Matthews, Matthew and Meehan, Oh My!
When chatting with NASCAR iRacing Series World Championship driver and my co-host on Hot Lap Radio (hotlapradio.com) Brian Schoenburg two weeks ago, he said something very poignant when talking about capturing a championship. “It seems like, especially in this sport, you have to lose one in order to really know how it feels and to appreciate how big winning one is.” If this is the case, Matthew Warren will make a very fitting and deserving champion when the time comes. Warren, the #31 Markland Associates Honda Civic lost out in his first championship point hunt in the Lumbermart Thunder class to someone who has been there before, Dave Matthews. With two wins this season to back up his pair of wins last year, Warren has established himself as not only a hotshoe at the Speedworld but a championship contender.
How about Matthews coming through in the clutch though? While fellow championship contenders Warren and Tylor Hawes told me they weren’t nervous pre-race, when I asked Matthews on a scale of one to ten how nervous he was entering Lumbermart Night, his answer was as quick as I’ve ever heard – 31. “He’s been good all season long and I know it will come down to us at the end of the night. Tylor will be tough too, but I’m worried about that #31 car [Warren],” said Matthews as he rolled his car through tech. During intros, the point leader was relaxed and didn’t seem to be nervous or worried before climbing aboard his #99 Sangster’s Automotive Honda Civic. Even with Warren pouring on the pressure in the late laps on Matthews, the Kennetcook native kept Warren behind him for that second place spot – a position in the final race, on the final lap, coming out of the final corner that ultimately determined the season long champion.
That’s how incredible the competition is in this class and I know from seeing it first hand for the last five years that these guys pour their hearts and souls into these Civics. Case in point, Drew MacEachern. After an altercation two weeks prior, the #13 Darkside Racing team had to thrash on that car for most of that span to get it ready for Friday night. Dartmouth Dodge Sportsman Series driver Jordan Veinotte helped worked on getting the car back together and told me that it needed lots of TLC to get ready for the 50. “Tim, that thing was bent pretty bad after the wreck,” Jordan told me last Saturday afternoon. “To hear how well that car performed last night is great to hear after all the work that went into that [and the #27] car.”
Perform well was an understatement. Drew MacEachern had the field covered in the Lumbermart 50, setting out from his front row starting spot and leading the first 23 laps of the race up until a caution flag closed in second place, which to that point had been behind by about a full straightaway. If it wasn’t for that caution flag, we may be sitting here talking about MacEachern pulling off the biggest win of his Thunder car career. Nevertheless, MacEachern pulled off a highly respectable sixth place finish on Friday night – something he can build on in 2012 as he will one again look to climb the mountain as one of “the BEST four cylinder drivers in Atlantic Canada.”
If it wasn’t for a rocky start for the season, we may have been here talking about a back-to-back champion. After all, Stevie Lively turned up the heat on his competition the last two races of the season by winning his third and fourth features of the season to cap off 2011. When all the dust settled and the cars had passed through “Lawrence Hopper’s Hotel California” at the end of the night, Lively and I talked about points and the prospect of passing Hawes for third in points. “Man, that would be great considering how our season went,” said Lively after the race. Like last year, Lively scratched and clawed his way back to the top, but ran out of time to catch the top spot. Great effort by the #32 team!
How about the drive by Emily Meehan last Friday night? The 16 year old speedster from Rawdon ran a flawless 25-lap race to capture her first Coco Beach Legend car feature in a matter of just 14 starts at the Speedworld this season. Coming into the race, “Miss Rawdon Rocket” was optimistic about her chances despite a rough weekend leading into Lumbermart Night. “Everything right there was broke,” as Meehan motioned towards the right front corner of her #75 Ocean Truck Equipment Legend. “We broke a camshaft in Petty and we had a line come loose in practice today. We’re going to be good for the feature though.”
