Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Albany-Saratoga Opens Northern Racing Season Saturday

Albany-Saratoga Speedway in Malta, N.Y. will say goodbye to winter two weeks early as the gates swing open on Saturday for a 50-lap, $5,000-to-win, open-competition Big Block/Small Block Modified event. A 25-lap race for the Champlain Valley Racing Association's Budget Sportsman class will also be on the card.

According to Promoter Bruce Richards, interest in the race has been "off the wall" since the race was announced last week. Richards told Vermont Motorsports Magazine that he expects all of the area's top stars - drivers like defending Albany-Saratoga champion Kenny Tremont, Jr., New Jersey's Brett Hearn, and Devil's Bowl Speedway champion Todd Stone of Middlebury - to be in attendance. "They're all gonna be here," he said. "And why wouldn't they be? It's an open-rules race and no one else is open that early. And it's a heavy purse all the way through - it's $5,000 to win, $1,000 for tenth, and $300 just to start." Richards also said that interest in the Budget Sportsman race was very high from around the region.

The track's original opening day event was scheduled for April 17, but Richards says optimal weather and grounds conditions have given him confidence.

"The track is as tight as can be," said Richards. "We were blessed in Malta this winter. We got a lot of snow early, then it all melted and there wasn't any frost left in the ground. The grounds are dry and we've been packing the track and the pits all week. It's supposed to rain on Friday, and getting the track dry enough on Saturady morning might push the start time back a little bit, but it shoudn't be much of a problem." Modified driver Ronnie Johnson and Pro Stock driver Kenny Martin assisted Richards in a successful test of the track's new electronic scoring loop on Friday, adding to Richards' confidence that the track is ready for racing.

Time trials are scheduled to begin at 1:00pm on Saturday. Pit gates will open at 10:00am, with the grandstands opening at 11:00am.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Perrotte Bringing Airborne to the Forefront

Mike Perrotte has an on-track résumé deeper than most short track racers will be fortunate enough to build. From the tiniest and most obscure dirt tracks to the grandeur of the old NASCAR North Tour and everything in between, Perrotte has driven just about everything and raced just about everywhere in the northeast. Just last year, he was a race winner and championship contender at Albany-Saratoga Speedway against the likes of Kenny Tremont, Brett Hearn, and Dave Camara, three of the biggest names in dirt modified racing.

But the Elizabethtown, N.Y. man has another side that most drivers can't relate to. On Satruday nights, the 53 year-old trades his helmet in for a set of headphones, climbs out of his 700-horsepower race car, and climbs up the stairs to the control booth. Mike Perrotte the driver isn't here tonight. No, this is Mike Perrotte, Airborne Speedway Promoter.

After winning the 1986 Airborne track championship, Perrotte had a short-lived stint as the promoter. When track owners Ken Squier and Tom Curley decided to transition what was then-known as Airborne International Raceway out of their fold of companies in 2005, car dealership mogul and Dirt Modified team owner George Huttig leased the speedway and hired his driver, Perrotte, to run the operation. When Plattsburgh construction giant Steve Fuller purchased the facility outright from Squier and Curley, he kept Perrotte on the payroll.

The results on and off the track during the last four years under Perrotte's leadership have brought increased local television coverage, a bit of national attention, and have seen the word "Airborne" back as a household name around the region. The addition of DIRTcar-sanctioned Modifieds, improved parking and pit areas, and various weekly attractions only scratch the surface of the changes made. For the upcoming season, Perrotte and Fuller have another laundry list of improvements planned, including redesigning the track itself with progressively-banked corners, similar to those found at short track showplaces like Kawartha Speedway (Ont.) and Toyota Speedway at Irwindale (Calif.), or NASCAR Sprint Cup Series tracks including Bristol Motor Speedway and Homestead-Miami Speedway. The intent is to create more two- and three-wide racing, thereby adding more excitement to the racing program.

"It will change the racing completely," Perrotte said. "(Most of) our divisions seem to get around well, but primarily, divisions like the ACT Late Models and the Tigers, which are sort of similar with tires, limitations on motors, things like that, they all tend to race at the bottom of the track. With this progressive banking, I think - I know - there will be a lot more side-by-side racing."

Perrotte and Fuller have stepped up their game each year, and Airborne Speedway is on the tip of seemingly every race fan's tongue lately.

