-by Justin St. Louis
Seekonk Speedway racer Ryan Vanasse has the right idea. After crashing out of contention for an ACT win at Thunder Road three years ago, Vanasse said that he preferred running up front and then crashing out, over running a whole race and finishing in 20th place.
"We learned so much by running with the front runners," he said. "There's a big difference between running all 150 laps and ending up a lap or two down, or running only 100 laps but running with the lead five all day long."
Hopefully, Joey Polewarczyk can relate to Vanasse's line of thinking and feel good about his progress, but hopefully he's done getting the crashing out of his system. The Hudson, N.H. youngster has repeatedly shown that he has what it takes to be a front-runner, winning ACT Late Model Tour races at Seekonk, Oxford Plains, and Lee USA. He has podium finishes at Kawartha and White Mountain, nearly won the TD Banknorth 250 at Oxford last year, and has led the ACT points at various times in 2008 and 2009. But at Thunder Road, a track he'll race at no less than five times this season, he just hasn't been able to get the job done.
Getting his start there in a Late Model five years ago, Polewarczyk left the track with a mangled race car and -- as he often jokes -- a piece of the concrete 'Widowmaker' wall. He began to figure the place out in 2006, when he set the track record and won a segment of the Milk Bowl, eventually finishing in third place overall. But save for additional pole positions in 2007 and '08, Polewarczyk has little else to show for his eforts at the Barre track.
Sunday, he looked like he had finally shaken the monkey off his back, but spun himself out of the lead on lap 82 of the Mekkelsen RV Memorial Day Classic 100.
"Eighteen laps away from a win here," he said, arms crossed, looking at the ground. "I don't know what it is about this place. When I first got the pole here in '06 and almost won the Milk Bowl, after that night my dad said, 'You know, this is only our second Milk Bowl, it wouldn't have been right for us to win here. We have to earn our dues here.' Ever since then we haven't had the best luck here."
Polewarczyk admitted that the spin was his own fault, that he was simply running too high on the race track and lost control while battling for the win with Dave Pembroke, not unlike another young ACT phenom, Scott Payea, did in last year's Labor Day Classic. Last September, a frustrated Polewarczyk was black-flagged at the Milk Bowl after whacking the slower car of Karl Allard, rather than wait for a hole to open in traffic. The penalty effectively ended his run toward the victory. In January at Toyota Speedway in Irwindale, Calif., he spun out of second place after a self-admitted mistake with two laps to go in the Toyota All-Star Showdown's last-chance qualifying race for the NASCAR Camping World Series.
Polewarczyk said that in his next apperance at Thunder Road -- the CARQUEST Vermont Governor's Cup 150 on June 25 -- he's hoping to finally complete the mission and win. But will the pressure to perform get to him again? If he didn't have enough on his shoulders with NASCAR champion Tony Stewart driving one of his cars and with an ever-increasing Thunder Road fan base expecting results out of their young hero, Polewarczyk -- who finally says goodbye to his teens as he turns 20 years old on Sunday -- is showing signs that he is beginning to get caught up in everything.
"[Stewart] might be driving one of my cars, but he's gonna have to try to get by me to win that race," he said. "I'm pissed off now. I want to win here. I want to win at this place more than anything in the world. I thought I had it today."
It would be a shame if Polewarczyk, who in reality is the only ACT driver on the NASCAR "next big thing" radar right now, pysches himself up too much and out of another possible victory at Thunder Road, or anywhere else for that matter. But when the time comes that he does break through at the track (because it's likely not a matter of 'if' anymore), expect his stock to go up exponentially in both the regional and national development deal markets.
Why make such a bold prediction? Talk to Polewarczyk. Ask him about Thunder Road and look in his eyes, at his body language, as he responds. A win there would do wonders for his confidence, which would be the final step in getting this kid into solid championship contention and helping him make the next big move toward the top of the sport.
And it would be a shame, too, if I'm wrong about all of that. Take a deep breath , 'Joey Pole', and don't get too "pissed off." It's good to have a fire and a passion for something you want so badly, but stay relaxed and race your car, just focus on the lap you're on, not the laps you ran. Forget about lap 82, forget about the Milk Bowls. Remember that when it happens at Thunder Road, it'll happen. Even the great Junior Hanley only got one win there.
It's just sometimes your dues aren't totally paid for a while.
I love this picture, because it's so... abnormal. In case you're out of the loop, that's Donald Theetge on the left and Patrick Laperle on the right, and they don't usually get along that well. This photograph was taken in victory lane at the Série ACT-Castrol opener at Autodrome St-Eustache two weeks ago, after the two drivers battled all day long for the victory, which eventually went to Laperle.
