Monday, June 29, 2009
WEST HAVEN -- Don Mattison was the surprise winner on Sunday night at Devil's Bowl Speedway in West Haven, taking his first 358 Modified victory of the year; Mattison's best finish of the season before Sunday was 12th place on May 31. Mattison, of Wells, and Manchester driver Frank Hoard, Sr. stayed in close proximity at the front of the pack throughout the race, but Mattison never faltered and held on for the win. Tim LaDuc of Orwell finished third. Kenny Tremont, Jr. of West Sand Lake, N.Y. was unsuccessful in his bid for three consecutive victories, coming home in fourth place. Defending champion Todd Stone of Middlebury was fifth.
D.J. Brindige of Mechanicville, N.Y. took his first Budget Sportsman win of the season in a caution-marred event. Frank Hoard, Jr. of Whitehall, N.Y. finished second, with Schenectady, N.Y.'s Tim Hartman, Jr. in third place. Dennis Pennock and Jack Swinton completed the top-five.
Veteran Fred Little of Salisbury and Lori Langevin of Londonderry finished in a near dead-heat for the Pro Street Stock win, but electronic scoring awarded the win to Little by 0.026 seconds. Walt Brownell, Mike Paquin, and Cale Kneer rounded out the top-five finishers.
Mark Burch of Fort Edward, N.Y. took his first Limited victory of the year over Dave Emigh, Mike Clark, Jon Miller, and Paul Braymer.
Kayla Bryant of Rutland won the Mini Stock feature, with Andrew Smith of South Glens Falls, N.Y. winning in the Duke Stock class.
BRADFORD -- Gary Siemons earned his first feature win of the season at Bear Ridge Speedway in Bradford on Saturday night. The two-time defending Sportsman Modified track champion from Orford, N.H. shrugged off a tough first month of racing when he started on the pole and led the entire Wells River Savings Bank feature. Chris Donnelly of Piermont, N.H. continued his strong season by finishing second, with Wayne Stearns of Thetford Center third. Jeremy Huntoon of Bradford posted his best finish of the season in third place, and Jack Cook of Moultonboro, N.H. was fifth.
Josh Harrington of Topsham took his fifth Sportsman Coupe victory of the year with Corinth's Bryan King coming home a season-best second. Jason Horniak, Richie Simmons, and Mike McGinley completed the top-five in order.
Thetford Center's Dan Eastman raised his batting average to .857 in the Limited Late Models, winning his sixth race in seven starts on the year. Will Hull of East Montpelier was second, with Shane Race, T.C. Forward, and Jeremy Hodge rounding out the top-five.
Josh Sunn of White River Junction is still perfect at Bear Ridge, having won both of his starts in the Fast Four division this season. Steve Bell of St. Johnsbury took a season-best runner-up finish. Kevin Harran, Andy Johnson, and Mitch Durkee went 3-4-5.
Tom Placey of Bradford was back in Hornet victory lane for his third win of the year. Bobby Lee Bell, Steve Sheldon, Mike Ryan, and Carl Sweet trailed Placey across the finish line; Karl Sheldon was uninjured after flipping his car in the race.
Sunday, June 28, 2009
I traveled to White Mountain Motorsports Park on Saturday to cover the American-Canadian Tour's 150-lap event for Vermont Motorsports Magazine. I took some photos, got a few quotes, and wrote of John Donahue's dominant victory. In that regard, the general flow of the day was no different than many of the races I've been to this season.
Over the years, though, I've found that the fun is in writing the surprise stories that develop during an event. And at White Mountain, I found myself literally in the middle of one.
During my final days as a driver in 2004, a 17 year-old kid named Martin Ingram -- he prefers to be called by his initials, M.C. -- came to Thunder Road from Essex Junction with a Street Stock car, one that he bought from a friend and former competitor of mine, Aaron Maynard. I'll admit that I wasn't much of a driver, but M.C. made guys like me look pretty good. He was a likeable guy, so my friends and I tried to help him out as much as we could. But we couldn't drive the car for him, and more often than not, it came back home pretty wadded up.
Fast forward to this season: Now 22, M.C. is back on the track full-time for the first time in a couple years, although he managed to make one or two races a year while in the Army. And, yeah, he's still tearing fenders off every now and then, but generally he's much more smooth and his car is competitive. On Saturday, he made the long haul to North Woodstock, N.H. -- by himself -- with the intention of running some laps at a track he'd never seen and having some fun. After a couple of tense moments, it turned into the best day of his career, and brought back some great memories for me.
We joked earlier in the week that I should take the car out for some practice laps to show him the way around White Mountain; I'd raced there a few times and really enjoyed the track, and we both knew I was only interested in having a little fun myself. M.C. took the car out for the first six-minute practice, but he was clearly uncomfortable, running off the pace two or three lanes up the track, even by himself. Somebody spun and the yellow flag flew, and thinking the session was over, M.C. came to pit road. I met him when he got to his pit stall and could tell that he was preparing himself for just another day of flopping around in the back. I leaned in the window and said, "Try running the low line, dude, get back out there," and he drove off.
It was like flipping a switch; instantly, he figured the place out, and I'd be lying if I said he wasn't one of the fastest four or five cars out there. He was perfect entering and exiting the corners, very smooth, very consistent. He caught and passed a few cars, and no one was fast enough to get by him.
When he came back in after the session was over, he had a big grin on his face. "That felt good," he said, and Maynard (I can't remember ever calling Maynard by his first name in ten years), who lives in nearby Lyndonville, Vt. and was there to help M.C. out, said the tires had only built up two or three pounds of air pressure, a very good sign. Maynard raced at White Mountain weekly for a while, and was asked to run the car in the second (and final) practice to double-check everything.
Immediately, I got my dander up: "Hey! I thought I was gonna drive it!" I whined. I was then reminded of my less-than-perfect finishing record and told to shut up and take pictures. Of course, I wasn't really expecting to drive the thing anyway, and probably wouldn't know what to do if I did get in the car. It'd been five years since I raced anything, and my last start ended in a massive pileup at Thunder Road. Maynard got in and drove the hell out of the car, passing at will. But after he brought one poor kid to school with a three-lane change in Turn 4, he brought it in and shut it off.
And handed me the helmet. I felt like a little kid I was so giddy.
We quickly got Maynard out of the driver's suit, put me in it, and I strapped into the car and fired it up. Just as I put it in first gear to take off, hands came up and everyone went, "Whoa! Shut it off!" Water was pouring out of the engine. I got out of the car and we all pushed it back into the pit stall. After a few minutes of searching, it was determined that the water pump gasket had blown, and M.C. and Maynard set to work fixing it. Oh, and somewhere along the way the zipper on the firesuit broke, but I don't think that was my fault. Then we looked at the clock and realized there were less than 15 minutes before M.C.'s heat race. Somehow, they got it done, and somehow, M.C. lined up on the outside pole for the second qualifying heat, outside fellow Thunder Road racer David Greenslit.
Now, Greenslit's becoming a decent racer and has a fast car, and given M.C.'s not-so-good practice in the outside lane, we all sort of expected it to be a cakewalk for Greenslit. Not so. Right from the drop of the green, M.C. barrelled it down into the first turn and made it work. He flew out of Turn 2 to the very top of the backstretch, and nosed ahead for the lead. By the time two more laps had passed, M.C. was out front by himself, and, unbelievably, walking away from the pack. Another seven laps later, he had himself a checkered flag, his first in four years. I, of course, felt a certain amount of credit was due to me for breaking the water pump in practice, rather than having it go during the race. Instead, I was blamed for, well, being my destructive self. No matter, the kid won.
"It feels [expletive] fantastic!" M.C. said as he walked back to the trailer. "I thought [Greenslit] was going to blow right by me, because there's not really an outside lane here. It turned out I could go on the outside for a little bit, and once I cleared him I dropped down onto the inside where I was faster and just kept going from there. I was just thinking 'Holy [expletive], I've never been here and I won.' I didn't even think I was going to make it out for the heat, so I was pretty happy."
And then he one-upped himself in the feature, starting 12th and finishing fifth after having a legitimate shot a top-three. He ran with Nick Pilotte and Rubin Call, two of the top runners at White Mountain, and Brendan Hunt who is a big shot at Riverside in Groveton. He ran the far outside lane a couple times and made it work. He stuck his nose in down low a couple times and made it work. It was like he was a whole new driver.
It blew our freaking minds, all of us, including Greenslit, and Gene, and T.J., and Al, and Eddy, who had all been in and out of the picture during the day. When M.C. drove back to the pits, we, like morons, jumped on the car -- while it was still moving, of course -- and celebrated.
"I'll definitely be back to White Mountain," he said. "I think with a little more seat time I could do a lot better." Spoken like a veteran.
He instantly ranked the day as his best-ever at a race track. "This has to be number one. To go to a track you've never been to before and win your heat race and finish in the top-five in the feature, it's a pretty damn good feeling. I showed up by myself, and with the water pump blowing and breaking my firesuit, it turned out to be a pretty good day."
