After a season that brought considerable heartache and frustration, George Haskell wasn’t sure if he’d be racing in 2016.

With a fifth-place result in mid-July the lone highlight of a dismal 2015 effort, the Casco-based racer put veteran Matt Dufault in the car after a knee injury forced him out from behind the wheel. Dufault’s skills, talents and guidance changed Haskell’s perspective, and the results are easy to see.

Haskell currently leads the Outlaw division point standings at Oxford over 2015 class champion Steve Moon. 

“I told myself I was going to go have fun with it,” Haskell said. “Having Matt drive the car last year gave me the boost I needed. It gave me the courage to put the car in places I wouldn’t have gone before. I knew I needed to get more aggressive behind the wheel, or just hang up my helmet for good.”

This year, Haskell earned five top-five finishes in his first five starts. While he has yet to win a feature, the car is going in the right direction and reacts consistently to any adjustments the crew makes. It’s given him a new sense of confidence, the kind that only comes from running up front a few weeks in a row. 

“It’s been a blast this year,” Haskell added. “I really didn’t plan to run for points at all, I just wanted to make sure we had fun. As difficult as it sounds, my goal this year was to earn a trophy every week. In the long run, if you focus on doing your best in each race, the points will take care of themselves.

“I’ve been spun out, but have been able to get back up through the field and salvage a good finish. One night I ended up off the top of Turn 2 just three or four laps into the feature. I restarted in fourteenth, but drove back up to fourth at the finish. I’ve had some luck on my side this year, which always helps.”

Racing at any level takes mental focus and physical strength, regardless of the division or track layout.

“I just go out there and race as hard as I can with respect to those around me. I know quite a few of the guys I compete against, admire their talents and hope they respect me, as well. We all want to win, but the truth is we’re all just out there to have fun on a Wednesday night.” 

Dufault says Haskell has earned the respect of his rivals and has a loyal following. 

“George is an excellent mechanic and extremely smart when it comes to cars,” Dufault said. “He just got a little frustrated last year and asked me to drive his car from mid-season on. It took us a few weeks, but we put our heads together and found some speed. We went on a tear to close out the season, winning four straight races — including a 50-lap event at Beech Ridge.

“George has a big heart; he would gladly help anyone in the pits,” Dufault said. “He’s been fun to watch so far this season, hopefully he can break out soon and get himself that first win. I’m sure everybody who knows the man is pulling for him.”

Haskell, 30, has been racing part-time off and on since 2002. He admits to making a modest effort for several years, getting his cars from the junkyard and putting used parts on them to save money. These days, his car looks and runs much better as he raises his program to a more competitive level.

“I’ve been trying to get away from the used stuff lately and use only new parts and pieces,” Haskell said. “It’s paid off during the first half of the season, and I hope we can carry this momentum through the final races.”

While many weekly short track teams love to go racing on a Saturday night, Haskell says the mid-week deal with Oxford’s long-standing Wednesday night Acceleration Series program works best for him.

“The best bang for your buck is to go racing on Wednesday nights, anyway,” Haskell added. “It gives you the weekend to do other things. I usually go all through my car on Sunday and get it loaded up by Monday night.” 

Some race fans may think these entry-level Wednesday night teams are a one-man show. Granted, most don’t have the luxury of six-man teams with tire, chassis and body specialists, yet they do have valued support from friends and family. Nobody that runs up front for long does it all by themselves.

“I have to thank crew members Bill Stuart and Norm Judkins for all they do,” Haskell said. “I also have to thank Bill Dixon, who has raced in the PASS Modified division. He’s not racing this year after open-heart surgery but has helped my program a great deal. My ‘junior’ pit crew consists of Owen Stuart, Jacob Vaughn and Alivia Stuart. 

“The biggest supporter I have is my girlfriend, Erin Lapoint,” Haskell said. “In 2014, I earned my first trophy a week after she had her kidney transplant. She was mad about missing that race, but we all certainly understood. It took 12 years to get my first trophy, but it only took a week and a half to get three. She’s with me each week now, and I’m thrilled to have her there.”

Haskell also has formed valued relationships with several businesses that pitch in to help his efforts.

“I’m lucky to have a handful of great local sponsors that make my hobby possible,” Haskell said. “They include Tortilla Flat mexican restaurant, Stallion Steel, Burr Signs, Snow’s Excavation, Official Truck Towing and Transport, of Otisfield; my employer, Stuart Automotive; and Wallace Home Improvement. I appreciate what they all do and could not be competitive without their support.

“We also have the Donate Life logo on the hood in an effort to raise awareness for organ donation. That is my gift back to Erin for all of her support.”

How the balance of 2016 will play out in the highly competitive Outlaw class is uncertain, at best. 

“I really just want to get that first feature victory under my belt,” Haskell said. “I think I’ve got the pace down in qualifying, I’ve won three heats so far this year.

“Now I just need to transfer that over into the feature. If I can stay competitive and earn a few more trophies, we should hold our own in the points.”

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