new season, fresh starts
Just as I will start the Parts for Trucks Pro Stock Tour season on Saturday, many of us will go into Sunday with a blank sheet of paper.
Sure, we can speculate on how the season is going to go, the favorites going in and who is going to do what. After all, that’s why we’re here, right?!
Let’s start with the two divisions with champions that could make some history - we’ll begin with the Coors Light Trucks. Dan Smith will look to win his third consecutive championship this season in the Truck division. From what we know, we have never had a three-time consecutive champion in any division over the past 26 seasons and Smith can change that this year.
Both have been tough to obtain for Smith. In 2013, he had to hold off Ryan Goldsmith who came out of the box firing on all cylinders and had a strong end to the season. Smith was consistent, stood his ground and at the end came out on top by six points over Goldsmith. One year prior, it was the Smith and JP Arsenault see-saw battle that saw Arsenault’s championship hopes dashed early on Finale Friday and Smith going to the title by 17 points, which was not indicative of how the season went back and forth between the two.
The same can even be said for 2011, when Arsenault and Smith went toe-to-toe for the title. If it wasn’t for two hard wrecks at the end of ’11, we may have been talking about Smith going for four titles. But, we can’t dwell on what might have been.
Smith will still have Goldsmith to fend off for the top spot and Jason Fenton will be a contender as well. Fenton has had a stumble or two in the last couple seasons that has prevented him from a championship run. That’s how close this class is, you really cannot afford one bad race. If Fenton is consistent, the #3 just might be able to stop Smith’s drive to title three.
The Rookie of the Year battle has four drivers that could potentially go for the freshman title in 2014 in the Coors Light Trucks. Marc MacMillan comes off his 2013 Lightning title to the Truck class to challenge Cory Leonard, Adam Carter and Matt Vaughan for the title. Vaughan shared some time with his grandfather Larry, finishing on the podium last season in one of his limited starts. One would believe he would be a favorite for the title, but with three others in the mix, this has the potential to be a great battle to follow all season.
While the Coors Light Trucks Champion could make history this season, so could the champion who is ready to defend in the Strictly Hydraulics Legends. Cole Butcher has won the last two championships in the Legends class at Scotia Speedworld and will be gunning for a third beginning with this weekend. Butcher is one of two champions from 2013 who opened their season with a win on opening day, a tradition he hopes to continue on Sunday.
Last season, Butcher had to hold off “The Legend” Cy Harvey and Danny Harvey for the championship down the stretch. This season, they will have to go at it with not only a mix of old guard, like “Miss Rawdon Rocket” Emily Meehan, Jeff Cruickshank and Paul Goulden, among others, but with a mix of new drivers and teams. While only two qualify for rookie status because of previous races, we have five new teams coming into the Strictly Hydraulics Legends, including the two former Thunder car standouts who we expect to put on the duel for the Cathy Ledwidge Memorial Rookie of the Year Award - Jordan Pirri and Tylor Hawes. Nicholas Naugle and Jarrett Butcher, both of whom have enough races in the US in 2014 to discount them from rookie eligibility in the class, along with former Parts for Trucks Pro Stock Tour driver Brad Brown, are also looking at full-time runs in the class this season. That is on top of a few more new part-time teams that will pop in throughout the season.
While Marc MacMillan is moving up to the Coors Light Truck class, that does not mean there is not a potential for a repeat champion. Jorden Smith, a two-time champion of the class that makes the Lightning division his playground every time he is on the track, is registered for this season and could potentially waltz away with the title IF he runs the full season. Last year, Smith ran a partial schedule in the class while one of the most entertaining championship battles in recent division history unfolded between BJ Nicholson and MacMillan.
If Smith does not run a full campaign, the championship is a wide open affair for someone to capture their first track championship. Mike Brown, “Rational” Richard Patrick and Richie Moore are all winners in the class from 2013 and will look to translate that into a championship run. Chevy and Earl MacDonald, Jamie Dillman, JR Lawson, Mark Campbell and Donovan Gaudet, among others, came close to winning a feature last year and will look to add their name to victory lane in 2014. Returning to the class include Scott Thibodeau after a few years off following a run in the Late Model Sportsman class and “Big Daddy” Kenny Hopper. Hopper is a former feature winner in the class that last season competed in the Thunder class.
The Lightning class boasts potentially the biggest freshman class of any Weekly Racing Series division at the track for 2014. Upwards of seven rookies, including the duo of Devon and Thomas Stewart, Joe Collins, Joseph Holland, Mitchell Hopkins, Thomas Ackles, Jonathan Guy and Steve Matthews, have all applied to run for their first full seasons this year. Of note, Joseph Holland’s entry comes out of the same stable as Coors Light Truck contender Jason Fenton, Mitchell Hopkins is driving the 2003 Ford Focus that Mike McGrath drove in 2013, Thomas Ackles is the father of Thunder driver “Hollywood” Chantel Ackles, Jonathan Guy is driving the championship car vacated by Marc MacMillan and Steve Matthews is the spotter for Jerome Kehoe on the Parts for Trucks Pro Stock Tour.
