Sunset Speedway Late Model 2012 Season in Review: Walters Scores 30th Championship
I said early in the season there was more drama then a daytime soap opera...and it continued all the way through. I'm very much looking forward to the season in review articles. There's so much to write, you could be working on them till the start of the 2013 season – Kyle Sedan
When it came time for putting together this classic yearly piece of writing, it was Kyle Sedan who commented with that lovely comment. Those wonderful words now haunt my mind as I review the whole season in perspective.
Sedan hit the nail on the head when he said it’s like a daytime soap opera. We had the wrecks, the feuds, the great racing right to the last minute on the last lap and some winning, positive moments to remember. Heck, once we had 21 cautions the debate of “who is the winner?” in the first 120 feature laps of the season, we knew that it’d be a crazy year.
So without further ado, why don’t we get into these characters from this year’s big storylines……..
Championship Battle: Walters, Bentley and Cornelius
At the end of the year, the top three in points were three of the top drivers in Late Model racing across Ontario. Each of them had credibility to their name coming into the season and they were three of the drivers that people had on their list of contenders.
As many know, at the end of the year, it was Tom Walters taking the championship for his 30th. 2012 Gary Reynolds Memorial winner Mike Bentley finished second with 2011 Late Model Champion Kevin Cornelius third.
Bentley had the toughest battle of the three with one of the most up and down roller coaster seasons that has ever been witnessed at Sunset. It all started on night No. 1 after the car was heavily damaged after Bentley spun in Gary Elliott’s oil. The damage was so severe that Bentley ended up purchasing a new car, the same car that Walters drove to second in points in 2011. That first night put Bentley in a hole as Cornelius won the feature with Walters second.
Bentley’s hole would deepen following an 11th place finish on the second night of racing. However, that is just the tip of the iceberg as this would be one of the most memorable nights of the year, just because the winner wasn’t officially declared till the Tuesday night after the race.
Coming out off of turn four heading to the checkered, contact between Bentley and Chris Morrow for the lead would put Morrow into the outside front stretch wall, collecting Cornelius. The caution was thrown just before the cars crossed the finish line and after a couple days of debate, Tony Tiemersma, who was running fourth, was declared the winner with Morrow finishing 11th, Bentley 12th and Cornelius 13th.
Walters also didn’t fare well this night either as he would go for a late race spin, though still managed a top 10 finish. That was the secret to Walters’ season as he was consistent from top to bottom, with a top 10 in every feature throughout the season.
Bentley would begin to climb out of his hole with a win on the third night of racing, with Cornelius finishing second and Walters finishing fifth.
However, as previously mentioned, Bentley’s year was full of ups and downs and just as everybody thought it was turned around, it would take another hit on May 26th. While racing side-by-side for the lead with Cornelius late in the race, Bentley was given the black flag under a late race caution with two laps to go due to the right side fender flapping in the breeze as a result of coming loose due a flat tire earlier in the feature. As a result, it was a 13th place finish for the Bentley Motorsports driver.
The fans, though, saw a great finish to the feature as the final two laps would see Cornelius and Walters run side-by-side for the lead with Cornelius beating Walters at the line by inches.
Bentley would look to start gaining points in the month of June. However, with two nights rained out due to rain and a scheduled off night, there’d be only one night of racing counting – June 23rd. Bentley would make the most of it, taking the win.
July started off well for the three as Bentley finished second with Walters fourth and Cornelius fifth. Bentley would knock off his second feature victory on July 14th with Cornelius second and Walters third, keeping the points close. Walters would then take his first regular night feature victory of the season on July 21st with Bentley second. However, Cornelius would finish 18th after coming down pit road on the opening lap of the feature due to a mechanical problem. Keeping the wins in the champions group, Bentley would take the victory on July 28th with Walters second. Cornelius, however, would suffer another poor finish, finishing 14th after an on-track incident with Sean Grosman.
Cornelius would return to victory lane on August 4th in remarkable fashion, taking the feature victory, 0.018 seconds ahead of Mike Bentley at the line. It marks the closest ever finish in Sunset Speedway history since electronic scoring was implemented. Walters would finish ninth after contact on lap 12 with Sean Grosman and Scott Beatty.
Walters would fail to finish in the top five that night, though kept the top 10 consistancy going. He would kick the consistency back into high gear the following week, finishing second to teammate Grosman. Cornelius finished fourth while Bentley finished outside of the top five. Meanwhile, Bentley finished 15th after some damage due to contact with Walters. This is where the battle between the pair would go to a new level, with some controversy and debate following in some non-regular night racing.
Dramatic Finish Verse No. 3 would take place on the last weekend in August as it’d be Taylor Holdaway beating Mike Bentley at the line by inches after battling side-by-side for the final three laps. Cornelius and Walters both battled back to finish third and fifth after being involved in an incident during the feature.
