AWARDS BANQUET HONORS CHAMPIONS
AT THE GRUNDY COUNTY SPEEDWAY
By Andy Grod
An overflow crowd of 300 people were in attendance at the Fountains of Minooka Banquet Hall to participate in cash and trophy awards, along with the crowning of the 2001 track champions at the Grundy County Speedway, in Morris, Illinois.
Frank Welch, promoter of the speedway began the night thanking all who participated in the race program, one which saw good car counts and great competition.
Jimmy Welch, track announcer, gave a few thank and introduced special guests in attendance, then the mic was turned over to me for the presentations.
167 drivers earned points during the season, with a total of 78 drivers eligible for rookie status on the 1/3 mile paved oval located at the Fairgrounds.
Topping the list of honorees was 31 year old Brett Sontag, from Joliet, who captured his first late model championship by winning two feature events and finishing in the top five positions in feature action 13 of 17 night of racing. Two trophy dash wins and three heat race victories kept Sontag on the top of the points lists for nearly the entire season.
Billy Knippenberg Jr., from Joliet, the '97 Late Model Rookie of the year, kept the title race close to finish in the number two position in the final tally, scoring one feature flag and five heat race victories, along with taking the trophy dash win twice.
The 2000 Mid-American champion was tied with Sontag for the title as the season moved to the half-way point, but Sontag was able to slowly pull away, winning the title by just 42 marks.
Lockport native, Duane Pierson, took several years off from the Grundy scene after winning the 1980 Sportsman title.
Returning full time in '99, Pierson has steadily improved his finishing position in late model action, claiming three trophy dash wins and four fast times. Consistently finishing in the top five spots helped earn him the number three spot this season, 99 points behind Sontag.
Greg Thompson, from Garden Prairie, finished just 5 points behind Pierson to claim the fourth position in the points race, claiming 5 heat race wins and one trophy dash flag for his effort. Fourteen of Seventeen top ten finishes kept Thompson near the top of the list all season.
Morris veteran Brian Clubb holds the best overall record in late model action for the past seven years, and repeated his fifth place finish from last season.
Clubb also was second in '98 to champion John Brolick, a 3rd place finish in '95 and fourth place showing in '94 and '97.
Finishing sixth was Eddie Hoffman Jr., from Wheaton, who scored five feature wins in twelve outings during the season. The '96 late model rookie of the year and the '97 track champion tries to balance his appearance at the Grundy oval with other racing endeavors he is pursuing.
Joe Einhaus Jr., from Seneca, moved up to the late model ranks from the Mid-American series after winning the Mid-Am title in '99 and finishing third in that division last season.
Another driver who was away from racing after several years, Einhaus moved to late model action this season and earned the late model Rookie of the Year honors with his seventh place showing, beating out Gary Raven for the Rookie title. Einhaus scored two heat race wins and two trophy dash victories during the season.
With 28 years of racing at the Grundy oval under his belt, Dan Odell, from Morris, continues to be a driver showing the way, winning three heat race events and earning the eighth place trophy.
Scott Koerner, the '97 co-champion in the Mid-Am division, ran the late model class for the entire season and claimed the ninth spot in points, making the trophy dash six times, setting fast time one night and winning one heat race event. The Joliet native finished just four marks behind Odell after finishing 4th last season in the Mid-Am ranks.
Rounding out the top ten in the late model standings is Troy Voyles, from Sycamore, in his second year of racing action after a 12th place finish last season and a battle last season with Travis Foster for the Rookie of the Year honors, taken by Foster. Eleven top five heat race finishes and ten top ten results in feature action kept Voyles in the top ten positions all season long.
Other drivers not making the top ten but scoring feature wins were Dave Weltmeyer, the '82 and '86 track champion, with three wins including his sixth Lee Schuler Memorial win, Tom Smith, the '92 late model rookie of the year taking one win. Pat Kelly, two-time Mid-Am champion, the '99 late model Rookie of the Year and '2000 champion claimed two wins. Ronnie Breese, from Dekalb came late in the season to win a main event, and J.R. Roahrig scored a main event at the Grundy County Speedway.
In Mid-American Sportsman rankings, Kevin Moenck, from New Lenox, became a first time champion, after earning the rookie of the year honors in '94 and topping the list of the 46 drivers competing in the highly competitive Mid-Am ranks.
After finishing third in '99 and fifth last season, Moenck pulled it all together this season, claiming two feature wins and setting fast time the first six nights in a row.
Fifteen top five finishes out of seventeen nights of racing helped Moenck hold on to the top spot in a season long battle with second place finisher Pat McCabe.
Moenck relinquished the point lead for the first time on June 22nd as McCabe pulled out to a thirteen point advantage, with McCabe topping the list for the next five seeks, with Moenck slowly eating away McCabe's slight advantage.
On August 3rd, Moenck retook the point lead and held it for the remainder of the season, winning the title by 77 marks over McCabe.
