Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Juice: Racing, Debates, and a Major Award

Woo! Racing season! The top two full-fendered touring series in the northeast kick off their seasons on Sunday, and if you're not at a race track, you're missing out.


It sure was good to take in some practice action at Thunder Road on Tuesday. A bit chilly toward the end, but still real good. And seeing 70 race cars on a Vermont Tuesday night in April is incredible.

Some of the surprises included Joey Doiron of Berwick, Me., who came to T-Road for the first time. "It was a long haul, but I got to skip school, so it was worth it," he said. Doiron, 17, held his own against the big guns, but more importantly, got some good seat time at a new track. "I actually liked it. People tell horror stories about hitting that wall in Turn 4, but I didn't have any problems. It's a neat place." Doiron will split his time in 2009 between the Pro Series (Super Late Models) at his home track, Beech Ridge Motor Speedway, and the American-Canadian Tour.

Other Late Model young guns on the track included Kyle Caron, who at 18 looked like an elder statesman, and 16 year-olds Dylan Smith and Steven Legendre. Smith spun twice, while Legendre left a donut on the door of Brooks Clark's car after some close-quarters action.
We didn't bring a stopwatch, but the word on the street is that Nick Sweet might give the Thursday-night crowd a pretty good go at it this year, according to yesterday's unofficial lap times. Dave Pembroke and Brent Dragon were also at the top of the charts.

A nice-looking field of Tiger Sportsmen, Street Stocks, and Junkyard Warriors was also on hand. If you want our opinion, there may not be a better looking race car in the pits this year than David Allen's #11 Street Stock (right). David Greenslit's #20 car is pretty sharp, too. Check out Leif Tillotson's gallery here.


Man, are they getting it done at Airborne. The progress is incredible - look at those banks!


Why am I getting into dirt racing this year? Because of pictures like this. That's Orwell driver Tim LaDuc at Albany-Saratoga Speedway at a recent practice. (Dave D'Alessandro/CVRA photo)


Thanks to Jason Schoellen and Bill Kimm, there's a raging debate on the message boards of about whether or not the Sprint Cup Series should have more night races. In what began as one of the website's 'Head2Head' features, Schoellen was in favor of the idea, citing the fact that "Saturday night races hold true to the racing roots of local short-track events. It's what most drivers, especially those raised on dirt, are used to. Fans could watch the Cup race at night like they would at home and still be back in time for church on Sunday and work on Monday."

Kimm was agin the idea: "When I think NASCAR, I think Sunday afternoons with my dad ... I don't think about racing under the lights until well past midnight. Bristol ... remained the only nighttime event until the early '90s when Richmond and Charlotte added lights. Now, with money the driving force and TV ad time premium in the prime-time hours, we are seeing more and more nighttime events. Do we need more? Absolutely not."

As it is now, there are 12 such races on the schedule including the non-points Budweiser Shootout and Sprint All-Star Race, with nine of them running during primetime on Saturday nights between April 18 (Phoenix, this weekend) and October 17 (Charlotte), or, short track racing season.

It is this writer's opinion (and that of many on the forum) that Saturday-night TV races do nothing to help the sport of auto racing as a whole. As Schoellen suggested, it is a proven fact that race fans often stay at home on the loveseat to watch the Sprint Cup Series under the lights, rather than attending a local short track that they regularly visit, like Bear Ridge or Riverside or Airborne. And if Schoellen was really concerned about "holding true" to the roots of short track racing, he would see that and understand that those TV events hurt the short tracks.
Kimm, and a lot of forum participants, touched on the long history of NASCAR running on Sunday afternoons. "Don't get me wrong, I like night races," Kimm wrote. "There's something to be said about seeing the cars sparkle under a fluorescent glow at tracks like Bristol and Daytona. But it should be a special event, not the norm - it takes away the uniqueness."

Poster 'Chevyfan41' agreed, also bringing up the short track thing: "NO! Saturday night is historically local dirt track night. Sunday afternoon is when Cup races should be!"

Followed in the very next post by 'kenhow8': "Yes, they should race as many as possible! The Sunday afternoon races are getting boring since they started racing (the) COT."

(Someone should probably inform 'kenhow8' that the cars, tracks, drivers, and therefore races, won't change whether the sun is out or not.)

One thing that bothers me is the idea posted by many that they grew up on Saturday-night racing at their local short track, and therefore that's where NASCAR belongs. I ask the question: If you enjoy the local track so much, why don't you continue to support it? I mean, TiVo and DVR have been around for a while now, and you can always fall back on the ol' reliable VCR if you need to. Tape the NASCAR race, go out and cheer on some local heroes. That's what I do, anyway.

Whether I'm right or wrong - and I'm probably wrong - the debate is interesting. There are positives to running the night races - increased TV exposure and advertising for the sponsors that support the upper levels of NASCAR, and some of the hosting tracks do see an increase in attendance - but surely as many negatives that affect more than just the top-tier NASCAR teams. Let 'em know what you think.


Montréal in 6. That's all I'm saying.


The ACT/Ford crate engine test went as well as expected, says Cris Michaud. He and Eric Williams took part in a practice session designed specifically to test the new Ford R&D powerplant on Tuesday afternoon at Thunder Road, to directly compare on-track performance against the exisitng Chevrolet 'spec' engine currently used in ACT racing.

Michaud and Williams raced each other at speed in several situations, including Michaud running in front of and behind Williams, and on both inside and outside lanes. Like his previous test with the engine at White Mountain Motorsports Park, Michaud was pleased with the results.

"Again, the lap times were the same here at Thunder Road as last year," he said. "The horsepower is exactly the same as the Chevy motor on the (dynamometer) sheet, but the torque is a bit different. There is definitely more high-end torque with the Ford, where the Chevy has better low-end power."

Williams said he thought Michaud's car performed as well as it would have with the Chevrolet engine, although he factored Thunder Road itself into the equation.

"It's hard to tell at Thunder Road, Thunder Road's not a motor track, so I wouldn't judge anything from it," Williams said. "I've run here with a plug wire off and run better than I did with it on. I ain't taking much from it."

Williams also thinks Michaud might have been playing a game of possum. "They're playing their cards," he suggested. "You know what I mean? Come on, they didn't start racing yesterday. They're better than they showed, and they were good."

It looks like the true test will be on Sunday at the ACT Late Model Tour opener at Lee USA Speedway on the New Hampshire seacoast. Michaud will be running the Ford engine in a race for the first time.


Going quickly back to last week's piece on car counts, we've got some good news to report: The NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour attracted 25 cars for its event last Saturday night at Caraway Speedway in Asheboro, N.C., while the PASS South 'Easter Bunny 150' brought 42 Super Late Models to Hickory (N.C.) Motor Speedway. The WSMT's previous season high had been just 20; the PASS event was only the second race on the series' schedule, but still more-than-doubled it's opening day count.


Do you know what that is? Do you? That's a major award. And it's mine. On the fridge. (Nevermind the Lightning McQueen magnet, here, focus.)

What's it for? It's the Pac Man Award.

What's the Pac Man Award? Uh... well, actually, most dodgeballs to the face.

...But it's mine.


Okay, race fans, here's your assignment: This weekend, get out and enjoy some racing. It doesn't matter if you go to Lee USA for the ACT race, Speedway 95 for the PASS North race, or if you clear out a track in your hayfield. It's the official beginning of spring!

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