After a frustrating 2014 season, former Sunset Speedway Ltd. Late Model champion and two-time Peterborough Speedway (ON) Autumn Colours Classic winner Mike Bentley is looking to the APC United Late Model Series as an avenue to return to the top of Ontario’s perennially competitive Late Model scene.
The Guelph, ON native is in need of a bounce back, after a 2014 campaign riddled with DNFs that left the second-generation driver looking far removed from his 2013 Sunset Speedway track championship.
“2014 was a nightmare,” admits Bentley. “We struggled right out of the gate, and it just felt as though we were never able to find our way back to where we wanted to be”
“We’ve had some awesome years as a team, and it’s unrealistic for any driver to think that they aren’t going to go through a slump at some point,” continues Bentley. “I’m not too proud to admit that I struggled last season. But right now, what’s most important is working with the people around me to get our program back to where we know it can be.”
The 26-year old competitor burst onto the provincial scene as a teenager in 2004, directly removed from a successful karting career with the lauded Waterloo Regional Kart Club and worked quickly to establish himself as a rising star in the then veteran-heavy division.
“When Dad and I first put this deal together, there really weren’t that many young guys racing in this division, much less competing for wins,” explains the young veteran. “We essentially built this team from the ground up. It’s been a family affair from the start between myself, my Dad, my Brother and my Uncle.
“It felt like a lifetime of work from the time we unloaded for our first test session to the moment we pulled into victory lane for the first time, but if I could go back and do it all over again I wouldn’t change a thing.”
Over the course of five seasons competing full-time in the Ltd. Late Model division, Bentley earned more large-scale victories than any of his peers. Tallying a pair of victories in Barrie Speedway’s Garry Reynolds Memorial as well as Peterborough’s Autumn Colours Classic, in addition to wins at Sunset Speedway’s Velocity 250 and Flamboro Speedway’s Oktoberfest.
“There was a period of time in which it felt as though we could do no wrong,” offers Bentley. “We settled into a rhythm where we were able to contend for a win and run at the front every night. The fact that we were able to do it with a small-budget team made it that much more special.”
When asked about his disastrous 2014 campaign, it’s clear that ‘Lights Out’ is not looking for excuses.
“We just had a bad year,” states Bentley matter-of-factly. “We were coming off of a championship run in 2013 that took a lot out of us. Financially, mentally and physically we were drained. We had a championship hangover. We hadn’t completely recovered from 2013 by the time we had to go back to work for the 2014 season.”
Though Bentley’s tone takes an upswing when the topic shifts to the 2015 season.
“I’m more focused on getting back on track and putting our program back where it belongs,” smiles Bentley. “It doesn’t matter why you fell down. What matters is how quickly you can get back up.
“We’ll be debuting a brand new Grand American Race Cars chassis this year, and I can’t wait to put our first laps on it,” continues the personable competitor. “I’ve never been this excited for race season.”
For the first time since his 2004 debut, Bentley will not be focusing on a weekly program at a single track. Instead, his Bentley Motorsports effort will travel across the province with the upstart APC United Late Model Series tour. For Bentley, the reduced schedule is a welcomed change.
“When it came time to make a plan for 2015, we knew we wanted to race less,” explains Bentley. “We were hoping to compete in more meaningful races while still finding a way to spend more time at home. The tour gave us the perfect combination of that. We’ve raced close to 60 times in the last two seasons, and were really starting to get burned out.
“It was time to make a change, and I couldn’t have scripted anything better than this APC Tour.”
With the 2014 season in his rearview mirror, it’s clear Bentley is more than ready to write a new chapter in his career.
“This tour has one of the best Late Model rosters I’ve ever seen. Just being a part of this fraternity of racers is going to be a career highlight for us. I feel as though this is the perfect way to remind Ontario of just what we’re capable of. We’ve been working hard on this new car all off-season, and I can say without question that I’m mentally prepared to do whatever it takes to become a champion again.”
Mike ‘Lights Out’ Bentley will return to action for the first time on May 23 when the APC United Late Model Series commences their inaugural season at Sunset Speedway.
-By Spencer Lewis, Speed51.com Regional Editor (West Coast & Canada) – Twitter: @itsspencerlewis
-Photo credit: Dan Little Photography