Fall Foliage 300 weekend coverage by Vermont Motorsports Magazine
PLATTSBURGH, N.Y. -- Brian Hoar has been in this position before, but he wasn't sure he'd be there again this year.
"When we agreed to put this together, we said we wanted to make a run at the championship," Hoar says of a meeting he had with car owner Rick Paya last October. "I don't know if 'expected' is the right word, but it was our goal, and we hoped to be in this position. at this point in the year."
With two races remaining, including Sunday's Fall Foliage 300 at Airborne Speedway in Plattsburgh, N.Y., Hoar finds himself leading the ACT Late Model Tour championship standings by a slim 16 points over Scott Payea. It's not new ground for Hoar, either. The Williston driver has won five ACT championships, the most recent coming in 2000 after winning the Fall Foliage event, and is a former champion of Airborne, Thunder Road Int'l Speedbowl in Barre, and the 1-mile New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, N.H.
The 2009 season had a bit of a rocky start for the RPM Motorsports team headed by Paya, who was Jean-Paul Cyr's crew chief for five ACT championships earlier in the decade. Through the first six races, there were just two top-five finishes and a dismal 22nd at White Mountain Motorsports Park. "We knew it would take a bit of time to learn each other and our preferences, but our intention the whole time has been to race for the ACT championship," said Hoar.
And apparently the jelling period has passed. Since White Mountain, the Hoar-Paya record has been sterling with finishes of sixth or better in each of the last five ACT championship events -- including back-to-back victories at Beech Ridge Motor Speedway and Waterford Speedbowl -- and impressive results in the non-points Oxford 250 and Showdown 200 at Autodrome Chaudière.
Hoar says he is enjoying himself this season, not only working and winning with the RPM team, but racing against his main rival, Payea.
"Scott is a great guy, and I couldn't ask for a better driver to race against for the title," Hoar said. "My only regret about this year is that Jean isn't here [in the championship battle]. For all the titles we've both won, it seems like we've still never raced against each other for one. But I couldn't be more pleased with the way Scott races people. He's very smart and doesn't abuse his equipment. Some guys, like Brad Leighton and Patrick Laperle, those guys will risk it all to win. He's not that type of driver, and neither am I, typically, except for maybe Waterford this year. I see a lot of similarities between us as far as that goes. And I have a lot of respect for his team; his crew chief, Chris Companion, was my very first crew chief with our Goss Dodge team back in 1990 or '91, and his spotter, Ed, was a big part of our team. It's a great group of guys."
But, Hoar says, the pressure on Payea to win his first ACT championship -- versus what would be Hoar's sixth -- may be Hoar's biggest asset down the stretch. "I've won titles, and I've lost some really close battles," Hoar explains, "but at the end of the day, I've still got five championships. I'm not going to lose sleep if I don't win another one this year. Don't get me wrong, I want nothing more than to win my sixth ACT championship, but do I think the pressure to perform is greater on [Payea]? Yes, I do."
And because Hoar feels the pressure rests on Payea's shoulders, and those of third-place driver John Donahue, he'll be able to have more fun this weekend at Airborne and at the season finale at Oxford on October 11. "There is pressure on me, but there's definitely no more pressure than anyone else has on them. Those guys have to perform, too, and I'd rather be leading with two races to go than have to catch up. If I lose my focus, then that's my problem, but I don't see that happening. We're probably more prepared as a team for these next two races than anyone else. We can't wait for the 300 [at Airborne]. We had a blast there [in May], and I think we're ready for pit stops more than anyone else. And after our run at the 250, we're really looking forward to Oxford.
"The reality is that the chemistry with me and this team is there. I've had more fun racing this year than ever before, and that's whether we're at the track, or in the trailer on the way to a race, or on Tuesday nights when we're all in the shop together working on the car. I actually look forward to Tuesday nights more than anything.
"I wouldn't do this if I didn't think we could win."
(PHOTO: Brian Hoar gives a playful wink as he jokes with his RPM Motorsports teammates. Despite being in the middle of a tight championship battle, Hoar says he's having more fun racing this year than ever before. Justin St. Louis/VMM photo)