ALLAN McDONALD, left, Senior VP of Automotive for Canadian Tire stands with NASCAR Canadian Tire Series champion SCOTT STECKLY following the season finale at Kawartha Speedway.
This year, he won his second title and although he still goes to baseball and hockey and grocery shopping and all those other things a husband does with the wife and kids, there’s one big difference:
He’s now a full-time racer.
Steckly and all the other drivers and crew members who raced in Canada’s only national auto racing series this year were honoured Friday night at a VIP reception at the Old Mill Inn and Spa in West Toronto.
The invitation-only event also included sponsors, media partners and participating race track operators as well as representatives from NASCAR’s Canadian and U.S. offices.
They made a big deal over Steckly, of Milverton, Ont., as well as series Rookie-of-the-Year Louis-Philippe Dumoulin, of Trois-Rivieres, Que., among others.
The 32-year-old Dumoulin, a member of the Dumoulin Competition motor racing family (father Richard and uncle Gerald started the team 40 years ago) who’s raced in Formula Atlantic, the Grand Am Rolex, Formula Ford and Koni Challenge series, couldn't attend but was represented by his racing brother, Jean-Francois, who said he'd like to follow Louis-Philippe into the Canadian Tire series, if he can find the sponsorship.
“I’m very sorry I can’t be in Toronto,” Louis-Philippe told me by phone this week from Daytona, Fla., “but I’m busy working here as a driver coach and I’m testing some cars. I hope to race a car in the Daytona 24 next year.”
His coaching client list includes retired Montreal Canadiens defenceman Patrice Brisebois, who’s raced primarily in the Ferrari Challenge series but has also dipped his toe in the stock car waters. For instance, he finished 14th in the Canadian Tire race at Circuit ICAR in June.
Dumoulin said that although the types of cars he’s raced have been many and varied, he found himself “veering toward NASCAR” because there are more opportunities to race.
“Hopefully, my rookie achievement will help me get sponsorship for a full-season program next year,” he said, “and if I could drive the road courses in the (NASCAR) Nationwide series, I would be very happy.” (He raced his first Nationwide race at Montreal in August and finished 28th after starting 41st.)
Dumoulin said he found the Canadian Tire stock cars challenging because he hadn’t raced on oval tracks before.
“I’m not used to that type of racing. It’s fun — but I found out there’s no way you can complete a race without a big donut on the side of your car!
“But I like NASCAR, because it’s really up to the driver to make the difference. The cars are pretty even. It’s a pretty tough series because you are fighting with the best stock car drivers in the country.”
Somebody who’s been doing that for years is Steckly, who started out the 2011 season determined to win the championship.
“We went to the first race (at Mosport Speedway) with the full intent of winning that race, which we did,” Steckly told me in a recent interview. “You have to come out of the box really strong and then keep the momentum going. You have to believe in the team and go into every race believing that you’re going to win it and that’s what we did at every race this season.”
Steckly said that while he won the title in 2008, he knows exactly what the problem was in 2009 and 10:
“I didn’t win that first race,” he laughed. “It might be hard to understand, but in this series, if you fall behind even a bit, it’s just so hard to catch up. When you’ve got things going for you, you’ve just got to keep ’em going and by winning the first race, that’s a big step.”
Steckly is known to be a tough racer, but also a fair one. Unlike some drivers who’ve raced in the series, he doesn’t believe in “moving someone out of the way” to gain a position or a victory.
He was asked at this year’s Honda Indy, where he’d finished second, if he’d given some thought to perhaps giving winner Andrew Ranger a little tap in the closing stages of the contest. Just enough to get past him, perhaps?
“No,” said Steckly, in reply to the speculative question. “I’m not out here to win just one race. I’m running for the championship and I won’t do anything to jeopardize the points.”
Steckly said that when he won his first championship in ’08, it was “do-able,” even though he worked full-time. Now he prepares cars for other drivers to race, as well as his own (four came out of his shop for the final race of the season at Kawartha Speedway), and the additional income allows him to just be a racer.
“It’s very hard to work and do it (racing) full-time,” he said. “It’s different when you’re 18 or 22, when you’re not married and you don’t have kids, and all your crew guys are 18 and they would all come (to work on the car) every night of the week.
“The stage I’m at in racing now — I‘m 39 years old — most of my crew guys are the same age as me and we all have wives and we all have kids and we have hockey to go to and baseball so we can’t commit ourselves five nights a week. The point where I’m at in racing is, you have to be able to be at the shop during the day so you can spend time with your family at nights.”
Steckly said that when he was younger he’d go south in the New Year to get in some winter racing at places like New Smyrna Speedway, south of Daytona.
“But now, I like to spend the winters with my family,” he said. “It’s not that I don’t want to race — I’d love to go race — but I like spending the winter with my wife and kids and them playing hockey and that. And I enjoy working on the cars without all the pressure. It’s not nearly as stressful working on the cars, making new things, trying new suspensions, stuff like that.”
Steckly lives in Milverton — “I have a shop about two miles from my house; it’s a big property with plenty of room for trucks and trailers” — and he feels like the whole town is behind him.
“When I race at Barrie, or Kawartha, half the stands are made up of people from Milverton. Everybody supports me and I’m proud to live there. When I was champion, there was a sign at both ends of town saying Milverton was the home of the national champion.
“I’m really glad that I got that sign back.”