Thursday, July 16, 2009

The Juice: A Crazy Weekend, And Some Unsolicited Advice

-by Justin St. Louis

Well, we've finally lost it. Yours truly has drafted a couple of nostalgia-loving parents, a toddler with an increasing affinity for loud race cars, and perhaps most importantly, some daffy friends with reliable transportation, a camper, and a tolerance for me, for one completely bizarre weekend of racing.

Thursday, it's off to Thunder Road in Barre for the annual Times Argus Mid-Season Championships. Friday, we'll live a regular life with responsibilities and work and all that boring stuff. But Saturday, we're headed with the family to the tiny town of Waterford, just between St. Johnsbury, Vt. and Littleton, N.H., for the 50-year reunion and grand re-opening of Northeastern Speedway. After kissing the family goodbye at Northeastern, said friends and I will head to Berlin, N.H. for the second day of the New England Forest Rally, where we'll see the Vermont SportsCar factory-supported Subaru team in action with the likes of Travis Pastrana, Ken Block, and Dave Mirra driving gravity-defying, Colchester-built WRX STis, plus top racers Antoine L'Estage and Andi Mancin (we'll admit that we didn't even have to research those names -- following Rally America is a guilty pleasure of ours here at VMM HQ).

A few hours later, we'll complete the trip across Route 2 and down Route 26 to Maine's Oxford Plains Speedway for the True Value Modified Racing Series, Strictlies and Minis, and hopefully, some Late Model practice if we get there in time. Practice, of course, is in preparation for the mother of all short track events -- Sunday's TD Banknorth 250.

A list of 109 "probable" entries was released Wednesday at the event's annual Media Day in Westbrook, Me., and half of the drivers in attendance picked 20 year-old Joey Polewarczyk, Jr. to win. Polewarczyk, of Hudson, N.H., has been riding a huge wave of recent momentum that has even shown up on the national racing radar, and will look to improve upon his third-place finish in last year's race. Entries are expected from eight U.S. states plus Qu├ębec and Ontario, including NASCAR's Kenny and Steven Wallace, gunning for a purse that guarantees the winner $25,000, plus lap money.

If you haven't yet been to an Oxford 250, do yourself a favor and go. Just go. You have to. It's one of those special events where you'll find yourself mouth agape after a last-lap pass for the final transfer spot in one of the six heat races. You'll thrill to see your favorite driver beat his or her rival on the outside, three- or four-wide in Oxford's top groove. You'll get goosebumps when a local racer comes back from a heat race wreck, beats the touring stars to win one of the 'hooligan' races, then turns down the $1,500 winner's prize in favor of a starting spot in the main event, proudly proclaiming, "I'm racin' the 250!" over the microphone.

We can't wait to see what happens this year, and we've felt that way since the checkered flag fell last year. You should be there, too.

***

Quick things:

1. Apparently, C.V. Elms hasn't lost his touch behind the wheel. The promoter of Bradford's Bear Ridge Speedway took his second "Ridge Runner Series" victory of the season at Devil's Bowl Speedway in West Haven on Sunday.
2. Jeremy Mayfield simply needs to disappear.
3. Congratulations to Danville youngster Steven Legendre on his first career PASS North Super Late Model top-ten finish, a sixth-place effort, at Connecticut's Thompson Int'l Speedway on Saturday.
4. Kenny St. Germaine may be the toughest guy in America right now. The Airborne Speedway racer lost his home, a family member, and most of his belongings in a devastating fire last week, then, with a lot of help from the Airborne community, finished third in the Renegade race on Sunday. That takes some grit, and our hat's off to Kenny, and to the supporters of Airborne for rallying behind one of their own.

***

Here's our take on Thunder Road's Street Stock and Junkyard Warrior merger/split: The drivers that are complaining about it should just shut up and race their cars already. That's it.

At the risk of sounding like a curmudgeon here, this crying and whining business didn't happen in the old days. We were there on the track and in the pits a decade ago when the Street Stocks at Thunder Road were pulling in 50 to 60 cars a night, when half of the field was going home without qualifying for the feature. There wasn't a Warrior division, there wasn't a 'reserve' feature where we got to race a feature's worth of laps and gain a feature's worth of experience, even if it wasn't the main event. There weren't two winners, two sets of trophies, two purses, two champions. There were four or five drivers that had a great night, and 45 that took their lumps and came back the next week with higher hopes.

I'm telling the 45 drivers right now that aren't taking their lumps like they should, to grow up and get over themselves. If you're racing an entry-level four-cylinder car at a local short track, you need to realize that, no matter what you might want to believe, Jack Roush and Rick Hendrick aren't gonna come calling any time soon. Take a deep breath, race to your potential given the circumstances you've been handed on a particular night, don't take everything personally, and -- gasp! -- JUST HAVE FUN.

Listen, in 2000, I had a pretty great car, one that was much better than its driver, and I failed to qualify seven times out of 16 events. Seven times. In 2001, I missed nine out of 18. Nine! Half! And you know what? I had a blast. We all did.

