By Tim Terry
As is the case with any stock car racing season in Atlantic Canada, there are many themes and plenty of reasons to celebrate.
Over 700 teams battled it out in hundreds of feature events at 12 stock car oval tracks in our four Atlantic Provinces in the 23 weekend season. In the end, whether it is a first feature win, a hard-earned championship or completing the year with the race car intact, there were many memories made between the Victoria Day and Thanksgiving Long Weekends.
At the top of the sport in the region, Dylan Blenkhorn was finally able to shake the monkey off his back by winning his first Parts for Trucks Pro Stock Tour championship. Blenkhorn, from Truro, Nova Scotia, knocked out three victories in 2019, including two of the first four races at Scotia Speedworld, taking control early in the year and staying steady throughout. Keeping him honest was Brudenell, Prince Edward Island’s Jonathan Hicken, who started in July with back to back feature victories to insert himself into the championship conversation.
When the chips came down in September at the Atlantic Oliver Tire 200 at Scotia Speedworld, it was Blenkhorn who would escape with the championship trophy. Hicken found misfortune with flat tires early in the 200-lap finale while Blenkhorn was caught up in a late race wreck, relegating the pair to finishes just outside the top ten in 11th for Blenkhorn and 12th for Hicken.
The final margin of victory in the standings for the No. 67 Quinn Flooring team was 26 points over the No. 5 Chapman Brothers Construction team.
Jarrett Butcher would edge Dylan Gosbee by three points to finish third in the season long championship standings with Craig Slaunwhite finishing five points up on Shawn Turple for the fifth place spot. Prior to the Atlantic Oliver Tire 200, Turple, a three-time series titlist, announced his retirement from full time competition in the series, finishing a 15 year racing career with the series when the checkered flag fell on September 28th.
When it came to big races on the Parts for Trucks Pro Stock Tour, they were owned by Pictou, Nova Scotia’s King Racing and driver Cassius Clark of Farmington, Maine. Clark was dominant at Riverside International Speedway in July in his IWK 250 presented by Steve Lewis victory. A month later and shadowed by Blenkhorn, Clark was the winner in the 20th Annual Toromont Cat 250 at Scotia Speedworld. The team returned to Riverside International Speedway in September with Austin MacDonald, the grandson of team owner and Hall of Famer Rollie MacDonald. The rookie impressed at the high banked oval, winning a heat race and finishing fifth in his Tour debut.
Cole Butcher, the two time champion of the Series, scaled back to part-time competition in 2019 but on paper he never let off the throttle. Butcher won four races, bookending the season with wins at Petty Raceway and Scotia Speedworld while winning two races at Riverside Speedway in between. Butcher will spend his offseason from the Maritimes racing down south, already turning heads by sitting on the pole for the October running of the All American 400 at the Fairgrounds Speedway Nashville (TN).
When it comes to big moments in 2019, none may have been bigger than Robbie MacEwen breaking through for his first Parts for Trucks Pro Stock Tour victory. The No. 40 team won in front of a big crowd at Oyster Bed Speedway in the Lucas Oil 150 on the August long weekend. The party in victory lane that evening was big as family, friends and his crew jammed around the MacEwen Motorsports car to celebrate the win on home turf.
“The Thrillmaker” Craig Ward captured the Exide Batteries Rookie of the Year Award over Russell Smith Jr on the Parts for Trucks Pro Stock Tour. Ward stuck it out, finishing all twelve features over the season to capture the top freshman honours in the series in his 20th year of racing. The Riverview, New Brunswick team was the only team to compete fulltime on the Parts for Trucks Pro Stock Tour in 2019.
Outside of the Tour, Jonathan Hicken and Ashton Tucker found themselves with big paydays in big Pro Stock/Pro Late Model races in New Brunswick in the month of September.
Ashton Tucker scored a popular home track victory on Labour Day weekend, bringing home the McLaughlin Roof Trusses 250 at Speedway 660. Tucker, who races for Brad Silliker Motorsports out of Miramichi, New Brunswick, took the lead around the halfway point in the race from Cassius Clark and raced to his first 250 victory. Clark used a late race caution to rally to second after pit stop strategy played into the second half of the event. Brent Roy, who captured his second RE/MAX East Coast Elite Pro Stock track title just a week prior, would finish third in the race for his first podium in a 250-lap feature.
