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Scenes from last year's EMPA convention's Friday Championship night and the Saturday night's awards banquet. (Photos-Jim Smith)
Kyle Larson tops voting in EMPA National Driver of Year
Matt Hirschman/Stewart Friesen take top honors as EMPA Northeast Drivers of the Year
HAZLE TOWNSHIP, PA (1-29-21) – The Eastern Motorsport Press Association (EMPA) annual convention and Hall of Fame dinner that was to have been held the first weekend in January at the Crowne Plaza Hotel, King of Prussia, PA, had unfortunately been cancelled in the name of safety concerns due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the many restrictions in place.
However, the organization felt it was important to move forward with a number of its yearly awards in recognizing the accomplishments of our own as well as those within the sport who make our jobs as professional journalists the very reason EMPA has stood solid since its inception in 1969.
Kyle Larson, who stormed across the country winning countless times with Sprint and Midget cars and even a Dirt Late Model, was named the 2020 EMPA Al Holbert National Driver of the Year. Larson came just short of 50 wins.
The 2020 EMPA Richie Evans Memorial Northeast Driver of the Year, which honors an Asphalt and Dirt driver, went to pavement Modified specialist Matt Hirschman and versatile Stewart Friesen.
Despite a season that was shortened by the novel coronavirus, Hirschman, who was the recipient of this award last year, still put together an amazing year of wins, championships and consist finishes. The Northampton, Pa., asphalt ace competed 32 times and won 17 features while racking up 26 top-5s and 30 top-10s in the process.
With the winning and top finishes also came multiple titles including the 2020 Speed Week Champion, 2020 Evergreen Raceway Champion, 2020 Mahoning Valley (PA) Speedway Hall of Fame Series Champion, 2020 Tri-Track Open Modified Series Champion and the 2020 Race of Champions 250 Champion. The RoC 250 win was his record extending eighth, putting him and what could be considered an unreachable realm.
Friesen once again competed full-time in the NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series, driving the No. 52 Toyota Tundra for Halmar Friesen Racing, however, his roots, racing in Northeast Dirt Modifieds, was a focal point in 2020.
From extra-distance races to regular shows, “Stewie” was always in contention for the wins. Running the authoritative No. 44 for HFR, Friesen authored a very rewarding season as he collected a Northeast-leading 26 feature wins, tops among both dirt and asphalt racers.
He was the 2020 champion of both the North and South Region of the Short Track Super Series and was listed as the point leader in the Super DIRTcar Series prior to the season’s cancellation due to the coronavirus. This is his record-tying fourth Driver of the Year award, equaling the mark with Fred Rahmer.
The John Blewett III Young Guns Award presented by New England Race Fuels will be awarded to Alex Yankowski.
Yankowski continued to make inroads with the highly competitive 358-dirt Modifieds. This past season he shined weekly at Big Diamond (PA) Speedway where he won back-to-back features just as he turned 16. He remained among the championship points leaders before earning a solid fifth in the final standings.
Yankowski was also a hot ticket at tracks such as Grandview (PA) Speedway, Port Royal (PA) Speedway and most notably Bridgeport (NJ) Speedway where he recently scored a big victory in the Danny Serrano 100 against a stellar field. He has also notched three runner-ups throughout the year there as well.
The Jim Hunter Memorial EMPA Writer of the Year award was a tie between Jeremy Elliott and Carol Houssock. Elliott was also named as the Jerry Reigle Memorial Sprint Car Award winner which is presented by World Racing Group.
Top honors for the Ace Lane Sr. Memorial Photographer of the Year went to Rick Sweeten.
The Chris Economaki Memorial News Maker of the Year award goes to DirtTrackDigest.TV. The Promotional Effort of the Year went to Port Royal Speedway.
A testimonial dinner held to honor and induct new members into the EMPA Hall of Fame as well as to present awards to other recipients normally takes place on the Saturday evening of the convention.
However, due to the fact that this year’s event was cancelled, those elected to the Hall of Fame will be honored at the 2022 convention.
