Saturday, October 10, 2009

Mike Rollins -- and Everyone Else -- Wins at Bucktona

Weekend coverage presented by C&S Screenprinting and Burnett Scrap Metals

WILLIAMSTOWN -- Mike Rollins has won the first annual "Hart 100" at Bucktona Int'l Speedway on Saturday afternoon. Rollins, a two-time champion at Thunder Road Int'l Speedbowl in nearby Barre, drove a 199os-era Subaru Legacy station wagon to the win over Craige Grenier and Keith Williams.

And that's where the "professional" part of this news story ends. (Prepare for a first-person point-of-view account, beginning in three... two... one...)

I cannot describe to you, the faithful readers of Vermont Motorsports Magazine, how much unadulterated fun I had today at Justin Hart's Bucktona track, which, of course, is named after his dog, "Buck". With a free Enduro car, a few spare tires, and a not enough tools to fill a drawer, my father Ron, my friend Eddy Companion, and I headed down to Bucktona this morning to see what kind of ridiculous mess it would turn out to be, with absolutely zero in the way of expectations.

And what a hoot. We took down a copy of the official roster at about 12:30pm, with 35 cars and drivers signed in, but there were another eight or so that showed up after that point. On the list were notables like Rollins, Williams (a former Thunder Road and Devil's Bowl Speedway racer), ACT Late Model Tour driver Chip Grenier (brother of the runner-up), former Vermont state champion and present-day ACT pace car driver Bob Bigelow, current/former Thunder Road drivers Hart, Brett Pierce, Sean McCarthy, Danny Bigelow, M.C. Ingram, Markus Farnham, Amanda Habel, Danny Doyle (a former Bear Ridge Speedway champion), Mike Ducey, Aaron Maynard, Jordan Dunkling, and, um, me.

The roster of officials included former Thunder Road champion Greg "Burger" Blake, wife Roxanne, and their son, Tiger Sportsman driver Cody, MRN/Sirius Sattelite Radio extraordinaire Dave Moody, Street Stocker Mike MacAskill, and the Hart family, including patriarch and former racer Alex, momma Rhonda, and brother Jared.

The event, for what it was, was very well organized, with a premium placed on safety. Multiple rules meetings were held throughout the day with an major emphasis placed on drivers -- and spectators -- using their heads and not going over the line, on taking care of one another, and on having as much fun as humanly and soberly possible, if "soberly" is even a word. The information was well-received and absorbed by 99.9 percent of those in attendance.

With so many cars in the pits for a race on a rudimentary 1/5-mile dirt track -- soft, wet, rutty dirt, not nice racing clay -- the first attempt at running everyone in a 100-lap race all at once was scrapped after two laps. Instead, half of the field was sent back to the sidelines, and a 20-lap heat race was run. The top-five from each heat would transfer into the feature, rewarded with up-front starting spots, while everyone else would just... kinda... fill in wherever they wanted to in the back.

I'll tell you this right now: The C&S Screenprinting Dodge Neon was a stout piece all day. I got 'er stove up a little in the fenders, a bit on the hood, and I took a good shot in the rear once, but that thing was a beast. I buried it lugnut-deep in the muck exiting Turn 2 on one lap, floorboards dug into the ground and everything. Totally stuck. When the track finally became blocked (because I wasn't the only one not moving), the red flag came out and a bulldozer came and pushed me out of my sloppy demise. All was well, and I continued on my way once the green came back out.

Although there wasn't really any scoring to speak of, the officials awarded me fourth place, which I thought was just freaking awesome. I mean, I feel like I earned it, dirt burial notwithstanding. I drove hard and relatively clean (except for John Lavanway in the red #29, I seemed to have a knack for drilling him without any good reason... my bad) and I was probably in the top five anyway. Chip Grenier drove a Honda or Acura or something along those lines to the win.

For the second heat, I joined Eddy in the infield to take some pictures, and had a front-row seat for a scary moment. The #16 car (one of the guys I didn't catch the name of) stalled in Turn 2, and the #666 of James Hood came along and plowed into him. Instantly, a rotted gas line on the #16 burst, erupting into a massive fire. Luckily, the drivers escaped quickly without so much as a singe, and the officials, led by Burger Blake, got the cars stopped almost immediately. But the fire was, like I said, completely huge. Both the #16 and #666 were totally engulfed in flames, so much that all attempts to put the fire out with extinguishers (and there were a ton of extinguishers on hand, both on the grounds and in many cars) were ceased. After about an hour, the race was restarted. Jesse Moran was awarded the win aboard his Toyota pick-up.

