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Weekly Notebook presented by FK Rod Ends

Notes: Canadian finds himself in good place

May 25, 2023, 12:06 am
By Kyle McFadden
DirtonDirt.com staff reporter
Jake Hooker (Nikole Clements)
Jake Hooker (Nikole Clements)

Two years ago, it appeared Jake Hooker’s Dirt Late Model career was over. The only engine in the Oungah, Ontario, driver’s family stable went to ruins at the beginning of 2021, and with racing’s rising costs, Hooker’s mom and dad, Dianne and Kirk, weren’t sure how much longer they could financially back their son’s endeavors.

“There was no more going forward (on our own merits). That’s as far as my dad and mom would go,” Hooker said. “They said, ‘Yeah, we’re done, and we’re sorry.’ They also wanted to get their house finished and relax on their work a bit. They aren’t getting younger.

“I figured we were done then. We didn’t have the sponsor money,” he added. “We didn’t have the money to rebuild (the engine). I just figured we were done.”

Then, later that summer, Hooker’s fate changed for the better thanks to a phone call from area car owner Brad Authier, who sought a new driver after Andrew Reaume stepped away from Authier’s Late Model.

Fast forward to the present day, and Hooker’s carved out a good reason to land atop DirtonDirt.com's Weekly Notebook presented by FK Rod Ends as the reigning Super Late Model champion of the DIRTcar-sanctioned Southern Ontario Motor Speedway. Furthermore, the 22-year-old upheld his title-winning trajectory on Saturday, winning Southern Ontario’s first event of the season.

It’s Hooker’s seventh Super Late Model win in the Authier-owned machine since the beginning of last year.

“I’m super blessed to have them. They’re like a second family to me,” Hooker said. “Just really fortunate to be in the spot we’re in right now.”

The Dirt Late Model isn’t the only race car that Hooker’s found opportunity in. All told, the Canadian has turned laps in seven different kinds of race cars since the start of last year: a pavement pro Late Model, a NASCAR Pinty’s Series stock car, modified, thunder stock, a legends car, vintage modified and go-kart in addition to the Dirt Late Model.

Minus the pavement and Dirt Late Model, all of those opportunities across varying disciples were one-off rides that have potential to become something more of a limited schedule this year.

And, that said, the Dirt Late Model isn’t the only Late Model that Hooker’s involved with this year. The Canadian also has a weekly pavement Late Model ride through Jeff McColl at Delaware (Ontario) Speedway, a semi-banked half-mile oval that hosts the NASCAR Pinty Series.

“From stepping away, then next thing you know it, you’re getting phone calls … it’s a cool deal,” said Hooker of the explosion in racing opportunities that have come his way since questioning his future two years ago.

Hooker’s developed a solid resume over the years at the wheel of pretty much everything he’s raced. He’s claimed an average of one gokart title each season he competed in the beginner division from 2007 to ’13.

In 2013, he won Ontario’s biggest street stock event, the Great Canadian Shootout at South Buxton Speedway, in one of his first events racing full-sized race cars. The year after that, Hooker won 10 of 13 street stock features at South Buxton, the only dirt track in Ontario that ran street stocks weekly at the time.

Hooker then made the plunge into Dirt Late Models in 2015, and has captured roughly 25 features in the Super division since the immediate transition. Hooker’s father, Kirk, was a Dirt Late Model racer himself, competing for more than 30 years around Ontario, as well as well-known racetracks in Indiana, Michigan and Ohio.

Last summer, Hooker even had the opportunity to practice Kenny Schrader’s NASCAR Pinty’s Series stock car at Ohsweken (Ontario) Speedway. Schrader had an obligation that kept him away from Pinty’s practice at Ohsweken, so the Ed Hakonson team phoned in Hooker for his dirt experience to tune-up the stock car ahead of the series first-ever race on dirt.

“Yeah, that was one of those one in a million deals that might never happen again, but, hey, I took a bunch of pictures and I lived it,” Hooker said.

Hooker said that when he stumbled onto Schrader competing in a modified at Southern Ontario on Saturday, he approached the former NASCAR driver and asked if he remembered him.

“Yeah, I do,” Schrader told him. “You’re the kid that practiced my car last year.”

“It’s cool that he remembered me,” Hooker said. “That was probably the coolest deal of the night, to me at least. I must have left an impression.”

This year, Hooker and his Dirt Late Model car owners have doubled down on their efforts by purchasing a second XR1 Rocket Chassis. Hooker’s plan is keeping one race machine tailored to Southern Ontario Motor Speedway, where he’s pursuing a second straight track title. The other Rocket Chassis, meanwhile, will be used for if the team decides to do a little traveling.

