Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Juice: Best '250' Ever?

-by Justin St. Louis

We're not going to speculate about the entire history of the competitiveness of the Oxford 250, because, frankly, we've only been to eight out of the 36 run and are quite unqualified to make such projections. While any guess that we made about how the 2009 edition ranks compared to the rest would be farcical, but of the 250s we've seen, Sunday's race was far and away the best one ever. We've witnessed the race as a NASCAR Busch North Series event (1992), an ACT Pro Stock Tour race (1993), an open Pro Stock show (2001, 2004-06), and an open Late Model event (2008-09), and there is just no question that this year's TD Banknorth 250 was the best in terms of competition and race-long excitement.

Three-wide racing has become sort of a common thing at the previously one-groove Oxford Plains Speedway these last two or three seasons, but three-wide racing for the lead -- a lot of it -- is unheard of pretty much everywhere. And for the biggest race in the country? Get out.

Watching Patrick Laperle, John Donahue, and Brent Dragon go at it for the lead was thrilling. Watching Dragon, Ben Rowe, and Joey Polewarczyk doing it was thrilling. Watching the leaders slice through lapped traffic three- or four-wide was thrilling. Watching Eddie MacDonald slingshot his way up the outside was thrilling. Get the picture? Unbelievable action.

"What a cool track to race on the way they've got it right now," said Brian Hoar, who finished fourth in the race after leading 39 laps just past the halfway point. "It's pretty incredible, actually, it just makes you smile. I was watching heat races just smiling, I mean, watching Eddie MacDonald come three-wide up through there in the heat race. And you can just do that, there's a groove out there."

"It's intense, it's fun," said third-place finisher Donahue. "It was good from the second and third groove. In the beginning I was gonna go chase down Brent, and we got into the top three there, Patrick was in there, running three, four, five-wide when I took the lead, that was fun. Man was that fun."

Hoar said that the give-and-take shown at Oxford lately -- and at the 250 especially -- has been outstanding.

"Now everybody accepts and understands that it's [not] unacceptable to go three-wide," he said. "That mentality has to take place because, you know, somebody gets pissed sometimes when you go to a track and somebody goes three-wide and they go, 'What the hell are you doing?' And then they do something stupid to stop you or cause you not to be able to complete that deal. But [at Oxford], everybody respects that right now and is conscientous of it.

"[They're thinking] 'Gotta run the middle, I gotta stay here, don't move too high, don't move too low.' And the guy on the inside is saying, 'Don't slip up, I've got two guys out here.' And the guy on the outside goes, 'Give me some room, don't get too high.'

"The racing was fun out there."

It was fun from the grandstands, too. Congratulations to every one of the 71 drivers at Oxford Plains Speedway on Sunday for putting on a show that no one there will soon forget. Congratulations to Tom Curley of the American-Canadian Tour for getting the current northeastern Late Model rules program to the point it's at right now. And congratulations to Oxford promoter Bill Ryan for taking a huge chance back in 2007 and putting this type of car in the Oxford 250. We'll admit that even as a lifelong Late Model fan, the changeover from the Pro Stock division was scary and caused some skepticism. We now know that it was done for a reason, and the payoff was Sunday's event.

Just plain awesome.

***

Speaking of awesome, Saturday's Northeastern Speedway revival was something to behold. The 1/5-mile track in Lower Waterford, just outside St. Johnsbury, was dusted off for the first time since 1966, and brought together some of the greatest collections of memories in New England stock car racing history. We were honored to share moments with great drivers like Glenn Andrews, Johnny Gammell, Harold Hanaford, Paul Martel, Skip Easter, Glen Gadapee, Paul Belknap, and more, and would like to thank owners Paul and Lise Bellefeuille for their efforts in restoring the track to the beautiful condition it is in now.

We visited the place on a whim on Milk Bowl weekend in 2007, before the Bellefeuilles purchased the facility, and saw shadows of what used to be a great little race track hiding in a thick forest of . About eight months later, we received word that Northeastern had been purchased and was to be renovated. Instantly, we circled the date "July 18, 2009" on the calendar, and were glad to take part in its re-christening.

