Near where Jim stood was a wildly dancing, mechanical skeleton. Someone had added a high quality photo of IHRA president Aaron Polburn to the skeleton's face along with an official IHRA shirt. For added realism the skeleton was holding an IHRA rulebook in one hand and a black flag (the sanctioning body's symbol for points loss due to oiling the track) in the other. Needless to say that NEARLY everyone found this to be humorous.
Interspersed with the introduction of the drivers who finished tenth through second in the final points standings were the presentation of a number of special awards. Sandy Wilkins was named the most improved Sportsman Driver while Burton Auxier nabbed a similar title for the Pros. Outer Banks Speedway was named as the Sportsman Track of the Year with Maryland International being the National Event Track of the Year. MIR principals Royce and Linda Miller were asked to remain on the stage as they won the next trophy as well, for Track Operator(s) of the Year.
Pro Modified racer John Russo was announced as the Professional Rookie of the Year for the impressive season-long performance of his Dragon Slayer Camaro. Stock eliminator racer Jeremy Mitchell took home the Sportsman Rookie of the Year honors. Shannon Jenkins accepted the Crew Chief of the Year award for his efforts on the Awesome Pro Mod team. The team finished one-two in Pro Mod and earning a first World Championship for Mike Castellana. Shannon himself drove a team car to second place in the final standings as well.
After that attempt at entertainment, it was time for the big trophies and the big money to be handed out with the World Champions being introduced one by one. Jamie Silance gave by far the most emotional acceptance speech of the evening when he told how he returned home last year after receiving his championship trophy to discover that his mother had been diagnosed with cancer and that his grandmother was soon to die as well. He stressed that it was important for racers to keep their priorities straight. In closing he added that he was grateful to have won a second title since many more of his family and friends could attend a North Carolina banquet.
Pro Stock driver Steve Spiess got the biggest response of the evening when he unfurled his "acceptance speech". It consisted of a multi-segmented piece of paper that said "No Turbos" and reached from the podium to the floor. Not usually known for his humor or outspokenness, he humorously slipped in SpeedTech Nitrous (illegal in Pro Stock) amongst those who he had to thank for his breakout year. In closing he recognized his dad as well as Greg and Mary Ann Moser (all deceased) and said he hoped they were enjoying the evening, as he looked heavenward.
Mike Castellana gave a short and sincere speech as the incoming Pro Mod World Champion after never having finished higher than sixth in the points. He thanked Team IHRA and dedicated his first championship to his wife and family.
Clay Millican then approached the podium to receive his $200,000 check as the Top Fuel World Champion. With his latest title, the fifth straight, he pushed his career earnings in the IHRA over $1 million, the first million-dollar man in IHRA history. Acknowledging the two-minute time limit placed on his speech, Clay told about how Kenny Koretsky came to be involved with his team. In
Finally it was time for two of the most desired awards of the year. Bernard Weaver was named the Sportsman Driver of the Year while Steve Spiess collected the Professional Driver of the Year title and a colorful new helmet to replace his familiar plain white one. The final award of the evening went to Terry McMillen as the IHRA Sportsman of the Year. Proving that he who laughs last, lasts best, the unexpected trip to the podium offered Terry a chance to reply to Rob Atchison's earlier comment. Terry said he was forced to go the sunglass route because of the glare coming from Rob's (bald) head.
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