The easy part – collecting the spoils of a champion and relishing the victory over a long winter – of Scott Steckly’s 2008 NASCAR Canadian Tire Series championship is over. The hard part was emerging from the middle of the pack to title contender and on to collecting that coveted ring. However, the most difficult part remains as unfinished business – defending the championship, proving it was not a fluke.
Steckly, out of Milton, burst on to the scene last year with a win in the season opener. By the time anyone realized what was happening, the No. 22 team had a stranglehold on the top line of the point standings – a lead they would not surrender all season long. With four wins and nine top-five finishes in the 13-race schedule last season, Steckly and his team clearly had an understanding of their car and how the driver could maximize it.
“We had been working on some things and made them work. It was nothing that anyone else couldn’t have done or figured out, but, I guess, we did sneak up on everyone a little,” he said.
There is a measure of satisfaction that comes from being outside the pre-season championship conversation to taking the top honor. Especially for a team that most in the garage area respected, but few, if any, considered being of championship quality.
“The most satisfying thing was proving that not only could we win races, but also do the things necessary and put everything together – a consistent program – to win a championship,” said Steckly. “There were people out there who thought we couldn’t do it.”
With the long hours in the shop working on the cars and the stress of the title run behind him at the close of last season, Steckly did take the opportunity to enjoy his accomplishments.
“The things NASCAR does for its champions are pretty unreal. I don’t think a lot of people realize it,” he said. “The whole experience in Southern California with the (NASCAR) Champions Week was pretty cool. It was great to spend time with the other champions and get to know them a little. Also, the places we went and the things we did were a lot of fun. It was the kind of stuff a guy from Canada doesn’t usually get to do.”
In actuality, the 2009 season for Steckly began before the 2008 season even ended. Once Peter Gibbons announced his retirement in early September, a scramble began for the vacated Canadian Tire sponsorship. Steckly was in the mix for that coveted program from the outset.
The process was a thorough and time-consuming one. Canadian Tire looked at a variety of criteria from on-track performance to the appearance of the crew to the marketability of the driver. Not just any driver is going to fly the colors of Canada’s leading retailer of automotive parts and products.
Steckly and his team not only had to work through those items and many more, but also they had to work on a contingency plan should the Canadian Tire program not come to fruition. How and where would Tow Truck in a Box – new to the team in 2008, but one of the most integral parts of their championship season – factor into the equation?
In the end, Steckly was selected by Canadian Tire, in an amalgamation with Tow Truck in a Box and several other Canadian Tire partners, to be their driver in 2009 with options for two more years.
“We are so excited to be moving forward with the Canadian Tire program. I don’t think we have ever gone into a season with this kind of certainty. Once it was done, our sole focus turned to the cars and that is pretty much where it can stay, for the most part,” Steckly said. “We are looking forward to representing Canadian Tire all across the country in our travels this season.”
Once the selection process was complete, Canadian Tire officials were satisfied they had found their man after their longtime affiliation with Gibbons.
“Canadian Tire has a longstanding tradition of supporting motor sports in Canada and we are thrilled to be teaming up with Scott Steckly as we head into the 2009 racing season,” said Tony Kuczynski, vice president, automotive, Canadian Tire Retail. “An 18-year veteran of racing and passionate about motorsports, Scott is an excellent ambassador for Canadian Tire and we look forward to helping him reach the championship podium again this year.”
Last year is over and done. The off-season business negotiations are complete. Now, it is time to get back on the track, but this time Steckly has a giant target painted squarely on his chest. Everyone sees him coming. There will be no sneaking this time around, nor is there a Survivor-style immunity necklace.
“Without a doubt, it’s going to be a lot harder this year,” he said. “We are looking forward to it. This is a new role for this team, but one we’d like to get used to.”
Steckly’s defense of his title begins at the NASCAR Canadian Tire Series season opener on May 23 at Quebec’s Autodrome St. Eustache in the Tufoil 250.