Thursday, August 6, 2009

The Juice: Two Good Minutes With The King

-by Justin St. Louis
We were lucky enough to chat with "King" Richard Petty at Thunder Road last week for a couple of minutes, and -- unlike the media circus at Oxford hanging on Rusty Wallace's every regurgitated word about NASCAR a few weeks back -- we actually asked him about something that matters to us: short track racing.

When picking the brain of the most decorated stock car driver in history, we asked Petty how important he feels the local short track "Saturday night" realm is to the overall picture, in relation to an economically-stuggling NASCAR and a recessed America.

Petty acknowledged that everything money-related is slumping right now, but realizes the role the grassroots racers play whether the economy is strong or not. "If there wasn't no Saturday night racing, there wouldn't be no Sunday [NASCAR Sprint Cup Series] racing," he said. "I think everybody gets their appetite, and sort of learns that they like racing and stuff, on Saturday night.

"There's guys struggling all over the country to do that, and even though they don't see them run on Sunday, some may get lucky enough to get to run on Sunday. The big deal is that it starts the sport from the ground up. The kids can come here and get interested and when they grow up they can go to the Cup Series."

Petty also realizes that, especially now more than ever, family-based teams have their work cut out for them if they've got an ambition to reach the top of the sport.

"They've never made it from this level to the Cup deal all in one race," Petty said, alluding to the fact family teams have rarely had an impact in NASCAR's top levels over the last several decades. As a driver, Petty suggests, it's all about opportunity. "You've got to go through this [local short track] deal right here, you try to go into Truck racing or Nationwide, and you have to move yourself up from that standpoint.

"A lot of these guys you see here tonight, they started in go-karts or motorcycles or something like that just to get to here. This is just another stop in a long race."

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Feel-good story of the year: Steve Park in victory lane.

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J.R. Fitzpatrick is set to make his NASCAR Nationwide Series season debut at Watkins Glen this weekend, and we're picking him as a darkhorse. The former CASCAR champion, now running a limited schedule for Kevin Harvick, Inc. in the Camping World Truck Series, will drive a KHI #4 car in the Nationwide road course event. Two of Fitzpatrick's four CASCAR/NASCAR Canadian Tire Series wins have come on road courses at Mosport and Edmonton (and in his only two Canadian Tire starts of the 2009 season, he scored top-threes at both tracks), and his KHI ride should prove to be much more competitive than the Nationwide cars he's driven at Montréal and Mexico City. Keep your eyes peeled. Just sayin'.

***

I cried a little for Jon Lester the other night.

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Seeing Richard Petty awarding Street Stock driver Gary Mullen with a gold spray-painted plunger was one thing. But seeing him swap his trademark cowboy hat for Mullen's homemade, red-and-gold, felt-and-pipe-cleaner king's crown was just completely off the charts.

***

Here's what's right with racing in the northeast right now: The underdogs are winning.

Take a look down the list of weekly feature winners around the region this year, and you'll find some names that might cause a double-take. At Thunder Road, there's Reno Gervais, Grant Folsom, and last week, Tony Andrews. At Airborne, you'll find Jason Durgan and Aaron Bartemy. In New Hampshire, it's Bobby Baillargeon at Lee USA, Darrell Keane at Twin State, and Jeremy Davis and Travis Fadden at White Mountain. At Oxford Plains, Jeff White, Nick Brown, Travis Stearns, and "Two-Lap" Tommy Ricker are up front. On the dirt, it's been C.V. Elms and Robert Bublak at Devil's Bowl, and Jason Gray and Travis Shinn at Bear Ridge.

But then go on the road, where the competition is tougher (and should be), and you're still finding surprise winners. Low-dollar champion Eric Williams took an ACT Late Model Tour win at his home track, Thunder Road, a few months ago. Sean Kennedy scored a major upset by winning the ACT Castrol Series race at Capital City Speedway in June. Rob Goodenough, Jimmy Kuhn, and Steve Masse have all stolen wins on the True Value Modified Racing Series, and young Erick Rudolph was a first-time Whelen Modified Tour winner at Spencer Speedway this season.