McCabe's five feature wins for the season topped the field but a few DNF's caused the popular Joliet driver the championship. He now has finished second in points the last three seasons, a record that shows his competitive nature and good equipment.
First year Mid-Am driver, Kellen Arnold, moving up after winning the 2000 Street Stock title, scored four feature wins including the season-ending Night of Features and earned the Mid-American Rookie of the Year Award. His three trophy dash wins and nine top ten rankings moved him just 16 points behind McCabe with a third place showing.
Joliet's Juan Avila, last year's Rookie of the Year, tied with Jim Trejo for the fourth place in the final tally, seventy three points behind Arnold.
Avila claimed two feature wins, four heat wins and five trophy dash flags during his season-long battle with Trejo.
Trejo, from Morris, had an impressive improvement over last season, where he finished fourteenth in only his second year of racing. The popular Trejo claimed one feature win with two trophy dash victories and set fast time on two outings.
Sixth in Mid-American points went to Greg Thorson, from Morris, who had several impressive runs during the season and tallied three heat wins and one trophy dash flag to improve his position form 9th last season.
In his second year of Mid-Am action, Scott Dunning, from Willow Springs, finished the season on a high, winning the final Friday night main event, along with one heat win and three trophy dash victories. Dunning's record gave him the number seven spot in the highly competitive Mid-Am division.
Another second year driver that shows a lot of talent was Tom Knippenberg, from Channahon, brother of late model driver Billy and son of legendary Bill Knippenberg Sr.
Four heat race wins and ten top ten feature finishes earned the young Knippenberg the eighth spot in the points race for 2001.
Ron Willems, from Aurora, competed at the Grundy oval for the first time this season and with one heat race victory and consistent top ten finishes in feature racing, Willems was the second highest rookie this season and claimed the 9th spot on the points list.
Rounding out the top ten in points for the Mid-Am class was Len Koprowski, from Mokena, another rookie contender, scoring two heat race victories for his efforts.
In the jam-packed Street Stock class, which saw an average of 40 cars compete weekly, Joel Pejkovich, from Channahon topped the points list for his first driving title since beginning his driving career in 1991.
Losing the championship by just 53 marks last season, Pejkovich kept the title in sight all season long, taking over the top spot from Don O'Leary on June 1st and never giving it up.
Six feature wins, five trophy dash victories and one fast time earned him the championship by 27 marks over O'Leary.
Hailing from New Lenox, O'Leary became the qualifying king at the speedway for 2001, setting fast time on 14 outings in 16 nights of racing, breaking the track record five times.
Two trophy dash wins and four feature flags for the season kept O'Leary atop the points list for the first three weeks of the season, and held on to the second spot behind Pejkovich for the remainder of the year.
Coming from a racing family, Dave Gentile Jr., from Elwood, came from 39th place last season in his first season to the third spot in this season's final tally.
Gentile made the trophy dash ten times, had two heat race wins, a semi-feature win and one feature victory to finish 36 marks behind O'Leary.
Claiming five feature victories and two heat race wins, Randy Weese, from Channahon, earned the number four spot in points after a 5th place showing last season, a second place tally in '99 and a track championship in '99.
Channahon's Jimmy Chronister had is best season ever, claiming the fifth finishing spot after a 17th place ranking last season. A trophy dash and heat race victory along with a semi-feature win kept Chronister near the top of the list all season long.
After a 3rd place finish last season, Kevin "The Caveman" Bayuk, from Joliet, earned spot number six for 2001, with a win in trophy dash action, heat race competition and semi-feature action.
Nine top ten feature finishes, and a heat race win earned Lockports' Rick Dawson position number seven in street stock action that saw 80 street stock drivers earn points during the eighteen nights of competition.
In only his second season, Chuck McDaniel, from Braidwood improved his 27th place rookie standings from last year to claim the 8th slot for 2001. Eight top ten feature finishes along with one heat race victory earned him 390 points during the year.
Second year driver Chris Cooling, from Joliet, fresh off his TV appearance on CLTV with Pete Pistone's Victory Lane program, was a consistent finisher and earned the ninth spot in points, a tie in the final tally with Chad Bayuk.
Chad, from the racing Bayuk family, improved his 18th place showing in his rookie year last season to also claim ninth after a season that included three heat race wins and a semi-feature victory.
The Rookie battle in the Street Stock division was up for grabs for most of the year, with five rookies finishing in the top 20 in points.
Fourteenth place, Kim Hill, from Seneca, was awarded the title and may be the oldest rookie of the year at the speedway, being 51 years old.
Just seven points separated Hill from the second place rookie finisher Nathan Lambes, from Hinkley, who finished the final standings in the 15th spot.
Along with several door prizes, the top prize given out was a complete Five Star Race Car Body in a drawing of late model drivers in attendance. Billy Knippenberg Jr not only took home second place money, but also claimed the Five Star award.