Racing fans love speed and close action. But they also love great stories and personalities. For many, it’s the people – more than the actual on-track happenings – that keep them watching and coming back.
One of the most successful and prominent teams in the NASCAR Pinty’s Series (NPS) is Ed Hakonson Racing (EHR). Also known through the years as Team 3 Red – in a nod to the operation’s long-running flagship No. 3 car – the Stouffville, Ontario-based team is a prominent staple of Canada’s national stock car series.
It’s no overstatement to say that EHR played a key role in helping the tour to survive during the pandemic. The past two seasons were tough on most businesses and people, and the NPS and its teams certainly felt the pain of being forced to shelve many of its traditional races, and put on events in front of empty grandstands.
Despite the challenges, EHR was out in full force wherever the tour competed.
“I feel like we played a big part in keeping it (the series) alive in 2020,” said former racer and now team GM Jason Hathaway. “I think there were between 13 and 15 cars at some races, and we had four in the field. Our efforts – that year especially – helped, along with others who were there and kept the series going.
“A lot of that commitment came from Ed (Hakonson), who’s been involved and a staple with the series for a lot of years. There probably isn’t a week that goes by that someone involved with the series doesn’t call him and chat about where things are going and how to make things better. We’re all constantly thinking about how we can help the series grow.”
Although the pandemic seasons were difficult ones for EHR, there were also some highlights for the organization as Hathaway – a perennial contender for wins and championships during Canada’s NASCAR era – won the 2020 Pinty’s FanCave Championship.
The title wasn’t won following a typical 13-race campaign. Nonetheless, the intense, double-header filled schedule featured many top NPS drivers and teams and is certainly something that Hathaway and EHR can look back upon with pride.
Following that achievement, Hathaway retired from racing and transitioned to the role of General Manager for the operation. For the start of the 2021 season, Calgary’s Brett Taylor moved into the No. 3 car, full-time.
Talking about getting out of the race car and overseeing EHR’s racing operations, Hathaway said, “It’s been a transition, for sure. Especially with the pandemic causing shortened schedules. And last year’s (2021) schedule was so condensed, it all happened in two months. But we’re back to a full normal schedule again, which is cool. And we’re going from east to west again and the schedule is spread throughout the whole summer, which is also good.”
Turning to the present and Hathaway’s new role within EHR, he admits to developing a whole new skillset.
“It’s a lot going on with four fulltime teams, but it’s been a good transition. We treat every car like it’s the old No. 3 car when I drove, so everyone’s getting the same equipment and attention. There’s no cutting corners when you’re working hard and trying to impress your customers.”
Looking at the EHR operation for 2022, Calgarian Brett Taylor is racing the full schedule in the team’s No. 3, while the father-and-son duo of Wallace and Dexter Stacey are also competing in every event this season. Talented youngster Raphael Lessard will drive the team’s No. 8 car in oval events, and past NPS series racer Ray Junior Courtemanche returns to pilot the No. 8 on road courses.
The busy and diverse operation makes for several interesting storylines coming out of the EHR stable.
In the first two events of the 2022 season, there have already been some highlights for EHR. Lessard – who swept both races in last season’s doubleheader at Sunset Speedway – finished second in this year’s May 14 NPS season opener at the Barrie, Ontario-area oval.
And Dexter Stacey scored his best-ever NPS finish when he came home third in the eBay Motors 200 at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park (CTMP) during the Castrol Victoria Day weekend.
Hathaway credits much of the team’s strength and success to having the same core team members onside for many years.
“For the most part, it’s the same crew that have been with me forever. They’re still battling away, and they like and enjoy what they do. We’ve also built a bit of a new race shop, which gives us the room to house and work on multiple teams.”
The family component has always been a big part of racing, and Hathaway loves to see the next generation of kids – including his own – becoming engaged in the sport.
“Take a look at the Lapceviches. Cayden was young when he won the championship. Now, he’s a crew chief and his brother Treyten is racing and winning. It’s crazy how quickly they grow up. We’re the same way with all that we’re doing and our son, Hudson, racing go-karts over at Goodwood.
