Race Preview: CARQUEST 100
This is when the bench racing screeches to a halt and where the rubber meets the track. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the 12th season of the Parts for Trucks Pro Stock Tour!
Little refresher as to where we left off in 2011. The Dartmouth Dodge 200 at Scotia Speedworld was full of twists and turns that ended with Terence Bay’s Craig Slaunwhite storming to the front of the field in the final 100-laps to retake the lead he held prior to the halfway break and take his first win on the Tour in three years. Slaunwhite’s 2011 season had been one of ups and downs that ended on the high note of winning at his home track and he, along with about a dozen others who call the Speedworld home, will look to begin their season with at the CARQUEST 100 this Sunday.
Slaunwhite was one of a handful of teams that took part in the annual Pro Stock Tour Tech ‘n Tune last Saturday and was fast right off the trailer. Slaunwhite was one of the last teams to show up at the event, showing up an hour or so into the open practice and was one of the first teams loaded up after topping the Turn Three leaderboard midway through the afternoon. His quick time would eventually be bested by laps posted by Antigonish’s Donald Chisholm and Springvale, Prince Edward Island’s Greg Proude. Chisholm and his Nova Racing team were shaking down new race cars for the upcoming season while Proude set quick time on the afternoon in his familiar “Red Rocket.”
Speaking of new cars, there are a few drivers in some new digs when it comes to numbers this season. The biggest change to fans may be seeing Riverview, New Brunswick’s Mike Stevens driving a car with the #4 emblazoned on the side. The number has been vacant for a few seasons since West Covehead, PE’s Dale Holmes ran the number. Exide Rookie of the Year contenders Steve Ross and Dylan Gosbee are going back to their roots this season as well with Ross (Waverly) running the #24 and Gosbee (Cornwall, PE) sliding through the window of a car with #91 on it. Local fans of Ross and Gosbee will be familiar with their number changes as Ross (Sportsman) and Gosbee (PEI Modified) have run the numbers in the past few years in weekly divisions.
Gosbee and Saint John, New Brunswick’s Steve Halpin really impressed me on Saturday. Both posted at least one run during the Tech ‘n Tune where the freshman drivers on the Tour recording consistent 14.6 second laps around the Speedworld. Its one thing to be able to hot lap, but to be consistent within a whisker of what veterans like Proude, Chisholm and Slaunwhite are running says something. Watch for those two to be quick on Sunday.
Ross, who is running for that Rookie of the Year crown this season was at the Speedworld for a bit on Saturday to take in the Tech ‘n Tune. He is going into this summer knowing the competition will be stiff for the Rookie title. “Usually on a 12 race series, you go in thinking you can have two bad races and still be in contention,” explained Ross when I caught up with him on Saturday. “With the guys that are running for Rookie of the Year, you can’t afford one bad race. The key is going to be consistency throughout the season and the guy who is the best at being consistent will be your rookie champion.”
One driver who I talked to Saturday that is thankful he is not running for the Exide Rookie of the Year crown in 2012 is the ’10 top rookie Jerome Kehoe. “Leonard (Boutilier, Dutch Settlement) was tough enough, I couldn’t imagine running against six others for it,” said Kehoe, who was at the Speedworld Saturday to shake down the #98 Zutphen Contracting/Ideal Concrete Chevrolet. The battle in 2010 between Kehoe (Sydney, NS) and Boutilier was one for the ages with the #98 edging out the #45 after a season long duel. Expect both to be tough at the CARQUEST 100 this Sunday.
Okay, I know what you’re saying, so the rookie battle between Gosbee, Halpin, Ross, Frankie Fraser (Shubenacadie), Brad Eddy (Lower Sackville) and Terry Dougay (Albany, PE) will be fantastic, but what about the other drivers in the field this Sunday? As mentioned previously, Proude, Chisholm and Slaunwhite were quick at the Tech ‘n Tune. Kehoe, Shawn Pierce (Bridgewater) and Dave Heino (Barrington) may also have a leg up on the competition as they were out testing at Scotia Speedworld this past weekend, dialing in their cars for Sunday. You cannot count out former series champions (and feature winners at Scotia Speedworld) such as Shawn Turple (Enfield), John Flemming (Halifax) and Shawn Tucker (Fredericton, NB), who will be tough as always at “Atlantic Canada’s Action Center.” Turple and Tucker were both on the podium at the Dartmouth Dodge 200 with Slaunwhite while Flemming wasn’t far behind in the top five.
