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DirtonDirt.com exclusive

Best of 2012: Satterlee, Strand, Thirlby honored

December 11, 2012, 4:48 am
By Todd Turner
DirtonDirt.com managing editor

As part of its ongoing Best of 2012 coverage, DirtonDirt.com hands out awards to worthy Dirt Late Model drivers. We rank the top breakout drivers, top newcomers and most improved drivers and comeback drivers for the past season. This season's honorees:

Breakout drivers

Gregg Satterlee (22), Rochester Mills, Pa.: The 28-year-old racked up an impressive 12 victories, including a career-high $10,000 at Pittsburgh's Pennsylvania Motor Speedway’s Tri Star Pittsburgher. He spread the dozen victories among 10 tracks in three states. Satterlee also notched a series-best four Three State Flyers victories en route to the tour championship. Overall he had 32 top-five finishes and 42 top-10 finishes in 67 starts. Besides PPMS, he won at Dog Hollow, Eastside, Hagerstown, Hesston, Lernerville, Marion Center, Port Royal and Winchester. He also won a $3,000 non-qualifiers’ race in Lucas Oil Series action at Virginia Motor Speedway. | Best of 2012 coverage index

Jesse Stovall (00), Galena, Mo.: Winning at a dozen tracks and totaling 16 victories, Stovall turned in his career-best season and a campaign rivaled only by Terry Phillips in recent years among Missouri drivers. He started off strong with a MARS victory in Clarksville, Tenn., added a career-high $10,000 victory at ArkLaTex Speedway’s Pelican 100, and never slowed down. He tallied a series-best seven MARS victories en route to the championship, and was runner-up on the Lucas Oil MLRA tour for good measure. Besides Clarksville and ArkLaTex, Stovall won at Monett, Caney Valley, Bakersfield, Adams County, Mid-American, Thunderbird, Jetmore, Humboldt, Springfield and 81 Speedway.

George Lee (61), Loudonville, Ohio: Posting his best season in five years, Lee piled up an impressive 11 victories between Ohio's NAPA Wayne County and Hilltop Speedways. Among his Hilltop victories was a $5,000 payday on the UNOH All Star Late Model Series at Hilltop in a 40-lapper on Memorial Day weekend, and a $3,000 ADRA-sanctioned victory at Hilltop in outrunning Doug Drown.

Walker Arthur (87), Forest, Va.: The 27-year-old driver, a two-time Steel Block Bandits champ, traveled broadly in 2012 while running more open-competition engine events than ever before. The travels paid off with a pair of career-high $10,000 victories late in the season. The first came at Natural Bridge (Va.) Speedway’s Sunoco Fall Classic and the second in an Ultimate-sanctioned event at County Line Raceway in Elm City, N.C.

Joe Leavell (8), Waynesboro, Va.: The 39-year-old posted 14 victories overall, matching his career, including five victories on the Steel Block Bandits tour. Twice he swept series weekends, grabbing back-to-back home-state wins at Natural Bridge and Eastside and then dominating a Hagerstown (Md.) Speedway doubleheader. He was fourth in series points despite missing two of nine events. Overall Leavell had 22 top-five finishes in 32 starts and set fast time 18 times.

Honorable mention: Zach Dohm (three big-purse victories, including career-high $10,000 at Beckley’s Black Gold 50); Nick Dickson (three $5,000 victories at three tracks); Michael Chilton ($8,000 Lake Cumberland weekend, World 100 start); David Payne (first Southern All Star victory); Jared Miley (10 victories, including $4,000 at Tyler County and $5,000 at PPMS).

Top newcomers

Dustin Strand (71), Grand Forks, N.D.: The 29-year-old racer, a former WISSOTA modified champ (his dad Brian also won two mod crowns), impressed during his rookie Late Model season, collecting nine feature victories at five tracks en route to WISSOTA’s Late Model Rookie of the Year honors. Three victories came on the Northern LateModel Racing Association during a three-weekend stretch and he had a personal four-race win streak in August. He finished fifth in NLRA points and 13th in WISSOTA’s weekly Late Model points.

