By Tommy Goudge (April 18, 2014) – Drivers and teams from Ohsweken Speedway are hard at work getting ready for the 2014 racing season, which begins next month. Jim Huppunen took a break from those preparations to look back at his 2013 Corr/Pak Merchandising 360 Sprint Car division championship, and ahead to his plans for 2014 and beyond.
Jim Huppunen had never driven a full-size race car before he got behind the wheel of a Sprint Car in 2008. Five years later, he hoisted the Corr/Pak Merchandising 360 Sprint Car division championship trophy for a second time. Combined with his brother Tom’s 2009 title, a member of the Huppunen family has won half of the six 360 Sprint Car championships since that division joined the weekly program at Ohsweken in 2008.
Jim doesn’t plan to slow down anytime soon, and has added several new sponsors for his 2014 campaign which will kick off next Saturday against the Patriot Sprint Tour at Merrittville Speedway’s Spring Sizzler. Gibbons Contracting will be the new primary sponsor for “The Red Rocket” this year, while Tidyman Maintenance, Seaway Mall, Praxair St. Catharines and Rod End Supply join the list of sponsors for the #14h. Jim will try to become the first driver to win consecutive Corr/Pak Merchandising 360 Sprint Car championships this year, and also plans to be back at Merrittville in June when the Empire Super Sprints tour visits. He’ll also be a favourite to become the first driver from Ontario to win the Canadian Sprint Car Nationals in September.
JIM HUPPUNEN – FAST FACTS
Birthdate: April 21, 1981
Hometown: Fenwick, Ontario
Occupation: Manager of Engineering Services
Car #: 14h
Sponsors: Gibbons Contracting, Bob Reid Heating & Air Conditioning, Upper Canada Consultants, Amherst Concrete Pumping & Crane Rental, Niagara Custom Powdercoating, Kaman’s Auto Service, Dunnville Silo, Tidyman Maintenance, Danima Creative Group, Ryan’s Auto Body, Seaway Mall, Rod End Supply, Praxair St. Catharines, Digital Detail, Scandia Glazing Systems
TG: “Obviously yours is a racing family, but how did you become involved in racing yourself, and what has kept you interested over the years?”
JH: “I was pretty much raised at the race track. In the early years I could be found in the grandstands at Merrittville, Humberstone, and Ransomville Speedways every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday night, and then in the pits once I looked old enough to get in. My father helped out a lot of racers throughout the years like Mark Elliot, Billy Willard, Jr., Rick Zabor, Fred Cade, and Scott Wood just to name a few, so my brother and I got to hang out around race cars all the time. I raced go-karts in the late 80’s and early 90’s before my brother began running the Sportsman [Modified]. Once racing is in your blood, it is very hard to stay away from the race track!”
TG: “Your brother had already been racing Sprint Cars for approximately a decade when you made your debut. What led to your decision to join the Sprint Car ranks, and run weekly at Ohsweken?”
JH: “One reason: Fred Cade! When Fred was getting ready to call it quits to his 3rd or 4th racing career, I was working on his Sprint Car. I showed some interest, and Fred and I made a deal so that I could try the car out for a few nights in 2008. I was kind of wary about getting into a high horsepower car, since I hadn’t raced anything competitively since 1992 when I finished my go-kart career, which was with only a 5 horsepower lawnmower engine. To say the least, I was hooked!”
TG: “Rivalries are bound to come about when you’re racing at a high level, especially when you’re competing against a sibling. How do you deal with that possibility, or is it something you even think about?”
JH: “I don’t think I have a rivalry with my brother. We both have been raised in racing, and we both know how hard it is to be successful. The mentality in Sprint Car racing is much different compared to other forms of dirt racing. Sprint Car drivers, for the most part, help each other out. Most of the racers around here are in Sprint Cars as a hobby, and aren’t trying to be the next Jeff Gordon. We all tend to get along at the track, and it is quite a social atmosphere. On the track you see a lot of respect between most drivers, and you may get some type of rivalry, but it is nothing to call home to mom about.”
TG: “One of the hallmarks of your Sprint Car career has been consistency. It’s rare to see the #14h outside the top 10 at the end of a feature race. Why do you think you’ve been able to maintain that type of performance, even with what seems like increased competition each year?”
JH: “Thanks for noticing! This is something we as a team try to strive for each night. We have a very strict program for each race which extends into the week during the weekly maintenance. I am very particular on how things are done on the car, and my crew has been with me right from the start. Some people may say that I am intense, which is quite true, but when I’m going at full speed I want to make sure I am safe as possible, and that everything on the car is working at its optimal performance.”
TG: “Sponsorship is an important part of any successful race team. How did your team’s sponsorships come about, and how do you make sure those partners are happy, and return each season?”
