"Steven Legendre is not your typical kid," says Cris Michaud. "You know how kids his age are, but he's respectful. I'd just as soon go out to dinner with him as anything." It's a nice compliment to be paid, no doubt, and Michaud, the three-time track champion at Barre's Thunder Road Int'l Speedbowl, knows Legendre well enough to be confident in the young man's character. Sure, some things about him are typical: he plays basketball for his high school team, the Danville Indians, he goes to proms, he's one of the fun guys. And like most sixteen year-olds, he likes to drive fast. But that's where Legendre seperates himself from most fast-driving high schoolers; he does his speeding on the race track. And next weekend, he'll go even faster.
"We figured we'd try moving up a step this year," he says.
It seems like since his first race in 2005, all Steven Legendre has done is 'move up a step'. At 13, he carried the checkered flag in only his second start in the four-cylinder Kids Truck division at White Mountain Motorsports Park in North Woodstock, N.H. Just days after turning 15 years old, he retired from the youth class (with 14 wins) and moved into a V8-powered Chevrolet Camaro in White Mountain's Strictly Stock division, winning in his fourth start. And last year he moved to the track's headline Late Model class, and again it took only four races for Legendre - still just 15 at the time - to be a winner. He earned a second victory late in the year and finished sixth in points, winning the Rookie of the Year honors.
On Saturday, he moves up for the third time in two years, to the Pro All Stars Series (PASS) North Super Late Models. Driving a new Dale Shaw Race Cars chassis, Legendre will head to Maine's Speedway 95 near Bangor to take on the likes of Ben Rowe, Johnny Clark, Cassius Clark, and the young driver that blazed a trail easily comparable to Legendre's, D.J. Shaw, Dale's son.
The similarities between Shaw and Legendre are striking: both young drivers' fathers have checkered résumés behind the wheel, in the pits, and as chassis fabricators, both youngsters were instantly successful in White Mountain's Late Model division (as a rookie, Shaw was the track's champion in 2006 at age 16), and both are promising young racers in the PASS North class. Shaw was a two-time PASS North winner last year.
Legendre's father and crew chief, Kendell, has also called the shots for Michaud since 2007. The pair won a division-leading four races last year, narrowly missing the "King of the Road" title. The elder Legendre was a formidable competitor himself, winning multiple Late Model features at Thunder Road and White Mountain during his career. Kendell will again serve as crew chief for Michaud at Thunder Road and during a part-time American-Canadian Tour schedule, in addition to turning wrenches on his son's PASS car. And at times, he'll have two cars to work on, as Steven plans to bring the Late Model out to run against Michaud at bigger events like the TD Banknorth 250 at Oxford Plains (Me.) Speedway and Thunder Road's Labor Day and Milk Bowl events.
"We had a good year last year, and we wanted to give the (Super Late Models) a shot," Steven said. "I think to begin with, we just want to finish races every week and get some top-tens. But as the year progresses, we're going to try to win some races. We'd like to go south and do some racing, too."
But at 16, is he ready to win? Is he ready to face some of the nation's toughest race teams down south? A PASS Super Late Model is a faster, stronger monster than an ACT-type Late Model, and successful or not, Legendre has only a dozen or 15 Late Model races under his belt. Can he handle it?
"Oh, I think so, and he'll be good in those cars," said Michaud. "There's a learning curve, but by mid-way through the year he'll have it figured out. He'll make every race because PASS doesn't usually have enough cars to send home (in qualifying rounds), and he'll get some good seat time on the track. He can handle the power, and he's definitely got his family's support. Once they get their program together, there's a really good chance you'll see him running up front and maybe winning races. You throw in the Late Model stuff he's going to be doing this year - I think running Thunder Road or ACT a few times will really help him get comfortable - and he's going to have a good year."
And Michaud might be right, so far he's been a winner in everything he's driven. After all, at 16, Steven Legendre is not your typical kid.
(Photos courtesy White Mountain Motorsports Park/stevenlegendre.com)