Don DescoteauJoel TanseyNews Gazette staff
When Wade Bland looks at the list of past winners of the Reg Midgley Canada 200, he sees racing history, but he also sees opportunity.
As the two-time defending champion of this late model racing marathon at Western Speedway, he’d love to write his own piece of history this Labour Day weekend.
Capturing the trophy a third straight time would make him only the second driver to accomplish the feat, along with Monte English of Port Angeles, who won the race from 1987 to 1989.
“Definitely this year I really want to win it,” he says, noting that there’s only been a handful of drivers with multiple wins since the first race in 1972. “I’ve watched this race since I was four years old, probably. You read the trophy and the names that are on it; it’s pretty cool.”
Not only are there legendary local racing names like Roy Haslam (five-time winner), Darrell Midgely (twice), Roy Smith (twice) and Don Smith (three times) on the cup, other well-known drivers have come to Langford over the years to challenge for the title.
“(Former NASCAR driver) Bobby Allison has run this race, and guys like Tom Berrow (from Langley) – he’s raced for longer than I’ve been alive – still come over to race this one,” adds Bland, 32.
The Central Saanich-based driver has already won the Keg Late Model Series for 2016 with his Ford Fusion-bodied car. But for him, the Canada 200 weekend of racing is a special one given the history and the quality of competition.
“It’s gotta be the largest stock car race in Western Canada; the longest-running at least.”
Saturday’s race results will determine the starting grid for Sunday’s 200-lapper on the 4/10-mile oval track. The event was renamed the Reg Midgley Canada 200 in honour of one of auto racing’s pioneers in Greater Victoria.
If anyone is to get in the way of Bland’s quest for three consecutive victories, it could be Metchosin’s Geoff Morris of GT Motor Sports.
Morris has enjoyed a successful 2016 campaign, finishing 29 points back of Bland for the Keg Late Model title while taking four wins, good enough for second place in the overall championship.
He’s also got plenty of experience with this gruelling race, having competed eight times.
“It’s a really tough race to win. You’ve gotta be quick at the beginning … but you’ve also gotta make sure you have enough at the end to make a run for the win. I just haven’t been able to do it yet,” he says.
In 2014, Morris led after the first 100 laps but could only hang on to sixth by the time the chequered flag dropped. The lengthy nature of the race makes this an especially challenging event, he adds.
“It’s hard to not overdrive the car … it’s hot in the car because not much air gets in. (And) you have to make sure you keep focus, because as soon as you lose focus is when you screw up.”
Morris will compete alongside his brother Brent – who finished fourth in this year’s Keg Series standings – under the direction of their father, Gordon, who builds the team’s engines and acts as the team’s crew chief.
“I have a good team. My dad builds good motors and my brother’s good with the suspension stuff,” Geoff says, noting that the rest of their crew have also played a huge role in his solid year. “When you have a good team, it makes it easier to drive.”
Racing fans shouldn’t expect to see any indications of a sibling rivalry between the Morris brothers, however, as the two get along both on and off the track, according to Geoff.
“I think it helps us, personally. I enjoy it. It’s nice running against your brother. It’s fun,” he said.
“We always try and help the other one, and if he wins I’m just as happy as if I’ve won.”
As for what it takes to win this distance race, Bland says it is a matter of stamina and keeping your car in running order.
“It’s 200 laps, so where you start really doesn’t matter. You just have to be there in the end. Over the years it’s been a rough race, so as long as we can keep the fenders on and keep the brakes (from overheating), we should have a good chance to win,” he says.
The drivers get a chance to practise tonight (Sept. 2) from 5 to 8 p.m., then tomorrow night’s racing sees qualifying time trials and qualifying races starting at 6:30 p.m. Sunday’s racing also gets underway at 6:30 p.m. Joining the late models on Saturday and Sunday will be the B.C. Street Stock Invitational races. Visit westernspeedway.net for more details and ticket information.