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Briscoe, Cunningham take center stage at 64th championship awards banquet

INDIANAPOLIS (Dec. 10, 2016) - ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards champion Chase Briscoe took home the lion's share of cash and awards Saturday night during the ARCA national championship awards ceremony at the Indiana Convention Center in downtown Indianapolis.

Master of Ceremonies Jim Tretow opened the show with an introduction to ARCA President Ron Drager who presented Briscoe and Cunningham Motorsports championship car owner Briggs Cunningham with the traditional championship gold rings and a signed, congratulatory letter from the Governor of Indiana and Vice President-elect Mike Pence.

Menards Promotions Manager and Spokesperson Jeff Abbott capped the evening off with the official presentation of championship trophies and 'big checks' in which he handed off to Briscoe and his Cunningham Motorsports team at center stage.

"I've said it a million times, but I'm gonna say it again...I am truly blessed," said Briscoe.

"This has been the greatest year of my life. None of this would have been possible without this great Cunningham Motorsports team...Briggs Cunningham, Kerry Scherer, Chad Bryant and all the guys at the shop. You're only as good as the race car you're in and my guys put me in the best every week."

The Mitchell, Indiana driver also cleaned up in the Special Award categories, receiving top honors for the Short Track Challenge championship presented by Protect Plus, the Menards Pole Award presented by Ansell, the Bill France 4 Crown championship and the Valvoline Lap Leader of the Year honors. It didn't stop there as the bonus checks kept piling up compliments of Herr's, CGS Imaging, Racing Electronics, University of Northwestern Ohio, General Tire, JRi Shocks, Holley Performance Group, Ford and Sunoco.

"I also want to thank Paul Andrews...for you to take extra time with me meant the world to me. I'm so blessed to meet all the great people from Big Tine...they're a great corporation. I want to thank my family...Grandpa Briscoe, my mom and sister...they're my biggest fans...and my dad who's always been there for me. We butt heads but he's right most of the time. To all my family here tonight...thanks for all your help and prayers. And to my hometown of Mitchell,'ve been the reasons ARCA's had a gain in viewership. I'm honored to be your champion. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year."

Briscoe's crew chief Chad Bryant also received the Cometic Crew Chief of the Year award during the championship portion of the celebration, his third of his career.

Despite the abundance of well-earned honors that went to Briscoe and Cunningham Motorsports, there were still plenty of accolades to go around for several others, including Venturini Motorsports, which earned three spots inside the top-10 car owner points, including the second and third positions.

"First of all, congratulations to Cunningham Motorsports," said Billy Venturini. "We all fight the same fight...we're all in this together. I'm proud of the effort Chase put in. I want to thank my parents...they're the best business managers I've ever worked for. I want to thank Dalton Sargeant for the great job he did all year...all my drivers...Kenny Schrader...he's the absolute best to work with, by far the lowest maintenance driver I've ever seen in my life. To Tommy Hessert...he's been a fixture in this Series for years. He's a great driver from a great family. Thanks to ARCA for giving us a really cool way to make a living."

Venturini's 55 car also earned the General Tire Superspeedway Challenge championship with Dalton Sargeant at the helm most of the way. Sargeant also officially received the SCOTT Rookie of the Year award.

"We had a great year in the Venturini Motorsports 55 Toyota," said Sargeant.

"Thanks to my crew chief and car owner Billy Venturini for the great opportunity. Special thanks to SCOTT for sponsoring ARCA's Rookie of the Year award...I'm honored to be this year's Rookie of the Year and join the amazing list of drivers who have earned this honor before me. ARCA is a racing series I now call home and I'm looking forward to going after the Series championship in 2017."

Longtime ARCA veteran driver Tom Hessert, who drove Venturini's No. 25 flagship machine, had his best night on stage, earning a career-best second-place in championship driver standings.

"I absolutely love racing in the ARCA Series," said Hessert.

"2016 was an interesting year for us. We got off to a slow start but it got better as the year went on. Thanks to Billy, Cathy, Bill and everyone at Venturini Motorsports. You guys always make me feel like part of the family. I've been in this Series for a long time and I've loved every race. I'm proud of Chase and the Cunningham Motorsport guys were the class of the field all year."

The back-end of the banquet featured a top-10 countdown at center stage, from 10th to first, among championship car owners and drivers. Among the top-10 car owners honored were Andy Hillenburg, Don Fike, Bill Venturini, Kerry Scherer, Mason Mitchell, Ken Schrader, Kevin Williams, Cathy Venturini and Billy Venturini.

Top-10 drivers honored, each with their own big-screen video presentation, included Mike Basham (10th), AJ Fike (ninth), Dalton Sargeant (eighth), Kyle Weatherman (seventh), Brad Smith (sixth), Thomas Praytor (fifth), Josh Williams (fourth), Matt Kurzejewski (third), Tom Hessert (second) and finally champion Chase Briscoe.

Drivers who finished 20 through 11 were also recognized with on-stage presentations. Among 20-11, Mike Senica (20th), Wayne Peterson (18th), Ed Pompa (14th), Will Kimmel (13th) and Con Nicolopoulos (11th) were present to accept their honors.

The spotlight also shined down on several Special Award recipients including Salem Speedway, which received ARCA's highest Special Award honor, the Marcum Award. Track proprietors Owen and Beverly Thompson and General Managers Richard and Robin Deaton were on hand to receive the award. Salem and ARCA together celebrated the Series' 100th race at Salem in 2016.

"This award is just an amazing honor," said Owen Thompson.

"It's a great opportunity to be able to work with an organization like ARCA. To be there at the finish line when we hit that 100th mark was an incredible feeling. We'd like to see ARCA come back for another 100 races."

Other Special Award honorees included Brad Smith as the General Tire Spirit Award recipient. Smith, who battled back from severe injuries suffered at Talladega in 2015 to finish a career-best sixth in championship driver points in '16, resonated in a big way with the audience and was met with great applause.

"Thanks to General Tire," said Smith. "They have certainly stepped up, on and off the track. I've been coming to this banquet for 27, 28 years and I'm honored and humbled by this award. 2016 was a comeback year for us, and it wouldn't have been possible unless James (Hylton) put me back in his car. Finally, I want to thank my employer Chrysler which allows me to work with Big Brothers Big Sisters. It's nice to be able to give back to the community."

Ford Manufacturer Representative Jeff Clark accepted, on behalf of Ford, the Manufacturer's championship,

With the championship awards ceremony in the rear view mirror, the Series, headed into its 65th consecutive season, turns its focus toward the 2017 season and the next order of business - open testing at Daytona Int'l Speedway (Jan. 13-14-15). The 54th annual Lucas Oil 200 Driven by General Tire follows Feb. 18.

Don Radebaugh

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