TOPEKA, Kan. (May 23, 2010) – Kevin Willis of Shelton, Neb., was selected as the 10th NAPA AUTO PARTS Honorary Crew Member of the 2010 NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series at the 22nd annual NHRA Summer Nationals at Heartland Park Topeka.
Willis, 55, has owned Willis Repair Shop, a NAPA AutoCare Center in Shelton, since August 2004 after moving from Wolsey, S.D., in 1992.
“We work with the NAPA AUTO PARTS store in Kearney, Neb.,” he said. “That's where I purchase all my parts. The relationship has been really good. We started the repair shop new and they were really helpful, and the relationship keeps growing every year.”
Willis has been a race fan all his life, he said. “In the early '70s we raced dirt track in a '55 Chevy in Huron, S.D., and drag raced in Stock Eliminator in Marion, S.D.,” he said. “Since then I've been following the NHRA circuit, and we've been here to this event the last six years, but we've never raced here ourselves.”
As for being named the NAPA Honorary Crew Member, “It's a great honor to do this,” he said. “I didn't realize that NAPA had this going on, and last weekend we saw on ESPN that they had the name of the Honorary Crew Member on the NAPA car. It's quite an honor and I really appreciate it. Ron Capps has been doing really well so far. It was great to meet him.”
John Randall, General Manager for the NAPA Omaha (Neb.) Distribution Center, was on hand to help present the honor to Willis in the Don Schumacher Racing pit area. “We service 123 NAPA AUTO PARTS stores out of NAPA Omaha, so we sent them a nomination form and asked them to nominate a customer for the NAPA Honorary Pit Crew Member program. This year we got 20 nominations from across the states of Nebraska, Iowa, a little bit of South Dakota, a little bit of Kansas and Missouri. That's the kind of territory that we cover.
“Then we got a panel of three guys from the Distribution Center, which included our Operations Manager Jim Mancl, Sales Manager Steve Drager and Distric Manager Josh Dumas, to sit in a room to go through the nominations, pick out the top five and then go through a selection process to determine a winner.
“I kind of kept myself out of it so there's no bias at all on the deal. Kevin was selected by those folks. He was nominated by George Quinn, the Store Manager at the Kearney store, as well as Ryan Johnson. They nominated Kevin based on the type of customer he is. He's a 'blue-and-gold' NAPA customer, and they appreciate him and the business he gives the store.”
Willis also commented on NAPA's relationship with NHRA and DSR: “It's a great deal,” he said. “The sport is a lot of fun to watch. What stands out to me is that it's so open to spectators and our customers. They're able to get in to see the drivers and the race cars. DSR does a great job with the hospitality area for the NAPA program, and Capps is a great spokesman for NAPA. We've been really fortunate.
“DSR is a fine outfit to be with. I think NAPA Headquarters and DSR do a great job putting all this together for our customers. That's what it's all about.”
Willis' non-wrenching crew-member duties included escorting the NAPA AUTO PARTS Dodge Funny Car to the staging lanes for Saturday's two qualifying rounds. He then helped retrieve the car at the end of the track after each run.
The side window of the NAPA Dodge sported Willis' name as the NAPA AUTO PARTS Honorary Crew Member this weekend.
He also met and chatted with the entire NAPA Dodge Funny Car crew, was a special guest in the NAPA hospitality area throughout the weekend, received a NAPA team jersey, experienced an up-close-and-personal view of the NAPA crew as the team worked on the car, and enjoyed a private tour of the team transporter and pit area.
NAPA AUTO PARTS Distribution Centers at each NHRA event during the season have different criteria for choosing the persons who are potential NAPA AUTO PARTS Honorary Crew Members.