Looking Back on 2011 – Part One
With the annual Awards Banquet upcoming for the Parts for Trucks Pro Stock Tour, it’s time to take a final look back at the season, those who shaped it and the events which made the eleventh edition of the series special. I’m going to spread this over the three weeks leading up to the Gala at the Delta Prince Edward in Charlottetown with this first piece looking back at a few drivers who had memorable years on the Tour in ’11.
When you look at driver comparisons from 2010 to 2011, Darren MacKinnon has to be on the very top of that list. Let’s look at the statistics line for the Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island driver. The ’10 campaign brought the #18 Shaw’s Towing/First Choice Hair Cutters Chevrolet one lonely top ten and one start in the Fast Eddie Racewear Dash for Cash. Fast forward twelve months and now we look back to 2011, which featured two feature wins for MacKinnon, five podium finishes, seven top fives and nine top tens. Not to mention MacKinnon has grown into quite the qualifier as well, posting six dash appearances and one Dash victory to go with one Dartmouth Dodge Heat Race victory.
Those two victories were big ones for their team with the first one falling on home soil at Oyster Bed Speedway in nearby Oyster Bed Bridge, Prince Edward Island. There are moments of every race season that you take away and will cherish for years to come and that race in late June is one of those that fans and crews in attendance will remember for a while. MacKinnon, with just a handful of years experience at the helm of a Pro Stock car had 20+ year veteran Wayne Smith in front of him in the closing laps of the Parts for Trucks 100. MacKinnon poured on the pressure to Smith and with just five laps remaining in the event, the #18 swept to the inside of Smith in Turn Two and by the time they came back to the front straight it was MacKinnon who had the lead, a move to which the crowd would erupt in cheers and applause for a driver they watched grow up weekly at Oyster Bed.
The second victory came at Riverside International Speedway during the IWK 250 Presented by Steve Lewis Auto Body. MacKinnon had worked his way up to second place in the late stages of the race and would restart outside John Flemming with just three laps remaining in the event. MacKinnon kept pace with Flemming on the final restart of the event and got the run off the high side of Turn Two to take away the lead from Flemming, who had led 227 laps up until that point. When I had talked to MacKinnon prior to the race, he was optimistic about his chances of winning the event. That optimism turned into jubilation hours later when MacKinnon emerged from his winning chariot after winning what he (and many others) call “our Daytona 500.”
The run MacKinnon had this season also solidified him as a championship contender in the stretch drive of the season and was one of five who had a shot at the title during the season ending Dartmouth Dodge 200. When the dust settled, MacKinnon finished fifth on the year, was tied for the series lead in feature wins with Shawn Tucker and improved his point position by eight spots over 2010. We’ve never had an Island born champion, but I have a feeling with a run like this team had in 2011 we could see that change in the very near future!
Then you have the stories of rejuvenated veterans coming out of 2011. John Flemming had been left out of victory lane for a few seasons prior to this past summer but returned with a vengeance during the Air Show Atlantic 100 at Oyster Bed Speedway. Flemming held off a furious charge from Islander Jonathan Hicken who had stormed to the front in the last few laps and was at Flemming’s bumper when the checkers flew. The win came one week after the second place run in the IWK 250 and after the two races, Flemming vowed that if he could continue to click off finishes like he was getting that he would make things interesting for Smith and Tucker atop the standings – and that he did. Like MacKinnon, Flemming was one of those five drivers in contention for the title at the final race of the season but fell a couple positions and 23 points short of his goal of becoming the only four time champ of the series since its inception in 2001.
Another veteran short track racer who saw a return to victory lane in 2011 was New Glasgow’s George Koszkulics. Koszkulics has ran strong in his part-time appearances on the Tour and came close this season to winning the IWK 250 as he was in the top five for a majority of that event. He backed that run up big time just a month later when the Tour re-visited Riverside International with a big win in the Lucas Oil 100. Koszkulics, driving the NOVA Racing #88 car held off the likes of Craig Slaunwhite, who was also hungry for a victory to that point in the season and MacKinnon. Koszkulics even mentioned retirement in his post race interview, saying that he had considering if he ever won another feature on the Tour that he may have to retire on top. Koszkulics though shows no signs of slowing down his part-time effort, or at least from what I’ve heard and will be a strong contender next season when the series rolls around to Riverside and the other venues Koszkulics competes at.
Brad Mann also fits the bill of a “rejuvenated veteran.” Mann has been racing at short tracks throughout this region for over a quarter century and continues to race on to what is expected to be another full time campaign in 2012. Mann, who signed Canadian Tire Campbellton late in the season as a sponsor said to me a couple times at the end of the season that the crew wants “one more kick at the can” and Mann isn’t quite ready to hang up the helmet, so expect that #35 team to come back strong and build on their ninth place run from this season.
Next week, we’ll take a look at the stories that made headlines off the track in the 2011 season. Then, as we get closer to the banquet, we will take a look back at some of the best races of the 2011 season. Which race do you think should take the “Race of the Year” award? Let me know by heading over to the Tim’s Corner Facebook page (www.facebook.com/timscorner) or Tweet me @TweetTimsCorner and let me know your thoughts!
Until next time keep the hammer down and we’ll see you at the track!
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