The real surprise has been with the PASS North Super Late Model series; for several years, the PASS division was jokingly -- but universally -- referred to as the "Rowe-Rowe-Clark-Clark Tour" due to the fact that almost no one other than Mike and Ben Rowe or Johnny or Cassius Clark was able to win. But last year, that began to change when youngsters D.J. Shaw, Adam Bates, Derek Ramstrom, and Travis Benjamin started stealing checkered flags. And this year, Bates and Ramstrom have each won again, and Chris Staples and Randy Turner have shocked the northeast with breakthrough wins. Granted, Johnny Clark has three victories, Ben Rowe has two, and Cassius Clark won at Riverside Speedway two weeks ago, but the playing field seems to be a bit more level.

Should a driver like Bates -- an ex-Twin State Speedway Late Model driver -- go on to win the PASS North title this season, or, say Randy Potter in ACT, it would not only be considered a major upset to defeat the likes of the Clarks and Rowes of PASS, or the Brian Hoars and Brent Dragons of ACT, but it would send a signal to the "little guy" that nothing is impossible.

And frankly, we're pulling for the little guys.

***

AROUND THE REGION:

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

ACT Late Model Tour: The 100-lap event at Twin State Speedway was rained out on Friday and again on Sunday. It has been rescheduled for Friday, Sept. 4.

ACT Tiger Sportsman Series: Shawn Duquette of Morrisonville, N.Y. won the Canaan Fair 100 at Canaan Fair Speedway on Saturday night. Second-place finisher Joey Roberts of Georgia was disqualified, moving Jeffersonville's Joey Becker into the runner-up spot, Jason Bonnett of St. Albans third, Toby Ebersole of Peru, N.Y. foruth, and Williamstown's Jimmy Hebert fifth.

Airborne Speedway (Plattsburgh, N.Y.): Don Scarborough of Brandon was the top Vermonter in Saturday's Modified race, finishing 13th. Swanton's Kevin Boutin finished third in the Renegade feature, with Lance Rabtoy of Fairfax fourth, Swanton's Dave Rabtoy eighth, and Mike Terry of Grand Isle tenth. The Tiger Sportsman division had the night off.

Albany-Saratoga Speedway (Malta, N.Y.): Friday's races were rained out for the third-straight week. Albany-Saratoga had not lost three in a row to rain since 1992.

Bear Ridge Speedway (Bradford): Thetford Center's Wayne Stearns earned his third Sportsman Modified win of the year on Saturday, beating Whiting driver Jimmy Ryan in his first Bear Ridge start of the year; Chris Donnelly of Piermont, N.H. was third over East Thetford's Jason Gray and Thornton, N.H. driver Ryan Avery. Melvin Pierson of Topsham took the Sportsman Coupe victory over Ritchie Simmons of Bradford, point leader Josh Harrington of Topsham, Mike McGinley of East Barre, and rookie Billy Simmons of Bradford. Shane Race of South Strafford took his second Limited Late Model win of the year over Dan Eastman of Thetford Center, Robert Tucker of East Corinth, T.C. Forward of Lyme, N.H., and Dan Cook of South Tamworth, N.H. Andy Johnson of Wilder won the Fast Four race over Sharon's Mitch Durkee and Kevin Harran of St. Johnsbury. Bradford's Tom Placey won his fifth-straight Hornet feature over Mark Harran of St. Johnsbury and Justin Eldridge of Center Ossipee, N.H. Matt Robie won the Granite State Mini Sprints 600cc race, and Zach Herbert won the 500cc event.

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

Canaan Fair Speedway (Canaan, N.H.): Bradford's Arnie Stygles was sixth in the Super Street race on Saturday with Colby Hodgdon of Windsor seventh. Ascutney's Jamie Hodgdon won the Pure Stock feature with Pittsford's Kyle Davis sixth, White River Junction's Rob Thurston seventh, Andy Merritt of Perkinsville ninth, and Chris Riendeau of Ascutney tenth. Josh Sunn of White River Junction won the Outlaw Mini Stock feature over Chris Lyman of Hartland, Chris McKinstry of Thetford, Bobby Prior of White River Junction, and Robert Gioia of East Thetford. Mike Parker of Bradford won the Bandit feature over Bruce Jaycox of Hartland after apparent winner Kyle Small of Quechee was disqualified.

