Arguably the story of the year at Scotia Speedworld happened on the final afternoon of racing of the season, in the final feature of the season.
We talk about this sport as being a team sport. Without a pit crew at the track, without sponsors and without those who stop by the shop on a Tuesday night to lend a hand to get the car ready, it would be pretty hard for our race teams, from Bandolero to Sportsman, to do what they do every Friday night.
Marc MacMillan had his share of rough races to begin the 2013 ACE Lumbermart Lightning campaign. In fact, the season was kind of a weird one when you look at championship contenders tripping and stumbling over loose points. Richie Moore came in as a favorite when Jorden Smith scaled back to a part time schedule, but a disqualification on Opening Day set him back. The winner of that first week, “Rational” Richard Patrick, led the points for a majority of the season before a timing belt broke in a heat and a crash two weeks later ended his season. Patrick’s closest point chaser, J.R. Lawson, broke prior to the feature the week before and that dashed his chances at a championship run.
That left MacMillan, who had a couple of mechanical setbacks in the first two races, chasing B.J. Nicholson in the standings, who hadn’t had a top five feature run up to the mid-point in August. MacMillan and Nicholson played a bit of cat and mouse over the next few weeks, with one chipping off a point there and the other gaining a point here. Jamie Dillman would fall off the pace of the two and Chevy MacDonald would still have a mathematical shot at making a championship happen on the last race of the year, but it appeared that we had a two horse race heading into September 15th.
That is until practice. At least, we thought.
MacMillan’s Championship Sunday began with his #192 Multi-Tech Automotive, Glenholme Petro Pass Neon on the hook heading back to pit road after the first practice. The right front hub had broke on the car and with the team not having an extra, they went to work trying to salvage what they could to get the car back out on track. Even ACE Lumbermart Thunder point leader Matthew Warren was under the #192 car helping MacMillan’s team get the car back into championship form. With less than a half hour before the green flag, MacMillan was circling the pits making sure the right front would stay on the car. With practice completed, they had no track time to see if the car was right or not.
The heat race proved to be disastrous.
While working his way up through the field, the right front hub broke again, slamming the #192 car hard, passenger side, into the Turn Two wall, leaving marks on the wall over halfway up the white painted concrete. The crash would leave MacMillan in seventh in the final running order for the heat race and with Nicholson only able to salvage fifth, it was a seven point advantage for the #140 Seagull Trucking Neon heading into the feature.
How does that saying go, you can’t keep a good man down?!
As soon as the high handicap heat was over, suspecting what had gone wrong with the #192 car, fellow ACE Lumbermart Lightning car driver Mark Campbell drove his car up on the trailer and began removing the right front assembly off his #150 ADESA Auto Auctions Neon for MacMillan to use. With help other teams in the pits, including Moore and Dillman, the work on the #192 began for him to get back out for the feature.
Much to the surprise of the fans in the grandstands (and even this guy standing in the infield), MacMillan was on the track for the Lightning feature. Again, not knowing how the car was going to handle by changing an important corner of the car and a seven point hole to climb out of combined with starting last in the feature, it seemed improbable that MacMillan would be the one celebrating the title at the end of 25-laps.
Cue the comeback.
MacMillan got up on the wheel and blazed a trail to the front. By the halfway mark, MacMillan was scratching the surface of a top five run with Nicholson in sights. Keep in mind, even if Nicholson was just a couple spots behind MacMillan in the feature, it was still the #140’s crown. The goal was simple for Nicholson, just keep the blue and white in sight, and you have your first championship.
Some of those goals though, are easier said than done.
Once MacMillan made his move and continued marching to the front, Nicholson was stuck battling with Dillman for a spot just outside the top five. As it was, if Nicholson kept the spot, he still had a chance of holding on to the title by a point or three. Instead, the two swapped more paint and you could see the water boiling inside both race cars. That boiling water turned to into more contact and eventually the #158 going around on the back straightaway. With the no fault rule, Nicholson was shown the rear of the restart under ten to go and while he drove his heart out trying to get back up to the front, it was only good enough to salvage seventh.
Meanwhile, MacMillan finished second behind Jorden Smith and in front of Moore. That is a ten point swing between MacMillan and Nicholson. If you take away the seven points Nicholson had entering on the #192 car, it leaves three points - in the favor of Glenholme’s MacMillan.
For me, this story goes back to after that heat race and the total sportsmanship shown by Campbell and the teams that helped MacMillan replace the hub on the car. When you come to the race track with a competitive car, you come to run up front with a chance at winning. Campbell has had a top five car every time he’s left his shop and his third place run in the high handicap heat showed just that. To drive his perfectly adjusted car up on the trailer for another competitor to fight for a championship takes a lot. Hats off to Campbell, Moore and the rest who helped getting the #192 out on the track to have a chance at winning the title, after all, losing a championship in the pits has to be probably one of the worst feelings in racing.
Congratulations to Dave Matthews, who was a winner at Petty International Raceway on Saturday in the Mini Stock feature and to Kyle MacMillan, who came home second in the 25-lapper. I’ve always said we had the BEST Four Cylinder Drivers in Atlantic Canada at Scotia Speedworld. On track and off track stories like we’ve seen here are prime examples.
Until next time, keep the hammer down and we’ll see you at the track!
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