Sports

Mod lite racers complete series, about seven months later

By Bernd Franke, Postmedia Network

Winged sprint cars, so light they must be pushed by ATVs because they don't have starters, are featured on Saturday's racing program at Merrittville Speedway in Thorold. BERND FRANKE/Postmedia Network

Winged sprint cars, so light they must be pushed by ATVs because they don't have starters, are featured on Saturday's racing program at Merrittville Speedway in Thorold. BERND FRANKE/Postmedia Network

It’s been a long 24 hours — and counting — for drivers in the mod lite racing class at Merrittville Speedway.

 

How long you ask?

Oh, try about seven months. Yes, months.

That’s how much time will have elapsed been between the opening feature of the TUSA Canadian National Weekend and the $1,200-to-win finale.

Paul Klager, the Beamsville Bullet, paced a competitive field across the finish line to open the two-race series Friday, Sept. 2.

Round 2 was slated for the following night, but rain washed out the program and postponed the finale to this Saturday.

Weather permitting, of course.

Action in the entry class for open-wheel racing is among the highlights of a 2017 Spring Sizzler that features the Patriot Sprint Tour’s first visit to the Thorold track this year. Drivers in sportman and 358 modified, the speedway’s premier division, also will be going to the green in a show that gets underway with qualifiers at 7 p.m.

Sprint cars, the winged wonders of the dirt track racing circuit, don’t normally race at Merrittville, but the speedway’s D-shaped, 3/8-mile clay is anything but foreign soil to many drivers in the class. Jason Barney won last year’s tour opener in Thorold and Dylan Westbrook visited victory lane on the same night as Klager,

At last weekend’s test and tune Westbrook was among the sprint car drivers taking advantage of an early opportunity to try out the track. Jimmy Huppenen, Glenn Styres and the Turners – Jamie, Ryan and Cory – also attended the test and tune.

In addition to Barney, previous Patriot Sprint Tour winners at Merrittville include Bryan Howland, Scott Kreutter and Steve Poirier.

Jared Zimbardi, the 2016 overall champion, won his third career Patriot Sprint Tour Canadian championship last year. He is expected to be challenged this season by, among others, Mitch Brown, Kyle Drum, Paul Habek, Pete Richardson, Darryl Ruggles, Jordan Thomas and Joe Trenca.

The 2017 Spring Sizzler is being presented by Peters Excavating.

Two other sprint car events are on this year’s shedule at the Thorold track. The Empire Super Sprints visit June 24 and the Southern Ontario Sprints will be pitside for the season finale Sept. 9.

Pits for Saturday’s program open at 5 p.m., the grandstand at 5:30 p.m. with the program scheduled to start at 7 p.m.

Weekly racing in all five regular divisions – 358 modified, sportsman, mod lite, Hoosier stocks, mini stocks – gets underway Saturday, April 29, when Merrittville officially opens its 66th season.

Pete Bicknell, St. Catharines, 358 modified; Cody McPherson, St. Catharines, sportsman; Trevor Wright, novice sportsman; Josh Sliter, Ridgeway; mod lite; Dave Bailey, Hagersville, Hoosier stocks; and Tyler Lafantaisie, Welland, mini stocks; paced their divisions in points last season,

All of them, including Lafantaisie, are back to defend their championships. In addition to racing 4-cylinders in the mini stock class, Lafantaisie intends to compete in Hoosier stocks, the speedway’s 8-cylinder division.

Track tidbits: Raceline Radio Network and Merrittville Speedway have renewed a marketing and advertising partnership. Raceline Radio, which this year is celebrating its 25th season, is heard locally on News Talk 610 CKTB in St. Catharines Sunday a 9 p.m. and Saturday at 4 p.m. … Merrittville karting program graduate Joey Mastroinni of Welland sold his sportsman car during the off-season and is succeeding Jeff Riley as kart race director after three seasons as starter. Taking over as starter is Chris Watson of Niagara Falls, a former karter and a veteran of the mod lite class … In compliance with the Smoke-free Ontario Act and Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario Guidelines, smoking is now prohibited inside the fenced grandstand area. Smoking will still be permitted in the parking lot and pit area … Bobcat of Hamilton Ltd. is sponsoring the weekly racing series at the track this season.

bfranke@postmedia.com