THREE TO GO
Hard to believe this summer has flown by like it has folks, but we’re getting ready to make the best of the next three weekends at Scotia Speedworld.
First off the top, kudos to Ken Cunning for rescheduling the Twin 50s for Thunder and Lightning classes. These drivers and teams put a ton of work in their race cars, and while they might be as shiny or fast as the Super Late Models of the Parts for Trucks Pro Stock Tour we’ll see in three weeks, these four-cylinders put on a great show.
If you’re keeping score, the Thunder cars have had three cautions in their 250 laps of feature racing in 2014, the first two happened on Lap 214 two weeks ago. The third happened when Tim Hortons at the Airport Rookie Merle Corbin packed it into the wall off Turn Four last week.
Corbin deserves a ton of credit. He, along with Travis Brewer, started this season as the only two drivers sporting the “new generation” Civic in the Thunder class, the 1996 to 2000 Civic model. While we haven’t seen the #14 since the start of July, Corbin has stuck with it and continues to tweak on the car. The work shows as Corbin has improved his car and has shown vast improvement in his rookie season.
Speaking of that Tim Hortons at the Airport Rookie battle in the Thunder class, let’s shed some light on it with two races to go for the Thunder class (they are off on September 5th). Brad Hayes of Head Of Jeddore, who moved up to the Thunder class from the Lightning division, is fifth overall in the class and while 69 points with two races to go is virtually impossible to make up to move to fourth, he will have plenty of competition for that fifth spot in the points. One that will look at Hayes for the spot will be Corbin, who sits ninth and just 22 points behind Hayes for the spot. The top spot in the Tim Hortons Rookie of the Year battle is far from over between these two, and oh, by the way, around them in points are “The Sheriff” Kyle Gammon (7th), “The Ironman” Drew MacEachern (8th) and Stevie Lively (10th), who own six of the nine feature wins between them this season. Not bad company to keep if you’re a rookie, eh?
Andrew Lively, Nic Baker, Shane Lively and “The Mayor of Cleveland” Art MacNamara are a bit of a ways back from Hayes and are realistically out of the rookie championship picture as they sit 13th through 16th in the overall standings. The Lively boys have shown strength throughout the season, while Baker led a couple laps last week in the feature and continues to improve in his driving ability as the season wares on. Give a tip of the cap to ArtMac, hauling each week from just on the other side of Port Hawkesbury, he is the only full time driver we have from Cape Breton we’ve had in a few years. I’ve got a lot of respect for guys like Art, Paul Goulden, Jeff Atkinson and Cory Hall, among others, who haul from hours away to be with us every Friday night. On behalf of all our fans, thank you for all you do to keep the sport thriving in this city!
Much like the Parts for Trucks Pro Stock Tour, the battle at the top of the Thunder class is a three horse race. As John Flemming has, it is Dave Matthews with a sizeable but not out of reach lead with two races to go. Matthews has 24 markers on new second place driver Tim Webster, who took the runner-up spot from Matthew Warren. Warren is coming off a Cat 250 weekend three weeks ago where a lost wheel meant lost points for the defending champion.
One small issue in the 50 lapper though on Friday will open up the title battle either way. Not to bring up bad memories, but it was Matthews in the second 50 lapper last year that opened the door for Warren and made it a championship battle down to Finale Friday, which was won by the #31. Between them, the top three have four championship titles in this class between them. They all know how to win and lose championships and while it may be Matthews to lose right now, you best believe that Webster and Warren will be driving the wheels off their cars (not literally as we saw three weeks ago) to get to Matthews in two weeks.
Shoutout to Brandon Watson, who is fourth in the standings. With two to go, he sits 39 points behind Warren for third in standings and 69 points up on Hayes in fifth. Unless he misses a race or something catastrophic happens to the #9 in the next two races, he can rest assure that he’s pretty much sewn up fourth in the standings. Not impossible, he does have a small chance at second in the standings heading down the stretch, but he will need some help in order to overcome that mountain.
Only other full-time driver we haven’t mentioned heading into the 50 is “Hollywood” Chantel Ackles. The third year driver from Halifax has been struggling to find a mechanical problem after she backed her #30 into the wall about a month ago in a heat race after contact with John MacLennan. The safety gear in the car, including the cage which is barred to the nines in the back of her Honda, did its job to keep the driver safe, but something hasn’t run right with the car since the hit and she has since fell from ninth to 11th in the standings. Here’s hoping they can find the problem to get the only full time female in our two Four Cylinders classes back on track for the final two races.
