Lucas Oil Champions Crowned

by Jim Luikens

Lucas Oil Champions
Lucas Oil Champions The National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) introduced a beautiful new venue for their traditional season-ending awards ceremony and banquet this year. For the first time ever both the POWERade and Lucas Oil Series galas were held at the Westin Mission Hills Resort in Rancho Mirage, California. The Westin proved to be a beautiful and fitting venue for such festive events.

The 2004 NHRA season had been completed, and the champions crowned, just the day before at Pomona Raceway, which is about 100 miles northwest of Rancho Mirage. Three of the Lucas Oil Series racers that had entered the final weekend of the season leading their title chases failed to win their respective titles as Bill Reichert, Doug Doll and Tom Stalba all failed to hold on to their points leads. For Stalba it was the second time in the last three years that he entered the final weekend of the season with a title within his grasp only to come away empty-handed.

The first order of business at the Westin was the Lucas Oil Series Awards Ceremony. It was held in the late afternoon and preceded that evening’s POWERade festivities. After a pleasant cocktail hour outside on the patio the event began with opening comments by NHRA President Tom Compton and Lucas Oil President Forrest Lucas. The event’s MC, noted PA announcer and TV personality Bob Frey, then took the stage and introduced all seven of the Lucas Oil champs, each of which was seated at their own table with various family members and crew personnel present. One by one each was then brought to the stage as a video montage played on a large screen behind them showing their season highlights. All received their championship trophy from Tom Compton and a check from Forrest Lucas. Interestingly, only one previous champ, Dean Carter, repeated as six of this year’s seven title-holders were first-time champions.

First up was Jonathan Womack, the Super Gas champion and one of three title winners from Division 4. With his family looking on Jonathan made no bones about how nervous he was but said he refused to let his nervousness take the edge off what was a great moment for both him and his family.

Next, Lyndon Rutland took the stage as the Super Comp champion. Lyndon, needing to go six rounds at Pomona and down on parts after a devastating weekend in Las Vegas just a week earlier, had decided to give up his quest for a title. However, his fellow racers would hear nothing of it and banded together to scrape up enough parts to send him on to the Auto Club Finals where he gathered enough round-wins to claim his first title. He especially wanted to thank those racers that were so instrumental in his Pomona participation.

Following Lyndon to the stage was Stock Eliminator champion Lee Zane. Lee thanked his girl friend, Lisa, as well as his uncle, who were both present, and expressed how much he wished his father were alive to see this day.

The Super Stock winner, Larry Stewart, Jr. brought the house down when he told what a really good feeling it had been for him the day before when Dan Fletcher went red at Pomona. After the laughter subsided he added softly, “no offense, Dan.” Larry also thanked the good Lord for giving him strength, not in racing but for having the nerve to get up on stage.

Dean Carter, the only returning title-holders, was up next for his Comp win. In his introductory remarks Bob Frey stated that, “You have to go all the way back to the Reagan era to find a back to back Comp champion. By my unofficial count Dean won the divisional title in three divisions,” Bob added. For his part Dean thanked the folks at Eaton Enterprises for all of their dyno time, which contributed to his success.

Cy Chesterman claimed his 10th top-ten finish in Top Alcohol Funny Car this year. For the first time however, he is the TA/FC season champion. Bob Frey had to explain to Forrest that Cy actually got the TA/FC money, a check that he had given previously only to Frank Manzo and no one else. In his remarks Cy thanked his wife and then his crew, led by Les Davenport and Dan Hutchmeyer. In closing Cy apologized that team member Mike Kibbe, his pilot and gofer, couldn’t be present. When Bob Frey retook the stage he told Cy not to feel too bad, Bob’s pilot wasn’t able to be there either.

That left only the Top Alcohol Dragster winner, Mitch Myers, to receive his bounty for winning the TA/D title. In what had to be the most heartfelt acceptance speech of the day, Mitch paid homage to the man he snatched the title away from on the final day of the season, Bill Reichert. Mitch described Bill as an ”absolute prince of a gentleman” and said he was sorry to have to see Bill lose the championship. Mitch then recounted the tale of his race in Chicago last month where he damaged his rear wing after having qualified in the number one position. Knowing that he needed another wing if he was going to compete in eliminations he approached ten different racers and offered to buy, rent or borrow a replacement wing. No one was willing to help until finally he found a fellow racer that would loan him a replacement rear wing at no charge. An audible gasp spread through the audience when Mitch identified that helpful racer as...Bill Reichert.

Mitch then gave credit to his tuner, Steve Boggs, who was not present, and said he wanted everyone to know how what a really talented guy Steve is. He then introduced his crew one by one, giving special recognition to his clutch man, who’s also a hell-of-a-bartender according to Mitch. In closing, he told the story of his relationship with young Cody Fraser and how it helped to motivate him. He added that halfway through this season, as he was earnestly chasing this title, his mother was diagnosed with cancer and how that only added to the late-season pressure he had to deal with.

Forrest Lucas summed it up best during his remarks when he asked the Sportsman racers to always remember that there are no races run each year where the Sportsman racers are not present but that there are 45 races each year where the Pros are not included. He believes that Sportsman racers are the backbone of drag racing and recently affirmed that belief by extending his company’s involvement with the NHRA through 2009. Bob Frey then declared the ceremony complete and said that everyone was excused to go to the “little” event of the day, the POWERade Banquet, that was beginning just across the driveway in the Westin Ambassador Ballroom.