Eastern Motorsport Press Association Celebrates Excellence and Professionalism at 51st Convention

When Jonathan Swift said ‘everything old is new again’ in the 1700’s, the 51st Eastern Motorsport Press Association (EMPA) convention proved he was right. With new business sponsors joining our longtime supporters, new winners of the organization’s various contests, a new Saturday format, new Association members in attendance, and a new venue, superior teamwork combined to make what several said was the best-ever EMPA convention. That’s a home run in another sport, but for motorsports professionals it was a checkered flag.

            Members and supporters gathered at the Holiday Inn East Mountain in Wilkes-Barre, PA for a weekend that annually blends work with celebration. The event is made possible because of support from the business community and individuals involved in some aspect of motorsports.

            The induction of outstanding individuals into the EMPA Hall of Fame is the weekend’s crown jewel event. This year two asphalt racers (George Kent and the late Ted Christopher), two dirt racers (Brett Hearn and Billy Pauch, Sr.) and two motorsports professionals (writer Ron Hedger and photographer Ace Lane, Jr.) received the most votes from EMPA members and are now in the hall.

            Hearn remarked that when you’re racing you don’t think about what you’ve done, you think about what you’re going to do. Pauch said the EMPA membership made drivers like him heroes by what they wrote and the pictures they took. Emotions took over during a pair of acceptance speeches. Mike Christopher accepted the award for his late twin brother, Ted, while Lane mentioned how many photographers his late father had inspired during his own Hall of Fame career.

            EMPA’s President, Dino Oberto, kicked things off by welcoming everyone to the convention during the Friday evening Belmont’s Garage Champions Night. This event was added several years ago as a way to interview various track champions during the recently completed season. He, Carol Houssock and Earl Krause interviewed Micah Adams (Evergreen Raceway), Brett Tonkin (Penn Can/Afton), Zane Zeiner (ROC Modified Series), Logan Watt (Grandview), Nick Robinson (Chemung Speedrome), Josh Patterson (East Coast TQ Midgets), Ryan Godown (Georgetown/New Egypt), and Buddy Sload (ATQMRA).

            Saturday morning press conferences featured Mike Lewis from Dover Motor Speedway, Kyle Taraska from the ATQMRA, Chris Dolack from World Racing Group, and Steven Ovens from Land of Legends Raceway. Each spoke highlighted 2023 and provided information on the upcoming season. Ovens presented data from their video coverage, which is free and proving beneficial for racers seeking sponsorship.

            EMPA’s Vice President, Karl Fredrickson, introduced the keynote speaker, Dave Argabright. He spoke about his entrance into motorsports and how communicating with the public has changed over the years. He kept the audience engaged with his light-hearted stories of working with the likes of Chris Economaki, as a columnist and later as author of a book on the legendary man. Argabright told the members that you have to be unique, entertaining, relevant and informative. He added that he is most proud that the racing community accepted him.

            Bob Stephens, a retired pilot and former race car owner, joined Argabright and Ovens in a panel discussion on the changing world of motorsports media. Stephens, who spent years as a member of the distinguished Blue Angels and flew for Southwest Airlines for over 30 years, shared what he sees as almost one-to-one similarities between being in the military and NASCAR Cup racing. He stated that each requires a high level of professionalism and reliance on a team for success. The panel then discussed artificial intelligence, which is certain to infiltrate and appeal to some who accept nonsense. Argabright added the importance of works like credibility, accountability and integrity when putting your name to what you write or shoot as a photographer. Ovens emphasized the importance of getting the word out.

            Oberto mentioned three awards to close out the morning session. He recognized Rich Corbett, now living in Florida, with a President’s Award for his dedication to, and marketing of, EMPA. Corbett recruits new members on an ongoing basis. Carol Houssock accepted George Kent’s Hall of Fame award. Kent had planned to attend but a medical issue prevented travel. She will present the statue to Kent at the upcoming Chemung Speedrome banquet. Pete MacDonald received the Howie and Mary Hodge photography award from Mike Jaworecki, Sr.

            Oberto facilitated an engaging afternoon discussion among three book authors in attendance. Dave Argabright, Buffy Swanson, and Jim (JK) Kelly spoke of the arduous task of actually writing a book, from coming up with the idea or subject, through distribution. They agreed there is no one way to do. Those writing fiction have to paint the whole story, while non-fiction books required careful photo selection. Even coming up with a title can be as simple as hearing a phrase or having ideas just come to them. This discussion was very well received by the membership.