For instance, Southern Ontario races weekly on Saturdays, and one of Hooker’s goals has been to make the three-hour tow to race select Fridays at Attica (Ohio) Raceway Park. Hooker would also like to try his luck at Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio, which is only but a four-hour commute from Ontario.

“This year, my car owner basically said, hey, I’m here for the long run,” Hooker said. “He went out and bought another XR1. … Truthfully, we’re a really good weekly team. We have a good understanding of our Saturday racetrack. I would like to build our program and win a couple regional races.

“Like, go to a racetrack we’ve never been to before and do well there,” Hooker added. “I think we can do it. I just want to be able to go to a racetrack I’ve never seen before and win there, or not win; just competitive enough where people say, 'Oh he has a chance.' ”

Hooker, while grateful, said he’s likely a full-time crewman short of being able to travel outside Ontario. The city worker for Chatham-Kent doesn’t have the means to employee someone that can help make that desire a reality.

“It’s just hard. We’re not to the point where we have a guy who’s full time, busting their ass on the car all week,” Hooker said. “It’s not a complaint. It’s not anything like that. It’s just the way it is right now.

“I don’t want to work for the state for the rest of my life. I want to drive a race car. It’s the only thing I’ve ever wanted to do. I’m fortunate enough right now racing isn’t costing me any money. I have my car owners Brad and Nickie Authier here, and Jeff McColl on pavement, and they give me every tool I need to win. I have great parents and a killer crew.”

Hooker believes he has the ability to race Dirt Late Models for a living at some point in his lifetime. If he’s received the necessary help to revive his nearly lost dreams two years ago, perhaps there’s a way for Hooker to go the distance and make racing his occupation, he thinks.

“I would like to race full time and make a living at it,” Hooker said. “I don’t need to be on a national tour. Just look at Rusty Schlenk, for example. That’s the guy I look up to because he’s a badass. He doesn’t race on a national tour, but he’s making it in building chassis and stuff. He’s making it in racing. Obviously everybody would love to go to the World of Outlaws or Lucas Oil; that would be a dream come true.

“But if I could work on race cars Monday through Friday, and drive them Saturday and Sunday, or do the Castrol (FloRacing Night in America) deal, I would be happier than a pig in poop.”

Weekly highlights

• Capturing the Ron Flinn 52 that honored the former track promoter, Travis Stemler of Ionia, Mich., earned $1,500 in purse money and more than $1,700 in lap money May 20 at Crystal (Mich.) Motor Speedway.

• Scoring a two-victory weekend, Jake Bridge of Waverly, Neb., won May 19 at Crawford County Speedway in Denison, Iowa, and May 20 at Shelby County Speedway in Harlan, Iowa.

Tyler Carpenter of Parkersburg, W.Va., won twice May 19 at Ohio Valley Speedway in Washington, W.Va., capturing a makeup race before sunset and the night’s regularly scheduled feature after.

• Hometown driver Curt Martin, whose first career Late Model victory came in 1988, opened the Independence (Iowa) Motor Speedway season with a May 20 victory. He’s a two-time IMCA weekly and Deery Brothers Summer Series champion.

• Sweeping two features, Jose Parga of New Berlin, Ill., won May 20's regularly scheduled and makeup event for the Crate Late Model at Macon (Ill.) Speedway.

Rusty Schlenk of McClure, Ohio, scored May 19-20 victories, winning a five-car feature at Farmer City (Ill.) Speedway then the season opener at his home track, Oakshade Raceway in Wauseon, Ohio.

• Opening and closing a long weekend with victories, Jeremy Wonderling of Wellsville, N.Y., won May 18 at Genesee Speedway in Batavia, N.Y., and May 21 at Bradford Speedway in Rew, Pa. The first victory paid $1,250 in the Dave Shuknecht Memorial.

First things first

Recent first-time occurrences at the dirt track:

• Winning May 19 at Kankakee County Speedway, Amber Crouch of Cullom, Ill., captured her first Crate Late Model victory. Crouch won a caution-filled event at the 3/8-mile track in Kankakee, Ill.

Kale Van Sickle, 13, of Jacksonville, Fla., notched his first 602 Crate Late Model feature victory May 20 at Volusia Speedway Park in Barberville, Fla. Van Sickle’s victory came in his fourth start in the division.

