Chasing The Elusive Maritime Triple Crown of Pro Stock Racing, Nine Missing One Jewel
The chase to become the first driver to win all three major Maritime 250s got a bit more congested in 2013.
Shawn Tucker and Craig Slaunwhite both added their names to the list of what was seven drivers to have won two of the three major 250s. Tucker took the checkers first in the IWK 250 in July at Riverside Speedway, while Slaunwhite won at home at Scotia Speedworld in the Atlantic CAT 250. Both had previously won an Auto Value 250 at Speedway 660, which Tucker also took home this season for a third time.
It’s surprising that ever since the three events have been in existence (the youngest of the three being the Auto Value 250, which originated in 2001, one year after the Atlantic CAT 250) that no driver has won them all, especially with the names on this list. A Who’s Who of the best in the North East are on this list – including two Rowes, two Clarks, a four-time Parts for Trucks Tour champion, one of New Brunswick’s well known short track hotshoes and one of the best to ever come out of Nova Scotia.
MISSING THE IWK 250
Leading this list is Saint John, New Brunswick’s Lonnie Sommerville. Sommerville is a two-time Auto Value 250 champion (2006 + 2009) and was the winner of the 2009 Atlantic CAT 250, which marked the first time the event was run under Parts for Trucks Pro Stock Tour sanctioning. Sommerville is one of five drivers in the last seven years to win two of the three events in the same year and one of only two to win the Atlantic CAT 250 and the Auto Value 250 in the same season, joining Cassius Clark who pulled the feat in 2012.
The issue for Cassius and Johnny Clark, who is a two-time champion of both the Auto Value and Atlantic CAT 250s, is the timing of the IWK 250. When the event was resurrected Pro All Stars Series sanctioning in 2006, it was held in mid-October and served as the penultimate event on their North Super Late Model schedule. Following the Oxford 250 changing their format to an ACT-type Late Model event in 2007, the PASS North SLM Tour headed North on that weekend and staged the IWK 250 on the same weekend as the Oxford event. The marriage lasted one year and following 2007, the event was sanctioned by the Parts for Trucks Pro Stock Tour.
From 2008 to 2010, PASS North did not race on the same weekend as the IWK 250, giving those that wanted to the choice to head North on their off-weekend. In 2011 and 2012, PASS North held a 150-lap event on the Saturday night of Oxford 250 weekend at Oxford Plains Speedway, which fell on the same night as the IWK 250 at Riverside, making it impossible for a full-time PASS North driver to make the trip to James River, Nova Scotia.
Tom Mayberry and the Pro All Stars Series purchased the Oxford oval prior to the start of 2013 and in turn brought the Super Late Model/Pro Stock back to the Oxford 250. While the IWK 250 was still on the same weekend as the Oxford 250 race, it made it logistically possible to make both events, as Austin Theriault did in 2013. Theriault drove a Brad Keselowski Racing entry at Riverside, hopped a plane following the Saturday night show and was in Oxford on Sunday to drive his family owned entry in the TD Bank 250. If weather and logistics were to work like it did for Theriault, both events could be completed in the same weekend.
Now, with that in mind, Cassius has been known to do a double header or two in the past. After winning the Atlantic CAT 250 in 2012 for Rollie MacDonald and the King Racing team, he got in a street car and drove to White Mountain Motorsports Park in New Hampshire to take part in the PASS event the next day for the Hight Motorsports team, where he finished third. Just last season he pulled the same feat again, only this time he competed on Saturday night at White Mountain before driving through the night to Speedway 660 in Geary to compete in the Auto Value 250.
According to our friends at Google Maps, the trek from Riverside to Oxford in a car is about 90 minutes shorter than the run to White Mountain would be from Scotia Speedworld (10 hours to 8.5 hours approximately). Can it be done? Sure it can. If anyone can put the deal together, you’d have to believe it would be Cassius Clark. The #13 team has yet to release their 2014 plans as of yet, but Rollie MacDonald wants that IWK 250 trophy to go along with the other two in his shop. A race fan can dream, right?!
Whoever comes to Riverside to try and take the 250 away will have to get by the aforementioned Slaunwhite. Hours after his emotional Atlantic CAT 250 victory, one of the first things on Slaunwhite’s mind was becoming the first to win all three events. After the Auto Value 250 went unclaimed by Flemming and Rowe, focus began to shift to the “next one,” which is the 2014 IWK 250. Albeit we are still over three away, Slaunwhite may have one of the best track records on the high banks of the four that need the IWK 250 on their resume for the triple. A former Sportsman champion at the track, Slaunwhite scored his first Parts for Trucks Pro Stock Tour win at the track back in 2008 as a rookie on the series. If all the stars align and all the cards are played right, Craig Slaunwhite and his #99 Halifax Glass Impala could make history in July.
