HC Sellers served as crew chief for Philip Morris' 2011 NASCAR Whelen All-American Series national championship. Getty Images
NOTEBOOK: Sellers Back On Top
Championship crew chief six years after guiding brother to title
By Travis Barrett, Special To NASCAR Home Tracks
December 9, 2011 - 8:47pm
CHARLOTTE, N.C. – While Philip Morris stood under the bright lights on the big stage in the NASCAR Hall of Fame Crown Ballroom on Friday night collecting his fourth career NASCAR Whelen All-American Series national championship, he wasn't the only only person at the banquet celebrating multiple national titles.
H.C. Sellers, Morris' crew chief, was also celebrating yet another, too. Sellers, who joined Morris this year with car owner Jim Dean, was the crew chief for his brother when they paired to win the 2005 NASCAR Whelen All-American Series national championship.
“When Barry Beggarly won his (national) championship in 1993, that was something that I always looked up to. That was a big deal in Danville, (Virginia),” H.C. Sellers said. “He only lived 10 minutes from our shop. I always thought, 'Man, if you can do that, you've got it made.' Now to have done it twice, it's something that surreal.
“You can't take it for granted. I might go the rest of my career and never be back on this stage again. I just have to cherish it for what it is.”
Sellers and Morris had never worked together before the 2011 season, though they knew almost instantly that they were going to jell. Morris said that Sellers took on a leadership role with the No. 26 Clarence's Steakhouse team that allowed him to focus his efforts elsewhere.
Together, they won 20 of 28 races at South Boston Speedway and Motor Mile Speedway and finished outside the top five only five times this year.
“The truth is, we really never had a crew chief, per se,” said Morris, who won national titles in 2006, 2008 and 2009. “I kind of did it and was the car owner before Jim and H.C. This year, he came in and took over all those duties, so guess what I had to do? All I had to do was learn how to drive better – learn how to do things differently in the seat. And you know what? It opened my mind up. It helped me relax and rely on him.
“I learned to trust him, and he sure didn't take it lightly.”
Sellers said he learned a lot from Morris, too.
“We made some decisions this year that I personally wouldn't have went and did from a lack of faith – but Philip would be like, 'Hey, it's all good. Let's just do what we've got here and not try to push the issue,'” Sellers said. “If it were up to me, I would have ran 80 races this year to have guaranteed 18 (wins). But Philip, he knew where to go and what to do to give the calmness to keep me from being in a panic all the time.
“I knew he was a great race car driver. That part didn't surprise me a bit, but just his calmness and where he gets his guidance from, that's what I learned about him this year. He's a strong person.”
In 2005, when H.C. crew chiefed Peyton Sellers to the national championship, the statistics were remarkably similar. Like Morris, Sellers ran the bulk of his schedule at South Boston Speedway, where he won 14 times in 16 races.
Much was the same, according to H.C., but a lot was different, too.
“We really had a lot of differences,” Sellers said. “I feel like I'm more experienced now. It some ways that's good, but it some ways that can be bad. I do feel like now I understand more about what we're doing... Racing changes so much year to year, to ever get ahead of the curve for one full year – it's just hard to do.
“It was six full years ago that I did it last time. I may not ever do it again. Anybody that can get to that point in their career and have their one year where everything goes right, you really have to cherish it.”
TWICE IS NICE: Wayne Helliwell Jr. of Dover, N.H., won is second consecutive New Hampshire state Whelen All-American Series championship this season, but he did it under completely different circumstances than he did in 2010.
When Lee USA Speedway dropped its Late Model division – where Helliwell won the championship – it moved to small-block Supermodifieds as its premier class. Helliwell moved to that division, too, and promptly won three races and posted 13 top fives in 16 starts en route to the title in his first full season in the radical Supermodifieds.
“It's totally different than what we were used to, that's for sure,” said Helliwell, who had long been in Lee USA's low-horsepower, sealed crate engine Late Model class. “They asked me to drive the Super there, and it was a no-brainer. It's a great team. I really never thought we'd win the championship or win the state – but halfway through the season things looked really good. We took over the lead and we were off.”
Helliwell relied on a team that had a long history with Supermodifieds to get him up to speed quickly, and that he did.
At a pre-season test session, it became clear that the car would be capable of winning the track title.
“You would hate to say it, but you look back to the beginning of the season,” Helliwell said. “We had a practice day, and after the first practice we set the fast time and broke the track record – and I wasn't even comfortable in the car yet. You look back there, and everything just clicked right from the get-go.”
Helliwell wasn't the only repeat champion to be honored Friday night.
Keith Rocco, the 2010 Whelen All-American Series national champion and this year's runner-up, earned the Connecticut state championship for the fourth straight season. In doing so, he also became the first driver two win track championships at two different tracks in consecutive years.
Rocco won the Thompson International Speedway and Waterford Speedbowl titles this year.
VIRGINIA IS FOR RACERS: With the three of the top four drivers in the final 2011 national championship standings all coming from Virginia short tracks – the national champion Morris, third-place Lee Pulliam and fourth-place C.E. Falk III – there wasn't a lot of room left for other racers in the region.
But David Polenz won the track title this year at Old Dominion Speedway, his first career NASCAR championship, and impressed people along the way.
“It's just amazing,” Polenz said of his season. “To race against the best guys in Late Model country, it's just my dream. It is the Sprint Cup of Late Model driving around here. To be able to run and finish seventh in the state, finish 45th in the nation and win the track championship, we're just ecstatic.”
Polenz amassed four wins and 16 Top-5s in 19 starts this season, his third in the Late Model ranks. He also competed some at Motor Mile Speedway – though the history of Old Dominion has a draw for him, he said.
“Everybody's raced there,” Polenz said. “I hope to be one of those 'everybodys' some day when I make it famous. You've got Philip Morris. You've got (NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver) Denny Hamlin and (2003 Whelen All-American Series national champion) Mark McFarland. They didn't just race at Old Dominion – they raced all over the East Coast, and that's what we plan on doing next year.”
To become a NASCAR champion, Polenz said he relied on a valuable lesson from a close friend of his race team.
“I learned this year to enjoy every moment of my life,” Polenz said. “My sponsor, Joe Murphy, he's become one of my best friends. He had a stroke in August. It was on my birthday. ... So to have gone through that and win the track championship, I can say today I'm a NASCAR champion. Not many people can say that. There's 15,000 people in the Whelen All-American Series and I'm 45th.
“I learned a lot. I matured a lot. I won more races. We got more successful and everything became better for us. My dream is Sprint Cup, but my realistic dream is to make racing pay for itself. That would be amazing.”