Scott Dixon, Helio Castroneves and Raphael Matos have been voted to the 2008 All-America Auto Racing First Team by the American Auto Racing Writers and Broadcasters Association, topping a good week for Indy Racing League participants.

The trio are among 17 drivers in seven categories eligible for the prestigious Jerry Titus Award, which will be presented to the overall driver of the year at a gala ceremony in California next month, as Dixon and Castroneves - first and second in points - swept first team honours in the open-wheel category as the top two vote getters.

Dixon recorded a record-tying six victories in 2008, including the Indianapolis 500, to win his second series championship by 17 points over Castroneves, who also established a series record by adding eight second-place finishes to his two late-season wins. The pair easily out-distanced the other nominees in the open-wheel category and are now both four-time All-Americans, with Dixon making a third appearance on the first team and Castroneves debuting among the elite group.

Matos, meanwhile, earned first team honours in the 'At Large' category, having won the Firestone Indy Lights championship on the strength of three victories. He is the fifth Indy Pro Series/Indy Lights champion since 2002 to earn first team honours, and will graduate to the IndyCar Series in 2009.

Ryan Briscoe and Tony Kanaan were both voted to the AARWBA second team, Briscoe for the first time after taking his first IndyCar Series victories en route to fifth in the championship. Kanaan, who won once in 2008 and finished third overall, was elected for the fourth time.

Danica Patrick and Dan Wheldon both earned honourable mentions by garnering at least five per cent of the overall votes, Patrick after becoming the first woman to win a major IndyCar event and Wheldon on the strength of two series wins as he was named to the team for the fourth time.

Elsewhere, Firestone Indy Lights team owner Sam Schmidt is set to receive the 2008 Visionary Leadership Award from the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation in recognition of his 'outstanding professional and philanthropic leadership'. The former IndyCar racer will be joined by actress Jane Seymour, who will receive the 2008 Philanthropy Award.

"I am so touched and honoured by this recognition," the founder of the Sam Schmidt Paralysis Foundation admitted, "Not only was Chris a friend, but he inspired me and so many others to pull through challenging times and move forward with my life."

Schmidt founded his eponymous foundation after a practice crash left him with a spinal cord injury that paralysed him from the chest down. He has since taken the passion and commitment that made him a competitive race car driver and has focused that energy on creating a broader awareness of spinal cord injuries. The Sam Schmidt Paralysis Foundation and the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation have worked together for several years to fund cutting-edge research to find more effective treatments for spinal cord injuries.

"Sam has demonstrated extraordinary generosity of time, talent and resources, and his efforts have touched many people," said Peter T Wilderotter, president and CEO of the Reeve Foundation, "This award is presented with gratitude to Sam for his enthusiastic dedication, loyal support and inspirational example."

On a lighter note, Andretti Green Racing driver Patrick came out on top of another annual list, beating golfer Tiger Woods, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and Super Bowl-winning New York Giant Eli Manning to be named as the most searched for athlete in 2008, according to AOL's review of internet, mobile and video searches.

The 26-year old, who raced into national prominence with a fourth-place finish in the Indianapolis 500 in 2005, increased her popularity with several milestones in 2008 and, prior to the start of the IndyCar season, graced the pages of Sports Illustrated's legendary Swimsuit Edition, an issue that reaches more than 69 million readers as well as more than 250 million online visitors.



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