“And of course, my wife Jamie (Hakonson-Hathaway) is the backbone of our team, handling logistics and making sure everything is happening behind the scenes. You can’t imagine what a job it is to make sure everything runs smoothly for an organization of this size. There are a lot of people involved and a lot of things have to be taken care of for everyone to get where they need to be and have everything ready so we can focus on the racing side, and she handles all of that.”
Underscoring the ‘all hands on deck’ nature of the EHR operation, Hathaway noted that Jamie has been part of the racing team since it was formed in 2000, during the CASCAR era, and in addition to her current logistics duties, has been an ‘over the wall’ pit crew member and continues to handle the team’s marketing efforts.
“When it comes to people you can rely upon most, nothing beats family,” Hathaway continued. “We are fortunate to be part of a successful, multi-generational, family run operation. And that close, family atmosphere extends to all our crew guys and our racers and their families.”
Turning to EHR’s racers, Brett Taylor owns and runs a construction company, in Calgary. His passion for NASCAR draws him to compete in the Pinty’s Series.
“I’ve loved NASCAR my whole life,” said Taylor. “The NASCAR brand, the NASCAR environment and atmosphere… it represents the pinnacle of the sport and I want to compete at the highest level of motorsports in Canada, racing against the best.
“I met Jason (Hathaway) several years ago and he’s always been very helpful and nice to talk to, and willing to offer advice. And then we kind of just stumbled upon each other in a series of events. At one point, Jason was the only driver on their team, and then I had the opportunity of driving a second car for them, and it all worked out, and here we are.”
There are considerable challenges for a Calgary-based racer to compete full-time in a series whose racers and teams are mostly based in Ontario and Quebec.
“Living in Calgary, it definitely adds another element of difficulty, even with the time change factor,” Taylor continued. “It’s a two-hour difference and I need to factor in my diet and sleep patterns. And then there are the logistics and the extra time and costs associated with so much flying and being away from my family.”
At the track, Taylor’s crew chief is Jason Hathaway, and his car chief is Jeff Thomas.
“The boys spend tons of time at the shop, working on the cars. And that’s where a lot of our speed does come from because they work tirelessly. Depending on the track we’re heading to next, we’ll talk a lot about strategy and setups. We also watch tapes of our last time at that track to determine how we can improve getting through corners better. We definitely have a lot of that dialogue, in spite of the physical distance.”
Prior to NASCAR, Taylor was involved in karting and raced regularly on the road course in Mission, BC. After that, he started oval racing, in Late Models, in Saskatoon, SK and at EIR (Wetaskiwin, AB).
A former race winner (the 2019 Pinty’s Fall Brawl at Jukasa Motor Speedway), Taylor is intensely competitive and has high expectations for himself.
“We expect to be fighting for wins and podiums at every oval and top-five results at road courses. We really want to get back to Victory Lane, sooner than later. When I won at Jukasa, I expected it… I just felt it in my bones that I knew I was going to win. You’re only as good as your team but that day, it all came together.”
WALLACE & DEXTER STACEY
The father-and-son duo of Wallace and Dexter Stacey combine for one of the most interesting stories in the series. Both are members of the Mohawk Nation, in Kahnawake, Quebec.
When Dexter Stacey first started competing in Canada’s NASCAR series (in 2009), he was just 16 and was – at the time – the youngest driver ever to race on the tour. Between then and 2013, he took part in 44 Pinty’s Series races, before heading to the US and the NASCAR Xfinity and Truck Series.
Since 2020, Dexter has been back racing in Canada, fulltime, as part of the EHR team. He notched four seventh-place finishes in 2021. And this past May, he broke through with a podium at the CTMP race.
“We’re excited about the podium and working with the EHR team to make the cars quicker every week,” said Dexter, who got his start in racing driving dirt cars and ice racing.”
Asked if he’s a different driver as a result of his Xfinity Series experience, he said, “One hundred percent. The Xfinity racing actually changed how I drive these cars. My understanding of them helped me ‘bigtime.’ I learned a few more tricks on the road courses that I would have never thought of here.”