While the Lightning class will be running their 50 next week, they will focus on a 25 lap affair this week. With Darrell Sullivan taking his first career feature last week, there are now seven names on the win list in the class over nine races. That says something for the competition in the class and the job the technical inspection crew is doing.
Scott Thibodeau took control of the point standings by 16 points last week after Deven Smith peeled off early and finished 14th in the 25-lap feature. The second place driver in the standings is Mike Brown, with Smith only a single point behind Smith. Brown sat in this second place spot two seasons ago before misfortune plagued his remaining races and he fell to third in 2012.
A stumble by Brown, or any of the top drivers could put them to fourth in the standings as “Rational” Richard Patrick is just five points behind Smith, six out of Brown in second and 22 out of the point lead. With three races to go, these guys are well within contention for the point championship.
The point margin dips 44 points from fourth to the tie for fifth between Sullivan and Cat 250 weekend winner Richie Moore. Like Watson in the Thunder class, a run up the standings can be done, not putting it past these two feature winners, but they may need some misfortunes from the guys in front of them. Then again, in a 50 lapper upcoming, where we saw overheating (among other) problems in the same distance in July, anything can happen.
We’ve had seven winners in nine races and three more features are scheduled. Thibodeau and Smith have each won a pair of features, with Brown, Patrick, Sullivan, Moore and leading Tim Hortons at the Airport Rookie Steve Matthews each getting to the top once. Question is, who extends the streak?
I think you have to look at three drivers right now, with three races to go, that will look to extend that, starting with Marc MacMillan. MacMillan is back in the division after a run in the Coors Light Truck division and will split the end of the season with rookie Jonathan Guy in his championship winning #192. Guy has seen much improvement in his driving in the past month or so, resulting in nearly winning a heat race a few weeks ago. With MacMillan back in the car for a bit, you’d have to believe he may be the best contender to make it eight winners this season.
Kenny Hopper was quick to remind me he finished a strong sixth in the feature one week ago. The Brown Ventilation Chevrolet started near the rear and the former feature winner in the class had to do work to get back up to the front. With a little luck and a fire under his rear that was lit with that sixth place run, keep an eye on the #107 car, who sits tenth in the standings, nine points behind eighth place.
That eighth place driver in the standings is Mark Campbell. Campbell, in his third year of Lightning racing, has been around the block a few times and while hasn’t won a feature, he knows how to get towards the front. Could the end of 2014 be the start of his winning ways in the division? We’re about to find out in the last three weeks.
Can’t count out Donovan Gaudet either. While we didn’t see the #175 last week, he came within feet of winning a feature earlier in the season with us. While not running for points (with two races missed, he is 15th in the standings), he is still a threat for the checkered flag whenever he is on the track.
With three races to go, it’s hard to tell who will pop their head out at one of our Lightning races. Last week, with the Bandoleros off, Joey Sutherland got back behind the wheel of a Lightning car where he has had lots of success. You’ve got Tim Hortons at the Airport Rookies like Joey Holland, Mitchell Hopkins, Thomas Ackles and the father/son combo of Tom and Devon Stewart who are having a boatload of fun in their first seasons and it’s great to see them running at the track each week. The Lightning class has put on some awesome racing this year, and we expect it to run the same this and the next two weeks!
Nicholas Naugle took a big win last week in the Strictly Hydraulics 50 at Scotia Speedworld. Sure, he beat Cole Butcher and became only the second driver this season to do so regardless what happened to Butcher but it is a huge momentum swing for the #88 Brycon team. Naugle moved to third with the win and now sits just eight points behind Jeff Cruickshank. While it will be hard to top Butcher in the final three races for the championship, 44 points isn’t an impossible mark to make up but as said above it is a big margin.
Still not out of this battle is Emily Meehan and Jeff Atkinson. Meehan, the only other driver to win in this class in 2014 outside of Butcher and Naugle, had a steering column issue last week and fell to seventh on the track and fourth in the standings. Even with her mechanical issue, she is still only nine points out of Cruickshank for second. With her finishing second last weekend at Petty Raceway in the Atlantic Tiltload 50 in the Maritime League of Legends Tour to Naugle, she may also have a bit of momentum entering these final three races at her home track.
Atkinson has been running strong all season and has six top five finishes to his credit in 2014. While Atkinson is 68 points off the lead, he is only two dozen points out of second and could easily come up to second place before this thing is said and done.
