For several weeks, thousands of short track racing fans have voted in record numbers for the 2015 51's presented by JEGS, Speed51.com's annual balloting of the best in short track racing. Keeping up with 51's tradition, this year's voting included categories that resemble categories in the annual Academy Awards for films, which will be handed out Sunday. After careful counting of each ballot, Speed51.com is now revealing the winners of the 2015 51's presented by JEGS.
Disclaimer: Although Speed51.com continues to increase its coverage of dirt racing throughout the country, the site has been primarily known for its coverage of pavement racing. Some of the results in this year's voting indicates that bias.
Best Actor in a Leading Role
(Short Track Driver of the Year)
The fans of Speed51.com powered by JEGS have voted Super Late Model racer Ty Majeski as the 2015 Short Track Driver of the Year. Majeski, who dominated the Midwest SLM scene in 2015, picked up his second-straight ARCA Midwest Tour championship and was crowned the inaugural Kulwicki Driver Development Program champion. The Wisconsin native proved himself in other areas of the country as well, winning the Florida Governor’s Cup at New Smyrna and finishing third in the Snowball Derby. Christopher Bell’s performance on the short tracks, which was highlighted by a win at the popular Rattler 250, earned him second-place in the voting. Jonathan Davenport, who had arguably the best season in Dirt Late Model history, claimed “Best Dirt Driver” honors while finishing third in the overall voting. World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series champion Donny Schatz and NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour champion Doug Coby completed the top five.
Best Actor In a Supporting Role
(Short Track Local Driver of the Year)
For the second year in a row, the Short Track Local Driver of the Year award goes to Lee Pulliam for his performances at tracks such as South Boston Speedway (VA) and Motor Mile Speedways (VA), and for winning his third NASCAR Whelen All-American Series National championship. Pulliam scored 29 victories in 51 starts in 2015. Steve Apel finished second in the voting for his stellar year in the state of Wisconsin. Late Model Stock Car driver Josh Berry (six wins), Sprint Car racer Dale Blaney (16 wins) and Big-Block Modified driver Brett Hearn (22 wins, two track championships) completed the top five in voting.
Breakthrough Performance Actor
Short Track Rookie of the Year presented by JEGS
Todd Gilliland didn’t race full-time in 2015, but he made the most of every opportunity he was given. The third-generation racer became the youngest winner in NASCAR K&N Pro Series East and ARCA Racing history, and because of that race fans voted him as the 2015 Rookie of the Year presented by JEGS. Rico Abreu’s impressive K&N East rookie season, which featured a win at Columbus Motor Speedway, earned him runner-up honors. World Series of Asphalt Stock Car Racing Super Late Model champion Zane Smith, K&N East champion William Byron and second-generation driver Harrison Burton rounded out the top five.
Most Improved Actor
(Most Improved Driver of the Year)
The Most Improved Driver award for the 2015 season goes to Valenti Modified Racing Series champion Woody Pitkat. Pitkat may not have won the 2015 NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour championship, but he did jump from ninth in points in 2014 to finish third in points in 2015. Pitkat also scored a win at the Spring Sizzler, the biggest race of the year at Stafford Motor Speedway. Chris Ferguson finished second in the voting due in large part to his domination of the World of Outlaws Late Models swing through the Carolinas. Midwest Late Model driver Reagan May, 2015 NASCAR K&N Pro Series West champion Chris Eggleston and Wisconsin driver Natalie Decker completed the top five.
Best Set Design
(Short Track of the Year)
For the first time in the history of the 51 Awards, a dirt track earned the honors of “Short Track of the Year” in 2015. Eldora Speedway (OH) – which holds prestigious events such as the World 100, Dirt Late Model Dream, 4-Crown Nationals and the Mud Summer Classic – has been voted by Speed51.com readers as the top short track in the country. Wisconsin’s Madison International Speedway finished second in the voting, while Slinger Speedway (MI), Five Flags Speedway (FL) and Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park (CT) finished third through fifth in the voting.
Best Performance in a Touring Role
(Touring Series of the Year)
Following its inaugural season, the CARS Tour has been named the 2015 Touring Series of the Year by the fans of Speed51.com. The series brought great car counts for both Super Late Models and Late Model Stock Cars to 10 different events with winner’s purses nearing $5,500 each race. Almost all 10 events saw thrilling races and the season as a whole saw thrilling points battles come right down to the end for both divisions. The ARCA Midwest Tour missed out on the award by a narrow margin of just 20 votes out of the thousands cast. The Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series, World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series and the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour completed the top five.
