Sunset Speedway Late Model Year in Review: Bentley’s Time to Shine
With drivers such as Bentley, Walters, Baker, Witty, Grosman, Zardo, Morrow and Holdaway in the ranks of the Late Model division, Sunset Speedway has been known to stand apart from other tracks with a level of competition above all. With seven different feature winners this year, the competition on track lived up to expectations.
In the end, it was Mike ‘Lights Out’ Bentley taking the crown with two feature wins, 11 top fives and 13 top 10s across the 14 feature races that were run. It marks Bentley’s first championship after finishing second to Tom Walters last year.
Bentley kicked off the season with a win on the first night, showing right away that he’d one of the championship favourites. ‘Stompin’ Tom Walters, who finished second to Bentley in the year end points, started off the first night finishing second in the feature. He would get his chance in victory lane the following week after battling side-by-side with Jason ‘Bam Bam’ Witty for the middle part of the feature. Bentley kept his consistency rolling with a third place finish behind the pair.
While most of the fans focused on the top two most of the year, there were other drivers who took their turn in the spotlight. One of those was Billy ‘Z3’ Zardo who scored his first career Late Model feature victory after pulling a bump-and-run move on Bentley on the last lap. Bentley was also part of the battle for the win on the fourth night of racing in May, though once again found himself coming up short. In a battle that went down right to the finish line, it was Anthony Simone grabbing the win inches ahead of Bentley.
As we closed out the month of May, Bentley held the early advantage with an average finish of 2.25 in the first four features. Walters was right close with Bentley, at a 2.75. Consistency was also already shining through for both Zardo and ‘The Bully’ Dwayne Baker as they had the third and fourth best averages. Baker finished the season third in points while Zardo finished eighth.
Though, let’s not forget – you get points for not only your features, but also your heats. Bentley started the consistency right away there also with three heat wins and eight heat top fives in the first eight heats of the season. For the month of May, he had an best average finish in the heats with a 2.5. Walters, meanwhile, had an average finish of 3.375 in those first eight heats with two wins and seven top fives.
Now Bentley wasn’t the only driver starting off the year on the right note in the heats. Morrow kicked of the season with the same average finish as Bentley in the first eight heats. The difference, though, was Morrow found himself on the bad end of the luck spectrum in the features. He started the year off good with a third, though the bad luck started biting on the second night. He finished 12th on the second night with mechanical issues while finishing 16th on the third night due to being wrecked as the caution came out. He slowed, while Walters did not, causing Morrow to hit the backstretch wall hard. The Morrow boys would make the repairs and make it out for last week, though Morrow would be out of the feature on lap six after contact with Grosman.
Another driver that didn’t start off the year like he would’ve hoped was Witty. The first month saw him suffer two wrecks – the first coming in the first heat of the season – as well as a motor failure. Coming into the year with a brand new McColl chassis, it certainly wasn’t the way the Witty Racing team wanted to kick off 2013. Though as we know, Witty made up for the bad start to the year with six feature wins.
June was the kick off for Witty in that respect as he swept the whole month of racing for the Limited Late Models. He won both 30 lap feature points events, as well as the 75-lap invitational.
Both weeks in the 30 lap features, Witty was able to grab the lead early due to starting up front and hold on to it all the way to the end. The invitational win came together through more excitement than a fan could normally expect to see – or should we say becoming expected with the action during the past couple of years. The below chunk is taken directly from the June Month in Review article.
Walters would take the lead in the first half of the race and pull away, stretching his lead to a straightaway ahead of Bentley before a late race caution on lap 60.
On the restart, Bentley and Walters would be side-by-side for the lead and remain that way till off of turn four on lap 59 as Walters would clear Bentley. Then in turns one and two, there was contact made between the two, resulting in Walters going for a spin to bring out the caution on lap 60. As a result, both Walters and Bentley were sent to the back of the “lead lap” cars for the restart with 15 laps to go. With both cars moved back in line, it’d be Baker taking the lead.
