ROSSBURG – Championship honors bestowed upon Jon Henry (DIRTcar Late Model), Jeff Koz (DIRTcar UMP Modified) and Rob Trent (DIRTcar Stock Car) by Eldora Speedway owner Tony Stewart highlighted a busy Saturday night of awards and celebration.
The affair, which filled the Eldora Ballroom, brought official closure to the 2016 racing season. Joining the Eldora trio of champions on stage was Rusty Schlenk as he accepted the Sunoco American Late Model Series (ALMS) title.
For Henry, a native of Ada, it was his third Eldora title. In 2010 he captured the DIRTcar UMP Modified title at the famed one-half mile clay oval and followed that up in 2011 with a move to the Late Model division when he was named co-champion with Clark Lake, Michigan’s Brian Ruhlman as the duo were deadlocked in points at the close of the season.
There was no denying a full championship for Henry and his family-owned team in 2016 as he finished comfortably ahead of Kent Robinson, the Bloomington, Indiana, neighbor of the legendary Steve Kinser, Richmond, Indiana’s Steve Casebolt, Nick Latham from Winchester Duane Chamberlain, another Richmond, Indiana-native in the final tally.
After several years competing in the Eldora Stock division, Koz, a Lima-veteran teamed with Jared Bennett in 2014 to tackle the Modified division at Eldora. The team captured Rookie of the Year honors that season and after a strong 2015 campaign came back even stronger in 2016 to snare the hard-fought title over Canadian driver Joel Dick, Pennsylvania’s Evan Taylor, Brian Post from Spencerville and Jonathan Taylor, who joins his brother in making the long tow from Western Pennsylvania for Eldora’s Modified events.
With a defense of his 2015 Stock Car title, Trent, who also hails from Lima, upped his Eldora career championship total to four. It wasn’t until the final night of racing that Trent powered to the top of the list. A dramatic feature win on the Friday night of the Four Crown Nationals weekend scored enough points to topple Frank Paladino, Paul Pardo, Earnie Woodard and Jordan Conover.
In addition to the hardware and point fund distribution to the top 15 drivers in each division, numerous specialty awards were dispersed.
Considered the most prestigious non-point award of the night, the Chick Hale Sportsman of the Year award was presented to Frank Paladino by Hale’s daughter – Diana Killen.
Gathering Rookie of the Year honors were Kody Evans (Late Model), Mike Learman (Modified) and Gary Rahe, Jr. (Stock Car) while Most Improved Driver awards were captured by Dustin Nobbe (Late Model), Joel Dick (Modified) and Jordan Conover (Stock Car).
Voted as Best Appearing Cars were Nick Latham (Late Model), Andy Bibler (Modified) and Ed Hounshell (Stock Car). Being recognized as Hard Luck Award recipients were Duane Chamberlain (Late Model), Scott Orr (Modified) and Shaun Smith (Stock Car).
Earlier in the night Bill McGrath was named Eldora’s Fan of the Year. Mike Barr earned the Car Owner of the Year hardware while Bob Williams was named the Mechanic of the Year recipient and Dea Richardson netted Woman of the Year honors.
Mike Unger, the father of fallen driver Shane Unger – who is also Eldora’s longtime track welder, opened the evening’s events by expressing his family’s appreciation for the love and support of the Eldora community. The standing ovation offered by the crowd was followed by Eldora General Manager Roger Slack detailing safety initiatives planned for 2017, which require all competitors, regardless of division, to use an SFI-approved head and neck restraint, containment seats, restricts wheel covers to the right side of all divisions with three steel bolts or five steel dzus fasteners, recommended on-board fire systems and foam-filled fuel cells. Stewart committed to a third full fire and rescue truck and expanded participant accident insurance coverage from $50,000 to as much as $1.5 million for DIRTcar members and Competitor Advantage Program participants.