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On the surface, George Brunnhoelzl III's championship-winning season on the NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour looked like a carbon copy of his 2011 championship season.
He won six of the 11 races on the schedule, won another five Coors Light Pole Awards and finished in the Top-10 in every one of his starts. The season before, he won five races, posted five poles and likewise never finished outside the Top-10 in any race.
But Brunnhoelzl said his 2012 championship, this third overall on the Tour and third in his last three full seasons of competition, might have been his most special.
“They're all special, but this one is probably the most special just because of everything that happened off the track this year with the birth of my daughter,” Brunnhoelzl said. “Life in general was awesome this year. That definitely makes a difference.”
Brunnhoelzl's daughter, Riley, was born just a handful of days before he won the Firecracker 150 at Caraway Speedway on July 6. It was Brunnhoelzl's third win from the pole during the season and the second consecutive race that he pulled the feat.
“It was real special to win just to be able to win that right after having her and bring home a flag for her,” Brunnhoelzl said.
But while statistically his season might compare to each of his two previous Whelen Southern Modified Tour championship years, nothing about the year was similar to the previous ones following the birth of Brunnhoelzl's daughter. Like anybody with children of their own knows, priorities start shifting around as families grow.
It was no different for Brunnhoelzl, who had to hit the proverbial internal switch when it was time to go racing.
“When you get done with work for the day, I want to go home and hold my kid and sit there on the couch holding her. It makes it more difficult when you're not (at home) – you want to be there,” Brunnhoelzl said. “It's just so amazing, and everybody's always said that. It is true – your priorities do change, but we still love racing and still enjoy it.
“You relax a little bit more during the week, but when you get to the race track it's business as usual.”
Brunnhoelzl's father and crew chief, George Brunnhoelzl Jr., was impressed with the way his son balanced all of the goings-on away from the race track each week.
“It was very emotional all year. It was not a smooth birth,” Brunnhoelzl Jr. said. “He had situations with the baby coming premature. There were always issues that were happening. He had a lot of stress and things on his head. There were a couple of races we weren't even sure we were going to be at because of the way things were happening. Thank goodness, everything worked out. The baby is fabulous, and that's the No. 1 thing, really.”
The lasting image of the 2012 season came in the moments following Brunnhoelzl's win in the season finale at Charlotte Motor Speedway. There, under the glare of stadium lighting, Brunnhoelzl's daughter rested comfortably in the crystal bowl atop the NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour championship trophy as she posed for photos.
It was a proud moment for the entire family – both the Brunnhoelzl family, their extended racing family and the NASCAR family.
“That is so precious,” Brunnhoelzl Jr. said. “We clown around all the time and say that if NASCAR says they're so family-oriented and they don't use that picture as some type of promotional thing, then they're crazy. It was great.”
As the baby grows, though, Brunnhoelzl III is already focused on what next year could bring. As the only three-time Tour champion with a series-record 17 career victories, Brunnhoelzl will be back in the No. 09 Phoenix Pre-Owned Chevrolet looking for more in 2013.
“I would hope there's no reason we wouldn't be just as competitive,” Brunnhoelzl III said. “Things change – cars change, tracks change and the competition will definitely get better. We've just got to make sure we keep getting our stuff better, too.”
Brunnhoelzl will be honored for his title run along with NASCAR's other touring series champions on Saturday, Dec. 8 at the NASCAR Touring Series Awards at the Grand Ballroom of the Charlotte (N.C.) Convention Center at the NASCAR Hall of Fame. The awards ceremony is slated to be streamed live online in three languages – English French and Spanish – at www.nascarhometracks.com.
George Brunnhoelzl III is interviewed by members of the media during the 2012 season, in which he won his third championship in the NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour. Jason Smith/pixelcrisp for NASCAR