It was a night to celebrate as Las Vegas Motor Speedway hosted its annual Bullring Awards Banquet at Sam's Town on Saturday.
Each of the 11 class champions for 2015 were recognized at the special ceremony, with nearly 300 people gathering at the Boyd Gaming property to enjoy an evening of camaraderie, laughs, food and fun. In addition to the season champions, the short track's rookies of the year and special award winners were honored on a night that included a congratulatory video from NASCAR, a retirement announcement and a seemingly endless array of raffle prizes.
Scott Gafforini (NASCAR Super Late Models), Jason Kiser (NASCAR Super Stocks), Aaron McMorran (NASCAR Bombers), Jason Irwin (NASCAR Grand American Modifieds), Peyton Saxton (USLCI Legends-Pro), Devin Lane (USLCI Legends-Semi-Pro), Michael Todd Glazier (USLCI Legends-Masters), Cameron Morga (USLCI Legends-Young Lions), Ian Anderson (USLCI Thunder Cars), R.J. Smotherman (USLCI O'Hanley's Bandolero Bandits) and Kyle Jacks (USLCI Bandolero Outlaws) received their championship trophies and made speeches as their families and friends looked on with adoration.
"It's all about family," said Gafforini, The Bullring's all-time winningest driver who won his record sixth track championship this season. "Without them and everybody else who supports me, none of this would be possible. Thanks again for all of the memories."
The night included a special video of congratulations from NASCAR's Bill France Jr. and a number of NASCAR vice presidents, 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Champion Kyle Busch and NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers Ryan Newman and Jamie McMurray.
"I didn't even know if I was going to race full-time this season because money was tight and I was having a lot of problems trying to secure a job," said Kiser, who has won the last two Super Stocks titles. "It's been a hell of a year, and I'm not sure what I'm going to do next year. We just need to put some money away this winter and make it happen."
Bullring veteran and five-time track champion Phil Goodwin confirmed he is retiring from competition at the 3/8-mile paved oval, saying he sold his car to Tom Pfundstein after the season ended. Track personnel presented Goodwin, the winner of 55 Bullring features, with a special painted and autographed fire extinguisher as a retirement gift.
"Thanks to everybody for everything," Goodwin said. "It's bittersweet."
McMorran thanked family while accepting his second career Bullring season championship award.
"I've got to thank my wife for putting up with me, my parents and everyone who supports me in everything I do," McMorran said before asking Goodwin to stand up and be recognized. "I grew up watching (Phil) and grew up watching him, and I appreciate everything he's done for the sport."
Irwin was excited to take home his second consecutive Grand American Modifieds championship trophy.
"It feels good to be standing up here, and I wouldn't be standing up here if it wasn't for Chris Bray and the entire Bray family for putting the best car possible under me," he said. "I need to thank my dad for not only this racing season, but for every race I've ever been to. He's always had my back, has taught me everything I know today and has made me who I am today."
Saxton, who finished second nationally in the USLCI Legends points standings, thanked his parents, among others, during his acceptance speech.
"I just want to thank everybody who made racing possible this year," Saxton said. "I want to dedicate this season to my parents. These last two years have really opened my eyes to what it's like running a business, and I truly appreciate all of the hard work and lessons my parents have taught me."
Lane was honored to be able to join the other champions on stage.
"First, I'd like to say congratulations to the other racers for their accomplishments," said Lane, who thanked his family and Dustin Ash in his remarks. "This season was a fun and tough one for me, and I learned a ton of new stuff that made me faster and smoother. Thank you dad for all you do, you're the man."
For Glazier, the 2015 season was a true test that ended on a high note.
"This was the weirdest, unluckiest, crashy-est, most physically painful and expensive season of my short racing career," said Glazier, a three-time track champion. "I wanted to quit more than once, and maybe in my mind I even thought I had quit. But, in my heart of hearts, I couldn't quit, and thanks to the support of my girlfriend, T.J., and my whole racing family, I couldn't quit.
"This championship was more about not giving up when giving up would have been easier."
Anderson was thrilled to pick up his trophy, but said his future plans will be different.
"This was my last year racing Thunder roadsters and my last year racing full-time since I'm going to be going to college and working," he said. "It has been a pleasure racing in the Thunder roadsters division. In three years of racing, I never had serious contact with any other drivers, which is an achievement in and of itself because, at the end of the day, the most important thing is that the cars go back in the trailers."
Jacks also thanked family and friends and praised his car.
"I'm thrilled to be up on stage with the honor of a championship," Jacks said. "The racing season was great, as the car was on rails all year and was consistently running fast times. I'm thankful for the opportunity to have driven an awesome car all year long."
Smotherman kicked off the evening's awards with a poised and thoughtful speech.
"I would especially like to thank my dad, who got me started in racing and did all of the work on my car," he said before naming nearly a dozen people who helped his family during the racing season. "I had a lot of fun this year, so thanks everyone, and let's go road-course racing."
The UNOH Youth Achievement Award went to 15-year-old Chris Trickle, who won two NASCAR Super Late Models races this season, while the Sportsmanship Award was given to veteran Dennis Rock Jr., who provided Gafforini with a spare motor for the season-ending race despite being locked in a points battle with him for the 2015 crown. The 2015 rookies of the year were: Matthew Cunningham, Mark Anderson, Caden Carlin, Ricky De LeRee, Vinny Raucci Jr., Court Connell, Ryan Vargas and David Brandon.
The 2016 Bullring season will begin March 17-20 with the U.S. Legends Spring Nationals. The complete 2016 schedule will be announced in the near future.