Weekly news briefs

• By popular demand, Volunteer Speedway this week announced it was scrapping heat races. The Bulls Gap, Tenn., track, which runs a weekly Super Late Model division, will time-trial each division and fast qualifiers will get the choices of starting in the first six starting positions of the main event. No inversion pays the fast qualifier standard purses ($3,000-to-win for Super Late Models) while starting second pays 10 percent more, starting third pays 20 percent more, starting fourth pays 30 percent more, starting fifth pays 40 percent more and starting sixth pays 50 percent more for the fast qualifier ($4,500 if the driver wins). The track also scrapped plans for a combined Limited Late Model division with plans to separate 604 Crate Late Models and sportsman division cars.

Casino Speedway is mourning the passing of Troy Benson, who spent 18 years as announcer of the Watertown, S.D., oval. Benson, who died May 11 at Prairie Lakes Hospital after an extended illness, was 52.

Moberly (Mo.) Motorsports Park opened the first of its season-long Trophy Tuesday events on May 23. The Limited Late Model division drew 13 cars with Trevor Gundaker, who drives for track owner Reid Millard, taking the victory.

• Mike Garcia has taken over as interim general manager of Vado (N.M.) Speedway Park after the unexpected departure of Bobby Seals, who stepped down “due to circumstances beyond his or our control,” the track said in a statement. “We wish him the very best going forward and thank him and his wife for all their ideas and efforts.”

• The opening of East Moline (Ill.) Speedway has been delayed as new promoter Chuck Hanna and his crew continue improvements at the track that includes a resurfacing of the oval. The track cancelled its planned Memorial Day weekend practice and the next event is tentatively scheduled for June 4. The track has also upgraded it’s P.A. system ahead of the 2023 season.

Eagle River (Wis.) Speedway will open its season Sunday, May 28, before settling into its regular Tuesday night racing starting June 6. Jason Zdroik is the track’s reigning Crate Late Model champion.

North Florida Speedway made a late addition of 604 Crate Late Models to the May 20 program, then scratched the division from the program after realizing a conflict with the funeral and celebration of life for former Volusia Speedway Park owner Dickie Murphy.

• A three-track points fund paying $10,000 to the season-long champion has been established for WISSOTA Late Model drivers competing Friday-Sunday at Gondik Law Speedway in Superior, Wis., Hibbing (Minn.) Raceway and Halvor Lines Speedway in Proctor, Minn. The KME Late Models Points Fund sponsored by Kapella Machine Electronics posted $20,000 to be distributed to the top five drivers in combined points earnings at the three tracks in 2023. The champion will receive $10,000 with $5,000 for second, $2,500 for third, $1,500 for fourth and $1,000 for fifth.

• Paul Tribble, the owner of Old No. 1 Speedway is recovering from injuries suffered after being struck by a race car during May 20's racing program at the Harrisburg, Ark., dirt track. The rest of the racing program was cancelled after the accident that left Tribble with a broken shoulder, facial fractures and a serious cut on his leg. The track’s next scheduled event is May 28 with the United Sprint Car Series headlining the program.

• Steve Stevenson, an Illinois businessman and modified racer, has purchased Golden Isles Speedway in Brunswick, Ga., with plans to make a number of improvements while expanding the track’s entertainment footprint. Stevenson, who lives in Carlyle, Ill., and plans to relocate to Georgia, bought the property May 12 from Brandon, Fla., racer Kyle Bronson and Wayne Hammond, Bronson’s car owner. He plans to improve camping at the track, including the addition of a swimming pool and pickleball courts. He plans six racing events per season along with concerts.

Stockley Speed & Supply of Georgetown, Del., has posted a $12,825 points fun for Super Late Model events among three Mid-Atlantic tracks. The top points earner winner receives $5,000 with $2,500 for second, $1,000 and the rest of the top 10 receiving payouts. Drivers must maintain perfect attendance to receive points fund money. Georgetown Speedway’s remaining dates are Aug. 3, Sept. 30 and Oct. 27-28; Delaware International Speedway dates are July 14 and Nov. 17-18; and Maryland’s Potomac Speedway dates are May 28, July 3, July 22 and Sept. 3.

Weekly points

DIRTcar (Supers): Brandon Sheppard of New Berlin, Ill., has 701 points to lead Brian Shirley (699) and Tanner English (681).

IMCA (Limiteds): Andy Nezworski of Blue Grass, Iowa, has 270 points to lead Cory Dumpert (230) and Alex Banks (229).

POWRi (Limiteds): Todd McCoin of Barnett, Mo., has 1,440 points to lead Josh Newman (1,260) and Dennis Cook (1,150).

