Welcome to the fourth 2011 edition of the Speed51.com Short Track Power rankings. Many series and tracks have awarded championships to some drivers that have come on strong in recent weeks or have been strong all season long. Other drivers have just been out to win some of the late-season, big-money shows out there.
But who has carried the most clout in the first 10 months of 2011? Some drivers that came out of the box hot this season and were at the top of our Tower of Power in our first few editions of Short Track Power have faded, while some not even on the radar screen in the Spring and Summer have come on strong in the late-season months. Some drivers have been tough to beat all year long thus far.
A panel of industry experts from all four corners of the country and Canada have voted on their choices for the first half Short Track Power poll. Drivers in all forms of short track racing, including Late Models, NASCAR Touring Series, Pro Cup, Dirt Late Models and Modifieds, NASCAR Whelen All-American Series or ASA Member Track program and everything in between were eligible. Drivers who have competed in at least half of a NASCAR National Series schedule this season were not eligible.
The rankings shown below were decided after polling our panel of experts in the industry. Rankings were based on overall number of votes, with more weight given to each vote the higher the vote. Example, a #1 vote would be more valuable than a #2, #3, etc.
Here are our power rankings entering the stretch run of the 2011 short track racing season:
1) BUBBA POLLARD - Super/Pro Late Models
If you have a double-digit car number that equals your season's win total, it’s safe to say you’ve had a good year. Bubba Pollard’s Ronnie Sanders Racing team has accomplished that feat so far in 2011 with 18 wins to match the longtime number of the legendary Sanders’ racecars that Pollard now drives. Between Super Late Models and Pro Late Models in the Deep South, Pollard has been nearly unbeatable. In fact, at Mobile International Speedway for a while earlier this summer, he was unbeatable. Pollard rolled off seven straight wins at the Alabama half-mile between Pro and Super Late Models. He swept all five Miller Lite Series races at Mobile and won twice during the Five Flags Speedway (FL) Blizzard Series en route to the Gulf Coast Championship. He has even put an emphasis on running outside of the Deep South this year, running several PASS South and CRA events, winning the PASS show at Gresham Motorsports Park (GA) over the summer. All that description for Pollard could’ve been skipped and we could’ve just put this one comment from a voter: “Eighteen late model wins so far this season in the toughest region in the country, need I say more?”
2) JOHNNY CLARK – PASS North
Most recent seasons in PASS North have a heated battle for the championship throughout the season. Usually it includes Johnny Clark, Ben Rowe and a couple other well-known drivers vying for the title. Not this year. Johnny Clark was the man in PASS North land. He won half of the series’ races this season (seven out of 14) en route to his sixth PASS North title and fourth in a row. He never, in those 14 races, finished outside of the top-10. As one voter in this edition of the Power Poll noted, “We put a lot of emphasis on the feats of Mike Rowe and some other New England Late Model drivers for all that they’ve done over the years. Down the road, I hope Johnny Clark gets the kind of recognition for what he’s doing that those legends get. What we’re experiencing with Clark is almost unheard of.”
3) TY DILLON - ARCA
It’s not fair to say Ty Dillon has stunk up the show in the ARCA Racing Series in 2011. But, as one voter said, “Dillon has made ARCA a snoozer this season with how dominant he is.” Seven wins in 19 starts have Dillon a runaway championship winner. Yes, he has the bloodlines as Mike Dillon’s son and Richard Childress’ grandson. Yes, he has RCR equipment and the best of everything in terms of parts, cars and people. But, despite what the nay-sayers may say, it definitely does take a certain level of talent to put all those things together in a diverse ARCA schedule to make it all click. “The kid doesn’t get the credit he deserves,” another voted said. But, on the flipside, another voted noted, “I would’ve voted him higher, but the way he drove through Brennan Poole in the series finale at Toledo knocked him down a few notches.”