Baker would keep the lead while Walters began to make his way through the lead lap cars, moving into second with five laps to go. The caution would fly shortly after for Mike Brown and Frank Davey wrecking in the corner.
On the restart, Baker and Walters would battle side-by-side for the lead and off of turn four, Walters would pull ahead of Baker. They would come to the line when contact would be made between Walters and Baker, resulting in Walters hitting the front stretch wall. Also collected in the accident was Chris Morrow, who hit the front of Walters’ car.
As a result of the clean-up ahead and the fact rain was moving in, Sunset Speedway officials made the decision to call the race. So who would pick up the win? Officials went back a lap and took the running order, without the involved cars of Morrow, Baker and Walters. Who was in third coming to the restart? Witty.
The moment was a shocker for many of the fans that were watching that night at Sunset Speedway, and those that heard about it in the days to follow. It had many fans thinking that the racing at Sunset would become more testy in the weeks to come with more incidents of this nature. After all, this wasn’t the first incident between Baker and Walters. However, in contrast to what the fans thought, the drivers didn’t find themselves in any more messes in the weeks that followed.
Sunset Speedway track announcer Spencer Lewis actually did a special interview with the pair for his Bench Racing series in which they discussed the rivalry, the incident, their friendship, among other topics.
While Witty, Walters and Baker stole the headlines for the month of June, you had some people following the rule of consistency. One of those drivers was Taylor Holdaway as he had the best heat average finish for June at 2.25 following a fourth, first, third and first. Holdaway wasn’t able to pick up a feature win this past season, however his consistency and continuing to run upfront paid off in the form of a fifth place finish in points.
Another driver who was killer consistant in his heats for the month of June was the ‘Frequent Flyer’ Sean Grosman as he had a fifth, fourth, first and third for an average of 3.25. Consistency also paid off for Grosman as he finished sixth in the season ending standings. While June wasn’t friendly to Grosman in the form of the features (14th and 21st), he was able to get some luck in the features later on in the year for a feature win.
While June had its excitement, July also had its own dose of excitement as well. The month started off with a three-wide finish to the Late Model feature with Zardo grabbing his second feature win of the season ahead of Scott Beatty and Grosman. Walters grabbed his second feature win of the season the following week after taking the lead from Morrow on a late race restart. Witty capped off the month with his third feature win of the season after leading all 30 laps of the feature.
While you didn’t hear about him that much at the end of the features, Bentley kept his consistency going as he continued to rack in the finishes. He finished third, eighth and third in the three features that were ran while having the best heat average finish at a 2.25.
Speaking of the heat racing, there was one heat race that was ran that belongs on the highlights of the year list. For the majority of the 10 lap heat, Witty, Holdaway and Morrow would three-wide for the lead, swapping lanes at times. The end result saw Witty pick up the win ahead of Holdaway while Morrow had a mechanical issue take him out of the running on the last lap.
Now it’d be rude to not mention this for the month of July with respect to the championship picture. Two championship favourites – Baker and Walters – ran into the problems as the month closed.
Bake suffered a motor failure at the end of one of the features, driving the chassis that he drove to a championship at Barrie Speedway last year. With that, Baker made the switch to his back-up chassis, which is a brand new Port City Chassis. Meanwhile, Walters took a points hit as contact with Holdaway early in the second feature of the month took him out of the running for a top five finish.
Though as previously mentioned, Baker finished third in points and Walters finished second in points so both drivers were able to bounce back.
Walters begin getting his year back on track right away at the beginning of August as he won the first feature after inheriting the lead following an incident between Bentley and Witty. By the way, Walters made that weekend a sweep as he won the Dilley Dog 75 invitational the next day.
Bentley bounced back from his poor finish a week later as he won on August 11th for his second feature win of the year. Bentley won the feature, by the way, with a last lap pass on Witty.
Baker became the sixth different winner of the season when he would take the lead from Zardo with 15 laps to go and held on the rest of the way. The seventh different winner of the season came in the form of Sean Grosman after he was able to hold off Holdaway in the final laps.
