HAMPTON, ON- After earning the 2014 OSCAAR Super Late Model Rookie of the Year title, ‘The Crowd Pleaser’ Kelly Balson made a litany of changes to his family-run program. With months’ worth of work now complete, the sophomore is ready to once again test himself against one of the most talent-laden tours in the country.
“I’m nervous, to be honest,” admits Balson as his AJK Racing team works to complete final preparations before the weekend’s event. “We’ve done a lot of work on this car over the off-season and we really don’t know how good it’s going to be. We can only sit back and theorize for so long – at some point, the only way to test yourself is against the guy next to you. And we’ll get to do that on Sunday”
Just one year removed from his first career Super Late Model start, the resounding feeling of Deja-vu is not lost on the multi-time Peterborough Speedway champion.
“This time last year we were preparing for opening night with a car we’ve never raced before. Now, we have a car that we’ve completely changed. The feeling is very much the same. We’ve brought in some new pieces to our program, and I’m hoping we can put everything together for a solid season”
The new pieces include Balson’s recently hired Car Chief Graham Annis who, alongside longtime Crew Chief Graham Flett, will work to inject the No. B10 into weekly contention.
“Working with Graham [Annis] on a fulltime basis is something I’ve been looking forward to for a long time,” smiles Balson. “Annis helped our team on a couple of occasions last season when his schedule would allow, and his chemistry with [Graham] Flett is undeniable. Having both of them in my corner gives me a lot of confidence in terms of what we can accomplish this year”
“Last season, the attitude most weeks was that we simple wanted a car that I could work with in race trim. On a lot of nights, I think we settled for ‘good enough’. This year, we don’t want ‘good enough’, we want to be in contention”
With only a second test session under their belt, Balson admits the team could have their work cut out for them if things don’t fall into place.
“We’ve only had one test on this car since we redid everything over the off-season, and it was good but not great. Because of that, the guys have taken a big swing at trying to get the car where we want it”
“I’ll admit – it’s an aggressive setup, so I hope we can get a handle on it,” continues the fan-favourite. “Because, if it’s off, it’s going to be off by a lot”
Though he is aware of the tour’s elite-level talent, the second-year competitor is adamant that his family-run operation is ready to give the perennial contenders a run for their money.
“I want to be in position to come out and run at the front and be in the mix every night,” stresses Balson. “I don’t need to win every race to be happy, but I do need to have a car capable of being in the mix. That’s what we’re aiming for”
“I don’t think there’s a driver in the pit area that would argue that this tour is the deep end of the pool. You’re up against champions and event winners from all over the province. You can’t run from competition in this sport, you have to come out and take your best swing at it”
“Sunset has an atmosphere that’s not quite like anywhere else. It brings out the best in you as a competitor. The fans there have an energy that’s contagious. They’re there to see the best show possible and, knowing that, makes you want to come out and make them feel as though they got their money’s worth.”
Details, including gate times and ticket prices, for this weekend’s OSCAAR Super Late Model season opener can be found at www.SunsetSpeedway.ca.
Marketing support for Kelly Balson’s sophomore tour campaign is provided by London Recreational Racing, Cochrane Automotive, Brandon’s Landscapes, Castrol Edge, Bennett Chevrolet of Cambridge and GTA Racing Design.
By Spencer Lewis (@itsspencerlewis)