HAMPTON, ON- Sophomore Super Late Model competitor Kelly Balson has a lot of reasons to smile lately. With podium finishes in each of the OSCAAR tour’s first two events of 2015, the former Peterborough Speedway champion’s rookie struggles seem a lifetime away as he transitions into his new role of perennial contender on one of the province’s most challenging rosters.
“Everything we’ve been able to accomplish so far this season can be attributed to the team we’ve assembled,” says Balson from his Hampton, ON race shop. “These guys are incredible at what they do. Between [Crew Chief] Graham Flett and [Car Chief] Graham Annis, it seems as though everyone is moving in the right direction”
“Wether we’re working at the shop or getting stuff ready at the race track, things seem to work better if you have a team that can communicate,” continues Balson. “And this team communicates as well as any that I’ve ever been a part of”
“We’re going up against killers on a weekly basis – teams that have Mike McColl and Brian MacDonald helping them with the latest and greatest in the world of setups and technology. If our team didn’t all work together then there would be no chance of us doing as well as we have”
The back-to-back podium finishes are a welcome change for Balson who, despite a pair of early-season top-5 finishes, struggled to find consistency in his freshman season on the OSCAAR Tour.
“We were overmatched last year,” admits the short track veteran. “We didn’t have the help that we do this season. Both of the Grahams were committed to working with a NASCAR Canadian Tire Series team on a regular basis, which left us with some pretty big personnel gaps more often than not”
“As soon as we locked up the Grahams for this season, I knew that we were going to be able to turn things around. I’ve known Flett for a long time – and we’ve worked together on a lot of different race cars. So, having him back just felt right. As far as Annis goes – I truly believe that he’s the best young mind in this province right now. There isn’t anyone in their mid-20s that is as capable and easy to work with as Graham Annis”
As the schedule begins to pick up, ‘The Crowd Pleaser’ believes his team will continue to make strides towards their first career tour victory.
“We’re going to get better,” says Balson matter-of-factly. “That’s all that we have on our minds. Constant improvement. We’re close to a win right now – we just need to keep working”
“Right now we’re an 8 out of 10. Last year we were a 5 out of 10,” continues Balson. “The funny part is that those final two points are the hardest ones to find”
“I’m just enjoying the ride. Last year we were contemplating ways to burn this car to the ground because we were so frustrated. Now, we’re talking about what we need to do to win a race. It’s nice to be able to track our improvement”
After back-to-back appearances at Sunset, Balson looks forward to the months of July and August when the tour will branch out away from the Innisfil, ON oval.
“I absolutely love racing at Sunset, but I still feel like we give up a lot there,” explains Balson. “A lot of the heavy hitters on this tour have a lot of laps at Sunset and it’s tough to catch up to that. Sunset’s an incredibly difficult place to figure out. You can race there for years and have a hard time seeing any sort of progress”
“We’ve had a lot of laps at Sunset in recent weeks. It’s starting to become home – but we’re not at that comfort level yet”
“I look forward to hitting some neutral spots where the playing field might be a little more even. Places like Delaware and Sauble are going to be awfully interesting, because most of the tour regulars haven’t spent a lot of time there”
With an impressive start to the season in his back pocket, it’s clear that Balson is taking the prospect of becoming a contender very seriously.
“Running at the front is a lot more enjoyable than running anywhere else, I’ll tell you that much,” says the former Autumn Colours Classic champion with a laugh. “I’m happy to be back [at the front]. It seems like any time you have a mediocre year everyone forgets about you. Everyone is ready to write you off”
“We had our struggles last year – but that’s not indicative of all that this team is capable of,” continues Balson. “I believe with everything in me that we have a car that can run in the top-5 on a regular basis. And when you’re running in the top-5 at the end of a race – anything can happen. ‘Anything’ creates opportunities – and that’s what we’ll be ready for.”
Kelly Balson will return to action on Saturday, June 27th at Sunset Speedway. Details for the event, including gate times and ticket prices, 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)