Story By: Sol Tucker
Photos By: Matt Cullom
Another year in the books for the NASCAR teams in all three series all complete with the Annual Awards and Ceremonies. While there were many highlights from the season for all to see, it was all about the season Kyle Larson had with Team Hendrick.
“The numbers our champion put up this year were astounding,” NASCAR President Steve Phelps said, comparing the 29-year-old Californian Larson to former legendary champions from Richard Petty and David Pearson to Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson. “This was his first [championship], but I’m sure it won’t be his last.”
After taking the stage, Larson promised not to get too emotional, but the gratefulness was evident in his voice and on his face. He thanked wife Katelyn, team owner Rick Hendrick and team executive, former four-time champion and NASCAR Hall of Famer Jeff Gordon, recalling how he dressed up like Gordon for his first day of kindergarten and had always considered him his racing idol.
I am humbled to be standing up here in front of many of my heroes, friends and family tonight. As many of you know, my journey over the last year and a half to get to this stage hasn’t been easy,” Larson said, before thanking his “best friend and wife Katelyn”
He continued, “I didn’t know at the moment but these hard times made me a better person and made us a stronger family. I’m lucky to spend this life with you Katelyn even though I’m not sure how I feel about you stealing the thunder in Victory Lane, shot-gunning your beers.”
Another annual award recognized during the main banquet is the prestigious Betty Jane France Humanitarian Award. This year it went to Jeff Harmon, of Louisville, Kentucky – a longtime volunteer with Down Syndrome Louisville.
Harmon, who has a 19-year-old son, Justin, with Down Syndrome, has worked with the organization for almost two decades and was extremely grateful for the award, mindful of the impact it will have. It started with only a handful of volunteers and now Harmon said the organization now serves more than 1,200 kids and families.
“It’s a huge benefit, to get $100,000 for one organization,” Harmon said. “It really helps out. We’re going to use to use the money to spread out to help more people in the state and to the counties that can’t come to the city of Louisville. There’s a lot of rural counties in Kentucky so we’re going to reach out and try to expand our reach.”
Among the other big awards noted, the late broadcaster Bob Jenkins won the National Motorsports Press Association (NMPA) Myers Brothers Award. And longtime Goodyear executive, Stu Grant was given the Buddy Shuman Award.
So, until 2022 for NASCAR, that’s a wrap for the 2021 season. See you next season at Daytona was the message from quite a few of the drivers leaving the event.