Forget Hollywood awards season and the cheesy little figurines. If you wanted to witness an awards ceremony on steroids, then the Tinley Park Convention Center was the place to be on Saturday, January 19. This gleaming, recently expanded facility was the site of the Third Annual Team Demolition Association (TDA) awards banquet.
With approximately 275 people in attendance, it was the biggest TDA banquet to date. And a full round of recognition was on the menu as ownership served up an overload of super-sized trophies for owners, team members, and all the others who give their lifeblood to the sport. A sport that depends on drivers willing to risk head-on hits in cars so common in the seventies, but increasingly hard to find in this day and age.
Due to the scarcity of these cars—not to mention the costs in procuring them—the 2013 season will mark the final year that seventies-round vehicles will be raced at Team Demo events at Route 66 in Joliet. So it will be somewhat bittersweet when the TDA kicks off its 15th season on Saturday, May 19. But with 8 teams scrambling to field up to 12 cars for 5 nights of action, the writing was on the wall and a rule change was inevitable.
But let’s circle away from those sweaty summer nights at the track and get back to the activities on a windy January in Tinley Park. Here, drivers like Levi Turnbaugh gave new meaning to the phrase “what are you wearing” as he donned his finest flannel shirt and vintage Junkyard Dogs jacket. Ladies Team Demo member and 2012 Sycamore Powder Puff Champion Megan Decker celebrated her 30th birthday in style with high heels that were a far cry from her Friday race night attire.
While the proverbial walk down the red carpet was replaced by a stop at the designated smoking area, it was nonetheless a night to honor the stars, sponsors and spectator champions for the 2012 TDA season. It was an evening that saw the Noble Brothers winning the TDA version of the Cecil B. DeMille award when they accepted the Jan Gabriel Legends trophy. Reckoning was crowned champion for the second year running while Mean Green Machine was proclaimed the most feared team for the first time.
As the awards ceremony got underway, many recipients like veteran driver Johnny Klimek were happily surprised to see their efforts—and overall racing career—recognized by TDA ownership.
Here is the complete list of winners—along with some of the comments made before they made their way to the stage.
Chicago Heights U-Pull-It and Speedway Auto Parts
Frank Heckenast and Family
Route 66 Speedway
Best Appearing Figure 8 Truck
#78 Eric Schoffen
After acknowledging the “sharpest looking truck to date,” Schoffen was singled out as “one to watch in years to come!”
Rookie Driver of the Year
Andrew Sherman/ Damage, Inc.
Described as “the kid that came out of nowhere,” Sherman was cited as “part of making team 8” so successful in 2012.
Hard Luck Award
Team owner Greg Mesich was recognized for his “solid dedication to Team Demos” and giving many new drivers a shot on a Seek-N-Destroy team “that works hard to race although falling short a few times.”
Best Appearing Figure 8 Car
#64 Johnny Klimek
Klimek’s racing career dates back to the Santa Fe era and this demo veteran who “takes pride in his racing career” received kudos for his “sharp-looking” Riviera and the fact that he is “always ready to race hard and clean.”
Top 3 Points—Figure 8 Trucks
3rd Place #66 Mike Zarn
2nd Place #00 Jack Petty
1st Place #`13 Donnie Lutz/Lucky 13 Racing
As the man behind last year’s AC/DC cover band, Lutz was recognized for his efforts to “bring the party to the track” and showing that“ he’s a tough competitor who puts fans on the edge of their seat” with the speed he brings to the Figure 8 gauntlet.
Best Appearing Team
This “tough team” received honors for fielding their distinctive dark-blue cars complete with the highly recognizable Junkyard Dog logo. As a longtime fan favorite, Team 3 was also lauded for “bringing back a legacy.”
Mechanic of the Year
In a vote conducted strictly by the team owners, Ralston was recognized for being a vital cog in a demo team’s success.
Jan Gabriel Legend Award
Wayne and Mel Noble
After “much thought and consideration,” the Noble brothers were honored for their longtime dedication to Team Demos as well as introducing the demo world to a second generation of drivers. They also received well wishes on their retirement “but not from this sport.”
Most Valuable Driver
Tom “Brickman” Lewis
Orange Crush’s #63 received this highly coveted—and much talked about award—due a “hard game face that is intimidating before a round as any.” He also received high praise for his on track acumen as well as “being an epic crusher, who won’t give up until the car his dead.”
Most Feared Team
Mean Green Machine
When it came to the intimidation factor, Mean Green Machine received top honors for “being the group of the hardest fighting guys at the track.” With the slogan of “go green or go home,” Team 1 was recognized for its ability to cause other team’s “eyes to roll when they drew them in the first round.”
Most Improved Team
This first-ever award was given to Damage, Inc. for “doing the best they could in all circumstances, and were always the headache for the competition, especially when least expected.” It was also noted that Team 8 made its first final round appearance during the 2012 season.
Top Figure 8 Cars
3rd Place #82 Tom Pleckham
2nd Place #99 Mike Anderson
1st Place #68 Doug McCarty
This marks the third straight year that McCarty has been crowned the champion of Figure 8 car racing and he was lauded for “always finding a way to the front.” Known as the “President” of Figure 8 racing, McCarty was commended for “being not only a champion, but a friend to many.”
Team Demolition Winners
2nd Place (Tie) Mean Green Machine and Orange Crush
2011 and 2012 Team Demolition Champions
As any champion will tell you, it’s no easy feat to repeat. And the mere fact that owner Brian Anderson did it with two new drivers was a testament to “his leadership and dedication to make it happen.” Anderson, 2011 teammate “Speedy” Steve Volbrecht, Wally Hartung, and son Nick were all called to the stage to accept this honor. But along with Team Demo’s highest award, there was also the reminder that “it’s hard to stay in this spot and it will be even harder next year!”
With the 2013 TDA season officially underway, stay tuned for in-depth interviews with many of the winners mentioned here. Subscribe to this column for instant updates so you don’t miss a moment of the action. Story ideas and comments are encouraged and welcomed!