By: Ashley McCubbin
As we continue to approach the 2017 season, this series will take a look at some storylines to watch in different series and tracks this season. Feel free to add what you’re hoping to see via commenting on the post, facebook, or twitter.
Sunset Speedway’s Limited Late Model division has proven to be top-shelf over the past couple of years, with lots of race winners and close finishes. This year looks to be the same once again based on a quick glance at the roster. With that in mind, keep an eye on the following……
Variety of Winners
There were seven different feature winners in 2015. Last year, there were 13 different victors. So what does the number become in 2017?
Considering the usual suspects are back, you have to figure that they’d each visit victory lane – Thayne Hallyburton, Taylor Holdaway, Travis Hallyburton, Chris Morrow, Ryan Kimball, Nick Goetz, Gord Shepherd and Lane Zardo. That brings you to a total of eight right there.
Then you also have to consider the drivers who came close to victory lane that may just break through for their first wins in 2017. Brittney Gresel got stronger as last year went on, scoring two top-five finishes and leading over half of a feature. Paul Maltese led 33 of 35 laps one night en route to a top-five finish, to go along with 11 top-10 finishes. Eight plus two makes 10.
You also have to consider those who are coming back in the frame, having won previously multiple times – Past Barrie Speedway Late Model Champion Ron Quesnelle and 2016 Peteborough Speedway Champion Rick Spencer-Walt. That makes 12.
Let’s also consider that Joshua Stade, who makes frequent trips before Sauble Speedway starts their season, and Billy Zardo – a typical front runner till he ran into a slew of issues last year. They both didn’t reach victory lane last year, which will make them extra hungry in 2017. That makes 14.
With there being around 20 features on the season, 14 is a relatively high number in expecting variety, especially if you have someone as quick as Holdaway or Shepherd on the prowl. So give or take, let’s say there’s going to be around 10 feature winners in 2017 – with a possibility for 14.
Does your guess go along the same number? Let me know!
Shepherd vs Holdaway
One of the reasons everybody loves short track racing is rivalries – and the Sunset Speedway Late Model division as developed a couple over the years. The most recent one – Gord Shepherd vs Taylor Holdaway.
The pair have battled back and forth for wins on the track, rubbing fenders and in the midst of controversy at times. There’s been drama highlighted on both side of the fences – but respect has always been there. You haven’t seen them throw down, or get up in each other’s faces. In the end, the winners have been the fans in seeing it go down.
The 2015 season saw Holdaway walk away as the champion with 12 wins and 21 top-fives, while Shepherd scored two wins and 12 top-fives. This past year, Shepherd was crowned with two wins and 18 top-fives, to Holdaway’s seven wins and 15 top-fives. It was a battle of all-out speed from Holdaway being victorious, versus the solid consistency of a veteran in Shepherd.
Now which team will rule the roost in 2017? We’ll just have to wait and see.
New Cars for Morrow & Benedict
Each year, it seems the bar continues to get raised, and this year will be no exception. Two drivers are debuting new chassis for 2017 – Chris Morrow and Danny Benedict.
Morrow purchased a brand new chassis from McColl Racing Enterprises, hoping to build on the success he had last year with 12 top-10s, including a victory at the end of July. Morrow has been a constant front runner, and now in a top-notch ride, one has to think opportunities are endless.
Benedict purchased a brand new chassis from Shaw Chassis after a solid rookie campaign with five top-10s, behind the wheel of what was deemed an older car. It seemed near the end of the year is when the good runs started happening. Now if you combine the lessons with new equipment – he could be your break-out start of 2017.
Return of Quesnelle and Spencer-Walt
If the Sunset Speedway pool wasn’t deep enough already, it’s about to get deeper this season with new additions. A pair of track champions are set to add their names to the roster.
Ron Quesnelle will run his first full season in awhile in a car ran last season part-time by KDR Motorsports. The Penetang, Ontario won the 2011 Barrie Speedway Championship and NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Ontario Championship. En route to winning the championship that season, Quesnelle scored 13 feature wins and 28 top-fives. While reaching numbers of that magnitude this year isn’t expected with the depth of field, you have to believe he’ll score at least one feature victory this year.
Rick Spencer-Walt makes his return to the track after winning the championship last year at Peterborough Speedway, including five victories during the year. He also showed he can run up front at Sunset with a top-five at the Velocity 250 in September. How does that translate to 2017? We’ll just have to see.
Last Year for Maltese
As revealed earlier this month, Paul Maltese is set for one more year of Late Model racing, before focusing on his son’s career.
It’d be a great if he could walk away with his first career Late Model victory this season after coming close last year, leading up until a couple laps to go before being passed by Ryan Kimball for the victory. That night was a highlight in what turned out to be a great year for Maltese Motorsports as he finished seventh in the Limited Late Model standings, with a pair of top-fives and 11 top-10s – a big improvement from 2015 when he failed to post a top-10.
Chances are pretty high, but it’s another one of those we’ll just have to wait and see.