And they are: Bob Rossell, a pioneer race car driver and builder; Bob Frey, who served as an announcer for the National Hot Rod Association for 46 years (1966-2012); second-generation racer Don Kreitz Jr., who earned 200 Sprint Cars wins as a driver/owner and is an inductee in the National Sprint Car Hall; respected veteran race promoter Howie Commander, who steers the ship at New York tracks including Lebanon Valley and Albany-Saratoga; and, Van May, whose skill behind the wheel of Sprints and Midgets was highly regarded and for years was a staple on the tough Central Pennsylvania circuit.
A number of winners were also named in the Pocono Raceway Writer’s Contest and Brice’s NAPA Photography Contest.
Pocono Raceway/EMPA 2020 Writer’s Contest
1st Mike Adaskaveg
“Chance Huston: Fuel Cell Lands on His Car, Fire Erupts” outsidegroove.com, September 10, 2020.
2nd J.A. Ackley
“African American Perspectives on Short-Track Racing” outsidegroove.com August 13, 2020.
3rd Bruce Bennett
“Tony Ferraiuolo’s Forgotten Car” Speedway Illustrated, September 2020.
1st Jeremy Elliott
“Some Sprint Car fans need to change their thinking in the wake of Kyle Larson situation” SprintCarUnlimited.com, April 16, 2020.
2nd Bruce Bennett
“The Epitome of Class” Speedway Illustrated, October 2020.
3rd John Snyder
“Mark Of A Champion” Area Auto Racing News, January 21, 2020.
1st Mike Adaskaveg
“Randy Sweet…Remembering a racing icon and innovator” Speedway Illustrated, February 2020.
2nd Dick Berggren
“The Iron Man…He lay in his coffin as it rested on the start-finish line” Speedway Illustrated, September 2020.
3rd Jason Beck
“This Could Be YOU…An Average Joe’s unusual journey to the Cup Series” Speedway Illustrated, March 2020.
1st Jeremy Elliott
“Kyle Larson pockets $50,000 in dominating Capitani Classic at Knoxville Raceway” SprintCarUnlimited.com, August 16, 2020.
2nd Ron Hedger
“Sweet Fires Back With Saturday Win At Volusia” SpeedSport.com, February 9, 2020.
3rd Dino Oberto
“MAKIN’ HISTORY…9-year old racer takes checkers at Evergreen, Mahoning Valley” Standard-Speaker, Hazleton, PA July 16, 2020.
1st Dino Oberto
“Chasing a dream…Evergreen champion Moyer stepping up to NASCAR/ARCA” Standard-Speaker, Hazleton, PA October 23, 2020.
2nd Jeremy Elliott
“David Gravel looking to build a home with Big Game Motorsports starting in 2021” SprintCarUnlimited.com, November 4, 2020.
3rd Steve Barrick
“Last Minute Decision To Make Trip To South Dakota Pays Off For Zearfoss” Area Auto Racing News, April 28, 2020.
Brice’s NAPA Auto Parts EMPA Photo Contest
Action Action Sequence
1—Brent Smith 1—Harry Meeks
2—Pete MacDonald 2—Rick Sweeten
3—Pete MacDonald 3—Harry Meeks
HM—Bob Yurko HM—Bill Snook
Crash Action Feature
1—Dave Moulthrop 1—Pete MacDonald
2—Pete MacDonald 2—Matt Butcosk
3—Dave Moulthrop 3—Brent Smith
HM—Jim Smith HM—Evan Canfield
Picture Story Portrait
1—Brent Smith 1—Pete MacDonald
2—Paul Arch 2—Harry Meeks
3—Brent Smith 3—Tommy Lane
HM—Rick Sweeten HM—Pete MacDonald
Pure Art Unpublished Color
1—Evan Canfield 1—Rick Sweeten
2—Todd Dziadosz 2—Todd Dziadosz
3—Brent Smith 3—Todd Dziadosz
HM—Todd Dziadosz HM—Matt Butcosk
Portfolio Best of Show
Pete MacDonald Pete MacDonald
Janice Brice Honorable Mention Award
Founded in 1969, the Eastern Motorsport Press Association is an organization of professional writers, broadcasters, announcers, videographers and photographers working in the motorsports industry. It also includes associate and corporate members, and the NTT IndyCar Series, Dover International Speedway, Pocono (PA) Raceway, Brice’s NAPA Auto Parts and New England Race Fuels are among the supporters of the organization.