After placing in the top-five in the standings each of the past five years in Queenston Chevrolet Buick GMC OSCAAR Modified competition, Gary Elliott is focused on one goal this season – the championship.
Through the winter, his team has been putting in the work necessary to make a run at the title, making several changes and updates to the No. 36 Quaker State Modified.
“Most of my budget this year went into the modified, and it was all suspension,” he revealed. “We changed every front end part that you could change; I replaced them all. The year before that, I powder coated the chassis and put a new fuel cell in it, but then money was tight. This year, I had a little bit more so I decided to invest it in the suspension, and lowered the car down, changed the springs, new shocks – all the things that make the car turn better.
“Then I decided on top of that, I decided to add the new engine, the 604 (crate). I’ll have to add extra weight due to the penalty, but I think the 604 – even though the 602 can do it – for me, I’ve been racing 604 all my life almost since Late Model. So my goal is to win the championship – not top-three, not top-five, but first.”
After coming up short last season placing fourth in the year-end standings, Elliott feels sticking to their game plan will be the key to breaking through for his first OSCAAR Championship.
“It’s up to me to not foolish on the track and it’s up to my crew to be extremely focused on the changes that we do,” he explained. “So if we want to run three inches of stagger on the back, we can’t go out with two and a half. So whatever we have to do, my crew has to be focused.
“The thing is with racing is it is usually consistent, as things don’t change a whole lot with things in the same order to do – tires to set, fuel in the car. But also, you can’t lose focus, and that goes to me as well. So if I’m focused to win the championship, my crew has to be focused the same way because it’s not just going to be me, but a team that will win a championship. It’ll start with the rebuild before the season, to us focused through all the races we have this season to make it work.”
Elliott has proven that he can get the job done across the schedule, as he has visited feature victory lane in OSCAAR competition on two different occasions, with 23 top-five finishes over the past five years. A couple of the tracks that he has circled are Flamboro Speedway (home track), Sunset Speedway (multi-grooves), and Peterborough Speedway.
“Peterborough offers a challenge,” he commented. “It’s a track that you’re either good or not. It’s a track that doesn’t allow for any issue with handling. If your car isn’t handling, you’re done. So I’m looking forward to those tracks.
“But the one I’m really looking forward to Jukasa is because I went there last year with a car that was struggling so bad with oil leaks, that I didn’t even get a chance to set my car up, and now with the new chassis and everything, I’m looking forward to being competitive on the big track.”
Despite having all the confidence in his program, he also knows the height of the challenge that lies before him with the level of competition the OSCAAR Modifieds currently have. Elliott was quick to note based on what we’ve seen the past couple of seasons, it is currently one of the most exciting series in the province.
“We attract a lot of champions,” he commented. “We attract a lot of guys that have been successful in other events and classes. When I race in that series, I know I’m racing against a whole lot of really good drivers. They’re all getting better, and we’re attracting more. I could name 10 to 14 drivers in that series that if they had good luck and things went well with them, they could win a feature any night.
“I think OSCAAR Modifieds are probably next to APC. I think it’s the best series in Ontario. I think it has the most talented drivers, and the most number of drivers. 75% of that field is really good drivers, and if everybody is on the same page and everybody is running by the rules, you should see really competitive racing – and I love that.”
Elliott is also quick to note that he doesn’t have to win to enjoy a race, but rather he is in the sport due to loving the aspect of racing and competition. With OSCAAR boasting such a large roster of drivers, picking just five drivers to keep an eye on can be a challenge. While naming Kelly Balson and Stu Robinson Jr. initially on the list, he was also quick to add the likes of Cory Horner, John Harper, Luke Gignac, Dale Reinhart, and A.J. Emms.
“Those are the ones if they’re running 100%, those are the ones that are going to be in the hunt for a championship,” he commented. “And I’ll tell you the truth. When I start out any series at the beginning of the year, unless I’ve had a really bad season financially and haven’t been able to work on my car, I’m just going out there to have fun. But if I’ve done the work that I’ve done this year on my car, I know that we have a chance to win the championship. So that’s what my plan is, and those are the five guys that if they ran every week they’d be the ones that’d be there to give me a hard time. “
Though while the competition has always been nice, Elliott’s love of open-wheel racing in general, as well as the Modified appearance is what attracted him to the division.
“I’ve always loved the Troyer Modifieds. I’ve always loved the look of the car,” he commented. “That’s always been important to me as my vintage modified was even a good looking car. When it comes to late models, they all look the same – Pro Late Model, Limited Late Model, even Thunder Cars are starting to look like Late Models. There was no big comfort to get in a car that all looked the same.”
Staying behind the wheel, while continuing to stay involved in the community actively with supporting sponsor events, has certainly helped Elliott stay feeling youthful despite being one of the oldest competitors. Notably, this year will mark his 51st season behind the wheel of a racecar.
“I’m at the age already that most people would’ve been retired,” he commented. “I’m 66-years-old when I buy a modified, and now I’m going to compete against guys 20, 30, 40 years younger than me. But I don’t care, because I haven’t lost anything as far as my driving ability. I still have good health and the heart of a 40-year-old so it doesn’t matter. David, my son, is a multi-time Pro Late Model Champion and can’t believe how hard I drive in the Modified. He says I’m really impressed in how I drive in the Modified, but that’s where I feel at home. I’ve ran open-wheel cars and I’ve ran full-bodied cars, but I’m at home in the Modified.”
By: Ashley McCubbin