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ISSUe 152

Here comes 2014!

Check one two. Is this thing on?

Okay, it’s been a while since I’ve done one of these, but we’re back.

Like most seasons, teams are keeping tight lipped about their plans. Either that, or there isn’t much change among the teams. I have heard some of those changes from the teams themselves, which some are below. Keep in mind though, these could change a few times prior to the season but what is below is the current “what I know” at the point.

While fans and teams await the 2014 schedule, some teams also have some other goals on their Holiday lists for the upcoming 2014 campaign. Some missed victory lane in 2013, some missed a good finish after running well during a race, some turned heads and ran out of time at the end of the season to give our fans whiplash. What could some of these teams be wishing for? I came up with a bit of a list for us to ponder over.

JONATHAN HICKEN AND DARREN MACKINNON - A RETURN TRIP TO THE TOP OF THE PODIUM
Here’s a tale of two Island boys who came so close to winning in 2013, but could not seal the deal.

It’s hard to believe Jonathan Hicken and Darren Mackinnon did not win a race last year. Both finished a quarter or more of the races on the podium, but not in that spot to collect the big trophy.

In the case of Hicken, his winless season comes on the heels of a 2012 year where he went to victory lane twice, once at Petty Raceway and once at his home track of Oyster Bed Speedway. It wasn’t for a lack of trying though in 2013, where he finished fifth in the standings and was on the podium thrice. In fact, the Castle Building Centres Impala only finished outside the top ten three times in 12 races this past year, one of those included a heartbreak at the season opener at Scotia Speedworld when a trailing arm bolt broke in two. If the pattern serves though, the last time Hicken won two races in a season (2010), then went winless the next (2011), he came back and won two races (2012). If the trend continues, Hicken should be able to return to victory lane - at least twice - in 2014.

When we look at Darren Mackinnon, it’s kind of hard to believe that the #18 Shaw’s Towing/Mackinnon Brothers Service Centre Chevrolet has gone without a victory since the 2011 edition of the IWK 250. Granted, if you are going to win a race, that is the race to win, but since that time, Mackinnon has given reason for the fans not to forget he’s knocking on the door. Four times Mackinnon placed on the podium last year and finished fourth in points, a career high for the Charlottetown driver. Keep in mind as well, Mackinnon led the standings in 2012 heading into the IWK 250 in that season where it seemed like we had a new point leader virtually every week until August when Shawn Turple took the lead for good. When it comes to consistency, Mackinnon is one of the best over the last few seasons, with that said, the win(s) should come for Mackinnon in 2014.

Just as a sidenote, when you look at 2011, you have four drivers who scored what is currently their last win on the Tour. In addition to Mackinnon, Kent Vincent hasn’t won since August 2011 at International weekend, the weekend after George Koszkulics returned to victory lane at Riverside. Wayne Smith also scored his last win at the first race at Petty Raceway back in June of 2011.

Speaking of Smith...

WAYNE SMTH - THE SECOND HALF OF THE DARTMOUTH DODGE 200
I think I made the comment to Joe Chisholm at the Dartmouth Dodge 200 that I thought for a moment I was back in 2011.

Since 2012, Wayne Smith has been a part time driver on our Tour, making a handful of starts at the extended distance races, along with a trip to New Smyrna for the World Series thrown in there. It may have begun to show at the IWK 250 at Riverside when he handed the reins over to his iconic #44 to his nephew Russell Smith Jr mid-race.

Does it mean the six-time champ has forgot to drive? Not even close.

It has been said before, the technology is ever changing in these race cars and the competition in this series is stiff. Long story short, if you are not in the seat on a regular basis, you are likely going to end up at a disadvantage to the guys that are plugging away each week making their cars and themselves as drivers a bit better. With the Oval Outlaw only making a handful of starts a year in the past two seasons, a small bit of rust started to show.

Well, I guess if that was rust, Wayne went to Rust Check prior to the Dartmouth Dodge 200.

The team spent a few hours before the race at Scotia Speedworld testing the car, and it paid off. He ran up in the top five for much of the first half of the race and it appeared he was well on his way to finishing there before a green flag pit stop put him multiple laps down at the finish of the race.

Wayne will be getting more seat time in 2014 by the looks of it though. He recently completed a swap with Shawn Conners for a Sportsman car. It wouldn’t surprise me to see Wayne run the Sportsman race the night prior to the big 250s to get that all important seat time. Keep in mind, Wayne hopped into that very Sportsman car he acquired at Speedway 660 in September and ran top five with it for most of the night in the Irving Blending and Packaging 150. Some say for younger drivers or the inexperienced in a Pro Stock that the hop back and forth may hurt more than help, but in this case, it may very well help more than hurt.

