CHARLOTTE, N.C. — One year ago, Ryan Vargas was one of several California natives that played a part in capturing many trophies during NASCAR’s annual Night of Champions at the NASCAR Hall of Fame and Charlotte Convention Center.
Fast forward 12 months, and he was the California native that wrote a new page of history in NASCAR’s record books.
Vargas crossed the stage for the second straight season as the recipient of the Wendell Scott Trailblazer Award, which is presented annually to an outstanding minority or female driver who competes in the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series ranks.
The award recipient is selected by a committee, based on nominations received from drivers, crew members and track operators. Selection is based in part on a driver’s final standing in the NWAAS Division I Top 500 points.
And while Vargas’ 2016 season was good, his year this time around was even better.
The La Mirada High School junior and honors student competed at Irwindale Speedway and Kern County Raceway Park, posting 27 starts over the course of the season just as he did the year before, but broke through for his first two career NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Division I victories, part of a record that included 15 top-five and 23 top-10 finishes.
Vargas improved from fifth to third in the California state standings and was 16th in the national standings for the year with 538 points, highest among all female or minority drivers.
“Being as competitive as we were was something our team strove for all season long,” said Vargas, who officially received the award on Dec. 9. “For the first time in a very long time, we were a threat at every track we went to and I had confidence, both in my car and in my crew, as well as in myself.”
“Last year was a bit of a blow to the gut, not being able to win, so to not only do it once but several times was really special to me. Guys like (national points runner-up) Trevor Huddleston and Nick Joanides are tough to beat, and the fact that we were able to is something that we savor and it motivates us to want to go out and find even more (success).”
The Trailblazer Award is given in memory and honor of NASCAR Premier Series driver Wendell Scott, who competed in the top division from 1961 to 1973.
Scott was the first — and to this day the only — African-American driver to win a Premier Series event, who was often ridiculed, harassed and had to deal with racial prejudice from top-level NASCAR officials throughout his career.
Now, Vargas has written his own place in history alongside Scott’s, becoming the first-ever multi-time recipient of the Trailblazer Award.
“It’s an unbelievable feeling, honestly,” said Vargas. “To be the only one to receive the Wendell Scott award twice … that’s a pretty neat thing to have on my record.”
“It’s amazing what Wendell Scott has done for the sport. All the hard work he put in and the trials he went through — in a small way I feel like we emulated a little bit of that this year. Our struggles weren’t anything compared to what he endured, obviously, but this season we had to do a lot of work and fight back really hard at times to get our performance to where we wanted it and get what we could on the race track. It worked out in the end, and to have this honor once again is truly something I’m proud of.”
Vargas was recently selected as a 2018 member of NASCAR’s Drive 4 Diversity initiative, and will graduate into to the K&N Pro Series East to pursue Sunoco Rookie of the Year honors and the series championship with Rev Racing.
Past recipients of the Wendell Scott Trailblazer Award include Vargas (2016-2017), Juan Garcia (2015), Toni Marie McCray (2014), Jay Beasley (2013), Trey Gibson (2012), Natalie Sather (2011), Sloan Henderson (2010), Jason Romero (2009), Paulie Harraka (2008) and Emily Sue Steck (2007).
About the Writer
Jacob Seelman is the Managing Editor of Race Chaser Online and creator of the Motorsports Madness radio show, airing at 7 p.m. Eastern every Monday on the Performance Motorsports Network, as well as a periodic contributor to SPEED SPORT Magazine.
Seelman grew up in the sport, watching his grandparents co-own the RaDiUs Motorsports NASCAR Cup Series team in the 1990s.
The 23-year-old is currently studying Broadcast Journalism at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, S.C., and is also serving as the full-time tour announcer for the Must See Racing Sprint Car Series.
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