New England Dodge Dealers 150 coverage presented by C&S Screenprinting and Burnett Scrap Metals
OXFORD, Me. -- All Eric Williams wanted to do was get through the Milk Bowl at his home track in Vermont. No wrecks, maybe a little slice of the race's generous $75,000 purse. If he did that, he could take his race car to Oxford Plains Speedway in Maine the next week, with hopefully enough Milk Bowl money to at least cover the cost of tires, fuel, and entry fees, and finish the ACT Late Model Tour season inside the top ten in points, despite missing nearly one-third of the season's races.
Turns out, things went a little better than Williams had planned. After a surprise third-place finish in the Milk Bowl at Thunder Road Int'l Speedbowl, Williams brought his small, family-operated team to Oxford, and still had a bit of cash left over. Still, Oxford Plains Speedway had never been that kind to the driver that had won so many races on his own turf back home. In fact, since his Late Model rookie year in 1995, Williams had only three top-ten finishes -- including his first career Oxford top-five this past May -- at the tricky, low-banked 3/8-mile, despite a close relationship with nine-time Oxford track champion Jeff Taylor, Williams' car builder, setup advisor, and friend for the better part of 20 years. A decent run Sunday would lock up seventh place in ACT points for the year, his best showing on the Tour since tying for third in 2002. That's all he wanted.
But by the time the sun began to set behind the grandstands, he'd have easily achieved that goal. He'd also be carrying around a first-place trophy from the track that had haunted him for so long.
"I love it, I can't believe it," Williams said, a mile-wide grin stretched across his face. "I've always struggled up here, this is a hard track. I think this track is probably hard to everybody like Thunder Road is hard to everybody else when they come there. They're like two different extremes. I just can't believe it."
Williams was elated to win at Oxford, but his victory also validated his fifth-place finish earlier in the year and backed up his runner-up showing at Beech Ridge Motor Speedway in July, a track often compared to Oxford. Williams said Taylor's Distance Racing Products company was a big part of that success, as was Chas Howe, co-owner of the famous Michigan-based Howe Racing Enterprises, one of the nation's leading chassis fabricators.
"Now we've got a flat-track setup," Williams said confidently. "This is the same setup we had at Beech Ridge, so that's nice. [Taylor] has helped me out all through the years, and he kind of helped me hook up with Howe. I've been working with Howe and we've all been kind of working together. Howe is really focused on getting better with the [ACT] cars, and to be a part of it. I've been working with Howe for three years now and Jeff was a big part of starting that up and helping me get it. Him and Howe are obviously a big part of [my success]. All I've ever had are Distance cars and Howe cars since I started in the Tigers. My old Tiger car [in the early 1990s at Thunder Road] was made by Jeff Taylor. So he was pretty happy, and of course he built [runner-up Joey Polewarczyk's] car. Top two, that makes him feel pretty good Monday morning, you know?"
Williams took advantage of a bobble by leader John Donahue on lap 119 to take over the top spot. Polewarczyk, who dominated the first half of the race, passed Donahue on the outside for second place two laps later, and the pair staged a restart duel during the balance of the race. Williams slipped up the track entering Turn 1 on a lap 124 restart, allowing Polewarczyk to take the lead on the backstretch, but he regained control of the race before the lap was completed. Williams won another restart battle on lap 140, then Polewarczyk got the jump on the final restart with five laps remaining in the race. Williams was again able to sneak back ahead for the lead before the start/finish line, and Polewarczyk was relegated to second place. Donahue finished third, with Brian Hoar clinching the ACT Late Model Tour championship in fourth-place finish. Oxford regular Tim Brackett was fifth.
Although Polewarczyk supplied plenty of pressure, Williams thought he would be okay as long as he didn't make any mistakes. "I knew that I couldn't screw up, and if I didn't screw up, within one lap I'd take off," he said. "The very first lap, the first restart we had when I was beside him, I went [into Turn 1] and I got real loose and it caught me off guard. I was like, 'Where'd that come from?' But I probably didn't clean my rear tires enough. You see guys out there kind of spinning a little [under caution], that's what you're doing, getting pieces of rubber off the rear tires. And so I made sure I did that the next time, and then I backed off just a little bit early [in Turn 1], rather than lose it, to just stay there. As soon as I punched it on the backstretch, I'd pull away from him. I'd see how quickly I pulled away and I figured, as long I didn't do anything mentally challenged I'll be just fine."
UNOFFICIAL RESULTS -- New England Dodge Dealers Fall Spectacular 150
ACT Late Model Tour -- Oxford Plains Speedway, Oxford, Me.
Sunday, October 11, 2009
Pos.-Driver-Hometown (# - denotes rookie)
1. Eric Williams, Hyde Park
2. Joey Polewarczyk, Jr., Hudson, N.H.
3. John Donahue, Graniteville
4. Brian Hoar, Williston
5. Tim Brackett, Buckfield, Me.
6. Bradley Babb, Windham, Me.
7. Jay Laquerre, East Montpelier
8. Scott Payea, Milton
9. Brent Dragon, Milton
10. Jamie Fisher, Shelburne
11. Glen Luce, Turner, Me.
12. Travis Adams, Canton, Me.
13. Joey Laquerre, East Montpelier
14. Aaron Ricker, Tamworth, N.H.
15. D.J. Shaw, Center Conway, N.H.
16. Shawn Martin, Turner, Me.
17. Chip Grenier, Graniteville
18. Austin Theriault, Fort Kent, Me.
19. #Joey Doiron, Berwick, Me.
20. Eddie MacDonald, Rowley, Mass.
21. Tommy Ricker, Poland, Me.
22. Corey Morgan, Lewiston, Me.
23. #Quinny Welch, Lancaster, N.H.
24. Nick Sweet, Barre
25. Randy Potter, Groveton, N.H.
26. Scott Dragon, Milton
27. Shawn Knight, South Paris, Me.
28. Ricky Rolfe, Albany Twp., Me.
29. Pete Potvin, III, Graniteville
30. Jeff White, Winthrop, Me.
31. Tyler Cahoon, St. Johnsbury
32. Ben Rowe, Turner, Me.
33. Eric Chase, Milton
(PHOTOS: 1. New England Dodge Dealers 150 winner Eric Williams (right) and runner-up Joey Polewarczyk, Jr. (left) were all smiles in victory lane; 2. Williams (#7) leads Polewarczyk (#97) late in the race. Photo 1 by Justin St. Louis/VMM; Photo 2 by Alan Ward.)