-by Justin St. Louis
When is Kevin Lepage going to find something else to do? The guy should have retired five years ago and opened up, I don't know, a boat sales shop or a car dealership or a movie theater or something. Instead, he's now become just a guy that everyone says, "Who is that?" about when the Nationwide Series finishes are posted. And it's a shame.
Lepage was one of the racers I cheered for while I was growing up, because he won his share of races, mostly while driving and maintaining his own cars, and was one of the only Vermont drivers in the late 1980s and early '90s that could keep pace with the Canadian and Maine-based cars. He had some Vermont work ethic in him. He went out and got his own sponsorship dollars from Citgo and Allen Lumber, built his operation from the ground up, and became one of the better drivers in the northeast. One of the few that could beat Junior Hanley a couple times a year. His magical 1993 season was an exciting thing to watch, capped off by his Milk Bowl double win in both the Pro Stock and Late Model divisions.
When Lepage moved south out of his Shelburne, Vt. roots in 1994, he again did it on his own, with his own cars and equipment, and a hard-earned sponsorship from Vermont Teddy Bear. He finally got hooked up with some top-notch cars owned by David Ridling in 1996 and broke through with his first Busch Series win at Homestead, finishing eighth in points. The next year he had a handful of impressive runs in the #91 Winston Cup car, and began a full-season effort in 1998 with the team, only to be picked up midstream by powerhouse Jack Roush. Along the way, he took another Busch win at Bristol. It really was a very proud time for Vermonters with an interest in racing. When Lepage came back to Thunder Road, he was treated like a bona fide celebrity, which, in this area of hard-working folks that do what they can to scratch out a modest living, he probably deserved.
But then the bottom sort of started to fall out. Lepage's downfall in the Cup Series might be blamed on the fact that he was in the Roush's "R&D" car, the #16 ride. Ted Musgrave had been moderately successful in the car, but as the Roush organization began to expand around the time Lepage arrived, the car became more of an in-race test dummy. With Lepage's on-track performances likely suffering from that scenario, his market value dipped. After a breakup with Roush, Lepage was rideless for the first part of 2001 before taking over the once-stout Kodak #4 car for Larry McClure. Then came the Jim Smith #7 team that became the bastard child of Geoff Bodine's ex-team, which was the ex-team of the late Alan Kulwicki. Then McClure's stuff again in 2003, followed by pick-up rides in third-rate cars owned by people no one had ever heard of.
Lepage re-opened his Busch Series team during the first stint with McClure, then stepped into the potent #37 Timber Wolf car after Jeff Purvis was injured. Lepage put the car on the pole position a couple of times, but for whatever reason, never produced the finishes to back up the qualifying performances. And again, his market value dipped on that series.
Since around 2004, Lepage has been a go-to guy for any car owner looking to do the start-and-park thing, which is a great way to make enough money to pay your monthly bills, but a horrible excuse to own a "race" team. His current gig is on the Nationwide Series, splitting time between a car owned by former driver Jimmy Means, and running a two-car team with Derrike Cope -- whose career practically mirrors Lepage's, by the way, from the hometown beginning to today. Lepage's best finish this year has been 33rd in one of Means' cars at Texas Motor Speedway, when he finished 11 laps down. So far, it's the only race he's finished, and it's also the only race he's made it past halfway in.
That's just plain embarrassing. For all of us.
Let's face it, Kevin Lepage was probably never going to be the next Dale Earnhardt. But he could have been the next Ricky Rudd or Geoff Bodine, guys who owned their own stuff or drove for other prominent teams here and there, ripping off a Cup win or three every year.
For a guy that was proud to come from humble beginnings -- building a respectable career after flopping around at Thunder Road and Catamount Stadium for a few years -- this is not how it should have been. Kevin Lepage was not the next Dale Earnhardt; there were five or six Kevin Lepage types from the northeast that could have gone south and done as well or better. But Lepage himself was living the short track racer's dream, and built a name for himself at the top levels of the sport. Then, somewhere along the way, he forgot about that.
Would he have been better off running a Cup team on his own? Should he have stayed in the Busch/Nationwide Series full-time after losing the Roush ride, and tried to become a star there? There's really no telling now. It's a moot point. Kevin Lepage was on his way, but the road got rocky and it seems like Lepage just threw up his hands and gave up. And once he did that, he should have started himself a business outside of racing -- his Cup and Nationwide career winnings have totalled over $15 million, he could have probably afforded a restaurant or something -- and returned to the short tracks of the Carolinas or even back home in New England. There would have been no shame in that at all. There still would be no shame in it.
