BARRIE, ON – Even a heavy early morning rain shower couldn’t bring a damper to the race program on July 7 at Barrie Speedway, as the track played host to the Industrial Commutator Mid-Season Championships, with twin 50 lap features for the Wahta Springs Late Models as the evening’s featured event. Quite fittingly, the man of the hour was the host sponsor’s entry, #19 Keith McLeod of Barrie, who claimed both 50 lap feature wins in his Chevy Impala SS. With the wins, McLeod, the 2008 track champ, narrowed the margin of point leader #48 Dwayne Baker of Stayner by 12 markers heading into this weekend’s racing, with a scant 23 points now separating the two former track champions. Baker, would also have a solid performance on this night, chasing McLeod to the stripe in the first feature, while coming home in third place in the second 50 lap affair. Going forward, expect these two drivers along the defending track champ #57 Ron “The Dominator” Quesnelle, who sits another 20 points further in back of McLeod for 2nd place in the season long standings, to crank up the intensity one notch higher as the track looks to crown its first repeat NASCAR Whelen All American Series Champion.
In the first 50 lap segment, it was #2 “Hometown” Mike Brown and McLeod doing battle from the front row, with McLeod eventually clearing Brown entering turn 1 on the third circuit, as #69 Al “Red Rocket” Inglis snatched third away from Quesnelle, with an outside pass just on the exit of turn four. Also on the move in the early going was the #48 of Baker, as the wily veteran had charged from his 12th place starting position to land 4th in the running order, after disposing of Quesnelle one lap after the Inglis pass, as Quesnelle was able to finally find the preferred inside line in front of staunch rookie contender #02 Shawn Murray of Alliston. By lap 13, McLeod was widening his lead at the front of the field with laps in the 14.8 sec. range, holding a five car length lead over Brown, who now had the 2010 track champ Inglis pinned to his bumper in search of a way past. Inglis, would eventually dive down to the inside of Brown between turns 1&2 and complete a pass, as Baker would again follow that momentum and wrestle third away from Brown one lap later. Just shy of the midway point, Baker would complete an inside pass of Inglis between turns 1&2, with McLeod working lapped traffic with masterful precision at the front of the pack, now holding over half straightaway lead on the oncoming Baker.
With the race nearing crunch time, the best battle on track was the race for 4th, as Brown and Quesnelle were locked in a door handle to door handle dice for that position, as Quesnelle eventually came out the victor, with a low pass in turn three on lap 28. Brown, would perhaps see the many previous battles he was involved in take its toll on his tires, as he quickly found himself in the clutches of Murray and #10 Gord Shepherd, as that duo slipped past the Hawkestone resident to advance further in the running order. Approaching lap 40, McLeod had slowed the pace up front, as he was now running laps in the 15.2 sec. range on the outside, while still working lapped traffic, with provincial heavyweight Baker now just 3 car lengths in behind. The action was just as fast and furious a little further back in the pack, as Shepherd would slip past Murray for 5th place, with a nice clean inside pass in turn three. Inside of five laps remaining, Baker had now caught leader McLeod and had a look to the inside of his fellow competitor in turn two on successive laps, but he was unable to power a full nose up to McLeod’s door in an attempt to take control of the point. Over the duration, Baker would have one last shot at the leader, pulling to the outside of his fellow competitor in turn one with just two laps remaining. McLeod, would drive with a silky smooth and calming presence however, fending off the Baker challenge every inch of the way, taking the win by a narrow 2/10ths of a second at the checkered. Inglis, would get his night kick started in fine fashion coming home a solid 3rd, while Quesnelle and Shepherd would comprise the remainder of the top 5.
In the 50 lap finale to the evening, it was #33 Dave Lewis who took the early lead from the outside pole, after getting the jump of #74 Roy Manary from the drop of the green. Manary, would quickly come under heavy fire from the duo of #14 “Hurricane” Thayne Hallyburton and Quesnelle, with both drivers able to negotiate their way past the Bracebridge pilot, who got crooked out of turn two. On lap 5, the car to watch was again the 48 of Baker, who had quickly landed himself in 4th place, after starting 8th in the 14 car field. At the front of the field, Hallyburton had now caught leader Lewis, quickly beginning to search for a line around the 33 year veteran, eventually executing a thrilling inside pass low in turn 4, while Baker and Quesnelle were now locked in a dogfight for third, with Baker taking that spot to the low side in turn three. Leading his first laps of any sort in a Late Model, the impressive Hallyburton was able to increase his lead over the 2nd place car of Lewis, running laps in the 14. 9 sec. range at the front of the field, with Lewis now having to fend off the challenge of Baker, who completed a low pass in turn three to claim the runner up post. On the next lap, Baker and Lewis would make contact while racing into turn one, with the ensuing contact causing Baker to brush the outside retaining wall, as both drivers were eventually summoned arrears as involved cars. This turn of events would create a totally reshuffled top five, with rookie Hallyburton still leading, while Quesnelle, McLeod, Inglis, and Shepherd were positioned in behind licking thieir collective lips, as to which one would be first to challenge the surprising race leader.
