Moorpark, CA., Feb. 4 – National Midget Racing Assn (NMRA) three-quarter (TQ) midget teams held their 2011 season awards banquet Saturday night here at Aloha Ranch overlooking the Evans family 20-acre avocado ranch. Driver Chuck West, of Clovis, and his car owner West Evans, of Moorpark, were honored as repeat champions in their respective categories. Both are now four time NMRA champions since NMRA reformed in 2002. NMRA, which operated from 1957-1986, disbanded from 1987-2001 so USAC could sanction TQ midget racing. West won his driving titles in 2002, 06, 08 and 11; Evans was car owner champion in 2006, 08, 10 and 11.
Following a no-host cocktail hour and buffet dinner of BBQ chicken and tri-tip roast beef and desert, 2011 NMRA board members (Steve Parke, Evans, and Dave Lambert) were recognized. 2011 officials Parke, Don Wilcox, James Hiler, Melissa DeMello and Robert Reeder were recognized and received NMRA appreciation plaques, as did this writer for media coverage. NMRA photographer Reeder also was honored for his photo work at every race. NMRA series sponsors received special thanks. NMRA sponsors are: VP Fuel, Ringers Gloves, Gary Schroeder Torsion Bars, American Race Tires, Racing Optics and Alligroup.com.
The top ten drivers and car owners, from tenth position to first, were called forward to receive their plaques, which Evans made in his shop. Only the top four drivers in points ran all ten 2011 races. Owner/driver Ron Ahrendt again served as master of ceremonies and awarded the hardware and door prizes. Ahrendt and host Evans later celebrated their February 4 birthday and shared with attendees their co-birthday cake, which was adorned with likenesses of their 87 and 36 TQ midgets.
SPECIAL AWARDS: Adam Baker, 22, of Taft, received the annual Curly & Cookie Merrill Rookie of the Year trophy presented by Ringers Gloves. Curly was the long-time timer/scorer for the CRA 410 sprint car organization. Adam is two minutes older than his identical twin Brian, who won the 2010 NMRA rookie award. Adam finished eighth in both driver and car owner points to just edge his ninth place teammate and friend Michael Black, 22, from Taft.. The winner graciously said he thought Black should be the rookie award winner. Baker edged Black by 41 points but he ran nine races compared to eight by Black.
The Randy Faust Memorial Hard Charger Award, named for the late NMRA referee,was presented by Schroeder Torsion Bars. Dakota Schweitzer, from Bakersfield, was the recipient. He raced nine times and finished fifth in 2011 TQ driver points driving for fifth place car owner Parke. Melissa DeMello received the special Pinky's Tire Service appreciation award from NMRA for scoring NMRA races. The four year old Tenacity Award presented by WEM Motor-sports went to surprised 2011 rookie M. Black.
The eighth annual Otto Family Sportsmanship Perpetual Trophy presentation went to NMRA's home track Bakersfield Speedway and its promoters Scott and Crissy Schweitzer. Their son Dakota accepted the large trophy on their behalf. Long-time NMRA officials Gay Otto and her son Tony started the trophy presentation to honor the memory of her late husband Ron Otto, a long-time NMRA officer and official. Past recipients of the Otto trophy were: Ahrendt, Tim Kennedy, B. DeMello, Todd Chikasawa, D. Lambert, Parke and Reeder.
Brian Baker, the 2010 rookie award winner, received the Most Improved 2011 Driver award presented by Alligroup. The third place 2011 driver and car owner finished 58 points behind the champion. Last year the former mini-sprint and off-road racer ran five races and placed 12th in final driver points. Baker told the audience, “I won only one main event this year. I sold my car to Don Kiefer. I'll be racing a 360 sprint car on dirt tracks in 2012.” H expressed his pleasure in racing TQs for two years and learning oval dirt track racing with NMRA.
Evans, the NMRA 2010 driving and car owner champion, was the 2011 runner-up to his first cousin West and repeated as car owner champion with one of his two cars—the No. 38. Evans presented appreciation plaques to his father Mike and to Bob DeMello for working all season to keep both of his cars on the track and in title contention. Driving champion West accepted his title hardware and spoke to attendees. He thanked “good friend, cousin and car owner West Evans, crew chief Bob DeMello, Mike Evans, and my wife and three daughters in the audience.”