Dustin Griffin (20), Camp Point, Ill.: The 2011 UMP DIRTcar Crate Late Model champion barely missed a beat in moving into Super Late Models, earning 10 feature victories at three racetracks. He was 11th overall in UMP DIRTcar weekly points in capturing Rookie of the Year honors. The 26-year-old finished second in points at his home-track Quincy Raceway, 19 points behind champ Jason Perry.

Jason Russell, Henley, Mo.: The modified graduate tied the Lucas Cattle United Late Model Association record with 11 victories en route to the championship in his rookie Late Model season. Russell was the only ULMA driver to win at three tracks (Callaway, Lucas Oil, Double-X) and captured the Callaway title. The 32-year-old won one out of three starts in ULMA action.

Zach Wohlers (71), Kelly Lake, Minn.: The 25-year-old finished second in WISSOTA’s Rookie of the Year points, scoring victories at Grand Rapids Speedway and Amsoil Speedway during a 34-race season. Wohlers also posted a solid third-place finish in Proctor Speedway’s Silver 1000.

Robert Baker (17m), Bryant, Ark.: The modified graduate found success in his Jeff and Kim McNew-owned car, earning Rookie of the Year honors on the Comp Cams Super Dirt Series. He finished fifth overall on the Arkansas-based tour and captured a victory at Diamond Park Speedway in Nashville, Ark., in just his fourth series start.

Honorable mention: Jay Kintner (Hibbing champ; five WISSOTA victories); Shane Hebert (SUPR victory in first career Late Model start); Adam Martin (four Talladega Super victories in stepping up from Crates), Mark Dotson (third in MLRA points), Bumper Jones (mod ace scores CLMA victory at Aztec, N.M.); Tyler Erb (Chatham, La., victory in fourth career start); Bud Mullins (SUPR victory at I-30; unsanctioned at Chatham).

Most improved

Brandon Thirlby (m14), Traverse City, Mich.: The former power boat racer achieved all his goals and then some, reeling off a career-high 15 victories and capturing the championship on the first-year Allstar Performance Michigan Dirt Cup. The 25-year-old won a series-best three MDC races, including the opener (I-96 Speedway) and finale (Winston Speedway). Thirlby also collected championships at I-96 and Cherry Speedways, where he was virtually unbeatable. He also notched a regional UMP DIRTcar title.

Chad Stapleton (32) Edinburgh, Ind.: The 36-year-old’s bombastic personality has been his calling card, but Stapleton showed his capabilities as a racer with a track-best eight victories at Ohio’s Moler Raceway Park and his first-ever victory at Brownstown (Ind.) Speedway. Stapleton clicked off 10 victories overall, including a career-best $3,000 payday at Lake Cumberland Speedway in Burnside, Ky., in the McGowan Excavating 40. Stapleton was also a successful car owner with Bub McCool putting a Stapleton-owned entry into the World 100.

Tommy Weder Jr. (02), Woodward, Okla.: The 27-year-old modified standout nabbed his first Late Model victory with a home-track run at Enid (Okla.) Speedway, then concluded his season with a victory at the Belleville (Kan.) High Banks to wrap up the National Championship Racing Association crown. Weder outpointed veteran Gary Gorby of Caney, Kan., for the NCRA title, taking the lead midway through the season. After missing the series opener, Weder was never worse than seventh in any NCRA race while clicking off six top-five finishes in the final eight series events.

Kyle Logue (21k), Cisco, Ill.: Although his handful of victories primarily came — as usual — at his home-track Macon Speedway, the 32-year-old Logue scored some impressive near-misses in his Keith Brown-owned car. He had a career-best Summernationals finish of second at Fayette County Speedway in Brownstown, Ill., earned $5,000 with a runner-up finish to Jason Feger in Fairbury’s Prairie Dirt Classic, and scored a top-five run in World of Outlaws action at Belle-Clair Speedway in Belleville, Ill. The Shannon Babb prot�g� who has always shown promise ratcheted it up a notch against tougher competition.