It's funny, as a rookie nine years ago, I went to White Mountain for the first time with my race car. Like M.C. Ingram, I'd never seen the place. I don't remember if there were any problems with the race car, there probably weren't, but I do remember thinking I was way out of my element, even though I had won my first feature the week before at Thunder Road. My dad and my crew and I puttered on the car all day, trying to get both it and me figured out, and when it came time to race, we won our qualifier. The next year at Airborne Speedway, I blew the clutch in practice, we made it out in time the 'B' feature and finished second, then got a top-ten in the 50-lap feature that night. In fact, that first win at Thunder Road came just a week after I blew up a motor.
Racing's got a strange way of turning things around. I remembered the feeling that M.C. Ingram had, that he probably still has, that there was no way I could have had more fun doing anything else. And it was a lot of fun to relive that feeling on Saturday night.
Bob Dillner of SPEED Channel, Speed51.com, and BDI Racing is in the process of reaching an agreement with Polewarczyk to have his driver, Michael Pope of Dublin, Ga., drive a Joey Pole Racing entry -- the same one NASCAR champion Tony Stewart drove at Thunder Road in the CARQUEST Vermont Governor's Cup 150 -- in next month's TD Banknorth 250 at Oxford Plains Speedway in Maine, and possibly, the ACT Late Model Tour event at Beech Ridge Motor Speedway the following week.
In exchange, Dillner will have Polewarczyk, of Hudson, N.H., drive his PASS South Super Late Model at South Boston Speedway in Virginia for the Mason-Dixon Meltdown on October 17.
Also, we're hearing that we should expect Polewarczyk to make an appearance at the annual Oktoberfest at LaCrosse Fairgrounds Speedway in Wisconsin one week prior to the Mason-Dixon Meltdown, although the details of that arrangement -- a deal seperate from Dillner's -- are largely unknown at this point, even to Polewarczyk.
Speaking of the TD Banknorth 250, Travis Barrett of Green-White-Checker is reporting that NASCAR Nationwide Series driver Steven Wallace will race a Kendall Roberts-owned National Guard entry in the event as a teammate to White Mountain 150 winner John Donahue.
Cam Clairmont had Christmas come early this year. The Super Street driver at White Mountain Motorsports Park won his division's feature on Saturday night, but only after some lucky breaks. Early leader Jourdan Davis was black-flagged for a water leak, then Tyler Alati flat-out dumped leader Derek O'Hearn on lap 13, with both drivers going to the rear of the field for the subsequent restart. Clairmont, the new leader, then outlasted an outside-lane bid from Tim Churchill to take the win. Tom Keith won the Strictly Stock feature, with Opie Thayer taking Strictly Stock Mini checkers. Lucas Wheeler won the Kids Truck feature.
Three members of RPM Motorsports are lucky to be alive after a collision with a moose on Saturday night near Littleton, N.H. Ander Cary, Corey Forest, and Chris Burnett, crew members for the Rick Paya-owned team that fields ACT Late Model Tour entries for Brian Hoar, Mike Olsen, and Jason Bonnett, struck a young bull moose on Interstate 93 on the way back from White Mountain Motorsports Park. The roof of the Dodge Charger they were riding in was peeled back to the back seat of the car, but fortunately no injuries were sustained by any of the three men, other than bumps, bruises, and small cuts from shattered glass.
Tony Stewart has been a busy guy this weekend. After his race at Thunder Road on Thursday and all the stuff he does regularly on the NASCAR trail, this weekend at Loudon, N.H., Stewart flew to Plattsburgh, N.Y. and made a surprise visit to Airborne Speedway on Saturday night to help his development driver, Jessica Zemken, with her Modified for the double-points 30-lap feature. In her debut at Airborne, Zemken finished a respectable 12th.
Patrick Dupree earned his first win of the season after leader Leon Gonyo was forced to pit during a caution period with three laps remaining. Martin Roy finished second with Mike Bruno of Castelton third. Robin Wood -- who has a $100 bounty on his head for anyone that can beat him -- won his fourth-straight Sportsman feature. Other winners were Randy LaDue (Renegade), "Slow" Rick Doner (Mini-Modified), and Jayson Blondo (Bomber).
Donahue made it look easy.
"That's good from my point of view," Donahue said in victory lane.
Donahue was clearly the class of the field throughout the event, scoring a "+7" handicap in his heat race to earn the pole position. From there, he led every lap and lapped all but the top-ten of the race's 30 starters. At times, he led eventual runner-up Brent Dragon by as much as a quarter of a lap, even while running in thick lapped traffic.
With former champion driver and crew chief Dale Shaw turning the wrenches on his car at White Mountain, Donahue said he was asked during the race to slow his pace and not use his National Guard #26 Ford up. "It seemed like the more I drove it, the better the came became. Dale kept telling me, 'Slow down, slow down, slow down, save your tires,' and I said, 'How slow do you want me to go? I'm not even [driving hard enough to] use my brakes!' I was just drifting into the corner and drifting out of the corner and kept pulling away. It was [easy] for me."
Donahue's dominance throughout the race was certainly the shining moment of his season, but a runner-up finish at Oxford Plains Speedway last month and top-ten results at Lee USA Speedway and Thunder Road indicate that his Kendall Roberts-owned team may have the pieces in place for a run at the ACT Late Model Tour title. And, of course, they're headed to Loudon, N.H. for the Invitational.
"I've been waiting for that," said a relieved Donahue. "I tried to keep it in the back of my mind, and I wasn't thinking about that all season, just trying to get top-fives and top-tens and try to keep my points up. We've been trying to safe all year and be smart.
"To come out of here with a win today... it's just a perfect day. To me, [qualifying for the Invitational] means a lot. I just can't wait to get on that track, it's going to be really exciting."
Dragon, of Milton, finished second after being involved in an early crash. Despite suffering some damage to the suspension, Dragon's car was the fastest one on the track, save for Donahue, and finished a full straightaway ahead of Barre's Nick Sweet and Eric Williams of Hyde Park. Sweet, who ran in third place for most of the race, held off a late charge from Williams to finish on the podium spot. Ben Rowe of Turner, Me. rounded out the top-five after starting 26th; Rowe had to qualify through the last-chance 'B' feature before posting his best ACT finish of the season.
The unofficial top-ten was completed in order by Scott Payea, Cris Michaud, Tyler Cahoon in an ACT career-best eighth place, Brad Leighton, who came from the back of the field twice, and Pete Potvin, III.
Several early incidents took a handful of front-running drivers out of contention, including Joey Becker, Aaron Ricker, and Brian Hoar. Jamie Fisher's car shut down on lap 137 after running inside the top-five for most of the race. Point leader Joey Polewarczyk, Jr. was never a factor in the race and finished 12th, unofficially.
UNOFFICIAL RESULTS -- White Mountain 150
ACT Late Model Tour, White Mountain Motorsports Park, North Woodstock, N.H.
Saturday, June 27, 2009
1. (1) John Donahue, Graniteville
2. (6) Brent Dragon, Milton
3. (5) Nick Sweet, Barre
4. (10) Eric Williams, Hyde Park
5. (26) Ben Rowe, Turner, Me.
6. (24) Scott Payea, Milton
7. (14) Cris Michaud, Northfield
8. (25) Tyler Cahoon, St. Johnsbury
9. (17) Brad Leighton, Center Harbor, N.H.
10. (9) Pete Potvin, III, Graniteville
Graniteville driver Chip Grenier (#9) and Cody Bodwell of Farmington, N.H. (#13) put on a great show in Heat 3 at White Mountain Motorsports Park on Saturday evening. Here, Grenier takes the lead coming out of the final corner of the qualifier to squeak out the win on the outside lane.
(Video by Justin St. Louis/VMM)
Saturday, June 27, 2009
A 51-photo gallery of Thursday's CARQUEST Vermont Governor's Cup 150 at Thunder Road Int'l Speedbowl in Barre. All photos by Justin St. Louis/VMM. Click here to view photos.
A few years back, Ken Squier tagged Shelburne driver Jamie Fisher with the nickname "Hurricane" for his ability to storm up Thunder Road's tricky outside groove. Here's an example as to why Fisher got the name. On Thursday night, the former "King of the Road" had one of his best long-distance runs in years at the track, finishing fourth. In his qualifying heat, shown here, Fisher (#18) waited patiently down low to pass Joey Becker (#16), then moved to the high side to make quick work of Patrick Laperle's #91.
Video by Justin St. Louis/VMM
Friday, June 26, 2009
But now that's all behind him.
You couldn't ask for a better setting: Spectacular weather with a twilight start to a big event, a visiting NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion in Tony Stewart, a packed house -- maybe an all-time record crowd -- jamming the hillside seats at the track. And Polewarczyk, despite what he might have said earlier, was still seething over his latest loss at Thunder Road.
The youngster wasted no time in getting to the front; after starting in eighth place on the 30-car grid, he was fifth by the end of lap 5. By lap 18, he was third. On lap 57, he was in the lead, a position he would never relinquish. But although he was never passed for the top spot, Polewarczyk was never really comfortably out front until lap 148.
