Tim’s Notebook: Sizing Up Florida Speedweeks
For all the teams who took part in Speedweeks in Florida, the return to snow, ice and freezing temperatures is a friendly reminder that it is still winter in Canada.
For those fans and teams that got to take in some racing in person, or even via their computer or mobile device, they were treated to some exceptional racing over nine nights.
Between Orlando Speedworld’s INEX Winter Nationals and New Smyrna Speedway’s 49th Annual World Series of Asphalt, sixteen Atlantic Canadian drivers took to the track to participate in Florida Speedweeks. That is more representation than any other portion of this country, and those who made laps also turned heads on the international stages they ran upon.
As is the case with this sport, some excelled better than others.
At the top of my Notebook is the “Atlantic Canadian five star selections” for the week. Sure, the norm is three, but when is the last time we followed the mold here at TCM? Here they are, in alphabetical order.
Atlantic Canadian Five Stars – Florida Speedweeks
Gary Crooks; DJ Casey – Crooks Racing
Crooks Racing is a huge name in short track racing and has fielded cars for the biggest stars in the short track scene. Headed up by Dartmouth, Nova Scotia’s Gary Crooks, who now lives in North Carolina, the team headed to New Smyrna Speedway and the World Series with young Zane Smith at the helm of the Crooks Racing prepared entry. Heading in, Smith had less Super Late Model starts than fingers on one hand, but had experienced Florida in February prior to this adventure, taking in INEX Winter Nationals at Auburndale Speedway. As a Pro division driver in Legends, Smith was no stranger to going up against the stiffest competition in the country in a big event.
If you had him winning the whole thing at the start of the week, against the competition that the Super Late Model field had within it, you might have made some money on that bet.
Smith won on Night Six in one of two Super Late Model features run on that Wednesday evening, and kept his car clean throughout the other six features of the World Series, and while other front runners stumbled, Smith kept cool, consistent and near the front in the #77 Crooks Racing car. When the points fell at the end of the week, Smith bested another young shoe in Garrett Jones and defending Super Late Model World Series champion Stephen Wallace for the championship.
Considering a lot of the contenders and pre-event favorites found trouble at least once throughout the week, the feat is made that much more special for the rookie driver. Don’t overlook that fact – this is Smith’s first full season in a big car.
Also turning wrenches on the championship winning car was Prospect Road, Nova Scotia’s DJ Casey. Casey, the runner up in the dogfight that was the 2014 Dartmouth Dodge Sportsman Series at Scotia Speedworld, took in the GRIP Seminar in Mooresville, North Carolina and had the offer from Crooks to travel to New Smyrna Speedway to help out the Crooks Racing effort in Florida. The 2006 INEX Canadian Bandolero champion picked up valuable knowledge he will be able to use at home this summer when he embarks on the Parts for Trucks Pro Stock Tour, in search of the Rookie of the Year award on the series.
The duo of Crooks and Smith will be doing a lot of racing together this year, with their sights set on the Pro All Stars Series South and CARS Super Late Model Tour races. If they pick up where they left off at New Smyrna Speedway, they will be a contender all season long.
One of the biggest stories heading into the World Series was Denver Foran and his new ride with the LFR Chassis team. The team, which has racing heavyweights like Jeff Fultz and Tony Eury, along with Brudenell, Prince Edward Island’s Andrew Hicken calling the shots, Foran had a huge opportunity to make a splash in the big pool of Super Late Model racing. Foran is no stranger to New Smyrna Speedway, with three previous World Series runs and a 2014 NASCAR Whelen All American Series Florida State Rookie of the Year under his belt.
With the field of talent that was at New Smyrna Speedway for the World Series, Foran did not look out of place aboard the #00 MMD Mineral Sizing Chevrolet.
Sure, the team had some issues throughout the event. A radio issue on Night One had Foran coming from the rear of the field. Qualifying on a couple nights found Foran right in the middle of the field, where all the action seemed to happen. He did have great runs going, including one night where the former Miramichi, New Brunswick native ran many laps within the top three. The car remained in one piece all week though, except for the last night, when contact with Rico Abreu put Foran out of the Bruce Gowland Memorial 100 early and into 22nd place, his lowest finish of the week.
His consistent top tens finishes in the competitive field put him eighth in points for the week. Not bad for a new team, eh?!
We’ll see more of this combination throughout the season as they focus on races in the South. Foran says he has over 50 races planned this season, including the World Series of Asphalt. Keep your eye on this combination as we work through 2015, we could be seeing some big things once they hit their stride.
Note – the team press release on Denver’s week can be found here.
If you ask me, Cory Hall was the biggest story to come out of INEX Winter Nationals when it comes to our East Coast contingent.
