Tuesday, July 21, 2009

TD BANKNORTH 250: Outlaw MacDonald Now Among Elite

OXFORD, Me. -- Eddie MacDonald lived the northeastern short track driver's dream on Sunday night, winning the TD Banknorth 250 at Oxford Plains Speedway. In doing so, he collected the $25,000 winner's purse, another $10,200 in lap leader bonuses, an invitation to compete at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, and a place in the annals of national short track racing lore.

The 29 year-old Rowley, Mass. racer, a regular on the NASCAR Camping World Series East and nicknamed "Outlaw" for his penchant to invade the occasional ACT or PASS event, was one of nearly a dozen drivers that played major -- and very entertaining -- roles in the 36th running of the classic event. The battle for the lead was almost exclusively two- or three-wide for the first two-thirds of the race, and the duels between MacDonald, Brent Dragon, John Donahue, Patrick Laperle, Brian Hoar, Ben Rowe, Joey Polewarczyk, Cris Michaud, Brad Leighton, and Nick Sweet -- all of them -- will likely remain etched in the memories of the thousands of race fans that watched them perform brilliantly on the biggest stage in asphalt Late Model racing for years to come.

MacDonald struggled in practice sessions throughout the weekend, but came alive during his qualifying heat race, running three-wide on the top to take the win and earn the third starting position for the Oxford 250. At the beginning of the main event, MacDonald and polesitter Dragon swapped the lead twice in the first 14 laps. MacDonald then raced with Laperle, Donahue, Michaud, and Leighton through lapped traffic inside the top-five before taking the lead from Donahue on lap 119.

He pitted for four tires on lap 129, but his resulting drive to the front was a quick one -- three-wide, of course -- as he retook the lead from Hoar just 38 laps later with what was ultimately the winning pass. Laperle, ot St-Denis-sur-Richelieu, Qué., caught MacDonald late in the going, but was only able to run in the low groove over the race's final laps and proved to be no match for MacDonald as his tires went away.

For MacDonald and his team, the appreciation for the victory was felt on several levels: Crew chief Rollie LaChance began working on race cars many years ago at Oxford Plains Speedway. The pair have teamed to win a pair of Camping World events at New Hampshire, and set winning the Oxford 250 as their next major goal. And, after the struggles in practice, the win was a big turnaround. The win adds MacDonald's name to a list of previous winners that reads like a who's who of stock car racing; past champions of the Oxford 250 include Butch Lindley, Geoff Bodine, Junior Hanley, Dave Dion, Mike and Ben Rowe, and last year's winner, former Daytona 500 champion Kevin Harvick.

"This is just unbelievable. It's huge for our team," MacDonald said. "My crew chief, Rollie LaChance, he's from 15 minutes away from here, and he just does an awesome job, he does everything to 100 percent, and each and every one of the guys on the crew just works so hard.

"I've been coming up here for a while now. I came here probably 15 or 18 years ago with my father to watch the 250 and just watch these guys. I never thought I'd be able to come here and win the thing."

MacDonald said he owed the win to his team. "I was actually pretty discouraged in practice," he said. "We practiced for six hours straight [Saturday and Sunday], and we tried everything we could possibly think of to make the car faster. We weren't the fastest car all weekend long in practice, and Rollie, the crew chief, is just unbelievable to be able to turn the car around and get it to be this fast. I felt so bad for my guys today working in the heat. They were running around, I had them changing tires -- every five laps we'd come in and change something [during practice]. It's just an awesome group of guys and I'm so thankful to win this one."

Laperle had mixed feelings about his runner-up finish -- the best effort by a Canadian driver since Dave Whitlock's 1995 victory.

"The car was tight, I mean, I was not about to go on the outside," said an emotionally drained Laperle, who finished 35th last year and had just one top-ten effort (ninth in 2004) to his credit. "When Eddie saw my line on the bottom, he went on the bottom groove. I mean, he beat me. At first I was a little sad. I think I led, like, one lap, and I finished second, that's 12 grand, so it's 12 grand and 100 dollars. So it's okay. Right now I'm sad, but at the RV, we're going to have a party. I'm happy about the guys, they did a great job, they [made] a good call during the pit stop, so I'm happy for them. I'm glad it's over."

Graniteville driver Donahue, who led for a total 27 laps, including a stretch of 22 laps after a breathtaking three-wide move under Dragon and Laperle on the 91st circuit, seemed to have had the time of his life in finishing third.

"At the beginning I was going to go chase down Brent [for the lead]," said Donahue. "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. We're just happy. We've had a couple of bad races, this will pick up the whole team, we needed this."

Hoar, of Williston, led 39 laps before finishing fourth. Oxford regular Shawn Martin of Turner, Me. finished fifth for his second consecutive top-five run in the Oxford 250. Dragon, Rowe, Michaud, Leighton, and Travis Stearns completed the top ten in order. Donahue's teammate for the day, NASCAR Nationwide Series driver Steve Wallace, finished 21st, three laps down. Wallace's uncle, fellow Nationwide driver Kenny Wallace, retired in 33rd place with a souring engine.

With the victory, MacDonald now has the chance to return to familiar territory -- victory lane at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. He and LaChance swept the Camping World Series East races at the 1-mile superspeedway in 2008, and now they'll try for the win in the inaugural ACT Invitational at the track in September; as the winner of the Oxford 250, MacDonald automatically qualifies for the race.