"We've just made a real commitment to bringing this place to the next level," says Perrotte. "We're putting new lights in all over the facility, we've replaced the whole catch fence all the way down the frontstretch with new poles and fence. We're making a substantial investment, probably $300,000 or $350,000, I guess, I don't know what it'll be when we get done. At a time when everyone is cutting back, it shows our commitment and our faith in what we're doing, and the support we've got from the community and from the racers. Each year the fan count gets better, our car counts are rising, and everything's just really positive. I'm concerned about the economy like everyone else is, but I was more concerned last year at this time than I am now, when gas was at $4.00-plus a gallon. I think that that (positive) change will effect us more this year than the downturn of the economy."

Perrotte is so confident, in fact, that Airborne Speedway will host more marquee events in 2009 than it has in many years, even dating back to the successful Squier/Curley era of the 1990s; the Super DIRT Series - the largest, most successful dirt Modified racing circuit in the world - will roll into Airborne for the first time in June, and Curley's American-Canadian Tour will hold a pair of events, including the return of the historic Fall Foliage 300 in September. The 300 will be the longest event ever held for the ACT Late Model Tour. Add to that list a pair of stand-alone 100-lap Modified events, a 100-lap Tiger Sportsman race, 50-lap specials for the track's support divisions, an Enduro, fireworks, chain races, and more, and Airborne Speedway has the potential to be one of the leading attractions - stock car racing or otherwise - in the northeast.

Perrotte sees recent announcements that top regional drivers including Todd Stone, Don Scarborough, and Jessica Zemken will compete on a more frequent basis at Airborne, and past special appearances by nationally-respected short track racers as a culmination of several things, not the least of which are personal relationships that he first forged as a competitor.

"A lot of that is due to the fact that I know these people and they're all friends of mine and we've all raced together for a long time, but even more importantly is guys like Timmy McCreadie and Timmy Fuller, for instance, guys that can't wait to come back," Perrotte explained. "McCreadie came and ran once last year and told everyone that it was the most fun he had all season. Timmy Fuller, he's not running the (Super DIRT) Series full-time, but he contacted me about two months ago, and he's thinking about coming here. So that says a lot, I mean, maybe our friendship got them here in the first place, but they had a good time while they were here and the racing keeps them coming back. The atmosphere, too, they way they're treated by fans and racers and officials, that's all part of the deal."

In addition to the racing and special appearances, Perrotte and Fuller have created a couple fan-friendly experiences that aren't found anywhere else - a trolley bus that tours fans and children around the speedway grounds and pit area, and a weekly post-race party held in the style of SPEED Channel's Trackside Live program. Both have proven to be very popular.

"Our trolley is huge," said Perrotte, "and that was Steve Fuller's doing. We have a team, every one of us involved in this thing, from the guys that park in the parking lot, it's all a team effort. The racers, the fans, it's not one person, it's everyone working together. The trolley is pretty neat, we've had a good time with that. And the go-karts during the week. Every year we have someone from the go-karts jump into the race cars. They get into the four-cylinders, and every year we have people jumping from one division to the next, so it's all growing."

And speaking of the four-cylinder cars, one of the items on the long list of changes is the transformation of Airborne's Warrior division into the new-look Mini-Modifieds. The cars look exotic, and are already popular among fans and race teams. The purpose is to differentiate the cars from the entry-level Bomber class.

"I've got to be honest with you, it was Tom Curley's idea," chuckled Perrotte. "I'd like to take credit for it, but he said 'Why don't you do something with those cars? You've got two divisions that are same, why don't you take the fenders off and make them different?' and I thought it was a great idea. Because we had two divisions that were the same, people in the stands didn't know one from the other, and it was a little confusing. The best part is that it gives those (Mini-Modified) guys their own identity, and it doesn't cost much to do it. We haven't allowed them to modify the suspensions or anything like that, we just said pull the front ends off the cars and make your own, or leave them off, do whatever you want to do, just make them look different. And they look pretty cool."

Perrotte says he is happy with the state of Airborne Speedway and its recent wave of success, and plans on the trend continuing for years to come.