No, he did not win a championship like Braden or Nathan Langille. He didn’t even win a race. It was his quick learning of a new track and a new car which resulted in four top six finishes that puts him here.
Hall, the 2014 INEX Canadian East Bandolero Outlaw champion and Petty Raceway Bandolero track champion, made his Legend car debut at the final weekend of the Winter Heat Series in Charlotte. The three races in the Semi Pro division resulted in a ninth, a fifth and fourth place finishes in a field of 16 cars.
Okay, so maybe he got lucky. Maybe he was in the right place at the right time.
If you believe that, how to you explain his run at Orlando Speedworld, which included four of his five races resulting in top six finishes?
Two of those finishes had Hall qualify near the front of the over 25 car fields that showed up each day in Orlando for the Semi Pro division. Two races had Hall fire from the 15th and 16th places and he still ended up in the top six 30-laps later. The other race resulted in a flat tire which put the 16-year old from Jolicure, New Brunswick out before the finish.
Not to mention the kid is, at most times, soft spoken. He’s improved greatly in interviews, but he’s a driver that would much rather do his talking on the race track. There’s not much that knocks him off his game, and is usually seen around the track with a smile on his face.
Think about it though. Hall turned heads in Florida with this run. Nicholas Naugle and Jarrett Butcher, for example, were unable to do what Hall has done, results wise, in their first Winter Nationals after jumping from a Bandolero car. It says a lot for Hall’s talent. It says a lot for Hall’s driving style, which looked like he had been driving Legend car for years. It says a lot for the preparation of the car by himself, his father Scott Hall and Chris Woods of Chris Woods Racing and Repair.
On our drive back from Orlando after Day One, Canadian and Maritime Motorsports Hall of Famer Rollie MacDonald even asked me about “the kid in the #08 car.” That has to say something when a legend in our sport sees what you’re doing.
Nothing off Meehan, Tanner, Sutherland, Tucker or anyone that plans on running for the Rookie of the Year in the Legends ranks in Atlantic Canada this season, but Hall has sent a strong statement with his run down South and has established himself as a driver those in the industry in this region will have on their radar.
Coming in, Braden Langille was considered a favorite in the Bandolero Outlaw division for INEX Winter Nationals.
He kicked the door down of favorite, making a big statement by winning all five Outlaw features on the week in Orlando and, in turn, took home his first INEX Winter Nationals championship, to go with the Scotia Speedworld Hydraulics Plus Bandolero track championship and ‘Chi City Showdown and NB Big Dawg Challenge titles in New Brunswick.
Langille, who was also a Granite State Bandolero feature winner at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway in 2014, also made his Legends debut in the Young Lions division in a former Butcher Racing car. While he did not have as much success as he did in the Bandolero car, he showed glimmers of promise throughout his debut, including a top five run on Day One that was derailed at one point after he and the #9 car began to play bumper cars during the feature.
With track rules not allowing Langille to step into a big car (including the Legend division) at Scotia Speedworld until he is 16, Langille still has a few seasons before he can flex his Legend muscle at home. Until then, we can count on Langille being a contender to take home his second consecutive Bandolero track crown at Scotia Speedworld in 2015, with a car adorned with five “INEX Feature Winner” stickers from his trip south!
The biggest surprise from the INEX Winter Nationals event may be Coldbrook, Nova Scotia’s Nathan Langille. Nicknamed “Pumpkin Jack” after the SpeedShiftTV crew had no info on the #3 car in the Beginner Bandits class, Langille set sail to collect three wins in his Woodville Auto Body Bandolero. A fourth appeared to be imminent until Tyler Chapman, who was running second in the first feature of the week on Monday, spun out off Turn Two to draw a caution and an ensuing restart, where the 2x got the best of Langille for the first win of the week.
Langille, whose older brother Josh is a veteran of the Scotia Speedworld Bandolero division, picked up the layout of the new to him track quickly and excelled in the Beginner Bandits division, not finishing off the podium once to lock down the week long championship. The experience and seat time earned at Orlando Speedworld will only help him, and fellow Beginner Bandit Owen Mahar, when they return to Scotia Speedworld in May.
We were quickly reminded a couple times over the week that this is a dangerous sport. Philip Ellis’s on track incident while flagging a Bandolero race at Orlando and the fire that claimed the Super Late of Jordan Ives take us back to safety aspect of cars whizzing around a track at high speeds and what could potentially go wrong. Both tracks handled the situations well and Jordan climbed out of his car quickly without injury while Philip is now recovering from his injuries.
While our fans like to hear about our local talent, there was a ton of it from around North America that was at both tracks over the week.
