18 Jan CMHF MEMBERS WERE BUSY DURING THE 2020 NASCAR PINTY’S SERIES ‘FANCAVE CHALLENGE’ SEASON
By Bryce Turner
As Ontario gradually reopened this past summer, the NASCAR Pinty’s Series (NPS) returned with a shortened season of six 125-lap races, held over three late-summer weekends, at three Ontario short tracks.
The races were run without spectators and there was no official champion, in the traditional full-season sense. The races were broadcast on TSN and RDS. In the end, veteran driver Jason Hathaway won three events en route to being crowned the champion of the unique Pinty’s FanCave Challenge.
As Canada’s national stock car championship, it’s only logical that NASCAR Pinty’s Series racers and team members are well-represented in the Canadian Motorsport Hall of Fame (CMHF).
In all, six inductees took part in the shortened NPS season. Here’s an update on how they did.
D.J. & DOUG KENNINGTON
Two-time NPS champion D.J. Kennington returned to the track in 2020, once again joining forces with his father and team co-owner Doug Kennington, a 2004 CMHF inductee.
D.J. was consistent in FanCave Challenge action, with three fourth-place finishes in six races, while continuing his record of competing in every NPS race since the series started in 2007.
He finished the year with a race victory at Jukasa Motor Speedway, his first in the series since 2018. The #17 Dodge team finished third in the standings, 18 points behind Jason Hathaway.
“It was actually a really solid season for our Castrol Edge Dodge,” said the younger Kennington. “(I’m) not going to complain. We got back in Victory Lane and ran solid pretty much every race. The way the year was – and the way it’s such a different situation – we’ll take it and run with it.”
Kennington is a 2017 CMHF inductee. “To be recognized for the stuff you’ve done in motorsports is great for me and my family,” he said. “To be in there with my dad is awesome. He’s my hero and he’s done everything for me to get me to where I am today.”
Four-time NPS champion Scott Steckly fielded two cars out of his 22 Racing stable, in 2020.
In the opening two races, Steckly tabbed 16-year-old Treyten Lapcevich to make his series debut, subbing for Alex Tagliani in the #18 Chevrolet at Sunset Speedway.
Lapcevich finished second in a wild Race 1, before finishing fourth in Race 2. Tagliani returned to the car for the remainder of the season, while J.R. Fitzpatrick joined 22 Racing to run the #24 Chevrolet in the final four events, his first races in the series since 2014.
Steckly’s #18 team finished fifth in the owner standings, while the #24 finished 13th.
“It was a very hard year for 22 Racing because there were so many unknowns, so we were trying to get our own sponsorship, get our own drivers, so we could come up with a plan,” said Steckly. “It worked out good; we did a deal with Treyten Lapcevich, so that was positive. We did a PartyCasino deal and got J.R. to drive, so that was all good for 22 Racing.”
Steckly is a 2017 CMHF inductee. “It’s pretty amazing to have my name along with all the other people (who) are in the CMHF, it’s definitely an honour,” he said. “We have great people: sponsors, friends, crew members. There are hundreds of people that allowed me to win races and get to the point where I could be in the Hall of Fame.”
DON THOMSON JR.
Five-time CASCAR Super Series (National) champion and 2014 CMHF inductee Don Thomson Jr. returned for his fifth season as crew chief for perennial NPS contender Kevin Lacroix.
Thomson’s time as a NPS crew chief started in 2012, after stepping away from driving duties. With the #74 Dodge, his team contended for the year-end points title throughout 2020, wrecking while battling for the win in the season opener before finishing the year with five top-five finishes, including a win at Flamboro Speedway.
The victory marked Thomson’s 16th as a crew chief. The team finished runner-up in the standings, 14 points back of Hathaway.
NPS team owner Ed Hakonson fielded a four-car effort in the shortened season, with the #33 of Brett Taylor, #8 of Connor James and #92 of Dexter Stacey joining his flagship #3 team, with his son-in-law, Jason Hathaway, behind the wheel.
EHR / Team 3 Orange entered the year with momentum, winning three of the last five races in 2019. In 2020, it was Hathaway leading the charge. After wrecking while battling for the win in the season opener, the team recorded three wins and five podiums in the final five races, winning the points title for the first time. Hathaway led 52% of the laps that were run during the entire season. And his average finish, in the six races, was 2.8.
“It was an incredible year,” said Hakonson. “With an absolutely great ‘shop crew’ headed up by Gary Mead. Jeff Thomas set up our race cars to handle superbly and Jason responded with up-front racing, from the start. After 22 years in this series as an owner, it was truly an exhilarating experience to have the winning #3 team finally receive their earned rewards.”
Hakonson was part of the 2019 CMHF class, inducted last February during the Canadian International AutoShow. “To become a member of the CMHF was nothing short of a milestone in my life,” he said. “I am very proud to be part of such an exciting and elite group of people. It was like winning a very exciting race when you really hoped you wouldn’t let anyone down… and you didn’t!”
Nine-time NPS race winner Alex Tagliani returned to his familiar #18 Chevrolet, with 22 Racing, in 2020. Despite winning the series’ two previous races at Sunset Speedway, Tagliani missed the first two events of the season for a NASCAR opportunity south of the border, where he finished 22nd in the NASCAR Truck Series at the Daytona International Speedway road course.
Back in Canada, Tagliani ran the final four NPS races, recording two top-fives and an average finish of 7.2. That average was hurt by a DNF in the penultimate round at Jukasa Motor Speedway, where the car experienced handling issues.
“Last year (2020) was really good for us because we managed to make some improvements,” said Tagliani, noting the adjustment the team needed to make with their oval setups after last season’s change to a new tire.
“At the beginning of (this) season, we said we were going to use those races to be able to get ourselves into a very good position, and we managed that.”
Tagliani is a 2014 CMHF inductee. “When I got inducted and I got recognized for my accomplishments in racing and my contributions to the sport in general, I was really happy and I was really happy for everybody else,” he said.
“It was a way of saying thank you to everybody (who) got involved in my career… it’s something I really appreciate, something that I’m glad that we have in Canada.”
Not included in this update are two soon-to-be CMHF members, two-time NPS champion L.P. Dumoulin and NPS team owner Jim Bray, who were also in action, in 2020.