"It'll be more of the same, bringing in bigger races, although I think in our area we can't get any bigger than the Super DIRT Series and the ACT 300, I think those will always be our two biggest events," he said. "Even if we decided to have a NASCAR race, I still think that those two races in our community and in our area would be our biggest races. We'll certainly entertain the idea of other associations. I see our weekly program going stronger, too. If the race track is a lot fun to drive then we'll have a lot of race cars and racers that want to be there and with that comes more fans, so I just see the whole thing snowballing. Our affiliation with ACT will continue to grow more and more, and with the DIRTcar Modifieds. I've talked to some people about doing a Sprint Car show.

"The sky is the limit, we just have to use our heads and move slowly."

(Photos 1 and 2 courtesy Leif Tillotson, Photo 3 by VMM)

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Late Models Return to Bear Ridge

Full-fendered dirt action will not be confined to just four-cylinder classes at Bradford's Bear Ridge Speedway any more. The track has announced the return of a weekly Limited Late Model division for 2009. A similar division was disbanded in favor of the IMCA Modified class several seasons ago. The Limiteds replace the departed IMCA Modifieds, joining Bear Ridge Speedway's Sportsman Modified, Sportsman Coupe, Fast Four, and Hornet classes as part of the 99ROCK WFRD Weekly Racing Series.

P&C Foods in Bradford will host a Bear Ridge Speedway car show from 10:00am to 2:00pm on Saturday, April 25, followed by the track's official annual car show at the Jiffy Mart/Bradford Mini-Mart on Saturday, May 9. The Bear Ridge Speedway season opener will be Saturday, May 16.

PHOTOS: Champlain Valley Motorsports Show

Photos from the Budweiser Champlain Valley Motorsports Show at the Crete Civic Center in Plattsburgh, N.Y., Saturday, March 21. All photos by Vermont Motorsports Magazine.

Dan Marcotte of Bakersfield, Vt. designed, built, and drove this Mansfield Heliflight-sponsored car to 255.490 mph in the Natually-Aspirated Blown Gas Streamliner class at the 2007 World Finals at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah

Wes Moody's beautfifully restored #63 Chevrolet modified coupe

PHOTOS: Champlain Valley Motorsports Show - Modifieds

Modified division photos from the Budweiser Champlain Valley Motorsports Show at the Crete Civic Center in Plattsburgh, N.Y., Saturday, March 21. All photos by Vermont Motorsports Magazine.

Jim McComb's #5

Bryant Trim's #59

Aaron Bartemy's #B3

Devil's Bowl Speedway Champion Todd Stone's #1x

Matt Woodruff's #55

Dave Camara's #26

Mike Reyell's #02

Airborne Speedway Champion Patrick Dupree's #24

George Foley's #34

Jason Durgan's #17 (and a mini-mini-modified, too!)

PHOTOS: Champlain Valley Motorsports Show - Late Models

Late Model division photos from the Budweiser Champlain Valley Motorsports Show at the Crete Civic Center in Plattsburgh, N.Y., Saturday, March 21. All photos by Vermont Motorsports Magazine.

Craig Bushey's #05 ACT/Thunder Road Late Model

Bryant Trim's #59 ASA/Adirondack Int'l Speedway Late Model

PHOTOS: Champlain Valley Motorsports Show - Tiger Sportsmen

Airborne Speedway and Thunder Road Int'l Speedbowl Tiger Sportsman division photos from the Budweiser Champlain Valley Motorsports Show at the Crete Civic Center in Plattsburgh, N.Y., Saturday, March 21. All photos by Vermont Motorsports Magazine.

Jamy Begor's #19

Skip Liberty's #59 has the new ACT and Airborne-approved Five Star body

Jim Bushey's #11

Shawn Duquette's #18 also has the new Five Star body

Joey Roberts' #50

PHOTOS: Champlain Valley Motorsports Show - Renegades

Airborne Speedway Renegade division photos from the Budweiser Champlain Valley Motorsports Show at the Crete Civic Center in Plattsburgh, N.Y., Saturday, March 21. All photos by Vermont Motorsports Magazine.

PHOTOS: Champlain Valley Motorsports Show - Mini-Modifieds

Airborne Speedway Mini-Modified division photos from the Budweiser Champlain Valley Motorsports Show at the Crete Civic Center in Plattsburgh, N.Y., Saturday, March 21. All photos by Vermont Motorsports Magazine.

