STAFF THAT GO THE EXTRA MILE
The 2014 season officially came to a close last weekend with the 2014 Scotia Speedworld Awards Banquet.
For those that weren’t at the Best Western Plus Glengarry in Truro, they missed a pretty good time. One of the biggest attended banquets in the last few years, over 300 plus jammed the hall for another wonderful meal, followed by the awards ceremony emceed by Scotia Speedworld General Manager Ken Cunning and dance with Chad White spinning the tunes. The purpose of the awards banquet is to celebrate the accomplishments of our teams and drivers throughout the past season, and we had plenty to look back and reflect on.
While we will look back on the season that was on track over the next few weeks and months of the off-season, I do want to take some time and give a few of our staff a little bit of recognition. Yes, all of our staff does an amazing job, from Maria Sellars and Debbie McGinley at the back gate, all the way to the administration office in Burnside where Marilyn Mason holds down the fort (yes teams, she is the one that does all the paperwork and prepares your cheques when you do end up with cash coming your way), but I want to highlight a couple of gentlemen that were recognized at our banquet on Saturday night.
Probably the most visible man at a race track is the one perched atop the flagstand conducting the races. For the last few years, the guy waving all those flags has been Ralph Vokey. Vokey’s 47th year in motorsports was 2014 and is widely traveled in this country, waving flags everywhere from the bullrings in Ontario - familiar names like Barrie and Sunset Speedways, to the short tracks in Atlantic Canada over the past few seasons.
Ralph began flagging in Halifax and on the Parts for Trucks Pro Stock Tour back in 2009 when he and his wife Debbie moved to Lake Charlotte. He quickly became a valued member of our racing community and I have had the privilege of traveling to many Tour races with him and Marty McRae over the last five years. We shared a lot of stories over the thousands of miles we have put in together over the last few years, some I’m sure Ralph would not want me to tell and some that would take a while to write here for you.
All good things must come to an end, and even after pushing on the last couple of years with his wife wanting some more time with him during the summer, Ralph is hanging up the headset. I’ll tell you this little story though. Debbie wanted to do a cross Canada trip this past year and Ralph had told me in 2013 that he was going to call it a career. He wanted to make it 45 years, he had made it 46 and the van was calling his name for a trip across the county. I kept saying on the public address at the track that Debbie had said it was time to call it quits.
Ralph called me a couple of weeks after the 2013 season came to a close and a few weeks before the banquet. Ralph typically calls once a week or once every two weeks during the season to catch up on what had gone on, if there was any news or to talk about travel arrangements for the week. The off-season calls from Lake Charlotte came in about once or twice a month, and this particular call, you could hear a certain ring in Ralph’s voice.
“I’ve been out cutting the grass, and doing extra chores around the house the last few weeks,” said Ralph, who drives a school bus during the week. “I’m trying to convince Debbie that I’m working hard around here, so I can get one more year in at the track.”
It turns out that Debbie had to make a family trip back to Ontario this past April, a trip that would see her gone for the opening months of Summer.
With Debbie not at home, Ralph called me in March after they got back from a trip down South to inform me he was going racing in 2014.
You know when you get those calls of big news? This one was pretty big to me!
I know I’m going to miss Ralph around the race track. From the Tuesday night calls when the first question is asking me when the pit gates open for the Tour race on Saturday, to those Friday night chats prior to us going racing at Scotia Speedworld when Ralph would stop up in the tower. I hope you don’t become a stranger Ralphy - the door to my booth is always open if you ever want to watch a race, unless it’s locked, then bang really loudly on the door!
One thing is for sure, whoever fills the gap on the stand next year has some big shoes to fill!
Another guy I want to give credit to is someone who Lightning champion Mike Brown gave a mention to in his championship speech. Mark Wilson, or as I call him, “The Captain,” came on board mid way through the season as a substitute when Speedworld race director Ken Cunning was out sick during the first weekend in August. Mark did such a good job, or liked it so much in the tower, that he was up there with us for the rest of the season, even when Ken returned.
Ken has made a lot of great decisions in his tenure at Scotia Speedworld - appointing Mark upstairs to call the action stands out as the best he’s made all year.
For those fans that might not know what a race director does, he or she is the proverbial glue that holds the show together. The main objective on a Friday night is to, as the title states, direct the race from the tower. The race director calls conditions on the race track to the flagman and drivers, whether it is green, there’s a caution on track or if there is a need for a red flag. He is the voice in the ears of the drivers. He makes the competition calls, so if there is a driver misbehaving, he has the option to black flag them. He also has the instant replay at his side, so he can look back and make a call on an incident or a photo finish. If he makes the “wrong call” in the eyes of a competitor, he is the guy they come to have a conversation, most of the times friendly, to get an explanation on said call they were involved in. Not to mention he works closely with tower staff and the pit staff to make sure the night is going smoothly.
From everyone I have spoken with, Mark Wilson has done an exceptional job as our Friday night race director.
For those that are trying to put a face and a name to Wilson, he has been around the sport for years. Wilson, from Lantz, is a multi-time Hobby Stock champion at the Speedworld, winning the title in 2005 and 2007. Before moving up to the Hobby Stock class in 2003, Wilson ran Thunder cars at the track. After hanging up the helmet at the completion of the 2009 season, the final year the Hobby Stocks ran as a class at Scotia Speedworld, he transitioned into the “other side” of the sport, helping out with tech on the Parts for Trucks Pro Stock Tour and working as a line-up official at Scotia Speedworld. He continued to keep his racing skills as sharp as he could as well as the pace car driver on the Parts for Trucks Tour.
In short, he understands the sport. Mark has been involved with it and around it for so long that he knows how the sport operates and what happens on a weekly basis.
To put it in perspective, I spoke with Aaron Boutilier at Petty Raceway back in August as he prepared his car for a Maritime Sportsman Challenge race. As I walked pit road prior to the race, Aaron called me over and asked me who the new voice on the radio was on Friday night. He was quick to tell me that he was one of the best on the radio with the drivers he had heard in years. From letting the cars about to be lapped that the leaders were coming, to thanking them for not causing an issue, to even thanking the drivers after the race and pumping them up beforehand to give them a bit of confidence. “He spoke on the radio enough, but not too much,” Aaron told me that day. “He knew what we wanted to hear.”
Mike Brown echoed those words last Saturday, quickly giving Mark kudos for the wonderful job he did on the radio. I can tell you he is great with his tower staff too, calmly explaining a call if it was needed to be elaborated on and was quick to thank the staff he had in the tower, myself included, for doing a great job on the night and keeping the show running smooth.
Again, there are dozens that make our Friday nights happen, and it will likely be an article in the future to profile more of those that make the show go on without a hitch. After Saturday night, these two come to mind that deserve some special recognition for the job they do at the track.
Until next time, keep the hammer down and we’ll see you at the track!
|BACK TO ARCHIVES|