J.R. Hotovy (13), Hartford, Mich.: Pressed into more promotional duties at Hartford Motor Speedway after his father-in-law underwent cancer treatment, the 32-year-old managed to stay on point when he was behind the wheel of his Bloomquist Race Car. Hotovy notched six victories at Hartford, including the Michigan Dirt Cup’s visit to the half-mile oval, en route to the track championship. He also made his first major-race start at Ohio’s Eldora Speedway, posting a 12th-place finish in the World 100.

Honorable mention: Jason Hiett ($3,500 victory at Green Valley; Talladega track record-holder); Bobby Pierce (six victories; runner-up in Summernationals at Kankakee); Tony Jackson Jr. (two MARS victories, including his first-ever in season opener); Chris Meadows (Crate and Super Late Model success); Dillon Wood ($3,000 at Tri-County; sixth in Southern Nationals points); Greggie Oliver (Jackson County title); Andy Haus (first Bedford victory); Joe Janowski (first victories at Florence, Brownstown); Garrett Krummert (weekend sweep at Attica); Christian Augspurger (two $3,000 victories, including first UDLMCS triumph).

Comeback drivers

Steve Francis (15), Ashland, Ky.: The 45-year-old veteran on the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series didn’t embarrass himself in 2011, but No. 15 fans couldn’t remember a season when he’d gone winless. Francis quickly turned that around in a big way in 2012, scoring three Florida Speedweeks victories with his new Barry Wright house car team in February. Francis added $40,000 triumphs at Batesville’s Topless 100 at Knoxville’s Lucas Oil Nationals. He won six Lucas Oil races and finished fourth in points.

Kevin Weaver (B12), Gibson City, Ill.: Going for the unprecedented accomplishment of winning a UMP DIRTcar weekly points title 20 years after his first championship, the 48-year-old veteran fell just shy, finishing second to Brian Shirley. But Weaver’s season was his winningest in years as he racked up a UMP DIRTcar-best 18 victories in 51 starts. He also captured the track title at Kankakee County Speedway, where he nabbed his first career Sunoco ALMS victory.

Mike Marlar (5B), Winfield, Tenn.: After going winless in 2011, Marlar’s first full season with Bryson Motorsports was up-and-down before a late-season hot streak. The 34-year-old Marlar had one of the highlights of the season with his worst-to-first, $25,000 victory in the Hillbilly 100 at I-77 Raceway Park in Ripley, W.Va., on Labor Day weekend, then capped his season with $5,000 and $10,000 victories at Georgia’s Screven Motor Speedway and South Carolina’s Cherokee Speedway the weekend before Thanksgiving. Overall Marlar had six victories and finished second in Schaeffer Oil Southern Nationals points.

Terry Phillips (75), Springfield, Mo.: Rebounding from a single-victory Late Model season in 2011, the 46-year-old Phillips switched to a Bloomquist Race Car and got back on track. He ended a 14-month-long winless streak in June, then reeled off an eight-race stretch of six victories and two runner-up finishes, including a $12,000 payday at the Great American Dirt Track in Jetmore, Kan. He won 18 races overall, seven in his Late Model and 11 in his modified.

Doug Drown (63), Wooster, Ohio: After a relatively quiet 2011 with a handful of local track victories, Drown connected with car owner Sean Weekley midway through the season and became a factor wherever he showed up. The Drown-Weekley connection launched with a mid-June weekend sweep at Muskingum County and Hilltop Speedways, and went on to collect six victories overall. Drown also put his No. 63 in the mix at several Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series events. The team plans to start 2013 at Florida Speedweeks.

Honorable mention: Rich Gardner (first ULMS victory after two-year break); Joe Armistead Jr. (Green Valley champ, winningest Senoia driver, $3,000 victory at North Georgia); Matt Taylor (Macon Speedway title); Jeremiah Hurst (back from layoff for victories at Dubuque, Jackson County); A.J. Diemel (three straight WISSOTA Challenge Series victories).

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