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Best of 2014: Whelen All-American Series

Anders Outruns Tough Competition To Achieve Dream Season
By Jason Christley, NASCAR
December 24, 2014 - 2:49pm

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Anthony Anders completed his dream season in 2014, adding to his legacy at South Carolina’s Greenville Pickens Speedway, taking home yet another South Carolina championship and finally capturing his first NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Division I national championship.

The 43-year-old from Easley, South Carolina, took aim at national crown in the offseason, moving to the potent Hawk McCall Motorsports late model team from Travelers Rest, South Carolina. With the addition of Anderson Motor Speedway as a NASCAR-sanctioned track in 2014, Anders had three tracks in-state in which to chase wins and points.

“We’re focused on national points. The bottom line is we have to win races,” said Anders in May. “We want to have staying power.”

Mission accomplished.

They burst out of the gate with eight wins before the calendar turned to May and led the championship standings the entire season.

Two-time national champion Lee Pulliam of North Carolina made a midseason push for a third straight title but came up short. Likewise, former national Keith Rocco of Connecticut put together another banner season. But it too was not enough to erase Anders’ advantage.

Anders finished with 30 wins, 44 top fives and 48 top 10s in 51 races at Greenville, South Carolina’s Anderson and Myrtle Beach Speedway, as well as North Carolina’s Hickory Motor Speedway.

Top Drivers

Anthony Anders: Anders' 30 victories was the ninth highest single-season total in series history and most wins since Larry Phillips tallied 32 in 1995. In addition to his national crown, Anders took home top honors in South Carolina for the fourth straight season, breaking a tie he held with Ralph Earnhardt and Marty Ward. Earnhardt won three straight state Sportsman championships from 1965-67 and Ward won the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series state honors from 2008-10. Anders won his second Late Model Stock Car crown at Greenville Pickens. He excelled away from his home track, too. Anders recorded a second-place finish in the middle of the summer at Hickory and closed the season by coming from 17th to win at Myrtle Beach.

Lee Pulliam (Honorable Mention): The 26-year-old Late Model driver from Semora, North Carolina, did everything but win the national championship. Pulliam finished the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series season with 25 wins, 41 top fives and 42 top 10s in 46 starts. He collected his third track title at Motor Mile Speedway in Radford, Virginia, and  won the state honors in both North Carolina and Virginia. Pulliam capped his season with a win in the prestigious Late Model race at Martinsville Speedway for the second time.

Comeback Driver of the Year

Jeff Strunk: The Boyertown, Pennsylvania, driver won his first 358 Modified Division championship at Pennsylvania’s Grandview Speedway since 2011. It gave Strunk his 10th track title at Grandview since 2000 and 14th NASCAR Whelen All-American Series crown – second most in series history. Strunk had two wins and 18 top 10s in 20 races at the high-banked dirt track known for large car counts and a handicap system that makes the top drivers come from the back of the field every weekend.

Top Breakthrough Performances

Dillon Bassett: The 17-year-old driver from Winston-Salem, North Carolina, put together an ambitious schedule in 2014. He raced his Late Model at seven tracks throughout the southeast. The travel did little to slow him down. Bassett rolled up 13 wins and finished fourth in the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Division I national standings. Bassett also earned the inaugural UNOH Youth Achievement Award national title Friday. The award recognizes the top drivers 17-and-under in the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series across all divisions.

Nick Heywood (Honorable Mention):  A first-year NASCAR participant, the 26-year-old from Plattsburgh, New York, won the asphalt modified division championship at his hometown track of Airborne Park Speedway en route to earning the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series national Rookie of the Year Award presented by Jostens. Heywood, who also competes in the asphalt modified division at Devil’s Bowl Speedway in West Haven, Vermont, won the national rookie award by 12 points over 18-year-old Kyle Ploff of Marietta, Georgia. Plott competes in Late Models at Greenville, Anderson and Hickory. The rookie of the year is for first-year Division I license holders.

