After a solid season on both asphalt and dirt, Mack DeMan is set to tackle a new challenge – the Chili Bowl.
The annual event hosted in Oklahoma brings forth drivers across North America, and further, to race against each other in dirt midgets. With over 300 drivers entered, the event has become the marque race each season.
“I am excited and anxious more than nervous to race against some of the best dirt drivers from around the world,” DeMan told Short Track Musings. “It will be my first time attending the historic event and checking out the facility. I have raced Indoors before in Atlantic City on asphalt, but that was against 100 cars, not 300. I have been watching as much video as I can to prepare myself as best as possible.”
While he has plenty of midget experience, it will be the first time on dirt in a midget and with this much horsepower underneath the hood. As a result, he feels those around him, from friends and family to the team, don’t have high expectations heading into the event.
“I see this as an advantage as I am not going in there stressing about keeping a ride or getting a top three; rather it gives me more chance to turn some heads and impress some people, hoping that I can adapt quick,” he said. “The goals I have set for myself might be unrealistic to some but I truly believe I can achieve them. I would like to get a top three in my heat race and ultimately make the A-main on my qualifying night. Anything over and above that would be a bonus. I want to get on the live broadcast for my fans and sponsors.”
The opportunity to race at the Chili Bowl this year was able to come together as a result of support from Nate Ackland of Ackland Insurance.
“Nate saw my Facebook post looking for support and he stepped up to the plate and gave me an early Christmas present,” DeMan said. “I also need to thank Samuel Steel, MadMax Racing and John Wright, Barr Motorsports and Brad and Sean Dodenhoff for trusting me in one of their machines.
“Steve Lyons at Creative Edge is a good friend and banged out many midget designs for potential sponsors for me and I can’t thank him enough. He simply wants the best for me and does not ask for anything in return other than some recognition and I appreciate that.”
The opportunity for DeMan doesn’t mark much surprise with what he has been able to accomplish through the years.
On asphalt, DeMan has become one of the top drivers in the province of Ontario with success on the Lucas Oil T.Q. Can-Am Midget tour. This past season, he added to his accomplishments, scoring his fourth consecutive championship, which is something that hasn’t been done in 25 years since Keith Dempster from 1992 to 1995. DeMan says one of the keys to their success was completing every lap in each event.
“All of my asphalt success wouldn’t be possible without the guidance and hard work of my car owner Andy Mackereth and my Dad Peter,” DeMan said. “Andy is a genius when it comes to setup knowledge, fabrication and all around racing knowledge. He has also taught me a lot about driving, picking my passes and claiming positions.”
While he’s had the success, the driver of the No. 40 Lucas Oil, All-type Welding and Paragon Collision Centre. T.Q. Midget has also grown friendships with his fellow competitors, with his favorites to race against include Darren McLennan, Adrian Stahle and Ryan Fraser.
“All three of these guys are father/son/family run teams much like mine,” he said. “We all put well prepared cars on the track each week and duel it out. Being part of a travelling club, you respect each other’s equipment, however as I mentioned above, you are always going for each others throat once the helmet goes on. Yes, there may be a few incidents, but come on, we are going 90 mph inches apart and doing 12 seconds a lap. Generally speaking, the racing is good and clean, wheel to wheel. I LOVE it. Off the track, there are no three guys I respect more. They are good people and that counts in my books.
“For reference, here is a video from Adrian Stahles car. Darren McLennan and myself start on the front row at Sunset, and proceed to swap the lead four-five times in the first 10 laps. Never touching wheels. Ultimately Corey Moesker in the blue #39 would best all of us and win this race.”
With all his asphalt success, a transition to dirt last year wasn’t a big surprise – but rather had many questioning and curious to how he’d make out. The numbers from this past season indicate thus far, things are going according to plan.
“My success on dirt this season was a culmination of many things,” he said. “My team (Barr Motorsports) learned more about the cars, tires and setup (thanks Jamie Turner for all your help). The driver learned more about what he wanted from the car, find the tacky mud and how to manipulate the car/racing line to get the car to work best. I became more confident in 2016 and every time I went on the track I wanted to win, rather than just finish respectful like I did in 2015. Ultimately 2016 was a success because the driver and crew communication evolved and we were able to put a fast car on track every week. We won 8 out of 14 races we competed in at Ohsweken in 2016 and I have to thank the Barr family and our sponsors for giving me the opportunity to wheel their car.”
