By Dave Vokey – Barrie Speedway would kick off its 50th Anniversary season in fine style on May 10, as the evening’s cooler temperatures were made to order, producing a viable outside line for the feature events. Speaking of those features, in the tracks premier Wahta Springs Late Model division it was #83 Ian Bourque of Newmarket who powered a brand new car to victory lane in the first of twin 30 lap features, while #91 Andre Pepin of Midland would take the finale to the evening, after holding off a late race charge from the defending track champion #10 Gord Shepherd of Oro Station, who would also finish 2nd in the initial 30 lap affair.
In the first feature it was Bourque who would draw the optimal pole position in his sleek looking, newly prepared ride with the defending track Thunder Car champion #31 Rick Walt taking to the outside of the front row and set to battle, as the two drivers went wheel to wheel throughout the opening laps, with Pepin checking comfortably into third. Bourque, would clear Walt by lap three, with Pepin also now in the mix, challenging Walt for runner up positioning but unable to make a pass stick, while just a little further in behind the action was just as fast and furious for 4th in a duel involving #69 Al “Red Rocket” Inglis of Orillia and #49 “Flyin” Frank Davey of River Drive Park.
Approaching the ten lap mark, the man on the move was the 10 of Shepherd, as he would make a power move along the outside of turn 4, pinning both Davey and Inglis to the apron of the track, and completing the pass for 4th as the trio exited turn two. Also on the move throughout the race was #12 Dwight Brown of Beeton who started shotgun in the 13 car field, and found himself running in 6th at the midway point. At the front of the pack, Bourque was running comfortable laps just a shade over the 15 second mark, holding Walt at bay, while the best battle on track was shaping up just outside of the top 5, involving Inglis, #24 Leonard “The Bandit” Johnston of Bracebridge and #00 Darryl St. Onge of Barrie. The race’s only caution would come about on lap 20, as #44 Rob Bromley of Orillia and #28 Robin Jongen of Kilworthy could collide in turn two, with Bromley sending Jongen for a spin, thus setting the stage for another Bourque and Walt battle on the restart.
Once again it would be Bourque who would dispose of Walt for the race lead after a two lap dice on the restart, as Shepherd was now putting the pressure on Pepin for 3rd, completing an inside pass in turn four on lap 24. Just two laps later, Shepherd would catch up with former stablemate Walt in the race for 2nd, with Shepherd executing a clean pass in turn three to take over that position. At this point in the race, it was apparent Bourque was home and cooled out at the front of the pack, as the steady veteran driver would take the win by two car lengths over an oncoming Shepherd at the finish. Walt, would get his rookie season kick started nicely with a strong third place showing, while Pepin and Brown would round out the top 5.
The second feature would see an inversion of the top four, as Pepin took to the pole position with Walt once again taking to the outside of the front row, as Pepin would power out to the initial lead, with Walt having to fend off a staunch challenge from Shepherd, as an early caution would appear on lap 3, when the 00 of St. Onge went around on the nose of the 24 of Johnston in turn two. Once again Pepin would find the point from the drop of the green, as Walt now had his hands full with Shepherd in the race for 2nd, with Walt being able to fend off his fellow competitor while hanging tough along the outside line. On lap 5, former multi time Mosport open wheel Modified champ Brown would slip past Bourque, with a nifty inside move in turn two to take over 4th in the running order, with Bourque now trapped to the high side and in turn passed be the duo of Davey and Inglis just one lap later. Just beyond the ten lap mark, Shepherd would finally work his way past Walt, with a clean inside move in turn three, as Brown would alertly follow that move into 3rd, with Walt finding the inside line and checking into the fourth place position.
Nearing the midway point the best battle was the race for 5th, as the trio of former 4 time track Thunder Car champ Davey and Jongen waged an impressive dice for that position, as Davey was able to remain calm and collected enough to fend off the challenge of Jongen, while a little further in back of that duel, Bourque and Inglis were waging war for 7th, exchanging that position on successive laps, with Inglis coming out the victor when all was said and done. At the front of the pack, Pepin was working lapped traffic, completing laps of the one third mile tri oval in 15.3 seconds, keeping Shepherd at bay by 2 car lengths in the battle for the point. Pepin, would appear to be on cruise control over the duration, as the third year pilot would capture the win by those same two car lengths over Shepherd at the checkered, while Brown, Walt, and Davey would comprise the remainder of the top 5.
