Story and photos by Jamie Maudsley – For the first time since Labour Day of 2009, the cars and stars of the Lucas Oil Sportsman Series Presented by Tirecraft will invade Delaware Speedway for round one of their 2011 tour on Friday May 20th. The Tirecraft 100 will be the first race of the season for the Lucas Oil Series, and falls on the heels of what was a very successful 2010 season.
The entry list for Friday night’s card reads like a who’s who of the Delaware Speedway scene, as a number of the competitors are making a return to the track that they learned their craft on.
Defending series champion, and long time Delaware Friday night veteran Jay Doerr (#40) of London, is among them, and spoke about the tour returning to Delaware Speedway in 2011, “We’re so excited about racing at Delaware again. It’s one of the best tracks in Ontario, and we’re thrilled that they are on the schedule again. A lot of the guys that race on our tour grew up racing at Delaware, so it’s a homecoming for a lot of them.”
Danielle Prudhomme (#96) of Thamesford is another Delaware Speedway alumni, who earned his stripes in both the Dynamic Fluid Super Stocks, and Powerade Open Wheel Modifieds, and just missed recording his first feature win on the Lucas Oil tour on that Labour Day weekend in 2009. He was nipped at the line by Steve Robblee (#28) of Dorchester, by a bumper.
The championship battle was a three-way title in 2010 as Doerr distanced himself from ‘The Crowd Pleaser’ Kelly Balson (#10) of Hampton, and ‘Hot Rod’ Dave Connelly (#82) of Ottawa, late in the season to take the crown. With Connelly moving on to the NASCAR Canadian Tire Series, Balson seems to be the pre-season favourite to wrestle the title away from Doerr. Balson is excited about racing at Delaware, and while the Ontario short track ace has raced at a number of tracks throughout the province, it will be his first time competing at Delaware. Balson said, “I’m really looking forward to racing there. I came down last year to watch the Labour Day race [The Great Canadian 200], and it was an awesome show. The facility is first class, and we’re excited to be racing there. Obviously, I’ll have my hands full racing guys like Doerr, Prudhomme, and Josh Wood – guys that grew up racing at the track – but we’ll do our best, and hopefully our second season on the tour will end up with us in championship contention.”
Wood (#66) of London, will add some more local flavour, as he raced the Sportsman class weekly at Delaware for years before joining the tour. Wood said, “Delaware is a great race track, and for our team, it will be racing at home, which we didn’t get to do much of last year. The closest track for us in 2010 was Flamboro. Not only is it a short haul for us, but all our friends and families will be able to drive from London and come out to watch, as opposed to having to drive an hour or three to get to the other tracks that we race at.”
Jason Meyer (#93) of Tillsonburg, missed the top-five in the points standings last year by a single place, but the former Delaware Speedway Dynamic Fluid Super Stock driver is hoping that a trip back to the ½-mile will be enough to kick start his season, as he chases his first feature win and a top-five in the points standings. ‘The Tillsonburg Tornado’ said, “It’s always great to get back to Delaware, and our whole team is excited about it. We raced for over 15 years at the track before we decided to move to the travelling series. Being a Tirecraft dealer makes it special as well, because of our long relationship with them. We were excited to have them on the car, and very thrilled that they wanted to become the presenting sponsor for the series, as well as backing the first race.”
The 2008 series champion, Shawn McGlynn (#81), and will be back in action in 2011, and looking to climb back into championship contention again. Brother Chad (#18) both of Kitchener, should make it a two-car team for opening night, and both have plenty of laps around the tricky ½-mile.
A number of other Lucas Oil drivers will return to the track where they raced under the ‘Friday Night Lights’ weekly, including 2009 championship contender Matt Robblee (#27) of Dorchester, who concentrated his efforts at Delaware in 2010, and was rewarded with a career best second-place finish last Friday night in FT Garage Late Model competition.
Dynamic Fluid Super Stock veterans Shawn Hewitt (#67) of St. Thomas, and Tony Bawden (#68) of St. Thomas, will also be adding some local flavour to the show. Hewitt finished seventh in the standings in his first full season, and if he’s poised to win his first series event, there is no better equipped to do it, than at Delaware.
Two more veterans of that division will be stepping up to race for the Lucas Cup, including Kris Root (#69) of London, who has also competed in Sothern Ontario Sprint car action, and Rob Anderton (#88) of Delaware, who is a Delaware veteran.
‘Canada’s version of Dick Trickle’ Bob Merrifield (#43) of Belle River is one of the only active Canadian racers who competed in the 70’s, 80’s, 90’s, 00’s, and now 10’s will be on hand for another battle against some of the best racers in the province. Merrifield is coming off a consistent season where he recorded an eight-place finish.
Former Demar Aggregate Truck division competitor Cole Weber (#11) of New Hamburg, will also be making his return to the London-area oval. Weber didn’t make it to every event, but still managed to finish 10th in the championship, and closed the season with a tremendous win at Octoberfest in Flamborough to close the 2010 season.
Another Truck star, Derek Clark (#7) of Strathroy, will be in action, at his home track after racing full-time in a truck, and almost full-time on the Lucas tour, he purchased a Doug Brown car, and will be chasing points around the province this summer.
One more newcomer with Delaware roots is Kaleb Geiger (#2) of London, a former Transmission Direct Enduro pilot, as well as the first female driver to the tour in Sharron Harding (#1) of Allison, who is the first full-time lady on tour since Ashley Taws.
The Tirecraft 100 will have plenty of action, and with so many local competitors in the field, it should make for a good probability that the winner will have some fans in the stands, as many of these competitors return ‘home’.
New Qualifying Procedure on Tap – The Fast Five
With any handicapping system, you can never please everyone. The fast qualifiers don’t like an inversion at all, while the drivers that don’t qualifying out front and the fans want to see more of an inversion. In 2011, the Lucas Oil Sportsman Cup Series Presented by Tirecraft have adopted a system that has worked well on dirt for years, and are bringing the format to asphalt this year.
The first five cars will be ‘locked in’ to the first five qualifying positions, but where they will start inside that top-five will be determined by a random draw on the front stretch before the entire audience. Starters from six back will take the green from the positions that they qualified in.
There will be no rolling of dice in the garage area, or draw of numbers to determine how many cars will be inverted for the start of the race, but rather those top five drivers from time trials will draw for their starting positions. The new format should also alleviate any potential for ‘sandbagging’, in an effort to gain an advantage in terms of starting position, and the transparency of the process will be on display for the first time in series history at Delaware on Friday night.
Truck Action Heats Up for Victoria Day
Following the first two races of the Demar Aggregate Truck season, the points championship is a mad scramble, and should provide a thrilling 25-lap feature Friday night, with Chad Rijnen (#16) of Thamesford, and Tom Zagorodny (#77) of London leading the points, with Devon Bloemendal (#01) of Delaware, a mere three markers behind.
Feature winners for the first two events were Bloemendal and Zagorodny, while Rijnen has finished second and third in the first duo of events.
Powerade Open Wheel Modifieds Kick Off Season
The Delaware Powerade Modifieds are also on the card for Friday night, in their first action of the season. With nine-time track champion Jamie Cox moving to a FT Garage Late Model, two-time champion Barry Newman (#1) of Springfield, will be the driver to watch. He was fast during the practice day, and will be looking for another crown.
It will be the first of 12 appearances for the class at Delaware this summer in wheel-to-wheel action.
Story and photos by Jamie Maudsley and www.maudsleymotorsports.com