The Canadian Short Track Nationals established itself as being a great continental event in Late Model racing in just its first running in 2018. It brought both Canadian and American drivers from all over the map to Jukasa Motor Speedway in southern Ontario to compete under Pro Late Model rules for a huge heap of cash.
With an increase to a $300,000 (CAD) purse, with a share of $75,000 going to the winner, the response from race teams has also been on the increase for 2019, with over 70 drivers entered for the 250-lap show on the still freshly renovated 5/8-mile oval.
Participation from Northeastern U.S. teams is also on the up and up, with at least four drivers committed to making the journey northwest this week after Massachusetts driver Derek Ramstrom was lone representative last season. As it so happens, Ramstrom is back on the roster for 2019, looking to improve on a sturdy seventh-place outing.
Even one year later, the Worcester native is still blown away by what he saw when visiting Jukasa, from the quality of the facility to the speeds that he turned on track. Which is saying something, when he calls Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park (CT), another fast 5/8 oval, his home track.
“That’s probably the nicest track I’ve ever been to, honestly. I was blown away by the quality of the facility, just incredible. It’s a hefty payout even if you just finish,” Ramstrom told Speed51. “It puts on a good show, you can run two or three wide the majority of the time. It’s incredibly fast. Everyone’s asked me what it’s compared to, and I think it doesn’t compare to anything. It is its own animal.”
The No. 35 team ended up holding its own last September, finishing seventh after what was then a 200-lap distance, and collecting a nice payout in the process. The result also coming after a battle just to keep his racecar underneath him in the beginning.
“The start of the weekend last year, we struggled tremendously. We were very free on entry and we couldn’t figure out how to deal with it. Then we discovered we had too much stagger, so we dropped the stagger, and the car went from 32nd to 15th in the last practice. It’s a cool place, but it can be tough to figure out.”
Ramstrom has competed just seven times in 2019, but has claimed a major win in the Pro All Stars Series Easter Bunny 150 at Hickory Motor Speedway (NC). After spending the past month in the race shop, the 35 camp is putting all their eggs in one basket, as they look to go beyond their finish in 2018.
“It’s looking good, I’m very excited. I think we’re going to have a good piece and we’ll be a top contender for sure. We’re bringing two cars this year, I got a full team of guys that have been thrashing away at both of them. You don’t have a lot of practice time, which is a little nerve wracking; but at least we got our feet wet last year. It’d be incredible to win, there’s a lot of great runners, but we can do it.”
While Ramstrom has put his recent focus on Jukasa, the other three Northeast drivers can’t say the same, as they are all coming off the prestigious Oxford 250 at Oxford Plains Speedway (ME) this past weekend. Out of all those drivers, Derek Griffith came out with the best result, finishing runner-up in the big race on Sunday night.
Despite a lengthy turn around being crammed into just a few days, LCM Motorsports looks to be ready to pickup where they left off at Oxford.
“We came out of the 250 in pretty good shape,” Griffith said. “We just have to go through the process of putting in a different setup, a lot of work ahead of us. But, we plan on getting out of here on Thursday night.”
The year 2019 has had its moments for the No. 12G team, with Griffith winning four times at a menagerie of race tracks, including a big win at New Smyrna Speedway (FL) to start off the season in February. But most importantly, the two-time Kulwicki Driver Development Program finalist has also been competing well on tracks that have been unkind to him in his young career.
“I talked about it the other night; we won at one of our worst race tracks, New Smyrna, which we’ve had no luck or good runs at. Then to finish second in the Oxford 250, which Oxford is my worst race track of all-time. We got a couple of wins in between that have kind of gotten us on a roll. We’ve gotten better every year and this year it’s shaping up to be the same way. I’m excited to carry the momentum into Jukasa and the rest of the year.”
With plenty of positive vibes backing him, the 2018 PASS National champion feels that he can take on this new challenge with the same excitement he has had since first viewing pictures of Jukasa online.
“I remember seeing pictures when it was being refinished a couple of years ago and thinking it looked like a Cup track. It is so well put together, a nice catchfence, the pavement is all new, and just looked so nice. So I’m looking forward to laying my eyes on it for the first time and getting out of the States, having some fun in Canada racing all those guys from all over.”
Like Griffith, six-time PASS North champion Johnny Clark also came away with a strong performance during the 46th Oxford 250 over the weekend, finishing in the fourth position. While the veteran driver was not as excited about the result, coming up short again after almost 20 years of trying, Clark feels he too has a wave of momentum behind him, and the right people backing him as he heads to Jukasa for the first time.
“I’m just leaning on Port City Racecars for all that info. Shane, who’s been in the shop, was there last year. He’s seen the track and he’s been crew chiefing Mike Hopkins when he’s been in the Port City car at Loudon. Shane thinks the Loudon setup is going to work. So, I’m all in.”
While the Maine driver has competed at the New England’s two big/fast tracks of New Hampshire and Thompson before, he knows that it is no substitute for facing the real thing.
“I’ve never seen the place in person, I’ve seen it on Google Maps, plenty of pictures. I’ve seen what it looks like compared to Thompson and they’re both round, that’s all I can tell from Google Maps. Jukasa seems a little more rounded out, but that’s all I can tell.”
Historically, Clark and his No. 54 team have risen well to new challenges, and he feels that they might just be able to surprise a lot of people come Sunday.
“In the past, we’ve always had good luck going to a new race track and being successful. It’s amazing what they’ve done with that place, and I think everyone should be supporting that track and this race. The owners are putting up a ton of money, and even if you finish in the top ten, you can take home more than a lot of races pay to win. It makes the decision to go well worth it.”
Rounding out the lineup for New England stars is one of the most successful when it comes to going fast on the big tracks. Eddie MacDonald has established a reputation and impressive win total at New Hampshire Motor Speedway over the years, winning 11 times, most recent of which came in July in the PASS portion of the New England Short Track Showdown.
After experiencing mechanical troubles late in the Oxford 250, the No. 17MA squad is going to another car for Jukasa, the same car that won at Loudon in July.
We’re bringing our own Pathfinder car, it’s the same one we won with at New Hampshire,” MacDonald said. “It’s supposed to be big and fast. I’m very excited about it. It’s going to be a tough race, even to just get in, but we’re going to try some new things out and have some fun.”
The Canadian Short Track Nationals has been on the radar for ‘The Outlaw’ since early 2018, but making it to Canada was not in the cards for the team at the time. That has changed in 2019, with MacDonald hitting up a number of races around the country, including the ARCA Midwest Tour Father’s Day 100 at the Milwaukee Mile (WI) and Dixieland 250 at Wisconsin International Raceway, driving Pathfinder house cars.
“It’s fantastic with what they have done with this event and how they keep talking about the plans to keep it growing into the future. I wish we were able to get there last year, get in on it from the start, and learn a lot for this year too. We had a good time out there in Wisconsin, it’s been fun doing some of those races that we normally wouldn’t have the chance to do. It’s been a fun year trying new things and bouncing around to different places.”
Now, the goal is to have fun, and put himself into position for that $75,000 check.
“It would be something else if we can win. But, we’re just going to take it step by step. Hopefully all of us PASS guys can put on a good show for everyone that makes the trip out and is watching back home.”
Those who can’t make the trip will be able to watch the Canadian Short Track Nationals via a live pay-per-view broadcast on Speed51.com. Live video tickets can be purchased today by clicking here.
-Story by: Connor Sullivan, Speed51 Northeast Editor – Twitter: @Connor51CT
-Photo credit: Speed51