A 45-lap duel with sophomore hometown favorite Nick Sweet, beginning at lap 101, kept the crowd holding its breath -- Sweet hugging the low lane trying to nose ahead, Polewarczyk rim-riding the high side, leading the race by a matter of only a foot at times -- and could likely be thought of as one of the finest battles for a victory in recent Thunder Road memory. A late caution period, followed by a surprise visit to the front by defending Governor's Cup winner Cris Michaud only hightened the tension.
After all, Polewarczyk was running the same high line on Memorial Day when he crashed. Sweet had never won in Late Model competition and was hungry to break through, and both he and Michaud were itching to earn a possible qualifying berth for the ACT Invitational at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, one of the prizes awarded to the winner of the Governor's Cup 150. And with the caution and impending restart bunching the field with just five laps to go, who knew what was going to happen?
Green flag: Sweet gets the jump in the outside lane, a place he hasn't seen -- other than in lapped traffic -- since the 1/3-mark of the race. Sweet tries his best to hold his advantage, but Polewarczyk is too strong and leads the lap. Suddenly -- and everyone saw it coming, it seems -- the pair swap lanes, trying to get back to familiar territory. It works, but only for a moment, as Sweet opens the door and Michaud ducks underneath him, taking away second place. As the two-to-go signal comes from the flagstand, Polewarczyk eases into a two car-length lead.
White flag, almost there. What could go wrong now?
Turn 1: Tore the whole nose off on Labor Day here last year.
Turn 2: Popped a radiator here in 2005.
Backstretch: Remember Memorial Day?
Turn 3: Got into it with Karl Allard here at the Milk Bowl last year and got black-flagged.
Turn 4: Ouch, that first trip in 2004. A chunk of the wall ended up inside the car that night.
Frontstretch: And none of that matters anymore. Checkered flag. It's over.
The victory lane interview with Ken Squier was barely audible over the thousands of cheering fans that had not only come to see Tony Stewart, but to see if this kid Polewarczyk had what it took to win at one of the toughest race tracks around. He was drained, physically, emotionally, mentally. In 85-degree heat, he had raced his tail off for the win, and all the memories had undoubtedly haunted him to no end.
In the inspection area a few minutes later, he'd had a bit more time to let it sink in. So Joey, you've won at Thunder Road, how does it feel? Sweat-soaked, beat red, and wearing a winner's medal around his neck with the CARQUEST logo on it, a big grin comes across his face: "Pretty friggin' good."
And that's all he needed to say.
In support action, Pete Ainsworth and Jimmy Hebert celebrated split Tiger Sportsman feature victories in two very different ways. Middlesex racer Ainsworth was more or less uncontested as he notched the 10th win of his career in the division, boosting him into elite status among the all-time winners of Thunder Road's oldest class of race car. For him, it was just another day at the office. However, 18 year-old Hebert, of Williamstown, battled another youngster, Bradford's Derrick O'Donnell, and earned his first-ever win. He paused during his victory lap for a impromptu smoke show and donut on the backstretch.
"I bent my steering shaft down punching [the steering wheel] I was so excited," laughed Hebert. "I couldn't hardly turn doing the burnout."
Ainsworth was trailed across the finish line by Shawn Fleury and Doug Crowningshield, and a razor-close finish between David Finck and Joey Laquerre; Finck got the position. Following Hebert and O'Donnell were Mike Ziter, Eric Badore, and Jeff French.
Tommy "Thunder" Smith of Williamstown drove his Thunder Road 50th Anniversary-themed car to his first win of the year in the first of two Street Stock/Junkyard Warrior features after starting 19th. Bruce Melendy finished second after contact with David Greenslit approachign the final lap sent Greenslit spinning into the infield; Greg Adams, Jr. was third over Joe Blais and Troy Gray. David Whitcomb of Elmore earned his first Street Stock main event win in the nightcap, over Tim Campbell, Mike MacAskill, Ron Gabaree, and Gary Mullen.
Donny Yates of North Montpelier and Kevin Streeter of Waitsfield were the top Junkyard Warrior drivers in the respective features; each driver took his third win of the season.
UNOFFICIAL RESULTS -- CARQUEST Vermont Governor's Cup 150
Thunder Road Int'l Speedbowl, Barre, Vt.
Thursday, June 25, 2009
Pos.-Driver-Hometown (# - denotes rookie)
1. Joey Polewarczyk, Jr., Hudson, N.H.
2. Cris Michaud, Northfield
3. Nick Sweet, Barre
4. Jamie Fisher, Shelburne
5. John Donahue, Graniteville
6. Dave Pembroke, Middlesex
7. Trampas Demers, South Burlington
8. Phil Scott, Montpelier
9. Joey Laquerre, East Montpelier
10. Eric Williams, Hyde Park
11. Rich Lowrey, Williston
12. Brent Dragon, Milton
13. Tony Andrews, Northfield
14. Jason Bonnett, St. Albans
15. Eric Chase, Milton
16. Tony Stewart, Rushville, Ind.
17. Craig Bushey, Cambridge
18. Dennis Demers, Shelburne
19. Mike Bailey, South Barre
20. Joey Becker, Jeffersonville
21. Dave Paya, Milton
22. Reno Gervais, Island Pond
23. Steve Fisher, Shelburne
24. Brooks Clark, Fayston
25. Doug Murphy, Tunbridge
26. Cal Poulin, Braintree
27. Jean-Paul Cyr, Milton
28. Matt White, Northfield
29. Patrick Laperle, St-Denis-sur-Richelieu, Qué.
30. Robbie Crouch, Tampa, Fla.
Tiger Sportsman Feature #1
1. Pete Ainsworth, Middlesex
2. Shawn Fleury, Middlesex
3. Doug Crowningshield, Barre
4. David Finck, Barre
5. Joey Laquerre, East Montpelier
Tiger Sportsman Feature #2
1. Jimmy Hebert, Williamstown
2. Derrick O'Donnell, Bradford
3. Mike Ziter, Williamstown
4. Eric Badore, Georgia
5. Jeff French, Northfield
Street Stock/Junkyard Warrior Feature #1
1. Tommy Smith, Williamstown (SS winner)
2. Bruce Melendy, Danville (SS)
3. Greg Adams, Jr., Hardwick (SS)
4. Joe Blais, East Barre (SS)
5. Troy Gray, Fairlee (SS)
12. Donny Yates, North Montpelier (JW winner)
Street Stock/Junkyard Warrior Feature #2
1. David Whitcomb, Elmore (SS winner)
2. Tim Campbell, West Topsham (SS)
3. Mike MacAskill, Williamstown (SS)
4. Ron Gabaree, Barre (SS)
5. Gary Mullen, Tunbridge (SS)
14. Kevin Streeter, Watisfield (JW winner)
(PHOTOS: 1. An exhausted Joey Polewarczyk, Jr. (right) is joined in victory lane by Vt. Governor Jim Douglas after Polewarczyk's win at Thunder Road on Thursday night; 2. Tiger Sportsman winner Pete Ainsworth. Photos by Justin St. Louis/VMM)
Wednesday, June 24, 2009
With all eyes on Tony Stewart on Thursday, Joey Polewarczyk, Jr. and his team have a job to do. Yup, Stewart is driving a Polewarczyk team car, and that car needs to perform. But Polewarczyk is there to win. For himself.
He says he's not thinking about Memorial Day, when he spun out of the lead 18 laps from the finish, or the Milk Bowl victories that he's seen slip away.
"I want to get that monkey off my back at Thunder Road and win. The past is the past and I don't let it bother me, but I do want to win pretty badly," he said.
But Polewarczyk potentially finds himself in the precarious situation of racing against his own car for the victory. Would it upset him to lose to Tony Stewart?
"Um, a little bit... maybe... not really... kinda, yeah," Polewarczyk mused. "I mean, it's my old car that I decided I didn't want to race at Thunder Road any more, so that would make me a little upset if he won with it there. It's a good car with a lot of history for me, we got our first win with it [at Seekonk Speedway in 2007], and it still holds the Thunder Road track record. I haven't raced it since Chaudière last year, and it'd be cool if Tony won in it, but in a way I hope he doesn't.
"I'd rather win anyway and have him finish second."
Here's another excerpt from "Fifty Years of Excitement," the new Thunder Road 50th Anniversary book penned by yours truly and Dave Moody. This chapter recounts the night Dave Dion came to Thunder Road for the first time... and won the feature. What followed in the next 35 years was one of the greatest driving careers New England ever saw:
In 1972, a young Vietnam vet from Hudson, N.H. was tearing up the track at Norwood Arena near Boston, and began looking around for something new. After hearing that the regional Goodyear supplier was selling tires at a little track in Vermont, his brothers sent him up to buy a set and bring them home for their race car. But the shopping trip turned into a life-changing experience for this man Dave Dion and his family, not to mention thousands of racing fans across the northeast over the next four decades.
"I had never been to Thunder Road, I think I had only been to Vermont once, just driving through, and I sat up on Bud Hill all by myself," Dion remembers. "That track was unbelievable! There were guys bouncing off the wall, bouncing off each other, and the racing was great. I'm glad there wasn't a camera on me, I must have looked like a fool hooting and hollering at all those guys. When I got home, I told my brothers 'You gotta see this place,' and we went back a few weeks later.
