For A.J. Emms, racing is something that has always been a part of his life, met with summers filled with competition from the age of six. As he says, “I’ve never not been racing; I only know what it’s like to race and only know what it’s like to go to the track every weekend in the summer.”
So coming off a shortened season that seen some success, it’s not surprising he’s one of many Queenston Chevrolet Buick GMC OSCAAR Modified drivers excited about getting back to the track.
“I think it’s going to be a really strong year for the OSCAAR Modified division with a lot of good talent coming in and a lot of great racecars,” he said. “I think the competition will be the highest been in the series, and I know for us, and our entire team, we’re working at making sure we’re competitive this year. We’ve done a lot of work this off-season, like everybody else has, to make sure our car is prepared and be up to the task of competing.
“I think last year we learned a lot and were able to try some different things with the shortened season and not having points, and we’re hoping we can take some of the things that we learned last year and implement them. Hopefully we’re up for the challenge and I’m excited to just get back in the racecar and turn some laps.”
While known for consistency through his career, Emms suffered a DNF at Sunset Speedway for the first time in over 20 races. However, outside of that event, it was a pretty solid campaign for the 2019 series champion. He was able to visit feature victory lane at Sunset for the first time in his OSCAAR career, along with finishes of third and sixth at Jukasa Motor Speedway.
“In our last race of the year, we just didn’t have speed at Jukasa this year so really sat down, and picked apart why we didn’t have speed and what we can do different,” he admitted. “Although we had a really good car that raced well and did come out with some strong finishes, I think there’s a lot of room to improve on – places like Jukasa and Kawartha we just need to hunker down and think a lot on, and we need to make sure we step up our program at tracks that we excel at.
“I know our competition is working each and every day towards getting better and we need to do the same. I think it’s going to be minimizing mistake sand instead of just trying stuff, we need to bring a package that will be competitive each and every week so we’re not scrambling when we get to the race track.”
Emms knows having the program on par will be very important heading into 2021, with the competition in the series ever-evolving, from the veterans to the new faces. One of those whom he’s keeping an eye on is five-time series champion Gary McLean, stating while he hasn’t ran full-time recently, there’s a lot of experience between the driver and crew chief Greg Gibson.
“I think Gary is the type of guy that doesn’t make a lot of mistakes so he’ll be one to watch. He’ll be one that a lot of people undermine in how successful he could be,” Emms explained. “I think other guys that are going to be strong this year are obviously the (No.) 89 car – whoever is in that, will be strong this year. I also think they’ll be good competition all the way through. (Anthony) DiBello will be back as far as I heard, (Dale) Reinhart is always going to be strong,
“I think (Chad) Strawn is going to be good – I mean, there’s so many names that we could go through this field and I think the top-10 is at least going to be a battle each and every week.
Seeing Emms behind the wheel of a modified for the past five years comes as no surprise, in realizing he has spent the majority of his career driving open-wheel cars, whether go-karts or midgets.
“It almost feels like a sports car to me driving an OSCAAR modified,” he commented. “They’re light, you can see the wheels, they have good horsepower, they come up off the corner good, and they don’t feel big and bulky. A full body racecar, they are cool to drive as well, but they don’t just have the same feel as a modified as the modifieds are so unique to drive and watch. That’s the real draw to them, for me.”
Modifieds having “a special spot” for Emms goes beyond that, as he admits being a fan of watching great racers like Patrick Emerling, Mike Leaty, Andy Jankowiak, Andy Seuss, and Matt Hirschman in the various U.S. Modified classes.
Fortunately, he has been able to campaign the No. 14 on the car over the most recent seasons, which means a lot in knowing his father Jeff’s history with the number. His father has had a heavy influence through his career, from buying him a go-kart at the age of six, to traveling to the track twice every weekend so Emms could hone his skills.
“We have so many great memories spending time together, and doing a lot together,” Emms commented. “A lot of people maybe forget my dad raced because it was so long ago, but he definitely did it on his own – well, he had good people around him, but didn’t have parents or anybody involved in his racing and was able to do quite a bit of winning.
“I always reflect and am thankful to have his influence on the racing team and his drive, and some of the things he’s instilled in me through his experiences, I’m very thankful for. It helps me keeps my head down and working because I know this sport isn’t an easy one. He’s also been able to show me that work ethic of things I need to do to be able to be successful in the racecar and I’m thankful to have him part of the team.”
Emms went on to say his father’s advice has been critical in pushing him to be better, believing he wouldn’t been able to have the success they have had without that.
“Like I always say, I’ve been fortunate to have a lot of good people around me and I think my dad hasn’t been just as great person to have around me, but to also help surround myself with good people which has been very good,” he added.
Looking back at his career in the series, it has been meant with a lot of success, though also realizing he was perhaps being a little naïve in how much he needed to learn, and the strength of the competition when he initially began in 2016.
While recognizing that he had a lot of laps behind the wheel as a driver from go-karts to midgets entering OSCAAR, it’s been learning the importance of set-up over the years that has been become beneficial.
“I think years ago, there was a lot of focus on my driving all the time and I think there’s a huge, if not bigger than the driver component, is the mechanics in setting up the car,” he shared. “I don’t really have any regrets in terms of the things we did in the past because they took them to where we are today. But as I reflect back, I think again, surround yourself with people who are good and put the time and work in and I think that’s pretty much what I would say – putting in the extra work and time, there’s no substitute to it.”
Be sure to keep up with OSCAAR by staying tuned to the series website at http://www.oscaar.ca. Also, make sure to “like” the official OSCAAR Racing Facebook page, while following both the Twitter and Instagram accounts (@OSCAARRacing) to keep up to date on everything you need to know.
OSCAAR’s 2020 racing season was supported by several dedicated partners including Queenston Chevrolet Buick GMC, Knightworks Design, Living Lighting Canada, Scott Reinhart Trailer Sales Ltd., Touchwood Cabinets, Sauble Falls Campground, The Fyre Place & Patio Shop, Ohsweken Speedway, American Racer, and Grisdale Race Products.
By: Ashley McCubbin