4) BORIS JURKOVIC – CRA Super Late Models
Boris Jurkovic isn’t the kind of driver who will be at a track every single week with his #53 Super Late Model. He picks and chooses his races. The big shows he picked to run at the end of the season were pretty darn good ones in his book. He was poised for victory in the CRA Super Series race at Lucas Oil Raceway (IN) before running out of gas with just a few laps to go. When most drivers would’ve been dejected or mad over the heartbreak, Jurkovic rebounded in the best way possible – victory. It wasn’t just any victory, it was the prestigious Winchester 400. “Even though he doesn’t race much, his new car that he got from Kyle Busch Motorsports has breathed new life into the big guy Boris,” said a voter.
5) PHILIP MORRIS – NASCAR Whelen All-American Series
The 2011 NASCAR Whelen All-American Series National Championship was perhaps one of the most talked-about stories of the season. Between the dominance of Philip Morris at South Boston, Lee Pulliam’s equally dominant year at Motor Mile (VA) and Keith Rocco’s three-track win spree in Connecticut, the title came down to whoever won the most full-field races. Philip Morris was that driver this year. The top-three in points traded some verbal shots at one another down the stretch, but Morris did his best talking on the track, winning 21 races at SoBo en route to the title. He only didn’t win three races all year there, and in all three races he broke. “Morris may not be the most well-liked guy in Late Model racing, but he’s got the whole Late Model world looking up to him,” said a voter. Morris kept up his hot-streak even after the end of the NASCAR point season, winning the South Boston season finale in another highly-talked-about battle with Pulliam.
6) AUGIE GRILL – Super/Pro Late Models, Outlaw Super Late Models
Augie Grill did what Augie Grill does in the Deep South. He won his share of Pro and Super Late Model races. Pretty much all the races in the deep South came down to either Grill or Pollard, with Pollard getting more wins, but it was Grill that clinched his first-ever Blizzard Series title at Five Flags Speedway. He showed his power down there, but it wasn’t until he traveled North that he really flexed his muscle. “Winning usual races in the south was good, but his Glass City 200 win in an Outlaw Super Late Model hundreds of miles from home shows his talent,” said one voter. Grill hopped into the Outlaw car of one of his chassis company’s customers Jerry Artuso and spanked the field in one of the most prestigious Outlaw shows in the country.
7) GEORGE BRUNNHOELZL, III - NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour
Fourteen NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour races in 2011. Fourteen top-10 finishes for George Brunnhoelzl, III. That kind of consistency, highlighted by five wins, earned GBIII the 2011 NWSMT Championship. Heck, he had the title sewn up just by starting the final race at Caraway (NC). It was Brunnhoelzl’s second-straight title as a NWSMT regular, winning the crown in 2009 before running 2010 in the Northeastern-based NASCAR Modified Tour. He re-focused his racing efforts down South with the Howard Harvey-owned Ideal Racing team and picked up right where he left off. His five wins this season tied his own record for most wins in a season from 2009. “George returned to the NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified tour after a stint in the Modified tour with a B-level team and came back in a big way winning almost a third of the season’s races,” said a voter.
8) BRIAN HOAR - ACT Late Models
Brian Hoar had won seven American-Canadian Tour championsihps before the 2011 season, including the past two in a row. But even he would likely admit that this season, his eighth title and third-straight, was something special. Hoar clicked over the quarter-million-dollar mark in career ACT earnings with a record-tying five wins and only one finish outside the top-10 this season. "Hoar's not flashy and he doesn't get the headlines because he's not young, doesn't have a big mouth or a big head, so it's easy to overlook how good he's been - but it shouldn't be. The guy just wins," said a voter. Hoar now has 33 career ACT wins, but added to his big-race win list by winning the Milk Bowl at Thunder Road (VT), a segment of the Chaudiere Showdown in Quebec, the ACT All-Star Showdown at New Hampshire and an ACT race during Speedweeks at New Smyrna (FL).
