By DON SIMPSON
With winter’s arrival, the 2020 season is fading off into the history books at the Autodrome Granby. It was a complicated season, with fan limitations, the mandatory wearing of masks, plus a litany of other rules. Regardless of all the challenges, the team at Autodrome Granby pulled off one of the best seasons of racing you could ask for under these circumstances.
The season kicked off in May with the annual test and tune open to all regular divisions, with restrictions in place. Not knowing the future of the season, co-owner Dominic Lussier decided to test the waters and host a race event in early June. At the time, there was no real desire to come up with a true race schedule for the 2020 season as there were too many unknowns for the days ahead.
On June 20, the COVID Destroyer 50 was presented to a grandstand with no fans at the Autodrome Granby, but the race car count was outstanding with close to 100 cars in the pits with only four classes on the card. The race was also televised live for the die-hard fans who wanted to get a glimpse of their local race heroes in action. There was also a live cast big screen in the fan zone at the speedway itself where fans could view the race and get the smell and sound of the race unfolding just beyond the fence.
In all, the event was a great success, thanks to some great planning from the team at the Autodrome Granby. With the first race under their belt, the plan then expanded to bi-weekly races, with the same restrictions in place. On July 4, the COVID was unleashed and two weeks later, the COVID Mania was held.
Racing continued to unfold as the weeks went by. The fourth race of the season, the COVID Double Challenge, revealed that a clear racing series had naturally formed as the racing fell into a more regular routine. It also became clear by this time that a battle for a championship in each of the weekly divisions was in the making, with some long-time team rivalries kicking into high gear once again.
At the conclusion of the fourth race, Francois Bernier had captured his third win out of the first four races in the 358 Modified division. However, Team ONE’s, David Herbert was in a close second with Martin Pelletier, Steve Bernier, and Steve Bernard all in the points battle.
It was much the same in the Sportsman division with a great battle ensuing for the 2020 title between Even Racine, Moise Page, Alex Lajoie, and William Racine.
The Sport Compact division, however, produced one of the most competitive groups of racers of the season. Mathieu Voghell, Alexis Charbonneau, Christopher Cordeau, Sebastien R. Beauregard, just to mention a few, all put on a great show each week with some great side-by-side racing. All in the top five were capable of bringing home the championship.
In the Pro Stock division, Yves Hamel was showing his game plan, piling up the points early after the first few events with four podium finishes. However, Pascal Payeur, who missed the first race of the season, was not out of the chase, making up ground in the following races with two early-season wins.
As the season continued to unfold, the general plan at the Grand Old Speedway in Granby was to continue to host bi-weekly races, appeasing local health officials — a good move by Dominic and his team.
To add some flavor to the mix from time to time, some invaders from the Ontario region made the trek to Granby as racing in that province was limited because of restrictions.
The biggest group of challengers came in the 358 Division. Some weeks there were numerous surprise entries for the Cornwall and Merrittville Speedway.
Super DIRTcar Series Champion Mat Williamson along with Dalton Slack, Gary Lindberg Brianna Ladouceur Brian McDonald, and Fred Carleton, all made their way to the Granby, adding to the already top-notch field of drivers on any given race night.
A total of nine races were held over the 2020 race season, with only the September 4 event cut short due to rain.
All races were live broadcast, keeping fans engaged with the local racing scene. Just before the midseason, the track was given the green light to host 250 spectators to the grandstands.
The other aspect that came into play at the Autodrome Granby was the weather, which cooperated with the schedule. Only one race was rained out after hot laps. That race was concluded on the final race weekend.
A few weeks before the final race, co-owner Dominic Lussier then embarked on some track upgrades to improve things for the 2021 season.
As Dominic explained, “The weather has been very favorable to us this season and with a much smaller schedule, this gave us time to add new clay to the track which was needed. If you think of how much of the track surface leaves on each car after a night of racing and the number of years since we last added clay, we were well overdue for this addition.”
The track has also started to replace planking to the main grandstands along with some painting, which all will provide a better race experience for fans in 2021.
The final race weekend, September 11, was expanded to a doubleheader to allow the rained-out event to conclude with the featuring events. The nights racing then moving on to the final race of the season.
The September 11 event, with the new clay on turns three and four, proved to be worth its weight in gold for Luke Whittiker who smashed the 358 Modified record early in the final event. The record had been held by Steve Bernier for the past seven years. Luke was ecstatic about the achievement, especially given that Granby is a tough track and the fact it is one of the fastest tracks around.
Luke stated, “Holding a track record is an accomplishment I’ve always dreamed of. Although, I’ve never actively pursued a track record, I try to be the fastest car on the track every night. I’ve been extremely close to holding track records at my local tracks of CMS and BOS but I never thought I’d be a record holder at Granby. I’ve always enjoyed racing there and I have some background racing for different teams at the track, but the competition is very stiff and the track is very unforgiving if the car isn’t set up near perfect.
