Sunset Speedway will roar to life for the 2016 season on April 30th. Combined with Ontario's top Ltd. Late Model and Mini Stock competitors is the oft-praised Super Stock division.
Awash with talent, the Super Stock class of 2016 will pit a laundry list of capable veterans, freshman contenders and rising stars against one another over the course of a 19-week season.
With over 40 drivers registered to chase the division championship, here is a look at four veterans that are likely to have their say in the bid for victory lane on opening night.
Former Sunset Speedway Super Stock champion Herb Walters will return to action on April 30th to end a two year hiatus, and will do so aiming to break into victory lane for the first time since 2012.
Expect 'The Cheque Casher' to be motivated after such an extended layoff, especially with a newly purchased car and a restructured team built for a long run deep into a Sunset Speedway championship hunt.
Perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of Walters' return is the car he'll be piloting. After spending close to a decade behind the wheel of his instantly recognizable Camaro, Walters will tackle the 2016 season in a Chevelle-clipped No. 88 built by the legendary Ken Donaldson and driven to seemingly countless feature victories by fellow championship alumnus Lane Zardo. Walters spent some of his most formative years at Barrie Speedway in a Chevelle, and might have to dwell on past experiences to get up to speed with his new ride.
One of the consensus favourites to challenge for the Super Stock title in 2016, second-generation star Matt Bentley will be in search of an emphatic performance on opening night as a kickoff to his championship bid.
And while a win on April 30th would provide Bentley with the much-needed momentum that a championship contender needs early on in a season, it will also serve to distance himself from the rest of the wildly competitive roster who have their own championship aspirations.
It could certainly be argued that Bentley is overdue for a crack at the Sunset championship. The Guelph, ON driver has paid his dues since breaking into the speedway's former Four Fun division in 2005. His No. 21 was the most consistent car on the Super Stock roster in the final month of the 2015 season, with Bentley appearing like every bit of a bonafide star in the making.
Bentley has long been one of the most exciting drivers on the Super Stock roster - and expect some of that captivating aggression to come through on April 30th as he looks to sew up the win in his first start of the season.
Following a relatively short stint as a Ltd. Late Model regular. Fan-favourite Frank Davey will strap back into a Super Stock on April 30th for the first time since the 2011 season.
Although his Late Model career was met with a few stumbling blocks, fans and competitors alike would be ill-advised not to remember just how big of a threat Davey is in the Super Stock division. Numerous championships and Crown Jewel victories dot the Innisfil, ON veteran's resume, and there's an excellent chance that his family-owned operation will be in the mix on a nightly basis in 2016.
One of the best Super Stock racers of his generation, Davey will also have the advantage of entering the season with top tier equipment, having acquired the same Streamline Race Products chassis that took Chad Eden to a Sauble Speedway championship - and a Sunset vs. Sauble 'Home and Home Series' event win.
It will be interesting to see how quickly Flyin' Frank can shake off the rust and return to form as the Super Stock championship contender that he was for over a decade, but something tells us he'll be looking like his old self sooner rather than later. An act like his doesn't go out of style, and coupled with a championship-caliber ride makes him a very likely candidate for victory lane on opening night.
Perhaps the most polarizing driver on the Sunset Speedway roster, veteran Dan Archibald has steadily elevated his family-operated Super Stock program since making his divisional debut in 2010.
Although he was kept out of victory lane in 2015, Archibald accumulated a number of podium finishes throughout the summer, particularly during a late-season hot streak that carried the Barrie, ON driver into the province's 'playoff season'.
After finishing strong last Fall, Archibald and team have worked feverishly to improve upon a program that was already running alongside some of Ontario's best of the best. If they can hit the track with the same momentum they closed the 2015 season with, there's an excellent chance they will play a factor in how April 30th's season opener plays out.
As one of the fiercest competitors in the Super Stock division, Archibald is a presence that is rarely discounted on race day. Archibald showed flashes of brilliance during his 2015 season, and if his off-season work proves fruitful, could well be on the cusp of his first career multi-win season.
For details on Sunset Speedway's April 30th season opener, visit www.SunsetSpeedway.ca.
By Spencer Lewis