Now the question remains, in a part-time effort, can the Oval Outlaw return to his former glory and get back to victory lane for the first time since June 2011?

SARAH MCKAY - SET RECORDS
A girl who Wayne battled a while in that Irving Blending and Packaging 150 Sportsman race at 660 won the Rookie of the Year in the Late Model class in the Geary woods and has her eyes set on the Exide Batteries Rookie of the Year Award on the series in 2013.

She, yes, she, will also become the first female driver in the Tour era (2001 to present) to compete on the Maritime Pro Stock Tour.

Keeping with the trend of young drivers paving their way into the series, Quispamsis teenager Sarah McKay will look to become the second consecutive 18-year old Rookie of the Year on the series. McKay impressed in an open race at the end of the year in a Pro Stock car enough for the team to purchase the equipment needed for her to go racing in 2014. She will become the first female driver on the Maritime’s top touring series since Elaine Vance in the mid-90s.

While the fan favourite (who finished second to Mike Stevens in the RacingSpectator.ca Driver of the Year voting this year) has one race under her belt in a Pro Stock and almost a dozen in a Late Model Sportsman, 2013 showed us that being a rookie on this series means you are stacking yourself up against some of the best talent in North America. The battle between Butcher, Blenkhorn and Foran was incredible this past season, with Butcher and Blenkhorn making their marks in the top ten each week by mid-season. I’m sure those comparisons will be made between McKay and the 2013 rookie crop because last year’s class was so strong. That jump from a Sportsman to a Pro Stock is huge too for someone that hasn’t run one but McKay jumped from karts to Sportsman last year and was impressive for the big jump from a kart to a full bodied Late Model.

All things considered, this could be one of the stories of the season regardless how she does on track. Though there may be a few more rookies pop out before the season begins, you’d have to believe Brodie MacQuarrie will be one trying to steal her thunder. MacQuarrie looked comfortable in his five starts last year, which, in turn, will gain confidence not only for the driver but for the team as well. The last time I spoke to the Winsloe driver, they were planning on coming full-time, which is great to see.

MORE PART TIMERS THIS SEASON TO DRIVER CAR COUNTS UP
Our “marquee” events this season could see an increased car count with some new drivers and familiar faces coming out of the woodworks for part-time adventures on our Tour.

As mentioned before, Shawn Conners now has a Pro Stock and it wouldn’t surprise me to see him at a few of our races this season. I have heard from Cole Boudreau that his team may attempt the IWK 250 and Atlantic CAT 250 in 2014 in addition to his rookie run at Speedway 660. Kevin Moore’s team is also looking at a few more races in the coming season with us and was at our recent rules meeting in November.

At this point as well, I’d have to believe Robbie MacEwen will be with us for up to five races in 2014. MacEwen purchased a former Craig Slaunwhite car at the end of this year and from what I’ve heard from the team there are plans to run up to five events to preserve his rookie status for 2015. MacEwen is a standout in the Modified class at Oyster Bed Speedway (the same class that groomed Gosbee, Mackinnon, Vincent, Hicken and many other Island drivers) and is itching to make that jump to the Tour. In fact, MacEwen made one start last year at the Fast Eddie Racewear 100 when Shawn Pierce couldn’t get to the track to drive the car, so MacEwen got the call. A mechanical problem sidelined the #21 prior to the finish that night but it was a great showing for the driver who never had any laps on the car prior to the race day.
What does it mean? It means the possibility of more shows seeing a “B” Feature and qualifying meaning more for those coveted starting spots. At the end of the day, it makes a better show for the fans - and I can’t wait to see it.

SHAWN TURPLE - EXTENDING THE STREAK - BEFORE AUGUST?!
Shawn Turple has won at least one race on our series in each of the last six seasons, though the last two have been nail biters to extend the streak.

While Shawn won the title in 2012, he didn’t win a race until August when he took home the International 150 at Petty Raceway. Last season, Turple waited until the very last race of the season to extend the streak by taking home the Dartmouth Dodge 200. The previous two seasons before, he had won the second Scotia Speedworld event sponsored by Lockhart Truck Centre, which were both held in July, meaning Turple Town didn’t have to sit on the edge of their seats all year waiting for that checkered flag to become theirs.

In our next Tim’s Corner piece, we will dive deeper into numbers. It was a big season for John Flemming and Shawn Tucker and it made a huge impact on their career numbers with the series. How big? You’ll see next time.

Happy Holidays and I hope everyone has a safe and Happy New Year. I’ll be spending mine up in New Glasgow with my Riverside friends. Keep the drinks cool for us Joey, I’m on my way!

Until 2014, keep the hammer down and we’ll see you at the track!

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