AJ Emms Ready To “Continue To Build Our Program” After Championship Campaign

Story By: ASHLEY MCCUBBIN / OSCAAR – QUEENSTON, ONT – After putting together a memorable Queenston Chevrolet Buick GMC OSCAAR Modified presented by Scott Reinhart Trailer Sales Ltd., Touchwood Cabinets, and The Fyre Place & Patio Shop season in 2019, it’s back to business as usual heading into this year.

“My thoughts going into this year are pretty much the same as my thoughts going into every year,” he said. “With the last couple of seasons, we’ve been really fortunate to learn from some of our mistakes and continue to build our program. We’re just going to continue to try and move in the same direction this year in terms of learning, getting better, trying to minimize mistakes.

“Fortunately, I think everybody is in the same boat as to not knowing the next day, or the next race is to bring. But I think with that being the case, we just need to continue to stay positive, continue to prepare, and hope that we can get in as many races as possible this season.”

Looking at the schedule, the No. 14 team has circled Jukasa Motor Speedway as a place that they’re excited to get back to, simply due to the prestige and beauty of the facility.

“That’s a track that we do not want to miss on the schedule – not to try to put down other tracks, because at this point, I’d love to go racing anywhere. But Jukasa is definitely highlighted on our schedule,” he commented. “We had speed there last year; unfortunately, we weren’t able to execute after a rain delay. We didn’t expect the changes that occurred to our racecar and we really dropped the ball. So we’re looking forward to getting back there and having a shot at redemption, and trying to show some speed at that beautiful facility.”

Outside of Jukasa not going as Emms would have hoped, the 2019 season proved to be a great campaign, as he was able to come away with the championship after scoring three feature victories.

“It means a lot to me to look around at the people like my parents, Ryan Ward, Peter Schotanus, Mike Westwood, my fiancé Cassie, you – and all the people that have supported me through the years, it means a lot to me to get that championship to show them that it was worth the investment in me and it was worth supporting me all this time,” he reflected. “I mean, winning championships is something that I’ll look back on years down the road and say, you know what, that was a huge deal. The racer in me looks to this upcoming season and wants to get better, but I also understand that it’s a huge achievement and I’m fortunate to be in the position to win a championship.

“With that being said, we really haven’t taken out foot off the gas pedal looking towards next season. Winning a championship is great, but we focus on winning races – the more races we can win, the better. I think our team has a lot of consistency; we’re just looking to park it into victory lane more often, but a championship is the ultimate goal. Like I said, we’re very fortunate to be in the position that we are to contend championships and hopefully 2019 wasn’t just a one-off.”

Now as we head into 2020, Emms says it’s all about tying up some loose ends and doing their due homework to continually get better.

“There are guys that are going to be getting better this year; the competition in the OSCAAR Modifieds is only going to get better as different teams progress,” he explained. “So it’s important that we are at the top of our game, and go into each race and do the best that we can. Hopefully that’s good enough, and if it’s not, then we learn from our mistakes and get better. If we’re the best that we can be, then the competition takes care of themselves so we’re just going to continue to strive for that and hope for a good season.”

For Emms, racing is something that he has always been exposed to and involved in, with his father Jeff blazing the trail ahead of him. After going to races at a young age, Emms got his chance behind the wheel of a go-kart when he got one for his sixth birthday.

“I didn’t like it at the start, but really grew to love it – obviously,” he recalled. “I raced go-karts up until I was an early teenager, until I started driving for Mike Westwood. My childhood realistically was filled with going to different race tracks all the way through. Many people ask me what it’s like to race, and I really don’t know what it’s like not to race. That’s just the only thing that I’ve only ever done. That’s my passion, and I’m very fortunate to be able to do it at this level.

“Like I said, having my dad race, I was surrounded by people who raced, and I’ve tried to continue that through my life in having people around me that equally as passionate about the sport as I am, and I hope to be in it for a long period of time. Many people look at NASCAR drivers as their heroes, and for me, growing up at different short tracks in Ontario, my heroes are people like Tom Walters, Don Biederman, and drivers from Ontario that really put the definition on being a true racecar driver.”

Through his career, it seems experience surrounding him has been critical to his success, in being able to lean on not only his father for advice, but the experience in Mike Westwood and Peter Schotanus.

“It’s been huge,” he commented. “Like I try to tell my team, we do our best to try and surround ourselves with good people and when we do that, good things happen. I’ve been very fortunate to have my dad right from the start as a guiding force in my life and in racing.

“As I said, Mike Westwood really stepped up to the plate and Mike Westwood will always be one of my best friends. He’s not only been great for me at the race track and navigating races, but also as a friend in life, and I’ve been very fortunate to learn a lot from him; I would say he’s just like family.

“I would say the same goes for Peter Schotanus. Peter has done a lot in the racing world and I’ve been very, very fortunate to have him as almost like a grandfather figure in my life. He’s definitely taught me a lot. I started going to Peter’s because I couldn’t afford to get set-ups done on cars, and I was really lacking a place to learn, and Peter was that driving force in teaching me different things about racecars and really challenging my perspective.

“I’m really fortunate to have him trying to help guide me and between the three – my dad, Mike and Peter, I have a really great base in terms of experience and knowledge. I think Peter is five decades of racing so that’s a long time, and he talks about races that happened long before I was born. Like I said, I’ve been very fortunate to be around good people.”

Now having been racing for 20 years himself from go-karts to modifieds, Emms advice to those getting started in the sport is there’s no substitute for hard work.

“We all work hard on our racecars, but you can’t drive that home enough,” he explained. “You have to work hard and persevere because there will be tough times along the road. And I think the biggest thing is just to focus on your own program. I see so many people on social media today talking and bench racing on social media and there’s obviously a time and a place for that, but I just feel that sometimes different racers get too caught up in that and I think that being surrounded an older generation of racers who have been in my life and continue to help me, that if I was me telling younger racers, it’s important you focus on your own program and how you can get better each week, and focus less on some of the things that people have to say about you and your presence on social media.”

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