"What a difference it was from the spectator-to-driver sandpoint! My brothers asked me how the car handled, and I said 'I don't know if it handles or not, you can't believe that track! The wall comes straight at you, there's no room!' I didn't like it at all, and I tried to convince my brothers to load the car up and leave because I was scared. I didn't think people should race at a track like that."
Dion stuck around, though, and the story written that night proved to be one of the most important chapters in New England auto racing history. Better to let Dion tell it himself:
"The handicappers had heard a little about us at Norwood and figured I might be a ringer, so they put us in the back of the third (high handicap) heat. Long story short, we didn't qualify. We went to the consi and were fortunate enough to make it into the feature; they started us last, and that was fine with me. There was a crash in Turn 3, and I had no idea what to do. I ended up over the bank, came back and kept going. They lined us up again and put me in front of guys like Bobby Dragon, Jean-Paul Cabana, and all the top dogs because they had wrecked, but since I kept moving they said I wasn't part of the wreck, I guess.
"So we went from 22nd to around 12th, and now I was really scared. I wanted to get the heck out of there, so I ran in fear, and somehow I got to the lead. Eventually the big guys came through the pack, and there was Cabana on my bumper, and I'd read and heard a lot about how tough Cabana was. All I know is the race wore down, there were some restarts, and I was probably all over the track, I'm sure I was, but I held him off and won the race.
"The fans were shocked. Nobody comes into Thunder Road like that and wins. Cabana was mad, he was totally insulted. We were in victory lane and he was waving his arms, speaking in French, and pointing at me.
"Some of the people there convinced us to race at Plattsburgh the next night, and we went over and everyone blew us away. We went home to Norwood and raced, and came back to Thunder Road again the next week, you know, we had to go. Well, I got outside Ronnie Barcomb thinking I knew a little more about the track now, and my right-front tire touched the wall. The next thing you know, it was one of those classic Thunder Road photos from the infield where all you could see is Barcomb's car driving by, and my roof number. The car finally rolled over and back onto its wheels by the end of the front stretch, and we decided to stay home for a while after that.
"It took a long time for me to like that track and feel comfortable. But that first night, that crowd just energized me. Thunder Road's crowd can make you do things you don't think you're capable of, you just don't want to give up when you're racing for them. I've never considered any track too tough to tame since those first nights at Thunder Road. We've run everywhere: Hickory, North Carolina; Langley Field and South Boston, Virgina; Beltsville, Maryland; all over Canada, and they were all easy to race at compared to Thunder Road."
Although the fans may have been "shocked" at his win on July 13, 1972, Dion would quickly build a die-hard following at the track unparalleled by any other driver, one that would help make him one of the most popular racers of all-time in the northeast. And over the next five seasons, Dion would win 22 more times at Thunder Road alone, many of them after instantly-legendary battles with Bobby Dragon -- during that same 1972-77 stretch, Dragon won 20 times and each driver was twice crowned "King of the Road".
After much success at Thunder Road and practically everywhere else -- they were also champions at Catamount Stadium and had an Oxford 250 title under their belts, for example -- Dion and his brothers tried their hand at a limited NASCAR Winston Cup Series schedule from 1978-83, with a top finish of ninth place at Richmond, Va.
"Fifty Years of Excitement" will be available beginning Thursday, July 2 at Thunder Road's Pepsi Holiday Fireworks event. Click here for more information.
If my Yahoo! Fantasy NASCAR team was any worse, I'd be arrested for public indecency. I'm sure of that.
My team for the race at Infineon: Kyle Busch, Juan Pablo Montoya, Ryan Newman, and Robby Gordon. Safe bets, right? Busch won that race last year, Montoya the year before, Newman's on a hot streak, and Robby Gordon can just flat drive anything he wants to, especially road courses.
Busch led, then wrecked. Newman ran up front all day, then wrecked. Gordon looked like a hero, then finished 36th. Montoya, thank God, got a top-ten. Out of the 14 people in my league, I'm ranked 159th. And national standings? Forget it.
On to Loudon. I hear Ted Christopher is racing...
Gonna be nice to have a little northern rep at Loudon this weekend, as Shelburne's Kevin Lepage, Sean Caisse of Pelham, N.H., and Joey Logano of Middletown, Conn. are entered in Saturday's Nationwide Series event, plus, like we just said, Ted Christopher of Plainville, Conn. will be joining Logano and Patrick Carpentier of Joliette, Qué. in the Sprint Cup Series race on Sunday.
And from the "It's A Stretch, But We'll Take It" Department, A.J. Allmendinger will run with a Dave Dion-like orange paint scheme and sponsorship from Berlin City Auto Group in the Sprint Cup Series event on his #44 Richard Petty Motorsports Dodge. Or Toyota.
AROUND THE REGION:
Time to take a look at the top Vermonters from the past weekend...
ACT Late Model Tour: The Nutmeg State 100 at Waterford Speedbowl in Connecticut was re-rained out on Saturday. The race has been re-re-scheduled for Saturday, August 8, according to the Waterford Speedbowl website.
Airborne Speedway (Plattsburgh, N.Y.): Jason Durgan of Morrisonville, N.Y. took a well-deserved first career win in the Modifieds on Saturday night, beating defending track champion Patrick Dupree. Mike Bruno of Castleton finished fifth, with Sheldon's Aaron Bartemy sixth. Robin Wood of Plattsburgh, N.Y. scored his third-straight Sportsman win over Milton's Larry Underwood and Richie Turner of Fairfax. Dave Rabtoy of Swanton finished fourth in the Renegades, with Milton's Rob Gordon seventh and Lance Rabtoy of Fairfax tenth.
Albany-Saratoga Speedway (Malta, N.Y.): A week after Kenny Tremont, Jr. took his 60th win at Devil's Bowl Speedway, he earned his 50th win at Albany-Saratoga on Friday night in the 358 Modified class. Fair Haven's Dave Camara finished fifth, with Vince Quenneville, Jr. of Brandon seventh. Frank Hoard, III of Manchester was the Budget Sportsman runner-up, and South Londonderry's Cullen Howe was eighth. Lori Langevin of Londonderry finished second in the Pro Street Stock feature after Cale Kneer stole the lead on the final lap. Jeff Washburn of Benson was sixth and Chuck Towslee of Manchester Center was ninth.
Bear Ridge Speedway (Bradford): Wayne Stearns of Thetford Center took his second Sportsman Modified win on Saturday night, while Gene Pierson, Jr. of East Corinth finished third in his first start of the year. Bryan King of Corinth was fourth. Josh Harrington of Topsham returned to Sportsman Coupe victory lane with his fourth win of the year, over brothers Billy and Richie Simmons of Bradford. King repeated his Modified finish with a fourth in the Coupe race; Melvin Pierson of Topsham was fifth. Thetford Center's Dan Eastman won his fifth Limited Late Model feature of the season over Bradford's Jeremy Hodge and Will Hull of East Montpelier. Ryan Dutton of Bradford and Nathan Potter of Sharon each took their first Fast Four checkers of the season in twin features, while West Topsham's Kyle Ashford and Bobby Lee Bell of St. Johnsbury split Hornet features. Brenda Atherton of Fairlee won the Hornet Queen race.
Canaan Dirt Speedway (Canaan, N.H.): Friday night's race card was rained out. A new clay surface has been laid down on the track and is being worked in for the June 26 program.
Devil's Bowl Speedway (Fair Haven): Bear Ridge Speedway promoter C.V. Elms, III of North Haverhill, N.H. posted his first Budget Sportsman win of the year in the 50-lap Ridge Runner Series event, with Willy Knight of Dorset and Jared McMahon of Hydeville completing the underdog sweep of the podium positions. Wayne Stearns of Thetford Center was fifth. Carl Vladyka of Fair Haven finished second to Cale Kneer in the Pro Street Stocks, with Jeff Washburn of Benson, Fred Little of Salisbury, and Lori Langevin of Londonderry in tow. Bill Duprey of Hydeville picked up his second Limited win of the year over Brandon's Mike Clark. Kayla Bryant of Rutland won the Mini Stock feature with Fair Haven's Chris Murray taking top Duke Stock honors. The 358 Modifieds were not in action.
Monadnock Speedway (Winchester, N.H.): Saturday's race event was rained out.
Pro All Stars Series: Sunday's event at Unity (Me.) Raceway was rained out.
Riverside Speedway (Groveton, N.H.): Bob Ailes, Sr. of St. Johnsbury finished fourth in the Late Model feature on Saturday night, with Lyndonville's Paul Schartner, III sixth, Steve Hodgdon of Danville seventh, and Brett Gervais of Island Pond ninth. Dilyn Swister of West Burke won the Super Stock feature over St. Johnsbury's Michael Smith. Andrew Fecteau of Hardwick was second in the Street Stocks with West Burke's Jesse Switser fourth. Ernie LaPlant of Lyndonville was second in the Dwarf Car race with Anthony Young of Beecher Falls third.
