NASCAR’s first newspaper beat writer named Squier-Hall Award winner

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Tom Higgins, a Charlotte Observer reporter that is credited as the first newspaper beat writer to cover the entire NASCAR schedule, has been named the recipient of the 2015 Squier-Hall Award for NASCAR Media Excellence.

Higgins, who retired in 1997, will be honored during the 2015 NASCAR Hall of Fame induction ceremonies on Jan. 30 and be part of an exhibit in the Hall of Fame.

He was part of a group of eight nominees that were up for the Squier-Hall Award, which is named for NASCAR broadcasting legends Ken Squier and Barney Hall.

While beginning his career in 1957 with the Canton (N.C.) Enterprise, Higgins started covering motorsports as a writer for the Asheville (N.C.) Times. In 1964, he moved to the Observer to cover the outdoors, but soon started to follow the stock car circuit as well.

“Tom Higgins helped establish what it means to be a NASCAR beat reporter,” said NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France in a statement. “For more than five decades, his words have told the story of NASCAR, and the people and emotions that define the sport.

“He has been much more than a reporter to those in the NASCAR industry – serving as friend and confidant to competitors, administrators and his fellow journalists.”

Higgins is also a recipient of multiple other awards pertaining to racing media, including the International Motorsports Hall of Fame’s Henry T. McLemore Award (1980) and the NMPA’s George Cunningham Award (1987). Additionally, he was NASCAR’s Bill France Award of Excellence winner in 1996.

These days, Higgins continues to write columns on motorsports from the nostalgia perspective for both the Observer and its racing site, ThatsRacin.com.

April 5 in Motorsports History: Alex Zanardi’s amazing Long Beach rally

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Alex Zanardi entered the Long Beach Grand Prix on April 5, 1998 as the race’s defending champion and the series’ defending champion.

But the Italian didn’t seem a serious contender for much of the 105-lap event. Zanardi started 11th position and lost a lap early when he was involved in a multicar spin in the hairpin.

Alex Zanardi celebrates after winning the 1998 Grand Prix of Long Beach. Photo: Getty Images

But the race was still young, and despite emerging from the incident in 18th place, Zanardi slowly progressed through the field while battling radio problems that made communication difficult with his team.

With five laps remaining, Zanardi passed Dario Franchitti on the backstretch for second place and then focused in on leader Bryan Herta.

With two laps remaining, Zanardi made his move, making a daring pass on the inside of Herta in the Queen’s Hairpin (which no longer exists as the track layout was changed the following year).

The move was reminiscent of Zanardi’s famous last-lap move on the inside of Laguna Seca’s famed Corkscrew in 1996, which deprived Herta of his first CART victory.

Franchitti passed Herta as well, and Zanardi went on to clinch his first victory of the season.

“On a day when everything went wrong, we came back and won,” Zanardi said following the race. “I can’t explain it. It wasn’t until I saw Bryan ahead of me that I ever thought I had a shot at winning. It was amazing. I have no words to describe it.”

Following Long Beach, Zanadri won six more times in 1998 en route to his second and final CART championship.

Also on this date:

1992: Bobby Rahal led from start to finish to win the Valvoline 200 at Phoenix International Raceway. The win was the first of four victories for Rahal during his championship season.

2009: Ryan Briscoe won the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, the first of three victories for the Aussie in 2009. The race was also the first IndyCar Series on Versus, which was rebranded as NBC Sports Network in 2012.

Follow Michael Eubanks on Twitter @michaele1994