The disparity was as bad then as it is now with the Streets and Warriors running together. Back then, there were 25 cars that could win, and 25 cars that had no chance at all. The key was that we all got along because we knew our fate and accepted it. More often than not, I was in the "no chance" group during those first two years, but I took advice and learned as much as I could. The veteran drivers offered a helping hand to the young kids like me. Guys like David Allen, Tommy Smith, Joe Fecteau, Lloyd Blakley, and a bunch more. By 2002, I was quite a bit better, winning races, contending for titles, and getting to the point where I could give a bit advice while I still listened to the more experienced drivers. Allen, Tommy Thunder, and Super Joe are still there and still helping, but it seems like some of the younger drivers -- in both divisions -- have stopped listening. If that's the attitude a racer is going to have, that racer shouldn't have a car at all.

If you're stuck in traffic behind some slower cars, either deal with it and try to outsmart your opponents like a sportsman would, or pull it onto the hauler. If you're in position to win, go for it. But for God's sake, don't just wreck a guy because he's slower than you, then complain that the system is flawed and you got screwed. You don't see Jeff Gordon or Mark Martin or Tony Stewart running over Dave Blaney or Joe Nemechek, you see them using patience. It works. Accept your fate, finish 24th, and keep in mind that the handicap system will reward you the next week with a better starting spot.

But taking a very positive thing like the two-division merger -- which provided the excitement it was intended to provide for race fans (which are more important in this business right now than they've ever been), and which began to lay the groundwork for the future survival of both classes -- and ruining it in six weeks is a shame. Tom Curley was beat up all year about it by the whiners, and finally he had to do something or he was going to start losing race teams. But I'll tell you this: Curley should have stuck to his guns and kept the divisions together, and here's hoping he goes back to the way it was two weeks ago. If the whiners want to quit, let 'em quit. Let 'em go somewhere else and run single-file every week and have a great time finishing sixth over and over if that's what they want. When they decide after a couple years of boring "racing" that they really did like Thunder Road, but they come back and the divisions are gone because a solution couldn't be found to appease every last driver, then they'll realize that they made a mistake by taking things for granted and throwing a tantrum.

No one is bigger than the show.

***

AROUND THE REGION:

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

ACT Late Model Tour: Point leader Scott Payea of Milton finished third at Kawartha Speedway's Summer Sizzler 200 on Sunday behind New Hampshire racers Brad Leighton and Joey Polewarczyk, Jr. Williston's Brian Hoar was sixth, and Chip Grenier of Graniteville finished tenth.

ACT Tiger Sportsman Tri-State Series: Shawn Duquette of Morrisonville, N.Y. won the series' opening round at Airborne Speedway on Sunday in a 100-lap race. Jason Bonnett of St. Albans was awarded the runner-up position after Tylor Terry failed inspection. ACT Late Model Tour regular Joey Becker of Jeffersonville was seventh, Joey Roebrts of Georgia was ninth, and Shawn Fleury of Middlesex was tenth. Former Daytona 500 winner Geoff Bodine finished sixth.

Airborne Speedway (Plattsburgh, N.Y.): Aaron Bartemy of Sheldon earned his first career Modified feature win on Sunday night with Don Scarborough of Brandon fifth. Kevin Boutin of Swanton finished fourth in the Renegades with Lance Rabtoy of Fairfax sixth, Milton's Rob Gordon eighth, and Mike Terry of Grand Isle tenth. Curtis Demore of Milton was ninth in the Bomber feature.

Albany-Saratoga Speedway (Malta, N.Y.): Todd Stone of Middlebury continued a strong season by finishing third in the 358 Modified feature on Friday night, while Rob Langevin of Londonderry finished second in the Sportsman event. Frank Hoard, III of Manchester was tenth in the Budget Sportsman race. Londonderry's Lori Langevin was fifth in the Pro Street Stock race with Castleton's Ed Thompson sixth and Fred Little of Salisbury eighth.

Bear Ridge Speedway (Bradford): Saturday's Mid-Season Championship races were postponed by rains that moved in during qualifying heats.

Canaan Dirt Speedway (Canaan, N.H.): Gene Pierson of East Corinth finished fourth in the Sportsman Modified event on Friday night, while Dave Lacasse of Thetford Center was fifth. Street Stock top guns Will Hull of East Montpelier and Dan Eastman of Thetford Center stuggled, finishing eighth and ninth, respectively. Josh Sunn of White River Junction was third in the Mini Stock race with Wilder's Andy Johnson fourth and Ryan Dutton of Bradford fifth.

Canaan Fair Speedway (Canaan, N.H.): Chris Wilk of Mendon finished fourth in the Pro Stock feature on Sunday, then won the Super Street race over Bradford's Arnie Stygles. Chris Riendeau of Ascutney was the Pure Stock winner, while Jamie Hodgdon, also of Ascutney, was fifth. Chris McKinstry of Thetford won the Outlaw Mini race with Robert Gioia of East Thetford third and Bobby Prior of White River Junction fourth. Bruce Jaycox of Hartland won the Bandit feature over Quechee's Kyle Small, while Ascutney's Tyler Lescord was fourth.