JH: “Unfortunately one of our longtime sponsors didn’t renew this year, but two of our new sponsors that came on board in 2013 stepped up and filled in that gap. Sponsors are very important and, with the help of my significant other Steph, we have been able to provide a lot of information to keep our sponsors interested in our racing program. We attend several charity events throughout the race season to help bring exposure to those charities, while at the same time bringing exposure to our sponsors. It is a lot of extra work, but I think it helps us keep our current sponsors and attract new ones. Racing is expensive, and any support that we get is appreciated and is stretched very far in order to keep this championship team running smoothly. We keep our website and Facebook page updated regularly throughout the race season, so that helps a lot as well.”
TG: “You’ve now won two track championships at Ohsweken, and you’re the first driver to win multiple Corr/Pak Merchandising 360 Sprint Car division titles. What are your goals for your career in the future, and how long would you like to continue racing?”
JH: “My goal is to keep having fun. I would like to travel to some different tracks, but until the funding is there I will just have to stick it out at Ohsweken. Don’t get me wrong, Ohsweken is one of the best facilities I have attended, and it is a blast to be able to race at this high-end facility weekly! I have a bit of a bucket list of race tracks that I would like to race at before I hang up the helmet.”
TG: “As you mentioned in your speech at the awards banquet, your spot in the pits for the past few years has been next to two HRW Automotive Mini Stock division drivers – Robin Elliott and Jamie Goudge – who overcome physical limitations to race each week. Competitors in what might be considered an ‘entry level’ division are not always looked upon favourably by those in the ‘premier’ division at local short tracks, but it seems just the opposite in this case. Why?”
JH: “It doesn’t matter to me what division Robin and Jamie run; they are racers and that’s all that matters. They are there to race and have fun, and I enjoy hanging out with them. They both bring a lot of excitement to the track which helps pump me and my team up. If I can’t find my crew when I come back in from the track, I know they are probably over in their pits shooting the breeze!”
TG: “We’ve seen lots of changes in the local racing scene over the years, even in the time since you made your Sprint Car driving debut. Where do you see local short track racing going in the future, especially in costly divisions like Sprint Cars?”
JH: “I think that racing goes in cycles – some years you will get 35-40 cars a week, and others only 20-25 depending on the classes, and some people move up trying to advance their techniques and driving style. Sprint Car racing has been around for decades, and it still doesn’t change the fact that people love to watch a great show, especially if you have a track like Ohsweken. It may not have the provenance of Eldora or Knoxville, but it’s definitely well-known, and a lot of people travel far to come here. As long as there are fans in the stands, there will always be dirt flying at the track!”
TG: “Who are some of your role models (racing, sports, or otherwise), and why?”
JH: “Well I will have to say the obvious: My mom and dad and brother, of course. There have been several individuals in my life that have provided me with advice or direction to get me where I am today. Some people have shown me how to be successful, and some have shown me what not to do! Every winter I try to read at least one biography of a racer. This past winter I was able to read Ken Schrader’s book. It was quite interesting to say the least! The books about Doug Wolfgang, Brad Doty, and Jan Opperman are also a very interesting read. The stories of these drivers provide motivation for me to try harder, not just in racing but in life as well.”
TG: “What do you spend your offseason doing?”
JH: “This year I have mainly been focused on getting my engine together. I worked with New Generation Racing Engines to rebuild my engine, and I am looking forward to starting the season off in a few weeks. Steph and I have also been getting things organized to start working on the house. I bought my grandmother’s house a few years ago, and now it seems like everything needs updating! We also took a family vacation to Florida where we went to Disney and St. Augustine, as well as catching the opening night of the [World of] Outlaws show at Volusia Speedway Park. It has been a busy winter!”
Do you have a question you’ve always wanted to ask your favourite Ohsweken Speedway personality, or suggestion for someone you’d like to see featured in a future edition of “Top 10″? E-mail us at email@example.com, and stay tuned for future editions of “Top 10″ on www.OhswekenSpeedway.com!
About Ohsweken Speedway: Founded in 1996, Ohsweken Speedway is a motorsports complex which includes a 3/8 (0.375) mile clay oval track. The facility is owned by the Styres family, and located in the village of Ohsweken, Ontario, Canada. Ohsweken’s weekly Friday night racing program runs from May to September each year, featuring Sprint Cars, Thunder Stocks, Mini Stocks, and Bombers, while the season finishes each year with the annual Canadian Sprint Car Nationals. Ohsweken Speedway also hosts weekly Micro Sprint racing on Thursday nights, and has been a yearly stop on the World of Outlaws Sprint Car series schedule since 2007.
Visit the official Ohsweken Speedway website at www.OhswekenSpeedway.com, like us on Facebook at www.Facebook.com/OHSWEKENSPEEDWAY, follow us on Twitter @OhswekenSpdway, and subscribe to our YouTube channel at www.YouTube.com/user/OhswekenSpdway
Ohsweken Speedway thanks the following sponsors for their support: Arrow Express, Corr/Pak Merchandising Inc., Renway Energy, O’Neil’s Farm Equipment, McDonald’s Restaurants of Paris & Brantford, Nathan Ackland State Farm Insurance, Strickland’s GMC, Mobil 1, Burger Barn, Affordable Towing & Recovery, HRW Automotive, and Gale’s Auto Aftermarket.