Top Race

Motor Mile Speedway, June 28: It took three days and more scrutinizing of grainy footage than the Zapruder film before track officials were able to declare Tommy Lemons Jr. the winner of the track’s New River Bank Twin 75’s nightcap. The photo finish between Lemons and Peyton Sellers resulted in Motor Mile’s first electronically recorded tie. The track originally credited Sellers with the win pending review, and after an exhaustive examination of all the available data, Lemons was named the winner. The real winner may have been the fans, who witnessed a door-to-door battle between the top two over the final three laps before the to-close-to-call finish.

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Tommy Lemons Jr. (top) was declared the winner over Peyton Sellers of Friday's Late Model feature at Motor Mile Speedway in a photo finish. Courtesy of Motor Mile Speedway

Other Notable Achievements

• Keith Rocco of Wallingford, Conn., the series’ 2010 national champion, continued his unprecedented run of success. Rocco won his fourth SK Modified championship at Connecticut’s Waterford Speedbowl for his 10th NASCAR Whelen All-American Series track title between Waterford, Stafford Motor Speedway and Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park since 2007. Rocco finished in the top three in the national standings for the sixth straight season and has finished in the top four in all eight years under the current format. He also won a record seventh state title.

• Ted Christopher of Plainville, Conn., the 2001 national champion, added to his own record with a ninth SK Modified championship at Stafford Motor Speedway. It was also Christopher’s 13th NASCAR Whelen All-American Series championship overall. Only three drivers have more in Whelen All-American Series history.

• Steve Carlson, of West Salem, Wisconsin, added to his impressive resume with a third Wisconsin title and second in a row. Carlson won his fifth Late Model Division championship at Wisconsin’s LaCrosse Fairgrounds Speedway with five wins and top fives in all 14 of 16 outings. The 2007 NASCAR Whelen All-American Series national champion is one of the most decorated short-track racers in NASCAR. In addition to his weekly series honors, is also a five-time champion of NASCAR’s former Midwest Series for Late Models.

• Stewart Friesen of Sparkers, New York, had a dominating season at New York’s Utica-Rome Speedway in the track’s return to NASCAR. The dirt-track wheelman had six wins and 17 top fives in 18 starts to earn the championship at Utica-Rome Speedway. Friesen also won the opening Saturday night show at Grandview and added a non-points win in Grandview’s 44th annual Freedom 76 Modified.

Four More National Champions
• For the first time, NASCAR recognized champions from each of its divisions of the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series. In addition to Anders, Jared Umbanhauer (Div. II), Jon Plowman (Div. III), AJ Sanders (Div. IV) and Donavan Beacham (Div. V) were honored as NASCAR Whelen All-American Series national champions.

The 23-year-old Umbenhauer ran away with the Division II title on the strength of 11 wins and 15 top fives in the Sportsman Division standings at Grandview.

Plowman, 21, who races in the B Modified divisions at I-80 Speedway in Omaha, Nebraska, and Adams County Speedway in Corning, Iowa, pulled away to win the Division II national championship with 14 wins, 18 top fives and 19 top 10s in 21 starts at the two tracks and won the B Modified championship at Adams County.

The 46-year-old Sanders won 15 races in 26 starts this year in the Mini Stock/Stadium Stock divisions at North Carolina’s Bowman Gray Stadium in Winston-Salem, Caraway Speedway in Sophia and Southern National Raceway Park in Lucama to win a tightly contested national race, where the top six drivers were separated by just 34 points.

And Beacham edged his friend Brian King as they went back-and-forth at South Carolina’s Greenville Pickens Speedway and Anderson Motor Speedway. Beacham won the championship in the Four Cylinder division at Greenville, while King won the Front-Wheel Drive division at Anderson.

In previous year, NASCAR’s Finalist Program spotlighted the achievements of drivers outside of the Division I.