Other SpeedWeekend 2019 feature winners at the Geary, New Brunswick included Curtis Collins (Sportsman 100), Shawn Hyslop (Street Stock), Tristin Harris (Sharp Shooters), Yves McCray (Atlantic Modified Tour), Dave Matthews (East Coast Mini Stock Tour), Braden Langille (Maritime League of Legends Tour), Col ton Noble and Chase MacKay (Bandolero).
While Tucker racked up over $21,000 for his victory, Jonathan Hicken would top him three weeks later by taking home a cheque worth around $25,000 for his win in the Sixth Annual Mike Stevens Memorial 200 at Petty International Raceway. After lap leader bonuses, contingency awards, the Bumper to Bumper Petty Pro Stock Challenge bonus and finishing money, Hicken would wind up with the biggest pay day in the Maritimes for stock car racing in 2019. Tucker would be a part of the equation in this race but an airgun jamming on their pit stop would leave them rallying late to a third place finish, behind Dave O’Blenis and Hicken.
Laurie Cormier was a winner for a second straight year and third time in the event history in the Sportsman division. Cormier and Hicken were joined by Ryan Richard (Street Stock), JR Lawson (Mini Stock), Braden Langille (Legend), Doug Matchett (Atlantic Modified Tour), Gail Thebeau (Women on Wheels), Colton Noble (Bandolero Outlaw), Kelsea Lewis and Ayden Christensen (Bandolero Beginner) as feature winners on the prestigious weekend.
Some of the biggest news in 2019 was announced days into the calendar year when Greg Dowe purchased the oval in Sydney, Nova Scotia. Renamed Sydney Speedway, the new chapter in the storied history of the Cape Breton race track was written in July when stock car racing returned to the track after rain pushed the opener from the beginning of the month to the end. The event was anchored by the Passione Flooring & Interiors East Coast Mini Stock Tour with the Veterans for Healing Twin 75s, which would ultimately be won on both ends by eventual Series titlist Dave Matthews. The track would also hold INEX National Qualifiers on the weekend, won by Dylan Dowe and Austin Tanner in the Steve Lewis Auto Body Bandolero division and Danny Chisholm and Cory Hall in the Colbourne Auto Group Legend division.
The track closed the season with their inaugural Thanksgiving Thunder weekend, capped with a 100-lap feature presented by Robby’s Tractor Trailer Services. The race was won by Laurie Cormier, who made the long haul from Riverview, New Brunswick to race in Sydney. Lynden MacDougall and Ryan VanOirschot joined Cormier on the podium following post race technical inspection.
Matt Vaughan raced to his second career Late Model Sportsman championship in 2019. Vaughan, a champion in his rookie year at Scotia Speedworld, captured the NAPA Sportsman Series championship at Riverside International Speedway. The highlight of his season was in July when he took home the NAPA Sportsman feature victory on the IWK 250 Super Weekend.
Lake Doucette Motor Speedway continued to build on the momentum of the past few seasons and expanded their schedule in 2019 to include a major Sportsman event for the first time in nearly a decade. The Riverside Lobster International 100 was won by Yarmouth, Nova Scotia’s Steve MacPhee with Scotia Speedworld regular Travis Roma and Paul Morris joining MacPhee on the podium. Track champions included Rachelle Muise (Four Cylinder Ladies), Nic Doucette (Four Cylinder Mens), Kyle Hines (Sportsman) and Shaun Burke (V8 Stock).
Valley Raceway, the Annapolis Valley’s only dirt oval, completed their 2019 season with lots of excitement from flag to flag. Kyle Bent (Four Cylinders), AJ Watton (Trucks), John Bent (Eight Cylinder) and Rick Balsor (Modified) all emerged when the dust settled in October with championships.
Nova Scotia’s only weekly operating race track also had plenty of great races throughout the 2019 season. Scotia Speedworld’s CARSTAR Weekly Racing Series crowned seven champions, with only one driver repeating their title earned the year prior. Colton Noble (Bandolero Outlaw) was the only driver to win in back to back years in the same division, while Gage Gilby (Bandolero Bandit) brought home a second straight title in a Bandolero after a Beginner title in 2018. Emily Chisholm (Bandolero Beginner) scored a very popular championship victory, continuing the Chisholm family legacy.