Bentley would find his way to victory lane on September 1st while Walters finished second with Cornelius seventh.
On the final night of the season, Walters would cap off his championship season in style with a victory. Bentley would not have the feature he wanted, finishing 11th following a flat tire mid-race after contact with Frank Davey while Cornelius finished eighth.
While those three seemed to be the stars of the soap opera that we call our 2012 season, there were certainly supporting storylines to keep the fans entertained.
Consistancy……..For Walters, it was his 14 top 10s in 14 feature races that won him the championship. However, he wasn’t the only driver who was consistant in 2012. Both Taylor Holdaway and Sean Cronan scored 12 top 10s in 14 features on the way to finishing fourth and fifth in points, respectively.
Holdaway’s finishes outside of the top 10 came during the first five races of the season. Holdaway would pull off a feature victory at the end of August, scoring the win just inches ahead of Mike Bentley.
Meanwhile, Cronan kept his consistency going all the way till the final two nights, where he finished 11th and 14th. The consistency for Cronan would not an easy feat as his Cronan Motorsports team would be tested throughout the year. Cronan would get wrecked during the M.R.E Pro Series race on July 11th, yet still got the car fixed for July 14th and finished ninth. Then the following week, he would blow the motor in practice. With the help of some other teams, Cronan was able to get another motor in the car and have it ready for the first qualifying heat of the night, finishing fifth in the feature.
Gary Elliott makes the move to Sunset……Gary Elliott made the decision to make the move to Sunset Speedway, which was a move supported by many. Elliott had a mixed bag of luck this season, scoring three top fives and nine top 10s in 14 feature races. As many recall, the year didn’t start off the way Elliott had a mechanical failure on the first night, and then the car got destroyed during a M.R.E Pro Series race on May 27th. Elliott’s team would get the car together for June and in the only night that counted, Elliott would score his first heat win of the season. He’d have a solid middle part of the year, though ended the year off on a bad night with a blown motor during the heats on the final night.
‘New Car Blues’ turn into success…..At the beginning of the year, Sean Grosman bought a new car for the 2012 season. The first half of the season would see Grosman go through the ‘new car blues’ with some not so great finishes. However, he sorted the car out and scored the feature victory on August 11th, setting up a great finish to the season for the Florida driver.
Making 2012 better than 2011…… Experience always help as sophomore driver Billy Zardo put his lessons to use, scoring four straight top 10 finishes to start the year, including a fourth on the second night. However, the year would not be perfect as he would have some trying nights with some more wrecks.
Lane makes start No. 1……..2011 Super Stock Track Champion Lane Zardo would make his first ever career Late Model start on July 28th and would impress, finishing third in both of his heats and ninth in the feature.
If it could happen, it did……..That’s the theme of the season if you ask Chris Morrow. He seemed to have the most variety of random things happen to him throughout the course of season, taking the seven-time champion out of contention. Right out of the gate, the season started off not so well with Morrow only able to complete seven laps before pulling off due to a mechanical problem. Then as previously mentioned, Morrow suffered heavy damage following a last lap incident with Bentley. The result would be Morrow missing the third night of racing just due to the damage being as bad as it was. Morrow did try to make the best out of that opening month with a fourth to close out May.
June would not get any better for Morrow as he would suffer a blown motor on June 23rd.
July would have its good moment for Morrow as he would win the opening feature of the night, though it wouldn’t result in a change of wave totally as he would get destroyed during the July 11th M.R.E Pro Series event. As a result, Morrow missed a couple of nights once again.
August wouldn’t start off any much better, following back-to-back mechanical problems to start off the month. However, he finished sixth on August 25th.
Bad Luck……..A bunch of drivers were bit by the bad luck bug at times during the season. One of the memorable ones not mentioned to this point is Scott Beatty on the opening night. In pre-season testing, he looked strong and a possible championship threat. However, a wreck on the second night would damage the front end of his car heavily, resulting in Beatty missing some nights. He would come back on June 23rd, though found himself wrecked again on July 7th after Ernie Fumerton had a mechanical failure. He would then suffer a poor finish in August following contact with Walters and Grosman, though closed out August with a fifth and a fourth.
So what did we learn in 2012? Well, let’s see……
- Tom Walters still knows how to get it done and certainly deserves a spot in the Hall of Fame
- Mike Bentley looks to be the next Tom Walters with his aggressive driving style and could easily pick up a bunch of a championships over the next five years with how strong he is each week
- Taylor Holdaway could easily find himself in the battle for 2013 champion if he starts off the season the way he ended it
- Consistency is the key as played out by many drivers this year.
- Chris Morrow needs to find a horseshoe or rabbit’s foot in the off-season
- Racing is better than any soap opera as it has more stories to tell than you can sometimes believe…..
So all I have to ask is this – which of the moments listed was your favorite moment of the season?