-by Justin St. Louis
A decade ago, it would have been a tall order to find a driver in Thunder Road's Street Stock division thinking he or she had a legitimate shot at racing on a superspeedway. But that was a decade ago. On Tuesday and Wednesday, six graduates of the entry-level four-cylinder class turned laps around the 1.058-mile New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, N.H. And of the 48 drivers that tested over the two-day session, 14 of them had spent time in Thunder Road's Flying Tiger or Tiger Sportsman division.
Cris Michaud, Jamie Fisher, Tyler Cahoon, Pete Potvin, Nick Sweet, and Scott Payea -- a group that any track or series would be proud to have in its pit area -- cut their teeth in the "crunch bunch" Street Stocks and have since progressed through the ranks to be considered among the elite in the northeast, earning themselves invitations to test at NHMS, with the majority of them likely earning an invitation to return back for the first-ever ACT event there on September 19.
"Twelve years ago [as a Street Stock rookie], I wouldn't have thought I'd be here," said Cahoon, the 2000 Street Stock champion at Thunder Road. "I did a Richard Petty Driving Experience here once." Wedensday, St. Johnsbury driver Cahoon, who this season has earned the first two top-ten finishes of his ACT Late Model Tour career after a very successful six-year run in the Late Model division at White Mountain Motorsports Park, spent a lot of time on the track at NHMS, much of it racing near his father, multi-time champion Stacy Cahoon.
But that Petty experience was likely as close to racing at the "Magic Mile" as Cahoon -- or any of the 14 -- would have imagined they would get.
"You hope some day maybe you'll do that ride and drive program in one of those cars, not in a car that you're actually familiar with, when it's your own stuff and you'll take honor in it," said Potvin, of Graniteville, who spent two years in the Street Stocks and another three seasons in Tiger Sportsmen. "I rememeber coming to the first race here and just looking at this place and thinking this is the cat's ass up here in New England, you know? I never thought we'd get a chance to test, let alone get the chance to have a sanctioned race. It's pretty cool. It's quite mind-boggling, actually. You're not just jumping into something and racing. That's what makes it even more special, I think."
Scott Payea, who has become one of the most recognizable racers in the northeastern United States and Canada, remembers when he first got started. "It seems like it was just yesterday [I was] beating around in a little Mustang," he said of his 1999 rookie season at Thunder Road and Airborne Speedway. "It's a progression. The best time I had was in a Tiger car for four years. You learn more in those than anything else, just how you drive a race car. You don't have a spotter telling you what to do, stuff like that. It's unbelievable to be here. You get butterflies when you turn off the road here into New Hampshire and come through the tunnel."
And who knows, maybe in another ten years kids like Jason Corliss, Tucker Williams, or Jimmy Hebert will be the ones getting those butterflies.
My apologies for the delay and the brevity of "The Juice" this week. There's a lot of stuff going on, which isn't even close to being a bad thing. By the time Saturday rolls around, VMM will have been to five race tracks in eight days, on top of holding down a full-time job and having a full-time hobby of eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. (They're just so good, dude.)
We'll give yet another tip of the hat to Green-White-Checker and The Backstretch for their on-site coverage of the NHMS test. Go check 'em out.
So yeah, in that eight-day span, we'll have been to Airborne, Devil's Bowl, NHMS, Thunder Road, and Bear Ridge. Lots of miles, lots of laps, lots of fun.
So, apparently, Bruce Ricahrds has in fact decided to pave Albany-Saratoga Speedway. On Wednesday, press releases from the American-Canadian Tour and the True Value Modified Racing Series announced that dates have been tentatively agreed upon to host events at the soon-to-be former dirt track in Malta, N.Y.
Rumors began surfacing surrounding a possible paving of Albany-Saratoga in July. The 4/10-mile track was a very successful asphalt modified hotbed in the 1960s and early '70s, hosting some of the most important events in the history of the legendary division. Richie Evans, named one of NASCAR's 50 Greatest Drivers, was a 17-time winner there in the asphalt days.
It should be quite a moment when Jean-Paul Cyr clinches his first Thunder Road championship tonight in Barre. Well, technically, it's "if", but Cyr's going to have to really screw up to lose the title. Phil Scott trails by 52 points, which means he could win (75 points) and Cyr could finish 24th or worse (24 points) and Cyr would still win by a single point. But it's 14 points to win a heat race, so that might make things interesting.
Stranger things have happened with title chases at Thunder Road, including twice with this same Phil Scott. In 2003, he lost a 33-point lead and subsquently a championship in a tie-breaker with Jamie Fisher. Last year, he made up 50 points in two weeks, was the unofficial point leader on lap 47 of the final 50-lap event, and then, due to some late passing, ultimately finished second to Eric Williams by a scant three points.
Cyr, the seven-time ACT Late Model Tour champion, hasn't won a weekly track championship since 1990, when he was the Devil's Bowl Speedway Pro Stock champion. This season has been his first with a new car, new crew chief, new team, and new goal. And it looks like everything has worked.
Sorry, but no "Around the Region" recap this week. Here's a schedule, though...
Thursday, Aug. 27
Thunder Road Int'l Speedbowl, Barre -- 6:00pm (NASCAR driver David Ragan, final Late Model championship event)
Friday, Aug. 28
Albany-Saratoga Speedway, Malta, N.Y. -- 6:45pm (Ridge Runner/Budget Sportsman Series)
Canaan Dirt Speedway, Canaan, N.H. -- 7:00pm (SCoNE 360 Sprint Cars)
Twin State Speedway, Claremont, N.H. -- 7:30pm (Regular Event, plus Demolition Derby/Enduro)
Saturday, Aug. 29
Bear Ridge Speedway, Bradford -- 6:00pm (Old Timers' Night, plus SCoNE 360 Sprints and Granite State Mini Sprints)
Airborne Speedway, Plattsburgh, N.Y. -- 6:00pm (Topless Modifieds)
Canaan Fair Speedway, Canaan, N.H. -- 6:00pm (Regular Event)
Monadnock Speedway, Winchester, N.H. -- 6:00pm (All Divisions, plus Demolition Derby)
Riverside Speedway, Groveton, N.H. -- 6:00pm (Super Stock Double Features)
White Mountain Motorsports Park, North Woodstock, N.H. -- 6:00pm (Regular Event)
Sunday, Aug. 30
Devil's Bowl Speedway, West Haven -- 6:45pm (Empire Lightning Sprints, double features for 358-Modifieds, Budget Sportsmen, Pro Stocks, and Limiteds)
ACT Late Model Tour/Série ACT-Castrol: Sat., Aug. 29 -- Autodrome Chaudière, Vallée-Jct., Qué. (Coors Light 200 Showdown -- 6:00pm)
SCoNE 360 Sprint Cars: Fri., Aug. 28 -- Canaan Dirt Speedway, Canaan, N.H. (7:00pm)
SCoNE 360 Sprint Cars: Sat., Aug. 29 -- Bear Ridge Speedway, Bradford (6:00pm)
True Value Modified Racing Series: Thu.. Aug. 27 -- Thompson Int'l Speedway, Thompson, Conn. (5:30pm)
(PHOTOS: 1. Scott Payea (left) and Tyler Cahoon (right) listen to ACT President Tom Curley at the drivers meeting at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on Wednesday morning; 2. The green light was on for Pete Potvin as he flashed by the start/finish line at NHMS. Photos by Justin St. Louis/VMM)