With a great group of returning veterans, combined with a healthy mix of new blood coming into the sport, the Lightning championship picture could well be worth keeping an eye on this season.
On the other side of the Four Cylinder coin, the Thunder class comes with the unknown of a spec tire for the season. In 2014, the Thunder division will be running on used Federal Legend tires, which should, by what everyone says, bring the division closer together and the competition should be tighter than ever.
At the top, you have four former champions returning in hopes of restoring past glory. Last season’s champion Matthew Warren will hope to stay as the “King of the Mountain,” but will have familiar foe Dave Matthews nipping at his bumper. Matthews fell short in winning his second championship to Warren, whom he had to beat to take the title in 2011. Stevie Lively had the best handicap of any driver in the class in 2013 and looks to follow up his season with a second championship to go with the one earned in 2010. Tim Webster won two championships in the class and will look to become the first ever three-time champion of the class in 2014.
Former Lightning car driver Brad Hayes moves up to run for the Rookie of the Year Award in the class for 2014 and will be joined by Andrew and Shane Lively and Nic Baker. Baker is the boyfriend of “Hollywood” Chantel Ackles, who will return for her third season in the Thunder class under the new “Shotgun Racing” banner. Yes, I am taking suggestions for pet names to make it easier on the call of a feature. If the NASCAR guys can milk “Stenica,” why can’t I, right?!
Speaking of returnees, you’d have to believe Kyle Gammon and Drew MacEachern will be contenders for the overall title as well after stumbles last season prevented them from taking a title last season. Also pre-registered for the season include Travis “Tragedy” Brewer, Richard Ramsay, Wally MacCulloch, Josh King and JR Lawson.
The most dominant champion from 2013 is back again to try and re-write his respective chapter in the history books of Scotia Speedworld. Adam Meehan won six feature races last year, including the first three of the season and he is back to defend his crown.
The trouble he may have, which will be good for our fans of the division, is that a lot of his peers are returning.
Cole Tanner, Braden Langille and Wyatt McCulloch are all former feature winners at the Speedworld and will hope to return to the hallowed ground of victory lane this season. Veterans like Luke Ettinger, Dylan Sutherland, Josh Langille and Nathan Blackburn are also returning for this season to look to etch their names into history. Danny Chisholm is also returning for his second season and I can tell you after talking to his crew last week, the young man is bouncing off the chip in preparation for his first full-time season at the Speedworld.
One driver I’m excited to see run this year after the end of 2013 is Megan Parrott. Caught up with Megan at Tech ‘n Tune, where they told me they discovered some motor related issues midway through last year and when they got it fixed, she picked up some speed! Watch for the Keizer Collision Centre #10 to be quick this Sunday.
The rookie class in the Bandolero class includes Colton Noble, Austin MacDonald and Owen Mahar. All three have extensive racing roots running deep, Owen is the son of Parts for Trucks Pro Stocker Daryl Mahar and Austin is the grandson of Canadian and Maritime Hall of Famer Rollie MacDonald. Whoever edges out on top of this battle will have to earn it and Sunday will be the chance for them to draw first blood.
We finish here with the big boys and girl in the Weekly Racing Series in the Dartmouth Dodge Sportsman Series. Who’s going to be tough? Well, let’s just say this, the top 21 in points from last year have either registered or verbally committed to the season in at least a part-time role. You’d have to believe that defending champion Darren Wallage and 2012 champion Aaron Boutilier are the favorites heading in, but then you have guys like Harry Ross White, Chris Dingle, “Herman” Wade Slauenwhite, Alex Johnson and 2013 Rookie of the Year DJ Casey that could do big things if they can string a season together.
You also have veterans like Tony Leonard, Fred Schofield, Owen Barkhouse, Mike Banks, Marie Brown, Jordan Veinotte, Larry Fisher, Bronson Shanessy, Brentley Pirri, John Poan, Tyler Hallahan and Tony Mason that could be knocking down the door if all works right. Travis Roma showed much promise in his rookie season, and you best believe he’ll be a contender for a feature win or more by the time we wave the checkers in September. Pete Miller is making his return to Sportsman racing at the Speedworld and Richard Salter has recently acquired a late model to go racing with. Add in part-timers like “The Bounty Hunter” Russell Smith Jr and Phil Barkhouse Jr to the mix and you have a great field of late models shaping up for not only Sunday, but the full season as well.
It’s going to be a barnburner of a show Sunday and if you’re a Tour fan that is in town - do yourself a favor and stick around for Sunday too. Trust me, it will be worth it!
Until then, keep the hammer down and we’ll see you at the track!
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