DAYTONA BEACH, Florida — Late Model driver Donnie Hill was recently welcomed to Gov. Ted Strickland’s office, where he received personal congratulations from Strickland for winning the 2009 NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Ohio state championship.
Hill, 41, of Columbus, called the visit “one of life’s great experiences.”
“A lot of people get to meet their governor, I just never thought I’d be one of them,” Hill said. “Governor Strickland is a great guy. He was pleased we came to visit him. We were really impressed.”
Hill, a second-generation driver at Columbus Motor Speedway, is a five-time track champion at the .333-mile paved oval. He scored nine Late Model wins in 16 starts in 2009, and eclipsed the 100 career feature win mark at the track.
The NASCAR Ohio champion was determined by the driver’s highest 18 finishes at NASCAR-sanctioned tracks within the state.
Joining Hill and his wife, Peggy, for the visit were Columbus Motor Speedway’s Jim Nuckles, and Jeff and Cindy Nuckles.
“Governor Strickland told us some of the history of his office … Abraham Lincoln had once been there,” Hill said. “He was really cool. He let Peggy sit in the governor’s chair.
“He’s interested in racing. He once raced in a ‘celebrity race’ in Portsmouth, Ohio, when he was a Congressman.”
Track promoter Jeff Nuckles was impressed with Gov. Strickland, as well.
“He could not have been nicer or more engaging,” Nuckles said.
The crowning of champions in a U.S. state or Canadian province continues a tradition of honoring the best short-track racers which dates back to the earliest days of NASCAR.
Hill was honored last month at the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Awards Banquet at the Concord (N.C.) Convention Center along with the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series national champion, U.S. state and Canadian provincial champions, track champions and special award winners last month.
Since its inception, NASCAR’s national short-track racing series has served as a springboard in the careers of many top drivers. NASCAR stars Greg Biffle, Clint Bowyer, Jeff Burton, Kurt and Kyle Busch, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Carl Edwards, Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, Bobby Labonte, Jamie McMurray, Elliott Sadler and Brian Vickers all began their careers racing their local short tracks.