MISSING THE ATLANTIC CAT 250
Two drivers have won both the IWK 250 at Riverside and the Auto Value 250 at Speedway 660 – Shawn Tucker and the late Scott Fraser.
Tucker is the only driver to have won three Auto Value 250 crowns – 2004, 2011 and 2013. The 2013 Auto Value 250, which was worth a cool $25,400, was a part of five wins on the season for the #52 Rockico Equipment/Tucker Racing Products Chevrolet, which also included the IWK 250 in July, where he passed reigning Sprint Cup Series champion Brad Keselowski with 25 to go to take his first 250 win at Riverside. While five drivers have won two 250s in the same season, Tucker is the only one to have won the IWK 250 and the Auto Value 250 in the same season and almost became the first to win all three races but had to settle for third in the Atlantic CAT 250 in 2013. Tucker owns five Parts for Trucks Tour wins at the Speedworld, the latest coming at the Lockhart Truck Center 100 in June 2012. With his numbers at Scotia Speedworld, combined with the way the team ran in 2013, you’d have to think Tucker will be a favorite in 2014 to become the first to win all three Maritime 250s, given Slaunwhite, Sommerville or a Clark cannot pull the feat up the road at Riverside in June.
In his illustrious career, Fraser won a six pack of 250’s in the 90’s (1993 to 1998) at Riverside and won the Auto Value 250 in 2003 but fell short in the third jewel for his Triple Crown. While he won many races and championships at his home track, in his four Atlantic CAT 250s prior to his sudden passing in 2004, his best finish was fourth in the inaugural 250 in 2000.
MISSING THE AUTO VALUE 250
If Slaunwhite, Sommerville and Tucker all airball in their quests to finish the Triple Crown in the first two events, the Auto Value 250 will have two familiar names looking to close the deal on August 31st.
John Flemming has made headlines the last two years. Prior to winning his series pacing fourth championship on the Parts for Trucks Pro Stock Tour in 2013, Flemming went to victory lane in the 2012 edition of the IWK 250 presented by Steve Lewis Auto Body. The win in July 2012 was the first 250 victory since Flemming scored his only other in 2000 as the winner of the inaugural Atlantic CAT 250 at Scotia Speedworld.
The #97F team on Speedweekend at the Geary oval has been quick. In the 12 Auto Value 250s Flemming has competed in, he has six top tens, three top fives and two podium runs, including a second place run back in 2002. Of those 12 starts, Flemming has led laps in nine of them, including 125+ in the last three editions of the event to go with his pair of top ten finishes in the last two years. When it comes to veterans of the race, Flemming may arguably be one of the best drivers in the history of the race not to win it.
Then, there’s Ben Rowe.
Rowe is a racing legend in the North East. Where do you begin? Rowe has won four PASS North championships to go with his 2009 PASS South crown, two Oxford/TD Bank 250s, three Atlantic CAT 250s and an IWK 250 in 2006. That stat line is just a tiny amount of what Rowe has accomplished, add that in the success at Speedway 660 he has had, including a 2012 Best of the Best 150 and two PASS North feature wins at the Geary oval, you would think an Auto Value 250 would be on that resume of his.
But, it’s not.
The competition has been stiff and while Rowe has given the #8 car at 660 quite a few memorable drives in the past few seasons, it has yet to pay off in a victory. Rowe had a spirited drive last season to come from behind in the Auto Value 250 but had to settle for third when the checkers flew, his best finish in his four attempts at the event. Almost like Fraser’s record at the Atlantic CAT 250, while Rowe has experienced success at the track in other events and in the race itself, the crown jewel has eluded them in their previous runs.
Last season created quite the double for Rowe and Cassius Clark with a PASS North event (which turned into a double header due to rain earlier in the month) at White Mountain the night prior to the Auto Value 250. As soon as the Twin 150s were done in New Hampshire, Rowe and Clark sprinted to the border to jump into cars that were already at Speedway 660 for the Auto Value 250. The year previous saw no schedule conflict between PASS North and the Auto Value 250 and saw DJ Shaw and Joey Doiron, among others, mix it up with the Maritimes best. PASS North is idle this year on Auto Value 250, which is an off-week between Speedway 95 (Bangor, ME) and Autodrome Chaudiere (Vallee-Joncton, QC) races, so it should make it easier for guys like Rowe to make the trek up.
Oh, and by the way – according to Rowe’s Facebook page, he is already making plans to be in Fredericton on Labour Day weekend.
The other member of the trio that is missing the Auto Value 250 as the final jewel for his crown is Ben’s father, Mike Rowe. The elder Rowe has won one IWK 250, which came prior to his second win in the Atlantic CAT 250, both coming in 2007. Mike’s first Atlantic CAT 250 came in 2005. Rowe, by our records, has no previous Auto Value 250 starts and may be the only one of the nine on the list that hold two of the three Crown Jewels to not make a run at the third he is missing.