But to a kid like me that grew up saving newspaper clippings of the local guy making it big in NASCAR, well, we've given up on Kevin Lepage, at least nationally. He should get himself a short track car and begin a new career, or pick up where he left off in 1993. Rich Bickle did it, Dave Mader did it, Jimmy Horton did it, and they were wildly successful after their cup of coffee in NASCAR. Or just get out entirely. Do it for all of us. Do it for Vermont.
Lepage should think back to victory lane at at Claremont Int'l Speedway in 1987, where he was standing next to a car hastily cobbled together by he and his father after getting dropped from the E.J. Prescott ride, and remember why he ever got in a race car in the first place. Was it so he could split $22,000 with Derrike Cope after a 10-lap tour of Gateway Int'l Raceway, or was it so he could be the best racer on the track? Get out, come home, and build a Late Model. Win a Thursday night show at Thunder Road. Do it for all us.
But most of all, do it for yourself.
Not gonna lie, I'm excited to get back to Bear Ridge this Saturday night.
I'm hearing ACT point leader Scott Payea will drop in on Thunder Road tonight to test some new setups in his car.
Brian Hoar on his race for the win at Waterford Speedbowl last weekend: "This is the funniest thing I've ever said in my life, but Brad Leighton thought I drove him rough. That's bulls**t. And that's a direct quote. Write that down. He got his hand caught in the candy jar. I stuck my car up to his door and he came down and made contact. It was bulls**t. I'm obviously not going to hit the brakes. I like Brad, I've known him for a long time, but I knew it was going to be hard racing. If he's got a problem with me, we'll work it out."
Joey Polewarczyk on racing with Hoar, after the two tangled at Airborne Speedway in May and again last weekend at Waterford: "He blatantly drove over my nose. I'm not taking his crap any more. It's happened to me too many times."
Hoar on his incident with Polewarczyk at Waterford: "He's upset because he spun out. We were racing side-by-side and we touched. It wasn't hard, I didn't chop him. It was nothing intentional. I rather would have raced Joey Polewarczyk for the lead than Brad Leighton, given the choice. One time we had a minor problem on the track, and I thought it was over by the end of the race. I'm sure I've got an 'X' on my back now, but I'd like to think that he and his team will calm down."
Sounds like we missed a good one.
I'm 26. I started going to races regularly when I was four years old, and have been at no less than five races a year since then. So, by my calcuations, I've got only 18 years left before I'll know what I'm talking about. At least I'm over the hump, right?
I like the term "Money Month". It's catchy, and, quite honestly, there's a ton of dough on the line for the ACT teams.
My biggest fear is that the upcoming ACT Invitational qualifier at Wiscasset Raceway in Maine this Sunday will turn out to be a bad joke. Between track reports and what we're hearing from everyone out that way, Wiscasset will be lucky to get 25 Late Models for a show that pays the winner $5,000 and a trip to Loudon. At that point, you have to worry about track owner Doug White, who will pay another $5,000 to the winner of a companion 150-lap Pro Stock race on the same day -- one that is expected to draw no more than 20 or 22 cars -- and has been losing money every time the gates swing open this year. Good luck, Mr. White.
Two words: Jason Bay.
AROUND THE REGION:
Time to take a look at the top Vermonters from the past weekend...
ACT Late Model Tour: Brian Hoar of Williston made it two-for-two by winning the Nutmeg State 100 at Waterford Speedbowl in Connecticut on Saturday night. Point leader Scott Payea of Milton finished third behind Randy Potter, and Graniteville's John Donahue was fourth. Brent Dragon of Milton finished sixth, and Tyler Cahoon of St. Johnsbury earned his second top-ten finish of the season and of his ACT career in tenth place.
Airborne Speedway (Plattsburgh, N.Y.): Don Scarborough of Brandon was the top Vermonter in Saturday's Modified race, finishing sixth. Rich Watson of Milton was the lone Sportsman driver in the feature, finishing 15th. Milton's Rob Gordon was the runner-up in the Renegade feature; Swanton's Dave Rabtoy was ninth, with Lance Rabtoy of Fairfax tenth. Billy Jenkins of Milton was seventh in the Mini-Modified feature, and Brad Bushey of Georgia was tenth in the Bomber race.
Albany-Saratoga Speedway (Malta, N.Y.): Todd Stone of Middlebury finished fifth in the 358 Modified feature on Friday night, while Rob Langevin of Londonderry was the runner-up in the Sportsman class. Frank Hoard, III of Manchester finished fifth in the Budget Sportsman feature. Lori Langevin of Londerderry was third in the Pro Street Stock feature with Manchester's Chuck Towslee fifth, Fred Little of Salisbury seventh, and Ed Thompson of Fair Haven eighth.