Crate Racin’ USA (602 Crates): Harold Pace of Phil Campbell, Ala., has 307 points to lead Heather Lowe (258) and Ellie Hughes (226).

Crate Racin’ USA (604 Crates): Chase Cooper of Perkinston, Miss., has 290 points to lead Shannon Lee (285) and Joey Pilgrim (281).

DIRTcar (Crates): Braden Johnson of Taylorville, Ill., has 436 points to lead Jose Parga (375) and Devin McLean (363).

Fastrak (Crates): Jeremy Pilkerton of Loveville, Md., has 84 points to lead Billy Hubbard and Ray Love Jr., who are tied for second with 78 points apiece.

Upcoming weekly specials

Among non-touring and independent special events coming up for Late Models at dirt tracks around the country:

Bedford (Pa.) Speedway (May 26): The Turk Burket 88 Tribute pays $5,000-to-win for a 40-lap Super Late Model feature in topping a three-division program. Burket was a 141-time Late Model winner among 10 tracks.

Brownstown (Ind.) Speedway (May 27): The Bobby Wilson Memorial pays $5,000-to-win for the Super Late Model division on Memorial Day weekend with four divisions on the undercard.

Lincoln Speedway, Abbottstown, Pa. (May 27): Super Late Models chase a $3,000-to-win purse during the Bob Leiby Memorial with sprint cars and midgets also on the card.

Thunderbird Raceway, Muskegon, Mich. (May 27): The Salute to the Veterans special presented by Lane Automotive pays $2,000-to-win for Super Late Models (and veterans are admitted free).

Hidden Valley Speedway, Clearfield, Pa. (May 27): The Shawn “Sheetz” McGarvey Memorial pays $3,000-to-win, the first of three such events at the track this season. Five other divisions are in action (but not Semi-Late Models).

Rice Lake (Wis.) Speedway (May 27): A pair of $2,000-to-win WISSOTA Late Model events are on tap with the rain-postponed Trackside Collectibles 40 and the Swant Graber 40. The 80 laps is set to be the most feature laps in a single night of Late Model racing in track history.

Midway Speedway, Crooksville, Ohio (May 27): The Memorial Day weekend special pays $3,000-to-win for Super Late Models (the track is also in action the previous night with a four-cylinder special on the card).

Eriez Speedway, Hammett, Pa. (May 28): The Andy Kania Memorial pays $7,600-to-win with at least $76 per led lap among other contingencies and bonuses in the second annual Super Late Model special.

Mudlick Valley Raceway, Wallingford, Ky. (May 28): Super Late Models chase a season-high $5,034 winner’s purse in the Sam Gilbert and Owens Stephens Jr. Memorial, a 34-lap event paying $434-to-start.

Potomac Speedway, Budds Creek, Md. (May 28): The Ernie Jones Memorial pays $3,022-to-win for Super Late Models in a 22-lap feature. Five other divisions are on the card for the Sunday special.

Tri-County Racetrack, Brasstown, N.C. (May 29): The Memorial Day Championship pays $2,000-to-win for Super Late Models with $1,000-to-win events for every other division.

Beckley (W.Va.) Motor Speedway (May 29): Super Late Models chase a $7,500-to-win purse with undercard divisions to be announced.

Jake Hooker file

Age: 22 (birthdate Aug. 8)
Hometown: Oungah, Ontario
Fiancee: Melanie Young
Occupation: City worker for Chatham-Kent
Chassis/engine: Rocket XR1/AP Racing Engine
Sponsors: Brad’s Delivery, Nickie’s Tupperware, Ed Carley Motorsports, AP Racing Engines, Border City Freight, Degoey’s Flowers, Sun Parlour Trailers, Industrial Dover, Vertec Contractors, Profota’s Garage, Gervais Maintenance and Repairs, Pain Court Market, Hook’s Stumping, Genesis Racing Shocks, RPM Designs, Westside Performance Plus, OG Pizza, Jesse’s Car Detailing, DSW Property Maintenance, Robinson Motorcycles and Chuck
Crew: Brad Authier (car owner), Nickie Authier (car owner), Brad Wonnacott, Laken Martin, Jim Arnel, Kirk Hooker, Dianne Hooker, Taylor Hooker, Cameron Gagnier, Melody Young, Josh Conner, Adam Gervais
Background: The Canadian has roughly 25 wins since entering into Dirt Late Models in 2015. He’s won two of the last four Southern Ontario Motor Speedway championships, in 2019 and last year. Seven of Hooker’s wins have come over the last year; totaling six last year and Saturday’s opener at Southern Ontario.
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