9 - TIE) ERIK JONES - JEGS/CRA All-Stars Tour
The 2011 JEGS/CRA All-Stars Tour season started off slow for Erik Jones. The 14-year-old got off to a sluggish start in the new crate-engine Late Model tour, but as the weather warmed up, so did he and his Paragon Racing team. Jones rallied off two wins in a three-race span at Owosso (MI) and Rockford (IL) to put himself in title contention mid-Summer and he never looked back. “Making the comeback he made after the halfway point of the season to become the JEGS CRA All-Stars Tour Champion is impressive to say the least,” said one voter. Jones also showed a presence of mind to travel outside of the JEGS tour, racing earlier this season at SPEEDFEST at Lanier with plans to run during Snowball Derby weekend in December at Five Flags.
9 - TIE) DERRICK GRIFFIN - CRA Super Series
Rookies aren’t supposed to win a season-long championship. Especially rookies battling accomplished drivers that have been driving racecars longer than the rookies have been alive. Apparently Derrick Griffin never got that memo. The 20-year-old captured the 2011 CRA Super Series title despite having never won a race. “Not winning a race doesn’t matter to me,” said one voter. “Him being in contention and winning a title over guys like Scott Hantz is what shows power in my book.” Perhaps his biggest “Power” move came in the series’ finale at Winchester Speedway in the historic Winchester 400. With the title on the line, Griffin ran up front and was a major factor in the win down the stretch. He eventually settled for second, but showed that a season’s worth of consistency can win a championship.
10 - TIE) GREG PURSLEY - NASCAR K&N Pro Series West
Much has been made about the youth movement in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East and West. Deservedly so, too, as many young kids have won races and even the K&N East title. But out West, it was the old man that put the whoopin’ on the whippersnappers. In his 40’s, Greg Pursley is no spring chicken, but he can get the job done in the car. He won half of the series’ races this season and doesn’t even need to run the season finale next month at Phoenix; the title is already his. “The only DNF this year came from blown motor at Portland. Proving you don’t need some young hot-shot kid in the car to get the job done,” said one voter.
10 - TIE) LEE PULLIAM - NASCAR Whelen All-American Series
Lee Pulliam won 16 races at Motor Mile Speedway in Virginia. He kept pace with Philip Morris and Keith Rocco for the 2011 NASCAR Whelen All-American Series National Championship. But, as one voter said, "It wasn't until he won at Martinsville that people really saw what this kid was all about." An aggressive bump-and-run on Matt McCall put Pulliam into victory lane in Late Model Stock Car racing's biggest event, the Virginia is for Racing Lovers 300 at Martinsville. Pulliam was the talk of the short track world after the winning move in the final corner of the $25,000-to-win race. Then, he was even more buzz after he smashed into Philip Morris' car after the final race at South Boston out of frustration for earlier contact. "The incident at SoBo and the indefinite suspension from NASCAR hurt his stock, but the kid could be the future of Late Model racing if he keeps his head on straight," said one voter.
11) Max Gresham (NKNPSE) - K&N East Champion with two wins and 11 top-10's in 12 starts.
12) Ron Silk (NASCAR Whelen Mods) – Title contender all year persevered at Thompson for the crown.
13) Scott Bloomquist (Dirt LM) – Fifteen Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt wins, three WoO LM wins.
14) Darrell Wallace (NKNPSE) – Finished season with a shot at the title and a victory at Dover
15) Andy Seuss (NWSMT) – Picked up three wins in second half of season once part of Ideal Racing
16) Keith Rocco (NWAAS) – Three-track SK Modified dominance in NWAAS title defense season
18) Travis Braden (NWAAS) – Turned heads as the NWAAS RoY; Won Winchester JEGS finale
18) Brett Hearn (DIRT Mods) – Picked up 800th career win in August. Still getting it done.
19) Jason Meyers (WoO) – World of Outlaws Sprint Car Championship leader with nine wins.
20) Chase Elliott (PLM/SLM/NKNPSE) - Winner of JEGS race, Blizzard race & improving in K&N East
ALSO RECEIVING VOTES
Bobby Santos III
Joey Polewarczyk, Jr.
Wayne Helliwell, Jr.