National champions share spotlight

USAC National driving champions Kody Swanson, Robert Ballou and Tracy Hines shared the spotlight along with other 2015 USAC champions and special award recipients during the 60th USAC “Night of Champions” celebration Dec. 11 at the Indiana Roof Ballroom in downtown Indianapolis.

Swanson (Kingsburg, Calif.), Ballou (Rocklin, Calif.) and Hines (New Castle) earned national championships. Swanson was a repeat Silver Crown titlist, Ballou the AMSOIL Sprint Car king and Hines the Honda Midget champ.

Hines also secured the USAC Triple Crown Championship, adding the midget title to his previous championships in USAC’s Silver Crown and National Sprint series. He was presented the coveted True Speed Triple Crown ring by Nelson Stewart, father of award sponsor Tony Stewart.

Car owner national champions for 2015 included DePalma Motorsports of Lima, Ohio (Silver Crown), Ballou (Sprint) and Keith Kunz/Curb-Agajanian Motorsports of Columbus (Midget).

The championship for Keith Kunz Motorsports and team manager Pete Willoughby of Columbus marked the seventh time the Columbus-based racing team has secured the USAC Midget title since they became KKM in 2000. It was the fourth title for Curb-Agajanian.

The Kunz/Curb-Agajanian team dominated the series this year, winning 13 out of the 17 races contested. Rico Abreu led the team with a series-high five wins. Tanner Thorson had four victories, followed by two apiece for Kevin Thomas Jr. and Christopher Bell.

The team secured four of the top 10 spots in the final USAC Midget points standings. Thorson finished second behind champion Tracy Hines. Thomas was third, while Abreu claimed fourth. Bell finished in eighth place.

Chase Stockon of Elizabethtown, driver of the 32/TBI Racing entry, accepted the ProSource Fast Qualifier award for leading all other drivers with eight fast time awards during 2015.

Stockon finished third in the final standings for the AMSOIL National Sprint Car series. Stockon recorded his first two career USAC feature wins by taking the opening night of the Indiana Sprint Week at Gas City on July 20. His other win came at Kokomo Speedway on August 28.

Among items presented to the 2015 champions were Keys to the City of Indianapolis from the mayor’s office, trophies, plaques, Hoosier jackets, medallions, distinctive art canvases and remote-control TRAXXAS trucks.

USAC Chairman of the Board Jeff Stoops was presented USAC’s prestigious Roger McCluskey Award of Excellence, recognizing his commitment to the overall sport of auto racing and his numerous contributions to USAC.

Tony Elliott of Warsaw posthumously received the Jason Leffler Award, in recognition of his intense appreciation of the sport’s history reflected in his professionalism and outstanding representation as an ambassador of the United States Auto Club, exhibiting the same standard of ideals upheld by the late Jason Leffler during his USAC racing career. Elliott perished in an aircraft accident this year and his award was accepted by his widow, Cindy.

USAC’s 2015 National Race Organizer of the Year award was awarded to Perris (Calif.) Auto Speedway race organizer Don Kazarian.

Dave Darland earned the Mike Curb Super License Award and its $5,000 cash bonus for scoring the most points of all drivers participating in USAC’s 2015 National racing series.

C.J. Leary of Greenfield earned the 2015 USAC Silver Crown Rookie of the Year honor. Aaron Farney of Brookston was honored as the National Sprint Car Rookie of the Year and the Bob Stroud Memorial National Midget Rookie of the Year Award for the National Midget Series went to Spencer Bayston of Lebanon.

Tanner Thorson of Minden, Nev., was named USAC’s “Most Improved” National Driver of 2015. USAC’s 2015 “Chief Mechanic of the Year” awards went to Derrick Bye of Westfield, who guided Ballou’s drive to the Silver Crown title, and Keith Kunz, whose Midgets dominated this year’s Honda National Midget series.

Schuett, Wheeler win Indy Invitational

Kyle Schuett of Urbana, Ill., won the midget portion of the inaugural Bad Boy Buggies Indy Invitational on Dec. 12 before an estimated crowd of 7,000 spectators at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. Schuett pocketed $10,000 for the win.

Spencer Bayston of Lebanon finished second behind Schuett, who led all 30 laps of the main event. Chase Briscoe of Mitchell came home third, followed by NASCAR driver Ricky Stenhouse Jr. of Olive Branch, Miss., and Shane Cottle of Kokomo.

Completing the top 10 were Thorson, Anton Hernandez of Arlington, Texas, Joey Saldana of Brownsburg, Dave Darland of Lincoln and Chris Windom of West Lafayette.

Mike Wheeler won the $5,000 companion Outlaw Kart feature.

Chili Bowl entries reach 200

More than 200 entries have now been received for the 30th Annual Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals presented by General Tire. The indoor event for open wheel midget cars will run from Jan. 12 to 16 at the Tulsa Expo Raceway on Tulsa, Okla.

It was announced during the 2015 Performance Industries Tradeshow in Indianapolis last weekend that Stockon was the recipient of the inaugural Tony Elliott Memorial Foundation sponsorship.

Spearheaded by Tracy Hines, Stockon will pilot a car at the Chili Bowl for Zach Daum Motorsports and is one of four cars scheduled to be in the Daum pit area. Zach Daum is a native of Pocahontas, Ill., and is a two-time Lucas Oil POWRi National Midget Champion.

Rico Abreu is the defending Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals winner, taking the victory last January for Keith Kunz Motorsports. Columbus native and three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Champion Tony Stewart is a two-time Chili Bowl winner, taking victories in 2002 and 2007.

James Essex is the motorsports columnist for The Republic. He can be reached at