More than 60,000 votes were submitted for the fifth-annual Late Model Most Popular Driver Award balloting presented by ARbodies.com on Speed51.com. Votes came in from all over the world, but as the Speed51.com staff tabulated the results, it became apparent that one nation helped lead an unexpected driver to become the fifth different Most Popular Driver winner in the contest’s history.
Which nation might that be? None other than, “Junior Nation.”
The legions of fans of popular NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and his JR Motorsports Late Model team helped propel 21-year-old Tennessee native and JR Motorsports Late Model Stock Car driver Josh Berry to the title of the 2011 Speed51.com/AR Bodies Late Model Most Popular Driver.
“That’s awesome to be the Most Popular Driver and I’m honored to be a part of it,” said Berry, who was a weekly competitor at Virginia’s Motor Mile Speedway in 2011. “It’s really exciting. I don’t think I’m necessarily one of the most recognized of all the drivers out there; maybe this will help that.
“Really though, all the credit goes to JR Motorsports and being tied to Dale Jr. Our company really prides itself on its social media and I think that played a big role in getting all the votes. It’s become such a huge part of sponsorship and interacting with fans. Having that kind of exposure and pull is a big plus, not only for my sponsors we have already, but the sponsor we have coming on board for next year, Speedco Truck Lube. One of their big selling points with us was our social media exposure.”
As the winner of the Late Model Most Popular Driver voting, Berry will receive a new “A” Package ABC-style Late Model body from AR Bodies. Jerry Criswell and his Tennessee-based AR Bodies team will also extend their prize give-aways to the second and third-place drivers.
Georgia Super and Pro Late Model racer and 19-time winner in 2011, Bubba Pollard finished second in the voting, roughly 1,000 votes behind Berry. Michigan’s Erik Jones, the 2011 JEGS/CRA All-Stars Tour Champion, finished third in the voting. Both drivers will be recognized with a $500 product certificate from AR Bodies.
"ARbodies is proud to once again have the opportunity to award a new body to the nation's Most Popular Driver,” said Jerry Criswell of AR Bodies. “Congratulations to Josh Berry and the entire JR Motorsports team on their successes both on and off the track. Bubba Pollard and Erik Jones have also had a great year of racing and we would like to congratulate them on their first and second runner-up finishes in the Most Popular Driver voting. In recognition of their achievements, ARbodies has decided to award each with a $500 off a ‘M’ Package certificate."
Driving for JR Motorsports in 2010 and 2011 after befriending Earnhardt, Jr. on the racing simulation iRacing, Berry picked up his first win of his young Late Model Stock Car career in April of this past season. He continued strong showings in the tough NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Late Model division all season while racing against veteran and championship-winning drivers every Saturday night at Motor Mile. When he ventured out and into one of Late Model racing’s most prestigious events, the Virginia is for Racing Lovers 300 at Martinsville Speedway (VA), Berry continued turning heads with an impressive qualifying effort. The achievements on track this season, plus a savvy social media presence and affiliation with one of the sport’s most popular figures all helped Berry earn the MPD title.
“When we went into 2011, we had two goals: to win my first race and just to prove myself every week,” said Berry. “I had a new crew chief, L.W. Miller, and we had people come in for a whole transformation with the Late Model team. It was a big year for us, so to come out and win that early was a big shot in the arm. It proved that we’re there and we turned some stuff around. Towards the end of the year, we still ran well and in the top-five, but we still improved every week.
“We went to the big race of the year at Martinsville and qualified ninth out of 80 cars. That was pretty good to end my first full year of Late Models and my first time at Martinsville. I’m still pretty inexperienced in Late Models compared to a lot of people I’m racing against. L.W. helped me with that because he’s so experienced. He could help me understand that I’m racing against a ton of talent. When I’m racing against a Philip Morris or a Frank Deiny, Jr. or even a Lee Pulliam like we did every week at Motor Mile, I’m racing against years and years of experience in those type of cars.”
In 2012, armed with a new AR Bodies body on his number-72 Late Model, Berry will look to continue to rack up the impressive statistics at Motor Mile.
“We’ll change our colors a little bit with Speedco on board for this season,” said Berry. “We’ll run full-time at Motor Mile and we’re definitely looking at opportunities to hopefully branch out a little bit and get me some more experience. That’s all dependent on sponsorship and how we can work it out. We want to wait on the right opportunity for that, for sure. So for now, we’ll do full-time at Motor Mile and some of the big shows here and there.”
Wisconsin Super Late Model racer Blake Brown was fourth in the voting, while Ohio’s Tyler Strickland was fifth.
AR Bodies has become an innovative leader in the ABC body field, which was developed several years ago to help create a uniform set of body rules for Late Model series and tracks throughout the country, while also offering the bodies at an economical price for racers.
For more information on AR Bodies, visit them online at www.arbodies.com and follow them on Twitter, @arbodies.
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