Série ACT-Castrol: Brent Dragon of Milton made a surprise visit to Riverside Speedway in Ste-Croix, Québec on Saturday night and walked away with his first career Série ACT-Castrol victory. Trampas Demers of South Burlington finished sixth.
Thunder Road Int'l Speedbowl (Barre): Dennis Demers of Shelburne dominated the Late Model feature on Friday night, with Robbie Crouch second. Phil Scott of Montpelier finished third over Jeffersonville's Joey Becker and Trampas Demers of South Burlington. Mike Ziter of Williamstown earned his first Tiger Sportsman win of the season over Bobby Therrien of Hinesburg, Barre's Tony Rossi, Derrick O'Donnell of Bradford, and David Finck of Barre. Street Stocker Michael Moore of East Haven won the Street Stock/Junkyard Warrior 'A' feature over Topsham's Tim Campbell. Joe Blais of East Barre finished third over Lincoln's Garry Bashaw and Bunker Hodgdon of Hardwick. Donny Yates of North Montpelier was the Junkyard Warrior winner. Greg Adams, Jr. of Hardwick on the Street Stock/Warrior 'reserve' feature for the second week in a row.
True Value Modified Racing Series: Thursday's race at Thompson Int'l Speedway in Connecticut was postponed by rain to Thursday, July 23.
Twin State Speedway (Claremont, N.H.): The weekly racing program at Twin State was rained out on Friday and again on Sunday.
White Mountain Motorsports Park (North Woodstock, N.H.): Stacy Cahoon of St. Johnsbury finished third in the Late Model feature on Saturday night, with Morrisville's Dwayne Lanphear fifth. Stevie Parker of Lyndonville won the Strictly Stock feature, and Concord's Rubin Call was the Strictly Stock Mini runner-up.
Thunder Road Int'l Speedbowl in Barre welcomes NASCAR's Tony Stewart on Thursday for the CARQUEST Vermont Governor's Cup 150, an ACT Invitational qualifying event at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. On Friday, the PASS North Super Late Models are at Maine's Beech Ridge Motor Speedway, the NASCAR Camping World Series East is at NHMS, and regular events will be held at Albany-Saratoga, Canaan Dirt, and Twin State. The ACT Late Model Tour is at White Mountain Motorsports Park on Saturday, NASCAR's Nationwide Series and Whelen Modified Tour are at NHMS, and regular events are on tap for Airborne, Bear Ridge, Canaan Fair, Mondanock, and Riverside (N.H.). Devil's Bowl and Utica-Rome speedways return to action on Sunday, while the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series' Lenox Industrial Tools 301 is at NHMS.
BARRE CITY -- NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Tony Stewart will come to Barre's Thunder Road Int'l Speedbowl on Thursday evening to compete in the CARQUEST Vermont Governor's Cup 150. Rumors of a Stewart appearance at the track began swirling as early as 2007, and the buzz following the announcement of his impending arrival, which was made in March, likely suprasses any promotion the track has seen since its opening in 1960.
Stewart -- one of the most popular auto racing athletes of the last half-century, in case you hadn't heard -- is expected to draw a record crowd of as many as 10,000 spectators to Thunder Road.
For track promoter Tom Curley, a crowd like that should be a nice little revenue booster. For Barre City Mayor Thom Lauzon, though, that crowd has the makings of a traffic disaster. Fortunately, he and his team have it figured out.
"I had a meeting with Jeff Blow, Tim Bombardier, Mike Stevens, Tom Curley, and Darla Hartt, and we're pretty confident that we've got the traffic situation under control," said Lauzon. Bombardier and Stevens, who are the Chiefs of Police for Barre City and Barre Town, respectively, and Blow, a Barre Town Selectman who is active in the racing community, got together with Lauzon, Curley, and Thunder Road Vice President Hartt to come up with a game plan. Signs will be posted on Interstate 89 and local routes in and around Barre directing race fans to and from Thunder Road, and hopefully, limiting delays and frustration.
"VTrans (the Vermont Agency of Transportation) has been a huge help, and they've loaned us some sign boards," said Lauzon. "There will be blinking traffic lights and directing police officers stationed at several points to ease traffic. There will be more officers on duty to handle the race traffic on Thursday than ever before. The effort that everyone on staff has and will put in is pretty unpecedented. They've all done a great job."
The team has also come up with another plan: Race fans, leave your GPS at home.
"The biggest problem that we know we're going to face is people relying on their GPS units," Lauzon explained. "We've tested several different units, and not a single one of them pointed in the best route to get to Thunder Road." Lauzon himself tested two GPS units with the same negative result.
"We are suggesting that race fans take Exit 6 off I-89 and travel straight up Middle Road and follow the signs, rather than take a left onto Route 14, or use Exit 7 and drive through the city and go up Quarry Hill like everyone is used to doing," he said. "Middle Road is actually about a half-mile longer in distance, but the difference in time, traffic congestion, and frustration is huge. The biggest problem we'll face is modern technology with the GPS. Still, we're confident that our plan will work very well. We're not anticipating any horror stories."
Lauzon reminded that, like most major events practically anywhere, getting in will be easier than getting out.
"Bring your favorite CD for when it's time to leave," he laughed. "Pack a sandwich, relax, and take your time. I go to a lot of Red Sox and Patriots games, and I'm used to sitting on Route 1 for an hour waiting to get moving. We're expecting a sort of mass exodus around 9:30pm when the 150 is getting over with and before the rest of the features finish -- maybe a third of the crowd or more -- and that's when the waiting will begin.
"We are asking drivers to use patience, especialy because it will be getting dark and visibility will be limited. We want everyone to have a great time at the race, but our number-one concern is safety."
Tuesday, June 23, 2009
"Fifty Years of Excitement" is an 88-page history of Thunder Road -- nicknamed the "Nation's Site of Excitement" -- and the colorful personalities that have made a half-century of memories at a track recognized nationwide for its success and longevity. Over 250 black-and-white and full-color photographs illustrate important moments since the track's opening in 1960.
Included are stories of legendary Thunder Road racers Ronnie Marvin, Johnny Gammell, Chester T. Wood, Dave Dion, Robbie Crouch, the Dragon family, and more, and recaps of every division of racing from the rag-tag 1960s Sportsman Coupes to the sleek Late Models of the 2000s. Highlights also include a letter from Vermont Governor James Douglas, memories from Thunder Road co-owners Ken Squier and Tom Curley, and an up-to-date list of the track's all-time race winners.
"Fifty Years of Excitement", co-written by former Thunder Road announcers Justin St. Louis and Dave Moody, will be available for just $10 at all Thunder Road events beginning Thursday, July 2. To order by mail, send a $12.95 check or money order (includes $2.95 S&H -- U.S. funds) to "Fifty Years of Excitement" c/o John O. Casey, 6134 The Terraces, Shelburne, VT 05482, or call (802) 985-1541 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
For information on Thunder Road Int'l Speedbowl, visit www.thunderroadspeedbowl.com or call (802) 244-6963.
MILTON -- Eric Chase is going to be a busy man this week. The Milton racer, who is a regular campaigner with the ACT Late Model Tour and in weekly events at Barre's Thunder Road, will strap into a NASCAR Camping World Series East car for the first time at New Hampshire Motor Speedway this weekend, driving Barney McRae's entry in the Heluva Good! 125 on Friday afternoon at the Loudon, N.H. superspeedway.
He'll also try to pull off a bit of a magic trick on Thursday: being in two places at once. Time trial qualifying at NHMS begins at 3:15pm, and post time for Thunder Road's CARQUEST Vermont Governor's Cup 150 is 6:30pm. Even if Chase is the first driver to take time trial laps at NHMS and is able to leave the track early, he'll have a tall task in getting back to Barre in time to make the first round of qualifying.
Chase will have a flight on stand-by at the Concord Municipal Airport in New Hampshire that will take him to the Edward F. Knapp State Airport in Berlin, Vt., but first must get through the always-swamped parking lots at NHMS and make his way by car from Loudon to Concord (a half-hour challenge at best), and upon arrival in Berlin faces fighting through a major traffic jam there and in neighboring Barre, on a night when an on-track appearance by NASCAR's Tony Stewart is expected to draw the largest spectator crowd in Thunder Road's 50-year history, with estimates at or above 10,000.
"I'm gonna have to fly like the wind," Chase laughed. "Literally."
Aside from the hectic travel -- and that's just Thursday, mind you -- Chase will be a busy man behind the wheel of his race cars. If all goes according to plan, he will have raced 425 feature laps, plus qualifying and practice time, at three different tracks in two very different types of car. Thursday's New Hampshire Motor Speedway practice and time trial -- at a low-banked, one-mile superspeedway in a 3,400-lb Camping World Series car with 600 horsepower, at speeds of over 150 mph, mostly alone on the track -- will be followed up by the 150-lap event at Thunder Road -- a high-banked, quarter-mile bullring in a 2,800-lb ACT-legal Late Model car with 350 horsepower, running two- and three-wide almost non-stop.
