Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Curley Happy with NHMS Test

Tom Curley can breathe a little easier now.

The American-Canadian Tour President was part of a two-day closed-session test for Goodyear at the 1.058-mile New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, N.H. with two of his touring series' teams, and was very pleased with the results he saw. A trio of former ACT champions, Phil Scott, Donald Theetge, and Dave Pembroke, tested cars on Tuesday and Wednesday in preparation for the inaugural ACT Invitational on NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Sylvania 300 weekend in September.

"We ran a 50-lap simulated race today, and it went great," Curley told Vermont Motorsports Magazine on Wednesday afternoon. "The tires were fabulous, the lap times were terrific, it really was something."

Québec's Theetge, the 2006 Série ACT-Castrol Champion, and Middlesex driver Pembroke, the 2007 Champion at Barre's Thunder Road Int'l Speedbowl, took part in the 50-lap session. Scott, the 2002 ACT Late Model Tour Champion, made history on Tuesday as the first driver to turn a Late Model car around the superspeedway following rain showers that wiped away much of the day. Due to his obligations as a Vermont Senator, Scott was unable to return to Loudon on Wednesday to take part in the second session; his car remained at the speedway for Pembroke to drive. Four Sprint Cup Series teams - those of Jeff Gordon, Kyle Busch, David Ragan, and David Stremme - were also on hand testing for Goodyear.

Goodyear designed Wednesday's 50-lap test to simulate race conditions with two 20-lap segments and a final 10-lap run, in order to allow the tires to heat and expand, cool and shrink, and react the way they might in a real race.

"David (Pembroke) found a new line and was a half-second faster in the last 20 laps he ran than he was in the first 30, which is a great sign," Curley said. "Overall our (ACT) cars were about a second and a half slower than the Cup cars, which is really pretty good."

Curley said one of the highlights of the day came near the end of the session.

"Goodyear ran our cars at the same time as the Cup cars, and Pembroke got to race about 10 hard laps at the end with Jeff Gordon and Kyle Busch, which was a great thrill for everyone," said Curley. "He did great in the corners - he was actually faster than they were in the corners - but their 800 horsepower went right by him on the straightaways. It was pretty neat, though."

Aside from the fun, Curley said that the purpose of the test - to learn not only about the Goodyear tires, but also about how the Late Model cars would withstand straightaway speeds of over 140 mph, and whether or not corner braking would be an issue - was a huge success.

"The aero issues, the brake issues that we were worried about, were non-factors. I was concerned with the spec motor being a bit doggish off the corners, but it had plenty of zip and the cars looked pretty fast coming out," Curley said. "Donald Theetge went just about as good as Pembroke, and they feel there will really be an opportunity for a lot of side-by-side racing on race day. The next test in August should be a very good overall experience for everyone, and we're very happy."

Scott echoed Curley's thoughts, and said that the ACT spec engine performed well on the superspeedway.

"The engines were... I don't want to say the word 'numb' because that's not right, they kept pulling (down the straightaways). I think we'll have chassis looseness, but we won't have any problems spinning off the corners from traction breaking loose. It was a very good combination for the track."

Theetge suffered a power steering failure early in Tuesday's session, but made significant gains on Wednesday.

"It went very well, especially for the first time on the track with a brand new car," Theetge said. "It's too bad we had a problem on Tuesday, but we were much quicker today. I think we realized after the two days were over that it's not so difficult to drive the track like we thought it would be. I think we're going to have a great show with 36 cars out there. All those people that come see us will have a great time."

Scott was pleased with the results he saw behind the wheel.

"We got to make three or four runs (after the rains cleared on Tuesday), and it went really well," said the Montpelier driver. "The car was awesome, very stable. I got used to the track - I wouldn't say quickly - but I became very comfortable. It's a nice track to drive, there are a lot of different lines we were able to run. It reminded me a lot of Sanair, it has the same flavor, the same feel, and I really enjoyed racing up there. I think our cars are going to adapt nicely (to NHMS), and I really look forward to going back down there."

Scott said that there was a lot of interest in the ACT cars, chiefly from Jeff Gordon and David Stremme.

"It was sort of a funny thing, and maybe it because of the weather, but we got down to the point where we were (turning lap times) within a second of the Cup cars on Tuesday," said Scott. "We parked our cars in the same garage as the Cup teams, and they paid attention to what we were doing. David Stremme is a great guy, he came over and introduced himself and climbed under the cars, he was very interested in them. He seemed impressed with the cars, the only thing he was concerned about was the brakes. But we didn't have any brake problems."

The cars were strong enough at the track, Scott says, that many people took notice.

"Jeff Gordon was standing on top of his trailer watching us (Tuesday), and he came over a couple times during the day to talk. Fred Neergaard (NHMS Communications Director) was really enthusiastic. Tom Curley was a little nervous at the start of the day, but I think he was very happy with the results.

"All in all, it was a very positive day."

Scott reflected on the test and took pride in the role he, Theetge, and Pembroke played in making history for the 'little guys' of the northeastern short track world.

"I never would have thought this would have happened," he said. "To be the first ones of our group on the track is pretty special. This is such a strong NASCAR track, and I never thought it would be possible for us to race here."

Curley said that he has "no qualms at all" about the ACT Invitational in September. "Goodyear is tickled to death, New Hampshire is happy, and so are we," he said. "The tires were great, the cars were great, and we're really looking forward to coming back."

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