I was impressed by Harrison Burton the most. The son of Jeff Burton, Burton showed racing prowess well beyond his 14 years and it reflected in two trips to victory lane. He and Stephen Wallace got into it mid-week, but Wallace had his share of donuts on his red JET Tools car throughout the week. The kid behind the wheel of the DEX Imaging #12 is going to be a star, like I’m sure a few that competed this week will be, and with continued success like he had this week, it will more than likely be sooner rather than later that he moves through the ranks.
Ty Majeski turned heads too. With 35-lap races, if you are behind because of where you qualified or where the field inverted, you do not have a ton of time to make it up on track. Majeski made a couple of three-wide moves early on Night Two to position himself up front and it ended up paying off with a win. His World Series was cut short one night after a part failure put him hard backward into the Turn Three wall. He’s another to keep on your radar as we move down the line in 2015.
The amount of racing Spencer Davis did was impressive. The youngster from Georgia ran the full World Series in three classes, including the Tour Modifieds, Super Late and Pro Late Model classes. Heck, I got drowsy at the end of Wednesday night with seven features to watch, and Spencer drove in five of them!
It was heartbreaking to see Alberta’s Erica Thiering out two nights early. While the team struggled a bit to find speed, her and her team never gave up until the rear end on her #96 AlbertaIsHiring.com Chevrolet did. Thiering, along with Sarah McKay and Ontario’s Steve Laking, flew the Maple Leaf for Canada in the Pro Late Model class, with McKay coming home as the highest finishing Canadian with eighth in points on the strength of two top ten finishes. We’ll be cheering on Erica Thiering, and the rest of the NASCAR Canadian Tire Series presented by Mobil 1 competitors, throughout 2015 and we look forward to seeing them at Riverside Speedway in August.
Without bad luck, Josh Collins and his #56 Universal Environmental Services Inc. team would have no luck at all. While Josh found trouble a few nights, they also had a couple of mechanical problems, which you’ll have with a brand new car. The team lost an axle cap on Friday night, two nights after having brake issues in the double features on Wednesday. Collins and team are looking at big races in 2015, including some shows in Ontari0 in McColl Racing Enterprises’ home province, and the staples at home including the IWK 250 presented by Steve Lewis Auto Body at Riverside Speedway.
Some though, had worse luck than Josh and the Newfoundland based team. You think there was a message left here…
Not gonna lie, I was cheering for Natalie Decker on Wednesday night when she was on the heels of a podium finish in the Super Late Model division. She had a tough break Saturday night, being out of the car even before the green flag flew for the Bruce Gowland Memorial 100, but I can tell you that she turned some heads throughout the week at New Smyrna Speedway.
If you’ve never seen a Tour-type Modified show, you owe yourself to get to one. The Tour Modifieds put on some of the best shows of the week, with big names like Preece, Hossfeld and Bonsignore, among others, headlining the show.
Which leads me into my next point…
If you have never been to Florida Speedweeks, you need to do so. I know of a few over the last few seasons that have made their trip down to Florida and have hinged their trip around the Daytona 500. Sure, I understand that, it’s the biggest race in our sport and something you need to experience at least once.
But, there are other things to do than just the big track.
If you are coming down, take the week before the 500 off, and make it a full racing experience. Whether it is going to Volusia to see the dirt action or maybe even East Bay across the state in Tampa, or it’s the Legends and Bandoleros at Orlando Speedworld, there is plenty of short track racing to experience outside of Daytona.
For those that watched the week on FansChoice.tv, you’ve got your taste of New Smyrna Speedway, now you need to live it.
We have nothing in Atlantic Canada that is like New Smyrna Speedway. It is a half mile, high banked. Shediac is our biggest track at 3/8-mile, not counting Lake Doucette Motor Speedway. The Super Late Models are carrying about 130 miles per hour into the corners at New Smyrna, which is about 30 mph more than they do into the high banks of Riverside International Speedway. Being on the outside of Turn Three, seeing those cars come at you from the pit grandstand, or in Turn Two standing by the leaderboard, in the infield watching the field speed by or in the main grandstand, there is just a sense of speed you do not get at home.
You’ll also run into those that you know from home. I’ve lost count of how many stopped by in the infield to say hi. Whether it was six-time Maritime champion (and former World Series competitor) Wayne Smith, track promoters Tim Wile and Paddy Squires, David and Lee Goodine from Speedway 660 and Westwood Estates Apartments, Al Robinson, Beth and Kevin Peterson, Colby Smith, Jonathan and Colton Noble, the list goes on and on.
One of the most excited had to be Richard Atkinson, who was at New Smyrna with the Petersons, the Goodines and his wife Heather (as seen above). Richard was a kid in a candy store, watching all the racing action, taking pictures, looking at the race cars and having a big grin on his face the entire time. I’ve never seen the driver of the #40 Sportsman car that happy at the track, and I was in Riverview Ford Lincoln victory lane when he won a feature a few seasons ago.