Devil's Bowl Speedway (West Haven): Sunday's event was rained out.

Monadnock Speedway (Winchester, N.H.): Dana Shepard of Putney finished 13th in the Super Stock race on Saturday. Joe Rogers of Ludlow was tenth in the Mini Stock feature, and Dick Houle of West Brattleboro was third in the 4-cylinder Enduro.

PASS North Super Late Models: Randy Turner of Readfield, Me. won Sunday's NAPA 150 at Unity (Me.) Raceway for his first career PASS win. D.J. Shaw of Center Conway, N.H. was second, with Turner, Me.'s Ben Rowe third. Danville rookie Steven Legendre finished 18th.

Riverside Speedway (Groveton, N.H.): Steven Hodgdon of Danville finished fourth in the Late Model feature on Saturday with Bob Ailes, Sr. of St. Johnsbury tenth. Dilyn Switser of West Burke finished fourth in the Super Stock feature with Michael Smith of St. Johnsbury fifth, Cody Hodge of Orleans sixth, and Ben Bedor of Lyndonville eighth. West Burke's Jesse Switser won the Street Stock race over Rick Utley of Wheelock and Montpelier's Kyle Pembroke, with Derby Line's Brendan Hunt fifth. Anthony Young of Beecher Falls finished second in the Dwarf Car race with Concord's Toby Merchant third.

Série ACT-Castrol: Patrick Laperle of St-Denis-sur-Richelieu, Qué. won the Montmagny 250 at Autodrome Montmagny near Québec City on Saturday night over Karl Allard of St-Félicien, Qué. and Donald Theetge of Boischatel, Qué. Trampas Demers of South Burlington finished 12th.

Thunder Road Int'l Speedbowl (Barre): Tony Andrews of Northfield earned his first Late Model win in 17 years on Thursday night, beating Dave Pembroke of Middlesex, Cris Michaud of Northfield, Brooks Clark of Fayston, and Phil Scott of Montpelier. Josh Demers of Middlesex took his first career Tiger Sportsman victory over Hinesburg's Tommy Therrien, rookie Steve "Mudflap" Quenneville of Barre, and Lance Allen and John Drinkwine, also of Barre. Tommy "Thunder" Smith of Williamstown nipped Danville's Jason Corliss at the line for Street Stock checkers, with Hardwick's Bunker Hodgdon third, Randolph Center's Markus Farnham fourth, and Bruce Melendy of Danville fifth. Lance Donald of Williamstown earned his first-ever Junkyard Warrior win over Keith Fortier of Hinesburg, Kevin Wheatley of Williamstown, Ken Christman of Cabot, and Barre's Kevin Dodge.

Twin State Speedway (Claremont, N.H.): Rain washed out racing on Friday and Sunday.

White Mountain Motorsports Park (North Woodstock, N.H.): Stacy Cahoon of St. Johnsbury finished fifth in Saturday's Late Model feature, with Bernie Lantagne of McIndoe Falls sixth. Stevie Parker of Lyndonville was third in the Strictly Stock feature with Milton's Gordie Stone sixth, and Concord driver Rubin Call won the Strictly Stock Mini race.

***

Thunder Road Int'l Speedbowl in Barre has its annual "Run-What-You-Brung" spectator races on Thursday night and the previously rained-out $5,000-to-win M&M Beverage Enduro 250 and Street Stock and Warrior specials on Sunday. The SCoNE 360 Sprint Cars are at Canaan Fair on Friday night and Bradford's Bear Ridge Speedway on Saturday. The ACT Late Model Tour will complete the final 72 laps of the Nutmeg State 100 at Waterford Speedbowl in Connecticut on Saturday, while the Série ACT-Castrol is at Autodrome Chaudière and the True Value Modified Racing Series is at Beech Ridge Motor Speedway. Regular events are on tap at Albany-Saratoga on Friday, Airborne, Canaan Fair, Monadnock, Riverside, and White Mountain on Saturday. Devil's Bowl Speedway in West Haven will have a regular program along with a 50-lap Enduro on Sunday.

1 comment:

The Gob Pile said...

awesome article, Justin!