This is the first attempt at a weekly column on Vermont Motorsports Magazine, so bear with us. Racing season is almost here!
The idea of a race track being open on the first weekend of April is a very attractive thing for those of us living in the northeast. For that matter, it'd be nice if some of the mountain roads around here would open back up, but that's neither here nor there. Some are headed to the races in New York, others are going to Connecticut, but most importantly, winter's grasp on us loosens just a bit more.
With snow remaining in only a few places - that I've seen, anyway - the 2009 season kind-of-officially opens this weekend (after Waterford Speedbowl rained out its Budweiser Modified Nationals last Sunday), as Albany-Saratoga Speedway and Thompson Int'l Speedway kick off the racing action. Thompson's traditional "Ice Breaker" event features a 150-lap season opener for the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour, while Albany-Saratoga holds an improptu $5,000-to-win open-comp event for Big Block and Small Block Modifieds.
With this little adventure we've created here at Vermont Motorsports Magazine, we're going to try to experience new things, like, um, dirt racing. As many races and tracks as I've been to, I could probably count the number of dirt races I've attended on seven fingers, something that will certainly change this year. If all goes according to plan, the MotorMag will be at Albany-Saratoga on Saturday for the first time, watching the locals slug it out against the veterans. One of my eyes will be on Vermont guys like Todd Stone (photo, left) and Dave Camara (if Camara shows), while the other chases around Brett Hearn, Kenny Tremont, Matt DeLorezno, and Jack and Ronnie Johnson. Plus, people are talking about the possibility of invaders like Frank Cozze and Billy Decker. I may not have seen these guys race very much, if ever, but I know enough about them to understand that this event could be pretty special. It'll be a learning experience for me, and from what the dirt regulars tell me, Albany-Saratoga puts on a good show no matter what. Let's go racing!
Ah, Tony Stewart. In case you've been under a rock the last 24 hours and hadn't heard, one of NASCAR's biggest stars is headed to Thunder Road for the CARQUEST Vermont Governor's Cup 150 in June to try and get done what Ken Schrader and Kenny Wallace couldn't - win at the Nation's Site of Excitement. Rumors about Stewart (and for some reason, Kasey Kahne) began popping up at the track early last season, and after months of negotiations Stewart has agreed to strap into a Late Model on the Barre highbanks for 150 laps. The race is one of four special events around the region that will award the winner a qualifying berth for September's American-Canadian Tour Invitational at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
This begs the question: Whose car will "Smoke" drive? The first thing we could come up with was one of the Phil Scott/Brad Leighton/Pete Duto cars, but that idea was immediately shot down by Duto himself. "If he is in one of our cars, I haven't heard about it yet," laughed Duto.
Hmm.... Other options for Stewart could include a ride with multi-car operations like the Shelburne Limestone/Demers #85/#86 team, the National Guard/Kendall Roberts/John Donahue #26 team (or would that be a conflict of interest with Stewart-Haas Racing's U.S. Army sponsorship?), a Joey Laquerre car, one of Richard Green's #16 cars, or maybe the currently-driverless Rick Paya #32 car. Time will tell.
While Pete Duto couldn't help us with Tony Stewart, we did get some good information out of him: look for Brad Leighton to race in as many as eight American-Canadian Tour events this year, with Phil Scott in the car for at least the first two Tour races at Thunder Road, and veteran Bobby Dragon behind the wheel at Oxford Plains Speedway in May. Leighton and Scott combined their Tour efforts in 2008 to place Duto 10th in the ACT Owner's Championship, with Leighton winning the Bond Auto Labor Day Classic 200 at Thunder Road in August.
Riverside Speedway in Groveton, N.H. has announced a 150-lap, $5,000-to-win "Clash of the Titans" Late Model event for August 16. The announcement comes just days after Maine's Wiscasset Raceway and ACT announced that the 150-lap Late Model portion of Wiscasset's "Center of Speed 300" event will join Thunder Road's Governor's Cup 150, Oxford Plains Speedway's TD Banknorth 250, and Autodrome Chaudière's Coors Light 200 Showdown as an NHMS qualifying race.
But there's one little issue: Wiscasset's event is the same day as Riverside's, Saturday, August 16.
It seems a little more than coincidental that Riverside would book what they are advertising on their website as "probably the biggest event in the forty-five year history" of the track against Wiscasset Raceway, not long after Wiscasset owner Doug White terminated a relationship with the Maine-based Pro All Star Series (PASS), the organization that sanctions Riverside Speedway.
PASS President Tom Mayberry has a history of playing hardball with tracks and promoters that don't see things his way; in 2007, for example, he booked a 250-lap Super Late Model event at a different Riverside Speedway (in Antigonish, Nova Scotia) directly against Oxford's TD Banknorth 250 in its first year as an ACT-type Late Model event. (Mayberry's PASS North and South series utilize the Super Late Model cars that ran in the TD Banknorth 250 prior to 2007.)
Dick Therrien, general manager of the Riverside Speedway in New Hampshire, has publicly noted the obvious scheduling conflict between his track and Wiscasset, but we've got a feeling that even Therrien may have his hands tied on this one.
While the hope is that both events are independently successful, we also hope that racers and fans don't suffer too much by having to choose between two events that have the potential to be very positive things for Late Model racing in the northeast.
But then again, variety is the spice of life.
(Ronnie Johnson photo courtesy CVRA, Todd Stone photo by VMM, Tony Stewart photo courtesy NASCAR)