The final feature of the month of August saw Witty return to victory lane after missing a week due to damage from a wreck in a heat on August 18th. Witty’s feature win featured a great battle with Morrow. Witty had taken the lead on the opening lap of the feature and led all the way till a late caution with three laps to go. On the restart, Witty and Morrow ran side-by-side all the way till the caution flew on lap 28 for a piece of debris in turn four. Morrow had the edge on Witty so he would restart on the inside as the leader with Witty to his outside. On the restart, Morrow and Witty battled side-by-side for the lead once again with Witty getting a run off of turn two on the outside on the last lap to take the lead.
Beyond the exciting features as mentioned above, we also had two other exciting memorable moments.
In the third heat run on August 31st, Kamrath edged out Baker to take the win. But we’ve had lots of close finishes – this is on the list for another reason. About halfway through the heat, contact was made between the two, resulting in them both sliding completely sideways through turns one and two. Both drivers managed to get their cars back straight and keep their top two positions. Now that’s what I call driving.
Also, on August 31st, history was made at Sunset Speedway when Gary Elliott made his 2500th career start. Imagine running 2500 heats and features across your career. Amazing, eh?
In looking at the championship picture, Bentley was a man of consistency as he had an average finish of second across his 10 heats. He had six wins, a second, a third, a fourth and a fifth. Bentley had the same consistency in the features with a ninth, a win, fifth, sixth and a third. Going into the final month of racing, Bentley led Walters by only 13 points.
The first race for the month of September would be rained out, letting the battle between the two drivers go down to the final night on September 14th.
At the front of the field, it would be Jason Witty taking the lead with eight laps to go and not looking back as he would go on to grab the victory. In the flip side for the battle for the championship, it’d be Mike Bentley finishing fifth and winning his first championship, 13 points ahead of Walters. Walters would finish off the final night, finishing second to Bentley in the feature.
Sunset Speedway Drivers Dominate Playoff Season
Beyond the high caliber of racing at their own track, the drivers took it on the road for the unofficial short track playoff season.
Dwayne Baker kicked off the dominance with his first Garry Reynolds Memorial win. Mike Bentley had won it the previous two years, though settled for second this year after Baker got by him for the lead with 18 laps to go. It was an all-Sunset Speedway top three as Taylor Holdaway finished third.
Then the following week at Velocity 250, everybody got the witness one of the best performances by Tom Walters. Walters missed qualifying Saturday for the Velocity due to being inducted into the Canadian Motorsports Hall of Fame. He would show up on feature Sunday, starting 11th in the B-Main. He would avoid trouble early and work his way through the field to the lead with three to go to take the win. That would set him up to start 19th in the feature. Walters would then carefully work his way through the field of drivers, moving into third before lap 30. Walters then got by Morrow on the lap 30 restart to move into second behind Baker.
Walters completed his move through the field with a pass on Baker for the lead with 39 laps to go. The win marks the second Velocity 250 win for Walters after winning the inaugural event in 2010. Each year a Sunset driver has won the event as Sean Cronan won it in 2011 and Bentley won it in 2012.
Dwayne Baker finished second followed by Jason Witty, Scott Beatty, Mike Bentley and Taylor Holdaway.
When it came to the Autumn Colours Classic at Peterborough Speedway, the dominance continued. Tom Walters led some of the 75 lap Limited Late Model feature, before being passed for the lead by Peterborough competitor Chris Mitchell. Mitchell wouldn’t end up winning as Baker would slip by with three laps to go to take the win. The win for Baker marks his second straight in the event. Taylor Holdaway made it back to finish third despite an early race spin.
When it came to the Pro Late Model 113 lap feature, Mike Bentley would start pole after winning both of his heats and led flag-to-flag on to way to winning the event for the second year in a row.
With such a successful season in 2013 in more ways than one, it can only lead to an even stronger 2014 season. Rumors swirl about who will be in the mix, but you can expect the same faces to be in the running while the competition remains bar none.
To see more photos from this past season, check out http://racinginformative.com/photos.html.