Five students from the University of Saskatchewan spend their free time in the summer pursing a unique hobby. Ryan Fredrickson, Matt Shirley, Andrew Hardy, Chelsey Wilson and Audra Cooper all race competitively at Auto Clearing Motor Speedway.
The racing season at Auto Clearing runs from late May until the end of September with races happening almost every week throughout. While primarily racing for cash prizes, the U of S students also have the chance to qualify for bigger, more prestigious events.
Wilson is the driver of car #13 in the Legends series and her remarkable season has led her to qualify for the national competition in Las Vegas, Nev. on Oct. 16–18. How she pulled it off was even more impressive. She was involved in a crash early on in the race on Sept. 20 and found herself in 21st place, but managed to work her way back up the pack to finish in fourth, qualifying for nationals.
Wilson, who has a bachelor of education and is currently doing her internship in Spiritwood, Sask., grew up around the track.
“My dad raced street stock for over 30 years and when I was 12, I started to race go-karts… I raced go-karts around the world for eight years until I moved up the Legends division and this is now my fifth year in Legends,” Wilson said. “I just love racing, I love the close competition and the adrenaline rush. There isn’t a race day that I don’t get butterflies.”
Legends series cars are 5/8th scale versions of historic NASCAR models from the 1930s and 40s. The championship in Las Vegas will feature 150 of the best drivers from all over North America. There will be the semi-pro, pro and masters divisions, each with their own champion to be crowned. Wilson will be racing in the pro division.
“I started in semi-pro and then won the semi-pro Saskatchewan championship in 2012 and moved up to pro. I’m just really excited,” Wilson said.
Shirley drives car #12 in the Sportsman series. Sportsman series cars closely resembles the cars in the NASCAR Canadian Tire Series which are similar to production cars.
Shirley said his season went way better than he had expected. He won the first and last feature races of the season to earn the championship for most points, as well as a trophy for the most feature wins this year. Following a tough day when a mechanical error caused him to finish near the bottom, Shirley bounced back for one of his favourite memories of the season.
“Whenever we face adversity our team thrives. The next race day we won the heat, the qualifier and the feature race. It was the first time I have ever swept an entire race day. We also started a new tradition that day. I decided to give away the [checkered] flag to a little kid because it would mean so much to him,” he said. “So every feature we won after that we would stop by the finish line and give away our checkered flag.”
Shirley’s goal at the very beginning of the season as to finish in the top three in the Always Towing Windchill 100 — a very competitive race that features the sportsman division, the pro trucks as well as the street stock cars. The winner took home a prize of $5,000.
“Sadly, I was racing a veteran and he took it personally when I used the bumper and wrecked us both with just four laps left. We were battling for second place at the time and both had a shot at the five grand. Racing is racing though, and you will have some people who dish it out but can’t take it,” Shirley said.
Shirley also wanted to thank his sponsors because without them he wouldn’t be where he is today.
“Saskatoon Co-op, 92.9 the Bull, OK Tire, Cervus Collision, Shirley Service, Point Optical, Al Kraus, Hallmark Realty and Sharp Auto Trim all have helped my dream of becoming a race car driver a reality.”
It was an up and down season for Hardy, the driver of the #15 in the pro truck division. He tied for the most feature wins in the division with two, but those would be the only two races he finished all year.
“We had a lot of mechanical problems all season,” Hardy said. “We blew up an engine, blew up a rear end, bad hubs, transmission, clutch, pretty much everything. We had some major changes this year and I guess our racecar didn’t really like it.”
Hardy had two other chances to win features but both times his truck failed him while he was leading late in the race. Racing since he was 14 years old, he started at the youngest you can possibly be to race at Auto Clearing Motor Speedway.
The second year engineering student wants to design racecars for a living.
“I’m in engineering to hopefully go to [Street Racing and Technology] and design Vipers for them, that’s my goal,” he said.
For most of the students the 2014 racing season is over, but all said they would be back next year to continue racing. Check them out at Auto Clearing Motor Speedway next summer; the majority of races take place on Saturday beginning in May and going right to the end of September.