Friday will be spent back in Loudon, practicing and racing McRae's car in the Camping World Series event. Saturday, Chase will be in New Hampshire again, at White Mountain Motorsports Park in North Woodstock for the ACT Late Model Tour's White Mountain 150.
But Chase is doing it because he loves to. "Yeah, I'm going to set the world on fire this weekend," he joked. "Actually, we do have a good car for Thunder Road and White Mountain, and we're looking forward to those races.
"Loudon, though, I have no idea what to expect."
Chase noted that the comparatively low-buck McRae operation, based in Milton, has fielded competitive equipment in the past, but that the NASCAR Camping World Series East is currently oversaturated with top-tier Sprint Cup Series-affiliated teams running on unlimited budgets. "I may not have the best car there, but we're hoping for a good day. I hope to get a top-15 finish and learn about the track and the cars.
"But then again, I could go out and scare the hell out of myself. I can't imagine it's any worse than going through the dogleg at Sanair (a 9/10-mile tri-oval in Québec) wide-open. I'm just looking to have some fun this weekend."
(Photo by Eric LaFleche/VLFPhotos.com)
Monday, June 22, 2009
FAIR HAVEN -- Add C.V. "Butch" Elms, III to the list of surprise winners in 2009. On a night when the headlining 358 Modifieds were off the card at Devil's Bowl Speedway to make room for the Budget Sportsman division's 50-lap Ridge Runner Series event, it was Elms taking center stage for his first career Devil's Bowl victory.
Elms, of North Haverhill, N.H., a seven-time Bear Ridge Speedway champion and now the owner and promoter of the Bradford track, shocked the Devil's Bowl crowd on Sunday night with his first win there, beating out Dorset's Willy Knight and Jared McMahon of Hydeville for the win. Three-time Albany-Saratoga winner Jack Gentile of Ballston Lake, N.Y. and Thetford's Wayne Stearns, who won at Bear Ridge on Saturday night, completed the top five finishers.
Prior to Sunday's feature, Elms' best finish of the year was sixth in three starts, and he, Knight, and McMahon all ranked outside the top-30 in point standings. Elms steadily worked his way from the ninth-place starting position to take the lead from Knight on lap 46 following the early departure of defending track champion Cullen Howe on lap 35, who was pressuring Knight for the lead.
The Ridge Runner Series is a special event mini-series open for Budget Sportsman and Modified drivers from the Champlain Valley Racing Association's Devil's Bowl and Albany-Saratoga Speedways, New York's Glen Ridge Motorsports Park, and Bear Ridge.
Cale Kneer of Troy, N.Y. passed veteran Carl Vladyka of Fair Haven on the final circuit to steal the 20-lap Pro Street Stock victory. Jeff Washburn of Benson finished third over Salisbury's Fred Little and Lori Langevin of Londonderry.
Bill Durpey of Hydeville picked up his second Limited win of the year over Brandon's Mike Clark and Lou Gancarz of North Adams, Mass. Kayla Bryant of Rutland won the Mini Stock feature with Fair Haven's Chris Murray taking top Duke Stock honors.
BRADFORD -- Sportsman Modified driver Wayne Stearns of Thetford Center earned his second win of the season on a wild Saturday night that saw no less than three competitors get upside down. Stearns paced the field through several yellow- and red-flag periods, as drivers Mike Capra and Travis Shinn each found themselves flipping during the Bradford Mini Mart/Jiffy Mart feature, for the win; neither driver was injured. Chris Donnelly of Orford, N.H. was the runner-up, while East Corinth driver Gene Pierson, Jr. finished third in his first start of the year; Bob Shepard won last week's feature driving Pierson's car. Bryan King of Corinth finished fourth on Saturday with Blake Shepard of Newton, N.H. a season-best fifth.
Josh Harrington of Topsham posted his fourth win of the year in the Sportsman Coupe race, with brothers Billy and Richie Simmons of Bradford coming home second and third, respectively. Like Gene Pierson in the Modifieds, Richie Simmons finished on the podium in his first start of the season. King, who races in both the Modified and Coupe divisions, finished fourth for the second time of the night, with Topsham's Melvin Pierson fifth.
Danny Eastman of Thetford Center continued his domination of the Limited Late Model class, posting his fifth win in six feature events in 2009; in the race he didn't win on May 30, he finished second to Will Hull. Jeremy Hodge of Bradford finished second to Eastman on Saturday night for the third week in a row, with East Montpelier's Hull third.
Nathan Potter of Sharon earned his first win of the season in the regularly scheduled race for the Fast Four class, while Ryan Dutton of Bradford won the division's Bond Auto Parts Night make-up feature that was rained out one week ago.
Kyle Ashford of West Topsham earned his first win in the make-up race for the Hornet class, while St. Johnsbury's Bobby Lee Bell won the regularly scheduled three-segment, cumulatively scored "Hornet Madness" feature. Charlie Lakin of Groton walked away from a five-time rollover in the first segment of the Madness event to later post a pair of top-three finishes in the remaining segments aboard a back-up car. Brenda Atherton of Fairlee took her second win of the year in the Horent Queen race, which had also been rained out last week.
Sunday, June 21, 2009
But, contrary to the plan in the morning, it'll be long ride south.
As the Dragons sat at the rest area in Milton on Saturday morning, they waited for word from Waterford, Connecticut; with their ACT Late Model ready to go for the final three-quarters of the Nutmeg State 100, rained out a week ago and rescheduled for Saturday, the weather forecast again looked bleak for the southern New England oval. When the official call came at 8:30am, the team had a decision to make. Turns out, it was the best one they made all year.
"We were sitting there waiting, and I said, 'Well, what do you want to do?'" said Brent Dragon. "Waterford was rained out again, and we were already loaded and ready to race. So we went to Ste-Croix."
Ste-Croix, as in, Ste-Croix, Québec, the same four-and-a-half hours away as Waterford Speedbowl, but north into Canada rather than south to the shores of the Atlantic. The Série ACT-Castrol was running its fifth race of the season at Riverside Speedway, the newly renamed 5/8-mile oval on the scenic banks of the St. Lawrence River, just southwest of Québec City. The race was, like Waterford's, a qualifying event for the ACT Invitational at New Hampshire Motor Speedway later in the summer, and Dragon had won an ACT Late Model Tour event at Riverside in 2003, a week before winning, ironically enough, at Waterford Speedbowl.
"The car unloaded great off the trailer, it was really fast," said Dragon. "We started tenth in the heat and finished third, and I think with two more laps I would have won. We decided to come up to work on the car and we found some stuff, so it was a good night."
"Good" might be a bit of an understatement; Dragon lined up 12th out of 31 starters for the Riverside 100, and by lap 23 was in the lead on the tricky, paperclip-shaped track. He was challenged by Donald Theetge and Sylvain Lacombe -- two of the very best at the track, each with a mountain of victories there in ACT Late Model Tour, Castrol Series, ADL Series, and open competition -- and held on to not only win the race and the invitation to NHMS, but to also become the first American driver to win in Castrol competition since the series' inception in 2005.
"It's just one of those deals, I guess. We thought we were headed to Waterford, and we ended up winning at Ste-Croix," laughed Dragon. "Yeah, it was a good night.
"It's still a long trip home, but it was worth it."
(Photo by Justin St. Louis/VMM)
Saturday, June 20, 2009
STE-CROIX, Qué. -- Brent Dragon made a little history on Saturday night by becoming the first American driver to earn a Série ACT-Castrol victory, taking down the Riverside 100 at Riverside Speedway near Québec City.
Dragon, of Milton, won an ACT Late Model Tour event at the 5/8-mile oval formerly known as Circuit Ste-Croix, in 2003. His victory on Saturday makes him the tenth qualifier for the inaugural ACT Invitational at the 1-mile New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, N.H. this September.
Twenty year-old Patrick Hamel of St-Édouard-de-Lotbinière, Qué., the 2008 Castrol Rookie of the Year, finished a career-best second, with Terrebonne, Qué. veteran Martin Lacombe third. Sylvain Lacombe and Éric St-Gelais were fourth and fifth, respectively.
Trampas Demers finished sixth, unofficially; the South Burlington driver wrecked hard on the final lap en route to finishing fifth at Thunder Road in Barre on Friday night.
UNOFFICIAL RESULTS -- Riverside 100
Série ACT-Castrol -- Riverside Speedway, Ste-Croix, Qué.
Saturday, June 20, 2009
Pos.-Driver-Hometown (# - denotes rookie)
1. Brent Dragon, Milton
2. Patrick Hamel, St-Édouard-de-Lotbinière, Qué.
3. Martin Lacombe, Terrebonne, Qué.
4. Sylvain Lacombe, Terrebonne, Qué.
5. Éric St-Gelais, St-Nicolas, Qué.
6. Trampas Demers, South Burlington
7. Jean-François Déry, Québec, Qué.
8. Patrick Laperle, St-Denis-sur-Richelieu, Qué.
9. Donald Theetge, Boischatel, Qué.
10. #Pierre-Luc Ouellette, Terrebonne, Qué.
New Hampshire drivers Brad Leighton and Randy Potter are first and second in the running order, with Maine's Ricky Rolfe third. Graniteville's Chip Grenier is the top Vermonter, in fourth place.
