The criteria I’m basing my list on is potential for winning track titles and/or consistently finishing high in the points, which obviously reflects a certain amount of domination and consistency. The next thing I look for is who always has pizza in their pits after the races. (OK, just kidding about that last thing … kind of.)
Here are my choices, with a brief explanation:
1. Steven DeLonjay: The first thing you need to know is if Steve-O wins a third straight UMP modified title this season that will give him five overall Bullring crowns at age 21. The second thing to file away is he may some day own more championships than any driver in the history of the track. He’s still probably 10 years away — at least — from his prime. It’s actually kind of a scary thought if you are one of his rivals.
2. Dustin Griffin: We caught a glimpse of what he could do over the course of a full season in 2012, and I think we’re going to see Griffin, who was a running back in high school, salt away several track titles in the next 10 years. The Black Car Superstar is one of those drivers who will always be bad fast — as Darrell Waltrip likes to say — and he, too, is not even close to his prime years as a driver.
3. Mark Burgtorf:Make no mistake, Magic Mark has plenty of good years left in that No. 7, but there will be plenty of competition in the UMP Super Lates in the coming decade — starting with the guy who is No. 2 on this list.
4. Michael Long: If Michael was committed to race a full Quincy schedule each year, it would be almost impossible not to put him No. 1, but No. 18 prefers a regional schedule and more power to him. (But it’s always a good Sunday night if Long and DeLonjay are both in the pits.)
5. Justin Reed: The former track champ is a still a pup in late model circles. There should be plenty of tight points races in the next decade with Griffin, Burgtorf, Denny Woodworth and others.
6. Jake Griffin: Saying the sky is the limit for this 14-year-old would be an incredible understatement. The biggest question is how long after his 18th birthday will it be until he and his family start chasing some bigtime dreams? Let’s enjoy him while we have him.
7. Dave Wietholder: Is it just me, or is Dave getting stronger with each passing year. I think is best is yet to come — and we should see it in the coming 10 years.
8. Terry Houston: The Mayor of Mount Sterling might be at the peak of his career right now, and shows no inkling of doing anything but keeping up that same level of momentum. Think ahead five years — last night of the points season and Houston, Huls and Jake Powers are battling for the championship.
9. Jared Schlipman: One of the princes of the UMP mods is abdicating his throne this year to pursue the late models. The question is not will he succeed, but when. This may take a couple of years, but with his crew chief (some guy named Terry) and quality equipment it is going to be mighty entertaining to watch. What’s also fun is the way he picks on Taco Larsen..
10. Jake Powers: We might have to give The Snake a mulligan for part of the 2013 season until he gets accustomed to that new stock car, but once he feels good behind the wheel it’s just a matter of time until he tries to start reeling in Terry Houston, Abe Huls and others in the class.
Special mention: Tony Dunker, because I’m not sure what the future holds for him, and I don’t think he is yet either. I think he’ll be around more Sunday nights this summer than he originally led us to believe, but how many? That’s the question we’ll probably have to ask each year from now on since he is committed to supporting his son’s baseball activity.
Special mention, part deux: Abe Huls is another driver with that question mark over his head most seasons. When in the pits, he’s virtually unstoppable. But he has the tendency to miss a week or two. Marriage can be a bear, eh?