Canada, is the winner of the 2016 ARBodies Late Model Most Popular Driver Award on Speed51.com.
“That’s very cool. Guys like me from Canada, I never thought I would be the most popular Late Model driver,” Lessard said upon hearing the news. “There’s so many drivers on the U.S. side that I never thought I’d be named the most popular driver this year. It’s been a great year; I can’t thank everyone enough that voted for me. I’m very excited, it’s great news. It shows how good we were this year with David Gilliland Racing and Toyota.”
Throughout the voting period, Lessard received a great deal of support from fans north of the border. The 2016 CARS Tour Super Late Model champion credits those fans, as well as some new fans he’s made in the United States, for making the award possible.
“It means the world to me,” Lessard stated. “At first my support was all from Canada, now it’s good to have the support of fans in the U.S. It’s pretty awesome. I hope to have a great year in 2017 and get the next popular driver next year, too.”
Winning an award like the ARBodies Late Model Most Popular Driver Award requires more than just strong performances on the race track; it also requires a strong presence on social media and with fans at the race track.
“I’m doing my best just trying to be a good guy and say hi to everyone, thank you to everyone,” Lessard explained. “I just try to represent my sponsors, my team and Toyota well. I’m doing my best every time I go to the race track to race, I treat it like it’s my last race.”
For being voted by the fans as the 2016 Late Model Most Popular Driver, Lessard will receive a free white “A” package body kit from ARbodies, located in Greenbrier, Tennessee. ARbodies has been the presenting sponsor of the 51 MPD voting since its inception in 2007.
"We're very proud to continue this long-standing tradition on Speed51.com by awarding this year's ARBodies Late Model Most Popular Driver," said ARBodies General Manager Roy Dies, Jr. "This is a big deal for us to do this every year and to witness the thousands of short track racing fans visit Speed51.com to cast their vote. Raphael Lessard had a fantastic season on the track, and by winning this award he has also proved he has what it takes off the track as well."
In addition to awarding the overall Late Model Most Popular Driver Award, ARBodies is also committed to supporting the short track stars that compete weekly at their local short track.
Grayson Cullather, a Late Model competitor at Virginia’s Southside Speedway, was the leading vote-getter among local track drivers and will receive a $750 ARBodies product certificate.
Kodie Conner, a regular on the PASS South circuit, finished second in the overall voting with Cullather right behind him in third. ARCA Midwest Tour champion Ty Majeski finished fourth and Lee USA Speedway (NH) Late Model Sportsman driver George Helliwell completed the top five.
Eddie MacDonald (ACT), Ryan Repko (Motor Mile), DJ Shaw (PASS/GSPSS), Brenden Queen (East Carolina) and Derek Griffith (PASS North) rounded out the top 10 in voting.
During the 10-year history of the Speed51.com Most Popular Driver Award presented by ARbodies, nine different drivers have won the award. The list of winners includes Cole Williams (2013 & 2015), Ronnie Osmer (2014), Kenzie Ruston (2012), Josh Berry (2011), Trey Mitchell (2010), Ross Kenseth (2009), Nick Murgic (2008) and Andy Pugh (2007).
ARbodies has become an innovative leader in the ABC body field, which was developed several years ago to help create a uniform set of body rules for Late Model series and tracks throughout the country, while also offering the bodies at an economical price for racers. ARbodies also offers cutting-edge body technology for a wide range of short track racing cars and trucks.
For more information on ARbodies, visit them online at www.arbodies.com and follow them on Twitter, @arbodies.
Since 2001, Speed51.com has been the home for short track news, behind-the-scenes stories and in-depth race coverage, radio and video broadcasts of series all around the country, from ARCA and NASCAR’s Touring Divisions, to the Super Late Model and Modified series and much more. 51 is the Official News Website of such major short track racing events as the Snowball Derby at Five Flags Speedway in Florida, the World Series of Asphalt Stock Car Racing at New Smyrna Speedway in Florida, the Winchester 400 and more. 51’s live video broadcasting division, Speed51 TV, has produced pay-per-view broadcasts of some of short track racing’s most prestigious events and the Speed51 Network has a growing library of subscriber-based video content.