NASCAR Canadian Tire Series: Tufoil 250 at Autodrome St. Eustache

nascarcanadaWhen the green flag flies for the first time this season on Saturday (May 23) in St. Eustache, Que., Joey Hanssen officially will have made the jump – a big one. However, the confident 17-year-old aims to dive headfirst into the NASCAR Canadian Tire Series.

Hanssen (No. 40 Prime Champ Dodge) finds himself in unfamiliar territory behind the wheel of even more unfamiliar cars, racing in the premier Canadian series against competition that, more than likely, has wrenches in the tool chest older than he is. It’s a long way from the karting tracks of Europe where he excelled at an early age.

“I’m totally excited,” said Hanssen. “I can’t wait.”

The beast that is a NASCAR Canadian Tire Series car is unlike anything that he has competed in before. The heavier, less maneuverable stock car with more than 500 horsepower certainly captures the youngster’s attention.

“I’ve never driven anything like these cars before now. The closest thing is a V6 with half the horsepower,” he said.

There have been a few test sessions for the native of The Netherlands. So, he is not being thrown entirely into the lion’s den, but it sure may seem like it when the lights come on and points are up for grabs.

He comes to the NASCAR world via a circuitous route of business associates between Europe and Canada after having an initial interest, from afar, in Indy-style racing.

“I wanted to race Indy cars, but over the last couple of years I have watched a lot of NASCAR. I think it’s a stronger product.”

A family member from his sponsor had the connection and made the initial inquiry to DJ Kennington to see if he had any interest in the talented young driver. Hanssen and Kennington first met last December and Kennington’s curiosity was peaked. The announcement proclaiming DJK Racing’s move to a two-car team came shortly thereafter.

Despite the novelty of stock-car racing, Hanssen firmly believes that racing is racing the world over once a comfort level is reached with the equipment.

“I still need to learn these cars a lot more, but the tests have gone very well. I took it easy at first since the car was a little harder to handle than I expected, but I like the speed and power,” Hanssen said. “I think this team will progress pretty quickly. It’s going to be fun.”

Fast Facts

The Race: Tufoil 250
The Place: Autodrome St. Eustache, St. Eustache, Quebec
The Date: Saturday, May 23
The Time: 8:35 p.m. ET
TV Schedule: TSN, May 30, 5 p.m. ET
Track Layout: .4-mile paved oval
Race Purse: $85,398

2008 Winner: Scott Steckly of Milton
2008 Pole: Don Thomson Jr. of Hamilton
Track Contact: Tobie Legare, (450) 472-6222,
NASCAR Contact: Shon Sbarra, (704) 309-5493,

Gaunt Willing To Persevere

It’s no secret. Times are tough. No industry has been spared from the drought-stricken economy, including motorsports. But John Gaunt has little desire to be a victim.

For the last two seasons, Gaunt has carried the colors of Centennial Chrysler proudly on the hood of his No. 12 Dodge. Why not? That’s where he makes his living away from the race track. However, with the difficult marketplace for the automobile manufacturers, that sponsorship is lost.

“I work there. I see it everyday and knew bad news was coming,” Gaunt said.

Throwing in the towel, though, is not in his nature. He plans to race this season as long as he can while looking to piece together something to make ends meet.

“We’ve got a good inventory of spare parts. We just need the money to get us to the track. We’ll figure out something,” he said.

Coming off a 12-place finish in the standings a year ago, the Gaunt team has a blueprint to follow. Scott Steckly finished 10th in 2007 and went into last season without a primary sponsor. After hooking up midseason with Tow Truck in a Box, he went on to win the series championship.

“(Steckly) won it all last year sitting in a similar spot as we are,” said Gaunt. “You just never know how things are going to go. That’s why you keep digging away.”

News & Notes

The Race: This event is the first of 13 races on the NASCAR Canadian Tire Series schedule. It is the series’ second visit to the track, the first being July 5, 2008.

The Procedure: The starting field is 24 cars, including provisionals. The first 21 cars will be determined from two-lap time trials. The remaining three spots will be awarded through the provisional process. The race will be 250 laps (100 miles).

The Track: The Autodrome St. Eustache racing complex, located northwest of Montreal, consists of a .4-mile flat oval, a 1.7-kilometer road course and a .125-mile drag strip. There is also a karting track on the premises. The track was founded in 1965 as Fury Speedway de Fabreville, and the current configuration has been hosting various types of racing since 1970. The track was purchased by Alan Labrosse prior to the 2008 race season.

The Records: The one-lap qualifying record for the Canadian Tire Series at the track is 17.219 seconds (83.629 mph), set by Don Thomson Jr. last year on July 5. The 250-lap race record is held by Scott Steckly at 1 hour, 53 minutes, 11 seconds, also set last July 5 for an average speed of 53.484 mph.

A Season Ago: The NASCAR Canadian Tire Series was scheduled to make its appearance in St. Eustache in late May, but the weather did not cooperate and forced a postponement. Clear skies were the order of the day, though, on the July 5 make-up date. In the race, Scott Steckly continued his hot start by earning the win. It was Steckly’s third win in the first four races of the season. DJ Kennington and Kerry Micks finished second and third, respectively.

Duhamel Back On Four Wheels: World-class American Motorcyclist Association (AMA) rider and Quebec native Miguel Duhamel will make his third NASCAR Canadian Tire Series start in the Tufoil 250. The former AMA Superbike champion, the first Canadian to collect that honor, has won the Daytona 200 five times. He is also the son of Canadian Motorsport Hall of Famer Yvon Duhamel. He will race the No. 7 Ford out of the Dave Jacombs stable.

