At some point, a member of the NASCAR Canadian Tire Series is going to be inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in the same fashion as Modified rivals Richie Evans and Jerry Cook, along with Busch / Xfinity champion Jack Ingram.
So far in the nine-year history of the tour, Scott Steckly, 43, has left the largest right footprint, winning four titles, and sitting tied for second in career wins at 19 with D.J. Kennington (Andrew Ranger leads with 20).
Steckly laughs, and says, “We are listed in the Champions Wing of the Hall of Fame now. It’s pretty overwhelming. It’s pretty cool to go to the banquet in Charlotte, and see your name in the Hall.”
“When NASCAR first started in Canada we had done well in CASCAR, but we didn’t see this success coming,” admits the modest driver from Milverton, Ontario. “Winning races is one thing, but four titles in nine years is beyond our expectations.”
The 2015 season kicked off at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, and the driver of the No. 22 Canadian Tire Dodge was forced to try and hold off another former champion, Andrew Ranger in a thrilling finish.
“I had him by three car lengths every time into the last set of corners, and I probably wasn’t as prepared as I should’ve been,” Steckly recalls. “I didn’t protect enough. After he got aggressive, I treated him the same way when I got my shot at him a turn later to try and win the race.”
Gary Klutt ended up winning his first race, while Scott wound up in fifth... and his bid for his first road course win continues.
A DNF in race two at Autodrome Chaudiere put the team in a hole, before he knocked down a couple of top-five finishes at Sunset Speedway (as his teammate Alex Tagliani won, lapping the field) and ICAR.
Then the series went West and, like a gunslinger on the high plains, Steckly shot down a pair of checkered flags in Edmonton and Saskatoon. “That was the turning point,” he explains. “We broke a transmission at Chaudiere while leading with 40 laps left, then pulled off a couple of top-fives to get rolling. When we went West something clicked.”
More top-10 finishes, along with a dominating performance at Riverside Speedway, put Steckly on the top of the standings heading into the season finale, with Jason Hathaway trying to wrestle the championship belt away.
Steckly put up a clutch performance, with his fourth pole of the year, and record 17th of his career, then led for a while before Hathaway took command and dominated the remainder of the event. Scott cruised to a runner-up finish, and his fourth NCATS title.
“Jason got me on one restart, and my car wasn’t good for five or six laps. I knew all we had to do was finish second, so I just rode along, and didn’t push the issue.”
So far, plans to defend his series championship in 2016 haven’t been finalized yet, but a full season schedule and run at title number five will depend on finding sponsorship dollars. After seven years of backing from Canadian Tire, Steckly finds himself without a primary marketing partner.
“It was a great run with Canadian Tire,” he says. “We did as much for them as we possibly could, but at this point we are looking for a major partner. We have some great associates like Erb Transport, AW Millwrights and Twin City Graphics – companies that have been with us for a long time – and we’ve been able to become one big family. Those long relationships have really helped with the stability of our program.
“I’m sure in 2016 I will be fielding a car, but I’m not sure I will be driving,” the 2015 champ reveals. “We had such a great season as a team, with me winning the championship, and Tagliani winning a race.”
As for having a teammate, Steckly doesn’t think it’s an advantage. “Every driver is so different, so what works for one doesn’t work for the other,” he says. “We still have to have both cars, and both drivers at any tests. About the only way it would help is if you’re out of practice and one team is still struggling. Then you can take some notes from the team that is running better, and at least you have a starting point.”
The series Steckly represents as its champion is facing some struggles in the future, as at the start of 2015 it was announced that Canadian Tire wouldn’t be returning in 2016. Steckly admits that growth is a problem that belongs to the series and the teams. “I think both ends have to continue to do a better job of marketing the product that we have, but it’s still the top Canadian series, and very competitive.
“If I could change one thing, it would be getting rid of the halftime breaks. We are already going to the expense of getting to the track, two more people to do a pit stop isn’t a big deal.”
This winter will consist of a lot of searching for marketing dollars for Scott, and some day, Steckly might not just be a name in the Champion’s Wing, but a bust with the rest of the legends.