One of the most memorable years in the brief history of the CARS Tour came to a close with the series’ annual banquet on Saturday evening, which honored the individual achievements of several drivers and provided a preview of the upcoming 2020 season.
It was a night of celebration and reflection in the eyes of CARS Tour competition director Chris Ragle, who continues to be amazed at the amount of the growth the series has experienced in just five years, which he hopes becomes a normal trend for the foreseeable future.
“I know it seems like I say this every season, but we had a record year,” Ragle said. “We averaged 27 Late Model Stocks and 24 Supers, which were unprecedented numbers. We had a record fan count, and a record attendance at the banquet. It’s just all been so unbelievable.”
The evening’s festivities formally kicked off with the CARS Tour recognizing the non-Touring 12 drivers and teams who competed at every event in both the LMSC and SLM divisions, which included 2019 SLM champion Matt Craig, Tyler Matthews, Jared Fryar, Nolan Pope and Jimmy Mooring, who fielded the #17 in the LMSC Tour for multiple drivers.
Following the brief ceremony, the TORP Chassis Rookie of the Year Award was bestowed to 15 year-old LMSC competitor Mini Tyrrell, who concluded his inaugural full-time season in the series with one Top 5, six Top 10s and a sixth-place finish in the standings.
Tyrrell, who gave an impassioned speech that thanked everyone in the series for supporting him and his team and encouraged everyone to follow Jim Valvano’s motto to laugh, cry and think, thoroughly enjoyed competing and learning alongside many of the best Late Model drivers on the East Coast, and is looking forward to returning to the series for another full-time campaign in 2020.
“My mom told me that if I wanted to race Late Model Stocks, I would have to go up against the best of the best,” Tyrrell said. “The CARS Tour is the best series around, and it’s going to stay that way for as long as it lasts.”
Once Tyrrell concluded his speech, the CARS Tour announced that Jessica Cann and Molly Helmuth were the winners of the Most Popular Driver Award for the LMSC and SLM divisions, respectively.
Hammer Racing Engines and Long Brothers would receive the CV Engine Builder of the Year Award for their respective efforts in the SLM and LMSC divisions for the CARS Tour, while the top 3 SLM drivers and top 5 LMSC drivers in points, including series champions Matt Craig and Bobby McCarty, were recognized and brought on stage to give speeches and were presented with a variety of individual awards.
CARS Tour owner and founder Jack McNelly then took to the stage to reflect on all of the positive highlights from an eventful 2019 season that included the LMSC points battle between Bobby McCarty and Josh Berry, but he also made sure to talk about the growth of the CARS Tour after it was created following the demise of the once prestigious USAR Hooters Pro Cup Series.
“I ran the Pro Cup Series for four years and we were at the point of shutting down,” McNelly said. “I told Chris that we were either going to change our format, or I was going to quit. We were thrilled to death if we got 14 cars, but many of the sponsors we had back then are still with us now like Pro Systems and Brown & Miller. They rode this storm out with me, and I am forever grateful of that.”
The CARS Tour banquet also saw the relationship with another one of the series’ long-time supporters in Solid Rock Carriers strengthen even further, as McNelly announced that they would become the presenting sponsor of the CARS Tour on a multi-year agreement starting in 2020.
McNelly extended his gratitude towards Kirk Ipock for continuing Solid Rock Carriers’ partnership with the CARS Tour in a method that benefits everyone in the garage area, and added that the agreement will also ensure that costs for each competitor stay at an affordable and reasonable rate.
“We have raised everything,” McNelly said. “We’ve raised the purse, enhanced the Touring 12, and now we have the Super 6 program for the Supers. On top of that, we’re not raising the cost of anything. It will not cost our competitors once cent more to race in 2020 than it did in 2019.”
Other changes announced at the end of the CARS Tour banquet included a 12.5 percent purse increase in both the SLM and LMSC divisions from 2nd-28th place, as well as a free case of water or beer for every race that will be eligible to teams who are enrolled in the Touring 12 or Super 6 programs.
After Ragle concluded his speech by thanking the drivers, teams, sponsors, series officials and media members for their continued support of the CARS Tour, a brief tribute and prayer was held for LMSC tech director David “Lightning” Saunders, who passed away on Nov. 27, 2019.
With many new programs and rules having been introduced to the CARS Tour during its five-year lifespan, Ragle believes that there will be many more milestones for the series to achieve as it enters the 2020s, and is looking forward to seeing what new memories will be worth celebrating.
“The door is wide open,” Ragle said. “This series came from the death of the Pro Cup Series, and in its heyday, it was the most talked-about short track series not just in this region, but in the US. The CARS Tour has brought that atmosphere back to life.”
The Solid Rock Carriers CARS Tour will kick off a new decade of racing on March 7 when drivers from both the SLM and LMSC divisions will travel to Kenly, North Carolina to compete for a $10,000 paycheck at Southern National Motorsports Park.