The Island contingent will be strong once again this summer. Last year it was Darren MacKinnon (Charlottetown, PE) with a breakout season and Kent Vincent (Crapaud, PE) with a strong closing to the season that turned up the heat for those battling with them for the title. Jonathan Hicken (Brudenell, PE) is always a contender at every track we visit (and a former winner at the Speedworld) and if I was a betting man I would watch for the #5 to be quick this Sunday. These three are in addition to the aforementioned Proude, Gosbee and Dougay, who also hail from “the Gentle Island” and are expected to contend for the CARQUEST 100 crown. Brad Mann (Glen Levit, NB) is expected to join Halpin, Stevens and Tucker as entrants for Sunday’s race from New Brunswick.
The Halifax region will be well represented on Sunday as well. Seasoned drivers Slaunwhite, Flemming, Turple, Brad Brown (Williamswood), Mike MacKenzie (Dartmouth) Marty Prevost (Fall River), Daryl Mahar (Hubley), Dan MacKay (Halifax), “The King of the Road” Roger Miller (Kennetcook) and “The Legend” Cy Harvey (Elmsdale) will be looking to keep the CARQUEST 100 trophy in the area. Of note, Harvey will be in “new digs” this season as the veteran will be at the helm of a Scott Fraser Racing (SFR) prepared race car this season. In addition to Chisholm, Nova Racing is also expected to field a car for fan favorite George Koszkulics (New Glasgow), who, like Slaunwhite and Flemming, returned to victory lane in 2011 after a few seasons away from the checkered flag.
Let’s add one more star to the already packed lineup of drivers for Sunday - how about 2010 Atlantic CAT 250 winner Cassius Clark?! The Farmington, Maine driver will be driving the #13 King Freight Lines/King Racing Ford Fusion this weekend for 2005 Parts for Trucks Pro Stock Tour champ Rollie MacDonald of Pictou. That CAT 250 back in 2010 was Clark’s only start on the Parts for Trucks Pro Stock Tour in his career when he subbed for Hicken in the #5 car, so you better believe Clark, the PASS North regular, will be looking to go two for two in Pro Stock Tour action!
Those are the names that are expected to be at the Speedworld on Sunday. One driver that won’t be in attendance with his race car this weekend is last year’s series titlist Wayne Smith of Timberlea. Smith retired from full-time competition on the front straight at Scotia Speedworld during post race ceremonies for the Dartmouth Dodge 200 after capturing his sixth Maritime Touring title (and third in the Pro Stock Tour era). We will see Smith behind the wheel of the #44 for the IWK and Atlantic CAT 250’s and I’m sure we’ll see him around the pits this season, including at Petty International Raceway, the track he, Craig McFetridge and Brett Benoit re-opened in 2011. In fact, if you are in the area Saturday night, they open their season at 4pm with a 150-lap Sportsman event and we’ll be there on June 2nd for the Lucas Oil 100, Round Two of 12 on our Tour!
It all makes for a show you do not want to miss, so be sure you are at the track starting at 3:10pm for the Atlantic Tiltload Time Trials. With the change of procedures this year, the top eight or nine (depending on car count, eight if under 28 cars, nine if over 29) will be locked directly into the CARQUEST 100 by their qualifying time. Yes, they will still compete in the Fast Eddie Racewear Dash for Cash, but no longer will the Dash decide the starting lineup for the feature. If your favorite driver is on top after Time Trials, he will start on the pole for the feature - simple as that! Dartmouth Dodge Qualifying (Heats and a “B” Feature if necessary) will fill out the balance of the field beginning at 4pm. The Maritime League of Legends Tour will serve as the undercard for the afternoon’s festivities with a 50-lap feature to kick off their 2012 season.
Before I close off this article, my thoughts and prayers go out to Sherwood, PEI’s Tom Nicholls and his family. Nicholls was involved in a single car crash as the minutes ticked down on Saturday’s Tech ‘n Tune. I met Tom for the first time in person on Saturday morning as he and his team prepared the #63 Island Excavators for The Island Excavators Racing for Kidsport Impala for the afternoon of practice. He took time out from his preparations to chat with me about his season, his Street Stock car and the learning curve in hopping to the Pro Stock. The team had been over on Tuesday of last week and they had progressed every lap between then and Saturday’s Tech ‘n Tune. At the time I write this preview for Sunday, Tom is at the VG in Halifax in critical but stable condition after the wreck on Saturday. We’re all pulling for you, here’s to a full recovery, Big Poppa!
Enjoy the CARQUEST 100. Until Sunday, keep the hammer down and we’ll see you at the track!
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