Back on the card this week are the Hydraulics Plus Bandoleros and Dartmouth Dodge Sportsman. Let’s begin with the Bandoleros, who will be contesting their INEX National Bandolero Qualifier on Friday. Okay, I know some will ask, what is that? Well, INEX and US Legend Cars International hold “Nationals” events each year for Bandoleros, Legends (Road and Oval) and Thunder Roadsters. Our Legends qualifier was last week, won by Naugle, and if he were to go to Legends Nationals in Las Vegas at the Bullring at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, he would get an automatic provisional into the field without having to qualify. The 2014 Bandolero Nationals have already taken place at Atlanta Motor Speedway, so the winner of this race will get a locked in spot to the 2015 edition, which a date and venue has yet to be announced for.
For most of our teams, all it means is that we’re running an extra five laps on our feature for a 20 lap event. Braden Langille enters with a 12 point lead on Adam Meehan and an 18 point advantage on Cole Tanner. The last time these guys and gal ran was Atlantic Cat 250 weekend, when Meehan closed three points on Langille with his win. Craig MacDonald post points on both subbing in for Tanner with a third place feature finish and fourth place heat finish.
Either way, these three appear to be the ones set to fight it out to the finish. After last weekend’s triumph at Speedway 660, Tanner has three championships to his credit but none at his home track. Meehan won the title last year while Langille, a former INEX champion, is looking for his first track championship.
Luke Ettinger and Wyatt McCulloch have their championship hopes dangling by a thread. We mentioned that 40 plus number gap being too much, and with 42 and 43 points being the difference between the leader and Ettinger and McCulloch, respectively, it might be too much to make up in three events. With one point between them though for fourth in the standings, you best believe they will be on their game to take that spot.
The battle between Dylan Sutherland and Megan Parrott has been ongoing all season. The two whose fathers ran together for many years in the Lightning class and both hail from Beaverbank, have 13 points between them with Sutherland ahead of Parrott. While this may be the biggest margin between them all season, they have a friend tagging along in Nathan Blackburn, who is tied for seventh with Parrott. Blackburn has been firing on all cylinders recently, winning heat races and flirting with, if not in, the top five in the last few features. He’ll be making a real strong case for sixth in the standings if all goes right in the final three races.
Austin MacDonald leads the rookie chase in the Bandolero class. It is great to see new blood in the class, with drivers like Nathan Langille, Danny Chisholm, Colton Noble and Nathan Singer making their first full time seasons this year. These young men are the future of racing at our 3/10-mile oval and it is great to see them enjoying their first seasons on the track!
Two drivers that might cash in on the Nationals berth if they win on Friday would be Cory Hall and Josh Langille. Langille has made two starts this season at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Louden, New Hampshire and Hall has a strong connection with Chris Woods Racing and Repair in Kannapolis. While Hall is looking at bigger things in 2015, if that berth is won, it may entice Hall to stick around for at least one more Bandolero ride next year.
Dartmouth Dodge Sportsman have three races to go and have been off for two weeks since the Dartmouth Dodge 100. Darren Wallage is your point leader with a 20 point advantage over DJ Casey. Casey had motor issues at the 100 and hopes to be firing on all cylinders in his #97 R&A Automotive/Never Greener Services Chevrolet on Friday. Aaron Boutilier blew his second motor of the season at Riverside Speedway two weeks ago and was unsure if he was going to return this season. If he does, and we hope to see him Friday, he is just 28 points out of the lead with three races to go and five points up on Harry Ross White.
The gap from fourth to fifth is 86 points and sees Alex Johnson in fifth, who also had motor issues at the 100 but from all reports, he is ready to go Friday. Fred Schofield is just one point behind Johnson and five points behind Schofield is Brentley Pirri, so one hiccup from Johnson could throw him back at least two spots in the points.
Pete Miller and Travis Roma enter Friday with just two points between them and Roma is only 22 points out of fifth. Both Miller and Roma began to hit their stride at the halfway point of the season but each have had minor hiccups over the last few point paying events.
I’m glad that our Sportsman class, and all of our classes at Scotia Speedworld, enjoy healthy car counts. Now, as I mentioned, there was some attrition over the last few weeks (Larry Fisher’s mechanical problems kept him out of the Dartmouth Dodge 100), but our lowest car count we’ve had all season in the class is 18 cars in our Dartmouth Dodge Sportsman division. Considering some other tracks in the region are struggling to get to that number for a big race, it’s pretty neat to see that many Late Models weekly at our track. Keep it up guys and gals!
With extra laps on the Hydraulics Plus Bandolero and Thunder classes along with Kiddie Rides this Friday, it is an event you will not want to miss and a great way to kick off the last long weekend of the summer. It’s going to be a fun night at the track for the whole family, and I hope you can join us out there for it!
Until Friday, keep the hammer down and we’ll see you at the track!
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