Local stock car race driver makes Rookie of the Year


It’s fast, it’s noisy, and yes, contact is inevitable.

And it’s one heck of a good time, says local stock car racing driver Jeff Gillies, who will soon be crowned Rookie of the Year for his amateur expertise out on the clay dirt track.

“It is absolutely fun,” said Gillies, who works as a mechanic for K-Wrench Automotive Repair in Killarney. “You are nervous until you get on the track. I feel it in the pit of my stomach. Once you’re there, the nerves go away, and you are ready to race. The green flags go, and the adrenalin kicks in.”

Gillies just got started on the track this spring, after purchasing a used stock car last year and building it up to the specs required.

“The car was a roller,” he said. “It’s a Chevy Monte Carlo, from the mid-eighties. It was complete, except it was missing a motor and a transmission. So I put in a regular stock motor. The engine is a Chevy 350 ci (cubic inches). It’s beefed up to the maximum rule, to 9.5:1 compression ratio. That’s what we are allowed to run. It sounds much beefier, because there’s no exhaust. It’s just two pipes, so there is less engine drag.”

He also installed a special race driver seat, to keep him safer on the track.

“I put in a correct size seat, it’s called a full containment seat,” he said. “It has a five-point harness, and a head restraint, and it’s made of a heavy aluminium frame. There’s also a net on the window, to stop my arms or my body coming out and getting scraped. It keeps my body in one piece, instead of several. There’s no room for passengers.”

But Gillies, a father of five, says it’s not that dangerous to race, and everyone enjoys it – including his family.

“It’s very much family-oriented,” he said. “I think my wife would like to drive the car. It’s safer than bull-riding, which is what I used to do, for five or six years.”

His first race took place in May, at the ALH Motor Speedway in Morden, where he finished sixth out of 14 or 15 other drivers, he said.

Since then, he has run 13 races over the season.

The category he drives in is called the Pure Stock Class, which is the lower end, or entry level, of amateur automobile stock car racing.

Up from there comes the Street Stocks class, then the Midwest Modified class, followed by the top ranking A Mods, he said.

And it’s all very fast.

“We run eight to 10 laps around a high bank oval, which is three-tenths of a mile long,” said Gillies. “We are running at 70 miles per hour, or around 110 kilometres per hour. That’s fast on a 3/10th mile oval. And yes, contact does take place between the cars, especially on the curves.”

First up for the drivers are the heat races, with six to eight cars running the laps, he said.

“The top three are then re-drawn, to determine who would go into the feature race,” said Gillies. “Then there’s the feature race. It’s 15 laps, and that determines who the winner is.”

All drivers wear a ‘RACEceiver’ headset under their helmets, he said, which keeps their ears protected from the racetrack noise, and also allows them to listen to instructions transmitted in from the race officials.

Gillies said a number of local area sponsors help keep him, and his pink-and-black vinyl wrapped car, on the track, including Clarke Heide of K-Wrench Automotive Repair, Kiwi Welding of Killarney, and Mason’s Autobody in Ninette.

And their support has paid off in bragging rights, it seems.

“I finished third overall in points, and at the end of the season, in Morden, I was named Rookie of the Year,” said Gillies. “I get the award at a banquet coming up in November. I was best rookie at the track over the whole season. Points are accumulated through the season, from May to August, and I had 611 points. Another local driver, Brian Bellew, did even better than me, and came in second, with 623 points.”

Bellew, 24, has raced in the Pure Stock Class for the past seven years. He drives a 1986 Oldsmobile Cutlass, car number 30K, with a standard Chevy 350 engine rumbling under the hood.

And he says that his father, John Bellew, also a racecar driver, got him fired up for the sport when he was just a teenager.

“I first started racing down in Bottineau, North Dakota, and now I mainly race in Morden,” said Bellew. “The reason I started racing was Dad used to race about 18 years ago, and got me started, and he let me use the bus hauler that he built.”

Like Gillies, local sponsorship supports Bellew’s costs on the circuit – and it’s highly visible on the stock car’s exterior, which boasts the names of his benefactors.

“My main sponsors are Kiwi Welding, Killarney Tire, Lena Engine Services, Cuvs Autobody, and Marval Autobody,” said Bellew. “I was second this year, and I got fifth last year. I love the sport. Just going fast. Jeff and I do quite a bit of racing together.”

Gillies wound up the season with a race at the Red River Speedway in Winnipeg, on September 15, he said, where he finished seventh out of 17 cars.

But he doesn’t race for the small-time prize money, or even the title, he added.

“This is strictly for a good time,” said Gillies. “It’s a hobby sport. Am I going to race again next year? Absolutely. I’d like to win a feature race next year.”

You can check out Jeff Gillies and Brian Bellew driving live on the track in a number of online videos. Look for the ALH Speedway YouTube videos, and see them (Gillies is encased in the pink and black Monte Carlo, car number 7G; Bellew in the 30K Oldsmobile Cutlass) in action.

PURE STOCK CLASS ACT – Jeff Gillies, 35, was declared this year’s Rookie of the Year on the Pure Stock Class auto racing circuit. He’s pictured here with his beefed up (and slightly pounded) Chevy Monte Carlo, car number 7G, which he raced 13 times this past summer, gaining 611 points over the season, and finishing third overall. Quite the year for the ex-bull rider.

FAST TRACK ACTION – That’s Jeff Gillies on the right, in the Monte Carlo, car number 7G, which is just a whiff behind the ’86 Oldsmobile Cutlass, car number 30K, driven by Brian Bellew, during one of this past season’s Pure Stock Class races. Thrilling contact between the stock cars, which generally race at 70 miles an hour around the three-tenth-of-a-mile long, high bank ovals, does occur – usually on the curves, say the drivers.

SHOP WORK ON THE ’86 OLDSMOBILE CUTLASS – There’s always something to work on with a stock car, and here’s Brian Bellew’s 1986 Oldsmobile Cutlass waiting for attention in the shop. Bellew placed an impressive second this year in the Pure Stock Class, up from fifth last year.

MATCHING BUS HAULER FOR STOCK CAR – It’s all pink and green for stock car racer Brian Bellew – including this matching bus hauler his dad created. Bellew has been racing for seven years, in the Pure Stock Class, and has earned a top name in the amateur auto racing category.