No date has been announced yet for the race's third attempt.
The Série ACT-Castrol is at the 5/8-mile Riverside Speedway in Ste-Croix, Qué. tonight for the Riverside 100.
Following a podium finish part-way through the 2008 season, Demers announced his retirement from the sport; he returned for two races later in the year, however, and has yet to miss an event at Thunder Road this season.
Polesitter Robbie Crouch finished second, while Phil Scott began to turn his frustrating season around with a third-place finish. Joey Becker and Trampas Demers, Dennis' son, finished fourth and fifth, respectively. Brooks Clark, Jean-Paul Cyr, Grant Folsom, Matt White, and Eric Chase completed the top ten in order, unofiicially.
Sophomore Tiger Sportsman competitor Mike Ziter of Williamstown was in the right place at the right time, as leader Ricky Roberts' car shut down with two laps remaining in the division's 35-lap feature. Ziter held off fellow second-year racer Bobby Therrien in a green-white-checkered finish with Tony Rossi a career-best third. Derrick O'Donnell and David Finck rounded out the top five.
Street Stock racer Michael Moore of East Haven survived a wild final lap in the Street Stock/Junkyard Warrior 'A' feature for his first win of the year. Tim Campbell and Joe Blais earned their first podium finishes of the season in second and third, ahead of Garry Bashaw and Bunker Hodgdon. Donny Yates of North Montpelier was the lone Warrior driver to qualify for the main event and was awarded the win for his division.
Street Stock driver Greg Adams, Jr. of Hardwick won his second-straight Street Stock/Junkyard Warrior 'reserve' feature, with rookie Jamie Davis, Shawn Cook, Dave LaFleche, and Warrior driver Ken Christman in tow.
UNOFFICIAL RESULTS -- Harvest Equipment Night
Thunder Road Int'l Speedbowl, Barre, Vt.
Friday, June 19, 2009
Pos.-Driver-Hometown (# - denotes rookie)
Late Model Feature (50 laps)
1. Dennis Demers, Shelburne
2. Robbie Crouch, Tampa, Fla.
3. Phil Scott, Montpelier
4. Joey Becker, Jeffersonville
5. Trampas Demers, South Burlington
6. Brooks Clark, Fayston
7. Jean-Paul Cyr, Milton
8. Grant Folsom, Waitsfield
9. Matt White, Northfield
10. Eric Chase, Milton
Tiger Sportsman Feature (35 laps)
1. Mike Ziter, Williamstown
2. Bobby Therrien, Hinesburg
3. Tony Rossi, Barre
4. Derrick O'Donnell, Bradford
5. David Finck, Barre
6. Joey Roberts, Georgia
7. Jimmy Hebert, Williamstown
8. Matt Potter, Marshfield
9. Joey Laquerre, East Montpelier
10. Joel Hodgdon, Craftsbury
Street Stock/Junkyard Warrior 'A' Feature (25 laps)
1. Michael Moore, East Haven (SS winner)
2. Tim Campbell, West Topsham (SS)
3. Joe Blais, East Barre (SS)
4. Garry Bashaw, Lincoln (SS)
5. Bunker Hodgdon, Hardwick (SS)
20. Donny Yates, North Montpelier (JW winner)
Street Stock/Junkyard Warrior 'Reserve' Feature (25 laps)
1. Greg Adams, Jr., Hardwick (SS)
2. #Jamie Davis, Wolcott (SS)
3. Shawn Cook, Hyde Park (SS)
4. Dave LaFleche, Graniteville (SS)
5. Ken Christman, Cabot (JW)
Thursday, June 18, 2009
While Bonnett will be at the event in the RPM #32 entry, Brian Hoar, who drives the primary #37 car for Paya, will not be racing.
"Brian might be there, but he won't be racing the #37 car that day," explained Paya. "We're going to concentrate on Jason that day."
A press release on the Thunder Road website announced that Hoar, the 1999 Thunder Road track champion, was expected to qualify along with six other past "Kings of the Road." VMM regrets the error.
Wednesday, June 17, 2009
Apologies to the readers of VMM for the lack of consistent updates lately, but we feel like we might have a half-decent excuse: we've been putting the final touches on the Thunder Road 50th Anniversary book, due for release in the coming weeks. The project, which was borne out of a meeting just two short months ago, has demanded a lot of time management, energy, and disciplined focus (none of which are things this particular writer is familiar with, by the way), and has left precious little room for much else, especially the last three weeks.
But thanks to Dave Moody, Cho Lee, John Casey, the staff at Queen City Printers, and dozens of other people, the 88-page collection, titled "Fifty Years of Excitement" is filled with stories and both black-and-white and full-color photos of the Barre track's remarkable half-century run. At just $10, the book will be available before the end of the month.
Here's a small excerpt of the book, just as a teaser. The following is from a colorful piece about Thunder Road pioneer Chester T. Wood, penned by Moody. In it, motorsports writer Mark Thomas, who grew up working on Wood's race cars, and Harold Hanaford, a competitor of Wood's for many years, tell some classic Chester T stories:
"Friday night, out of the blue, Chet said, 'We’re running the Milk Bowl,'" said Thomas. "He didn’t have a racecar, but that didn’t matter to him. He rounded up a bunch of his buddies and a few of the neighborhood kids, and we went to work."
Fueled by pizza, beer and cigarettes, Wood and his helpers labored all through the night and the next day, as well. Just 18 hours later, their hastily assembled #X1 Plymouth sat on the Milk Bowl pole, after turning the quarter mile in a then-sizzling 14.38 seconds. He took care of business in the opening segment, winning it handily, but problems surfaced in Round Two when he finished back in the pack, behind winner Moe Dubois. A win in the final 50-lapper wasn’t quite enough to claim the overall title – that went to Stub Fadden – but Chester T’s "two-day wonder" cemented his status as Thunder Road’s ultimate underdog.
While Wood was beloved by the vast majority of Thunder Road’s fans and competitors, Ronnie Marvin was not a member of his fan club.
"For some reason, Chet and Ronnie didn’t like each other," said Hanaford. "If you saw them running side-by-side, you knew something bad was probably going to happen.
"One day, they got into it pretty good on the racetrack. After the races, a bunch of us were sitting on the track, shooting the bull and waiting for the traffic to clear. Someone remarked that Ronnie was lucky not to have gotten hurt, saying, 'It would have taken an awfully big coffin to handle you.'
"My wife Florence loved to pick on Ronnie, and she said, 'Aw, if they give him an enema first, they can bury him in a shoebox.'
"Chet was eating a hotdog at the time, and he spit that hotdog about 50 feet in the air. He thought that was the funniest thing he’d ever heard."
Details for "Fifty Years of Excitement" will be forthcoming, so stay tuned.
There's all kinds of news surrounding the upcoming CARQUEST Vermont Governor's Cup 150 at Thunder Road next Thursday, June 25, including a sneak peek from the JPR Racing team of driver Joey Polewarczyk, Jr., which is preparing a car for NASCAR Sprint Cup Series point leader Tony Stewart to drive at the event.
Stewart will drive a car nicknamed "Betsy" -- the car Polewarczyk used to set the Thunder Road single-lap track record of 12.935 seconds with at the 2006 Milk Bowl. The car has been fitted with a new body and will carry the #14 and Old Spice and Office Depot signage from Stewart's Sprint Cup car.
"What more could you ask for?" said Polewarczyk. "She is proven to be the fastest car on that track."
"Tony will be driving Thunder Road with the best available equipment possible," added crew chief Joe Polewarczyk, Sr. Hudson, N.H. driver Polewarczyk, Jr., who crashed out of the lead late in last month's Mekkelsen RV Memorial Day Classic at the track, will drive his familiar #97 Chevrolet in the race.
Along with the anticipation of the Governor's Cup event came the announcement that Patrick Laperle has filed a surprise entry for the race. Laperle, of St-Denis-sur-Richelieu, Qué., has won three of the last four, Chittenden Bank Milk Bowls at Thunder Road, and becomes an instant favorite for the win.
"I can’t wait to race against Tony Stewart," said Laperle in a Thunder Road press release. "My brother and I are huge fans of his and this is going to be one of my best racing memories. The idea that I can just race and not worry about Série ACT-Castrol points or anything like that is what I love to do. I hope we come to the wire side-by-side for the win after 149 laps. It would be the thrill of a lifetime."
VMM has also learned that two-time Airborne Speedway Sportsman division champion Jason Bonnett of St. Albans will make his Late Model debut at the race driving the #32 RPM Motorsports entry driven earlier this season by Mike Olsen. Bonnett has attracted his main sponsor, Desorcie Emergency Products, to fund the effort, and will also drive the car in the Fall Foliage 300 at Airborne in September.
RPM Motorsports owner Rick Paya said he is excited about bringing Bonnett into the division. "He's already tested the car, and I was very impressed by him. I always have been, watching him in the (Sportsman) cars. Jason's just so smooth and consistent. It should be fun."
Williston's Brian Hoar, who drives the #37 car for RPM, will also be in the field.
