INNISFIL, ON- With just over three weeks remaining until opening night, drivers up and down the Sunset Speedway roster are making their final preparations to set off in pursuit of the 2016 championship.
In the Sauble Falls Tent & Trailer Park NASCAR Late Model division, a myriad of contenders are prepared to stake their claim at the 2016 title, with hopes of finding a way of dethroning defending champion Taylor Holdaway.
With over 30 cars expected to sign in at the pit gate on opening night – here’s a small sample of competitors that will be looking to make a big splash when the season officially kicks off on April 30th.
Taylor Holdaway – Eager to follow up on a 2015 championship season that saw him invade Sunset Speedway’s victory lane an incredible 14 times, Orillia’s Taylor Holdaway is – without question – the existing high water mark of the NASCAR Late Model division.
The second-generation racer worked tirelessly last season to establish his family-owned team as one of the province’s elite, and he’s been more than forthcoming this off-season in explaining his commitment to continue working to retain his spot at the top of the wildly competitive division.
With a murderer’s row of talent set to jump all over any mistake or stutter step, Holdaway knows his margin for error on opening night is slim. ‘Hollywood’s highlight-reel 2016 season was largely the product of his Holdaway Motorsports team settling into a rhythm that no one on the Sunset roster seemed capable of breaking. If they can once again find that rhythm – particularly with a big performance on opening night – expect the Orillia-based outfit to contend for back-to-back championships.
Stompin’ Tom Walters – Hall of Famer Tom Walters is – rightfully so – the most recognizable Late Model driver in Ontario. There isn’t a fan, journalist or competitor in the province that isn’t familiar with his trademark No. 47 and the seemingly countless accomplishments the legend has added his name to over the course of his 47-year career.
Which is why the entire racing landscape stopped and took notice when Walters confirmed over the off-season that the 2016 campaign would be his last as an active duty driver.
The 2015 season was less than kind to Walters, with the multi-time champion being shut out of victory lane over the course of the 5-month season. However, don’t think for a moment that Walters hasn’t gone back to the drawing board and reworked a plan for his Stompin’ Tom Motorsports outfit to find their way back to the forefront of Sunset’s headline division.
The Stroud, ON native has always had a flair for the dramatic – and what could possibly be more dramatic than a trip to victory lane on the first night of your final season? Don’t be surprised if the living legend finds a way to make that happen.
The bottom line is this – a motivated Tom Walters is an uneasy proposition for any driver in the Late Model division. And if 2016 is truly Walters’ last trip to the mound, rest assured he will be unloading every Saturday afternoon with the desire to make as big a statement as possible. An emphatic performance on April 30th is the best way to start.
Dwayne Baker – After a relatively quiet 2015 season, expect former Sunset Speedway champion Dwayne Baker to unload on opening night ready for a big performance.
‘The Bully’ showed flashes of brilliance last season, including winning the inaugural APC United Late Model Series event at Sunset in May, then laying claim to the 125-lap Canadian Nationals in September. Although consistent success eluded the veteran, and kept his No. 48 out of the title picture.
Baker’s team – led by son and Crew Chief Kyle Baker – will be looking to remind the Late Model division of how impactful they can be on opening night. A crowded 2016 schedule that will also include Super Late Model, Pro Late Model and NASCAR Pinty’s Series competition has left some journalists questioning if Baker will be at Sunset on a regular basis. However, even if Baker does not find himself racing for a championship in 2016, he will be racing for a win any time his Baker Performance Parts hauler rolls into the Sunset pit area.
Gord Shepherd – One of the most talented and successful racers of the modern Barrie Speedway era, Gord Shepherd was seen as a momentous acquisition for the Sunset Speedway roster when his Ridge Road Racing team confirmed their intentions of chasing a NASCAR Late Model title in 2015.
The Oro Station, ON driver established himself almost immediately, winning the first feature of the season and appearing set for a legitimate run towards his first career Sunset Speedway championship. However, as the season entered the dog days of mid-summer, mechanical issues plagued the team and kept Shepherd from mounting the challenge needed to keep Holdaway from the top of the points standings.
This year, Shepherd will arrive on opening night with a brand new racecar and a regrouped and refocused team. ‘The Smoke’ knows the quick way around Sunset, and has shown the capability of following a championship pursuit deep into the season on multiple occasions whilst a member of the Barrie Speedway roster.
There’s likely not a single driver in the Late Model pit area counting Shepherd out as a legitimate threat for the 2016 championship – and for good reason. The Oro Station, ON hotshoe can perform in both long and short run conditions, has proven durable enough to pin down a championship in the past and has some of the best equipment in the province.
These 4 perennial contenders will join a field of over 30 of Ontario’s top Late Model competitors when the Sauble Falls Tent & Trailer Park sponsored division takes the green flag for the first time in 2016.
Tickets for April 30th’s event can be purchased at www.SunsetSpeedway.ca. Be sure to visit the official Sunset Speedway page on Facebook and follow on Twitter @Sunset_Speedway for more information leading up to the 2016 season opener.