Biggest Box Office Success
(Short Track Event of the Year)
For the first time in the history of the 51 Awards, the Chili Bowl has been voted by Speed51.com fans as the best annual short track event in 2015. The event, which is known for having car counts in the 300s and a die-hard fan base, inched out a narrow victory over the prestigious Snowball Derby held at Five Flags Speedway (FL). LaCrosse Fairground Speedway’s (WI) annual Oktoberfest event rounded out the podium, while the Martinsville 300 and Finale at the Fairgrounds completed the top five.
(Short Track Promoter of the Year)
The Promoter of the Year award for the 2015 season goes to Gregg McKarns of the ARCA Midwest Tour. McKarns took over the Midwest Tour at the end of the 2014 calendar year. He has kept the Midwest Tour as one of the premier Super Late Model touring series in the country, not just in that region. Tim Bryant of the Southern Super Series/Snowball Derby/Five Flags Speedway finished runner-up this year. Shawn Monahan of the New London-Waterford Speedbowl, Roger Slack from Eldora Speedway and Jack McNally completed the top five.
Driver Achievement Award
(Comeback Driver of the Year)
West Coast racing fans made their presence known by showing their support and voting 2015 NASCAR K&N Pro Series West champion Chris Eggleston as the 2015 comeback driver of the year. In his first full-time campaign with Bill McAnally Racing, Eggleston picked up two wins and 10 top-10 finishes in 13 races. World of Outlaws Late Model Series champion Shane Clanton earned runner-up honors in the voting after an impressive 10-win season. Modified driver Woody Pitkat, PASS North champion Mike Rowe and Outlaw Super Late Model racer Tyler Roahrig finished third through fifth in the voting.
The award for Best Personality in Short Track Racing for 2015 goes to Rico Abreu. It’s hard to vote against Abreu for this award. Abreu is a tough driver on the track, but one of the friendliest people off of the track, and his smiling ways quickly endeared him with race fans, in addition to his winning ways too. Nathan Haseleu, Ryan Preece, Mark Mackesy and Kenzie Ruston completed the top five.
(Short Track Bad Boy/Girl)
Fans and media call him “Black Sunshine.” The black cars adorned with neon colors and skulls gives forth an air of intimidation wherever his dirt Super Late Model ends up on any given weekend. For those reasons, plus the fact that he’s darn good behind the wheel, has given the fan vote for “Short Track Bad Boy” of 2015 to Scott Bloomquist. The Tennessee racer saw victories again in 2015, but fell short of the Lucas Oil LM Dirt Series title to Jonathan Davenport, with whom Bloomquist developed a rivalry as the season wore on.
Zane Smith was voted second in the “Bad Boy” category thanks in large part, according to the fans on Speed51.com, to his late-race tangle with Joey Doiron that led to a stiff penalty from PASS officials late in the season at Greenville Pickens (SC). Ricky Brooks, the lead Snowball Derby technical inspector who disqualified apparent Derby winner Christopher Bell back in December, was third. Alex Papini and the lone female to make the category, Reagan May, finished fourth and fifth respectively for some on-track battles each had in the Midwest in 2015.
Best Surprise Ending
(Surprise Moment of the Year)
After celebrating the biggest win of his career at the Snowball Derby, Christopher Bell rolled across the scales and it was determined by Chief Technical Inspector Ricky Brooks that the car was over the strict left-side weight limit of 58.0%. Bell was disqualified and Chase Elliott was deemed the winner. Speed51.com fans voted that moment as the most surprising moment of the 2015 racing season. Todd Gilliland’s victories in his K&N West and ARCA debuts finished second in the voting, while LFR Chassis’ success in both Modified and Late Model racing finished third. Matt Hirschman’s disqualification for modifying a tire during a rain delay at the North South Shootout and Brian Hoar announcing his retirement in victory lane at Thompson (CT) completed the top five.
