As a young racecar driver in the Northeast, moving up the racing ladder can prove to be a difficult task. The opportunities to race for competitive race teams, other than a driver’s family-owned team, don’t come around very often. When they do come around drivers try to take full advantage of them, and that’s exactly what up-and-coming Connecticut driver Devin O’Connell plans to do during the upcoming racing season.
O’Connell, a graduate of Legend Cars, will make the jump up to American-Canadian Tour Late Model competition in 2016 while driving for the newly-established Hallstrom Motorsports Development Team.
The 18-year-old driver has spent time in the southern part of the United States in the past while racing Legends at events such as the Summer Shootout at Charlotte Motor Speedway (NC). He has since returned home to Connecticut and caught the attention of Louie and Lisa Hallstrom, team owners who were looking to give young racers a shot at the next level.
“We worked with the same marketing coach, trying to work on that whole skill,” O’Connell told Speed51.com powered by JEGS. “Then they wanted to start a driver development program for the Northeast because the region doesn’t have too many programs like that.”
The program will allow O’Connell to compete fulltime in Late Model competition for the first time in his career.
“They wanted to start with the American-Canadian Tour before eventually moving to the Pro All Stars Series, and they needed a driver. I was running the Legend and I was coming off winning the Allison Legacy championship. They asked if I was interested. I said, ‘Yeah, absolutely.’ We looked into it and saw the equipment they had was really good.”
The Hallstrom operation, which will be led by crew chief Troy Wheeler, is currently putting together a new ACT Late Model for O’Connell and he feels confident that they he will be able to compete with the resources they have on hand.
“They have a brand new long distance car for ACT being built,” O’Connell explained. “I think we can go with this team to develop this program, get it on the map, hopefully win some races, fight for rookie of the year and maybe even a championship if I can keep my head in it.”
The 2016 racing schedule for O’Connell and the Hallstrom team all relies on sponsorship backing. Unlike some development programs in the South, this new program is not yet at the financial level where they can commit to a full slate of races.
“A lot of the kids coming up are these big budget racers. We don’t have anything close to that,” said O’Connell. “The ACT Tour is the number one thing. If the funding comes in I’d like to do some of the big Super Late Model races and see how we’d be able to do in that. If we’re lucky, maybe do the Snowball Derby or All-American 400.”
Even though O’Connell has his eyes set on running a few southern classics, he is excited with competing in and around his home state of Connecticut. The ACT Late Model Tour is scheduled to run a Southern New England Tripleheader at the New London-Waterford Speedbowl (CT), Seekonk Speedway (MA), and Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park (CT).
“I think it’s really cool because Waterford is 30 minutes from my house. Thompson is an hour, and Seekonk is an hour and 15 minutes. I also know they’re going to get some cars, all three tracks have solid car counts.”
O’Connell is also looking for an opportunity to compete at his home track in Connecticut’s most popular type of racecar.
“I would like to do some stuff at Stafford,” O’Connell said eagerly. “It’s my home track from karts and I won a championship in Legends Cars. I’d love to do a couple of races there in a Modified to keep that Connecticut vibe going. I want to keep my name in Connecticut because racing is huge; if you race Modifieds here you get your name out.”
Despite the noticeable difference between a Legends Car and a Late Model, O’Connell said he feels ready to take on the challenge. At the same time, he knows there is still much to learn.
“I’m pretty confident,” declared O’Donnell. “We did some testing at Speedway 51 (NH). When I jumped in the car the first time I felt very comfortable. I just need to keep my head in it, learn how to save the tires to keep the car underneath me for 150 laps and not 25 laps. I need to get that down, but once I do with the team around me I don’t see why we can’t chase wins.”
O’Connell will leave behind a successful stint in Legends Cars with 2015 highlights including the 2015 championship at Stafford Motor Speedway and feature wins in the 2015 Bojangles Summer Shootout at Charlotte Motor Speedway. His travels in both Legends and Allison Legacy have given him both confidence and knowledge that he can use down the road.
“Big takeaway from running Legends Cars is all the tracks I ran and was able to get seat time for,” explained O’Connell. “It is really going to help me prep for a touring series be able to go to a track and figure it out in no time.”
All three of O’Connell’s Legend Cars are currently for sale, although he has not ruled out sporadic returns if offered a ride. The main goal now is to raise capital for the Late Model effort, but he has even loftier goals for the future.
“It’s a whole deal where we’re trying to do something like they do down south, except we want to try and keep the races up here for as long as possible. Eventually we’ll move down, maybe run the NASCAR K&N Series, big Super Late Model programs, or if things go right NASCAR Camping World Trucks. That’s the model we’re going for.”
-By Connor Sullivan, Speed51.com State Editor (CT, LI, MA) – Twitter: @Connor51CT
-Photo credit: Devin O'Connell Racing