Deven Smith was dominant in the Late Model Sportsman division at Scotia Speedworld, not only winning the championship but also the Sportsman 100 and the Shriners Classic. Andrew Lively was a model of consistency en route to his first Legend car championship, winning the division without a feature victory. Jesse Deveau (Thunder) and “Rational” Richard Drake (Lightning) bested the field in their respective Four Cylinder divisions.
Oyster Bed Speedway added two semi-regular divisions in 2019 with the Legend and Bandolero classes picking up more races at the Prince Edward Island track. Kyle MacEachern (Legend) and Danny Chisholm (Bandolero) each took home track titles. Matt Palmer and Troy Burke tied for the Pro Stock track championship at Oyster Bed Bridge oval. Alex Sheehan drove to a convincing Street Stock championship victory. Shane Bridges held off Jamie Ronaghan for the Four Fun title while Matt Watson returned to his roots with a season long title at his home track.
Chris Wilson lived a lifelong dream by winning a track championship at his home track of Speedway Miramichi. Wilson took home the Street Stock title at the track, clinching the title in the Very Best Fall Shootout 100 in October. The 100lap Street Stock finale was won by Justin Cole, winning $3,200 for his efforts in the event. Joe Hoyt (Modified), JR Lawson (Mini Stock), Robert Legere (Dukes) and Kevin Tucker (Demolition) also found themselves with season long track titles to celebrate at the end of the North Shore season.
Jordan Veinotte made the long haul each race to Petty International Raceway worth it by winning the AE McKay Builders Late Model Sportsman championship at the River Glade, New Brunswick oval. He celebrated alongside Michael Cormier (Street Stock), Lawson (Mini Stock), Noble (Bandolero Outlaw), Christensen (Bandolero Beginner), McCray (Modified) and Paula Evans (Women on Wheels) as champions for 2019.
Before they went on to win their respective SpeedWeekend 2019 features, Curtis Collins and Tristin Harris each won their first track championships at Speedway 660 in their divisions. Collins took home the Martins Home Heating Sportsman title while the rookie Harris was the top Fredericton Gun Shop Sharp Shooter. Brent Roy is now a three-time track champion after winning the RE/MAX East Coast Elite Pro Stock title. Chris Hanley edged out Roger Slocum for the DMR Auto Street Stock crown. Among big race winners included Courtney O’Blenis in the Ricky Bobby Street Stock 150 and Mike Weagle in the inaugural Gunslinger Sharp Shooter 50.
The Shediac CENTRE For Speed only ran one race event all season long but it was a big one with the annual Atlantic Stock Car Championships taking place a week later than expected in October. Winners included Lonnie Sommerville (Pro Stock), Brady Creamer (Sportsman), Brandon Carter (Street Stock), Dave Matthews (Mini Stock), Steve Matthews (Four Fun) and Danny Chisholm (Bandolero).
Newfoundland’s two stock car ovals are also coming off great seasons over the past few months. Wayne Walsh leads the list of champions, taking home another NASCAR Whelen All American Series Division I Provincial championship with his win in the Eastbound Park Sportsman division. Kevin Lane was the Division II NWAAS champion by taking the Hobby Stock class in 2019 at Eastbound. Michael Neary dominated the Legend division while Joey Arsenault captured the Bandolero championship at the Avondale, Newfoundland track. In Central at Thunder Valley Speedway, Colan Chranofsky (Hobby Stock), Josh Collins/Todd Moss (Sportsman) Tristen Hunt (Bombers) and Jacob Lawrence (Bandolero) took home season long victories with their championship hardware.
Maritime touring divisions also saw successful seasons with lots of edge of your seat action. Braden Langille and Craig MacDonald dominated by the Maritime League of Legends Tour with Langille taking the championship on the strength of six victories in ten races. Brandon Skidmore returned to the Atlantic Modified Tour to win his second touring championship of his racing career. Dave Matthews finally checked off one of the only remaining boxes on his list by taking the Passione Flooring & Interiors East Coast Mini Stock Tour.
With the racing season and most season-ending award banquets in the rearview mirror, the focus now shifts to 2020. Most tracks and series will release full schedules in the early months of 2020 with rules meetings and information sessions taking place over the winter months.
If you missed the chance to cheer on your favourite short track heroes this past season, be sure to keep tabs here in coming issues to check out schedules and dates for the next season of action-packed excitement!