-by Justin St. Louis
It has been the craziest week in the history of auto racing. Ever. Okay, maybe not, but a lot went on. And thanks to my newfound love of the word "abhorrent" (it's one of those words you know exists, but don't realize it's missing from your life until you use it once, kinda like the way I feel about dirt racing after this year), we've got ourselves a column.
Here's a look at the week that was.
--The NASCAR Camping World Series East, NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour, and ACT Invitational events at New Hampshire Motor Speedway last weekend. I thought they were great. The two NASCAR events had a few too many cautions -- and for dumb stuff, like Jason Patison and Eric Curran wrecking each other for last place in the East race -- but the actual racing for the lead was very entertaining in all three events.
--Donny Lia was stellar in the Modifieds.
--Helping coach SPEED Channel's Bob Dillner on the iRacing Modified simulator in the infield media center on Saturday with driver Ryan Preece, not 15 minutes after Preece finished third in the WMT race. We ran Stafford Motor Speedway, the site of Preece's most recent WMT victory, and Dillner wasn't exactly, um, the smoothest guy. Not horrible, but not smooth. Preece got in the seat and beat Dillner's best lap by a half-second... on the first lap. And then it was my turn, and I felt pretty good about being only four tenths off Preece's best time. It's a helluva jump (or is it "Heluva Good!"?) from a four-cylinder Mustang five years ago to a, uh, digitally-created SK Modified at Stafford. But we got it done.
--The ACT Invitational was superlative, especially for a first effort. The 36 cars were all very classy-looking, the drivers were racy and ultra-respectful of each other on the track, and holy cow, the crowd got into it. ACT announcer Troy Germain is to be commended for his energetic introduction of each driver, and Tom Curley's idea to incorporate the presentation of the team battle flags onto the edge of the race track blew the crowd away. Many fans stood for the entire 50 laps.
--The tractor trailer shower setup things in the parking lots at NHMS were out-freaking-standing.
--The most interesting part of the huge crowd that stuck around after the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series event on Saturday to see the ACT race was listening to where the cheers came from during introductions. Some estimates had as many as 40,000 fans there, but it was probably more like 18,000 to 25,000 for the ACT Invitational. Every fan applauded every driver, but for each one there were patches of localized families and fans losing their minds for their favorite drivers. When Randy Potter was introduced, one 50-person section of the stands, most likely centered around Groveton, N.H., went crazy on the frontstretch. When T.J. Watson was up, his Maine-based fans went nuts over in Turn 1, or wherever they were. And the Milton fans cheered for guys like Brent Dragon, Scott Payea, Jean-Paul Cyr, and Eric Chase. It was very cool, and it also sent a message loud and clear to NHMS officials that there were a lot people there specifically to watch the ACT Invitational.
--Three words: Juan Pablo Montoya.
--Five words: Eddie MacDonald and Rollie Lachance.
--You gotta love Travis Adams' attitude. Adams spent the year chasing a dream for his father, the late Donnie Adams, and won his fourth-straight Oxford Plains Speedway championship. But his goals were two-fold: Adams wanted the title for his dad, but he also wanted to win the title so he would be invited to Loudon, N.H. for the ACT Invitational, just for the chance to race at NHMS. He tested at the track in August, although not very well, and then was scored 32nd in the race after a poor showing on Saturday. I went over to ask Adams a couple of questions about his race as he loaded his car to head back home to Maine, and he was clearly busy, but in his typical fashion, he spoke as he worked. After getting the answers I was looking for, I shook his hand and said, "I'm sorry your Loudon wasn't what you wanted." And Travis Adams stopped what he was doing, looked me in the eye, and said, "Yes it was." That's how important that race was to him, and to 35 other drivers. That moment was by far my favorite part of the weekend.
--Fred Neergaard, the NHMS Director of Communications, is a good man, and bent over backwards -- even when he didn't have to -- to help me out last weekend.
--Tony Stewart and Joey Polewarczyk chatted after the CWSE race on Friday night. And Stewart's obviously been paying attention since the Governor's Cup in June, because he asked Polewarczyk if he was ready for next weekend. Polewarczyk replied, "I'm not running Dover, we don't have the money for that," and Stewart said, "No, I know. I meant the Milk Bowl. That's a big deal."