PHOTOS: Champlain Valley Motorsports Park - Bombers

Airborne Speedway Bomber division photos from the Budweiser Champlain Valley Motorsports Show at the Crete Civic Center in Plattsburgh, N.Y., Saturday, March 21. All photos by Vermont Motorsports Magazine.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

BREAKING NEWS: Sweet to Chase Thunder Road Title

Sophomore Late Model driver Nick Sweet will return to his hometown track in 2009, seeking Thunder Road's 50th "King of the Road" championship title. The Barre driver put up one of the most impressive rookie campaigns in several years on the American-Canadian Tour last season, but has decided to stay closer to home this year.

"Thunder Road is a track that we have enjoyed a lot of success at," the 24 year-old Sweet said. "With the track celebrating its 50th anniversary we feel this is a great year to be a part of the championship hunt."

On his way to easily winning Rookie of the Year honors, Sweet finished ninth in ACT Late Model Tour points last season with seven top-ten finishes in 11 starts, including a runner-up showing at Maine's Oxford Plains Speedway in September. He also finished sixth in the TD Banknorth 250 at the track in July.

Prior to his first season running in the top-tier Late Model class, Sweet was the 2007 NAPA Tiger Sportsman Champion at Thunder Road, and won Rookie titles in the Sportsman and Street Stock divisions in 2005 and 2003, respectively. He finished second in points at the track each year from 2003 to 2005, and won a total of a dozen races including events at Airborne Speedway (N.Y.), Canaan Fair (N.H.) Speedway, and Lee USA (N.H.) Speedway. Sweet is also the only two-time winner of the Dr. Gordon "Doc" Nielsen Rookie Award, an honor given to the top-performing freshman driver across all ACT and Thunder Road divisions, garnering the prize in 2003 and 2008.

The Saint J Auto dealership group of St. Johnsbury rejoins Sweet and his family's efforts for 2009, after entering the sport last year with the team.

"Nick did such a great job on the ACT Tour last year, that we really wanted to support his team this year at Thunder Road," said Saint J Auto co-owner John Loschiavo. "Nick’s performance last year offered us tremendous exposure, and we are very excited to see the STJAuto.com Pontiac team's commitment to Thunder Road’s 50th anniversary season."

Thunder Road's 50th season opens on May 3 with the American-Canadian Tour's Merchants Bank 150. The regular Thursday-night championship season opens on June 11.

(Photos courtesy Sweet Racing)

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Lanphear and Thompson Headed to Riverside

Morrisville driver Dwayne Lanphear and Bolton car owner Mike Thompson have teamed up again for the 2009 racing season. Big Bigelow of the Caledonian-Record (VT) reports in this week's "Strap In!" column that the pair have set their sights on the Riverside Speedway Late Model championship in Groveton, N.H.

In addition to running the 11-race Late Model schedule at Riverside, the team may compete in select events at White Mountain Motorsports Park and Thunder Road.

Lanphear and Thompson raced the 2007 season together at Thunder Road in Barre, capturing a feature win in August of that year. Lanphear is a multi-time Flying Tiger champion and the winner of the 2001 Chittenden Bank Milk Bowl, while Thompson has fielded winning Late Model entries in the past for Lanphear and John Donahue.

Click here to read more. (Photo courtesy Thunder Road)

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Legendary Stub Fadden Gone at 75

Short track racing hero and Thunder Road Int'l Speedbowl legend Stanley "Stub" Fadden passed away on Wednesday, March 11 at the age of 75. Fadden won over 230 feature races during a five-decade career that won him legions of fans and friends on and off the track.

Fadden got his start racing flathead-powered Coupes and Flying Tiger cars at tracks like Thunder Road in Barre and Northeastern Speedway in Waterford in the early 1960s, and remained competitive through his final start behind the wheel at the 2003 Chittenden Bank Milk Bowl at Thunder Road. Fadden was a welder and garage operator in the small town of North Haverhill, New Hampshire, where he also served as Fire Chief for many years, and was in no small way responsible for putting that town on the stock car racing map early in his career. Along with the famous Ingerson brothers of the same town, Fadden quickly rose to the forefront in the northeast by taking more than his share of victories.

