DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Matt Bowling grew up watching drivers like Peyton Sellers, Philip Morris and Lee Pulliam gain national prominence with their Late Model Stock Car success. Then the Ridgeway, Virginia, driver gained knowledge racing against those greats.
This season, Bowling joined their legendary ranks.
The 22-year-old took the stage in the Grand Ballroom at the Charlotte Convention Center / NASCAR Hall of Fame on Friday to accept the biggest award in short-track racing as the 2016 NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Division I national champion.
“We have put on some great shows for the fans at short tracks all over Virginia and North Carolina,” said Bowling. “The experience I gained these past years is one reason why I am up here tonight and I have truly gained a lot of respect and admiration for all the past Champions.
“I now know how much hard work goes into becoming a National Champion.”
Bowling was also honored for his track championship at Virginia’s South Boston Speedway and as the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Virginia champion. He drove the No. 83 Hopkins Lumber Ford to 14 wins, 35 top fives and 42 top 10s in 49 starts across eight tracks throughout the southeast.
He led the championship points the entire season. But for a change of plans, Bowling wouldn’t have been on the stage accepting his national championship trophy and ring.
"Fourteen. That’s how many races I had planned to run this year,” said Bowling, who instead rolled off five wins and nine top-three finishes in his first 14 races through the second week of June and never looked back. “I stand before you all tonight humbled and honored to be your Champion. This year has been stressful and rewarding all at the same time, but as a team we made it happen.'
The state championship traces its lineage back to 1952 and past Virginia champions include NASCAR Hall of Famers Richie Evans, Ned Jarrett and Wendell Scott. It also includes Morris and Pulliam.
H.C. Sellers received the Lunati Crew Chief Award. Sellers also crew chief for his brother Peyton’s national championship in 2005 and for Morris’ national title in 2011. Bowling’s father, Tim, was honored with the Lincoln Electric Car Owner Award.
Champions across North America shared the stage with Pulliam Friday night. Fifty-nine Division I track champions, and 32 U.S. state and Canadian province champions along with state and province rookies of the year were also recognized for their 2016 achievements.
Keith Rocco accepted his trophy for finishing second in the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Division I national standings while racing his asphalt Modified at Connecticut’s Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park, Stafford Motor Speedway and New London-Waterford Speedbowl. He had 14 wins, 30 top fives and 39 top 10s in 45 starts.
Rocco, 31, from Wallingford, Connecticut, won track titles at both Thompson and New London-Waterford, and took home the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Connecticut championship for the ninth season in a row. This year also marked the 10th consecutive season Rocco finished in the top five in the national standings.
Ty Majeski capped a remarkable season by accepting his third-place trophy. The 22-year-old from Seymour, Wisconsin, won the Super Late Model crown at the World Series of Asphalt Stock Car Racing at New Smyrna in February. He continued his winning ways at Wisconsin's LaCrosse Fairgrounds Speedway, and then continued his national championship chase with races at Minnesota’s Elko Speedway, Illinois’ Rockford Speedway and Wisconsin’s Madison International Speedway. Majeski finished with 14 wins, 21 top fives and 25 top 10s in 26 starts.
Highlighting the evening’s festivities were several special awards.
California’s Ryan Vargas was presented the prestigious Wendell Scott Trail Blazer Award. In his first full season racing Late Models in the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series and competing against some of the best drivers in the West at southern California’s Irwindale Speedway and Kern County Raceway Park in Bakersfield, Vargas scored 11 top-fives and 20 top-10s in 20 starts. The 16-year-old from La Mirada, California, finished fifth in the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series California standings, narrowly missing out on the state rookie of the year honors.
Chase Purdy, 16, brought home the national Jostens Rookie of the Year Award. The Mississippi native compiled 10 wins and 16 top-fives in 21 starts at South Carolina’s Myrtle Beach Speedway and Greenville Pickens Speedway. He finished 16th overall in the national standings and won the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series South Carolina crown.
And 16-year-old Ryan Jenkins won both UNOH Youth Achievement Award – given to the top driver 17-years-old and younger – as well as the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Division III title. Jenkins raced in the B-Modified Divisions at Nebraska's I-80 Speedway and Iowa's Adams County Speedway.
Additionally, NASCAR awarded national championships for Divisions II-V: Patrick Thomas of New Smyrna Speedway in Florida (Division II); Nathan Campbell of Salina Highbanks Speedway in Oklahoma (Division IV) and Cory Dumpert of Anderson Motor Speedway and Greenville Pickens Speedway in South Carolina (Division V).
The Whelen All-American Series Awards Banquet was streamed live online in English, Spanish and French on FansChoice.tv.
Saturday night's NASCAR Night of Champions Touring Awards will also be streamed live from the same location, in English, Spanish and French, starting with the pre-event Red Carpet Special at 5 p.m. ET with the awards ceremony getting underway at 6 p.m.
-NASCAR Integrated Marketing Communications Press Release.
-Photo credit: Speed51.com