Scotia Speedworld Year In Review
Slaunwhite Takes Dartmouth Dodge 200, Smith Takes Championship
I paid a visit to the Truro Flea Market last weekend and had a chat with one of the sellers who I had known for many years and had just gone to his first race in years in 2011. That race happened to be the Dartmouth Dodge 200 in September and as Ronnie and I went back and forth, I could tell how impressed he was with “that guy driving the #99 car.”
“That guy” was Terence Bay’s Craig Slaunwhite.
“You could tell he really wanted that [race] bad,” Ronnie commented on Craig’s run to the front. The former two-time Dartmouth Dodge Sportsman Series champion entered the final race of the Parts for Trucks Pro Stock Tour season in his back-up car after a crash at Speedway 660’s Open 250 destroyed his primary race car. “We’re not sure what this car will do out there today, but this thing has won five features for us,” said Slaunwhite before practice with a smile on his face.
If that wasn’t enough, Slaunwhite had to come from the rear of the field at Lap 101 after a lengthy pit stop at the halfway break caused them to work past the ten minutes allotted to each crew. Slaunwhite had been running up front prior to the Lap 100 break but with the second half upon the drivers in the field, you knew that they would be going a bit harder in this segment to put themselves in a chance to win the race. You had Shawn Turple up front who, like Slaunwhite, was a former Sportsman champion and Pro Stock feature winner at his home track. Greg Proude was also up front and looking to reverse the terrible luck that had snake bitten him throughout the season. And lets not forget, the championship battle between the likes of Smith, Flemming, Tucker, Vincent and MacKinnon brewing as well. With drivers on many different agendas, it made for an incredible finish to the 2011 season.
In the end, it was Slaunwhite who stood tall over the competition in victory lane for the first time in three years after coming from the back from the lenghty pit stop to score the win. In fact, Slaunwhite’s last win prior to the ’11 Dartmouth Dodge 200 came in this race back in 2008. The #99 Halifax Glass and Mirror/Archibald Drilling and Blasting/Howard Little Excavation driver also became one of the only three two-time winners of the event, joining John Flemming (’02 and ’06) and Shawn Tucker (’05 and ’09) as the leaders of the pack when it comes to winning the Finale.
When it comes to the championship chase, Wayne Smith told me prior to the Dash that he didn’t have to necessarily beat Shawn Tucker to take his record breaking sixth Maritime title – he just had to keep him in sight. Smith accomplished that goal by finishing fifth, two spots behind Tucker in the race. At the end of the night, the #44 Jetco Contracting team ended atop the standings by 14 points which gave the team not only their third title in the Pro Stock Tour era (2001-Present) but their sixth Maritime Touring title, a record he shared with Halifax’s (and 2012 Canadian Motorsports Hall of Fame inductee) Greg Sewart heading into the race.
As big as Slaunwhite’s win and the championship for the #44 team was, Smith announced on the front straight after climbing from his title winning chariot that he was retiring from full-time competition. Smith will run three races next year in the big “250’s” at Riverside International, Scotia Speedworld and Speedway 660 while focusing on Petty International Raceway, the race track he, Craig McFetridge and Brett Benoit purchased at the close of 2010 and saw a successful re-opening year in 2011.
The question now remains – who will step it up and become the first champion after the Oval Outlaw era? Could it be Slaunwhite celebrating his first title at the event he won in 2011? One thing is for sure, the Dartmouth Dodge 200 was one of the defining moments not only in the ’11 season at Scotia Speedworld, but in Maritime Racing history.
Lumbermart Thunder Championship Comes Down to Wire – Matthews Wins First Title
Dave Matthews entered the 2011 season with one goal in mind – to win his first stock car championship at the helm of a Lumbermart Thunder car. Mission accomplished, but it was far from easy.
In 2010, Matthews finished fifth in points and won three main features, including the Lumbermart 50 in July. The season of “what could have been” left Matthews hungry in 2011 for that championship he had come so close to in the past. He started strong out of the box by winning the season opener in May but was soon challenged by White’s Lake driver Matthew Warren, who would be in the point lead by mid-season. Warren’s point bid nearly ended before it began as he ended up missing the first heat race of the season after mechanical problems surfaced in practice. While Warren was picking his way through the field in the feature, Matthews was out front kicking off 2011 with a victory.
Warren continued to chip away at the lead Matthews built up, and by that mid-season point it was the #31 Markland Associates Honda Civic in the standings lead after the first leg of the Lumbermart 50 in July. That lead had grown to 17 points by the next week but after a 14th place finish during the Coco Beach Night feature on August 5th, the #31 found himself in a hole to not only new point leader Dave Matthews, but also Tylor Hawes, who had leapfrogged Warren to second in points.