Bear Ridge Speedway (Bradford): Gary Siemons of Orford, N.H. posted his second Sportsman Modified win of the season on Saturday night, over Bob Shepard of West Topsham, Travis Shinn of Groton, N.H., Blake Shepard of Newton, N.H., and Jeremy Huntoon of Bradford. Josh Harrington of Topsham won the three-segment Sportsman Coupe "Madness" event over Melvin Pierson of Topsham, Bryan King of Corinth, and Bradford rookies Billy Simmons and Jason Horniak. Dan Eastman of Thetford Center won his eighth Limited Late Model feature of the season over Troy Comeau of Alexandria, N.H., Will Hull of East Montpelier, Dan Cook of South Tamworth, N.H., and Jeremy Hodge of Bradford. Sharon's Mitch Durkee won the Fast Four feature, followed by Wilder's Andy Johnson, Steve Bell of St. Johnsbury, Mark Brown, and Kevin Harran of St. Johnsbury. Tom Placey of Bradford won his sixth consecutive Hornet feature, with Groton's Charlie Lakin, Karl Sheldon of St. Johnsbury, Amanda Gray of East Thetford, and Bobby Bell of St. Johnsbury completing the top five. Misty Bell of St. Johnsbury won the Hornet Queen race.
Canaan Dirt Speedway (Canaan, N.H.): Thetford Center's Dave Lacasse finished sixth in the Modified feature on Friday night, with Todd Petschke of Windsor seventh. Will Hull of East Montpelier was the Street Stock runner-up, with Ascutney's Cricket Williams eighth and Dan Eastman of Thetford Center tenth. Josh Sunn of White River Junction was the Fast Four runner-up with Wilder's Andy Johnson third and Ryan Dutton of Bradford eighth.
Canaan Fair Speedway (Canaan, N.H.): Kris Lyman of West Hartford was the Pro Stock runner-up on Saturday, while Bradford's Arnie Stylges finished third in the Super Street race. Jamie Hodgdon of Ascutney won the Pure Stock feature with Kyle Davis of Pittsford eighth and Rory Merritt of North Springfield ninth. White River Junction drivers Bobby Prior and Josh Sunn went 1-2 in the Outlaw Mini Stock race, with Robert Gioia of East Thetford third and Chris Lyman of Hartland fifth. Kyle Small of Quechee won the Bandit race over Ascutney's Tyler Lescord.
Devil's Bowl Speedway (West Haven): Defending track champion Todd Stone of Middlebury took his first 358 Modified win of the season on Sunday, over Kris Vernold of Glens Falls, N.Y., Vince Quenneville, Jr. of Brandon, Gardner Stone of Middlebury (Todd's father), and Ray Hoard of Granville, N.Y. Jimmy Ryan of Whiting was sixth, with the top-ten completed by Don Mattison of Wells, Cullen Howe of South Londonderry, point leader Kenny Tremont, Jr. of West Sand Lake, N.Y., and Frank Hoard, Sr. of Manchester. Frank Hoard, III of Manchester won the Budget Sportsman feature over South Londonderry's Seth Howe, Jack Swinton of Hudson Falls, N.Y., Josh Joseph of South Glens Falls, N.Y., and C.V. Elms, III of North Haverhill, N.H. Salisbury's Fred Little won the Pro Street Stock race over Cale Kneer of Troy, N.Y., Carl Vladyka of Fair Haven, Mike Bussino, and Chuck Towslee of Manchester. Randy Alger won the Limited feature over Bill Duprey of Hydeville, and Colin Clow of Troy, N.Y. won the Mini Stock feature.
Monadnock Speedway (Winchester, N.H.): Dana Shepard of Putney finished 11th in the Super Stock race on Saturday. Dick Houle of West Brattleboro won the 4-cylinder Enduro.
Riverside Speedway (Groveton, N.H.): Bob Ailes, Sr. of St. Johnsbury was the runner-up in the Late Model feature on Saturday night, with Howard Switser of West Burke third, Paul Schartner, III of Lyndonville sixth, Stephen Hodgdon of Danville eighth, and Brett Gervais of Island Pond ninth. Derek Ming of Island Pond won again in the Outlaw Sportsman division over Davey Ofsuryk of Newport Center. West Burke's Jesse Switser was the Street Stock runner-up with Lyndonville's Dean Switser fourth. In twin Dwarf Car features, Concord's Toby Merchant posted finishes of second and fourth, while Lyndonville's Ernie LaPlant was third and ninth. Andy Simpson of Lyndon Center beat Anthony Mason of Orleans for the Cyclone win, while sisters Lyndsay and Johanna Christman of Cabot finished second and fourth in the Angels, resepectively.