As the Flying Tigers of the 1960s morphed into the NASCAR Late Model Sportsman division, Fadden kept winning, and earned his first Milk Bowl victory in 1970. Wildly popular in the mid-1970s, Fadden was jokingly dubbed the "Senior" member of the young "Mod Squad" that ruled Thunder Road and Milton's Catamount Stadium, including drivers Joey Kourafas, John Rosati, and Robbie Crouch. A second Milk Bowl win 1979, along with back-to-back Thunder Road championships in 1978 and 1979 were proof that he could outrun any driver, senior or otherwise. He also earned Catamount titles in 1981 and 1986, and a total of 13 wins on the former NASCAR North/ACT Pro Stock Tour. Signature victories included the 1980 New England 300 at Catamount, the 1984 NASCAR North 250 at Cayuga Int'l Speedway in Ontario, and the inaugural $5,000-to-win Molson Bash all-star event at Thunder Road in 1982. Other wins came at Twin State Speedway in Claremont, N.H., Autodrome de Mont-Laurier in Québec, and Westboro Speedway in Massachusetts.

Fadden was a major player on the NASCAR Busch North Series (now Camping World Series East) from the series' formation in 1987. He was a four-time winner on the series, taking victories at Monadnock Speedway and Lee USA Speedway in New Hampshire and Jennerstown Speedway in Pennsylvania. In a dozen full seasons on the tour, he finished among the top-ten in championship points eight times, including a career-best fifth in 1992. He also earned a top-ten finish in what is now the NASCAR Nationwide Series at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in 1991. Fadden retired from full-time driving after the 1998 season, but made occasional appearances until 2003. In his final Busch North Series start, Fadden finished ninth at Thunder Road in August 2003. His last race came with a 21st-place finish at Thunder Road's Milk Bowl in October of that year.

Along with his on-track achievements, Fadden was honored with many special awards. He received the Don MacTavish Award in 1976 for outstanding lifelong contribution to stock car racing, was the NASCAR North Most Popular Driver in 1982, and won Sportsmanship Awards on the Northern NASCAR Circuit (1968), NASCAR North Tour (1981), and NASCAR Busch North Series (1990). He was named to the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame in 2003, and was honored with the Bunk Sampson Memorial Award at the Camping World Series East Champion's Banquet last December.

Fadden leaves behind his wife, Charlotte, who was an integral part of not only her husband's career, but was also a key scoring official for Thunder Road and NASCAR for many years. Fadden's legacy will live on in the #16 Fadden Racing entry field by his grandson Mike Olsen on the Camping World Series East and ARCA Re/Max Series. Olsen got his start at Thunder Road in the Flying Tigers in the late 1980s, and has since become a two-time CWSE Champion. Olsen's brother, Todd Aldrich, is a top Late Model driver at New Hampshire's White Mountain Motorsports Park, and grandson Travis Fadden is a top driver in the track's Strictly Stock class. Fadden's long-time crew chief, Frank Stoddard, has been a prominent figure in NASCAR Sprint Cup Series racing for over a decade.

Public calling hours for Stub Fadden are on Sunday, March 15, from 2 to 5 PM, at Ricker Funeral Home, 1 Birch Street, Woodsville, N.H. Funeral services will be Monday, March 16, at the North Haverhill United Methodist Church, Dartmouth College Highway, North Haverhill, N.H., with Pastor Susan Ellery officiating.

In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to the Norris Cotton Cancer Center, c/o Hematology and Oncology Department, One Medical Drive, Lebanon, N.H. 03756-0001; North Country Home Health and Hospice Agency, 536 Cottage Street, Littleton, N.H. 03561; or to the North Haverhill Volunteer Fire Department, c/o Thomas Mayo, P.O. Box 429, North Haverhill, N.H. 03774.

(Photos courtesy Leif Tillotson, Gene Gagne, Cho Lee collection, http://www.faddenracing.net/, and Thunder Road)

Monday, March 9, 2009

Whitcomb Rejoins ACT Tour

Dave Whitcomb will rejoin the American-Canadian Tour for the first time in five years as the 2009 season begins at New Hampshire's Lee USA Speedway in just over a month. Whitcomb was the inaugural ACT Late Model Tour champion in 1992, and has track titles at Barre's Thunder Road and Airborne Speedway in Plattsburgh, N.Y. He says he'll try to make the most of a run at the full ACT schedule after a five-year layoff from full-time Tour participation, when he finished eighth in point standings in 2004.

"We're going to hit the opener at Lee, and then there's Thunder Road and the first race at Airborne, so why not try it?" said the Essex Junction driver. "We'll start the season and see how it goes."