The tension between Laperle and Theetge is long-standing, and certainly Québec's biggest rivalry at the moment. Last year, Theetge spun twice off Laperle's front bumper while leading -- the first time during the ACT Late Model Tour event at Airborne Speedway, the second time during the 'Showdown at Chaudière' all-star race at Autdrome Chaudière. Laperle was deemed at fault for the first incident, while Theetge was held responsible for the second. Following the Chaudière mess, Theetge got out of his car and literally ran after Laperle on the track, much to the delight of the Québec City-based -- and pro-Theetge, anti-Laperle -- crowd. The fact that the two were able to get along well enough in front of Laperle's Montréal home crowd at St-Eustache to not wreck each other out of the win is respectable, but how long will it last?
The Série ACT-Castrol heads to Autodrome Montmagny, which is, you guessed it, back in Theetge territory, this Saturday. Guess we'll find out soon enough.
Ah, Bear Ridge. All in all, we're still of the opinion that we like the place, but that opinion isn't nearly as sky-high as it was at the rained-out season opener. Here's why: holding an hour-long intermission on a mid-May night in Vermont with double features in unacceptable. Holding an hour-long intermission at any time is unacceptable. The temperature had dropped to the upper 40s by the time I packed my two year-old son up and left for home. If I see that Elvis Presley impersonator again at the track it'll be too soon, because he sang for half of that hour -- to every... single... woman... and... child... there...
The 20-minute parade of race cars -- all of them -- was a total waste of time (and no one told us what was going on over the public address), and the fireworks display during said parade was extremely uncoordinated and unsafe. The coffee-can-sized buckets holding the fireworks that were lined up around the inside edge of the track began to fall over as their fuses were being lighted, but the crew went ahead and lit them up anyway, even as bad things were happening. One explosion shot directly up and into a lighting fixture in Turn 3. One fell over and shot through the windshield of a race car, while another shot into the driver's door of a second one. And then, in the scariest moment, one pointed directly at the crowd, stopped only by the frontstretch wall. and the incline of the hill in front of the grandstands.
The racing was good in all divisions, the food was good, the admission and concession prices are all very family-friendly, but the show itself needs some major work. And putting drivers and fans in danger is absolutely not okay. I'll be back one more time for the Dragon family affair on Saturday, but it's going to be a make-or-break event for me. Especially if there's a fireworks show.
AROUND THE REGION:
Time to take a look at the top Vermonters from the past weekend...
ACT Late Model Tour: Dave Pembroke of Middlesex earned his first win in two years on Sunday at Barre's Thunder Road Int'l Speedbowl, taking the Mekkelsen RV Memorial Day Classic 100. Brian Hoar of Williston finished second for his best ACT finish since his last win in September 2000, while Milton's Scott Payea and Northfield's Cris Michaud finished third and fourth, respectively.
Airborne Speedway (Plattsburgh, N.Y.): Castleton driver Mike Bruno picked up his first Modified win of the season on Saturday night, while Brandon's Don Scarborough finished fourth. Todd Stone of Middlebury was 11th in his first Airborne start of the year. Fairfax racer Richie Turner finished third in the Tiger Sportsman event behind Plattsburgh's Robin Wood and Bucko Branham, with Milton's Bill Sawyer tenth. Mike Terry of Grand Isle was the runner-up in the Renegade feature with St. Albans brothers Lance and Dave Rabtoy fourth and fifth.
Albany-Saratoga Speedway (Malta, N.Y.): Dave Camara of Fair Haven could muster only a ninth-place effort in the Modified division on Friday night, though Londonderry's Rob Langevin finished third in the Sportsman feature and his wife, Lori Langevin, finished third in the Pro Street Stocks.
Bear Ridge Speedway (Bradford): Wayne Stearns of Thetford center won the second of two Sportsman Modified features on Saturday night, with Piermont, N.H. driver Chris Donnelly winning the opening race. Josh Harrington of Topsham won both Sportsman Coupe features on the night, with Fairlee's Doug Titus and Bradford's Billy Simmons finishing 2-3 in the first event, and Simmons and Jason Horniak, also of Bradford, going 2-3 in the second race. Thetford Center's Dan Eastman swept both Limited Late Model features. Wilder's Andy Johnson and White River Junction's Josh Sunn split Fast Four features, while Bradford's Tom Placey and Bobby Lee Bell of St. Johnsbury each took a feature win in the Hornet class. Misty Bell of St. Johnsbury won the Hornet Queen race.
Canaan Dirt Speedway (Canaan, N.H.): Thetford Center driver Wayne Stearns finished third in the Modified feature on Friday with East Corinth's Gene Pierson eighth. Dan Eastman's perfect record fell in the Street Stock race as the Thetford Center driver finished second to Tom Forward. Bradford's Tyler Stygles was third. Andy Johnson of Wilder won the Mini Stock feature.
Canaan Fair Speedway (Canaan, N.H.): Saturday's race card was washed out by rain.
