This year, the OSCAAR Modifieds seem to be packed with competition as seven new drivers are set to compete in 2017.
The current rookie list includes Tim Tolton, Dave Hodgkinson, Ken Hayward, Jase Cornell, Marty Monette, Wally Wilson, and Mark Hamacher. As featured previously, the drivers enter the year with a variety of different backgrounds as some have been involved in racing for years, while others just for a couple years.
As a memorable Rookie of the Year battle is set-up, it seems fitting to touch base with some of the current competitors, and get their advice for the rookie.
Now a contender for race wins, David Balych’s rookie season was in 2015, seeing him place ninth in the series standings with a pair of top-10 finishes. Looking back, he remembers his debut at Sunset Speedway, where he “passed a handful of cars” en route to finishing seventh for a solid kick-off. Based on everything he experienced, he says the biggest thing is to not overdrive the car.
“Rookies coming from smaller more nimble cars like myself have to realize these bigger cars don’t stick nearly as well,” he added.
Rob Di Venanzo experienced his rookie campaign just two seasons ago, as well.
“I remember how well the series is run by Dave Gainforth and all of the staff,” he said. “The competition was great, and the drivers we very helpful.”
Looking towards this year’s seven rookies, he says the main thing is “be patient and earn the respect of the other drivers,” noting the speed of the cars and level of talent.
While Gary Elliott has been involved in racing for a long time, his OSCAAR Modified rookie season came in 2014. He proved right away he was going to be a contender, finishing third in the series standings with a pair of runner-up finishes.
“My first year as a Rookie in the OSCAAR Mods was amazing,” Elliott said. “I loved the cars, the competition and the challenge. The Mods reminded me of my days with the CVM only much more intense. OSCAAR is a great organization, and I hope this amazing Rookie field stays at it for many years.”
Looking towards the rookie class coming in, he says the rookies should know they’re set to race a great group of veteran racers, which is a huge benefit as you can learn from them each time you’re on track.
“The most important aspect is to have fun, and to count your victories at the end of the day, even if you didn’t hold the checker flag,” he added. “Remember a Champion is made by being consistent. Counting your victories can be many. Loading your car wreck free at the end of a night. Missing wrecks, positions gained during a race, and learning how your car responds. It takes time to know the competition, and you’ll never get to know how they race unless you have full comfort and confidence in your own car. There will only be one Champion, but there can be many racers who had great seasons. The bar is raised every year for each team. Set realisic goals and have fun.”
2016 Autumn Colours Classic winner AJ Emms experienced his rookie season in 2015, noting it was a big learning experience en route to finishing sixth in points with four top-five finishes.
“I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to drive in the series from Allen Adams, driving the No. 99 car,” Emms said. “With a variety of tracks on the schedule, in my first year I found out quickly that in this series, you need to be at your best each week. Each track holds its own challenges, and when you are racing against some of the best in the province, it requires you to be at your best each and every week. Overall I found my rookie season to be successful, fun, education, and one I will always be thankful for and always remember.”
Now set to enter his third year, Emms admits it’s hard to offer advice, being one of the youngsters in the series and continuing to learn each week.
“If I had to give one piece of advice to the rookies of the 2017 season, it would be that your season will most likely be a roller coaster. This roller coaster will have both ups and downs. Soak in the ups, and when you have those downs, preserver through them because they are only temporary. Work through these downs, and never forget why you race, why you spend all this money, and why you work so hard. There’s a reason why you came to this series, and try not to lose light of that as you ride this roller coaster. I look forward to racing against all of the rookies of 2017season, and the rest of the OSCAAR modified field. I know that all of you will make me push to be better, and I thank you for doing such, and being apart of the OSCAAR Modified series. I look forward to getting to know each one of you, and seeing you all at the track. Good luck in this up coming season.”
Luke Gignac was last year’s rookie of the year, running up front all year en route to finishing second in the standings. Gignac managed to score nine top-10 feature finishes to go with five heat victories. His efforts were also recognized at the series banquet with the Rookie of the Year Award, and Most Sportsmanlike Award.
“Obviously last year was a great year for the team,” he said. “From Rookie of the Year and being a legitimate contender, you really couldn’t ask for more. We focus on having fun and doing the best that we can each week.”
Reflecting back on the year, Gignac says the biggest thing he learned was “keep it fun, keep it clean, and if you show respect, you usually earn respect.”
Meanwhile, last year’s series champion Gary McLean has been racing modifieds for years, saying they just fit him right from day one.
“I knew the first time in one that this was what I want to be in,” he said. “Back then when you raced as a kid amongst the old guard, they would educate you serious like for almost anything – block or not, give enough space for two laps and you would go for a ride or worse.”
With experience on his side, McLean says the cars can be really twitchy at times, and combined with open front wheels, lack of experience and lots of speed – you can get find trouble really fast.
“Be patient, learn the style of car, don’t try stuff you are not ready to do, and most importantly have fun,” he said. “This style of car is the most fun for the speed vs. cost of anything I have played with to date and if you are not having fun in a mod, you are doing it wrong!”