Port Hardy stock-car driver Lawrence O'Connor spent Speed Week competing in the modified dirt track nationals in Florida in February.

Port Hardy stock-car driver Lawrence O'Connor spent Speed Week competing in the modified dirt track nationals in Florida in February.

Hardy racer goes back to the future

Stock car driver Lawrence O'Connor returns to Florida to compete for first time in 20 years

Gazette staff

He wasn’t piloting a DeLaurean, but Port Hardy stock car driver Lawrence O’Connor went back to the future during last month’s Speed Week leading up to the Daytona 500.

O’Connor, one of Canada’s top motorcycle track racers when he competed in Florida in 1981, returned last month to race a brand-new 2011 Harris modified stock car in the 40th Dirtcar Nationals at Volusia County Speedway in Barberville, Fla.

“I realized as I was flying in that it was my first time back with my helmet in 30 years,” said O’Connor. “If you had told me in 1981 I’d be back racing in 30 years, I never would have believed it.”

O’Connor raced with fellow B.C. driver Jason Beaulieu, who swung through Boone, Iowa, with his three-car trailer to pick up O’Connor’s new Harris car en route to the Feb. 8-15 Speed Week events in Florida.

Once on the track, the new car, sporting a maple leaf and the number 27eh, experienced some “teething pains,” O’Connor said. And he made a faux pax of his own by showing up for a heat after racing in his class had finished. And, he admitted sheepishly, he was disqualified from one heat race for rough driving.

But O’Connor did qualify for two feature main races against the top drivers in the Southern and Eastern U.S., including several NASCAR Cup standouts who took the opportunity to escape the media and fan crush at the “big track” in Daytona to play on the dirt track.

“You don’t normally get to run with the Cup guys,” said O’Connor, whose on-track rivals for the week included NASCAR veterans Clint Bowyer, Kenny Schraeder and Kenny Wallace. “When you consider the company, I was pretty tickled to get as far as I did.”

He also received a compliment from Bowyer after finishing his first feature main with a flat left front tire, the result of running over another car that had crashed on the opening lap. O’Connor finished the main in 18th place and was lapped by Bowyer, the eventual winner.

“After the race, he said, ‘Do you know you had a flat tire?'” O’Connor said of his chat with Bowyer. “I told him I did, and he said he was amazed at how quickly I was going with a flat tire. That was nice to hear.”

In the finale of the UMP DIRTcar nationals, the Feb. 15 Gator Cup, O’Connor was running as high as fifth in B Main 1 before breaking he rear transmission and finishing 13th.

Connor expects to return to action this season in the track series and Northwest Nationals at Grays Harbor Raceway in Elma, Wash.