            Saturday evening was all about awards. Those going in the Hall of Fame received their hardware and spoke a few words. Emcee and President Dino Oberto then moved in to the presentation of driver, member and other awards listed below. Matt Hirschman and Matt Sheppard were on hand, just as they were a year ago, to receive hardware for being voted the Northeast asphalt and dirt drivers of the year. Both repeated a prior season of excellence and incredible numbers. Ryan Blaney and Ricky Thornton, Jr. were voted the National asphalt and dirt drivers of the year. Blaney sent a video thanking the membership for their votes, saying it was special to receive this award from an organization where both his father and grandfather are in the EMPA Hall of Fame.

            Reviews of the weekend have come in swiftly, with many saying they had attended the best convention ever. EMPA remains dedicated to promoting the best in motorsports through its professional, associate and corporate members. 

2023 Pocono Raceway/EMPA Writer’s Contest

Feature: 1st Ron Hedger (Speed Sport Insider), 2nd Thomas Pope (Speedway Illustrated), 3rd Mike Adaskaveg (Outsidegroove.com)

Column: 1st Dan Anderson (Speedway Illustrated), 2nd Scott Walsh (Scranton Times-Tribune), 3rd Karl Fredrickson (Speedway Illustrated)

Personality Profile: 1st Carol Houssock (Speedway Illustrated), 2nd Mike Adaskaveg (Outsidegroove.com), 3rd Bobby Chalmers (Race Pro Weekly)

Race Report: 1st Scott Walsh (Scranton Times-Tribune), 2nd Nick Graziano (Worldofoutlaws.com), 3rd Ron Hedger (Speedsport.com)

News: 1st Scott Walsh (Scranton Times-Tribune), 2nd Mike Adaskaveg (Outsidegroove.com), 3rd Len Sammons (Area Auto Racing News)

2023 Brice’s NAPA Auto Photography Contest

Action: 1st Brent Smith, 2nd Harry Meeks, 3rd Brent Smith, honorable mention Tommy Lane, Jack Kromer

Action Sequence: 1st Duane Canfield, 2nd Jim Smith, 3rd Harry Meeks, honorable mention Debbie Gastelu

Crash Action: 1st Bobby Chalmers, 2nd Todd Dziadosz, 3rd Peter MacDonald, honorable mention Evan Canfield, Bob Yurko

Feature: 1st Jack Kromer, 2nd Bob Yurko, 3rd Walt Smith, honorable mention Tommy Lane, Duane Canfield

Picture Story: 1st Bob Yurko, 2nd Erika Bye, 3rd Paul Arch, honorable mention Paul Arch (2)

Portrait & Personality: 1st Jack Kromer, 2nd Bob Yurko, 3rd Matt Butcosk, honorable mention Duane Canfield, Brent Smith, Matt Butcosk

Pure Art: 1st Duane Canfield, 2nd Matt Butcosk, 3rd Brent Smith, honorable mention Debbie Gastelu, Walt Smith, Kristen Cocca

Unpublished Color: 1st Brent Smith, 2nd Todd Dziadosz, 3rd Brent Smith, honorable mention Micah Adams, Todd Dziadosz, Jeremy Zarfus

Portfolio:Brent Smith

Best of Show:Brent Smith

EMPA Hall of Fame: Ted Christopher, Brett Hearn, Ron Hedger, George Kent, Ace Lane, Jr., Billy Pauch, Sr.

Junie Dunlevy Spirit of the Sport: Red Farmer

Janice Brice photo award: Matt Butcosk

John Blewett III Young Gun, Presented by New England Race Fuels: Austin Beers

Jerry Reigle Outstanding Contribution to Sprint Car Racing: Allan Holland 

Richie Evans Northeast Asphalt Driver of the Year: Matt Hirschman

Richie Evans Northeast Dirt Driver of the Year: Matt Sheppard         

Al Holbert National Dirt Driver of the Year: Ricky Thornton Jr.

Al Holbert National Asphalt Driver of the Year; Ryan Blaney

Chris Economaki Newsmaker of the Year: High Limit Sprint Car Series

Ace Lane, Sr. Photographer of the Year: Evan Canfield                                              

Jim Hunter Writer of the Year: Bruce Bennett

President’s Award: Rich Corbett

Howie and Mary Hodge Photo: Pete MacDonald