Whitcomb has been racing for over 35 years; he notched his first career victory at the former Catamount Stadium in Milton in 1973, and his name has long been synonymous with Vermont's top asphalt racing stars. He said the bulk of his focus will remain on the weekly Thursday-night events at Thunder Road, but like so many Late Model racers in the northeast, there is now one more big goal: the inaugural ACT Invitational at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in September.

"I kind of want to go just to have a good time at (touring)," he said. "I'm still putting my heart into Thunder Road, and besides, that's where (sponsors) Ferguson Waterworks and Sun Ray Security and Vermont Central Vacuum want me to race... But I'd like to try to go to New Hampshire if we can get into that. That's a big deal."

Whitcomb has two ACT Late Model Tour victories to his credit, the first coming during his 1992 championship season at Maine's Beech Rodge Motor Speedway, the second in perhaps the most memorable ACT race of all-time in a three-wide photo finish at Airborne Speedway's 1996 Fall Foliage 200. Whitcomb won the regular season finale at Thunder Road in August for his 20th career "weekly" Late Model feature victory.
(Photo Courtesy Thunder Road)

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

NHMS "Invitational" is Just That

The northeastern stock car racing community has been abuzz about the first-ever American-Canadian Tour Invitational at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in September, and justifiably so. But it seems that some of that group has overlooked one stipulation of the event: the word "Invitational."

Green-White-Checker's Travis Barrett is reporting that ACT President Tom Curley wants to make perfectly clear that the event is essentially open to all teams running an ACT-legal Late Model car, provided they gain the approval of ACT to compete in the 50-lap, $65,000 all-star race.

Race winners and point leaders or champions from the ACT Late Model Tour, the Série ACT-Castrol, and nine weekly Late Model tracks in the U.S. and Canada, including Barre's Thunder Road, as well as winners of three special non-championship events at Thunder Road, Maine's Oxford Plains Speedway, and Québec's Autodrome Chaudière, will be invited to compete at New Hampshire as long as they meet a level of previous experience and have a car with the proper safety equipement required by ACT to race at the fast 1.058-mile NHMS superspeedway.

"(The ACT Invitational) is not and never was intended to be an 'open house' for the 400-plus Late Models in our region to get to play around for an afternoon at New Hampshire Motor Speedway," Curley told Green-White-Checker. "By original design, we will put the most experienced and highest quality teams into New Hampshire to give us the maximum opportunity to have some success."

The potential for a rookie driver or backmarker with very little on-track experience but the right amount of luck to earn an NHMS starting berth exists, but raises many concerns.

"We cannot allow this to be a lark for someone who just wants to race at NHMS but has neither the equipment, the experience or existing knowledge to be successful both personally and for the good of the initial project," said Curley. "There are legitimate safety concerns that ACT must be aware of in issuing invitations. We must have confidence in the teams we are asking to participate in the event.

"Automatically giving an invitation to a (driver) that has very little experience in a Late Model, or may be in his first year of competition, would be irresponsible."

VMM Loses a Friend in Pete Hartt

Pete Hartt may not have even known about Vermont Motorsports Magazine. If he did, I hope that he liked what he had seen. If he didn't, well, he should know that he had a major part in helping to create it.

Out of the blue, I received a phone call at my home in March 2007. On the other end of the line was Pete, asking me what I thought about writing a weekly auto racing column for the Barre-Montpelier Times Argus. I was blown away.

I had first met Pete in 2003 at Thunder Road, during my days as the Junkyard Warrior pit steward/Airborne Raceway press guy/occasional WDEV Radio color guy. I didn't know him very well, but my first lasting memory of him was forged on August 28 of that year, as he and I were on the air for WDEV's "The Road Show," discussing the night's upcoming events, and playing a short-but-varied list of country music songs. During a commercial break, Tracie Bellerose lived through her now infamous flip over the Turn 3 fence and into the parking lot. Pete and I looked at each other in disbelief, then tried to figure out how to tell the listeners what had happened.

To be honest, that's where the memory ends. We said something about the wreck, but I can't remember how big or little of a deal we made out of it. But I remember that on that day, we got to know each other a lot better. And apparently over the next four years, Pete got to know me and trust me well enough to ask me to write for him and the Times Argus, the second-largest newspaper in the state, and by far the leader in stock car racing print media coverage for Vermont.

