The 2011 JEGS (http://www NULL.jegs NULL.com) All-stars event at Route 66 Raceway was a huge hit, featuring some of the best Sportsman action of the year. In my estimation, it was a total home run, but it took a lot of work to pull off an event of this magnitude.
The JEGS All-stars Race invites the top Sportsman racers from all classes in all NHRA divisions, plus the returning champions are the team blockers. Eighty competitors took part in this year’s race and every one earned their spot through some exceptional driving over the past 12 months. There’s a reason this race is considered such a crowning achievement: It’s so darn hard to make the cut.
I remember watching the All-stars Race for the first time at Beech Bend Raceway through the fence when I was younger, helping my brothers and thinking how cool it would be to race in the event someday. I’ve been fortunate to race in and win this race a number of times, and it’s one of the many accomplishments I am very proud of.
Our guy on the front lines, Scott “Woody” Woodruff, takes command of the logistics and his work for each year’s race literally starts as soon as the last one is completed. First, Woody analyzes and makes notes of what worked well and what we might be able to do better the next time. He works hand-in-hand with the NHRA Marketing Department. Eric Lotz from NHRA Marketing has taken great pride in the event. Eric and Woody work well together and that helps make for a better event for everyone involved.
Once the next year’s schedule comes into focus, we start to work with NHRA to devise a theme. Woody also takes care of the formation and design of the special trophies each winner receives, plus the qualifier trophies for all 80 racers, all of the printed items surrounding the JEGS All-stars Race and anything else that has to do with the event.
To make the event extra special, we always put together a gift box for each competitor that includes JEGS All-stars hats and other goodies from JEGS. I’ve been told more than once that having the JEGS All-stars participant stickers on their car and race hauler means more to some folks than anything else they’ve ever accomplished in the sport. With that in mind, it’s vitally important we keep this event as prestigious as it can be by building on the past success. Exceeding people’s expectations and giving the racers the best stage possible on which to perform. We are at a great advantage as a company because we also are racers and know what racers expect.
The weekend kicks off with a big BBQ on Friday night. As we say, “it’s the only time that everyone is tied for first in the points.” There’s plenty of good-natured ribbing and bragging going on. It’s a fun night and it certainly builds up the various rivalries.
This year we used the BBQ to salute two of the best drag racers to have ever donned helmets–Frank Manzo and David Rampy–for their incredible achievements, both in previous All-stars races and over the course of their illustrious careers. Rampy has 75 national event wins, and Manzo has 200 career victories. We all thought that using the BBQ as a venue to honor these accomplishments was the right thing to do.
Our great friend Leo Taugher, the Division 3 announcer, is the official emcee of the event, and he did a great job of telling the stories of these two icons. He also introduced this year’s teams and made sure to give everyone their due.
On Saturday, before the racers strapped into their cars, we had a driver introduction ceremony. Woody and the NHRA staff lined everyone up backstage and made sure to thank each racer personally for taking part in the event. Then they came through the pre-race doors and onto the main stage where NHRA President Tom Compton and I congratulated them for making the show.
This year, NHRA also had a track walk with several pro drivers who were past qualifiers at this event. Guys like Spencer Massey, Morgan Lucas, Jack Beckman and Shawn Langdon all took part and had a chance to address the crowd about how special this race was for them. It was a very cool moment.
After all of the pictures were taken and speeches made, it was time to get down to business. The action came fast and furious, and I headed straight for the starting line. I marveled at how close every race seemed to be. It’s awesome to watch the racers cheering on their teammates and to see the emotions as the day moves along.
For the final round I joined Dave Reiff and Bob Frey in the ESPN2 TV booth. It was so cool to see the racers getting out of their cars after winning arguably the biggest race of their career. Woody always says that one of the most gratifying things he does is handing a first-time All-stars winner a trophy with their name already on the plate. It’s a great touch, and it shows the racers how much JEGS cares.
The winner’s circle also was lots of fun, and we made the racers feel special with an All-stars backdrop for the event. We even sized each class winner for their custom champion’s jackets onsite.
As the party raged on into the night, Woody was already at work taking notes about what he wants to do next year to make this event even better. For as long as we’re a part of this event, it will remain the best we can offer.