“Driving is the fun part,” West said. “Preparing the cars is the tough part. Thanks to Brian Baker for motivating me and making the championship a horse race out of it.” The championship was decided in the final race of the season. West added, “Racing has given me lots of road miles, late night meal stops on the road, going without sleep at times, the ability to retell racing stories and they get better as they get older.” He added about racers, “They are people who don't give up when they start something. They have mechanical ingenuity, intelligence, bravery and it's all done for a cheap trophy.”
FINAL POINTS: Drivers: From tenth to first (with points in parenthesis)—Dave Lambert (206), Michael Black (318), Adam Baker (359), Scott Dobson (396), Anthony Lopiccolo (410), Dakota Schweitzer (455), Ron Ahrendt (514), Brian Baker (536), West Evans (574), and Chuck West (594). ... Car Owners: From tenth to first—Dave Lambert, Michael Black, Adam Baker, Scott Dobson, Paul Lopiccolo, Steve Parke, Ron Ahrendt, Brian Baker, West Evans No. 36, West Evans No. 38. ...Nineteen drivers and 16 car owners competed in NMRA 2011 races.
2011 SEASON RECAP: Ten NMRA point races were completed from April 9 to October 22 with two rain-outs. NMRA's home track--Bakersfield Speedway--hosted nine races and Santa Maria Speedway staged one TQ race. Both of the third-mile clay tracks had one NMRA rain-out. Feature winners were: West (4), Lopiccolo (3), and one each by Evans, B. Baker and Dobson.
2012 NMRA SCHEDULE: The current 2012 TQ dirt track midget racing schedule shows nine race dates (eight at Bakersfield) with two October dates (13 and 27) shown as TBA. Race dates are: March 24-Bakersfield, April 21-Santa Maria, plus May 19, June 23, July 21, August 4 and 18, and September 8 and 29 in Bakersfield. Five NMRA TQ midgets ran demonstration laps on January 28 during an intermission at the monster truck Monster Jam event in Angel Stadium, Anaheim. Up to ten TQs will return to Angel Stadium next Saturday, February 11 to run non-point exhibition races on the clay surface laid down for another monster truck event.
BANQUET NOTES: Brian Baker sold his No. 6 TQ to Don Kiefer, of Santa Clarita; Don will race it this season as No. 9. Brian said he will move up to USAC Western 360 cu. in. sprint cars on dirt in 2012 and drive the silver & blue No. 5x Marvin Swaim car (ex-Jeff Miller ride). He said his first race will be March 17 in Tulare. ... Brian's dad, Brian, Sr., has located an idle TQ to buy and drive the car himself as a 2012 TQ rookie. It will be a three car team from Taft with his son Adam (No. 17) and M. Black (No. 14) returning to NMRA. The Baker clan from Taft work in the Kern County oil field production-related business.
Dakota Schweitzer, 20, and his wife Mackenzie are awaiting the birth of their first baby, a girl, on March 3. Dakota works for Budweiser as a graphic artist and advertising display maker. His dad Scott is a cousin of Wink Schweitzer, a California Lightning Sprint car driver, also from Bakersfield. ... The Otto Family Sportsmanship Award large trophy first presented in 2004 is a perpetual award that has each winner's name engraved on gold plaques attached to the trophy base. The winner each year retains the trophy for a year until the next winner is named.
Last year Greg Edenholm, who raced the No. 73 midget in the January 2011-12Tulsa (OK) Chili Bowl events, sold one of his two Dennis Hart-built TQs in 2011 to Rick Poe, 73, of Santee. Rick uses No. 2P on the car and raced it once last year. ... Owner/driver Dave Lambert had a wild flip last season at Bakersfield. The crash bent his No. 55 Dennis Hart-built chassis beyond repair. Dave bought a Dave Ellis TQ chassis to race this season. ... Anthony Lopiccolo's two older sisters currently are pregnant with boys to be delivered soon. His older brother has two girls. ... 2010 NMRA driver and Tenacity Award winner Amanda Thomas also is pregnant at this time. Her brother Chris will race the No. 40 owned by their father Ed Thomas. ... There are 53 banquet photos available for viewing under the home page icon “Bobbie's Corner – Race Pix” on the NMRA website—www.nmra.us.