The 2023 APC Untied Racing Series presented by Castrol and Grisdale Racing Enterprises wrapped up another tremendous season as part of the Great Canadian Race Weekend at Delaware Speedway Saturday night. The title race saw a record seven drivers enter the 200- lap finale with a mathematical shot at hoisting the crown at the end of the night in a season that also saw a record tying seven different winners on the year to date, matching a 2021 mark.
Sophomore sensation Kyle Steckly held a slim five-point margin over Jo Lawrence, as 31 of the top Pro Late Models invaded the 1⁄2-mile. Jake Sheridan showed up 10 points behind, with J.R. Fitzpatrick 12 points in arrears. Josh Stade, Danny Benedict, and Shae Gemmel were still eligible, but between the points they had to make up, and the number of drivers they would have to pass, their chances all ranged in miracle territory.
There was also the matter of the brand-new NTN Triple Crown Series – the series within the series – and the Great Canadian 200 was the final leg of the championship, which included longer distance races earlier in the season at Sunset Speedway and Sauble Speedway. The standings for this title were even closer than the actual championship, as Steckly and Benedict were tied, with Fitzpatrick one point back, and the top-six drivers within three points.
Lawrence went out late in the time trial session and blistered a qualifying lap of 18.111 seconds to win the Epic pole and coming less than 2/10ths off the track record. For Lawrence, after a number of second-place qualifying efforts this year, it was his first fast time award of the season, and eighth of his career.
Rookie Chase Pinnsonneault wound up second, with Sheridan, Steckly, and Stade rounding out the top- five. After the top-ten were handicapped, Gemmel was on the front row, with Stade alongside him. Fitzpatrick and Sheridan occupied row two, and Lawrence and Steckly were in row three.
Gemmel led lap one, before Stade poked a nose out front on lap two. Gemmel then took control, but a lap seven yellow slowed the pace. Shortly after the restart, Steckly took control for a few laps, and picked up a bonus point for leading a lap. Fitzpatrick took over on lap 16 and led right until the second yellow on lap 47. The next few restarts looked much the same, as Steckly was able to grab the lead for a few laps only to watch Fitzpatrick cruise on by and start to walk away.
A few yellows would slow the first half of the race, and Fitzpatrick, Steckly, Gemmel, 2023 Delaware Late Model champion Connor Pritiko, and Jesse Kennedy were the top-five as the field rolled to pit road for the halfway fuel break.
The field would get back underway and ran until a lap 140 yellow flag that would see a number of the leaders it for fresh ties, and flip the field, as cars who had pitted in the first half of the event for their fresh times filtered to the front.
This put 2022 Delaware Late Model champion Ray Morneau on the point, with two-time series champ Brandon Watson on the leaderboard for the first time all night in second. Lawrence had also pitted earlier and was third, with Sheridan, and Benidict rounding out the top-five.
Fitzpatrick restarted in 15th when the field went green this time and caught a break as the inside row didn’t get going and was up to sixth on the next restart, while Morneau and Watson were waging a war for the lead. Fitzpatrick kept pressing forward, and was third on the last restart, with much fresher tires than both Moreau and Watson, the pair were no match for the raw speed of J.R. on the night. He swiftly worked past them both and cruised to his second career win in the Great Canadian race, and 12th career victory, good enough for second overall in series history.
Fitzpatrick had goals for the final night of the year, saying, “We wanted to win the race and the NTN Triple Crown championship, and knew that we needed some really big breaks to have a shot at the title, and I would never wish other guys have problems, but we needed that to happen to win the title.”
The finish also propelled Fitzpatrick back to third in the championship standings, and continued, “This car just works so well – none of them are built the exact same – and this one works. I picked the outside lane after we took our yellows, and it really made it so much easier because the inside row didn’t go, and we picked up so many spots there, but I’m not sure it would have mattered, this thing was just so bad fast. It was a blast to race with Kyle at the start of the race. We were close and worked together to both stay up front. I love racing at Delaware and it’s always awesome to get to victory lane here. The NTN Series has been a great addition. I really like the longer races, and we were able to have three good runs in those long races, which was enough to win the title.”
Morneau was able to use his early pit stop strategy to get track position when the other leaders pitted and brought his ride home second when the checkers fell.
Ray spoke about his night, “My dad made a killer call to pit early when we did. If we didn’t do that I don’t know if we would have every got track position. The cars are just so close and so tough to pass. I saved the tires the best I could after we pitted early, and tried to have as much rubber left as I could for the end. We got used up a bit on a couple of the restarts, and I don’t think we had anything for J.R., he was so fast, but I’m so proud out our guys, that works out of our little shop, and to run like this against some of these teams is great for us. If we walked out of here with a top-ten at the end of the weekend, I would’ve been happy, but the call my crew made got us our first podium finish.”
Lawrence was strong throughout the night and battled inside the top-five for most of the evening, but just didn’t have enough speed to match the eventual winter. A bronze medal was all the championship contender could muster on the night, ending up three points short of Steckly in the championship chase.
Jo was still all smiles after the race, “We raised money for this car this year renting out other race cars for customers to drive to fund our team before we had a couple of companies come on to help out mid- season. I’m so proud of our team and what we did with what we had. Our team that comes out every night as a bunch of family and friends who like hanging out together and have some fun racing. We did that all season. If it wasn’t for the broken motor at Sauble Speedway in August, it would be a different story, but we qualified with the fast time today, finished on the podium again tonight, posted top-five’s all seasons long, and just came up a little short in the title race to Kyle who is one heck of a competitor.
It was a blast to race against him for the championship all year – you just can’t win them all.”
Sheridan wound up fourth, and finished fourth in the championship standings, while Steckly came home fifth wrap up the championship in just his second year.
Steckly talked about the execution of his plan, “I kept track of where the #78 [Lawrence] was. I think in the first half of the race I had a car as good as J.R.’s. I was able to get him on a few restarts and then he got by me, but again, I wasn’t going to race anyone hard, because as the point leader we had so much to lose. In the second half of the race, it was a little tougher to be conservative, because we were back in traffic, but I was still keeping track of the #78 and keeping the car out of trouble. The crew gave me a great car, and this was a championship for our entire team, and to do something like this in my second season is pretty cool. I was a little nervous this week leading up to the race, but everything worked out tonight. I’ve had a great opportunity to race for wins and a championship – it’s pretty awesome.”
Pritiko came home sixth, while Cayden Lapcevich finished seventh. NASCAR driver Noah Gregson was also in town for the weekend racing and took his ride to an eighth-place finish, while former multiple time Great Canadian winner Andrew Gressel was ninth. Stade rounded up the top-ten and scored enough points to remain in the top-five in the championship standings.
ABOUT UNITED RACING SERIES: The United Racing Series debuted in 2015, and immediately drew attention from around the province with the formation of the APC United Late Model Series. Fans, drivers, and sponsors alike were left wanting more after a wildly successful inaugural season that saw the championship battle come down to the final laps. The series that took Ontario by storm has continued to grow for years and has brought Late Model racing in Ontario to what it truly should be. The United Racing Series is also the home of the Qwick Wick Super Stock Series and the OSCAAR Modified and Hot Rod Series. The goal of the United Racing Series continues to bring out top talent and create a racing atmosphere that is one of a kind. www.apcracingseries.com .
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