Green Bay, WisconsinJustin Diercks, of Davenport, Iowa, capped off a dream season that saw him honored as the 2004 NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division, Midwest Series Champion, Saturday night at the Radisson Hotel and Conference Center. The title was the first for the 24-year-old Diercks.
“This has just been such an incredible year,” said Diercks. “And tonight, it’s all starting to sink in; what we accomplished and that I’m a NASCAR champion.”
Justin’s dad, Steve, was honored as the championship car owner while Nick Carlson earned championship crew chief laurels.
Diercks had a break out year that saw him visit victory lane on six occasions and score 11 top-five finishes in 13 starts.
“I just can’t say enough about the opportunity that my mom and dad have given me,” said Diercks. “I’m very fortunate and I know it. Not very many 24-year-olds have a chance to go out and race every weekend.”
Diercks bested Steve Carlson, of West Salem, Wisconsin, one of the top short-track drivers in the nation. In spite of his three race wins and 12 top-five finishes, Carlson settled for runner-up honors, 48 points behind Diercks. Carlson, a nine-time Midwest Series champion, continued an amazing streak in 2004 that has seen him finish no worse than second in the championship standings, every year since 1990.
“We had a really good year,” said Carlson. “But what can I say; Justin had an even better year. We’re not standing still; however, we’re coming back next year even stronger and taking aim at him.”
Madison, Wisconsin’s Brian Hoppe scored two Midwest Series wins in 2004 and was honored as the third place point finisher. Hoppe’s two wins came in the final three races of the year.
“It was an up and down year for us at Star Motorsports,” said Hoppe. “But we finished the regular season strong and I hope we can carry that momentum over to 2005.”
Russ Blakeley, of Palmyra, Wisconsin, accepted the Midwest Series Rookie of the Year award from Bud Porter, who was representing award sponsor AutoMeter.
“At the beginning of the year, winning the rookie of the year honors and finishing in the top-ten in points were our main goals,” said Blakeley. “We accomplished both and for that I’m very proud.”
Blakeley bested a talented rookie class that included Tigerton, Wisconsin’s Justin Hirt and LaCrosse, Wisconsin driver Brent Kirchner. For his efforts, Blakeley received a new set of AutoMeter gauges, valued at over $1000, and a check for $2000.
Dave Finney, of Sycamore, Illinois, was awarded the Sportsmanship award while Longmont, Colorado’s Greg Fowler earned the Midwest Series Dedication Award. Ryan Hanson, of Beloit, Wisconsin, was awarded the Featherlite Most Improved Driver Award. For his efforts, Hanson was awarded a check for over $3000. Bryan Roach, of Becker, Minnesota, earned the year-long POWERade Power Move of the Race award, a leather jacket as well as its $5000 cash award.
Carlson bested a close field to lay claim to the year-long Bud Pole fast qualifier award. Carlson had fun with his acceptance speech.
“There is probably not a driver or car owner in this room that ever thought I’d win this award,” Carlson said with a grin.
Carlson owns 65 career Midwest Series wins, but he is not known for his qualifying prowess.
For the third time in his career, Carlson was voted as the Midwest Series Most Popular Driver.
“This is quite and honor,” said Carlson. “I just try to be fair when I race. One thing I learned after all these years is that you don’t have to win them all.”
NASCAR Managing Director of Brand and Consumer Marketing, Roger VanDerSnick delivered the “state of the Midwest Series” speech.
“Through their sponsorship of the Elite Division, their television and in-store advertising, AutoZone touched six million people per week this past year,” said VanDerSnick, speaking of the first-year sponsor.
The top-10 drivers from Midwest Series will be in action one final time in 2004, for the second running of the NASCAR Toyota All-Star Showdown, November 11-13, at California’s Irwindale Speedway. The Midwest Series drivers will face the top-10 in final points from the three other Elite Division Series: Northwest, Southwest and Southeast.