--The post-race ACT Invitational press conference was truly the epitome of small-time racers in front of a big-time audience. Runner-up Nick Sweet and third-place finisher Brandon Watson were way out of their element speaking to a brightly-lit room full of people with cameras and tape recorders, but they performed as well in there as they did on the track. If you're a regular reader here at VMM, you've probably figured out by now that Sweet is a great interview because of his honesty and natural goofiness, and it was more of the same at NHMS, although instead of just me asking him questions, it was 40 people at once. Watson, all of 16 years old, was clearly uncomfortable and stared at the back wall or at the ceiling while answering questions, but both drivers said all the right things. Seth Leavitt of WCAX-TV asked Sweet to compare racing the mile at NHMS against the quarter-mile at Thunder Road, and Sweet gave his answer. Leavitt then asked Sweet, "Were you nervous?" and Sweet replied, "Right now I am. This is the hardest part." As winner Eddie MacDonald made his way to the head table, Watson's very proud mother rushed up to the middle of the room, where she inadvertantly set off a two-minute photo session by getting a shot of her boy with MacDonald. It was a very endearing moment, and certainly one that took some folks by surprise. The Q&A session with Watson and Sweet ended with a round of applause initiated by Neergaard, who was obviously enjoying the show. And when Sweet got up from the table, his straight-faced question "Can I have this bottle of water?" was enough to set the crowd off into a roar of laughter. MacDonald, of course, is no stranger to those types of events, and accorded himself in the way most professional athletes do with the media. But the presser was as special a moment as the race itself, in my opinion, and to be honest I'm not sure I expected it to go any differently.
--We weren't there to see it, but the efforts of Donald Theetge's team to literally rebuild the left-front corner of his wrecked car at Autodrome St-Eustache on Sunday. The knuckle-busting ultimately led to a Série ACT-Castrol championship for the group.
--I arrived at New Hampshire Motor Speedway more unprepared to do my job than I have ever been at any race, ever, in nearly ten years of work. From my days on the ACT payroll when I forgot to bring a printer to a Canadian race, or from my days in high school freelancing for whatever newspaper would let me, or from my first "interview" with Matt Kenseth at the 2004 Oxford 250. I was simply a floundering idiot at NHMS as far as having my stuff together. You might not have noticed, but I sure did, and I know some VIPs did, too. I apologize to you all and to myself.
--Can anyone tell me who Richard Harriman, Chris Jones, Chris Lawson, and Nick Tucker are, or why I don't have a Truck ride?
--Speedway Motorsports Inc. should really consider contracting their long-time partner, Sylvania, into installing some lights around NHMS. The CWSE race was cut 26 laps short because of darkness on Friday night, and it was so bad that if there was a black car going down the frontstretch, well, I sure didn't see it.
--Polewarczyk's wreck in the CWSE race was an extremely hard hit, driver's door first into the Turn 1 wall. Polewarczyk admitted that he was dazed: "Everything went black."
--ACT teams running too much tire stagger, as much as three inches, and causing problems for themselves. There were a lot of cars affected, including Ben Rowe, who hit the wall in Turn 3 after his right-front tire blew out, Brian Hoar, who faded from second to eighth over the final five laps, early leader Joey Doiron, and winner Eddie MacDonald, who had a major blister on the right-rear tire of his car.
--The weather on Friday delayed everything at NHMS, which in turn cancelled our trip to White Mountain Motorsports Park for the Late Model championship event at the PASS North season finale.
--Patrick Laperle's Castrol deal at St-Eustache. After listening to both Laperle and ACT's Tom Curley, it appears rather obvious to me that the Jacques Laperle car was used in the lap 273 yellow flag to aid the ailing Patrick Laperle car. It was totally wrong. But I'm also not sure I agree with Curley's decision to not open pit road, because that potentially could have had a negative effect on everyone else running the race, too. Luckily, it appears that it didn't. At the end of the day, I think Patrick Laperle took a chance he shouldn't have taken and he got burned for it.
