Winning a national championship is never easy, as the five winners of NASCAR Whelen All-American Series national titles this season can attest. From new drivers to repeat winners, every driver had their own story for how they reached the top of national standings.
Clint Johnson (Division II), Bryan Narducci (Division III), Corey Holtzlander (Division IV), Dustin Grout (Division V), and Tyler Hoover (UNOH Youth Achievement Award) are the latest winners of national championships. Here’s what each driver had to say about the ups and downs of the 2019 season as they fought for their titles.
Johnson reaches all of his goals in Division II championship
In just his second full season of racing, Clint Johnson improved from a 5th place finish in the national points a year ago to a national championship in 2019. Johnson raced B-modifieds at both Salina Highbanks Speedway and Thunderbird Speedway in Oklahoma.
Johnson, 26, of Neosho, Missouri, didn’t know he had the championship won until he finally got the call.
"I kind of looked at the other guys, the guy who was in second and third, I kind of paid attention to theirs and I knew the last weekend they had to win to beat me, the way the points system worked, and they didn’t, so I figured I was okay, but I didn’t know," Johnson said. "My last two weeks were pretty rough. We flipped a car and then we blew one up. It was a rough last two weekends but I guess we managed to pull it out."
Johnson came into this season with three goals – win track titles at both Salina and Thunderbird, and win the national championship. He won at Thunderbird by 33 points, and was 71 points better than second place at Salina.
Johnson scored 470 national points for the NWAAS championship. Alby Ovitt, driving at Star, Lee, and Hudson Speedways in New Hampshire, was second with 458 points, and Tom Fearn, from Stafford Speedway, was third with 452.
"My wife, she asked me, ‘what do you want to do this year?. What do you want to accomplish?’ and I said I really want both track championships and the national," Johnson said. "I think I can do it as long as I stay on four wheels and stay clean and finish all these races, and that’s kind of what we did.
"We set a goal and we accomplished it all. That doesn’t always happen. I’m fortunate."
Narducci wins second title in Division III
Eighteen-year-old Bryan Narducci won a Division III national title last year racing SK Lights at Stafford Speedway in Connecticut. This year, he was able to repeat that championship, thanks in part to getting the chance to run at more than one track.
Thompson Speedway, also in Connecticut, added SK Lights to its Division III lineup this season, allowing Narducci to pick up more starts as he ran for a repeat championship.
"It made it easier because… if you had a bad race you could kind of make up for it at Thompson and get the points from that so that definitely helped," Narducci said.
"This year when they (Thompson) came out with their schedule, I was real excited about it because I know we were fast Thompson."
Narducci, from Colchester, Connecticut, went into 2019 fighting to prove that his 2018 national title wasn’t a fluke. He finished the year with 14 wins in 28 starts between the two tracks to win the national title by 52 points.
"It feels awesome. I never imagined a couple years ago I’d ever get one national championship, never mind two," Narducci said. "Last year we had a great time coming down to Charlotte, to go up on the big stage with all the top guys in the country and have a good time."
Josh Frye, driver at Berlin Raceway in Michigan, was second in the national points with 426 points and eight wins. Luke Ramsey, driver at Adam County Speedway in Iowa, was third with 422 points and seven wins.
Holtzlander bounces back from second place finish in 2018 to win Division IV title
Berlin Raceway’s Corey Holtzlander finished second in the national points last season, but he didn’t go into 2019 with the sole goal of avenging that loss.
Holtzlander started the season just planning to run part-time in the track’s 4 Cylinder division. But about six weeks into the season he and his mom noticed he was rapidly moving up the standings in the national points. That’s when they changed the focus and decided to go for that NWAAS title.
"I was running second at the time and noticed I was actually catching the first place guy and shortly after that we took the lead over," Holtlander said.
Holtzlander, from Grant, Michigan, said his family was following the points for him so he didn’t get too distracted. He ended up winning the title by 12 points, with 460 national points and 11 wins in 23 starts.
"To tell you the truth, I don’t think it’s quite set in yet," he said. "It’s obviously my first national championship. I’m very happy to say I have won the national championship now. It probably won’t set in until I get down to North Carolina and receive something that says I won the championship."
Keith Helton, driver at Kingsport Speedway in Tennessee, finished second in Division IV with 12 wins on the year. Justin Roelofs, also driving at Berlin, was third with 3 wins and 424 national points.
Support lifts Dustin Grout to Division V title
At one point this season Dustin Grout had his sport compact car for sale and he was going to quit racing for the season.
Grout’s fiancee, Lizzie, gave birth to Grout’s fourth child, Everhett, in June at just 26 weeks. Grout was going to put racing aside, but said everyone around him pushed him to stay on the track and keep going.
"The doctors, family and friends, sponsors, and her (Lizzie) pretty much put a stop to that and said ‘no, you’re going to finish it,’" Grout said.
Grout, from Creston, Iowa, said his home track, Adams County, held a fundraiser for him and his family, and he was able to use his winnings from his seven victories, to buy tires to use through the rest of the season.
It was the support of the people at Adams County and I-80 Speedway that helped Grout to the national title. He won the title by 24 points, scoring 418 over 25 starts.
"It was big support. I didn’t really know how to feel about it at first," Grout said. "We made it work. I just go during the week and go race on the weekend. There were times I didn’t even look over the car, I just load it up on the trailer and run it how it was last week.
"Me and my fiancee are looking forward to going to North Carolina, big time. I couldn’t have done it without my sponsors and all the family support."
Tyler Hoover, a driver who also ran at Adams County and I-80 Speedways, finished second in the national points with 394 points. Zachary Robinson, driving at Stafford Speedway, was third with 390 points.
Hoover wins UNOH Youth Achievement Award
Hoover may have finished second in the Division V points standings, but he didn’t finish the year empty-handed. Hoover, a 17-year-old from Villisca, Iowa, won the UNOH Youth Achievement Award after winning four races and picking up 16 top-5s in 16 starts between Adams County and I-80.
The Youth Achievement Award goes to the driver younger than 18 who had the highest national finish in any division.
Hoover was focusing on winning the track championship at Adams County, which he won by 108 points over Grout. It was later in the season when he saw he had a chance at the Youth Achievement Award.
"I wasn’t (paying attention) at the beginning of the season but after I got going and saw that I could get it I started trying to strive for it a little bit," Hoover said.
It was still a shock for Hoover when he actually got the call saying the title was his.
"It was different. I’m not used to getting phone calls from NASCAR," he said.
Hoover is in just his second full season of racing. His goals have gradually gotten bigger and bigger as he receives more accolades.
"Last season the goal was to get a win. And then after I got a win, I knew once I got a win I would want to set another goal that was higher so then I set track championship," Hoover said. "And I went above that this year even. I wasn’t even expecting that… I shocked myself."
Hoover won the Youth Achievement Award race by 10 points over Meghan Fuller, driving at Stafford and Thompson Speedways. George Bessette, Jr., also driving at Stafford, finished third with 378 national points. Fuller and Bessette each had four wins on the year.
NASCAR uses a driver’s best 14 finishes from any sanctioned track in North America to determine the National Champion for Division II through V. Drivers receive two points for every NASCAR-licensed competitor they finish ahead of, up to 16 cars; and can receive two bonus points for winning from a starting position five through eight, and four points for winning from ninth or further back. The UNOH Youth Achievement Award is determined by a driver’s best 14 finishes, regardless of division, before their 18th birthday.
The NASCAR Whelen All-American Series national champions will be joined by the U.S. state and Canadian province champions, track champions and other special award winners on Saturday, Nov. 23, as part of NASCAR Awards Charlotte.