In true racer fashion, Warren didn’t give up. Warren began chipping back into the lead of Matthews, which set up a one point showdown going into the second leg of the Lumbermart 50. Not to be counted out, Hawes entered only four points back and 2010 champion Stevie Lively entered as a long shot for back-to-back championships with two dozen points between he and Matthews. I still remember talking to each of the four title contenders prior to the final race of 2011 and each had differing thoughts heading in. “We’re too far back,” I recall Lively telling me prior to the feature. “We’re going to go out there and have some fun like we have all season.”
Hawes and Warren were pretty laid back prior to the race. “The nerves likely won’t get to me until we get on the track for the feature,” Warren told me as he sat in the tech line. Meanwhile, when I asked Matthews how nervous he was heading into Lumbermart Night on a scale to 1-10, he quickly responded with “31.” “I’ve had two weeks to sweat this out,” Matthews said with a smile on his face, referring to the off-week they had had prior to the September 2nd showdown. “We’re going to go out and try to win it all tonight.”
In the heat race, Warren would finish second to Ross Harvie while Matthews finished fourth with Hawes sandwiched between them in third. That meant heading into the feature, Warren had the championship lead by one point over Matthews and four over Hawes. Hawes found bad luck in the feature and completed the race near the back of the pack. Drew MacEachern had led a majority of the first half of the race before a caution flag came out just past the 20 lap mark. Matthews was running near the front of the pack while Warren had to charge hard in the final half of the race to have a shot at the title. The two would end up not only battling for second in the race behind eventual winner Lively, but they would be dueling for the championship. In the end, Matthews edged Warren by one spot.
While we stood on the front straight, the butterflies began to fly for Warren and Matthews. The scorers were double, triple and quadruple checking the points while we waited on the front straight. “I think I got him,” said Matthews. “He got me by two spots in the heats (two point difference), and I got him by one spot in the main (two point difference), they cancel each other out, so I got it by one point,” was the thinking of the #99 Sangster’s Automotive Civic driver. That was exactly how it played out in the end as Matthew took his first career championship by one point over Warren, 1019 to 1018. With his performance in the Lumbermart 50, Lively would finish third in the standings with Hawes and Andrew Warren (Matthew’s brother) rounding out the top five in the standings.
I used the quote during one of my Tim’s Corner articles in 2011 that “in order to really appreciate a championship, you have to lose one before you win one.” Matthews has been down that road in prior seasons and can finally call himself “the BEST Four Cylinder driver in Atlantic Canada” in the 2011 season. The battle for the Thunder title will go down as one of the biggest stories in the 2011 season.
Dillman Takes Second While Dodges Battle for Dartmouth Dodge Sportsman Title
The week following the Dartmouth Dodge Sportsman 100, I ran into point leader Jeff Dillman while I was at the Registry of Motor Vehicles. Dillman had just come off a wreck in the marquee race for Sportsman cars at Scotia Speedworld and was explaining to me how much work was involved in putting his #08 Absolute Traffic Services/Shady Brook Enterprises Dodge Charger back together. “It was bent on both ends,” Dillman explained. “After I got into Brian (Jollimore) on the backstraight, Colby (Smith) had nowhere to go but into the back of me. It takes a lot of hours to get it back together when a wreck like that happens.”
In the end, all those extra hours and work paid off in his second Dartmouth Dodge Sportsman Series title.
In that same conversation, we began talking a little history. Dillman wanted that second Sportsman championship as bad as Russell Smith Jr wanted his first one in his rookie year. “Craig (Slaunwhite) has won two and he’s been pretty successful,” commented Dillman looking back at the past few years of racing. Mel Tibert is the only other two time Sportsman champion in the last decade at the track and now Dillman has joined them.
Much like his ’09 championship, Dillman’s first feature victory of the year came during the Shriner’s Classic for Sportsman. Talk about a dramatic finish to a race, he and Colby Smith finished within inches of each other at the completion of 50 laps of that race. The win in the Classic was the second for Dillman in the 17 year history of the prestigious event and he was the first winner that didn’t carry the last name of Smith to take a win the Dartmouth Dodge Sportsman Series in 2011 as Colby and Russell Jr (no relation) had split the first four races of the season.
The game plan for Dillman was simple in the final three races following the Atlantic CAT 250 weekend. “I have to keep Aaron (Boutilier) and Russell in sight,” explained Dillman, who had an 11 point lead on the #4 Boutilier Auto Body/CARSTAR Collision Ford with three races to go. “Aaron and Russell can finish one position ahead of me in the next three races and I would still have the lead.” Dillman lost ground on August 19th as Smith gained three points (with a feature win, his fifth of the season) and Boutilier gained one point on the leader but would need more in the final two races as Dillman’s lead was still ten points on Boutilier and 13 on Smith’s #44 K.Hubley Woodworking and Contracting/Timberlea Beverage Room Dodge.
