ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards champions Austin Theriault and Ken Schrader 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 Theriault and champion car owner Schrader with the traditional championship gold rings and a signed, congratulatory letter from the Governor of Maine, Paul R. LePage.
Menards Merchant Coach Jim Johnson capped the evening off with the official presentation of championship trophies and 'big checks' in which he handed off to Theriault and Schrader at center stage.
"It's a great honor to be the ARCA champion," said Theriault, the first ARCA champion from Maine.
"A championship is about overcoming the odds and persevering. To sum it up, it's the people around you that are key. I had the best car owner, the best crew and the best crew chief. My family is here tonight. They made me the person I am today. I don't want to think about where I'd be without them. Special thanks to ARCA, Menards, General Tire, Sioux Chief and all the sponsors who make this one of the premier series in the country. This is my first time racing for a championship in a national series…it's truly an honor."
Theriault also reflected on his career that was nearly over before it got off the ground.
"Two years ago…December…I was sitting on the couch with a broken back staring at the walls, asking myself, 'is this the end for me?' Then I thought I'd make one last try…PRI, 2016. I got myself dressed like I was looking for an opportunity…came by myself. I just happened to bump into Kenny and Ann (Schrader). What's the chance of bumping into the person who can take you to the next level? I couldn't have asked for a better family in this sport. Everybody has a ton of respect for Ken Schrader, and so do I. I can't thank him enough for taking a chance on me.
"What I enjoyed most was seeing everyone growing as a team. Last but not least, we excelled as a team because we had a solid foundation. And the rock that held Ken Schrader Racing together was Donnie Richeson (crew chief)…the way he layed his heart out there. It's been a great honor working with him this year. He'll always be a part of my family."
Richeson, who received the Cometic Crew Chief of the Year award, spoke before both Theriault and Schrader.
"I can't thank Kenny and Ann Schrader enough," said an emotional Richeson. "Kenny's more of a brother to me…family. I've been at this sport for years, decades, on both sides, and I wanted more than anything, before I die, to win a championship. I've never won a championship. That's what Austin brought to this team…a championship. He's a champion on the track and a champion off the track. He'll always be a part of my family. When Kenny said, 'we got our guy' he knew what he was talking about."
It was the second ARCA car owner championship for Schrader, who earned the title in 1999 with Bill Baird driving.
"What an honor to be here...you raised a hell of a young man," said Schrader in reference to Theriault's parents. "You (Austin Theriault) made a lot of us happy. You're a champion and you deserve everything up here tonight. I know our friendship is going to last forever."
After thanking his driver, Schrader turned his attention to his crew chief Richeson.
"Our company is called Ken Schrader Racing, but it should be called Richeson-Schrader Racing. Since he came to work for us in 2003, he's been more like a brother, not just the best crew chief. I want to thank ARCA and (President) Ron Drager and all the officials for continuing to grow this sport. I want to thank all the track operators, Menards and General Tire for being there, and to all our sponsors. Federated Auto Parts just signed for their 19th year with us. You hear a lot about ARCA being a family…it really is, they all help one another out. This racing is a passion, an addiction, a disease. I want to thank all the ARCA teams that help us, especially Cunningham (Motorsports). They've helped us out a lot. They've been here for 20-plus years…a phenomenal run."
Theriault also cleaned up in the Special Award categories, receiving top honors for the Sioux Chief Short Track Challenge championship, the General Tire Superspeedway title and the Bill France 4 Crown championship. It didn't stop there as the bonus checks kept piling up compliments of Herr's, Protect Plus, Motorsports Safety Group, Racing Electronics, General Tire, JRi Shocks, Holley Performance Group and Sunoco.
Riley Herbst officially picked up the SCOTT Rookie of the Year title while his car owner Coy Gibbs got the University of Northwestern Ohio year-end bonus. MDM Motorsports won the General Tire Pole award. Dalton Sargeant earned the Valvoline Lap Leader of the 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 Don Fike, Bret Holmes, Kevin Cywinski, Cathy and Bill Venturini, Gibbs, Mason Mitchell, Kerry Scherer, Briggs Cunningham and Schrader.
Top-10 drivers honored, each with their own big-screen video presentation, included Eric Caudell (10th), Zane Smith (9th), Brad Smith (8th), Thomas Praytor (7th), Bret Holmes (6th), Riley Herbst (5th), Gus Dean (4th), Shane Lee (3rd), Dalton Sargeant (2nd) and finally champion Austin Theriault.
Drivers who finished 20 through 11 were also recognized with on-stage presentations. Among 20-11, Mark Meunier (17th), Christian Eckes (16th), Mike Basham (13th), AJ Fike (12th) and Con Nicolopoulos (11th) were present to accept their honors.
The spotlight also shined down on more Special Award recipients including longtime car owner Wayne Hixson, who received ARCA's highest Special Award honor, the Marcum Award. Other Special Award honorees included Bill Kimmel as the General Tire Spirit Award recipient. Kimmel's son Will accepted on his father's behalf.
Motorsports Marketing Manager for Toyota Motor North America Mike Childs accepted, on behalf of Toyota, the Manufacturer's championship.
With the championship awards ceremony in the rear view mirror, the Series, headed into its 66th consecutive season, turns its focus toward the 2018 season and the next order of business - open testing at Daytona Int'l Speedway (Jan. 12-13). The 55th annual Lucas Oil 200 Driven by General Tire follows Feb. 10.