Anthony Anders was sitting with friends in the grandstands off Turn 4 at historic Greenville Pickens Speedway when he got the itch to give this racing thing a try. Twenty years later, the Easley, South Carolina, driver has reached the pinnacle of short-track racing.
Anders is the 2014 NASCAR Whelen All-American Series championship.
The 43-year-old Anders accomplished the feat by leading the national points standings every week of the season and finishing with 30 wins, ninth most in a single season in the history of the series.
“I remember being at the banquet and seeing all those banners (of past national champions),” Anders said. “I said, ‘I want to be there one day.’
“I’ve won a lot of races in my career. It’s just amazing to accomplish this.”
To win the national title, Anders had to fend off a pair of the best short-track racers in NASCAR.
Two-time national champion Lee Pulliam of North Carolina finished second, while Connecticut’s Keith Rocco finished third. It is the fourth straight year Pulliam has been among the top three, while Rocco stretched his run to eight seasons – every year under the current format – of being in the top four.
“NASCAR would like to congratulate Anthony Anders as our 2014 NASCAR Whelen All-American Series National Champion,” said George Silbermann, NASCAR vice president, regional and touring series. “There have been a lot of great champions from Greenville Pickens Speedway over the years, and Anders continued that legacy with his tremendous season. We look forward to formally crowning him at the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Awards at the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte in December.”
Anders finished with 720 points, to Pulliam’s 709 and Rocco’s 698.
The NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Awards will take place on Friday, Dec. 12. Among those honored will be the 2014 national champion, as well as track champions from 58 tracks across the United States and Canada, state and province champions, and top rookies.
In addition to his national championship, Anders took home top honors in South Carolina for the fourth consecutive season and added his name again to the Wall of Champions as the Late Model Stock Car champion at Greenville. The outside retaining wall around the flat half-mile lists the names of all the track’s champions, including the likes of David Pearson and Ralph Earnhardt, as well as 1997 NASCAR national champion Dexter Canipe. The state championship traces its lineage back to 1953 and also includes Pearson, Cale Yarborough and Bobby Isaac.
Anders is the 25th driver in the 33 years of the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series to win the national championship.
“Our goal was to win it in the beginning of the year,” said Anders. “It’s been an overwhelming blessing for us.”
Anders had 30 wins, 44 top fives and 48 top 10s in 51 races at Greenville, South Carolina’s Anderson Motor Speedway and Myrtle Beach Speedway, as well as North Carolina’s Hickory Motor Speedway.
Pulliam continued his incredible four-year run, adding 25 wins, 41 top fives and 42 top 10s in 46 starts to his resume. The 26-year-old from Semora, North Carolina, has 92 Late Model wins since 2011. He won his first North Carolina championship to go with the Virginia titles he won in 2012-13.
Rocco also added to his own legacy.
The 29-year-old from Wallingford, Connecticut, won his seventh straight Connecticut championship. He has already clinched the SK Modified Division title at Waterford Speedbowl, and is third at Stafford Motor Speedway and second at Thompson Speedway heading into each track’s final weekends.
Rocco, who had 16 wins, 35 top fives and 40 top 10s in 46 starts, will be on the big stage in Charlotte for the awards as one of the top three drivers in the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series for the sixth straight year.
“Waterford, we absolutely dominate; Thompson, we were very, very strong; Stafford, we had a better year than we did last year but still not quite up to par,” said Rocco. “Stafford has the fiercest competition, I think, than anybody in the country. It’s tough to win up there. We definitely made big gains this year.
“We just work hard in the shop. All I do is live, eat and sleep racing. It’s truly what I enjoy to do and it’s what I put my heart and soul to do.”
Dillon Bassett, 17, of Winston-Salem, North Carolina, collected 13 wins racing his Late Model at seven different tracks throughout the southeast and finished fourth in the standings.
Rounding out the top five is Chad Finchum, 20, of Knoxville, Tennessee, who won the Late Model championship at Lonesome Pine in Coeburn, Virginia, and finished second at Tennessee’s Kingsport Speedway.
Ryan Preece finished sixth in the national standings. Preece is six points behind Ted Christopher heading into Sunday’s SK Modified finale at Stafford, and leads Rocco by 10 points with one race remaining at Thompson. Fourth through sixth in the national standings were separated by just six points.
Kres Vandyke, who won the track championship at Kingsport, placed seventh, while former national champion Peyton Sellers finished eighth after winning the Late Model division at Virginia’s South Boston Speedway. Randy Porter, who competes against Anders at Greenville and Anderson, finished ninth. Completing the top 10 is Tommy Lemons Jr., who raced at Motor Mile, South Boston, Caraway Speedway in Sophia, North Carolina, and Southern National Motor Speedway in Lucama, North Carolina.
Nick Heywood won the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series National Rookie of the Year Award presented by Jostens.
Heywood, 26, of Plattsburgh, New York, competes in the asphalt modified division at Airborne Park Speedway in Plattsburgh as well as Devil’s Bowl Speedway in West Haven, Vermont. He won the track championship at Airborne. Heywood won the national rookie award by 12 points, 597-585, over Kyle Plott, 18, of Marietta, Georgia. Plott competes in Late Models at Greenville, Anderson and Hickory. Mark Lamberton, who finished third at Airborne, placed third in the national rookie standings.
The rookie of the year is for first-year Division I license holders.
A driver’s top 18 finishes through Sept. 15 count toward the national championship as well a U.S. state and Canadian province championships and rookie honors, and champions are decided on overall point total.
Under the point structure for the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series, drivers receive two points for every car they finish ahead of – up to 18 cars – and three points for a win, with an additional two points available if the driver starts 10th or lower.
Nine of Anders’ wins gave him the maximum 41 points in a race, including his final win of the season on Sept. 14 after starting 17th at Myrtle Beach.
Myrtle Beach is a track where Anders won the 2012 Late Model championship and scored a win in the 20th Annual Myrtle Beach 400 in 2013.
But it was Greenville where Anders fell in love with racing – enough to trade his red 1976 Mustang for a race car, a 1976 Oldsmobile Cutlass that he competed with in the Charger Division. He moved up to Late Models in 2005.
When he’s not racing, Anders is operating one of his two companies – Anders Inc., a road construction outfit, and Busy Beaver Tree Service, which specializes in landscaping. A father of four, Anders said his car number – 36 – came from a combination of his favorite driver (Dale Earnhardt) and his wife’s (Mark Martin).
This year, he drove for Hawk-McCall Racing, which fielded a Late Model for 2014 NASCAR K&N Pro Series East champion Ben Rhodes last year.
“This race car has been really outstanding,” said Anders, who plans to compete in the annual Martinsville Late Model race on Oct. 26.
“It’s just like a dream come true for me,” said Anders. “It’s been an honor to be part of this program. I just can’t wait to get to Charlotte.”
Established in 1982, the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series is NASCAR’s national championship program for weekly short track auto racing. In all, 58 paved and dirt tracks throughout the United States and Canada participate.
Connecticut-based Whelen Engineering is the series’ title sponsor. Whelen Engineering is a leading manufacturer of automotive, aviation, industrial and emergency vehicle lighting. NASCAR tracks and pace cars across North America are among the many showcases for Whelen products.
– NASCAR IMC press release. Photo credit: Getty Images for NASCAR