It’s been awhile since the ARCA RE/MAX Series traveled north of the border to rub short-track fenders in front of Canadian race fans. You have to reach back to the mid-1980s and early ’90s when Canadian powerhouses icons Junior Hanley and Don Biederman roamed the Ontario tracks.
It was also a time when a Mount Clemens, Mich., newcomer by the name of Tracy Leslie would sneak across the border and mix it up with Hanley and Biederman at places like Cayuga, Delaware, Checkered Flag and Flamboro. More than 15 years later, Leslie is again packing his bags for Canada where the first annual Cayuga ARCA RE/MAX 250 is set to roll at Cayuga Motor Speedway on Sunday afternoon, June 29.
The only thing different is that this time Leslie has exchanged his race goggles for a radio and headset so he can spot for his young son Billy, who will be aboard the No. 18 Leslie-prepared Titan Tires & Wheels Ford for the race.
“I don’t remember my dad racing at Cayuga,” said the 20-year-old, second-generation ARCA racer. “I do know that my dad had quite a fan base over there, so maybe that means more cheers for us; I don’t know. We’re just glad to be racing, especially in Canada where my dad had so much success. Hopefully, the people will remember.”
Tracy and Billy are one of seven father/son winners over 56 consecutive seasons on the ARCA RE/MAX Series tour. Billy picked up his career-first RE/MAX Series victory last year at Winchester Speedway. Tracy, the 1988 ARCA RE/MAX Series national champion, earned nine ARCA victories over the years, including one at Delaware, near London, in August 1988.
“I always enjoyed racing in Canada,” said Tracy. “We always had a lot of success up there, so that probably had a lot to do with it. Never ran very well at Cayuga, but I always liked the track.
“It surprised me when I saw Cayuga on the schedule this year. I thought the track was closed, but I’m glad it’s reopened. We always had a lot of fans in Canada, maybe with the exception of Flamboro. It was always fun to go there (Canada) and race. The fans were always so enthusiastic. They didn’t all like me, but it didn’t matter. We always had their attention. I also remember needing an escort to get out a couple times, once at Flamboro and once at Checkered Flag. Took Junior Hanley out one time at Flamboro. Got into a big fight. Needless to say, the whole episode didn’t go over so well with many of the Canadian fans.
“But if you race long enough, and run up front, you’re bound to get escorted out of somewhere before it’s all said and done.”
Leslie wasn’t exactly escorted out everywhere he went, but he was known to ruffle up his opponents from time to time – like the time he banged fenders with Frank Kimmel on Kimmel’s hometown Salem surf in 2000. It was the last corner of the last lap and Leslie was running second headed off into turn three. When the two ARCA champions left the fourth corner, Leslie was the leader, and won the race. And yes, there was contact.
The episode was perfect for his ‘bad-guy’ image that seemed to follow Leslie wherever he went. But an image is just an image. It is not the man, nor does it necessarily define the man.
“I didn’t do what everyone else did,” added Leslie. “I just didn’t play the political game; and I know that played a hand in my career. I worked on my own stuff; I didn’t have time for playing. Obviously, if I would have paid attention to the political side I’d still be in North Carolina instead of Michigan.
“If I had the opportunity to do it all again, I’d of went down there with my helmet bag and concentrated on driving more, and do the baseball and golfing outings, the autograph sessions. I never did that. I worked 80 hours a week. I didn’t have time for that stuff. If that makes me a bad guy, then so be it, but whatever I did, or didn’t do, it was because it was right for me at the time.”
Whatever lessons Leslie learned over the years he’s trying to pass on to his son Billy. He’s (Billy) got to try and learn from my mistakes and pay more attention to the political end of things. You’ve got to play the political game – period – and now more than ever. I understand what it takes to be successful at it and the sacrifices you must be willing to make. I’ve been down that road for 20, 30 years. And I don’t want to go down that road unless the person I’m going with is willing to make those sacrifices. That other person just happens to be my son.”