And good she was. Meehan held off a hard charging Dylan Blenkhorn, who couldn’t seem to get the power off the corner to complete the pass on the #75. When she emerged from her winning car after the feature, the crowd erupted in one of the loudest cheers and applause that I have heard in the past five years of being on the horn at the Speedworld. With the win, it closes Meehan to within 14 points of Dan Michaud Jr for the top rookie honors heading into Friday night. The win also came on the heels of her brother Adam taking the victory in the Hydraulics Plus Bandolero feature minutes before. The triumph also comes one year after Emily scored a big Bandolero win in New Brunswick on Labour Day Weekend in 2010. Seems like the long September weekend and checkered flags go hand-in-hand for the team!
The two closest championship chases that will run on Friday night could see two rookie champions emerge. In the Hydraulics Plus Bandoleros, it is freshman Cole Tanner leading veteran Jarrett Butcher by four points. With that being just two feature positions (or four heat race positions), it could go either way on Friday night and with Butcher on a hot streak as of late, Tanner will have to be on his “A” game to hold off the #3. Adam Meehan is still mathematically involved in the chase but will need some big problems early from the #33 and #3 to amass the 24 points he needs to gain on Tanner for the championship.
Russell Smith Jr. knows what it is like to become a rookie champion. Smith won the Lumbermart Lightning championship as a freshman back in 2006 but if he wants to pull the feat in a Sportsman car he’ll have to come from behind to do it. Fourteen points is the gap between he and Jeff Dillman for the championship and just one point behind Smith sits Aaron Boutilier. While Boutilier and Smith chase their first Dartmouth Dodge Sportsman Series title, Dillman will look to become the third two-time in the last ten years, joining Craig Slaunwhite and Mel Tibert if he can end up on top on Friday night. Boutilier currently leads the way in the Lewis Kelly Excavating and Topsoil Consistency Award, which is awarded to the driver highest in the standings without a feature victory. Dillman has a pair of feature wins to his credit this season, including the 17th Annual Shriner’s Classic for Sportsman while Smith has amassed five feature wins (or 50% of the Dartmouth Dodge Sportsman Series features this summer).
It is more than likely that Dylan Blenkhorn has the Coco Beach Legend car title wrapped up heading into Friday night. Blenkhorn enters with a 30 point lead on his father Paul and based on a 15 car field would just have to start the feature if that lead remains in tact during the heat race. More than likely, we will have a couple more cars than that though and with the twists and turns we saw last year to give Paul the title, this thing isn’t as wrapped up as Jorden Smith’s title was in the Lumbermart Lightning class was last week.
After the events of last week, the Scotia Speedworld Truck Class will go down to whether JP Arsenault can fire up his #4 Pico et Bebitte Chevrolet and answer the call to the green flag in the feature. Dan Smith entered last week second in the points, just four points behind Arsenault but a violent crash into the tires in Turn Two ended those hopes. Smith was released from the hospital on Monday morning after being held at the QE2 in Halifax for observation. The multi-time Most Sportsmanlike Driver at the Speedworld is “very sore” after the wreck and recovering at home at last report. We send our thoughts out to the Lower Sackville driver, who will finish fifth in the championship standings after Friday nights race. Jason Fenton is second in points, 42 points behind Arsenault with one race to go. In an eight truck field, the most points that can be gained during a race meet (considering the two trucks battling for the championship start both races) is 19 points.
For a preview on the Parts for Trucks Pro Stock Tour season finale on Saturday, check out my column on MaritimeProStockTour.com. The entry list also includes a former Hydraulics Plus Bandolero champion who will make his first Pro Stock Tour start Saturday. It makes for a must-see weekend of racing at Scotia Speedworld, so if you haven’t made plans to hear the motors roar one final time in HRM this season you best do it now. Tickets are on sale at TicketAtlantic.com, so what are you waiting for? Go. Order your tickets. I’ll wait.
K. Tickets purchased? Good.
With that, there’s only one more thing to say – until Friday night, keep the hammer down and we’ll see you at the track!
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