Ladies Making Their Mark on Maritime Stock Car RacingBy Tim Terry
Grassroots stock car racing in the Maritimes has seen many trends over recent years. When it comes to the landscape of those drivers behind the wheels of the racing chariots, a lot the conversation has been made about the youth movement within the sport. Another trend has been the wave of female drivers making their mark on the sport with several not only being within the field but are leading the pack at various racetracks within the region.
Two racetracks in Atlantic Canada, Lake Doucette Motor Speedway and Petty International Raceway, have divisions dedicated to female drivers racing in Four Cylinder race cars. Both tracks have had success in recent years, pulling in an average of six cars per race in the opening races of 2019. The Four Cylinder Ladies division at the Lake Doucette, Nova Scotia half mile and the Kings County Performance Women on Wheels class at the River Glade, New Brunswick bullring produce some great racing and have made local stars out of drivers like Paula Evans, Ashley Campbell, Casie Skidmore, Rachelle Muise, Natalie Robillard and Barb Morris, among others.
Most oval racing tracks in Atlantic Canada have a healthy mix of female drivers mixing it up with the guys. In many cases, the girls have not only held their own, they have won their fair share of races. Just the weekend prior to press time, Courtney O’Blenis scored the biggest win of her career at Speedway 660 by winning the Second Annual Ricky Bobby Street Stock 150 presented by DMR Auto. The race, ran in memory of Rick Arbeau, came along with a $1,500 payday and the accomplishment of beating the best Street Stock (and the odd Late Model) drivers in Atlantic Canada.
O’Blenis made the winning move in the last five laps on Sportsman champion Drew Greenlaw for the big win. Courtney is no stranger to Sportsman racing. Her and her sister Alexandra have made the division their home at Speedway 660 over the past few years. In fact, Alexandra won her first race of 2019 by 0.001 seconds over her sister in a last lap, last corner pass on Kids Day in June. The daughters of multi-time Pro Stock champion Dave O’Blenis have seen success every step of the way from Bandolero to Sportsman with Alexandra having dabbled in Pro Stock racing with her dad before settling in the Sportsman division.
The Bandolero division has produced some of the top talents in Atlantic Canada, including some of the top female drivers in the region. Newfoundland saw the first female Bandolero track champion in Eastern Canada in 2016 when Sara Thorne drove to her first title at Eastbound Park. Thorne is now in the NASCAR Whelen All American Series Division I Sportsman class at the track, racing alongside her Father Ross with her sister (and former driver) Olivia on the radio.
On the mainland, Emily Meehan is leading the way for female Bandolero alumni. Meehan, who has one Parts for Trucks Pro Stock Tour start, has been tearing it up in the Legend car ranks. She took home five feature victories in 2018, the Eastern Canadian Semi Pro championship and raced at INEX Asphalt Nationals at the Bullring at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Meehan already has one win in her No. 75 Legend car as of press time and already has Carteret County Speedway in Swansboro, North Carolina in her crosshairs for Nationals in October.
Alicia Mowat helped pave that path for the girls in New Brunswick. After starting out in Bandoleros, the Minto driver made the move right up to Pro Stock. As is sometimes the case, life took a different turn and racing isn’t in the current plans for Mowat. Destiny Enkel has helped to take up the torch in the Late Model Sportsman division along with the O’Blenis sisters.
One of the most popular female drivers in the Province of Nova Scotia is Megan Parrott. Parrott, like Meehan, began her racing career in Bandoleros but took a different path to where she currently races in the Late Model Sportsman class at Scotia Speedworld. Parrott jumped up to the now defunct Truck division where she had a breakthrough victory in 2016. After the track disbanded the division in 2017, Parrott made the jump to Sportsman racing, driving for Mitch Blanchard and the Number One Racing team. It didn’t take long for her to find success, winning her first feature in August of 2018 in a competitive field at Scotia Speedworld that featured Colby Smith and Jordan Veinotte chasing her to the line.
Parrott’s first win came on a Canadian National Autism Foundation Night at the Halifax track that saw three female feature winners, which is believed to be the most in one single card in Atlantic Canada that did not include an all-female division. Emma MacMillan started off the night by winning the Beginner Bandolero feature in a race that featured a maximum amount of green-white-checkered finish attempts. Meehan and Parrott followed MacMillan’s win with victories of their own in the Legend and Sportsman divisions, respectively. It was almost four on the night when Brooke Dowe, a former Beginner Bandolero champion at the Speedworld, finished second in the Bandolero Bandit portion of the show. Not to mention, behind MacMillan in the Beginner feature was Emily Chisholm in second.
Speaking of Chisholm, she has been lighting it up in the Beginner Bandolero class in 2019. As of press time, the daughter of Riverside International Speedway track owner and former Parts for Trucks Pro Stock Tour and IWK 250 champion Donald Chisholm, has two victories in the class and recently took the point lead heading into the second half of the year. The current crop of female Bandolero drivers have been turning in some great results, including Chisholm, MacMillan, Dowe along with Kelsea Lewis at Petty International Raceway, Gracie Melendy at Thunder Valley Speedway and Bailey Burke at Oyster Bed Speedway.
Prince Edward Island has also been turning out some quick female drivers. Over recent years, the Street Stock division has been dominated by Amanda Wheatley. Wheatley won the Street Stock track title in 2017 and 2018 along with the prestigious David Lambe Memorial race. Wheatley, who is also a former Eastern Super Mini Cup Series champion and a stand out in Four Cylinder competition over her career, has scaled back a bit in 2019 but is always a contender when she hits the track in her Street Stock.
Oyster Bed Speedway has seen a strong contingent of Four Cylinder drivers come out of their track. The latest appears to be Isabelle Getson. While she is still getting her footing underneath her in her second full time season, she has the fan base behind her, winning the Tim’s Corner Motorsports Most Popular Driver Award in 2018. The Tignish driver won her first heat race in July 2019 and continues to gain speed each week. At the top level of Maritime racing is Sarah McKay. McKay races part-time on the Parts for Trucks Pro Stock Tour and is the 2014 Rookie of the Year on the Series. A karting standout, she moved into Sportsman cars where she saw success in the Province of New Brunswick before moving to the Series. She is the first female driver to start a race in the Tour era (2001 to present), first female to win a Heat Race on the Series and first female to win the Rookie of the Year Award. She also has a legion of fans, typically having the longest line at Pro Stock Tour autograph sessions and won the Tim’s Corner Motorsports Most Popular Driver Award in 2014.
These talented women are just a sampling of those that are competing (and winning) on a regular basis at stock car tracks around the region. It just scratches the surface of talents that also include the likes of Chantel Ackles, Paige Drake, Courtney Barton, McKenzie Upshall, Ashley Stevens, Nicole Richard and more. We never even scratched the surface of kart drivers making their way through the ranks, where Richard and McKay got their start. Kelsey Hann and Isla Kants both call the CKRA club in New Brunswick home and have been racking up the hardware on a torrid pace in 2019.
Here’s the great thing about this sport though. Once a driver, regardless of gender, straps a helmet on and climbs behind the wheel of a race car, they are just another driver. Unlike stick and ball sports, a race car can be the ultimate equalizer. From the stands, you see a car and a driver. Regardless who you cheer for, do yourself a favour and get out to a race track and cheer on your favourite stock car stars before the Summer runs out!