I accepted the offer immediately, and penned a ridiculously over-the-top piece called "Drop The Green" about how exciting the upcoming race season was going to be. The following week - after Pete reeled in his new student - was a bit more readable. "Just a suggestion, but try to cut down on the hyperbole... just a bit," he said in a fatherly way. His advice then, and right up through my final days as the media guy at ACT/Thunder Road last November, was invaluable to me. The man made me a much, much better writer, and was certainly the most pleasant critic I had. "Drop The Green" lasted only three or four weeks with me at the helm before I moved to ACT. Pete wrote the column for the rest of the next two racing seasons, along with covering the Thunder Road events each week, writing about ACT news, and telling both sides of the story in an honest, thorough, and informative manner not seen in Vermont newspapers for several years.

But, to me, there was so much more than Pete being just a writer. On average, I would guess that Pete called the ACT office twice a day, meaning some days he wouldn't call at all, but some days he'd call five or six times, usually in a row. His voice was instantly recognizable, which might be the first thing I noticed about him when we first met: Very clear, very articulate, and a certain kindness not heard in 99% of people's voices.


"Hey Justin, it's Pete. Quick question, where is Bunker Hodgdon from?"

"Hardwick, Pete."

"Okie-doke, thank you."

Four minutes later... "Hello?"

"Me again. Brian Hoar... three or four ACT championships?"

"Five, actually."

"Ah, thanks. I'll try not to call again unless it's really important."

Another three minutes pass by... "Hello?"

"Hiiii.... How long ago did..."

At least one day a week for two years, Pete and I would banter back and forth like that. And we both loved it. We'd joke with each other, he'd ask how my personal life was going with my son, we talked about his ambitions with going back to college at Johnson, things that good friends talk about with each other. And he genuinely cared. His wit was dry, sometimes a little intellectually challenging, but always cutting edge and hilarious. I laughed with Pete a lot on the phone, and sitting next to him in the spotters' section during heat races at the beginning of a Thunder Road event was, without fail, guaranteed to produce something funny.

Pete passed away on Monday while working out at a gym in Stowe. He was only 51.

I am so selfishly sorry that he is gone, and I can not do justice in a silly blog post how much the man meant to me, or to the thousands of Central Vermont racing fans (or basketball fans, or fans of any other sport that he covered) that read his work religiously, and I'm proud to be able to call him a good friend. I hadn't spoken with him since a few days before leaving my post at ACT, but I was really looking forward to giving him a call and seeing what he thought of this little Vermont Motorsports Magazine creation I've built. I've had a lot of inspiration to get this thing off the ground, but the lessons I learned from Pete, and the races I looked forward to eventually share the press box with him at, served as more drive for me to get this rolling than maybe any other one person or idea. I was already preparing myself for his comments, whether positive or not, and hoping to bench-race a little bit with him this month as we get ready to drop the green on the racing season.

I'm glad that I got to know him before the checkers fell. Godspeed, my friend, you are already missed.

--Justin St. Louis, March 3, 2009

Monday, March 2, 2009

Cyr Shifts Focus, For Now

In American-Canadian Tour racing, there isn't much left for Jean-Paul Cyr to accomplish. He holds the record for all-time and consecutive ACT championships, at seven and five, respectively, ranks a close second in all-time ACT Late Model Tour race victories, has won all of the major events on the schedule at least once, and is a past recipient of the Don MacTavish Award for lifetime contributions to motorsports. Prior to that, he had been a track champion on the Devil's Bowl Speedway dirt in Fair Haven and a top independent competitior on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour. And for nearly the entire first decade of the 21st century, Cyr has been the face of northeastern Late Model racing.

But when a driver achieves so much success so frequently, he or she can become... bored.
So here comes Cyr, at 44, bored and seeking new challenges. The Milton racer is stepping out of an ultra-successful ride in the Rick Paya-owned RPM Motorsports #32 car and into a new car with an unproven team. Away from the ACT Late Model Tour - at least full-time - and into the tough-as-nails weekly wars at Barre's Thunder Road. And, more often, out of the close confines of a stock car cockpit and into the open air atop a speeding motorcycle.

