Drag boat association honors drivers with 2022 awards

  • NIDBA drivers during the 2022 Awards Banquet. Front row: Colleen Callahan, Kristian Kozan, Brandon Callahan, Jeff Mattson, John Groth, Kim Szlak, Mike Valenti and Jason Tuhy. Back row: George Girten, Ron Silverstein, Steve Schweizer, Sr., Adam Silverstein, Tom Culhane, Jack Stanaszek, Jr., Dillon Poole, Rick Cortino and Chris Alby.

    NIDBA drivers during the 2022 Awards Banquet. Front row: Colleen Callahan, Kristian Kozan, Brandon Callahan, Jeff Mattson, John Groth, Kim Szlak, Mike Valenti and Jason Tuhy. Back row: George Girten, Ron Silverstein, Steve Schweizer, Sr., Adam Silverstein, Tom Culhane, Jack Stanaszek, Jr., Dillon Poole, Rick Cortino and Chris Alby. Photo courtesy of Kaleena Escallier

Updated 3/6/2023 2:28 PM

In late February, the Northern Illinois Drag Boat Association celebrated its 33rd season with an annual awards banquet honoring drivers, families, sponsors, safety crew, and volunteers at the Port of Blarney.

"We are the only club in the world that races weekly. Everyone here knows just how lucky we are to be part of this tradition," club president and Pro Gas Champion Chris Alby said in his opening remarks.


"We couldn't do what we do without all of you. The Blarney Island staff and our volunteer crew work hard to deliver a safe and memorable weekly experience. None of it would be possible without the people in this room and our generous sponsors."

This year's banquet welcomed the largest guest turnout in recent years, transforming the island-themed Port of Blarney with race decor, photos, prizes and awards on display. Club, class and individual driver sponsors joined the festivities alongside NIDBA drivers, families and crew. Guests reminisced about the season through a cocktail hour and dinner.

The celebration continued with awards for top finishers by class, four new award categories, and the announcement of a new fund to support NIDBA drivers.

"We are excited to launch a new Drivers Fund that will support our most dedicated drivers in the upcoming season," official Kris Shepard said.

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Generous contributions from Bad Apples Racing, Berkeley Jet Boat Pumps, Central Sheet Metal Products, Drag Boat Review Magazine, Ozinga, and more kicked off fundraising efforts to support the new fund.

Awards distributed in the same order as the NIDBA's weekly race night lineup included plaques with custom photos by local photographer Robert Dean for first- and second-place drivers. First-place finishers also receive a championship jacket.

Personal Water Craft drivers Mike Valenti (first place) and Kim Szlak (second place) accepted their awards first. Mike was tough to beat in his second season, pushing his Yamaha to 80-plus mph on the open water. Mike and Kim are members of PWC Chain Gang, a local club for PWC enthusiasts that hosts rides and special events throughout the summer on the Chain O' Lakes.

Jack Stanaszek, Jr. earned the Pro Sport high points championship spot in his 1978 Hydro Stream Vector, running a stock 2.4L Mercury, 175HP fuel-injected motor. 2022 marked Jack's first full season at Blarney Island, where he battled weekly against nine drivers in his class. He was followed closely by second-place finisher Kristian Kozan. Later in the evening, Jack was surprised with an MVP Award for his accomplishments.


Lake Racer Outboard friends and competitors Kristian Kozan (first place) and Dillon Poole (second place) spent the summer months battling for first place. Finally, Kozan clinched the championship spot in late August in his 1983 Sterling.

"We might need an award for most boats raced in a season," Shepard joked while handing over Kozan's second plaque of the night.

Sponsored by Tradewinds Marine and the Sandbar Grill, Kozar hopped behind the wheel of at least four high-powered outboards last year.

Lake Racer Inboard drivers Steve Schweizer, Jr. (first place) and Colleen Callahan (second place) received their respective awards. Schweizer couldn't pick up his prize without the help of his two young sons, both proud to pose for a photo with their dad.

Fun for the entire family, Schweizer has raced alongside his father at Blarney Island for several seasons and drives a TX-19 Gullwing. Schweizer demonstrated camaraderie within his class by encouraging second-place finisher Colleen Callahan weekly as she fought to earn points during her second season. A fan favorite at the island, Callahan was later honored as the club's "Most Tenacious" driver.

George Girten added another first-place championship to his collection as the reigning champ of the Outlaw class. Dillon Poole finished in second place.

Closing out the outboard awards for the evening, Chris Alby celebrated his first-place finish in the Pro Gas class. More than a few photo finishes highlighted the close competition in the fastest of the outboard race classes; Alby put in the work, dialing in his STV Mod VP throughout the summer, securing his championship spot late in the season. Larry Gempp, Sr., who could not attend the banquet, earned second place.

Awards for inboard drivers continued with lifelong friends Ron Silverstein (first place) and Brandon Callahan (second place) picking up hardware in Single-Carb. Ron and Brandon are members of the Silverstein family team Bad Apples Racing.

Alby and Shepard took a moment to comment on late driver Joel Silverstein's impact on NIDBA racing with personal anecdotes that evoked laughter and a few watery eyes from the crowd.

Silverstein is familiar with earning first place in Single Carb, but he had to work for it this year. From late-night wrench sessions to borrowing boats from his teammates, Silverstein did all he could to secure the necessary points to maintain his first-place lead.

John Groth (first place) and Ron Silverstein (second place) took the stage, accepting their respective awards in Multi Carb. Groth turned heads weekly at Blarney Island with showstopping departures from the pit and quick reactions at the starting line.

With limited Multi Carb entries, Groth had no problem earning points and enjoyed racing weekly winners from the class below.

As the night progressed, members of the NIDBA Safety Team brought out a surprise award for Groth: a deflated buoy in a shadow box commemorating the moment a roller sent his yellow 1974 Sanger Hydro into a course marker, damaging the hull.

Awards for Open Class went home with drivers Jeff Mattson (first place) and Ron Silverstein (second place). In his first year as a NIDBA member, Mattson pushed his 1999 Youngblood TX20 to the limits, demonstrating skills both in the pit and behind the wheel.

Mattson's consistent driving and weekly dedication earned him the championship spot and, later, recognition as Rookie of the Year.

Class awards concluded with the Unlimited class, where nationally recognized driver Rick Cortino earned first place in his highly competitive Texas Tunnel. The second-place plaque went to Tom Culhane.

Presented at the end of the evening, four new awards, including MVP (Jack Stanaszek, Jr.), Most Tenacious Driver (Colleen Callahan), and Rookie of the Year (Jeff Mattson) earned much applause. Brandon Callahan received the new-to-the-club "Dim Bulb" Award. It's hard to count the hours Brandon dedicated to his wife Colleen Callahan's Eliminator Daytona during the 2022 season, ensuring she could safely and confidently make it down the track.

Unfortunately, he should have spent a little extra time on his own Cheyenne jet boat, which lost a steering cable one week as he rocketed out of the pit.

The Northern Illinois Drag Boat Association is the sanctioned race organization of Blarney Island, which has hosted races on Grass Lake in Antioch for decades. The tradition will continue with the 2023 season opener scheduled for Thursday, May 25. Weekly races will continue through Labor Day.

Learn more about the history of racing at Blarney Island and the NIDBA at www.nidba.net.

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