Devil's Bowl Speedway (West Haven): In a 50-lap Ridge Runner Series race won by C.V. "Butch" Elms on Sunday, Middlebury's Hunter Bates finished sixth in the Budget Sportsman division, with Cullen Howe of South Londonderry ninth. Lori Langevin of Londonderry was third in the Pro Street Stock feature with Carl Vladyka of Fair Haven fourth, Fred Little of Salisbury fifth, Chuck Towslee of Manchester sixth, and Jeff Washburn of Benson tenth. Mike Clark of Brandon was the Limited winner over Hydeville's Bill Duprey. Kayla Bryant of Rutland won the six-cylinder Mini Stock race, Nathan Woodworth of Essex Junction was the top four-cylinder Mini, and Chris Murray of Poultney was the Duke Stock runner-up.

Monadnock Speedway (Winchester, N.H.): Vernon's Heath Renaud finished 11th in the Super Stock race on Saturday, one spot better than Putney driver Dana Shepard. Joe Rogers of Ludlow was ninth in the Mini Stock feature. The Modified feature was rained out, as were the four- and eight-cylinder Enduros.

PASS North Super Late Models: Rookie Steven Legendre of Danville finished a career-best sixth on Saturday at Thompson Int'l Speedway in Connecticut, then finished 23rd at Lee USA Speedway in New Hampshire on Tuesday night. Derek Ramstrom won at Thompson, while Johnny Clark was the Lee winner.

Riverside Speedway (Groveton, N.H.): Mike Paquette won Saturday's rain-shortened Late Model feature. Paul Schartner, III of Lyndonville was fourth with St. Johnsbury's Bob Ailes, Sr. fifth. All other features were rained out.

Thunder Road Int'l Speedbowl (Barre): Grant Folsom of Waitsfield earned his first career Late Model win on Thursday over Montpelier's Phil Scott, Jean-Paul Cyr of Milton, Mike Bailey of South Barre, and Middlesex's Dave Pembroke. Eric Badore of Milton took his first career Tiger Sportsman victory over Northfield's Jeff French, Barre's Cody Blake, Ray Stearns of East Corinth, and Mark Barnier of Essex Junction. Hyde Park rookie Tucker Williams took his second Street Stock win of the season over Williamstown's Mike MacAskill, Gary Mullen of Tunbridge, Jason Corliss of Danville, and Tommy Smith of Williamstown. Ken Christman of Cabot raced to his first career Junkyard Warrior win over Montpelier's Alex Whitcomb, Waitsfield drivers Troy Kingsbury and Kevin Streeter, and Mark LaFleche of Williamstown.

True Value Modified Racing Series: Dwight Jarvis of Ascutney finished eighth in the Laticrete/Port City 100 at Lee USA Speedway on Saturday night. Veteran driver Jimmy Kuhn, Jr. took his first career TVMRS win.

Twin State Speedway (Claremont, N.H.): Dallas Trombley of Rutland was the Late Model runner-up on Friday night, with Ascutney's Chris Riendeau fifth. Zach Jewett of Perkinsville finished fifth in the Modified feature, while Ascutney rookie Joey Jarvis beat his father, Peter Jarvis, for sixth. Nate Kehoe of Windham was eighth. Russ Davis of Cavendish was third in the Super Street race with fifth Mendon's Chris Wilk fourth. Tara Tarbell of Springfield was second in the Strictly Stock feature with Michael Burke of Bellows Falls fifth, West Hartford's Jeremy Blood sixth, and Josh Lovely of Barre seventh. The Wildcat finish was a carbon copy of the week before, with Jeremiah Losee of North Springfield winning over Cody Small of Hartland and Cavendish driver Rob Leitch.

White Mountain Motorsports Park (North Woodstock, N.H.): Stevie Parker of Lyndonville finished third in the Strictly Stock race on Saturday night with Milton's Gordie Stone seventh. Concord's Rubin Call won the Strictly Stock Mini feature. The Late Model event was rained out.

***

Thunder Road Int'l Speedbowl in Barre is in action on Thursday night with the double-points Mid-Season Championships. Regular events will be held at Albany-Saratoga, Canaan Dirt, and Twin State on Friday. Saturday has the grand re-opening of Northeastern Speedway in Lower Waterford, while the True Value Modified Racing Series at Oxford Plains Speedway, Granite State Mini Sprints and previously rained-out Mid-Season Championships for the weekly divisions are at Bear Ridge Speedway in Bradford, Late Model Triple-25s are at White Mountain Motorsports Park, and regular events are held at Airborne, Canaan Fair, and Riverside. Devil's Bowl Speedway in West Haven will have kids rides on Sunday, while Oxford Plains Speedway hosts the $25,000-to-win TD Banknorth 250.

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