It has been a banner year for Thomas “Moose” Praytor and the Max Force Racing Team. The Mobile native recorded his best-ever finish in the Automobile Racing Club of America (ARCA) drivers’ standings by claiming the No. 5 position.

Praytor will get a chance to celebrate his accomplishments this Saturday, Dec. 10, when the 2016 ARCA Championship awards banquet takes place at the Indiana Convention Center.

“There was a point this season we didn’t think we could stay in the top 10, but our guys kept working, never gave up and the finishes started to fall our way,” said Praytor, who will be among the featured speakers this weekend in Indianapolis.

Praytor started his racing career when he was just 12. After trying the Late Model ranks at Mobile International Speedway and Pensacola’s Five Flags Speedway, he made a splash on the ARCA circuit with a ninth-place finish in 2013. He followed in 2014 with a seventh-place mark and in 2015 took the No. 8 spot.

During this last season, Praytor recorded his best career finishes at Daytona, Talladega, Toledo, Madison, Iowa, IRP (Indianapolis), Berlin, Springfield, DuQuoin, Chicago, Kentucky and Kansas.

“The quality of our equipment was better in 2016 and we work hard on preparing them to go the distance; you can’t finish if parts are falling off,” said Praytor, whose main sponsors are DK-LOK Fittings and Valves of Mobile, Chive Charities and GoodBookley. “We may not have the fastest cars but we take a great deal of pride in our cars being ready.”

While Praytor manages to have a paid crew to prepare the cars for weekend races like the other top five finishers, at his shop in Mobile it’s just Praytor and anyone who wishes to volunteer. His No. 9 Ford also featured an older steel body and a Legacy Roush D3 motor while his competitors had new composite bodies and high-performance Ilmor engines.

“We were down on horsepower, heavy on bodies and down on aero,” Praytor said. “Basically, we were behind the eight ball in almost every competitive category except one — our people. When you are an underfunded team you can either complain or make the best of what you have. We’ve learned a lot about what it takes to make these cars go and we’ll keep adding the parts and pieces we need to run up front.”

Even his pit crew was unique, consisting of volunteer students from the University of Northwestern Ohio. Adam Lowe, the crew chief, is a two-year member of the UNOH Race Club, a school-supported internship program.

“I wouldn’t trade our guys for a crew from Hendrick [a NASCAR team]. They work their butts off,” said Praytor, a high school teammate of current NFL quarterback AJ McCarron. “Not only do they care about what they are doing, they have gotten pretty quick, too. Adam Lowe has been with us from the first lap and most of the other guys joined us last year: Tevin Bair, Kyle Warner, Angelo Callabrese and Andy Ball. They all get what we are trying to do.”

Praytor has continued his connection to academics in Mobile. He has begun teaching students at Bishop State Community College how to drive big rigs and earn their commercial driver’s license.

“It has really been fulfilling working with students from all types of backgrounds,” Praytor said. “We can take a student who has a minimum-wage job outlook and in eight weeks we can give them an opportunity to have a career with a national trucking company. Last semester every one of our graduating students had jobs within a week.”

Praytor’s connection to Bishop State began when he took his driving test there in order to operate his race team’s Kenworth truck during the season. He spends three or four half-days a week teaching at Bishop State when not working on his ARCA career.

This Saturday, Praytor’s team will be among those being recognized in many categories: CGS Hard Charger Award (second), S&S Volvo Laps Completed (third), Bill France Four Crown Award (fourth), Fast Track Driving Award (sixth), Racing Electronics Lighting Challenge (seventh) and Short Track Challenge by Protect Plus (sixth).

“We have had an incredible season, and I couldn’t begin to thank everyone who has had a hand in our success,” Praytor said. “My family has been with me all the way and we couldn’t be here without DK-LOK. There isn’t much of an off-season in our shop — we are already working on next season.”

Senior Bowl continues to expand roster
Desmond King of Iowa, the reigning Jim Thorpe Award winner for best defensive back, is among the 18 players who have accepted invitations to the 2017 Reese’s Senior Bowl. This brings the total number of players to 47.

The second Auburn player named is defensive tackle Montravius Adams. The All-Southeastern Conference performer had a career-high 8.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks this season. He also has an interception and two blocked kicks.

Others on the list are Chidobe Awuzie, Colorado cornerback; Tarell Basham, Ohio defensive end and linebacker; Matt Dayes, North Carolina State running back; Jake Elliott, Memphis kicker; Justin Evans, Texas A&M safety who once played at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College; Kyle Fuller, Baylor center; Josh Harvey-Clemons, Louisville safety; Cole Hikutini, Louisville tight end; Forrest Lamp, Western Kentucky offensive tackle; Conor McDermott, UCLA offensive tackle; Takkarist McKinley, UCLA defensive end and linebacker; Obi Melifonwu, Connecticut safety; Josh Reynolds, Texas A&M wide receiver; Jeremy Sprinkle, Arkansas tight end; Jamari Staples, Louisville wide receiver; and Jon Toth, Kentucky center.

The Reese’s Senior Bowl will bring in 110 of the top seniors and fourth-year junior graduates to Mobile. Practices to be broadcast on NFL Network and ESPN2 start on Jan. 24, with kickoff of the 68th annual Reese’s Senior Bowl set for 1:30 p.m. on Jan. 28.