As we move closer to the start of the 2016-2017 Les Enterprises MP Roy Inc. Upstate Racing League Pro Late Model Series, league owner Al Smith Jr. has been working hard with his media team to come up with ways to gain exposure for League competitors. The goal was to check in with drivers of different skill levels and experience levels, to gain some insight and allow other drivers to get to know their competitors a little better. Who better to start with then the newly crowed Approval League Champion, Adam “AJ” Hamel. Our very own Justin MacDuff sat down with him to discuss his iRacing experience, his reflections on his championship, and his hope for this Fall’s Pro Series.
Justin MacDuff: AJ, on behalf of League Owner Al Smith Jr. and everyone at the URL, congrats on your Approval League Championship and thank you for taking the time to sit down with me to answer a few questions. Firstly, how are you feeling coming fresh off that championship? You put together a really solid Approval Series from start to finish! You compiled some pretty impressive stats: Four top fives, six top tens and an average finish of 5.14 helped bring you home that championship. Take us through the Approval Series.
Adam Hamel: Thanks Justin, Al, and URL. Although it’s the Approval league and several big hitters were not present this championship still means a lot to me. I learned a lot about the importance of persistence and confidence. I hadn’t looked really looked at the final numbers past the two points more than Bunch. I guess the thing that stands out to me is that all four top 5’s came in the final four races. The season started with a disappointing 6th at Oxford where I made some major gains from last fall but was expecting better. That was followed with a provisional and a DNF. We had a top 5 car at IRP but found trouble early and had to battle for sixth. There were no thoughts of points leaving IRP. Then we rolled into Bristol. Bunch won the battle but I proved to myself I could hang with him even pressuring him in the closing laps. Then we went to South Boston where I’ve always struggled to be more than mid pack. Somehow I found speed in qualifying and maintained my track position in the top 3 most of the race. Near the end I found myself in the lead but lost out to fresher tires. Still, I gained a lot of confidence that I could maintain my position even with a big name behind me. Another 2nd put the championship on the edge of my radar. From there it was off to Southern National where I know the Upstate Racing Team has put in a lot of practice. This time I blew qualifying but worked my way to 3rd and then did the impossible…kept up with Justin Fuller on a long run. Again more confidence gained along with a 3rd place finish. Going into the finale I knew New Smyrna was not the place I was going to beat Al by enough to overcome a 5 point deficit. My only shot was to maximize bonus points (0x, lead a lap), and hope for Al to have bad luck. Oh and finish close to Bunch. I took care of my car all night, stayed out to grab a lap lead, and after Al found some trouble I found myself tied with Bunch with 20 to go. I was able to keep calm and picked up two spots in the closing laps to get a 5th place finish on a night when I was a 10th place driver. I need to thank my Upstate Racing Team teammates Al Smith Jr, AJ Bunch and yourself for your help in winning the title. You were instrumental in my success. As soon as the ’15/’16 Pro Series ended I was invited to join the team and our weekly practices in various cars has resulted in a measurable amount of improvement.
JM: You certainly have improved along with many other competitors in the URL. Realistically, where do you think you will stack up this Fall when the Pro Series begins?
AH: I’m really looking forward to the Pro Series. It’ll be interesting to see where I stack up this year once all of stars of URL return. I know that top 5’s will be far more difficult to come by but I welcome the challenge. The 18 team will be focused solely on making the Chase.
JM: Making the Chase is no easy task, one thing that will help is wins. How close do you think you are to grabbing that first checkered flag? You have come close, but that win has eluded you so far.
AH: I don’t anticipate any checkered flags in the Pro series. It would take a generous combo of misfortune for others and strategy. While I have made gains I recognize the amazing level of talent on the URL roster. Last season I was astounded by not only the talent level but also how many “little things” I was unprepared for. One of my favorite sayings is luck favors the prepared. This season, I will be prepared.
JM: As your teammate, I can say yes you will be prepared. The growth you, myself and others have shown in the URL is fantastic. And the competition will certainly be tight. Let’s shift gears, for those who don’t know you that well, how did you get into racing in general, and how did you get into iRacing?
AH: That’s an excellent point. The returning URL stars are going to find it a little more difficult than they remember when they are mid-pack as many of us have made gains in the off season.
I’ve been a huge stock car fan since I can remember. I grew up following the tours my uncle worked for in the Northeast and Canada in the 80’s, followed by his move to BGN and eventually NASCAR teams in the 90’s. My family’s made many trips to local tracks and still do. Of course this was accompanied by a love of NASCAR from an early age. My first “sim racing” was in the form of my fleet of Matchbox cars racing around giant pieces of cardboard with hand drawn tracks. My first experience with a computer racing…simulation…was the one floppy disk Indy 500 game. I believe it was a Papyrus title which of course many years later lead to iRacing. Soon after the original NASCAR Racing was released. I would beg friends with higher end computers to let me play it…with the arrow keys. But it didn’t matter. I couldn’t stop. When broadband internet came around I discovered that there were leagues that raced online. Actual people…not AI! I was heavily involved in NASCAR Racing 2003 and rFactor leagues from 2002 to 2009. That’s when a few friends and I made the decision to try out iRacing. We were all aware of it since it’s inception but, PAY a subscription!? PAY for tracks and cars!? This was a huge divisive topic back then. Nevertheless we took the leap, and it took about one race each to be hooked. Eventually we all burned out and I retired in the summer of 2011 thinking I’d never be back. But last summer I started to get the itch and then found an opportunity to get back in. I decided I’d look for a private league and Al had just posted about openings for URL. I figured Late Models were a good place to get back in. Those are easy to drive right? Turns out a lot had changed in four years. After some early questions about whether or not it had been a mistake to return I pushed on. My parents and uncle enjoyed watching our LSRtv broadcasts no matter how mediocre I ran. The advances in the internet broadcasts allowing me to share my sim career with my family combined with the camaraderie I’ve found through URL have made my return more than worth it.
JM: Awesome to hear, sounds like you have a lot in common with many other drivers in the URL where racing has played and continues to play a huge part in your life. One last question for you. You’ve been around racing your entire life, as a spectator and a sim-racer, but this season you will now be a sponsor. Your fantasy racing league, VTFR, will be the title sponsor of the third race of the chase in Stafford. What will that be like for you?
AH: I’m not really sure what to expect. I’m already nervous and it’s not until February. VTFantasyRacing.com came out of an idea to run a fantasy NASCAR league for family and friends. I used Excel to do the scoring for years. In the winter of 2014 I finally acted on the idea to use some heftier technology to automate nearly everything about the league and put it on the internet. Although it is built to handle a large number of players I’ve never actively tried to market it. Until now. The timing of the Stafford race in early February along with it’s location in New England and position as a Chase race make it the perfect place to jump into the ad game. Whether we get an additional signup or not it’ll be fun to be the primary sponsor for a week.
JM: Sounds like the perfect storm for an up and coming fantasy racing league. AJ, thanks for taking the time to answer some questions and congrats again on all of your accomplishments. Best of luck to you this Fall in the Pro Series!
AH: Thanks Justin, I look forward to getting behind the wheel of the #18 VTFantasyRacing.com / Art’s Barber Shop Chevy his fall.
We hope you enjoyed this sit down interview with AJ Hamel. Send us your feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org and be sure to follow/Like us on Facebook for all news regarding the URL. On behalf of everyone at the URL, we’ll see you at the track!