Making the jump from Mighty Mini to Mini Stock with a new car to boot could be challenging for some, but Daniel Montanari fit right in with the veterans throughout this past season at Sunset Speedway.
“This has been the best season I have every had – well considering I’ve only had two, but it was amazing,” he told SHORT TRACK MUSINGS. “With the new car I was nervous I wouldn’t be able to keep up with the veterans like (Andy) Kamarath, (Warren) Paxton, my brother (Nic Montanari), (Eric) Yorke and (Cameron) McGlashin. But after the second heat race in the new car that I won, I knew I was able to race with them! I never thought I would have such a great second season with winning 19 heats and three features. And also winning rookie of the year, UNOH scholarship, second in North America and second in track points. It has been the dream season!”
Right from opening night, the second generation racer was fast with a heat victory and a sixth-place finish in the season-opener. He then backed it up with a fourth and third in the following weeks, putting him into the early title discussions. From there, the results continued with three more top-10 finishes.
As the season neared the end of June, the driver of the No. 9 entry seemed very comfortable, and it showed as he posted a third, followed by four consecutive runner-ups. He then broke through for his first career division victory on August 5 after passing Josh Bullen for the lead on Lap 11.
“To win my first feature was amazing,” he said. “I was happy with the first and second time finishing second. But once it was the fourth night in a row finishing second, I was really determined to win a feature. Once it happened, I was so excited to finally be able to win! I could barely stand when I got out of the car!”
Though while the feature win was awesome, he says that first heat win back in May stands out more in looking back on 2017.
“The heat win is where all the momentum started from,” he commented. “I was mad about finishing eighth in the first heat and thought that was how my year was going to go. Then my dad told me to get out there and drive it! So that’s exactly what I did. And it gave me a huge confidence boost to win that race ahead of Kamarath and Yorke!”
Unfortunately, the following weekend didn’t go as planned as a wreck in the feature resulted in a finish outside of the top-20. However, he bounced back in style with three straight top-fives, including a second victory on September 2. The second last night of racing saw him lose the points lead following a technical inspection disagreement, but he closed out the year with a win to complete the season.
While the 12 top-fives were impressive, they ultimately weren’t enough to take home the track crown as he came up one point shy behind Cameron McGlashan. But, the success was reflected well in the NASCAR Home Tracks standings. He finished second in the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Division III Standings, just 14 points behind Eric Yorke, and picked up the UNOH Youth Achievement Award. Montanari becomes the second Canadian driver following 2016 NASCAR Pinty’s Series Champion Cayden Lapcevich in 2015 to take home the award, which includes a scholarship to the University of Northwestern Ohio.
“To walk away with the scholarship is amazing,” he said. “I knew about the scholarship award but I never thought that I would even be close to winning it against some of the drivers in the states that can race every night of the week. It wasn’t until the last couple nights that we started looking at the UNOH Award and realized that it was possible. It is amazing what NASCAR can do for young drivers and I’m super excited to be speaking at the banquet in Charolette!”
Going from Mighty Mini to Mini Stock can be “super tough,” but Montanari was able to do it well, with the support system around him, including advice from his dad Rino.
“After my first heat when my dad told me that I just have to drive the car, then that’s what I did for the rest of the year,” he said. “Ever single lap in this division has to be like qualifying because everyone is so close. You have to drive the wheels off the car every night to do well! And that’s what I aimed for every time I was out there!”
For the success this year, the teenager thanks his parents, his brother Nic, Shawn Gerrior, Nolan Sangalli, Dwayne Mcleod, Giulio Montanari, Mark Busse, Doug McBain, Mike Shave, Jennifer Mcleod, as well as his sponsors – Kenzington Burger Bar, DC United Roofing, Highway Technology, Williamson Uxbridge, CBRT, and Permatex.