“ONESIES” BEST BETS FOR A COME FROM BEHIND TRIPLE
There are a handful of active drivers who have captured one of the three 250s over the years, but are there any contenders for the possible “come from behind” Triple Crown, adding the two events needed to their current one to finish their crown?
Keep in mind, winning two of the three has been done by four of our nine above – Mike Rowe (2007 IWK and CAT 250s), Sommerville (2009 CAT and Auto Value 250s), Cassius Clark (2012 CAT and Auto Value 250s) and Shawn Tucker (2013 IWK and Auto Value 250s), so it can be done, but can it be done to complete the crown.
The major stumbling block for a lot of the active drivers that are still racing in the region is their schedules. A lot of the Maritime Pro Stock Tour drivers, since the Auto Value 250 is not a sanctioned Tour race, tend to use that weekend as an off-weekend between the River Glade International at Petty Raceway and the penultimate round on the Tour at Riverside Speedway. In turn, the PASS North drivers that have won the Auto Value 250, or the Atlantic CAT 250 when it was a sanctioned PASS North event, typically do not run Maritime Pro Stock Tour races and may miss out on taking a victory in either the Atlantic CAT 250 or the IWK 250. Case in point, Dave O’Blenis won the Auto Value 250 in 2002 but has not competed on the Tour full-time since 2010, which was the year he finished fourth in the Atlantic CAT 250 after finishing as the runner-up the year prior.
When it comes to active or recently active drivers, Kirk Thibeau and Scott Chubbuck have both won the Auto Value 250 but it has been years since either ran in Nova Scotia. Louie Mechalides and Travis Benjamin are former Atlantic CAT 250 winners and while Benjamin has been a frequent guest at the Auto Value 250, neither have made any recent IWK 250 appearances. Kent Vincent has won an IWK 250, but only tends to stick with competing in Parts for Trucks Tour sanctioned races, something the Auto Value 250 hasn’t been since 2010, which is the last year the Tour gave show points to their drivers for running the race.
The two that may have the best shots at getting the triple as they enter 2014 with one win under their belts are former IWK 250 champions Wayne Smith and Darren MacKinnon. Both run contrasting schedules, Smith is now a part-time driver while trying to juggle ownership of Petty International Raceway while MacKinnon is a full-time driver on the Parts for Trucks Tour, finishing fourth last season on the series.
The first race they’d have to win would be the Atlantic CAT 250. It’s no secret that Smith is good at his home track and has enjoyed lots of success, but like many others, the big race has eluded him. MacKinnon has finished fourth and sixth in his last two Atlantic CAT 250s and tends to be in the hunt near the end of extended races at the Speedworld.
Both have also experienced Parts for Trucks Tour success at Speedway 660 and while Smith has led laps and come close to winning the Auto Value 250, he has never stood in victory lane at the end of Lap 250. MacKinnon has been one to watch at Speedway 660 as well in the one and only Tour stop each year at the track, highlighted by a third place finish in the race in 2011.
Since Smith scaled back racing, he opted not to run the Auto Value 250 in 2013 and popped a motor in qualifying for the race in 2012 and never made the feature. MacKinnon, like Vincent, hasn’t made a run at the Auto Value 250 since it was a Tour sanctioned race in 2010 but has the potential to be a contender if he were to make a run at the Labour Day classic.
Of note as well, out of the four names above that won two of the three Triple Crown races in the same year, each of them had won one of the races in a prior year before winning two races in the same year. For example, Rowe became a two-time CAT 250 champion in 2007, Sommerville a two-time Auto Value 250 champion in 2009, Clark won his second CAT 250 in 2012 and Tucker’s Auto Value 250 in 2013 was his third victory in the race. The point is, no driver has come from completely off the map to win two of the three in the same year without winning at least one in the past. Sounds like a statistic a guy like Shawn Turple or Jonathan Hicken, for example, could change if they won a pair of 250s this year.
POLL – WHO HAS THE BEST SHOT?
So, who do you think has the best shot in 2014 to seal up the Triple Crown?
We have given you six options here. As mentioned above, Mike Rowe has not made an attempt at the Auto Value 250, so we have left him off the poll. Johnny Clark has not made an IWK 250 attempt since 2009, so we have also left him off the poll. Meanwhile, while Cassius Clark has not run an IWK 250 since PASS last sanctioned the race, he has been known to pull some double headers in the past, so we have included him on the ballot.
The race the driver in question is missing is in brackets following his name.
Of course, the best way to find out who wins these big races is to be at them. If you can’t, be sure to keep it here for all the latest news and information about the big races in Atlantic Canada!
All photos by McCarthy Photography.