--Because I was at NHMS, I again wasn't there to see it, but I'm hearing that Airborne Speedway top dogs Martin Roy and Patrick Dupree were disqualified from Sunday's non-points "Apple Bowl 100" at the track for illegal engine parts. Reportedly, Dupree was running unapproved titanium parts in his DIRTcar 'spec' engine, and Roy's issues went much farther than that. DIRTcar inspectors in fact traveled to Airborne on Monday to confirm the findings. That having been said, neither driver had any issues in technical inspection during the regular season, and they were both in the tech shed plenty of times.
--The cold weather at night at Loudon was atrocious. Go ahead and try to sleep in a pop-up camper when it's 74 below outside, I dare ya.
AROUND THE REGION:
Time to take a look at the top Vermonters from the past weekend...
ACT Late Model Tour: On Saturday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, N.H., Eddie MacDonald of Rowley, Mass. beat Barre's Nick Sweet to win the inaugural ACT Invitational. Brandon Watson of Stayner, Ont. was third with Patrick Laperle of St-Denis, Qué. fourth and Graniteville's John Donahue fifth.
Airborne Speedway (Plattsburgh, N.Y.): Aaron Bartemy of Sheldon finished eighth in Sunday's Apple Bowl 100 for Modifieds. Milton's Bill Sawyer was the Sportsman runner-up, with Joey Roberts of Georgia sixth, Brad Bushey of Georgia ninth, and Joe Steffen of Essex Junction tenth. Lance Rabtoy of Fairfax was fourth in the Renegade feature with brother Dave Rabtoy of Swanton fifth.
Monadnock Speedway (Winchester, N.H.): Dwight Jarvis of Ascutney was eighth in Friday's Modified feature with Josh King of Vernon 12th. Dana Shepard of Putney was 13th in the Super Stock race, and Joe Rogers of Ludlow was 10th in the Mini Stocks. Vernon drivers Heath Renaud, Josh Houle, and Pat Houle finished second, fourth, and fifth in the four-cylinder Enduro, respectively.
NASCAR Camping World Series East: Barney McRae of Milton finished 33rd in Friday's Heluva Good! 125 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, N.H.
PASS North Super Late Models: Richie Dearborn of Hollis, Me. won Friday's season finale at White Mountain Motorsports Park in North Woodstock, N.H. over Ben Rowe of Turner, Me., Kelly Moore of Scarborough, Me., Travis Benjamin of Morrill, Me., and 2009 champion Johnny Clark of Farmingdale, Me. Danville rookie Steven Legendre finished seventh.
Riverside Speedway (Groveton, N.H.): Ben Bedor of Lyndonville was fifth in Saturday's Super Stock feature. Dean Switser, Jr. of Lyndonville was third in the Street Stocks with Andy Fecteau of Hardwick fifth. Toby Merchant of Concord was the Dwarf Car runner-up, and Johanna Christman of Cabot won the Angel feature.
White Mountain Motorsports Park (North Woodstock, N.H.): St. Johnsbury's Stacy Cahoon finished fifth in the Late Model feature on Friday to wrap up his second-straight track championship. Stevie Parker of Lyndonville was the Strictly Stock runner-up, taking that division's championship, and Concord's Rubin Call won the Strictly Stock Mini race, finishing second in the championship to Opie Thayer.
Saturday, Sept. 26
Bear Ridge Speedway, Bradford -- 6:00pm (Final Event -- Championship Night, Enduro, Demolition Derby)
Thunder Road Int'l Speedbowl, Barre -- 1:00pm (Booth Bros./H.P. Hood Qualifying Day)
Airborne Speedway, Plattsburgh, N.Y. -- 5:00pm (Final Event -- Non-Winners Races)
Monadnock Speedway, Winchester, N.H. -- 2:00pm (Final Event -- School Bus Race, Demolition Derby)
Sunday, Sept. 27
Thunder Road Int'l Speedbowl, Barre -- 1:00pm (Final Event -- Chittenden Bank Milk Bowl)