|Photo Credit: Wakefield Canada/Copyright: The Decal Source|
When 40 engines ignite on the pit lane ahead of the 2017 Daytona 500, one competitor has already achieved a feat no Canadian racer had accomplished in 29 years. Cracking the field for the 59th edition of the Great American Race in an aggressive hustle from turn four to the finish line in Thursday night’s Can-Am Duel, DJ Kennington will start in the 28th place position for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series extravagant season opener with a #96 entry.
A shining stock car racing personality in Canada since racing at Delaware Speedway during the 1990s, St Thomas, Ontario native DJ Kennington was a mainstay on the CASCAR Super Series and has since been a regular with the NASCAR Pinty’s Series. Kennington has amassed 2010 and 2012 championships in the Canadian-based NASCAR tour as well as recorded 26 wins piloting a #17 Dodge with Castrol sponsorship. Acknowledging a 23-year long partnership with Kennington, Castrol’s parent company Wakefield Canada joins the driver on his top league NASCAR debut on the 2.5-mile Daytona International Speedway. Lordco Auto Parts is also featured prominently on the Canadian’s #96 Toyota Camry. Following a Cup Series debut at Phoenix International Raceway last November, the second race has Kennington facing a relatively unfamiliar challenge “While this will be my first outing in a Cup car at Daytona, I have a lot of experience racing and drafting there, so there shouldn’t be a big learning curve.”, said the driver prior to Speedweeks at Daytona. Kennington has completed three times at Daytona races with what is now the NASCAR Xfinity Series.
In addition DJ Kennington, the maple leaf flag’s representation is found on the Gaunt Brothers Racing team fielding the blue, black and white race car on Sunday. Team principal Marty Gaunt is the president for Triad Racing Technologies, a successful race engine builder and Toyota Racing Development vendor that supplies various NASCAR Cup Series, NASCAR Camping World Truck Series and ARCA teams. The Gaunt surname is well-known in Canadian stock car racing and specifically in the province of Ontario most notably by the efforts of Marty’s brother John who competed on the NASCAR Pinty’s Series as well as more locally around the city of Barrie, Ontario.
When the #96 Toyota Camry takes the green flag ahead of the 500-mile stock car classic, DJ Kennington will become only the eighth Canadian native driver to compete in the race. Montreal’s Dick Foley participated in the inaugural 1959 Daytona 500 driving a #66 Chevrolet. Finishing 32nd in 1959, Foley returned in 1960 placing 61st in the event. Foley also competing on the Daytona beach course in 1957 and 1958 making him the only such Canadian to compete under both circumstances. In the 1960s, two Toronto-area drivers sought success on the 2.5-mile superspeedway. Long Branch’s Jim Bray finished 42nd in the 1964 event while Don Biederman qualified for the race twice. As a driver/owner in 1967, Biederman took 34th place and would return for the 1968 Daytona 500 to grab a 28th place result. Running in what was known as the NASCAR Grand National division, Don Bieberman would compete in a total of 42 series events collecting a best result of 7th place at the Nashville Fairgrounds.
The 1970s proved to be a more fruitful effort for Canadians competing at the Daytona International Speedway’s signature race. Within the decade, there were two Daytona 500 races where a pair of drivers was from Canada. One event was the 1973 Daytona 500 that featured the debut of Earl Ross. Starting 30th, Ross’ Red Cap Ale-sponsored #52 Chevrolet suffered a valve issue providing only 34 laps of competition and a 39th place finish. Qualifying slightly higher in 27th spot, a Seifert Rent-A-Racer Mercury mounted a monumental for Canadian racing fans. Willowdale, Ontario’s Vic Parsons crossed the line in the 10th place position, 10 laps behind winner Richard Petty. Parsons would never be able to follow-up his effort in the Daytona 500 but did return for July’s 400-mile race at the track where is achieved a career-topping 7th place result. Earl Ross would qualify for two more Daytona 500 races in 1974 and with a Cola-Cola-sponsored L.G. Dewitt entry in 1976. Ross’ best result was a 11th place in 1974 during the same year when he became the first (and so far only) Canadian to win an NASCAR Cup Series event.
In the 1976 Daytona 500 event, Earl Ross was joined in the 42-car field by a fellow Canadian driving a #29 Chevrolet. From Victoria, British Columbia, Roy Smith would compete a total of three times in the great stock car race. Settling for 20th in 1976 due to a clutch problem, Smith would be dogged by mechanical issues in a 1977 outing after 45 laps. The third time battling at the Daytona 500 in 1982 for the BC native proved most memorable. Piloting a Pride of Victoria Pontiac owned by John Edgett, Roy Smith came from 38th place to claim 10th place. After 27 total NASCAR Cup Series starts, Smith’s best result was a 6th place at the Riverside road course in 1982.
The last Canadian racer to make the field of the Daytona 500 is also one of the most enduring stock car drivers from the country. Running some 102 career events in the NASCAR Cup Series, Calgary’s Trevor Boys raced at the “Great American Race” on five occasions during the 1980s. Boys’ first appearance in the 500-miler at Daytona International Speedway lasted only 17 race laps resulting with a 41st place finish. In Trevor Boys’ successful qualifying attempts, his best result was a 19th place scored in 1986. Last qualifying for the Daytona 500 in 1988, Boys made three more attempts to make the race field with the final coming in 1994.
Before DJ Kennington’s success in qualifying for the 2017 Daytona, one of the best efforts was in 2008 where 1997 Formula 1 champion Jacques Villeneuve and Champ Car Series winner Patrick Carpentier attempted to make the race. Villeneuve driving a #27 Toyota for Bill Davis Racing and Carpentier’s #10 Valvoline-sponsored Dodge both failed to make the 43-car field.
Scheduled to roll at 2pm Eastern time, the 2017 Daytona 500 will allow Canada to once more cheer on a stock car athlete in the prestigious race.