Bottom line, if you sat at home, enjoying the week from afar, make plans now for 2016. You won’t be alone at the track from home, I guarantee it!
What was really nice about the week at New Smyrna Speedway, besides watching some of the best talent short track racing has to offer for nine days, was how nice and accommodating the staff of the track was. From the two gentleman that work the back gate with smiles on their faces, welcoming you to the Speedway every time you step in the gate, to race officials whom, while laying down the foot when they have to in the heat of competition, were open to conversation when the opportunity presented itself. The #32 team was blown away by Ricky Brooks, who has the image of one of the toughest tech men in North America, after he went around their car prior to qualifying on Night Nine, shaking each crew member’s hand, thanking them for hauling from New Brunswick, understanding how long of a haul it is, and hoped to see them down again next year.
Regardless where you are racing, a heartfelt thank you from race officials can go a long way in helping you make your decision if you are heading back their way next week, year or whenever their next event is. Jason Carnahan is known for that at Speedway Miramichi, making those from near and far feel like they are at home at his track and being quick to thank them for coming to put on a show for the fans in the Northern New Brunswick market.
Rusty Marcus said something to me Monday morning that has stuck with me, and can be applied at a lot of tracks. Whether you are an announcer, washroom attendant, a lineup official, whatever the case is, your role at a track can be associated with putting on a show. If a fan has a (positive) lasting impression from a back gate attendant who is always willing to have a conversation to lighten the mood, to a washroom attendant who really gets into their role, whatever the case, that fan is more likely to come back to that track the next time they are in town. Rick Sellars at Scotia Speedworld comes to mind when I think of that, our assistant flagman is always smiling, will break out in a dance at any moment and is great with kids in the stands.
Scotia Speedworld’s Rick Sellars is one whom is always on when he is at the track, something Rusty Marcus says is important to leaving a lasting impression on fans. (McCarthy Photographic photo)
I personally would like to thank the Hart family, Kim Brown and their entire staff at New Smyrna Speedway for making a memorable experience for teams, drivers, staff and media like myself. It is an experience that every race fan needs to be a part of and it can only get better as they roll into their 50th year of the event in 2016. If you are in Florida, I highly suggest stopping into New Smyrna Speedway to take in a race and experience it yourself – and of course, make plans for February 2016!
In addition, New Smyrna Speedway has some of the best race track food I’ve had in a long time. Those that know me know I’m a big fan of Speedway 660’s Speedway Fries. If I’m in Geary, NB, I usually do not leave without putting back one or two orders of the deep fried delicacies.
New Smyrna Speedway’s are right up there with Speedway 660’s. I lost count how many orders of fries I put back this week. Their Chicken and Fries are a favorite of mine. I know, a simple chicken tender can’t be that hard to prepare, but the ones at New Smyrna Speedway were perfect. They knocked the cheeseburgers out of the park (one of the favorites of many I spoke with), the hotdogs were delicious as were the onion rings. While it was cold Wednesday night, the funnel cake I had hit the spot.
While I never had a chance to take in everything on the menu, I can only assume it is as good as everything else. In addition, the staff was great too, moving orders through at a quick pace, even on the chillier nights.
Overall, one of the best canteen experiences I’ve had in a while at a race track. Well done, New Smyrna Speedway!
A big thank you has to go out to Rusty Marcus, Laila Razmyar of US Legend Cars International, Brandon and Shannon from Legend Cars of Florida and everyone responsible for putting together another successful Winter Nationals event. It is an event that every INEX driver needs to experience at least once in their racing career. It is six days packed full of on track action, or about a half season of racing in the Maritimes all in one week. From all indications, Orlando Speedworld was a great host after taking back the reins from Auburndale Speedway, and we were treated to some great racing, whether you were there in person or there using SpeedShiftTV.
Congrats on another great event, your hard work has showed once again!
That will do it for the Notebook, or at least the stories I can put down on virtual paper. We’ll be sharing some audio over the next week from the World Series that we cut on Saturday night of the event, which includes wrap ups with Sarah Mckay, Josh Collins, Dustin Tucker and a chat with Colby Smith.
A big thanks to my 2015 Florida Speedweeks partners, including A.E. McKay Builders, Finish Line Vinyl Design and Langille Racing. I cannot forget the fans and readers of this site, without you, this is not possible. Thank you!
Next up for Tim’s Corner Motorsports is the 41st Annual Radical Speed Sport car show and expo at the Moncton Coliseum in Moncton, New Brunswick on April 17th to 19th, with our coverage presented by the Atlantic Motel and St. Louis Bar an Grill. You can check the complete show information out by visiting SpeedSportEast.com.
Until next time, keep the hammer down and we’ll see you at the track.