“That’s exactly what happened that night with Pierre Dagenais’ 124 car. A perfect setup combined with the right track conditions resulted in some very quick times and a very big grin inside the helmet. I hope that record stands for as long as the last one did. I’m very thankful for the opportunities to race Pierre’s car and what I have learned from him for the last two years. It seems like it wasn’t long ago when I raced wheel to wheel with him for the first time at Edelweiss Speedway in 2010. Pretty cool that in 10 years, we went from fierce competitors to a record-breaking combination.”
This final race also saw the crowning of the 2020 champions after seeing some tight battle for this title in all the divisions.
Francis Bernier raced his way to the winner’s circle once again coming home with the 358 Modified title, his fifth 358 Track championship at the Autodrome Granby .
Final 358 points standings:
1. Francois Bernier 494
2. David Hebert 431
3. Martin Pelletier 412
4. Steve Bernier 407
5. Mathieu Desjardins 362
In the final Sportsman event, Alex Lajoie won the race but Even Racine, who hand a banner year, took home the 2020 championship.
Final Sportsman points standings:
1. Even Racine 495
2. Alex Lajoie 455
3. Mosie Page 417
4. Felix Murray 406
5. William Racine 344
The Sportsman Modified rookie of the year Donovan Lussier
The Pro-stock division saw Yves Hamel come home with the championship, crossing the line in the ninth position in the final race, but the consistency of his season paid off. The race was won by Pascal Payeur.
Final points standing in the Pro Stocks Division:
1. Yves Hamel 328
2. Pascal Payeur 319
3. Steve Chaput 313
4. Dany Voghel 303
5. Bruno Cyr 294
The final race for the Sport Compact was once again a nail biter. This division without a doubt was exciting each and every week. Sebastien R. Beauregard came home with the win but it was Alex Carbonneau who won the championship after an outstanding season of racing for this veteran driver.
Final Sports Compact points standing:
1. Alexis Charbonneau 489
2. Jean-Philippe Guay 441
3. Séb R-Beauregard 417
4. Mathieu Voghell 388
5. Daniel Demers * 368
Given that 2020 was out of the norm race season with all of its challenges, the team at Autodrome Grandy pulled off an amazing season of racing. By the end, however, Dominic Lussier was glad the season came to an end.
As Dominic expressed, “It has been very stressful to host a season of racing during a pandemic, but things went well considering. Plus, we got some needed maintenance done on the track which would have been very difficult to do in a normal season of racing. As a promoter, 2020 has really tested us, and I am somewhat concerned this situation maybe still here next season. On a positive note, yes the racing was really good and congratulations to all the teams and new track champions along with a big thanks for supporting our track efforts this year.”
Track broadcast journalist Dave Paryzo gives his perspective of the 2020 season at the Autodrome Granby,
“2020 will undoubtedly make history. We would have hoped for a 35th season at Autodrome Granby filled with special events, but 2020 allowed us to showcase our local stars. We had a dozen racing programs that nevertheless contained the circumstances of the pandemic and very strict government rules. 2020 saw the return to the top of his game for François Bernier, a champion for the fifth time. One bright spot for 2020 it allowed us to develop a new method to promote the sport via Web TV to strengthen ties between fans and race teams.”
Long-time track spokesperson Charles Olivier Lampron gave his perspective on this unusual season.
“It’s was quite a wild season. I’ll remember this one for a long time, let me tell you that. A lot of uncertainty surrounding it, and not knowing if we’d be able to have any races at all was really nerve-racking. Turns out we were able to do eight shows, so basically half a season which is good considering everything. We were the first track in Quebec to open up, and our first event in June was one of the first if not the first sporting event to happen in the Province of Quebec altogether. Definitely proud of that. It was quite a challenge to jump in and make a race without fans, that’s for sure.
“We also had good weather which helped. Let’s just say all-and-all, it turned out better than expected. Although it was definitely a grueling season — a lot of work and preparation leading up to each event. Thanks to our team in place. What a great team we have from top to bottom, just an amazing total team effort this year really. The drivers’ support was amazing, week in and week out as well, which helped make all of this possible. It was the same thing with the fans on the Web or in the stands when we were able to have some. And now on to 2021. Still a lot of uncertainty surrounding it, but we’ll prepare as we always do to make sure we are ready to go.”
Yes it was a season to remember, not just because of COVID, but the fact there was some really good racing over the four-month schedule with new champions crowded. There were also all the preparations made for 2021 and beyond. It’s nice to see the grand old speedway in Granby is in good hands and will bounce back big and better in the years to come.