Jim Smith Photo

AARN Photographers And Writers Pick Up Big EMPA Awards

KING OF PRUSSIA, PA — With the Crowne Plaza Hotel & Conference Center serving as the host, a large gathering of members and guests of the Eastern Motorsport Press Association attended the group’s 43rd annual convention last weekend.

It was a winning weekend for Area Auto Racing News, as many staff members earned first place and top-three finishes in the writer and photo competition. Those awards were presented during Saturday night’s NASCAR sponsored banquet.

Lenny Sammons, publisher and chief editor of Area Auto Racing News, was honored as recipient of the Jim Hunter Memorial Award for Excellence in Journalism. Hunter was a respected auto racing writer and long-time NASCAR administrative official who was dedicated to short track racing and its participants. It was presented by Jim’s son, Scott Hunter, who continues the family tradition with his work in NASCAR media. Scott wore one of Jim’s special “NASCAR 48” hats for the occasion, which he gave to Lenny as a special gift.

It was the second time Sammons received the EMPA Writing Excellence award. The first occasion was in 1983, when the award was named in honor of pioneer auto racing writer Frank Blunk of the New York Times.

The Ace Lane Sr. Memorial Award for Excellence in Photography, named in honor of the pioneer in race track photo journalism and a charter member of EMPA, was presented to Mike Petrucci. A first-time recipient of the award, and a newer member of EMPA, Mike takes photos for Area Auto Racing News and various racing websites in the Northeast. The award was presented by Ace Sr.’s fellow Hall of Fame photographer son Ace Lane Jr., and grandsons and family racing photographers Tommy and John-John.

In a surprise to Ace Jr., he was also given a “family appreciation” award by Tommy and John in the form of a framed picture collage that depicted the racing photo history of the Lanes from patriarch Ace Sr., to Ace Jr. and then grandsons Tommy and John-John.

The Writers Contest was again sponsored by Pocono Raceway, with five separate categories of competition.

In the Column category, JR Kennerup (Area Auto Racing News) took first place. Second was Dino Oberto (Hazleton, Pa., Standard-Speaker), with Jim Donnelly (Hemming’s Classic Car Magazine) third. For the Race Report competition, the first place recipient was Kevin Kovac (Dirt on Dirt.com), over Sammons (Area Auto Racing News) and Oberto (Hazleton, Pa., Standard- Speaker). For the News category, Steve Barrick (Area Auto Racing News) took first place. Second was Kovac (Dirt on Dirt.com) and third was Earl Krause (Area Auto Racing News). First through third in the Feature category were Ron Hedger (Speed Sport Magazine), Donnelly (Hemming’s) and John Snyder (Area Auto Racing News). In the Personality Profile category, Matt Noles (Race Pro Weekly) took first place over Gary Mondschein (Pocono Raceway Recap) and Hedger (Speed Sport Magazine).

The EMPA Photography contest was again sponsored by Brice’s NAPA Auto Supply in Freehold, N.J. An annual, special presentation as part of that competition is the “Janice Brice Memorial Honorable Mention Photo” award, in memory of the late family member who was a great supporter of EMPA, a track official at N.J.’s Wall Stadium and Riverhead (Long Island) Raceway and friend to all. The recipient of the award at Saturday’s banquet was Debbie Gastelu, a photographer of drag racing and oval track events. Long time Area Auto Racing News staff member Mel Stettler was honored on Saturday as having the “Best of Show” photo in the EMPA competition for the 2014 season. He was also recognized for his 2013 “Portfolio of the Year” award. Dave Dalesandro took 2014 “Portfolio of the Year” honors on Saturday.

Area Auto Racing News photographers taking first place awards on Saturday were Ace Lane (Action Sequence), Dave Pratt (Crash Action), Renee Tidaback (Feature), Stettler (Pure Art), Mike Petrucci (Picture Story) and Brent Smith (Unpublished Color). Dave Dalesandro received two first place awards, in “Action” and “Portrait & Personality”; with Bob Chalmers getting the first place honor in the new “Action Cam” category.

Many Area Auto Racing News photographers also received top-three awards in the competition. In “Action”, Jim Smith and Petrucci were second and third; with Dick Ayers third in “Action Sequence.” In “Crash Action”, John-John Lane was second, with dad Ace Lane Jr. third; while Brent Smith and Petrucci were second and third in “Feature.” For “Picture Story”, Brent Smith was second and Paul Arch third; while Bob Yurko was second in “Portrait & Personality.” Brent Smith was second in “Pure Art” and Yurko was third in “Action Cam.”

