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Sun, 16 Jan 2000, 04:11 AM

1999 IHRA Awards Banquet Full of Surprises
By Ed Dykes

Summit Racing to Replace Snap-on as Series Sponsor


The International Hot Rod Association held its gala awards banquet tonight, and owner/president Bill Bader took the opportunity to dispel rumors that the sport's #2 sanctioning body had fallen on hard times by announcing a new series sponsor and a 100% increase in the point fund. In the final announcement of the evening, Bader shocked the audience with the news that Snap-on Tools will step aside in 2000 to allow Summit Racing Equipment to become the new IHRA series sponsor.

The 2000 IHRA Summit Drag Racing series will offer the organization's first-ever $1 million point fund, with a payout of $200,000 to the Top Fuel Champion. Compared to the $44,000 check that '99 champ Don Lampus received tonight, the increase is unprecedented in IHRA history.

Held for the first time in Louisville's famous Galt House Hotel on the banks of the Ohio River, the sold-out event was "typical Bader", featuring dramatic sound and lighting, even on-stage fireworks. Stretching past the five hour mark, the majority of the evening was spent honoring the organization's best racers; the top ten in each of IHRA's fourteen eliminator categories was invited onstage to receive recognition, a trophy, and a check. The fourteen champions were all seated with their spouses at a long table across the front of the banquet room, where each was individually recognized by Bader while photos of them as babies were projected on giant screens on each side of the room.

Numerous special recognition awards were interspersed throughout the evening. Longtime IHRA employees Hank and Shirley Blankenship received the Professional Track Services award for their selfless contributions. Track of the Year honors went to New York International Raceway Park for the significant improvements made to the facility during the past season. Norwalk Raceway's Bill Bader Jr. was recognized as Promoter of the Year, while Bobby Bennett repeated as Drag Review Contributor of the Year and Inside Motorsports received the Media Award.

Several racers received special honors. IHRA Chaplain Jim Hartley presented the Good Samaritan award to Luigi Novelli for his help to Bobby Lagana after the young Top Fuel racer's horrific crash. Tony Stephenson was selected as Sportsman Rookie of the Year, after scoring one National Event win a sixth place finish in Modified. Pro Rookie of the Year was Super Eliminator sensation Laurie Cannister who scored four wins and one runner-up in her first eight races in the series to be known as Pro Outlaw in 2000.

MBNA presented $3000 checks to the Most Improved Drivers in each of the top five professional categories. The winners were Floyd Cheek in Pro Stock, Dave Brand in Funny Car, Jay Turner in Nitro Harley, Steve Vick in Pro Mod, and Bruce Litton in Top Fuel. Wrench of the Year awards were presented by Drag Racing USA editor Steve Collison, with a tie in the voting this year. Both Stu Evans Ford crew chief Butch Peterson and Team Bertozzi crew chief Rodney Eads were presented with checks and a box of Snap-on Tools.

Holley was voted the Sportsman Sponsor of the Year for the sixth consecutive season, while Mopar was a first-time winner as Pro Sponsor of the Year. Sponsor of the Year was CARQUEST for the second straight year. in recognition of his longtime support of IHRA, Bill Bader presented a championship ring and leather jacket to Carl Johanson of Snap-on Tools.

Sportsman Driver of the Year honors went to Anthony Bertozzi, who has notched ten championships in seven years and scored one of his many '99 wins just hours after undergoing emergency appendectomy surgery. Von Smith voted Pro Driver of the Year after scoring his third Funny Car championship in the last four years and setting a record for the most wins (7) in a season.

Top Sportsman champion Frank Teague was the surprised recipient of IHRA's most prestigious honor, the Sportsman of the Year, presented to the individual that exemplifies the best qualities of teamwork, fellowship, and compassion that personify the Winning Human Spirit.

In addition to the series sponsor announcement, Bader closed the program by citing several other examples of the strength of his organization, including:

- More IHRA racers than ever were named to the Car Craft All-Star team, many race tracks are making major upgrades to their facilities

- just rolled out an all-new look on their website

- Every 2000 National Event has a sponsor and there is a waiting list

- Briggs & Stratton is coming on board as the series sponsor of the IHRA Junior Dragster program

- Next season will mark the debut of "Moser Axle Mania" a special program for sportsman racers with a $20,000 to win jackpot

- Every 2000 IHRA National Event will be televised on TNN, which reaches $84 million homes (more than either ESPN or ESPN2), on eleven consecutive weeks at a consistent time. TNN president David Hall was present at the banquet.

- World Sports Enterprises, the largest and most successful motorsports production company, will produce the TNN broadcasts. WSE president Patti Wheeler was also in attendance.

Bader's comments proved to be a fitting end for IHRA's most successful season, and the sanctioning body's future looks brighter than ever.

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