Tim Ellis has accomplished quite a lot in his 35 years of racing throughout Ontario, Canada.
Ellis recalls a weekend of racing more than 20 years ago when he won a 100 lap race on Saturday night, went home and converted his car, won another big race at a second track on Sunday afternoon, then drove more than three hours to his home track, Sauble Speedway, and finished second that night.
Two wins and a second place in two days is just a small part of the success Ellis has found while driving late models at the top level across Ontario.
“My trophy room in my shop is full of the biggest race wins in Ontario,” he said.
Even though Ellis knows he can keep racking up wins, he’ll hang up his race suit at the end of the 2019 season. He announced in February he plans to retire at the end of the year.
Ellis will run a full season at Sauble Speedway, a paved quarter-mile oval in Hepworth, Ontario, and hopes to finish his career with a points championship at the track that is just five minutes from his home.
Ellis admits he has never been much of a points racer. He prefers to race as a “wreckers and checkers” type, going for wins in every race he’s in.
“I never really focused on points championships. What I focused on over the majority of my career have been big races,” he said. “So what I’ve done is I’ve won every big race you can win in Ontario. Every 100 lap event, 200 lap events, all the prestigious… I’ve pretty much won every major Canadian event multiple times.”
“Points racing is a much different style of racing where it’s, ‘OK, well 3rd place, it’s better to finish there and get the points.’ I’ve never been that. I’ve been wreckers or checkers the entire time. It doesn’t win you championships though.”
Ellis remembers his big wins much more than his points championships.
The 52-year-old had a passion for racing from a young age. His dad raced for a little over a season in the late 1960s before blowing an engine and giving up the sport.
“I would sit in his car. Every day after school I’d run home and climb in that race car and pretend I was racing,” he said. “So I knew from a really, really early age it was a passion of mine.”
At 12, Ellis started helping drivers in the pits by putting fuel in cars. About five years later, he got the chance to get behind the wheel himself.
“From that moment forward I knew it was something I needed to do,” he said.
Ellis hasn’t been driving nonstop ever since, though. In fact, he briefly retired twice before this year’s final season. The first time he retired was when he started having children and thought he wouldn’t have time to devote to the sport.
It didn’t last long though.
“Because I only wanted to race at the top levels in Canada and only to very high standards and to be able to win and that takes a lot of hard work and dedication, so I thought ‘okay, I need to retire,’” he said. “So I sold all my stuff, and a month later I bought all new and started again.”
The second time he retired was for a full season in 2013. More than a decade before, Ellis’s good friend and car builder Brian McDonald moved to Mooresville, North Carolina to work for NASCAR. McDonald moved back to Canada in 2014, so the duo decided to race together again, bringing the second retirement to an end.
“It was a long relationship with him building my cars to great success. He is very, very bright… so I had a tremendous amount of success so when he left it wasn’t the same,” Ellis said. “And I’ve raced nonstop ever since.”
Each time Ellis retired previously, he thought the best way to cope was to stay away from the track completely. But there was always something drawing him back. For him, it’s always been about the relationships he’s made, like his friendship with McDonald, Sauble Speedway promoter Jim Chisholm, and his longtime car owner.
Ellis said he’s ready to retire this time, because he wants to be able to go out of the sport on top.
“A lot of it is driven by, I’m 52 years old. I can still compete, I still run at the front, but more and more, at the top levels of NASCAR, I see younger drivers coming in and they’ve got more resources and they’re eager and hungry,” he said. “When I always thought of retirement I thought, ‘I want to go out when I’m still relevant. When my car is still one of the cars that people need to beat to win, that’s when I want to retire, not when I’ve slipped back in the pack.'”
While Ellis said in his previous retirements he didn’t even go to the racetrack, next season he plans to still be in the sport. He currently owns two cars, and wants to keep at least one next season to run exclusively at Sauble Speedway. He doesn’t want to travel as much anymore, but said he likes the idea of possibly giving a young driver who may not be able to afford to race the chance to get into the sport.
“It’s hard. Its one of those things, as hard as I’ve tried, when I have tried to retire I haven’t been able to go to a racetrack or I’ll just get right back in it,” he said. “So I’m not going to try to walk away from it this time like I have in the past. I want to stay involved on my terms.”
There’s still one more season to go before Ellis has to think about that. Sauble Speedway will open the season on June 29. Ellis will have two cars there this season, one he drives, and the other driven by the reigning track champion.
He’s doing everything he can to put his team in the best position to win a championship. But more importantly, he wants to head to victory lane as many times as possible before it’s all said and done.
“I usually win on opening night because I’ve done more prep work than everybody else, I’ve tested more than most people do. So I’m looking forward to testing and then probably try to follow in the same fashion I have and win opening night,” he said.
“I am going to try to win the points this year, but only if I can try to win every race.”