Twenty-eight photographers entered the competition, while submitting 210 photos for judging by a special panel.

First place honors in the American Honda Motor Company Racing Video competition were Mel Thomas (Single Camera-Race/Event), son Matt Thomas (Multi Camera- Race/Event), Brian Unangst (two separate awards, for Racing Highlights and News Segment) for TV 13 Blue Ridge (Pa.) Communications, Matt Thomas (Live Program-Multi Camera), Mel Thomas (Documentary) and Bob Chalmers of Race Pro Weekly (Music Video).

The convention began with the Friday night “Salute to the Champions”, as driving titlists from local tracks and organizations were in attendance to meet the EMPA members. On Saturday morning and afternoon, press conferences with representatives of tracks and racing groups were held; followed by a “legal issues in racing” seminar presented by race driver/lawyer Rick Yetter and lawyer Lewis Groppo. Dover International Speedway sponsored the Saturday breakfast. The convention concluded with the Sunday morning business meeting, preceded by the Verizon Indy Car Series sponsored breakfast.

Respected local and national auto racing announcer and Thunder Road (Vt.) Speedbowl partner Ken Squier was a special guest during the weekend, and was Saturday’s keynote speaker to media members and guests.

Inducted into the EMPA Hall of Fame during Saturday night’s banquet were Thunder Road Speedbowl promoter and American-Canadian Tour (ACT) Late Model founder Tom Curley, NHRA Alcohol Funny Car drag racing champion Frank Manzo, MRN radio NASCAR announcer Barney Hall, and drivers Doug Hoffman (dirt and pavement Modified) and Mike McLaughlin (DIRT and NASCAR Modified, and NASCAR Grand National).

The Eastern Motorsport Press Association President’s Award, presented by president Ron Hedger, was given to Kerry Tharp and Tim Southers, representing the NASCAR Media Department, for their “Dedication to the Mission of EMPA.” That mission and goal is to provide professional motorsports coverage on all levels of our sport.

Receiving special awards, as coordinated by the EMPA Board of Directors and voted on by the membership were EMPA secretary Carol Houssock (“Ernie & Marilyn Saxton Dedication To The Organization”), named in honor of the EMPA founder and his wife who guided the organization for close to 40 years; the Patrick Family of the New York-based Gater Racing News (“Junie Donlavey Spirit of the Sport”), AARN photographer Paul Arch (“Jerry Reigle Memorial Outstanding Contribution to Sprint Car Racing”), presented by Chris Dolack of the WRG and Jerry’s parents Phil and Mary Good; young race drivers Tyler Dippel and Anthony Perrego (“John Blewett III Memorial Young Gun”), sponsored by New England Race Fuels and presented by John Holland of that company; WoO Sprint Car champion Donny Schatz (“Al Holbert Memorial National Driver of the Year”) and Stewart Friesen (“Richie Evans Memorial Northeast Driver of the Year”).

In attendance for Friday night’s opening “Salute to the Champions” were 2014 title drivers Steve Drevicki (ARDC Midget), Jimmy Horton (Bridgeport Modified), Billy Pauch Jr. (Action Track Speed- STR), Jeff Rine (Selinsgrove and Bedford Late Model), Mike Haggenbottom (TSRS 305 Sprint Car), Mike Mahaney (N.Y. State Modified), Wall Stadium champions Chas Okerson (Modified), Kevin Davison (Sportsman) and Scott Riggleman (Factory Stock), Mahoning Valley Speedway champions (Kris Graver (Modified), Kevin Graver Jr. (Dirt Modified) and Earl Paules (Late Model), Bobby Wagner (Micro-Stock Racing League and Jared Umbenhauer (Grandview Sportsman).

During the Sunday morning business meeting, racing writer and photographer Dave Moulthrop was elected by the membership to a board of directors position for 2015. He has previously been on the EMPA board, and served as an advisor and committee member. He will join current, previously elected board members Ron Hedger (president), Dino Oberto (vice-president), Len Sammons and Earl Krause during this year. Serving in boardappointed positions are Carol Houssock (secretary) and Jeff Gromis (treasurer).