Cyr has formed a new team with Joey and Jeff Laquerre to run for the 2009 Thunder Road Late Model championship. Joey Laquerre, who posted his first Thunder Road win as a car owner in 1968 and his most recent win as a driver some 40 years later, will field a new Race Basics-built car for Cyr at the Quarry Hill oval. His son, Jeff, will attempt to add to his impressive résumé as a championship-caliber crew chief, and will oversee the operation. Both Cyr and Jeff Laquerre have brought crew members to the fold, aiming for the "King of the Road" crown in the track's 50th season.

Said Cyr simply, "The number-one goal is to create a very stout team that can be a threat week-in and week-out, and the number-two goal would be the Thunder Road title." He did offer that the new team plans to compete in selected ACT events, although its touring schedule has not been finalized.

But there's more. As mentioned, Cyr will return to the roots he planted in his teenage years on the seat of a motorcycle. He has recently returned from the Mexican desert, having enlisted the help of Baja racing legends Johnny Campbell and Tim Morton, and is in the process of training for the Baja 500.

"I grew up racing motocross and hair scrambles," said Cyr. "In my late teens I raced the Florida winter series for a couple of years. Before I raced cars, that's what I did. I kind of became burned out on them, but around that time when I was younger the Baja had always intrigued me so it had always been kind of one of those personal goals to get out there. My father had gone out to Baja and did some trail riding a few times, and he'd come back telling stories."

Cyr began dabbling in the desert a couple of years ago, and the itch came back.

"I happened to meet the right people out there that were involved in racing the Baja 500 and 1000, and I made all the right connections," he said. "Now the opportunity has become very real. On June 6, I race the Baja 500, and I'm going to race that solo. To race at Baja and race cars, it's two different things, but I have to focus on both aspects. To race every weekend with the (ACT) Tour would interfere too much with my ambitions with the Baja. We're talking right now about forming a team for the 1000 (in November), myself and another rider, through Baja Bound (a ride/race program operated by Morton). So Thursday nights (at Thunder Road) really fit in really well for this year, where it wasn't going to take up a lot of my time and cut into too much of my training."

But back to four wheels, Cyr's touring experiences had begun to stagnate over the last couple of seasons. Until last year, he had never seriously been challenged for the ACT championship since his first of five consecutive titles in 2003. During that span, he won over 20% of the races run on the series, and had started to look in other directions, including brief stints as Race Director on Thursday nights at Thunder Road, and as the driver of Gary Casella's #25 car on the True Value Modified Racing Series. Racing full-time at Thunder Road, it seemed, was a logical change of atmosphere.

"I'm always looking for new challenges," Cyr explained. "With our recent history on the Tour, I was looking for new challenges. Thunder Road is certainly a big challenge. What intrigues me about it are the fans at Thunder Road. It's like, until you race Thunder Road weekly, I believe, you're never truly accepted by the fans there, and I love the fans there and I'd like to be more of a part of that before I move on to different venues. I can see myself running the Tour next year, (but) I needed an escape."

And then Cyr said something completely unexpected: "You set goals, and I've never truly achieved any goal that I've ever set, believe it or not."

How could this be possible for a man who has won more than anyone else in the last half-dozen years, for a man who has won championships on two wheels and four, on dirt and asphalt, and has competed successfully virtually everywhere?

"I tend to set fairly high goals, and I believe your goals should be high enough where you don't achieve them," he said. "What do you do after you achieve a goal? The project is done. So if you want to continue on with anything in life, anything that you love, I believe you always set your true ambition just above your likelyhood or ability. That way you can carry through, that's how you can win more than one championship, that's how you keep going. The novelty (of winning ACT races and titles) had worn off, and it was just time for something different, something to inject a little bit more excitement into my life. That's how the Modified happened, I was looking to make my job harder. And I did, just seeking satisfaction. It's kind of complicated, but it's not. Just looking to mix things up, add a little bit of excitement, create desire once again. I like an electric atmosphere, I like for things to be not so much black-and-white but a little bit more adventurous. That's all I was seeking, and once you start doing different things it opens up different opportunities."

So how long is Jean-Paul Cyr going to be seeking adventure at Thunder Road or in the desert? Are his days of ACT dominance over?

"Would I like to win eight ACT championships? Sure, but it's not going to be this year," he said with a laugh. "For me it's a learning-charge-your-battery-focus-on-Thunder-Road-race-the-Baja-and-not-get-killed-type of year."