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Southern Exposure: Canadian Lynch Hanging Tough In ACT

- Justin St. Louis on 04 Aug 2010

Derek Lynch (left) discusses setup strategy with Mark Lamberton at Lee USA Speedway in June. (Justin St. Louis/VMM photo)PHOTO: Derek Lynch (left) discusses setup strategy with Mark Lamberton at Lee USA Speedway.

WARKWORTH, Ont. --
Derek Lynch is just sort of “there” this year on the American-Canadian Tour. And he knows that.

Through the first eight races of the season, Lynch sits fifteenth in the standings with nary a top-ten finish to his credit. In fact, he’s failed to qualify for two events.

But don’t dismiss the Tour’s lone full-time Canadian racer as just another car on the track. As he drives up Highway 401 on his way to every ACT Late Model Tour event, he brings with him a quarter-century of experience, an Oxford 250 title, and the knowledge and savvy of a race track promoter.


STAYING BUSY

Lynch is not only a racer hauling long hours to get to the track, he’s also the promoter of Kawartha Speedway, a track familiar to ACT fans. Part of a sprawling facility that includes a horse racing track and a casino, Kawartha runs weekly from June to September. It hosted the ACT Late Model Tour from 2007-09 and has worked closely with ACT officials since Lynch took over operations six years ago.

His relationship with ACT is not a new one, though: Lynch’s father-in-law is ACT president Tom Curley. Before becoming part of the family, Lynch was a successful driver on the former ACT Pro Stock Tour, beginning his touring career there as a teenager.

Kawartha Speedway operates on Friday nights with full fields of Late Models, Thunder Cars, and Mini Stocks, with specials featuring the Canadian Tire Series, OSCAAR Super Late Models, Legend Cars, and the annual Summer Sizzler event. For the most part, Lynch has been able to balance his own racing schedule with operating the race track, although it hasn’t been easy.

Lynch hauls out of Warkworth, Ontario, about halfway between the cities of Peterborough and Belleville, about 90 minutes east of Toronto. That means a lot of interstate miles to get to ACT events.

“Beech Ridge is the worst trip for us at ten hours,” he says. “Most of them are between six and eight hours. It’s tough. Up until this year I had my wife [to help with operations at Kawartha]. She helped me basically every Friday night, but after 30 years in the business she just had enough. I’m lucky that I’ve got good people there now, so that makes it easy.”

As hectic as the summer schedule can be, Lynch says the only events he’ll miss at Kawartha were the last two, on weekends when he was racing at Beech Ridge Motor Speedway in Maine and Twin State Speedway in New Hampshire.

“Really with the exception of Beech Ridge and Twin State I don’t have to miss any nights at Kawartha to do this deal,” Lynch said. “It means some early mornings and it means some late nights, but I can pretty much get out of Kawartha at 10:00 or 10:30 at night and be gone by 4:00 or 5:00 the next morning to get where we need to get.”

And that means an eight-hour trip to the track, a full day of racing, and an eight-hour trip home.


FOR THE FUN

Lynch makes the long trek to the U.S. to race because, in his estimation, “it’s probably the best racing around, quite frankly.”

With limited options for touring series in Canada, Lynch chooses to head south. He ran the former CASCAR Super Series, which evolved into the present-day NASCAR Canadian Tire Series, but was priced out of compeition. Another option is the Quebec-based Serie ACT Castrol Edge, but it’s not what Lynch says he’s looking for.

“Unless you’ve got deep pockets it’s just not worthwhile [to race the Canadian Tire Series],” Lynch says. “We’ve done that and we’ve had success with it, but we had somebody else paying the bills, too, and that makes a big difference. I looked at the options, and without being disrespectful, the fellows in Quebec seems to have a few more yellows per event than these [ACT Late Model Tour] guys do. It’s good racing here, that’s the main reason I do it.”

Lynch said most of the fun is the challenge. Even though he’s not winning, he’s enjoying the learning curve.

“In the old [ACT Pro Stock] Tour days, we rolled into most places and you could count on Robbie Crouch and Junior Hanley and maybe somebody else [to win]. And toward the end of that deal, myself, [Dave] Whitlock, [Brad] Leighton, we were that third or fourth guy,” Lynch said.

“We had our flashes of brilliance when we were there, and then we got to the point where us three guys kind of were the next generation. We were winning races and contending for championships, but the cars just weren’t as close. There was a group of five that was the fastest for the day, then there was a group of eight in the middle, then there was another group of five, and then there were guys that were just figuring it out and trying to get with the field. Now you get 40 or 50 cars all within four or five tenths of a second. If you’re two seconds off the pace you’re a 25th-place car.”

Lynch has been working to get back to the front of the field. Perhaps oddly, though, he has been enjoying his battles out back.

