DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – By Jason Cunningham, NASCAR — Matthew Manor/Getty Images for NASCAR photo — Blood is thicker than frozen water for Matthew Scannell, who shelved his stick and skates in hockey-crazed Canada and followed in the family footsteps by grabbing a steering wheel and gear shifter.
Four years later, the 17-year-old Scannell became the NASCAR Canadian Tire Series presented by Mobil 1 Rookie of the Year.
Scannell, from Rockwood, Ontario, used to split his recreational time between hockey and racing, but when time commitments for the latter increased, the decision was easy.
“It’s always been pretty much racing,” Scannell said. “It’s something I thought I wanted to do in the future. I enjoyed hockey at the time because my friends all did it, but I started go-karts when I was seven and I always dreamed of going to the [United] States and trying to make a living at racing.”
Scannell is a third-generation driver. Howie Scannell Sr. was a Canadian stock car racer, as is the younger Scannell’s father, Howie Jr. A veteran of 26 Canadian Tire Series races, Scannell Jr. essentially vacated the driver’s seat for his son, for whom he now serves as the crew chief.
Scannell took home the Canadian Tire Series first-year driver award with 56 rookie points behind the wheel of the No. 56 OMVIC Dodge. He recorded three top-10s in eight starts, and a 12th-place ranking in the championship points standings.
“For what we had, I think we did fairly well,” Scannell said. “We had some good luck and some bad luck. I got a lot of seat time, good exposure, and I learned a lot. As far as the whole year goes, I think it was valuable towards my learning curve.”
Scannell showed progress as the season went along. His two best finishes were the last two races of the season, ninth at Barrie Speedway and eighth at Kawartha Speedway, which served as inspiration for the 2015 season.
“At the end [at Barrie] we were just as quick as the lead pack,” Scannell said. “It was a confidence boost to know that we could go out there and run competitive.”
The Scannells are currently seeking sponsorship, with the intent to compete full-time in 2015. He hopes to make a home in the Canadian Tire Series moving forward.
“It would be great to go run for championships in the Canadian Tire Series,” Scannell said. “The guys we’re going up against, they’ve been doing it for years, and it’s pretty tough to do. You’ve got to be on the ball every race, every week that you go to the track.”
Scannell has a success story to point to as a blueprint. This year’s series champion, L.P. Dumoulin, earned the rookie award in 2011.
The teen is appreciative of what it took to get him to this point, and of the opportunity he has been provided.
“I have to thank my dad for working on the cars all year, the crew for all of their support, car owner Jim Bray for providing me with the opportunity to race, and my mom and my family for supporting me throughout the season,” Scannell said.
Scannell’s accomplishment will be recognized at the NASCAR Touring Series Awards on Dec. 13 in the Charlotte (North Carolina) Convention Center at the NASCAR Hall of Fame.