Come feature time, I lined up, I dunno, where ever, and I hammered my way through the pack. Bumpers and mufflers laying all over the place, mud flying, clumps of it bouncing off my helmet as a I shoved my foot a little farther into the floorboard and my grin stretched a little wider with each lap. Three-wide, four-wide, in the middle, down low, up high. I parked my car in a tree at one point and had to back up to get free. No matter, it was too much fun to bother with trying to hit any sort of marks.

I'd say I was probably in the top five or six, if it even matters, when I had a bit of a dumb attack. A Mercury Sable wagon had died in the middle of the backstretch pretty early in the 25-lap finale, and I had used it as a pick point for a couple of laps to gain a few spots. Things were going well doing that, but, um, one lap, I, uh... forgot. I'm telling you I drilled that car but good, and I was a thousand feet off the ground if I was an inch. All of a sudden, my car started steering funny. And by "funny" I mean "not at all." So I limped it down the backstretch as far as I could get it with a broken left-front tie rod before I ran into a parked car. Then another car came along and turned me sideways, so I tried to back it around, with the brilliant idea that I could finish the race in reverse.

Luckily, someone came along and turned me totally backwards, which helped me get into the mode I wanted to be in. Unluckily, though, I was already turning the steering wheel and mashing the gas pedal in reverse gear when it happened, and I turned the car too far around. And then came the dirt berm and corresponding ditch on the other side.

So that was it, I was done. The red flag came out not 15 seconds later for something at the other end of the track, and I climbed out and headed for cover. I finished the race as the co-announcer with Aaron Maynard (who also crashed out) for the DVD, which was a good time. (Warning: We were given permission to swear on the microphone, and I'm pretty sure I did a few times. So if you buy the DVD, I apologize in advance for the language. But it was all intended to be funny and in good fun. If you like Comedy Central, you'll like the DVD.)

We watched the race unfold as the laps wore down, and Mike Rollins was declared the winner over Craige Grenier and Keith Williams. Beyond that, who knows, and who really cares?

Below are a couple of videos featuring Rollins; the first is his rather candid DVD interview with Maynard, the second is his Milk Bowl-like victory smooch of Buck the dog, which also features Jared Hart. (Apparently, Buck has a wet nose.)

The day was more fun than I had ever had in a race car before, maybe one of the top three fun days of life. We stuck around for the after party for a few hours, and that was also excellent, complete with live band and a huge bonfire, which, unlike the first fire of the day, was intentional.

I want to personally thank Justin Hart for donating the land and the insanity and guts to put on the kind of event that he did. With any luck, it will become an annual thing. Thanks, of course, to the Harts, the Blakes, and the rest of the officials for their outstanding efforts in holding a fun, safe race. Thanks to the 40-plus drivers that made the day so much damn fun to be a part of. Thanks to the fans -- I'd guess there were 300 people in total at the place -- that showed up to have a good time. Thanks to Eddy and my dad for taking pictures and videos, changing tires, pulling dents, filling radiators, and pitching in to help a half-dozen other teams. Thanks to Ben Bushey for donating the car, and to C&S Screenprinting and Burnett Scrap Metals for supporting the effort. Thanks to John Adams for the tow earlier in the week. You've all helped to create a pile of memories that I won't soon forget.

Long Live Bucktona.

(PHOTOS: 1. Dave Moody (left) and Alex Hart discuss a procedure prior to the Hart 100; 2. A starting field on the backstretch at Bucktona Int'l Speedway; 3. Me (#107) getting a little bumper-happy with Anthony Sweet (#25); 4. A little impromptu barbecue in Turn 2; 5. My final resting place at the Hart 100; 6. Mike Rollins' Hart 100 winner's trophy was pretty cool. Photos by Justin St. Louis, Ron St. Louis, and Eddy Companion/VMM)

(VIDEOS: 1. Hart 100 feature action included Keith Williams (#64), Chip Grenier (#9), Craige Grenier (#40), and Mike Rollins (#90); 2. Aaron Maynard (left) interviews Hart 100 winner Mike Rollins for; 3. Rollins' big moment with "Buck" the dog during victory lane ceremonies. Videos by Justin St. Louis and Eddy Companion/VMM)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

A special thank you should also go out to Rich Clark for providing the heavy equipment and his skills for the day. The track "grooming" and his help in extinguishing the fire were essential for a successful day of great fun. THANK YOU RICH!