By DON SIMPSON
With the season just getting underway, Steve Bernier is preparing to defend his 2018 track championships at Autodrome Granby and Plattsburgh Airborne Speedways.
With two cars in the shop being prepared and a well-experienced team behind the 40-year-old veteran driver, Steve explained; “It’s still going to be a tough job to uphold those championships.”
Steve went on to say, “There are a lot of good drivers at both tracks and Airborne has seen a rise in top-notch drivers like Jordan McCreadie, Mike Mahaney, and Lance Willix, just to mention a few, making my job even tougher this season at Airborne.”
The story of Steve Bernier began in a much different fashion back in 2001, as Steve was a race fan, back in the day. For years, it was common to see Steve and his brother Francois accompany their dad Michel and mother Denise at their local dirt tracks of Autodrome Granby or Autodrome Drummond, getting their weekly fix of racing as fans.
As time passed, Steve’s passion for racing changed from fan to participant. In 2001, Francois, Steve’s brother, began racing in the four-cylinder class and within a matter of weeks, Steve followed suit.
Steve mentioned: “Francois, my brother, took up racing in the four-cylinder class that year. I helped Francis with the car during the first race and decided that I too would like to race, so a week later, I bought myself a car and followed my brother’s footsteps and began racing in the four-cylinder class at Granby Speedway. For the next few years, Francis and I continued to race in the same class, a sort of family rivalry.
“That first year behind the wheel in 2001 wasn’t the most productive in the sense of wins but a great learning venue for me to learn the craft of driving a race car.”
Things would soon change though for Steve in 2002 as he racked up numerous wins along with the 2002 4-cylinder championship at Granby.
The young St Hyacinthe, Quebec, driver would repeat his championship in 2003 at the Granby Speedway but also claimed the championship in the 4-cylinder class at Autodrome Drummond. The 2004 season was a mirror image of the 2003 season, capturing both championships once again at Drummond and Granby in the 4-cylinder class.
By 2005, Steve was searching for change, a new challenge of sorts. He began racing in the Legends class at Autodrome St- Eustache, but after one season, Steve realized his place was racing on dirt.
He started out racing the 2006 season at St-Eustache, however, midway through the season he was back racing on dirt, this time behind the wheel of a Sportsman Modified. His last race that season was at the 50- lap special event for Sportsman Modifieds held at Autodrome Drummond. Not only did Steve adapt well behind the wheel of a Sportsman Modified, in this final race of the season, he picked up his first of many wins in the Sportsman class.
In 2007, Steve was now racing in the Sportsman class full time and was crowned Rookie of the Year at Autodrome Drummond at the end of the season. Steve would also finish in third place in points at Drummond.
By 2008, Steve was the dominant force in the Sportsman division at both Granby and Drummond Speedways, picking up 16 wins along with both track championships.
Steve would then repeat his success in 2009 with two more track championships at both Drummond and Granby. However, in 2010, Steve would experience a very difficult year. Things would soon get back on track the following years.
Steve once again would earn subsequent championships in 2011 at RPM Speedway Autodrome Drummond and Granby Speedways, 2012 at Drummond and Granby and a triple-header in 2013, winning the championships at RPM, Granby, and Drummond, proving to fans that he was on top of his game.
By the end of the 2013 season, Steve once again was looking for a new challenge. He decided to take up the offer to drive in the final 358 Modified race of the season at Granby, a 100-lap race worth $6,000 to win. Steve, using his Sportsman chassis, put his brothers 358 motor in the car and headed out to Granby Speedway. As in 2006, Steve outraced the field of drivers and came home with the win along with the prize money. Not a bad way to start out in the 358 class.
What followed in 2014, was Steve’s first full season in the 358 Modified class. It is a big switch from Sportsman to Modifieds and some drivers never seem to adapt for whatever reason. But for Steve, he considered it a learning experience, which earned him the DIRTcar Rookie of the Year honors along with a third-place finish in points at Granby Speedway.
The following year, Steve would finish second at Autodrome Granby and Drummond, proving he had what it took to compete on the highest level in the 358 Modified class. He repeated his success at Granby the following year in 2016, coming home in second place in the championship points.
It was the next two years that would really define Steve as a driver. The 2017 season was a total disaster where everything went wrong and the worst of it was the big crash where he was invalidated at Autodrome Granby. Granby officials declared Steve was a primary factor of the wreck and stripped him of 100 points, eliminating Steve from any track championship hopes.
However, things would turn around in 2018, as Steve wiped the slate clean and focused on the upcoming season, discarding the disappointments of the previous season.
The hard-charging Bernier would pick up a total of 9 wins in 2018, along with 26 top-five finishes. He would claim the track championship at Airborne and Granby Speedways. He would also win the MR Dirt 358 title. But one of the most impressive performances over 2018 was watching this talented Quebecker race his way from 28th place to finish second at the Brewerton Hurricane 100, a track he had never raced, leaving the local racers and fans asking who was that driving in the number 25 car.
For Bernier, last season was redemption for the one in 2017. Steve explained: “We worked very hard this past season and it really paid off with two championships and a Mr. Dirt title.”
This moves us to the coming season and what Steve’s plans are for 2019.
“We will be defending both championships this season, racing weekly at Granby and Airborne. It will be definitely a tough challenge especially at Airborne with all the new drivers like Mike Mahaney, Jordan McCreadie, and Lance Willix calling Airborne their home track. I can’t rule out Chris Raabe as well, as he is one of the toughest drivers to race against at Airborne. We will also race some special events at RPM Speedway and Drummond so it will be a busy season for our team this summer.”
With the season now underway, Bernier has already shown his presence at Airborne Speedway by picking up the win at their 50-lap opener. The team is also prepaying their second car that will be used at Granby this season, which is scheduled for its opener on May 10. Definitely it will not be an easy task defending what the team had achieved last year but as the season unfolds I am sure that team Bernier will prove that they are a team to take account of.