Lazier Hemelgarn Collect 1 Million
November 13, 2000 | 8:35 A.M. EST
Buddy Lazier’s season-long drive for the Indy Racing Northern Light Series title paid off Saturday night when Lazier and car owner Ron Hemelgarn picked up the Northern Light Cup and the $1 million dollar bonus for winning the title.
The driver-car owner duo was honored at the IRNLS Awards Ceremony in Indianapolis.
"Championships are hard to come by," said Lazier, who won his first title this year in his fifth season with Hemelgarn Racing. "We know that. I've been blessed with an awesome team.
"I want to particularly thank the Hulman-George family. I struggled for so many years. This is the first time in history we've had oval racing this close."
For Hemelgarn, it’s been a long time coming.
He was one of the original IRNLS owners when the league started in 1996, and before that he competed in CART with not much to show for his efforts.
"It's pretty neat. Seventeen years ago, (team manager) Lee Kunzman and I had the bright idea that we could win races and championships. To be honest, we didn't have a snowball's chance in winning anything,” said Hemelgarn, who announced Friday that he would run two cars in 2001 with Lazier and Stan Wattles. "To win this award is great. I've just been along for the ride.
“I just go out and raise some money, and they (team) spend it."
IRNLS president and chief executive officer Tony George and other series officials handed out more than $2.5 million in season-ending awards at the ceremony at the Murat Centre in Indianapolis. David Seuss, CEO of series sponsor Northern Light, handed over the $1 million bonus to Hemelgarn and Lazier, who won the IRNLS title by accumulating 290 points and two wins during the year.
Other awards and their winners: Indy Racing League Achievement Award: Chuck Whetsel, manager of timing and scoring for his contributions to the success of the Indy Racing League.
Indy Racing League Special Recognition Award: Leo Mehl, retired Indy Racing League executive director Mehl for his dedicated work with the Indy Racing League from 1996-1999 that helped the league and series grow and gain credibility.
RaceSearch.com Rookie of the Year Award: Airton Daré for leading the rookie standings in the 2000 season with 142 points in his TeamXtreme Racing G Force-Oldsmobile. Dare won $50,000 for the title, and 1998 Indy Racing Rookie of the Year Robby Unser presented the award.
MBNA Pole Master Award: Greg Ray earned a $30,000 bonus based on his five MBNA Pole Awards during the 2000 season. No other driver earned more than one pole.
WorldCom Long Distance Award: Al Unser Jr., who improved his starting position the most at the finish of two races this season in the Galles ECR Racing G Force-Oldsmobile, more than any other driver. Unser Jr. won $50,000 for the award.
IRL Crew Most Popular Driver Award: Al Unser Jr., who was voted the most popular driver in IRL Crew and fan balloting throughout the season.
Pennzoil Chief Mechanic of the Year Award: Dennis LaCava, Hemelgarn Racing chief mechanic. LaCava won $25,000 for the award.
Championship Team Sponsor Award: Delta Faucet, for the company's long-time primary sponsorship of 2000 Northern Light Cup champions Buddy Lazier and Hemelgarn Racing.
Championship Team Manager Award: Lee Kunzman, for his hard work in helping Lazier and Hemelgarn to win the Northern Light Cup in 2000.
Championship Engine Manufacturers Award: Oldsmobile, the leader in the final engine manufacturers standings with 94 points. Oldsmobile received this trophy for the fourth consecutive year, as its engine powered the winner in eight of the nine Northern Light Series races this year.