And at the moment, that road that Leslie is talking about is leading the father/son duo back to Canada where Leslie’s so-called ‘bad-guy’ image surfaced a time or two.
In those days in Ontario, outside of the ARCA RE/MAX Series world, it came down to Canadian legends’ Junior Hanley and the late Don Biederman.
“Back then, you were either a Don Biederman fan or a Junior Hanley fan,” added Tracy. “There was no cross-over. It didn’t matter if Rusty Wallace or Mark Martin made special appearances. If Don Biederman and Junior Hanley were there, then you had a packed house. Well, I developed a very good friendship with Don; he actually helped me at every race the year we won the ARCA championship in ’88. But if you were in with one of those groups (Biederman or Hanley) they (Canadian fans) liked you. I was on the Don Biederman side, and I was able to acquire his fans; and, let me tell you, he had a lot of them.
“Don’t get me wrong; I always had a lot of respect for Junior – for his ability to drive and build racecars. It just worked out that I ended up on Biederman’s side.
“Biederman was a very good friend of Dave Marcus. Marcus bought his first-ever Grand National car from Biederman. Marcus also provided my first ARCA car in ’86. And the only reason I got that ride was because Biederman vouched for me. Biederman’s fans just sort of took me in.”
Well, the Hanley/Biederman rivalry is long gone but you can bet the Leslies will be eager to resurrect their Canadian fan base and rub fenders with ARCA’s best when Cayuga Motor Speedway lights the ARCA RE/MAX Series wick for the first time.
Although Tracy still owns and operates his Leslie Tire store in Mt. Clemens, Billy is currently camped out in North Carolina building racecars.
“We’re thinking about testing (for Cayuga) at Caraway Speedway,” said Billy. “We’re pretty much going to run what we’ve been using on the short-tracks – same front and rear spring package, but we think a short-track test will do us good before we go to Cayuga. I really like the short-tracks. They’re more of a driver-based track than the speedways.”
Veteran ARCA RE/MAX Series crew chief Sammy Speaks has been hired as the crew chief while Tracy will be spotting for his son to the backdrop of what both father and son hope will be a healthy cheer section – just like the old days.
“Canada’s nice because it’s close to home,” added Tracy. “I told Billy, ‘you were born in the wrong era’. Twenty years ago, you could race 20 times a year and never travel a hundred miles from home. Now, you have to travel all over the country. Canada’s close to home. And the short-tracks are just not as expensive as the speedways. We’ve got motors. We’ve got cars; we might as well take one to Cayuga. It’s close, and we always had good luck there.”
And it just so happens that the car the Leslies are bringing to Cayuga is all white, not exactly matching up with the ‘bad-guy’ image. Are the Leslies turning over a new leaf? If they are, it better be a maple leaf.
Practise for the ARCA RE/MAX Series at Cayuga Motor Speedway is scheduled for Saturday, June 28 from 12:30 to 2 p.m. followed by SIM Factory Pole Qualifying at 3:30. The ARCA Lincoln Welders Truck Series race follows ARCA RE/MAX Series qualifying Saturday afternoon. The Cayuga ARCA RE/MAX 250 is set for 1:30 p.m. Sunday afternoon, June 29.
Pre-entries also include point leader/Roush Fenway Racing development driver Ricky Stenhouse, Formula 1 veteran, Formula 1 veteran Scott Speed in the Red Bull Toyota, Matt Carter (son of Travis Carter), nine-time ARCA RE/MAX Series national champion Frank Kimmel, Springfield, Illinois’ Justin Allgaier, Lilburn, Georgia’s Ken Butler III, Westby, Wisconsin’s Dexter Bean, Phoenix, Arizona’s Gabi DiCarlo, and rookies’ John Wes Townley, Tom Hessert III and Tayler Malsam Scott Speed in the Red Bull Toyota.
For ticket and general information, visit http://www.cayugamotorspeedway.ca