The COVID-19 pandemic affected the Canadian motorsports landscape in numerous ways. NASCAR’s Canadian touring series, the Pinty’s Series, ran an abridged six-race schedule, while most weekly racing was halted by the pandemic and government regulations.
The APC United Late Model Series was one such series affected by the pandemic. Originally planning to run a full 10-race calendar, the schedule was cut in half to just five races; three at Jukasa Motor Speedway and one at both Sauble Speedway and Sunset Speedway.
With little room for error, one driver managed to rise above the pack and establish himself as Canada’s newest Late Model sensation.
In only his second year of full-time competition, Jo Lawrence clinched the 2020 title winning four of the five races. The 2019 Rookie of the Year was riding a wave of momentum, following a 2019 campaign that saw three pole awards, five top 10s and a fourth-place points finish.
Looking to build off a strong 2019 season, Lawrence came back with a brand-new car and the expectation to give it his all and compete for wins. When it was announced by series president Luke Ramsay that the 2020 season would be happening, Lawrence was excited to get back to the track.
“Going off of last year, being Rookie of the Year we were excited, gearing up with a new car from McColl Racing. Lawrence said. “Despite bouncing back forth between whether or not we are even going racing this year, I’m happy they were able to put on some sort of schedule and a very good one in my opinion for all things considered”
Getting out of the gate strong, Lawrence scored a dominating win in the season opener at Jukasa. Leading wire to wire, scoring that season opening win lit a fire under the bellies of the No. 78 team. With only five races available to score points, coming out of the gate strong was the only way to gain much needed momentum.
In a season with so much uncertainly, Lawrence knew that he had to race every race like it was the finale. As the season continued, the wins started to roll in.
“It really helped a ton, especially in such a season with only five actual races,” Lawrence added. “You need to come out of the gate strong and you really can’t afford a bad night, it’s almost impossible to bounce back from them in such a limited race schedule.”
Lawrence was near perfect all season long, losing only a single time all year. His defeat came at the hands of Brandon Watson, the winningest driver in series history. Despite finishing second to Watson in Sauble, the two became fierce on-track rivals and the two main championship favorites.
Each week the pair would battle hard on track, bumping and banging with it all culminating when both drivers crashed across the line on the final lap of the race at Sunset.
“He [Watson] is fast everywhere he goes, even when it seems like he is having a bad day he somehow manages to find his way to the front,” Lawrence said. “It’s really impressive to be able to race against such a strong competitor like Brandon, and come out on top.”
When it was all said and done, Lawrence cleaned house. Scoring a near perfect season with four wins, five top-five finishes and an average finish of 1.2, Lawrence took his very first championship. Becoming the second youngest driver in series history to take home a title, the celebration was subdued due to COVID guidelines but the victory was still sweet nonetheless.
“When the APC Series was started, a goal of mine was just to race in the series not even thinking about wins or championships. Just racing in the series alone was something I wanted to do” Lawrence added. “I can’t believe it actually came true, thanks to APC, Pennzoil for teaming up with me and allowing to achieve this dream of being a part of the APC Series.”
Fresh off the championship year, Lawrence still has some big plans for 2021. Looking to return to the series and possibly become its first ever two-time champion. With the APC Racing Series announcing a tentative schedule plan for 2021, Lawrence is excited to get back racing in the season starts as planned.
“I would love to do the whole series again, that’s all just depending on sponsors.” Lawrence said. “I want to go for another championship, I think it would really cool to become the first two-time champion in the APC Series.”
Jo Lawrence’s quick rise to the top of the APC Racing Series is one of 2020’s greatest motorsports stories. It was anyone’s guess as to who would’ve won the title. With so many fierce competitors in the series, each of them have a shot to win on any given race day.
“The talent level is great,” Lawrence concluded. “You have a group of guys and girls that have the ability to run these tracks and there is a bunch of them that can be at the front at every single race. It’s something a little different and unique compared to your local short track dominators.”
The APC United Late Model Series is set to announce their full 2021 schedule in the coming months, with the series set to race at all of the 2020 tracks plus Delaware and Flamboro. With a roster of talented drivers, fans should expect more of the great racing they have become accustomed to over the years.
-Story by: Alex Gallacher, Speed51 Canadian Correspondent
-Photo credit: APC United Late Model Series Facebook