So, Sean Kennedy is headed to Loudon. Kennedy, a regular at Capital City Speedway in Ottawa, won the Série ACT-Castrol event there last weekend and earned a chance to compete at the 1-mile New Hampshire Motor Speedway for the ACT Invitational in September.
Kennedy, of Durobin, Ont., is probably largely unfamiliar to most ACT fans, due to his mostly one-track schedule at Capital City. Kennedy is a well-spoken guy with a good sense of humor, is a good, clean racer with top-notch equipment, first-class sponsorship from Waste Management, and one of the most professional-looking teams in the region, and would be an asset to any series he competes with, but his lack of experience may be his downfall at NHMS. Kennedy plans to compete at Kawartha Speedway in the ACT Late Model Tour event in July, and then will be a part of the test session in August at NHMS which will determine approval for the ACT Invitational the following month.
Nick Bigelow, Media Director for ACT, says that while the approval process has already begun, a major part of it will be finalized at the August test.
"Everyone who goes to the test in August will be watched closely, and only the ones that are able to race around the track within a certain percentage of a (pre-determined) lap time, whatever that time ends up being, will be invited to compete in the race," Bigelow said. "There are other things that will determine (eligible drivers), too."
We hope Kennedy gets in the show at Loudon. His win and subsequent invitation to NHMS is a major victory for the "little guy" and gives positive hope and encouragement for other weekly-level Late Model racers -- a la Dan McHattie at Kawartha, Guy Caron at Twin State, or Jeff White at Oxford Plains, drivers that in the right situation, could reel off an NHMS qualifier win -- and a top finish in the actual ACT Invitational itself would give an instant boost to the confidence of the Capital City Speedway Late Model division (or Kawartha, Twin State, Oxford, or where ever) and motivate more weekly racers to branch out and strut their stuff against the touring teams.
AROUND THE REGION:
Time to take a look at the top Vermonters from the past weekend...
ACT Late Model Tour: The Nutmeg State 100 at Waterford Speedbowl in Connecticut was halted by rain after 28 laps on Saturday night. Brad Leighton was leading Randy Potter, Ricky Rolfe, and Graniteville's Chip Grenier at the time of the postponement. The race will be completed this Satruday.
Airborne Speedway (Plattsburgh, N.Y.): Saturday night's event was rained out after heats were completed for four of five divisions.
Albany-Saratoga Speedway (Malta, N.Y.): As Brett Hearn won his sixth 358 Modified race of the season on Friday night, Middlebury's Todd Stone could do no better than 12th. Rob Langevin of Londonderry finished sixth in the Sportsman feature. Hunter Bates of Middlebury was sixth in the Budget Sportsman race, while Lori Langevin of Londonderry and Chuck Towslee of Manchester Center finished fourth and fifth in the Pro Street Stock event, respectively.
Bear Ridge Speedway (Bradford): Bob Shepard of West Topsham returned to Sportsman Modified victory lane on Saturday night for the first time this season. Jason Gray of East Thetford was fourth with Thetford Center's Wayne Stearns fifth. It was a top-five sweep for Vermonters in the Sportsman Coupe race, as rookie Billy Simmons of Bradford took his first win. Josh Harrington and Melvin Pierson, both of Topsham, were second and third, followed by Bryan King of Corinth and rookie Jason Horniak of Bradford. Thetford Center's Dan Eastman won again in the Limited Late Model feature over Bradford's Jeremy Hodge and Will Hull of East Montpelier. The Fast Four and Hornet features were rained out. Anthony Cain of Fairfax won the SCONE 360 Sprint Car feature.
Canaan Dirt Speedway (Canaan, N.H.): Thetford Center's Dave Lacasse finished fifth in the Modified feature on Friday night, while Dan Eastman of Thetford Center led East Montpelier's Will Hull to the win in the Street Stocks. Josh Sunn of White River Junction won the Mini Stock feature with Wilder's Andy Johnson fourth.
Devil's Bowl Speedway (Fair Haven): Kenny Tremont of West Sand Lake, N.Y. earned his 60th win at Devil's Bowl on Sunday night -- the 275th win of his career -- in the 358 Modified division. Vince Quenneville, Jr. of Brandon was fourth, with Orwell's Tim LaDuc, Middlebury's Todd Stone, and Jimmy Ryan of Whiting right behind. Frank Hoard, III of Manchester took his first win of the year in the Budget Sportsman feature with Middlebury's Hunter Bates second. Defending champion Cullen Howe of South Londonderry was third. Jeff Washburn of Benson won the Pro Street Stock feature over Manchester Center's Chuck Towslee. Rob Ketcham of Sudbury was the Limited division runner-up.
Monadnock Speedway (Winchester, N.H.): Dana Shepard of Putney finished 12th in the Super Stock race on Saturday night, and Ludlow's Joe Rogers was a season-best sixth in the Mini Stock feature.
Pro All Stars Series: Steven Legendre of Danville finished 16th in the PASS North Super Late Model 200-lap event at Speedway 660 in Geary, New Brunswick on Saturday night.
Riverside Speedway (Groveton, N.H.): Island Pond's Derek Ming continued his hot streak in the Outlaw Sportsman division on Saturday night with a win, while Newport Center's David Ofsuryk was second. Lyndonville's Ben Bedor finished fourth in the Super Stock feature, and Brendan Hunt of Derby Line was second in the Street Stocks with Rick Utley, Jr. of Wheelock third. Ernie LaPlant of Lyndonville was second in the Dwarf Car race, and Andy Simpson of Lyndon Center was third in the Cyclone race.
Série ACT-Castrol: Trampas Demers of South Burlington finished 12th in Toromont CAT 100 at Capital City Speedway in Ottawa, Ont. on Saturday night.
Utica-Rome Speedway (Vernon, N.Y.): John Scarborough of Bomoseen finished sixth in the Sportsman feature on Sunday.
Thunder Road Int'l Speedbowl (Barre): Dave Pembroke of Middlesex backed up his Memorial Day Classic victory by winning the Thursday night opener last week, holding off Barre's Nick Sweet and Shelburne's Jamie Fisher in the process. Cris Michaud of Northfield was fourth, while Winooski's Jerry Lesage had a good run for fifth place. Joey Laquerre of East Montpelier took his first Tiger Sportsman win of the season, beating Marshfield's Matt Potter, Middlesex driver Shawn Fleury, Brendan Moodie of North Wolcott, and Plainfield's Tim Potter. Jason Corliss of Danville won a wild Street Stock feature over David Whitcomb of Elmore and Hardwick's "Super" Joe Fecteau. Kevin Streeter of Waitsfield got his second Junkyard Warrior win of the year. Greg Adams, Jr. of Hardwick on the Street Stock/Warrior 'reserve' feature.
True Value Modified Racing Series: Dwight Jarvis of Ascutney finished second to Jon McKennedy for the second race in a row on Saturday night, this time in the Connecticut Laborers Union 100 at Seekonk Speedway in Seekonk, Mass.
Twin State Speedway (Claremont, N.H.): Ascutney driver Chris Riendeau earned his first Late Model win of the season on Friday night, with Rutland's Dallas Trombley third. Joey Jarvis of Ascutney was fourth in the Pepsi Modified feature with Windham's Nate Kehoe fifth. Russ Davis of Cavendish and Chris Wilk of Mendon swapped finishing positions from last week's Super Street feature, with Davis beating Wilk for the win. Jeremy Blood of West Hartford was third in Strictly Stock feature. Jeremiah Losee of West Springfield won the Wildact feature over Rob Leitch of Cavendish and Hartland's Cody Small.
White Mountain Motorsports Park (North Woodstock, N.H.): Bernie Lantange of McIndoe Falls finished fourth in the Late Model feature on Friday night, with Stacy Cahoon of St. Johnsbury ninth. Stevie Parker of Lyndonville was third in the Strictly Stock feature, while Hyde Park's Tucker Williams won the Strictly Stock Mini race in his first start of the season at the track.
Thunder Road Int'l Speedbowl in Barre opens is in action on Thursday, with a special appearance by NASCAR legend Bobby Allison, and the True Value Modified Racing Series is at Thompson (Conn.) Speedway. Albany-Saratoga, Canaan Dirt, and Twin State speedways are all in action on Friday night, while Saturday will see regular events at Airborne, Bear Ridge, Canaan Fair, Mondanock, Riverside, and White Mountain. The ACT Late Model Tour is back for the final 72 laps of last week's rained out race at Waterford (Conn.) Speedbowl on Saturday, while the Série ACT-Castrol is at the newly renamed Riverside Speedway in Ste-Croix, Qué. The PASS North Super Late Models are at Maine's Unity Raceway on Saturday. Devil's Bowl and Utica-Rome speedways return to action on Sunday.
(PHOTOS: 1. Chester T. Wood in the X-1; 2. Smoke's new ride; 3. Jason Bonnett will test the Late Model waters at the Governor's Cup next week; Twin State Late Model winner Chris Riendeau. Photo 1 courtesy ACT archives; Photo 2 courtesy Joey Pole Racing; Photo 3 by Leif Tillotson; Photo 4 by Alan Ward)