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Full Story Below

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L to R: NEMA President Mike Scrivani,
2003 Champion Driver -  Joey Payne,
2003 Champion Owner - Gene Angelillo

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Payne and Angelillo Head the List of
Honorees at NEMA Fete

Seekonk, MA – Joey Payne Jr. and Gene Angelillo were officially recognized as driver and owner champions respectively Saturday at the Northeastern Midget Association 2003 Awards Banquet at the Ramada Inn. It was the first title for Payne and the sixth straight (13th overall) for Angelillo.

“You are setting the standard for everybody in the room,” said Stu Murray, president of NEMA’s title sponsor Wirtgen America, in praising Angelillo and Payne, who had four wins and finished no worse than sixth in 14 starts.
The well-attended affair put the finishing touches on NEMA’s 51st season. Speakers Lew Boyd, a racer turned publisher, and Murray both praised and challenged the club.

It was a special night for Jimmy O’Brien as well. The 30-plus year NEMA member is stepping down after a 13-year run as treasurer. In addition to having the yearbook dedicated to him, O’Brien was inducted into the Dick Gallagher Memorial Hall of Fame, won the Wen Kelley Award, and joined the list of Lifetime Members - three of the club’s highest honors.

Payne, who followed his father into racing, also won the coveted Johnny Thomson Memorial Award. The award, which memorializes the driver many believe to be New England’s greatest, is picked and presented yearly by a group of fans headed up by Bill Estabrook.

Angelillo also won the prize for Top Mechanic in the Top-Five Points Finishers.

Three-time champion Joey Coy joined O’Brien in entering the Hall of Fame. Part of one of midget racing’s grandest families, Coy was the driving champ in 1989, ’91, and ’93. A special committee also picks this award.

Other award winners included Ed Clotheir Rookie of the Year Sean Caisse, Joe Csiki Most Improved Driver Adam Cantor, and Mechanic of the Year Mike Scrivani Jr. Caisse had a pair of seconds en route to a seventh place in the final driver standings while Cantor, who scored his first feature at Star, moved from 10th to fifth in the final rundown. Caisse is also the Design 500 National Midget Rookie of the Year.

Bob Bradbury was the Roberts Memorial Award winner. The Pat Thibodeau Youth and Determination Award went to Erica Santos while Geno Spada took home the Associate Member Never Say Die Award.

Erica Santos wrote NEMA history in 2003, becoming NEMA’s highest finishing female with a third at Oxford after becoming the first to win a heat earlier in the day. She wound up 14th in driver points.

Ed Breault took home the Evans/Thrall Top Owner/ Driver Award for the fifth time. Mike Luggelle got the Ralph Miller Memorial Award For Outstanding and Continuing Perseverance, and George Heath won the George Keller Memorial award. All three are among NEMA’s hardest workers.

The newest of NEMA awards, the Jim Cleveland Memorial, which honors the late patriarch of one of the club’s leading families, went to owner Alex Shlatz.

The NEMA Appreciation Awards went to Linda Cleveland and Matt and Sue O’Brien.

Pete Falconi and Derek Pernesiglio shared the master of ceremonies role. Falconi pointed out that the  top-15 drivers are divided almost equally between seasoned veterans like runner-up Drew Fornoro and the young guns like Bobby Santos III.

In addition to Wirtgen, contributing sponsors Synergyn, Hoosier Tire, ASI Raceware, and - a part of Seymour Enterprises - were recognized.

“It is a honor to stand up here,” said Payne who “has been around NEMA since 1978.” He called Angelillo’s Dumo’s Desire “a first class operation, probably the best Midget ride in the country.”

Publisher Lew Boyd suggested NEMA is the ideal group to bring racing back to its former glory. He pointed out there were at one time 56 ovals in Massachusetts. There are presently three including Seekonk which was represented by Irene and Francis Venditti.

“Great cars, great drivers, great fields, great racing,” Boyd suggested, “puts NEMA in good position to help get people back in the grandstands.”

Echoing Boyd, Wirtgen's Murray said NEMA “reminds me of the old days” and told the gathering that the number of young drivers and the abundance of father-son/daughter associations “especially motivated” his involvement. “You need to keep it going,” he said.

Bobby and Erica Santos, Randy Cabral, Adam Cantor, Sean Caisse, and Ryan Dolan all made special mention of their parents, something that did not go unnoticed by Murray.

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