SCoNE 360 Sprint Cars: Mark Cole of Lebanon, N.H. won at Canaan (N.H.) Dirt Speedway on Friday night over Ossipee, N.H.'s Clay Dow and Lacey Hanson of Orwell. Dow won at Bear Ridge Speedway in Bradford on Saturday night, with Matt Shuart second and Bob Giuliani of Middletown, N.H. third.
Série ACT-Castrol: Patrick Laperle of St-Denis-sur-Richelieu, Qué. won the Luminaire Napert 150 at Autodrome Chaudière on Saturday night for his second-straight win. Trampas Demers of South Burlington finished 20th.
Thunder Road Int'l Speedbowl (Barre): On Thursday, Rich Lowrey of Charlotte was the Late Model winner over Shelburne's Jamie Fisher, Milton's Jean-Paul Cyr and Eric Chase, and Phil Scott of Montpelier. Mark Barnier of Essex Junction won the Tiger Sportsman feature over Milton's Eric Badore, Joel Hodgdon of Craftsbury, Hinesburg's Tommy Therrien, and Ricky Roberts of Washington. Ron Gabaree of Barre won the Street Stock feature over rookies Danny Doyle of Hancock and Scott Weston of Berlin, Greg Adams, Jr. of Hardwick, and Tim Campbell of West Topsham. Kevin Streeter of Waitsfield took his fifth Junkyard Warrior win of the year over Donny Yates of North Montpelier, Alex Whitcomb of Montpelier, John Prentice of Northfield, and Ken Christman of Cabot. On Sunday, Bill Davis of Monson, Mass. won $5,000 with his victory in the 25th Annual M&M Beverage Enduro 250. Mike MacAskill of Williamstown won the 50-lap Street Stock special over Elmore's David Whitcomb, Tommy Smith of Williamstown, rookie Tucker Williams of Hyde Park, and Danville's Jason Corliss. Bunker Hodgdon of Hardwick made his return to the Warriors with a win over Williamstown's Lance Donald, Kevin Dodge of Barre, Keith Fortier of Hinesburg, and Christman.
True Value Modified Racing Series: Jon McKennedy of Chelmsford, Mass. took another win and extended his point lead at Beech Ridge Motor Speedway in Scarborough, Me. on Saturday night. David Pinkham of Buxton, Me. was second, followed by Ascutney's Dwight Jarvis.
Twin State Speedway (Claremont, N.H.): Dallas Trombley of Rutland won the Late Model feature on Friday with Ascutney's Chris Riendeau seventh. Peter Jarvis of Ascutney won the Modified feature, with son Joey Jarvis fourth, Robert Hagar of Windsor fifth, Nate Kehoe of Windham seventh, and Leo Martin of Windsor tenth. Russ Davis of Cavendish won the Super Street feature with Dave Davis of White River Junction fourth, Bruce Jaycox of Hartland seventh, and Chris Wilk of Mendon ninth. Josh Lovely of Barre was the Strictly Stock runner-up with Tara Tarbell of Springfield fifth, Kyle Davis of Pittsford sixth, and and Jeremy Blood of West Hartford seventh. Kyle Small of Quechee won the Wildcat feature over Jeremiah Losee of North Springfield and Cody Small of Hartland.
White Mountain Motorsports Park (North Woodstock, N.H.): Bernie Lantagne of McIndoe Falls was the runner-up in Saturday's 100-lap feature, with Stacy Cahoon of St. Johnsbury third and Eric Williams of Hyde Park eighth. Stevie Parker of Lyndonville was fifth in the Strictly Stock feature, and Concord driver Rubin Call was the Strictly Stock Mini runner-up.
Thunder Road Int'l Speedbowl in Barre has a doubleheader week with full race cards on Thursday and Friday -- including the ACT Tiger Sportsman Tri-State Series finale on Thursday -- while regular events are on tap at Albany-Saratoga, Canaan Dirt, and Twin State on Friday night. The PASS North Super Late Models are at Seekonk (Mass.) Speedway on Saturday night, while the True Value Modified Racing Series is at Waterford (Conn.) Speedbowl, and regular events are scheduled for Bear Ridge Speedway in Bradford, Airborne, Canaan Fair, Monadnock, Riverside, and White Mountain. Wiscasset (Me.) Raceway holds an ACT Invitational qualifier on Sunday, Riverside (N.H.) Speedway has the $5,000-to-win "Clash of the Titans 150" Late Model event with PASS Sportsman also on the card, and Devil's Bowl Speedway in West Haven will have a 50-lap Budget Sportsman feature and regular event.