On the restart, Hallyburton who was having easily his most impressive Late Model performance to date, would again power to the front, with McLeod slipping to the inside of Quesnelle midway down the backstretch, to take over second place positioning approaching lap 20. The McLeod move would lead the way for Inglis to follow through to third in the running order, with the Orillia pilot passing Quesnelle just two laps later. Leader Hallyburton was still looking calm and collected at the front of the field however, now holding McLeod at bay by 2 car lengths, while Shepherd had also found the inside of the 57 of Quesnelle, to take over 4th place with a clean low pass in turn 3. The second caution of the race would occur on lap 23, when the 2 of Brown and 74 of Manary made contact in turn two while racing for position, with Brown spinning and eventually ending up facing the wrong way on the track. This turn of events would position the ever stout McLeod to Hallyburton’s outside for the restart, with Hallyburton once again breaking out to a marginal lead, as McLeod would have a look to the inside of the leader in turn one, with ensuing contact made between the pair, as a true show of sportsmanship was exhibited by the classy McLeod, who allowed Hallyburton to gather it up and maintain control of the point. Another quick caution would soon appear as Brown and Manary again collected on lap 27, this time in turn four, with #4 Glenn Lloyd also getting caught up in the mishap.
Once again the pesky Hallyburton would get the jump on McLeod on the restart, opening up a single car length advantage at the front of the field, as the 10 of Shepherd had now pulled to the outside of the 69 of Inglis in the battle for third place. These two drivers would battle tooth and nail for the next few laps, with neither giving an inch along the way, as Shepherd looked strong on the high side, while really trying to keep Inglis pinched off towards the apron of the racetrack. Just past the 30 lap mark, Shepherd would get caught up in the marbles and spin in turn four, with a somewhat controversial decision made to send Inglis to the rear of the pack as well for being deemed an involved car in the Shepherd spin. This time on the restart, McLeod would mount a stern challenge to the outside of Hallyburton, finally taking the race lead after two solid laps door handle to door handle. With 5 laps remaining, Shepherd found himself back at the front, eventually slipping past Quesnelle for third, as the latter would get crossways on the exit of turn two. The Shepherd charge towards the front would not be done there however, as the 2009 track champ would quickly find the bumper of Hallyburton and relieve him of 2nd place, leading the way for Baker, who was also now back at the front after an earlier mishap, to follow through to third, with an outside pass of Hallyburton in turn two a short while later. Once out front it was clear this was McLeod’s race to lose, as the 28 year veteran driver would parade to the checkered by 3 car lengths at the finish, to claim his fourth feature win of 2012. Shepherd, would survive a late race challenge, just edging Baker at the line for 2nd, as Hallyburton and Quesnelle rounded out the fast five.
In the Canestoga Sprayers & Asphalt Repair Thunder Car division, a season high 17 cars lined the pits set to take green in the 50 lap main, as #00 Darryl St. Onge of Barrie would bring home the coveted Mid Season feature win. This would mark the 2nd time in three weeks the Industrial Commutator/Marnoch Electrical sponsored Pontiac Grand Prix has found victory lane in a feature race, as the 2009 track champ looks to re-enter the top 5 in the season long standings, after having taken a week off earlier in the season. The race would start off with #20 Luke Gignac taking the early lead from the outside pole position, as #72″ Pistol” Pete Marquart began to mount an early challenge towards #55 Shawn Goggins to the outside for second. Also making her presence felt at the front of the pack was #21 Desi Walt, as the talented female competitor would pass Marquardt for 3rd, and begin pursuit of the 2nd place car of Goggins, with Gignac now clear by half a straightaway at the front of the pack. The first caution would fly on lap 10, as #5 Mike “The Hulkamaniac” Langley spun between turns 1&2, with #77 Brian Murray also summoned to the tail of the field as an involved car. On the restart, Gignac would once again gain the advantage over Goggins, who quickly fell back into the clutches of Walt, who assumed control of 2nd place positioning along the inside line. Walt, coming off a career best second place result a few weeks prior, was bound and determined to find the race lead, and that she would, executing a clean inside pass on Gignac entering turn three on lap 12. Quickly following the Walt move along the inside line was the trio of #44 Dave “The Deuce” Doucette, St. Onge, and #12 Jim “Polish Prince” Belesky, dropping early race leader Gignac back to fifth in the running order.