The Triple Sick Skin Tattoo Thunder Car division would produce the feel good story of the night as longtime division veteran #00 Luke Gignac of Port McNicholl would capture the win in the 30 lap main. The win for the popular Gignac, was his first feature victory in 8 years, a race that ironically enough also came in the season’s first week. Gignac, who this year is campaigning the 2009 championship Pontiac Grand Prix formerly in the hands of Darryl St. Onge, would find a tough early challenger in the form of division sophomore #16 Bryan Penny of Thornton, as the two drivers battled door to door for the first five laps, when Gignac would finally clear Penny to assume the race lead. Penny, would fall back into the clutches of former two time track champ #12 Jim “Polish Prince” Belesky soon after, as Belesky would slot into runner up positioning along the inside line. The ever game Penny would not be denied on this night however, quickly manuvering past Belesky after a lap 7 restart, with an impressive inside pass midway down the backstretch. Leader Gignac was “foot to the floor” in completing laps in the 15.9 second range, now holding a 3 car length lead over the impressive Penny, who had to fend off one last ditch effort by Belesky coming out of turn 4 on the final lap. Gignac, would maintain a healthy lead en route to the checkered, with Penny just nipping Belesky at the line in the race for second. #21 Desi Walt of Hawkestone would return from a one year hiatus to record an impressive 4th place showing, while speedway newcomer #64 Ryan Semple of Loretto would also impress in his Barrie debut in finishing fifth.
Heat wins went to Gignac, Penny, Belesky, and Walt.
In St. Onge Recreation Pure Stock action, a familiar face would return to the winners circle as #10 Doug Butler of New Lowell would charge from his 4th place starting spot in the 19 car field to notch victory in the 20 lap feature race. Butler, the division runner up last year in a season when he amassed 4 feature wins, would be top qualifier on the night, as #06 Ryan Hardy of Markdale and defending track champ #77 Mike Gettliffe of Orillia battled throughout the early stages from the front row, with Gettliffe finally powering our front after a lap 4 restart. Hardy, was soon passed but Butler’s Nissan 240 for 2nd place, with #09 Dean Curry of Singhampton, and #63 Jamie Cairns of Orillia also beginning to pressure Hardy, as the duo would slip though along the inside line to check into 3rd and 4th respectively. On lap 12, Butler would make the winning move, working around Gettliffe on the outside of turn four, with the best battle on track now the race for 5th, as Hardy was fending off challenges from the duo of #57 Rayn Toon of Stayner and #28 JP Rosevear of Mount Albert. Once out front, as was proven last year the hard charging Butler can prove tough, if not impossible to pass he would record the win by 3 car lengths over a very game Gettliffe at the stripe. #09 Dean Curry would start his season off on solid footing with a 3rd place effort, while Cairns and Hardy round round out the top 5.
Heat wins went to Butler, Gettliffe, Hardy, and #88 Jeremy McLean.
PIT NOTES ————- The Wahta Springs Late Models would see the return of #12 Dwight Brown, who last campaigned at the High Line during the 2006 season. Brown, who went to victory lane in his last Barrie appearance, holds multiple Open Wheel Modified and Late Model championships at the former Mosport Speedway, and should present a strong challenge towards defending track champ Gord Shepherd, if he elects to remain at the speedway for the entire 2014 season. Two more veteran drivers that also figure to play a factor in any title suggestions are #83 Ian Bourque and #69 Al Inglis, with both these drivers also having both Barrie and Mosport titles to their resume, with Inglis also having a Kawartha Speedway Late Model crown to his credit. With these four grizzled veterans entering their names in the 2014 title chase, expect the on track action highly intense and like no other in the province, and when you factor in promising upstarts the likes of Pepin, Walt, Johnston, and St. Onge there is no clear cut reason not to be at Barrie Speedway to check out the thrilling Late Model action first hand!!!
2012 Pure Stock division runner up Adam Misener of North Bay would debut his sharp looking 63 Impala in the Thunder Car ranks and turn in some impressive results in the process, turning in 4th and 5th place heat race finishes to go with a somewhat surprising 6th place feature showing. Be sure to join us this coming Sat May 17th when all three divisions are back in action for week two. as pit gates open at 1pm, with spectator gates commencing business at 5pm, and green flag slated to drop at 6pm sharp!!!