Notable Among State And Province Champions

Nineteen out of 31 are first-time champs;

With an impressive nine wins in 10 events, Erica Thiering won the championship at the quarter-mile Edmonton International Raceway in Wetaskiwin, Alberta, for the sixth time in the last seven years, and claimed her sixth Alberta crown and fourth in a row; David Rogers, the 1994 national champion, won his second straight Florida title; Alex Papini missed out on the track title at Rockford, but won his second consecutive state title with nine wins and 14 top fives in 16 starts; Jacob Goebe improved from 16th to first to become the first driver other than Adam Royle or Donny Reuvers to win the Minnesota title, after recording seven wins and 16 top 10s in 18 outings en route to the Elko Speedway championship; Duane Howard also missed out on his eighth Grandview title but claimed his fourth Pennsylvania championship with five wins and 14 top fives in 20 starts; Scott Gafforini  won his third Nevada championship with six wins and 12 top fives in 13 starts at The Bullring at Las Vegas Motor Speedway; Mike Kourkoubes, the 2013 Texas rookie of the year, won the state title with two wins and 11 top fives in 13 starts at Houston Motorsports Park; California’s Ryan Partridge drove to seven wins and 17 top fives in 18 starts at Irwindale Speedway and Kern County Raceway Park, picking up his second straight track title at Irwindale and first California crown; 21-year-old Kody Brusso, from Pensacola Florida, had three wins and top 10s in all 12 races to secure top honors in Louisiana and her first title at Revolution Park Racing Complex in Monroe.

Notable Among Track Champions

Of the 58 NASCAR-sanctioned tracks in 2014, there were 15 repeat champions from 2013 and 29 first-time NASCAR champions.

Jay Linstroth won the track title at All American Speedway in Roseville, California for the second year in a row; South Carolina’s Anderson Motor Speedway returned to the NASCAR family in 2014 and David Roberts hooked the hardware with a win and top 10s in all 15 outings for his first NASCAR late model stock title at Anderson; another short track that returned to the NASCAR fold this season was Quebec’s Autodrome St-Eustache, where Jean-Francois Bouvrette scored a win and nine top 10s in 10 features to take home his first NASCAR championship; Ontario, Canada’s Barrie Speedway championship was won by Gord Sheherd for the second year in a row and third overall with seven victories and top-10 finishes in all 28 of his starts; Dave Farrington Jr. registered 14 top 10s in 15 outings to capture his first title at Beech Ridge Motor Speedway in Scarborough, Maine; The famed modified track championship at Winston-Salem, North Carolina’s historic Bowman Gray went New Jersey’s third-generation driver Danny Bohn on the strength of a pair of wins and 16 top 10s in 21 outings.

New Richmond, Wisconsin features racing at Cedar Lake Speedway, where Chad Mahder took home his second title – and first since 2010 – with a win and seven top 10s in eight events; Chemung Speedrome in New York features modifieds, and Jimmy Zacharias drove to the track title with six wins and top 10s in all 15 starts for his fourth championship in five years; Dominic Ursetta won nine times in 15 races with 13 top 10s to capture the Colorado National Speedway crown out in Dacono over eight-time titlist Bruce Yackey; Another stellar season for this driver saw Chad Pendleton win seven of 19 races to remain the Late Model champion at Columbus Motor Speedway in Ohio for the third straight year; Todd Stone was the asphalt modified track champion for the second year in a row at Devil’s Bowl Speedway in West Haven, Vermont, thanks to four wins and 17 top 10s in 18; The very first East Carolina Motor Speedway NASCAR track title was earned by Jeff Shifflett with 11 top fives in 12 races on the asphalt tri-oval in Robersonville, North Carolina.