"It's unbelievable," he said. "With the New Hampshire wins last year and [the Oxford 250] this year, it's huge. [Winning the NHMS qualifier] is the best part, I wanted to be able to run there with this car and I didn't know how we were going to get an invitation, but finally we were able to get one." The winners of all ACT Late Model Tour, ACT Castrol Series, and a handful of 'open' events around the northeast will earn a starting berth for the ACT Invitational; as MacDonald's full-time commitment to Camping World Series dictates, his schedule did not allow him to run many ACT races in 2009. The Oxford 250 was only his third start in the Late Model car this season.

"I figured there'd be a caution with, you know, 20 laps to go, or ten to go, or even at one to go," MacDonald said. "I was thinking, 'The caution's gotta come out.' I was praying it didn't come and luckily it didn't and everything worked just the way we needed it to."

And with things just the way "Outlaw" Eddie MacDonald needed them, he cemented his place among the elite winners at the top of the short track stock car racing world.

OFFICIAL RESULTS -- TD Banknorth 250
Oxford Plains Speedway, Oxford, Me.
Sunday, July 19, 2009

Pos.-(Start)-Car No.-Driver-Hometown-Laps Completed-Money Won
1. (3) 17x Eddie MacDonald, Rowley, Mass., 326, $35,300
2. (10) 91 Patrick Laperle, St-Denis-sur-Richelieu, Qué., 326, $12,600
3. (6) 26VT John Donahue, Graniteville, 326, $10,200
4. (7) 37x Brian Hoar, Williston, 326, $9,800
5. (29) 94 Shawn Martin, Turner, Me., 326, $5,000
6. (1) 55VT Brent Dragon, Milton, 326, $12,100
7. (32) 10NH Ben Rowe, Turner, Me., 326, $3,500
8. (4) 6x Cris Michaud, Northfield, 326, $3,000
9. (8) 55NH Brad Leighton, Center Harbor, N.H., 326, $2,500
10. (2) 85 Travis Stearns, Auburn, Me., 326, $2,400
11. (5) 03e Travis Adams, Canton, Me., 326, $2,300
12. (11) 25 Shawn Knight, South Paris, Me., 326, $2,200
13. (15) 15VT Joey Laquerre, East Montpelier, 326, $2,100
14. (21) 71 Scott Dragon, Milton, 326, $2,050
15. (12) 97 Joey Polewarczyk, Jr., Hudson, N.H., 325, $2,000
16. (9) 88 Nick Sweet, Barre, 325, $1,850
17. (37) 48q Karl Allard, St-Félicien, Qué., 324, $1,750
18. (31) 7ME Glen Luce, Turner, Me., 324, $1,700
19. (24) 51ME Ricky Rolfe, Albany Twp., Me., 324, $1,650
20. (39) 7VT Eric Williams, Hyde Park, 324, $1,600
21. (42) 66 Steve Wallace, Charlotte, N.C., 323, $1,550
22. (30) 02 Randy Potter, Groveton, N.H., 323, $1,520
23. (41) 72 Scott Robbins, Dixfield, Me., 322, $1,500
24. (38) 57 Doug Coombs, Livermore, Me., 318, $1,450
25. (40) 15 Ben Ashline, Pittston, Me., 318, $1,425
26. (26) 26ME Corey Morgan, Lewiston, Me., 318, $1,400
27. (34) 16 Joey Becker, Jeffersonville, 316, $1,375
28. (36) 63 Don Wentworth, Otisfield, Me., 315, $1,350
29. (33) 10ME Jimmy Childs, Leeds, Me., 312, $1,325
30. (23) 41 Pete Potvin, III, Graniteville, 309, $1,300
31. (13) 50 Jeff White, Winthrop, Me., 303, $1,275
32. (19) 48 Kenny Harrison, Pownal, Me., 274, $1,250
33. (43) 51MO Kenny Wallace, St. Louis, Mo., 269, $1,225
34. (35) 18 Carey Martin, Denmark, Me., 245, $1,200
35. (28) 36 Brad Hammond, Turner, Me., 227, $1,150
36. (27) 17ON Pete Sheppard, Brampton, Ont., 211, $1,125
37. (16) 80 Donald Theetge, Boischatel, Qué., 209, $1,125
38. (22) 6 Tommy Ricker, Poland, Me., 187, $1,125
39. (25) 37 Larry Gelinas, Scarborough, Me., 175, $1,125
40. (17) 1c Billy Childs Jr., Leeds, Me., 154, $1,125
41. (20) 1 Al Hammond, Paris, Me., 149, $1,125
42. (18) 78 Quinny Welch, Lancaster, N.H., 101, $1,125
43. (14) 60 Tim Brackett, Buckfield, Me., 97, $1,125

Green flag lap leaders: B. Dragon 1-4, MacDonald 5-13, B. Dragon 14-90, Donahue 91-112, Laperle 113, Donahue 114-118, MacDonald 119-129, Hoar 130-167, MacDonald 168-250
Cautions: 10 (laps 32, 32, 91, 129, 134, 135, 165, 167, 183, 212)
Time of race: 2 hours, 10 minutes, 48.591 seconds
Margin of victory: 0.969 seconds

(PHOTOS: 1. A jubilant Eddie MacDonald prepares to exit his winning car at the TD Banknorth 250; 2. MacDonald (#17x) runs the high groove around Scott Dragon (#71) and Joey Laquerre (#15VT) on his way to winning Heat 3; 3. MacDonald credited his crew with the win; 4. The spoils of winning at Oxford. Photos by Justin St. Louis/VMM)

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