NASHVILLE, Tenn -- NASCAR honored the regional champions and national champion of the NASCAR Dodge Weekly Series, Oct. 30 in a grand awards banquet at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel in Nashville. More than 700 people, including NASCAR President Mike Helton, gathered at the exquisite resort to recognize the drivers and salute Santa Clarita, California's Greg Pursley, the series' 2004 national champion.
"It is a real honor to be here tonight as your national champion," said Pursley, who raced at Irwindale (Calif.) Speedway to win the title. "I knew we had a good season, but never imagined I'd be standing up here like this."
Pursley, who won 13 races in Irwindale's Lucas Oil Super Late Model division, collected prize money totaling $170,000 from NASCAR, Dodge and other participating sponsors. Pursley is the first California driver to win NASCAR's national title since Doug McCoun accomplished the feat in 1985.
"For all of us, it's been an amazing year," continued Pursley. "I'll never forget the experience I've had as the NASCAR Dodge Weekly Series champion, and I can't wait to see who's going to race for it next year."
Russ Pursley, Greg's father and crew chief, was presented with the $5,500 Lunati Cams national champion crew chief award, while car owner Dave Hays received the Lincoln Electric national champion car owner award of $5,000.
NASCAR Vice President Jim Hunter, who oversees the NASCAR Dodge Weekly Series, spoke about the state of the series, telling the crowd "Our challenge as an industry is to get people to believe [short track racing] is a vibrant, exciting sport. Weekly short-track racing is the absolute backbone of stock-car racing. It also, in many ways, transcends our sport. It is a part of Americana."
Hunter's remarks set the stage for the program, which paid tribute to several drivers and special award winners. In addition to Pursley's honors, regional champions Steve Blackburn (Prestonsburg, Ky.), Andy Bozell (Portage, Mich.), Doug Hoffman (Allentown, Pa.), Charlie Menard (Eau Claire, Wis.), Jerry Robertson (Arvada, Colo.), Mark Wertz (Virginia Beach, Va.) and Ricky Wolf Jr. (Northwood, N.H) were recognized for their accomplishments. Each of these regional champions received nearly $45,000 in post-season awards. Track champions from each of the 65 NASCAR Dodge Weekly Series tracks were also acknowledged during the banquet. Altogether, these drivers and award winners were presented with $1.7 million in prize money.
Craftsman, the official tools of NASCAR, presented its $5,000 Craftsman Mechanic of the Year award to Dexter Canipe, who works on the Limited Late Model car driven by his son, Dexter Canipe Jr., at Hickory (N.C.) Motor Speedway. Canipe, of Claremont, N.C., was the NASCAR Dodge Weekly Series national champion driver in 1997.
Fox Sports TV personality Dr. Dick Berggren served as master of ceremonies.
- Sam Bass presents special award ... Renowned motorsports artist Sam Bass designed a special commemorative Gibson Les Paul guitar for the national champion, and was on hand to personally present his creation to Pursley. Bass, the first officially-licensed artist of NASCAR, is known for his exquisite hand drawn paintings and prints of NASCAR stars, along with paint schemes that have appeared on nearly every NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series and NASCAR Busch Series car since 1988.
- Dodge upbeat about sponsorship ... Dodge has been the title sponsor of the NASCAR Dodge Weekly Series since 2003, and the manufacturer's Motorsports Marketing Manager, Bo Puffer, is optimistic about his company's involvement with weekly short track racing. "It's been another great year for the NASCAR Dodge Weekly Series, and I have to thank everyone in this room for that," Puffer said in his remarks to the drivers, track operators, sponsors and NASCAR officials in attendance. "Thanks to the drivers, who, on a weekly basis, provide the greatest show on earth." On Friday before the banquet, Puffer held a drawing for participating track operators to win a new Dodge Durango and LaCrosse (Wis.) Fairgrounds Speedway promoter Chuck Deery won the prize.
- Up next? Pursley headed to NYC For NEXTEL Cup Series celebration ... Greg Pursley's championship celebration isn't over. While he was the guest of honor in Nashville, Pursley will also attend the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series awards banquet, Dec. 3 at the world-famous Waldorf=Astoria Hotel in New York City. Pursley will attend the exclusive event along with the champions from NASCAR's regional racing divisions, NASCAR Busch Series and NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series.