Joining a list of other drivers who have been successful going back and forth, the driver of the No. 4 Lucas Oil, Centerline Elevator, Fast Track Performance, Oakwood Transport, Harry Wilson at Remax, Amanda Greene at RBC, Velocity Signs, Barr Motorsports and Jamie Turner Crate Sprint says the key is entering with an open mind, low expectations and simply – Don’t Lift.
“It takes a few weeks to learn how the car rotates with the throttle and what you want the car to feel like as a driver,” he said. “The key is to never give up. I finished last or 2nd last my first 3 weeks on dirt and was getting really worried I would never get the hang of it. I only won 1 race my first year on dirt and it was because Dylan Westbrook blew a power steering line. He would have passed me otherwise.”
The other difference, is the track operations and the pace of how the day goes at the track. While a standard day at the asphalt track can last from 3pm to 11pm, dirt shows at Ohsweken go by extremely fast with how track officials schedule the day.
“There is limited time to make adjustments, you are constantly watching the racing surface, and the event does not take up half of your weekend,” he said. “Aside from how the events are run, dirt brings many new aspects to being a driver. Always having tear away’s ready, belts ready, car ready becomes more difficult when you have very little time to do so. Not to mention being mentally and physically prepared to be on track 4-5 times in 3-4 hours. I find on Ohsweken race nights I need to eat before getting to the track as I do not have much time between sessions, whereas at the asphalt tracks I am constantly snacking during my 1-2 hours off track between sessions.”
Like he has on the asphalt side, he’s forged some good friendships with his fellow competitors, namely Aaron Turkey and Josh Shantz in particular.
“Both guys run their own team, prepare their own cars, and are true racers,” he said. “Off the track, we joke around, hangout, talk setup and just have a good time. When it comes race time, neither of these guys will give an inch. They will throw sliders, run you to the wall etc. and I LOVE it. There is nothing I enjoy more than a spirited bout between two drivers, much like a spirited hockey tilt. You are going for each other’s throats, but in the end, there is mutual respect for one another when the dust settles.”
For DeMan, the interest in racing started due to his dad, who raced Trans-Am for close to 15 years followed by Can-Am T.Q. Midgets.
“When I turned seven, he promptly got me into Go-Karts at Waterloo Regional Kart Club and it was an addiction from there,” DeMan said. “I am a really competitive person and I liked that about karting. The mentality of “me and my dad are better than you and your dad” is what brought us back to the track each week. Many of the kids I karted against are still in the Ontario racing community, doing what they love, and succeeding.”
When DeMan turned 16, his options for the future became clear – stop racing or T.Q. Midget racing – as a result of go-karting costs getting out of hand and race weekends entailing two to three days.
“Lucky for me, my dad got his ass handed to him for 5 years in the TQ’s by guys like Andy Mackereth, Keith Dempster and Mark Sammut, (sorry dad) so he knew where to go to get me in good equipment,” DeMan said. “Andy Mackereth and my dad go way back, they both grew up in Mississauga, went to high schools minutes apart, and both of their fathers owned shops on Dundas 2km apart. It was common sense to get hooked up with the Mackereths. My first practice in a TQ I remember asking Andy if TQ midgets “bump draft down the straight aways like we did in karting” – I had never seen a TQ midget on track since I was five. He laughed and said, ‘You try bump drafting and let me know how it goes for you’. Lesson learned.”
DeMan admits when he first started midget racing, the interest didn’t come naturally and he remembers trying to think of excuses to get out of working on the midget every Wednesday night.
“I quickly learned from my dad that if I did not work on the car, neither would him and Andy,” he said. “Over the years I learned about the cars, motors, how to repair them, how to set them up and I really enjoyed it. The thing I enjoy most is using this knowledge to help my competitors that were not as fortunate as me to be with such a knowledgeable team.”
Beyond the Chili Bowl, DeMan has a busy calendar set for the 2017 season as he is set to chase both the Ohsweken Speedway Crate Sprint Car Championship, as well as the Lucas Oil T.Q. Can-Am Midget Championship once again, with having no conflicts between the schedules.
“That is my goal and hopefully it will lead to more opportunities in the future,” he said. “I really enjoyed 2016 and making new friends and fans at the dirt tracks, helping out on 360’s where I could and just learning as much as I can. I hope to continue this in 2017.”
For the success he’s had, DeMan thanks his fans, friends, family and sponsors for their support.
“Without the support I receive and interest people take in my racing career, I probably would have stopped racing years ago,” he said. “I also have to thank the volunteers and officials of the CanAm Midget club for keeping us safe, as well as the awesome safety crew and staff at Ohsweken Speedway. Racing a sprint car has changed my outlook on what I want to race for the next 20 years, and I’m looking forward to new opportunities in the future.”