On lap 17, the 2007 track champ Doucette would have a look to the inside of leader Walt exiting turn four, but the long-time division veteran would have to back out of the move as the duo was now fast approaching lapped traffic. Nearing the 20 lap mark, the young upstart Walt was still steadily pacing the field, driving like a poised veteran with ice water in her veins, as St. Onge would make his way to the inside of Doucette between turns 1&2 to take over 2nd, with Belesky quickly following that pass to land himself in 3rd. The biggest suprise at this point in the race was the fact that the top two cars in the season long point standings #10 Rick Walt and #24 Leonard Johnston were mired mid pack in 8th and 9th respectively, and unable to find the racing line to progress towards the front. On lap 22, St. Onge would make the winning move, getting to the inside of Walt in turn 3, and completing the pass as the pair drag raced down the frontstretch. During this long green flag run the positions on track were changing every lap it seemed, as the 24 of Johnston had finally broke free and passed Doucette low in turn two to enter the top 5, with rookie contender #39 Travis ” The Enforcer” Hallyburton pulling off a stunning three wide move to the inside of both Walt and Belesky in turn one to take over runner up positioning at the same point in the race. Just past lap 30, Walt and Belesky would exchange third place on successive laps, with Walt finally assuming control of the spot with a daring inside move in turn 3, dropping Belesky back into the clutches of Johnston, who quickly powered into 4th in the running order.
Over the closing stages, St. Onge was widening his lead with each passing lap, now holding a full straightway lead with laps in the 16.2 sec. range while working lapped traffic, as the 24 of Johnston was closing in on Desi Walt for 3rd, taking that position with a clean inside pass entering turn one on lap 38. On lap 44, the unthinkable happened when the 2nd place car of Hallyburton would retire to the infield with a cut left rear tire, handing second over to Johnston, with Belesky pulling alongside Walt for third once again. It was clear this night would belong to a very determined St. Onge however, as the ever stout competitor would cruise to the checkered by a wide margin over Johnston at the finish. #21 Desi Walt would record her 2nd career podium in a Thunder, just edging Belesky out at the stripe by inches for 3rd, while Doucette rounded out the list of top five finishers.
Four different heat winners came in the form of Johnston, Belesky, Doucette, and #39 Travis Hallyburton.
In St. Onge Recreation Pure Stock action, the 30 lap feature win would go to the #09 of Dean Curry of Singhampton, as the likeable veteran would survive a late race challenge from the front running #11 Nissan 240 of Adam Misener of North Bay, who finished second. Misener, who came into the evening tied for the season point lead with #9 Charlie Smith of Orillia, would pick up two points in the feature race over his close rival, but the two front runners would leave this one ” status quo”, after Smith had the better results throughout the qualifying heat races. The win marked back to back feature victories for Curry, who’s currently competing in his third season at the High Line, after many years spent in various divisions at Sauble Speedway. The race would begin with #91 Kyle Lethbridge taking the lead from the pole, with the #77 Mike Gettliffe and #71 Pete Gettliffe quickly filing through underneath the 3 of Randi Seguin to take over 2nd and 3rd respectively. It was on lap three when Curry began to make his presence felt, executing a 3 wide move low in turn two to advance to 4th place, after starting 9th on the grid in the season high 23 car field. On lap 9, the 71 of Pete Gettliffe would move into the lead, making a three wide pass of his son Mike and 91 of Lethbridge to the low side in turn two. The Gettliffe lead would be short lived however, as the hard charging Curry would assume control of the point on the outside of the track after a lap 11 restart, brought about when #1 Ralph Sikes spun between turns 1&2.
Approaching the midway point, Curry was firmly in control at the front to the front, with Gettliffe now coming under heavy pressure from the duo of #14 Billy Melenhorst and Misener, as that pair would work their way around Gettliffe’s Snapper the Scrapper sponsored Pinto to claim 2nd and 3rd in the running order. Curry, was driving with incredible poise at the front of the field with laps in the 16.8 sec. range, opening up a 2 car length lead over Melenhorst, who was passed to the inside in turn three by Misener for second, with Smith also following that move to claim third place in the running order, after starting in 17th position. This would leave the 2008 Charger division champ Melenhorst locked in a duel for fourth with #15 Andre Pepin, who was substitute driving for 2010 track champ Will Davies. Pepin, would squeak past Melenhorst after a hotly contested duel, with #28 JP Rosevear and #49 Larry “Doc” Woodward racing just as closely outside of the top 5, as Woodward moved into 6th place, with a well-executed inside pass of Rosevear in turn three. It was clear nobody was catching Curry’s Dodge Neon at the front of the field on this evening however, as the venerable veteran would take the checkered by 2 car lengths over Misener at the finish. Smith, who earlier in the evening was crowned Mid Season champion by virtue of having more feature victories than Misener brought his Orillia Kitchens/ Hardwood Hills Neon home a solid 3rd, as Pepin and Melenhorst rounded out the top 5.
Heat wins went to Smith, Melenhorst, #28 JP Rosevear, and #06 Ryan Hardy. The win was the first career checkered flag for the rookie Hardy, who has shown vast progression in his debut campaign, despite suffering some mechanical woes in the opening weeks of the season. Hardy, now finds himself solidly etched within the top 10 in the season long point standings, as the Markdale driver looks to add a 2012 Rookie of the Year award to his list of racing accomplishments moving forward.
From Dave Vokey