A highlight of this season, from Dexter’s perspective, is getting to race with and against his father. “Yeah, that’s cool. I’ve raced against him on the dirt, in the past. He used to give me a hard time about my driving (laughs). So, I called him out and he accepted the challenge to race this season.
“We all grew up racing on the reserve and watching NASCAR on TV, so it’s nice to get out there together now. And racing with EHR is the best move I ever did. I put quite a bit of mileage on the car going to the EHR shop, to give a hand and check everything out.”
And when he’s not racing or working on cars, Dexter loves to keep busy outdoors. “Every time I get a chance, I go fishing and traveling.”
As mentioned, Wallace Stacey is making his return to racing after accepting his son’s challenge to join him at EHR.
“I started off on dirt, racing Modifieds and other cars at Granby, Drummondville, Brockville, Cornwall and Volusia, about 25 years ago,” said Wallace. “I was a Friday night racer and did it for about six years, with three or four racing with Dexter. I loved it. We also raced on the ice.”
Describing how he ended up in the Pinty’s Series, he laughed, “We had an extra car and Dexter said I should race it. It didn’t take much convincing. We tested at Sunset and CTMP and then raced at both places. I’d never been in a Pinty’s car before that. Let me tell you, Mosport is fast. We had a ball!”
Asked about driving for EHR, Wallace continued, “Awesome. Awesome. Awesome. They do great work on the cars and I’m always laughing when I’m with Ed (Hakonson). I also think the Pinty’s Series is awesome. We just love it.”
RAPHAEL LESSARD & RAY JUNIOR COURTEMANCHE
Splitting the duties in EHR’s No. 8 car this season are Raphael Lessard and Ray Junior Courtemanche. Both hail from Quebec. Lessard is a young star with aspirations of returning to the NASCAR Truck Series in the future, after further demonstrating his talents on the Pinty’s Series. He’s piloting the No. 8 in the oval events. And Courtemanche is returning to the NPS circuit to drive the No. 8 on the road courses.
Lessard’s first choice would have been to do the entire NPS schedule, but his racing budget wouldn’t allow it.
“I’m really happy that I got some good sponsors, a good team and I think we’re going to be able to get some more wins in our seven races,” said Lessard. “We had a shot at the win at Sunset. It’s a great team (EHR) and it’s fun to work with them. Jason (Hathaway) has a bunch of experience and wins and he knows what it takes to win.
“They love racing. So that makes it a lot of fun, but I’m really excited to be racing for them this year and just trying to win as much races as possible so I can maybe get full time next year.”
Lessard continued, “My goal is always to go back to United States and hopefully get back there and stay there fulltime. But it just it takes a lot. It takes a lot of good partners, a lot of money to make it happen. I feel like every race in the Pinty’s Series is an opportunity, and I have to perform. We have to perform as a team, the best we possibly can, so next year we can maybe get something. Winning brings opportunities.”
In terms of his other interests, Raphael played a lot of hockey, growing up, and continues to do so during the winters. Currently, when he’s not racing, he enjoys driving a truck, as his father owned a trucking company for a long time. But if all goes according to plan, Raphael will be able to race every week and make a living doing so.
Turning to Ray Junior Courtemanche, he’s excited to be back in the NPS series after several years away from the sport, focusing on his construction business and investment projects, many of them in Mirabel, Quebec. Active on social media and on TV, Courtemanche integrates racing into his efforts to promote his businesses.
“I love challenges and being very busy every day,” he continued. “Our advertising team takes care of promoting our projects, as well as our NASCAR races, and I work on each of the strategies.”
Concentrating his racing program on the road courses works well for Ray Junior, at this point in his career.
“I prefer driving on road and urban circuits. They have more technical curves, going right and left, so each lap we must constantly change gears and improve our braking.”
Asked what attracted him to work with EHR, Courtemanche said, “Their structure and their professional image, and they always want to improve with each race.
The team is strong with the prodigy driver Raphael Lessard. What we want most is to have fun and to please our team members and NASCAR fans.”