In the future it is my hope that a Miles Beyond 300 Award might mean something but at the present time it will just be me giving a shout out to the things I noticed on the 2011 season! I was lucky to attend more pulls in 2011 then I ever have, those pulls gave me plenty of ammunition to fill in the blanks for these awards! Thinking about these categories, I tried not to be biased and truly evaluate the entire season. I am certain their are so many other deserving folks but these are the particular events, competitors and moments that stuck out the most for me.
It is hard to have an awards section without honoring lost competitors, so I want to again mention the loss of Jeff Gueningsman. Jeff was a great competitor and is certainly missed in the pulling world.
Pull of the Year- Scheid Diesel Extravaganza- I was lucky to be the announcer at this event in Terre Haute! For years I have traveled to BG with my father and I have witnessed die hard pulling fans but Diesel fans tend to raise the bar even more than usual. Not only did the Lucas Oil Pro Pulling League do a phenomenal job with this show but it was one of the largest, most responsive crowds that I have ever stood in front of. Overall this event was truly my pick for the Pull of the Year.
Favorite Event- Wisconsin Dairy Land National- This was my first trip to the Badger state for this acclaimed pull. Let me say without hesitation that this pull did not disappoint! I loved every facet of this event and have marked my calendar with the plan to be back the final weekend in June.
Puller of the Year- Kathy Archer Schalitz- this lady claimed an NTPA Grand National Championship in what was the most exciting class on the circuit in 2011. The final pull of the year had three competitors vying for the title; Bill Voreis the champ, Brian Shramek one of the most decorated Diesel competitors in NTPA History and Kathy. With a potent combination Kathy claimed the title and punctuated what was a fantastic season for her entire team.
Pass of the Year-Kathy Archer Schalitz- The final run of the Unlimited Season not only cemented the championship but was the third run of the night. With ice in her veins she nailed it! I also considered Doug Lively's Pulloff pass at Tomah, Kevin Masterson's run at Altamont, Jeremy Nelson's winning run at the Indy Super Pull and Bill Leishner's Decatur, Illinois pull to the 400 foot barrier.
Rookie of the Year- The NTPA Rookie of the Year race was ridiculous with guys like Ryan Salenbien, Darrin Hunt, Doug Lively, The Schmucker's just to name a few. On the state circuit Bethany Nelson had an awesome year in her debut with 3 wins in six attempts in Illinois. I chose to give the nod to the Schmucker's after a very dominant year with the NTPA Grand National Pro Stock circuit. It truly will be a tough choice for the powers at be, come banquet time for the NTPA!
Surprise of the Year-
Gold- When the Boyd's decided not to run a full circuit with the Pro Pulling League Champions Tour, the strangle hold they held gave big shoes to fill in the Pro Stock class. In Northwest Missouri a new star arose in the form Stuart Maize. When the season began in Wilmington, Ohio, it looked as if The Boerson's would take the former Boyd tractors back to the top. Red fans must be proud of the Billet Binder International and the four Champions Tour wins it collected on the circuit. It wasn't that I didn't think Stuart Maize could win the title but I didn't expect the dominant season he had.
Silver- Brian Shramek Youngblood Unleashed- Give him time and he will figure it out! He absolutely did that and then some with his six engine pulling configuration. This tractor and driver will be a huge threat in 2012, as it seems it will only get better with another year of running!
Bronze- Brad Moss, I have known this gentleman was quite the Pro Stock driver but I never expected he would jump right into two wheel drive truck and win in his first weekend on the Champions Tour! He jumped into a highly competitive truck and was exactly that, highly competitive!
Most Improved- Mark Austin- At the end of the season of 2009, Mark took a step forward when he upgraded his chassis in purchasing the Pair of Jacks from Steve Jacks. The 2010 season Mark ran this truck with a Fowler Hemi and did his best to learn the truck while running the Champions Tour, Midwest Region and ITPA circuits. At the end of 2010, Mark took another big step when he bought the motor that was originally in the truck from Steve. In doing so the Gamblin After Dark had Sassy power again and became a combination that was quite dominant in previous years. Mark upgraded the program even further with one of the best paint jobs these eyes have ever seen. 2011 saw Mark putting together one of the most consistent seasons that I can remember on the Champions Tour. In previous years he very well might have won the points title but with two pullers on the circuit sharing over 80 % of the wins amongst themselves it was a tough year!
Dominator Award-Jeremy Nelson- In all of my years I can't think of someone who put together a season like this guy did in 2011. Jeremy could actually be classified under many of these categories with the wonderful season he had. Not only did he win his first Champions Tour Title, he grabbed another State championship with the ITPA. He won seven Champions Tour Hooks but one he is most proud of is the Illinois State Fair Pull which has evaded him in previous years. The truck appeared to be on cruise control in 2011!
Comeback Puller of the Year- Doug Theobald- Wow, what a year for this Indiana native. Doug didn't just build a new truck; he won Tomah, swept Chapel Hill and put his name in the hunt for the Championship with the NTPA. I am not sure how the NTPA determines their Puller of the Year but this gentlemen deserves a serious look and consideration.
Never Give Up Award- Adam Bauer- After watching the results for the better part of the summer it was my opinion that Jason Hathaway would all but run away with the Mini Rod Championship but despite all of his wins the former champion Bauer claimed another title. It certainly is unfortunate for Hathaway as his sophomore season and debut of the second tractor was nothing short of remarkable but this should only motivate the Donkey's to work even harder in 2012!
Team of the Year- The Varner's- Wow, I grew up watching the Varner Brother's pulling their Midway, Kentucky based trucks. Darrell always had his Rare Breed Two Wheel Drive, while brother Gary ran the Fast Break Four Wheeler. In recent years Darrell has gotten rid of the Rare Breed to build a second Four Wheel Drive known as the Stray Dog. These brothers went on a big streak this season on the Champions Tour and had it not been for Gary being unable to hook at Saluda, SC, the second night they may be celebrating a championship. Darrell won a Regional Championship, while Gary finished Runner Up on the Champions Tour. Between them the brother's collected five Champions Tour events, thus cementing them in my mind as the Team of the Year!
Wind er Tight- Tim Fitzsimmons- I had been following the Outlaw Points online all summer long but hadn't had the opportunity to see the Country Heat in action. Tim had a great year on the Outlaw circuit claiming a points championship in a competitive two wheel drive class. I can honestly say that when I did get to see Tim run at the Farm Progress Show in Decatur, Illinois, that I was baffled at the RPM's this truck was turning. I am not sure that I have ever heard a motor screaming as loudly and running as hard as I did when the Country Heat made its pass.
Debuts of the Year- I have already highlighted Doug Theobald's great success with his new truck but I wanted to highlight several other competitors that debuted new vehicles and had incredible successes with it!
Stan Shelton- What a great year which ended with a Championship!
Jason Hathaway- Winning on the NTPA Circuit isn't easy but this tractor made it look that way.
Tim Stone- Finishing in the top three of the Champions Tour was a remarkable feat for this new John Deere.
Darrick Barga- Not only did the Barga's collect their first win but they were in the hunt numerous times throughout the season.