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CHARLOTTE, N.C. – It seems every time D.J. Kennington comes to Charlotte, something life-altering happens for the NASCAR Canadian Tire Series champion.
Two years ago, as Kennington celebrated his first series championship, he proposed to his longtime girlfriend, Jamie, on the stage at the end of his speech. Saturday night, he headed back to the Charlotte Convention Center's Crown Ballroom at the NASCAR Hall of Fame just days removed from the birth of his first child, a son named Chase.
“It's been awesome – the highlight of my life, actually, last week with the birth of my son, Chase. Everybody told me that your championships and everything won't mean anything when you have your first child, but they still mean a lot. I tell you what, it was probably the most special day of my life.”
Kennington was one of seven NASCAR champions honored at the Touring Series Awards.
“I often said that winning races was more important than championships – because I'd never won one,” Kennington said. “After winning the one in 2010, I realized how special it was. To win it again, it's a dream come true.”
Now that he's won two of the last three Canadian Tire Series championships, Kennington has no plans to slow down. In fact, he said that winning only makes you want to win more.
He's not alone in feeling like that.
2010 NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour champion Burt Myers stood backstage Saturday and talked about what it's like to have reached the top of the mountain – and then have to watch as somebody else celebrates a championship of their own a year or two down the road.
“After I won my first one at Bowman Gray (Stadium), Tim Brown told me that I wasn't ever going to want to lose one again,” said Myers, who won a total of seven Modified races this year on the Tour and in NASCAR Whelen All-American Series competition. “He said it's awful having to watch someone else get all the glory. I've never forgotten that.”
“After you've been here and done it, to not be the guy that's getting all the accolades, it makes you burn,” Kennington said. “I just think each one gets sweeter. I think the first one, obviously, is the most memorable for me because it took 17 years to get it.
“They say that once you get one they come easier, but I don't think they come any easier. I just think you have more experience and becomes not as much of a job to get it done. That's what I'm most proud of is that we've been able to do it twice. It wasn't a fluke. Hopefully, we can get another one here and make it a three-peat.”
Kennington is focused both on life at home and on racing next season.
“I'm pretty proud of my wife, to go through all that with her,” he said. “I wish she could be here tonight, and she's a little sad she can't be here, too. But she's at home with the little guy, and I can't wait to get home and see them tomorrow.”
Kennington's not the only champion this year to have added a child to the mix. NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour champion George Brunnhoelzl III had a daughter in the middle of the season to become a father for the first time.
“It is true – your priorities do change, but we still love racing and still enjoy it,” Brunnhoelzl said. “You relax a little bit more during the week, but when you get to the race track it's business as usual.”
BUDDING RIVALRY: There was an interesting meeting in the Crown Ballroom during the dinner break Saturday night, as NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour champion Doug Coby and Euro Racecar NASCAR Touring Series champion Ander Vilarino spent several minutes talking about their racing background.
Vilarino marveled at Coby's No. 52 Modified, noting that the open wheels were a lot like what he was used to overseas.
“They look a lot like a prototype with the wheels,” Vilarino said.
“Oh, I'm sure your prototypes have a lot more technology than one of these,” Coby laughed.
Vilarino has thought about racing in the United States. He said he is working on trying to find sponsorship for some races, but he would settle for one race.
“I would really love one Nationwide (Series) race on a road course,” Vilarino said. “If you're going to do one, why not try one of those?”
“You'd probably do really well,” Coby said, noting that he also thought Vilarino might enjoy racing Modifieds, too. “(Modifieds) are really agile. Because everything is so closed in, you can really feel what's going in with your car. You can feel it in the seat.”
For now, Vilarino's familiarity with Modifieds will have to remain the videos he's seen on the internet of the cars racing at historic Bowman Gray Stadium.
“There's the one, have you seen it?” Vilarino asked before pointing to the windshield on Coby's car. “The driver gets out of the car and stomps his foot right here! It is amazing.”
ONE LINERS: There were plenty of quality one-liners during the acceptance remarks from the championship car owners and drivers Saturday. Some of the highlights:
NASCAR Toyota Mexico Series champion Jorge Goeters, reading from a sheet of paper pulled from his jacket pocket to begin his speech: “Dear Santa, for Christmas I would like... Oh, sorry. That's the wrong one.”
NASCAR Canadian Tire Series championship owner Doug Kennington, to crew chief David Wight: “David, D.J. has given us our third-generation driver. It's up to you to make the third-generation crew chief.”
Euro Racecar NASCAR Touring Series champion Ander Vilarino, closing his remarks by issuing a challenge to the rest of the NASCAR champions: “See you at the Battle at the Beach.”
D.J. Kennington to his crew chief, David Wight: “I taught you everything I know, and that's why you're getting better.”
Kennington again, this time talking about his father and car owner, Doug Kennington: “Everybody whines and sniffles about how much horsepower we have, and it's nothing but hard work from that guy.”
NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour champion Doug Coby, on his first career title: “I read somewhere that the ancient Mayan civilization predicted that the world was going to end in a couple of weeks. Based on the fact that I am standing up here as the 2012 Whelen Modified Tour champion, we might all be in a little bit of trouble.”
NASCAR K&N Pro Series West team owner Gene Price, who watched his drivers Dylan Kwasniewski and Greg Pursley race for the championship between them in the season finale: “Dylan and Greg may have raced 50 miles at Phoenix, but I'm pretty sure I paced 75 between those two pit stalls.”
And, finally, Kwasniewski leading the ballroom in round of “Happy Birthday” for one of his crew members – the continuation of a year-long battle of pranks between the two.