The Eastern Motorsport Press Association (EMPA) held its 49e convention at the Genetti Best Western Hotel & Convention Center in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., the weekend of January 14-16.
The three-day affair is highlighted by a Saturday night awards dinner featuring entrants to the prestigious EMPA Hall of Fame, as well as a number of other special honors awarded for membership in the organization.
This year’s class of Hall of Fame recipients included Howie Commander, Bob Frey, Van May, Don Kreitz Jr. and Bob Rossell.
At 77, Commander is just as energetic as when he started promoting the Lebanon Valley Speedway 60 years ago. He has made the speedway’s success seem easy, by surrounding himself with quality officials and regularly improving the track experience for fans and teams. His commitment, dedication and willingness to use his own resources for the benefit of racers, fans and the sport in general have never wavered.
Frey served as an announcer for the National Hot Rod Association for 46 years (1966-2012), during which time he brought with him a new level of excitement and knowledge that has served the sport and business of Drag Racing very well.
On the advice of older brother Dub, May moved from his home in El Paso, Texas to Pennsylvania 50 years ago to pursue a career as a full-time Sprint Car racer. His skill behind the wheel is highly regarded. Many of his track performances are legendary, such as the time he balanced a Sprinter on his right front and rear wheels, as the left front had come loose, to qualify for a position.
Second generation racer, Kreitz, Jr., went his own way as a driver/owner, earning 200 Sprint Car wins, including the 1986 $50,000 Kings Royal at Eldora Speedway. His list of achievements is impressive, including track titles at Selinsgrove (’85 and ’86), Williams Grove (’90, ’91, ’92, ’93), Susquehanna (’92 and ’03) and the title of Central PA Overall in 1992 . He racked up victories in eight states, including 10 World of Outlaw A-Mains, two WoO Preliminary features, and eight All Star Circuit of Champions main events.
Rossell was a pioneer of racing driver and stock car builder. He started his successful career in 1958 with just a Chevy and a motorcycle. A few years later, he would top the list of the big names in the class. Talented on both dirt and tarmac, he was a member of the All Star League from 1967-71, with nearly 50 wins, including two Wall Stadium 300 lappers as his biggest wins.
2021 NASCAR Cup champion Kyle Larson was named the Al Holbert Memorial National Driver for the Year for the second consecutive time.
For a record fifth time, Stewart Friesen has taken credit among the dirt stars with Richie Evans Memorial Northeast Dirt Driver of the Year. Matt Hirschman was named Evans Northeast Asphalt Driver of the Year for the third time in a row.
Other top honors included the Jim Hunter Memorial EMPA Writer of the Year, which went to Herb Anastor and Pete MacDonald, who was named Ace Lane Sr., Memorial Photographer of the Year.
Other special photo awards included the Janice Brice Memorial and the Howie and Mary Hodge Awards that went to MacDonald and Duane Canfield respectively.
The John Blewett III Young Gun Award, presented by Sunoco Race Fuels, went to Briggs Danner. Andy Jankowiak was named Chris Economaki Memorial News Maker of the Year. Brett Deyo and his Short Track Super Series won the EMPA Promotional Effort for the Year for the second time in the past three years. Legendary car owner Ken Brenn Sr., was named as the Junie Dunleavy Memorial Spirit of the Sport Award. The Ernie and Marilyn Saxton EMPA Service Appreciation award was presented to Joe Kaminski.
Pocono Raceway, Brice’s NAPA Auto Parts and DirtTrackDigest.TV accordingly sponsored the ever-competitive competitions for writers, photographers and videographers.
The World Racing Group Jerry Reigle Memorial Award, presented each year to an individual in Sprint Car Racing who best illustrates what the late Reigle stood for, was awarded to a very humble Steve Post.
Friday night of the convention, a Racers Salute was staged with a number of regional and regional drivers in attendance for media interviews and networking.
Press conferences took place on Saturday morning with several racetracks and racing groups speaking on behalf of each of their upcoming 2022 seasons. At the same time, Brice’s NAPA Auto Parts Photo Contest took place.
Scranton Times sportswriter Scott Walsh was the keynote speaker and then joined Karl Fredrickson of Speedway Illustrated and Bob Frey for a forum discussion about the media and where it stands in 2022.
Founded in 1969, EMPA is an organization of professional writers, broadcasters, announcers, videographers, photographers and PR people working in motorsports and united in representing motor racing in the most competent way.