The next week it was Dillman scoring his second victory of the season by beating Smith and Boutilier on the podium. With his heat performance, Smith vaulted to second in the standings but still needed to gain 14 points on Dillman in the final week of racing. A full field of 26 Sportsman cars were in the pits for Finale Friday and while Colby Smith and Mike Alexander battled it out for the final win of 2011, Russell Smith Jr worked his way up through the field but Dillman kept him in sight and ultimately would win his second Sportsman title by nine points over Smith. Boutilier brought home third with Porter’s Lake Ford drivers Jordan Veinotte and Larry Fisher rounding out the top five in the standings.
The incredible battle between Dillman, Smith and Boutilier for the Dartmouth Dodge Sportsman title ranks up there as one of the biggest stories of 2011 at Scotia Speedworld!
Meehan Magic – Emily and Adam Score Big on Lumbermart Night
The 2011 season was full of change for the Meehan racing camp out of Rawdon. After a successful 2010 campaign in the Hydraulics Plus Bandolero class, Emily Meehan made the move to the Coco Beach Legend class in 2011 and her brother Adam stepped into the seat of the Bandolero car for the season. Both had a steep learning curve in their new Weekly Racing Series divisions at the Speedworld but both quickly got the hang of their new rides.
Adam was the only driver that didn’t have the last name Butcher to score a feature win in the first five races of the Hydraulics Plus Bandolero season in 2011. The defending champ of the series Cole Butcher won the first two races of the year before Meehan stepped up to the plate in Week Three to take his first career Bandolero victory, holding off ’10 Rookie of the Year Luke Ettinger and the Butcher brothers to take the feature win. Meehan entered September 2nd holding down third place in the Hydraulics Plus Bandolero points.
“Miss Rawdon Rocket” had also been successful in her new car. The #75 Meehan’s Garage and Trucking Legend had recorded a popular heat win on Canada Day and had scored three top ten finishes leading into September 2nd in the highly competitive Coco Beach Legend Car division. Meehan and former Lumbermart Lightning car champion Dan Michaud Jr had also been putting on a show for the Cathy Ledwidge Memorial Rookie of the Year Award, which Michaud led by 29 points heading into Labour Day Weekend.
The main features on September 2nd began with some on track fireworks. While Cole and Jarrett Butcher battled for the lead on the final lap, they made contact which sent the #3 car spinning off Turn Two. Adam was in the right place at the right time as he was running third at the time the top two made contact, which got him his second feature win of the season and kept his title hopes alive in the Hydraulics Plus Bandolero class.
Not to be outdone, his sister stepped up to the plate moments later in the Coco Beach Legends division and delivered one of the most popular feature victories of the season at the Speedworld. Not only did the rookie take her first feature win in the Legend cars, she held off champion-to-be Dylan Blenkhorn and former Canadian champion Justin MacNeill en route to victory lane. The crowd at the Speedworld that night erupted like I’ve never heard before in my five years as announcer at the track after the incredible battle amongst the top three. While the Meehan’s are one of at least six pair of siblings racing at the Speedworld on Friday nights at the Speedworld, they were one of only three to each win a race at the track this season, joining the Butcher and Smith brothers in that category. The Labour Day Weekend “Meehan Magic” was not only one of the fan favorite moments of the 2011 season but was one of the biggest news stories at the Speedworld of the season!
Brown Breaks Through, Wins Thrice in Truck Class
Lower Sackville’s Dan Smith closed off the 2010 season with two consecutive feature victories in the Scotia Speedworld Truck Class. Smith continued that momentum into this past season by winning four features and contending for the championship. In 2011, it was Vernon Brown who pulled off the double at the end of the season by winning the final two races of the season on the heels of his first career Truck Series feature win in July.
Brown pulled off his first feature win in the series on July 29th during Hydraulics Plus Night. The win was a popular one for Brown, who hails from Antrim. Racing for the Brown’s is a family affair with his sister Marie helping on his Truck when she is not at the helm of a Dartmouth Dodge Sportsman Series car and his father Larry oversees the Truck and Car when they are on track. I remember talking to Larry early in the season and he was real impressed with Vernon. “He’s come a long way since he started in the Truck class,” said Larry. “Now we just got to get that checkered flag.”
When you look back at the 2011 season, it will show that Brown won three of the final six races of the season, or 50% of the last six features run in the division in 2011. Brown is one of only ten drivers in 2011 to win three or more features (only five drivers won four or more) and was one of four repeat winners in the Truck Class. Vernon Brown’s breakout season is deserving of one of the top moments from this past season.
There it is, ten moments from the Summer of 2011 that shaped the 24th season at Scotia Speedworld. There are many others that comes to mind that easily could have made this list (many new sponsors coming on board in 2011, Calvin Clarke winning the Media Race, Blenkhorn and Pye battling to the Legends title, Gammon retiring from the Thunder class after his Lumbermart 50 win, Smith’s big win in the Lightning points, among others) but there’s only so much space in each of these columns. I hope you enjoyed the little look back at the season that was. What was your top moment of 2011? Share it with me on the Scotia Speedworld Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/sswracing!
Until next time, keep the hammer down and we’ll see you at the track!
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