“It’s just been a learning curve trying to get that back and figured out again,” he says. The good side of it is everybody here is a good racer. You know if you give them the bottom they’re not going to run their right-front wheel in your door. You can run your hundred laps, figure out what the car did, and try to make it better. You’re not putting body panels on every week.”


NOT RUNNING WELL

In fairness, Lynch’s 2010 statistics aren’t up to par for the rest of his career.

He was a winner on the Canadian Tire Series at the historic Cayuga Int’l Speedway and finished fifth in the 2007 championship in his only full season there. He was an infrequent but successful competitor on the old NASCAR Busch North Series in the mid-1990s and later worked as a fabricator for NASCAR team owners Dale Earnhardt, Bobby Allison, and Darrell Waltrip.

Before that he was a teenaged hot shoe with the former ACT Pro Stock Tour. His final ACT season in 1994 yielded wins in the Oxford 250 and Thunder Road’s Memorial Day Classic, leaving him less than 50 points shy of the championship. He was also the western region and overall champion of the short-lived ACT Sunoco Regional Series.

This year on the ACT Late Model Tour, Lynch’s Hasiuk Trailers/J.J. Stewart Motors No. 15 Dodge has a pair of fifteenth-place finishes as its best results, and only one other time has finished on the lead lap. Lynch also failed to qualify for both events at Oxford Plains Speedway and sits fifteenth in points.

“I am having fun. If I didn’t I wouldn’t do it,” Lynch says. “But I’m not going to tell you that there aren’t Sunday mornings where I go home and I’m pretty damned depressed.”

Lynch knows his past carries some weight with it, and his expectations have not been met. Still, he’s only 40 points shy of the top ten in points.

“I mean, I won the Oxford 250,” he says. “I don’t think there’s anybody here who’s done that, not at a lot of races we go to. But you know what? We went to White Mountain, and Ben Rowe and I had a hell of a race for 18th and 19th, and he’s in the same boat. I mean, Ben’s one of the best there is up and down the eastern seaboard. It’s a tight class, it’s a tight field, and people don’t realize that. But I’ll be the first to admit, if I finish fourteenth, that’ll be best finish of the year, so that’s what we’re looking for.”

Lynch says that while the ultra-successful combination of owner Rick Paya and driver Brian Hoar leaves everyone in its wake, the struggles of other talented drivers, like seven-time ACT champion Jean-Paul Cyr, remind him that he’s not alone.

“Guys like Brian, Rick, you look at those guys, what is it, thirteen championships between those two guys? They’ve got a lot of knowledge,” Lynch said. “[But] we loaded up and went home from Oxford with Joey [Polewarczyk] and Jean Cyr. [Joey] is the next greatest thing, and Jean Cyr is the thing. You just keep plugging away and it’s got to get better, you’ve got to figure it out.”


NEARING THE END

Having just turned 39 years old, Lynch would seemingly have plenty of years ahead of him on the track. Not so. He’s decided that racing with ACT would bring him full-circle, back to the place where his career began in earnest.

“This is my 25th year in racing. This is a way I’d like to finish off,” Lynch says. He said the time demands of operating a race track and wanting to spend more time with his wife, Cait, and young daughter, have given him new focus outside of his own racing interests.

He started as many do, racing karts as a child and following in the footsteps of his father, Ontario Late Model great Dave Lynch. By age 15, Derek was the Peterborough Speedway Late Model track champion, moving to ACT full-time at 17 years old in 1989.

“I’ve raced a long time, and people, when they see me, they’re like, ‘Jeez, how old are you, fifty?’ and I’m like, ‘No, I’m still not even forty yet,’” Lynch says with a laugh. “I’ve done it a long time. I knew coming back into [ACT] would be very tough. There’s a lot of good teams here that have done this type of racing for a long time.

“If nothing else, maybe they’ll throw us a bone for perseverance.”

PHOTOS:
1. Derek Lynch (left) discusses setup strategy with Mark Lamberton at Lee USA Speedway in June. (Justin St. Louis/VMM photo)
2. Lynch (#15) races with Brad Babb (#4) at Beech Ridge Motor Speedway. (Eric LaFleche/VLFPhotos.com photo)
3. Lynch in victory lane at the 1994 Oxford 250. (Oxford Plains Speedway photo)

SEASON OPENERS

ACT LATE MODEL TOUR
Feb. 13/14, 2011
New Smyrna Speedway
New Smyrna Beach, FL

MODIFIED RACING SERIES
March 27, 2011
Waterford Speedbowl
Waterford, CT

PASS NORTH SUPER LATE MODELS
April 30, 2011
Beech Ridge Motor Speedway
Scarborough, ME

SPRINT CARS OF NEW ENGLAND
2011 Schedule TBA

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