(Best Feel-Good Moment of the Year)
The fans at the River Spirit Expo Center (OK) were on their feet chanting "Rico! Rico! Rico!" following his first Chili Bowl victory in 2015. That special moment was voted as the Feel-Good Moment of the Year by the readers of Speed51.com. Abreu has since won the Chili Bowl a second time, but his first win is one that everyone there will remember. A moment like 15,000+ people chanting “Rico! Rico! Rico!” isn’t one that will soon be forgotten. That moment barely beat out Lee Pulliam winning the Thanksgiving Classic just a couple of days after his wife, LeAnne, was involved in a serious car accident. Kevin Swindell’s appearance at the Indy Invitational, Connecticut Late Model driver Michael Bennet winning at Stafford after his son was diagnosed with cancer, and the Kulwicki Driver Development Program honoring Alan Kulwicki completed the top five.
Technical Achievement Award
(Best Track/Series Website)
The website for the World of Outlaws has been voted as the best in the country according to the fans of Speed51.com. The World of Outlaws website, which features information for both the WoO Sprints and the WoO Late Model Series, includes unique content, videos and pertinent information about each event. The ARCA Midwest Tour website finished second in the voting and the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series website completed the podium. A pair of Super Late Model touring series websites, the Southern Super Series and Champions Racing Association (CRA), rounded out the top five in the voting.
Best Film Promotion
(Best Track/Series/Organization Social Media)
This award goes to NASCAR Home Tracks for their social media presence, specifically on Twitter. NASCAR Home Tracks’ Twitter account is one of the best ways to stay up to date on the news and happenings of the NASCAR regional and touring series. The Kulwicki Driver Development Program finished second in this category followed by the CARS Tour, the Chili Bowl, and the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series.
Best Dramatic Scene
(Short Track Finish of the Year)
The Lucas Oil Modifieds finish at Rocky Mountain Raceway takes the award for Best Short Track Finish this year. Two drivers battling for the win. They make contact. They spin. What results is a total photo finish of two cars completely sideways sliding across the finish line. Who won? Even our Bob Dillner who was on the call for this race for MAVTV wasn’t sure for a couple of minutes. Tommy Lemons, Jr. beating Timothy Peters with Peters crashing at the line in the Martinsville 300 was a close second. Nick Murgic’s win with no brakes at the Dixieland 250 was third, the wild and controversial finish to the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour event at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway in September was fourth, and the fantastic finish at the Indy Invitational was fifth.
Achievement in Sound Production
(Short Track Announcer of the Year)
The fans of the ARCA Midwest Tour made their voices heard in support of the voice that calls their series’ action. Eric Huenefeld won the tight fan vote over James Essex, the voice of the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series, to claim the 2015 “Best Announcer” title. A strong social media push for young up-and-coming Millbridge Speedway (NC) announcer Casey LaJoie, son of two-time Busch champ Randy, landed him in third in the voting. West Coast voice Chase Raudman finished fourth in the voting, while the southern twang of PASS South announcer Alan Dietz was rewarded with fifth in the voting.
"Lets Go Out to the Lobby and Get Ourselves a Snack"
(Best Short Track Food)
When a concession stand item is perhaps just as well known as the track itself, you know it’s more than just a good bite to eat. Indeed, the famed bologna burger at Virginia’s South Boston Speedway is just as well known as the historic track at which it is a staple. Many tales have been told about Elliott Sadler’s self-proclaimed record of bologna burgers eaten and they’ve been enjoyed by short track racers and fans alike for generations, so it’s no surprise these onion-and-mustared covered flat-top-cooked bologna patties were voted as the fan’s favorite short track food for 2015. LaCrosse Fairgrounds Speedway (WI) has a tasty pork chop that was voted the second-best short track food in this year’s voting, while cheese curds at Slinger Super Speedway (WI), the chili-and-slaw-topped hot dogs at Martinsville (VA) and the Eldora Speedway (OH) pizza burger all finished in the top five.
(Photo of the Year)
As the sun set on the eve of the Snowball Derby, photographer Bruce Nuttleman steered his drone high above the race track to capture a beautiful aerial photo of Five Flags Speedway. Fans saw the beauty of the photo and voted it the best short track racing photo of the year. Rick Sweeten’s photo of the final sunrise at the New York State Fairgrounds in Syracuse scored runner-up honors. Heath Lawson’s photo of Jonathan Davenport celebrating a win with his son Blase, Patrick Miller’s photo of Boom Briggs’ wild ride at Lernerville and Lawson’s photo of Chase Elliott receiving the Tom Dawson Trophy completed the top-five.
- As voted by fans on Speed51.com. Text by Speed51.com staff.