NASCAR Canadian Tire Series Notebook

New Day For Canadian Tire: The retirement of Peter Gibbons put the coveted Canadian Tire race team sponsorship up for grabs. Canada’s largest retailer for automotive parts and accessories went through an in-depth process to select their new driver. In the end, they partnered with Tow Truck in a Box, which helped carry Scott Steckly to the 2008 series championship, to put their logo on the hood of the No. 22 Dodge.

Several Renew Deals: Despite the world-wide economic slowdown, several NASCAR Canadian Tire Series teams reached new agreements to continue sponsorship. Further proving NASCAR’s viability in today’s marketplace, Ron Beauchamp Jr. (No. 60 Mopar/Mobil 1/Exide Batteries Dodge), Mark Dilley (No. 9 Dodge/Leland Industries Dodge), Kerry Micks (No. 02 Beyond Digital Imaging Ford) and Andrew Ranger (No. 27 Wal-Mart/Tide Ford) all came to terms on new deals for 2009. A pair of drivers, DJ Kennington (No. 17 Castrol/Mahindra Tractors Dodge) and Anthony Simone (No. 95 Crown Modular/United Lumber Chevrolet) not only renewed their agreements, but also added significant sponsors to their programs.

Not Collecting Dust: Even though he retired as an active driver at the end of last season, Gibbons wasted little time in finding use for all his racing gear. He signed a pact with Chris Raabe, a talented 17-year-old dirt-track racer. All the youngster did in 2008 was establish a DIRTcar record with 22 wins in 45 feature starts in the sportsman class and become the youngest Mr. DIRTcar in the sanctioning body’s 33-year history. Initially, the deal is for five races, but efforts continue to add more as resources allow.

“It was time to give up driving, but not racing, and concentrate on some of the other business ventures Denise and I had been working on over the past few years,” said Gibbons. “I think it’ll be great to mentor someone I feel has the ability to take the program we started to the next level.”

New Engine Builder Award: New to the series this year is the MAHLE Clevite Engine Builder Award. Teams will compete within a special points system, encompassing qualifying and race finishing positions with bonus points added for leading the most laps during a race. Each event will have a $1,000 winner and the team accumulating the most points over the season will earn the MAHLE Clevite Engine Builder of the Year award to go along with a $5,000 check.

NASCAR Canadian Tire Series Back On TSN

For the third straight season, TSN, Canada’s Sports Leader, will be the exclusive broadcast partner of the NASCAR Canadian Tire Series.

TSN will nationally televise 13 one-hour broadcasts – one for each of the series’ 13 scheduled races. Coverage gets underway on Saturday, May 30 at 5 p.m. ET with the Tufoil 250, the first race of the season, taking place on the flat .4-mile oval at Quebec’s Autodrome St. Eustache.

The shows will be produced by James Robinson Associates Ltd. and will include race coverage, driver interviews and features. Dave Bradley will provide the play-by-play alongside color analyst Billy Rowse Jr. Todd Lewis rounds out the broadcast team as pit reporter. The majority of race coverage will air on TSN HD, as well.

TSN’s NASCAR Canadian Tire Series coverage complements the network’s all-encompassing NASCAR programming, which includes full-season action of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series and NASCAR Nationwide Series.

The early season will be highlighted by the first series visit to Delaware (Ont.) Speedway.

The middle portion of the schedule is dominated by the swing through western Canada. In addition to the customary stops at SunValley Speedway in Vernon, B.C., and Edmonton for the Rexall Edmonton Indy, Auto Clearing Motor Speedway in Saskatoon, Sask., is another new track on the schedule for 2009.

The season will culminate with the annual trek eastward to Nova Scotia’s high-banked Riverside International Speedway—a favorite of all the competitors—and the season finale at Kawartha Speedway, near Peterborough, Ont., where the 2009 NASCAR Canadian Tire Series champion will be crowned.

Home Tracks Update: Bouvrette Battles Ranger Early In The Season

The NASCAR Whelen All-American Series season is just underway at Autodrome St. Eustache, but it will heat up quickly as two classes of cars – sportsman and compacts – open the night of racing before the NASCAR Canadian Tire Series takes to the track this Saturday.

Defending track and provincial champion Jonathan Bouvrette is already out to an early lead in the standings amongst a strong field of cars in the sportsman classification that, in the early going, has included 2007 NASCAR Canadian Tire Series champion Andrew Ranger.

By the time all is said and done, though, Bouvrette will have to contend with Guy Jubinville, the 2007 track and provincial champion, for top honors in 2009.

While he has not fared particularly well, Ranger was using the opportunity to shake off the rust from the off season. He also undoubtedly was experimenting different strategies for the upcoming NASCAR Canadian Tire Series events at the facility.

Now in its third season in the NASCAR family of tracks, a sportsman class is the premier division in St. Eustache. The top class a year ago was a truck series.

The NASCAR Whelen All-American Series serves as the foundation of NASCAR – grassroots racing across the United States and Canada. Whelen Engineering, a leading manufacturer of automotive, aviation, industrial and emergency vehicle lighting, is the series sponsor. More than 10,000 drivers compete at NASCAR-sanctioned short tracks throughout both countries.

The short-track racing program in NASCAR was founded in 1982. Since its inception, the series has been a successful starting point for the careers of many top drivers. NASCAR stars Greg Biffle, Clint Bowyer, Jeff Burton, Kurt and Kyle Busch, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Carl Edwards, Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, Travis Kvapil, Bobby Labonte, Jamie McMurray and Brian Vickers all began their careers in this series.