It was as much redemption as exultation when Port Hardy driver Lawrence O’Connor hoisted the trophy following the modified main event at Skagit Speedway in Washington Aug. 30.
O’Connor, 55, has been racing his Harris modified car in the Western U.S. for years, but rarely has he suffered as bitter a loss as he had one night earlier, when Skagit hosted the World of Outlaw sprint car series — and the huge crowds that it draws — for the September Long Weekend.
O’Connor’s “home” track is Grays Harbour Speedway in Elma, Wash. But he joined the field of modified racers who competed as one of the classes supporting the World of Outlaw headliners at Skagit.
And things went very well for the North Islander in the early going of the Aug. 29 weekend opener.
“There were probably 8-10,000 people in the stands,” said O’Connor. “On Friday I started in the front row and led 19 1/2 laps of the 20-lap main.”
Over the course of the race, which was interrupted by six caution flags, O’Connor started on a high line to the outside but gradually drifted down low, toward the inside of the track. This helped cut off inside passing lanes to his challengers, but it also cost him valuable momentum.
“I got lower and lower (on the track), and slower and slower,” O’Connor said.
On the final turn of the race, veteran Washington driver Craig Moore, a former track champion, swung high around O’Connor and motored out of the turn to sweep first under the checkered flag. O’Connor held on for second place, but that was little consolation.
“Second (place) is OK if you’ve been running third all night,” he said. “It blows if you’re in first. I snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.”
O’Connor turned the tables emphatically the following night. Starting in the third row, he quickly charged to the front and, lesson learned, stayed high on the track and held the lead through the checkered flag.
After a day off Sunday, O’Connor and the World of Outlaw tour resumed the weekend of racing Sept. 1 at Gray’s Harbour. Back on familiar turf, O’Connor battled for most of the modified main event in second through fourth spot, and held the lead for five laps.
But moving high to the outside to make a pass late in the race, he ran over a piece of debris that slashed his rear tire and ended his night.
Back on the North Island, the stocks will be back in action this weekend as the Triport Speedway makes up for rain days missed earlier in the season. Racing starts at 7 p.m.