Devil's Bowl Speedway (Fair Haven): Tim LaDuc and Cullen Howe split the Chittenden Bank C.J. Twin 50s to open the Devil's Bowl season on Sunday evening. LaDuc, of Orwell, beat Kenny Tremont, Jr. to win the Modified portion of the event, with Middlebury's Todd Stone and Brandon's Vince Quenneville, Jr. in third and fourth. Howe, of South Londonderry, beat Ryan Avery and Jack Gentile for the Budget Sportsman win. Fair Haven veteran Carl Vladyka opened his Pro Street Stock championship defense with a win over Salisbury's Fred Little and Ed Thompson, also of Fair Haven. Mike Clark of Brandon won the Limited feature with Leicester's Jeremy Jones second.
Empire Super Sprints: In a two-night weekend in New York State, Fairfax driver Anthony Cain finished 16th at Fonda Raceway on Saturday and 14th at Utica-Rome Speedway on Sunday. Orwell driver James Hanson failed to qualify at both events.
Monadnock Speedway (Winchester, N.H.): Putney's Dana Shepard finished 14th in the Super Stock race on Satruday night. Joe Rogers of Ludlow was ninth in the Mini Stock race with Whitingham's Ricky Bernard 13th.
PASS North Series: Danville's Steven Legendre finished 12th in the PASS 150 at White Mountain Motorsports Park on Saturday night. Ben Rowe of Turner, Me. was the winner. Kelly Moore of Scarborough, Me. walked away uninjured after a scary crash left his car upside down at the entrance of pit road.
Riverside Speedway (Groveton, N.H.): Derek Ming of Island Pond won the Outlaw Sportsman feature on Saturday with Newport Center's David Ofsuryk third. Michael Smith of St. Johnsbury was fifth in the Super Stock feature. Jesse Switser of West Burke won the Street Stock race, with Derby Line's Brendan Hunt second. Ernie LaPlant of Lyndonville was the Dwarf Car runner-up, Andy Simpson of Lyndon Center finished third in the Cyclone race, Cabot's Johanna Christman won the Angel feature, and Graniteville's Stephen Donahue won the youth division race.
Utica-Rome Speedway (Vernon, N.Y.): John Scarborough of Bomoseen finished 11th in the Sportsman feature on Sunday.
Thunder Road Int'l Speedbowl (Barre): In support action for the ACT Late Model and True Value Modified events on Sunday, North Wolcott's Brendan Moodie held on for his first Tiger Sportsman win of the season, with Joe Steffen of Essex Junction second and Barre's Lance Allen third. Danville's Bruce Melendy won the Street Stock feature over Plainfield's Jason Corliss and Hyde Park rookie Tucker Williams, while North Montpelier's Donny Yates was the Junkyard Warrior winner. David Whitcomb of Elmore won the Street Stock/Junkyard Warrior 'reserve' feature over rookies Travis Hull of Graniteville and Jamie Davis of Wolcott.
True Value Modified Racing Series: Nineteen year-old Steve Masse took an upset career-first victory at Thunder Road on Sunday. Peter Jarvis of Ascutney recovered from a late spin to finish eighth, while brother Dwight Jarvis crashed out on lap 80, finishing 17th.
Twin State Speedway (Claremont, N.H.): Rookie Dola Holland of Ludlow finished fourth in the Late Model feature on Friday with Ascutney's Chris Riendeau sixth and Williston's Rich Lowrey eighth. Ascutney rookie Joey Jarvis finished third in the Modified feature with Windham driver Nathan Kehoe fourth. Mendon's Chris Wilk was the Super Street runner-up with West Hartford's Kris Lyman fifth. Tara Tarbell of Springfieldwas the Strictly Stock winner. Cody Small of Hartland beat North Springfield's Jeremiah Losee and Cavendish driver Robert Leitch to win the Wildcat race. Kaitlin Stone of Jacksonville was second in the Sportsman race.
White Mountain Motorsports Park (North Woodstock, N.H.): Stacy Cahoon of St. Johnsbury finished fifth in the Late Model feature to open the 2009 season at the Park. Stevie Parker of Lyndonville was fifth in the Strictly Stock feature.
This weekend, Friday night has the Albany-Saratoga, Canaan Dirt, and Twin State speedways in action. Saturday will see regular events at Airborne, Bear Ridge, Canaan Fair, Mondanock, Riverside, and White Mountain, as well as the Série ACT-Castrol at Québec's Autodrome Montmagny. Devil's Bowl and Utica-Rome return to action on Sunday.
(Photos: 1. Joey Polewarczyk hasn't had the best luck at Thunder Road, but that should change soon; 2. Série ACT-Castrol runner-up Donald Theetge (left) congratulates winner Patrick Laperle two weeks ago; 3. Empire Super Sprint driver Anthony Cain at Utica-Rome Speedway. Photo 1 by Leif Tilloston, photo 2 by Stephane Lazare, photo 3 by Alan Ward)