Here's a video (thanks to our Senior Correspondent, Ron St. Louis) of part of the parade laps that included restored and re-created coupe racers that actually raced at Northeastern Speedway from 1959-1966. We've got a photo album posted, too.

video

***

If you thought Jean-Paul Cyr never had a chance to contend for the Thunder Road championship this season, you thought really, really wrong. Cyr was his classic, winning self last Thursday, and we're only halfway through the year. Watch that #11 car, he's probably not done yet.

***

AROUND THE REGION:

Time to take a look at the top Vermonters from the past weekend...

Airborne Speedway (Plattsburgh, N.Y.): Todd Stone of Middlebury finished fourth in the Modified feature on Saturday night, with Aaron Bartemy of Sheldon sixth. Richie Turner of Fairfax was the runner-up in the Tiger Sportsman feature with Milton's Larry Underwood tenth. Mike Terry of Grand Isle won the Renegade feature with Swanton's Dave Rabtoy second, Lance Rabtoy of Fairfax sixth, and Milton's Rob Gordon eighth.

Albany-Saratoga Speedway (Malta, N.Y.): Friday's races were rained out.

Bear Ridge Speedway (Bradford): Saturday's event saw double features for all regular weekly divisions, including the double-points Mekkelsen RV Mid-Season Championships. In the double-point features, Travis Shinn of Groton, N.H. scored the victory in the Sportsman Modifieds over Thetford Center's Wayne Stearns and Gary Siemons of Orford, N.H., while other winners were Melvin Pierson of Topsham (Sportsman Coupe), T.C. Forward of Lyme, N.H. (Limited Late Model), Andy Johnson of Wilder (Fast Four), Bradford's Tom Placey (Hornet), and Melissa King of Corinth (Hornet Queen). In the regular Clifford Concrete/Robbins Property Maintenance features, Chris Donnelly of Piermont, N.H. was the Sportsman Modified winner over Corinth's Bryan King and Ryan Avery of Thornton, N.H., while other events were won by Josh Harrington of Topsham (Sportsman Coupe), Strafford's Shane Race (Limited Late Model), Mitch Durkee of Sharon (Fast Four), and Placey again in the Hornet class.

Canaan Dirt Speedway (Canaan, N.H.): Friday's program was rained out.

Canaan Fair Speedway (Canaan, N.H.): Kris Lyman of West Hartford finished third in the Pro Stock feature on Saturday with South Royalton's Kevin Menard eighth. Bradford's Arnie Stygles was third in the Super Street race with Colby Hodgdon of Windsor seventh. Jamie Hodgdon of Ascutney was the Pure Stock winner, while Chris Riendeau, also of Ascutney, was third. Josh Sunn of White River Junction won the Outlaw Mini race over Chris McKinstry of Thetford, Chris Lyman of Hartland, Bobby Prior of White River Junction, and Robert Gioia of East Thetford. Quechee's Kyle Small won the Bandit feature over Ascutney's Tyler Lescord, with Bruce Jaycox of Hartland fourth and Mike Parker of Bradford fifth.

Devil's Bowl Speedway (West Haven): Kenny Tremont, Jr. of West Sand Lake, N.Y. won his fourth 358 Modified feature of the season on Sunday over Ray Hoard of Granville, N.Y. Tim LaDuc of Orwell finished third, one spot better than Brandon's Vince Quenneville, Jr. Todd Stone of Middlebury was fifth, Rob Langevin of Londonderry was seventh, and Brian Whittemore of Florence was tenth. Robert Bublak of Fort Edward, N.Y. won the Budget Sportsman race over Whitehall, N.Y.'s Frank Hoard, Jr. and Frank Hoard, III of Manchester. Cullen and Seth Howe of South Londonderry were fourth and sixth, respectively. Cale Kneer of Troy, N.Y. won the Pro Street Stock feature over Jeff Washburn of Benson and Carl Vladyka of Fair Haven. Chuck Towslee of Manchester seventh with Lori Langevin of Londonderry ninth. Dan Older of Ballston Spa, N.Y. won the Limited feature over Brandon's Mike Clark, and Kayla Bryant of Rutland won the Mini Stock/Duke Stock race.

Monadnock Speedway (Winchester, N.H.): Putney driver Dana Shepard finished 10th in the Super Stock race on Saturday with Vernon's Heath Renaud 14th. Joe Rogers of Ludlow was 11th in the Mini Stock feature. Dick Houle of West Brattleboro was second in the 4-cylinder Enduro with Vernon's Josh Houle third.