Mike Holden rolled to fieve wins and top 10s in 10 of 11 outings to earn his first track title at Evergreen Speedway in Monroe, Washington; Racing late models at another historic southern short track, Josh Berry took home his first crown at Hickory Motor Speedway in North Carolina with eight wins and top 10s in all but one of his 19 races; A win and top 10s in all 10 starts took home the title for Amy Catalano at New York’s Holland Motorsports Complex for a second time; Cory Dumpert dominated at Junction Motor Speedway with 11 wins in 13 late model features at the McCool Junction, Nebraska dirt oval; Mike Brooks  earned his first super late model title at Michigan’s Kalamazoo Speedway with five wins and 13 top fives in 15 outings; In the second year of competition at Kern County Raceway Park in Bakersfield, California, Brian Richardson earned the title with 10 wins and top-five finishes in all 22 starts; Cody Robinson had five wins and top 10s in all 15 starts this year, he captured the Kil-Kare Raceway championship in Xenia, Ohio, in just his second year of late model competition; Kres Van Dyke totaled six wins and top 10s in all 19 starts to secure the championship at Tennessee’s Kingsport Speedway as he tamed the Concrete Jungle to earn his first NASCAR track title; Scott Skufca took the title at Lake County Speedway in Painesville, Ohio with four wins and top 10s in all 18 races; Randy Culver scored seven wins and 12 top fives in 13 starts to earn the Lake Erie Speedway title in North East, Pennsylvania; The championship at Langley Speedway in Hampton, Virginia was secured with eight wins and top 10s in all 22 races by Greg Edwards, his fourth Langley title overall and second in three years.

Kaleb Allison emerged as the champion at historic Lebanon I-44 Speedway thanks to a pair of wins and top fives in all 15 of his starts at age 15 this year; Consistency was the key for Jake Stergois as a win and top fives in all 14 starts took home top honors at New Hampshire’s Lee USA Speedway; Todd Sherman secured the crown at Limaland Speedway in Lima, Ohio with four wins and top 10s in all 11 outings, as Sherman has won the Limaland title in each of its four seasons in the Whelen All-American Series program; Coeburn, Virginia’s Lonesome Pine Raceway returned to the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series program in 2014 and Chad Finchum posted 10 wins with 17 top fives in 18 outings; Kristopher McKean won the Magic Valley Speedway title in Twin Falls, Idaho, for the second time in three years with five wins and top fives in all 14 features; Todd Patnode registered eight wins and top 10s in each of his 16 starts took home his fifth track title at Monadnock Speedway in Winchester, New Hampshire, two more than any other driver; Bobby Henry won his second title – and first since 2007 – at Motordrome Speedway in Smithton, Pennsylvania by way of three wins and 17 top fives in 18 starts; Sam Yarbrough won his second straight track title and third overall with six wins and top 10s in all 14 races at Myrtle Beach Speedway in South Carolina; With four wins and top 10s in all 25 races, Howie Brode bested the field to secure a third track title at New York’s Riverhead Raceway (his first came back in 1998).

Racing at one of NASCAR’s toughest weekly tracks, Jon Reynolds Jr. registered three wins and top 10s in all but one of the 17 events to capture the title at Illinois’ Rockford Speedway; With nine wins and top 10s in all 21 features Jeran Frailey took home his first track title at Salina Highbanks Speedway in Oklahoma; Four wins and top 10s in 20 of 22 late model features took home the championship at Southern National Motorsports Park in Kenly, North Carolina for Lemons; The Spencer Speedway track title up in Williamson, New York was earned by Rusty Smith for the third consecutive year with four wins and top fives in all 14 races; Justin Philpott had five wins and top 10s in all eight races to earn his second career title at California’s Stockton 99 Speedway; Ryan Preece captured his second title in three years at Thompson with four wins and top 10s in all 10 feature events; Historic Tucson Speedway returned home to the NASCAR family in 2014 and Ron Norman posted a pair of wins to earn his fourth NASCAR championship.

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The 2014 NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Division I track champions were honored at the annual awards in Charlotte, North Carolina, on Friday, Dec. 12. Getty Images for NASCAR