After a couple seasons filled with question marks, Paul Maltese is entering this year with certainty on his side.
His program will take a new approach for the 2018 as over the course of the off-season, Mike and Linda Lajeunesse of Paragon Office Installation Services purchased the Limited Late Model from Maltese Motorsports. They then hired Paul as their driver for this year as part of a two-year program.
“We want to do it as a two-year program to see where it goes from there,” Paragon General Manager Jamie Sutton said. “We’d like to see some APC racing in the near future, but we’d like to take it here for the next two years and see what we can accomplish on the Limited side.”
The partnership between the two is nothing new as Paragon has sponsored Maltese since he began racing at the Limited Late Model level, forming a friendship together.
With Paragon owning the car, Sutton says they’re ready to take a new approach to the season, versus what Maltese has done in the past.
So far, the team has decided that they will run the full Sunset Speedway schedule, as part of the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Division I / Sauble Falls Tent and Trailer Park Late Model Championship.
“We’re being pretty modest about what we’re going to accomplish, but we’re going to have a healthy budget to run compared to what Paul has had in previous years and we’re hoping that will turn some of luck around,” Sutton said. “Some of our progress the past couple of years hasn’t been the car or the driver. It’s been about buying tires, and trying new things. So we’re hoping to find some success in 2018 season with a more structured program.
Entering the Sunset Speedway campaign, Sutton says their goal is to be competitive each week, with a chance to visit victory lane in each of the features this season.
“There’s lots of guys out there that are coming out for the championship, but for us, it’s about being consistent and smart and that’s what we want to do,” he commented.
There is also a possibility to see the team compete in the Great Lakes Concrete Series, as well as other tracks including Jukasa Motor Speedway in September. However, right now, those definite decisions haven’t been made yet.
For Maltese, it’s excitement in knowing that there’s security in the deal that he hasn’t felt in the past couple of seasons.
“I’m excited. Anytime I can get support and the help from Jamie’s family is awesome for me,” he said. “I’ve been lacking in financial help – I can’t remember the last time I raced a racecar and wasn’t concerned about money. That’s just the number one thing. I have bills to pay and family to take care of and whatever was left over, you had money to go racing. Some days you had less, other days you had more, but 90% of the time we got beat, we got beat because of money. It’s frustrating at some times.
“With Jamie’s family’s help and support, we can just get beat by getting beat – by a mistake that I did, but at least we’ll be at the same level as our competitors in having some money behind us to help support our program and make the car better. Nothing worse than coming out of the car after finishing 10th and your tires are three weeks old, and you’re thinking what would I have done with new tires?”
Beyond Paragon, the team will have several supporters that have worked with Maltese in previous seasons, including Leitch Performance, Delmeade Construction, Ontario Acoustic Supply, Auto Trim Design and Ontario Steele.
“There are still some good companies backing us which will help make this season successful, not just Paragon. We feel with their help and support that we’ll have a successful year,” Sutton said. “We know the competition is tough at Sunset and there’s a lot of money that guys are spending. We just need to be smart with it this year and concentrate on what we want to do to have top-five runs and be competitive each week.”
Earlier this off-season, Paragon unveiled their new Limited Late Model at the Motorama Custom Car and Motorsports Expo, catching some people off-guard in seeing Maltese switch from the No. 28 to the No. 9. While many fans have questioned the approach, it was a decision made by both Sutton and Maltese with a meaning attached.
“My family has been involved in racing for over 30 years, so I’ve been at Sunset since I was eight years old,” Sutton recalled. “My father ran many years and had good drivers drive for us over the years as well. The 9 number is my father’s primary number that he drove; 9 and 69 were the two big numbers that my father drove over the years. Allan Inglis runs 69 now; he drove for our family for many years – that’s why he carries that number. So that’s the whole backing behind that and how the numbers came into play. So we wanted to bring that back and give something different to Paul. We joked that it may change some luck.
“Also, Paul has always had a red car and we’ve heard it over the show this weekend that it’s almost the exact scheme that Roger’s cars were, and it kind of is. We were a white and blue – different kind of schemes, but the same kind of colors that our cars used to be back in the day when my dad was driving, too. My dad is still around with our businesses and he still loves racing, and from my dad it was passed to me.”
While admitting that it will be different as he’s only ran three different numbers in his own career, Maltese is appreciative of the reason behind it.
“In the end, it’s still our family, it’s still our heart and soul, it’s still me, my wife Susan, and Connor making things right and turning wrenches,” he said. “We have a great group of guys with Jordan coming back – it works. We fight and love each other in the same sentence. It’s going to be good. The number will be a little different for people when they see me on the track, but once they understand why – it has a really meaning.
“I watched Roger growing up when I was a kid. Anybody that raced 20 years ago knew Roger, and Roger came in and it was a presence. They just showed up and things were right. Everything looked good, the car looked like new, they had financial backing, and they were fast so I’m happy to run that 9 and that scheme because I’m hoping to be that fast.
“If we’re anywhere close to that family as of back in the day, then we’re going to be in good shape.”