Oxford Plains Speedway (Oxford, Me.): John Donahue of Graniteville finished third in the TD Banknorth 250 on Sunday night behind Eddie MacDonald and Patrick Laperle. Williston's Brian Hoar was fourth, Brent Dragon of Milton was sixth, and Cris Michaud of Northfield was eighth.

Riverside Speedway (Groveton, N.H.): Derek Ming of Island Pond won the Outlaw Sportsman feature on Saturday night with David Ofsuryk, Jr. of Newport Center fourth and Dan Sidney of St. Johnsbury sixth, while Dilyn Switser of West Burke won the Super Stock feature with Lyndonville's Ben Bedor seventh. Hardwick's Andy Fecteau won the first of two Street Stock features over Derby Line driver Brendan Hunt and West Burke's Jesse Switser, while Swister and Kyle Pembroke of Montpelier finished second and third, respectively, behind Brandon Lambert in the second feature. Ernie LaPlant of Lyndonville was third in the Dwarf Car feature, while Cabot's Johanna Christman posted finishes of first and second in the two Angel features.

Thunder Road Int'l Speedbowl (Barre): Late Model driver Jean-Paul Cyr of Milton scored his first win of the year in Thursday's Times Argus Mid-Season Championship, over Dave Pembroke of Middlesex, Doug Murphy of Tunbridge, Craig Bushey of Cambridge, and Phil Scott of Montpelier. Kris Grout of Waterbury won the Tiger Sportsman feature, with Plainfield's Matt Potter, Joey Roberts of Georgia, Pete Ainsworth of Middlesex, and North Wolcott's Brendan Moodie in tow. Tunbridge driver Gary Mullen won the Street Stock feature over Graniteville rookie Travis Hull, Mike Martin of Crafstbury Common, Garry Bashaw of Lincoln, and East Haven's Michael Moore, while Waterbury's Josh Erwin inherited the Junkyard Warrior win in the tech line over Barre's Kevin Dodge, Donny Yates of North Montpelier, Lance Donald of Williamstown, and Keith Fortier of Hinesburg.

True Value Modified Racing Series: Dwight Jarvis of Ascutney finished second in the Maine-ly Action Sports 100 at Oxford Plains Speedway on Saturday night, with brother Peter Jarvis, also of Ascutney, in sixth. Point leader Jon McKennedy of Chelmsford, Mass. was the winner.

Twin State Speedway (Claremont, N.H.): Ascutney's Chris Riendeau finished sixth in Sunday's Late Model feature with Rutland's Dallas Trombley seventh and Dola Holland of Ludlow ninth. Ascutney rookie Joey Jarvis scored his first Modified win with Riendeau fourth, Leo Martin, Jr. of Windsor seventh, Nate Kehoe of Windham eighth, and Peter Jarvis of Ascutney tenth. Russ Davis of Cavendish was second in the Super Street race with fifth Mendon's Chris Wilk third. Tara Tarbell of Springfield won the Strictly Stock feature with Michael Burke of Bellows Falls sixth and Josh Lovely of Barre seventh. Kyle Small of Quechee won the Wildcat race over Jeremiah Losee of North Springfield and Cody Small of Hartland.

White Mountain Motorsports Park (North Woodstock, N.H.): Stacy Cahoon of St. Johnsbury was second in the Late Model feature on Saturday night with McIndoe Falls driver Bernie Lantagne eighth. Stevie Parker of Lyndonville finished third in the Strictly Stocks with Milton's Gordie Stone eighth, while Concord driver Rubin Call was the Strictly Stock Mini runner-up.

***

Thunder Road Int'l Speedbowl in Barre is back in action on Thursday night, while the True Value Modified Racing Series is at Thompson Int'l Speedway in Connecticut. The Jake McDowell Memorial Street Stock 100 is at Riverside Speedway on Friday night while regular events will be held at Albany-Saratoga, Canaan Dirt, and Twin State. The ACT Late Model Tour is at Beech Ridge Motor Speedway in Scarborough, Me. on Saturday, while the PASS North Super Late Models are at Riverside, the SCoNE 360 Sprint Cars are at Bradford's Bear Ridge Speedway, and regular events are held at Airborne, Canaan Fair, Monadnock, and White Mountain. Devil's Bowl Speedway in West Haven will have the Empire Lightning Sprints on Sunday along with a regular program.

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