It takes all kinds: NASCAR honors seven championsNASCAR celebrated the end of the 2012 season at the Charlotte Convention Center's Crown Ballroom adjacent to the NASCAR Hall of Fame by honoring seven champions in the Touring Series.
By: By Travis Barrett, Special To NASCAR Wire Service, Superior Telegram
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Being a NASCAR champion means something a little different to everybody. Given that seven champions crowned by the sanctioning body Saturday night varied wildly in age, experience, background and even culture, that shouldn't come as a surprise.
NASCAR celebrated the end of the 2012 season at the Charlotte Convention Center's Crown Ballroom adjacent to the NASCAR Hall of Fame by honoring seven champions in the Touring Series.
"When you're a racer, it means everything to you," NASCAR Canadian Tire Series champion D.J. Kennington said of winning championships. "I often said that winning races was more important than championships -- because I'd never won one. After winning the one in 2010, I realized how special it was. To win it again, it's a dream come true."
Kennington was joined as a multi-time series champion by George Brunnhoelzl III, a North Carolina transplant by way of Long Island, N.Y., and Jorge Goeters of Mexico City, who won his second NASCAR Toyota Series title -- but his first in the Mexico-based series under the NASCAR banner. Brunnhoelzl is now the first three-time NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour champion.
The next wave of bright, young NASCAR talent was also on display Saturday -- 17-year-old Dylan Kwasniewski in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West and 20-year-old Kyle Larson in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East. Each is part of this year's "Next 9" class, identifying them as potential future NASCAR national stars, and each recorded his first NASCAR championship this year.
Minimum age requirements at both the weekly and touring levels limited Kwasniewski from running for championships in prior seasons, while this was the first season in stock cars for Larson -- an open-wheel standout -- in an East series featuring some of the top NASCAR Sprint Cup Series talent.
"I always knew I could do it, but winning a championship was important to me," Kwasniewski, of Las Vegas, said. "I wanted to prove that you can be young and be from the West Coast and win championships."
"It means a lot," said Larson, who drove for Rev Racing as part of NASCAR's Drive For Diversity program. "To be a champion in NASCAR is pretty special."
Larson might be a NASCAR champion, but he still feels like there is lots of work ahead of him.
"I'm definitely honored to win the championship, but it's going to mean a whole lot more when I can win a championship in one of the three (national) series," Larson said. "This is a great development series to get there."
As testament to how each driver relates differently to being a NASCAR champion, Milford, Conn.'s Doug Coby sees his first NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour championship as validation for years and years of struggling to land full-time rides at the local and regional levels.
He was emotional when he become the latest champion in NASCAR's oldest division -- a touring series that is predicated on the dedication of weekend warriors.
"I saw Richie Evans Jr. the other night, and he had his dad's championship ring from 1985 and he told me to put it on," Coby said. "I said, 'That should be in a museum, not on my finger.' He said, 'No, you can, because you earned it.'
"That's kind of the whole theme to my career -- trying to earn it. It's been a challenge my entire career to prove that I belong in certain situations. It means a lot to be a Tour champion and be in that club. There's not a whole lot of them."
While most of this latest crop of NASCAR champions view their titles as something of a proverbial "dream come true," for one champion Saturday night it literally was something he never could have dreamed of two years ago. Ander Vilarino of Spain won the inaugural Euro RACECAR NASCAR Touring Series championship in 2012.
As a road racer who had done his share of Formula-style racing growing up, Vilarino had only Days of Thunder and highlights of wild wrecks from Talladega as reference points. Throwing his hat into the NASCAR ring was a challenge he wanted to attempt.
"I didn't sleep all night," Vilarino said of the night before the announcement that NASCAR would sanction the Euro RACECAR Series, beginning in 2012. "I was thinking, this is going to be NASCAR. It's going to have the name. I already had a lot of motivation to win the championship, but when it became NASCAR, I had even more and more."
They came to Charlotte this week from Spain and Mexico, from California and Canada, from New England, North Carolina and Nevada. They came as teenagers, grown men, and men with families of their own. They came with different goals, different dreams, different career challenges.
And they all left Charlotte on Saturday as NASCAR champions.