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Wed, 28 Dec 2005, 10:07 PM

Going South
By Jim Luikens
Photo copyright 2005 Jim Luikens

Steve and Mary Ann Earwood, from
Rockingham Dragway, are interviewed by
IHRA's Jim Marchyshyn
as they arrive for the banquet.
Ignoring the advice of Horace Greely, who advised adventurous young men to go west, the IHRA instead moved their annual banquet south this year. The sanctioning body chose to relocate its biggest party of the year to Greensboro, North Carolina after several recent editions in Covington, Kentucky. The move was a natural since a large percentage of IHRA members and racers reside in the southeast. The relocation resulted in the largest attendance in the banquet's 35-year history.

A wildly-dancing skeleton
bore an uncanny
resemblance to IHRA President
Aaron Polburn.
In addition to celebrating all of its champions, the IHRA also used the opportunity to recognize a number of racers and tracks that performed particularly well in the past year. The evening began with arriving guests and their dates walking down a red-carpeted runway. At the end of the carpeting was IHRA's Vice President of Marketing, Advertising and Promotions, Jim Marchyshyn, who provided a running commentary, ala Joan and Melissa, as he introduced each arriving couple.

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.

A long line of World Championship trophies
await their deserving new owners.
Paul Spriet and Ron Biekx earned the first special award that went north of the border as they were jointly named the Promoter(s) of the year for their work at the Grand Bend Motorplex. Next a special salute was offered to all of the track operators, track medical services and track rescue workers. It is through their combined efforts that races are able to be held.

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.

Rob Atchison, shown here with his
wife Julie, claimed his third straight
Funny Car World Championship.
Next an attempt at humor was attempted as Aaron was introduced as the Mighty Polnack, a takeoff on the old Mighty Carnack skit of Johnny Carson. In true Carnack fashion the answer was provided first and then it was up to Polnack to attempt to deduce the question. While several questions produced rather large groans from the audience a few gems did surface. In response to the answer "Big Fire & Big Smoke", Polnack deduced that the question must either be Bob Motz or the Pro Stock racers response to the possible inclusion of turbocharged entries in their eliminator. Mike Kloeber's hair proved to be the correct answer to the question: "The only thing not moved by Hurricane Katrina."

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.

Clay Millican, his wife and son,
greet the assembled crowd.
Rob Atchison was up next as the three time consecutive Funny Car World Champion received his hardware and money. Another racer who would never be categorized as verbose, Rob did get off a couple of pretty good zingers. He commented on fellow F/C racer Terry McMillen, who was seen at the banquet wearing sunglasses indoors. Rob also wondered if his dominance was wearing on his fellow F/C racers and if IHRA was going to come to mean "I Hate Rob Atchison."

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

Bernard Weaver, accompanied here by
his wife and granddaughters, doubled-up
as the Super Rod World Champion and
IHRA Sportsman Driver of the Year.
closing he honored his wife, with whom he celebrated his 20th wedding anniversary this year.

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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