Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Juice: New Track, New Seasons, and Nothing's Wrong at Talladega

-by Justin St. Louis

The 2009 season may have opened for us two weeks ago, but this weekend is THE big one! We've got action on both sides of the lake, don't miss it!

***

The off-season hype about Airborne Speedway's facelift took a giant leap toward justification on Tuesday and Wednesday afternoons this week, as many teams and fans got their first look at the redesigned Plattsburgh, N.Y. track. A practice session scheduled for Tuesday was rained out, but fans were still encouraged to come to the track and take a slow lap around the new progressively banked (and smartly striped) corners. On Wednesday, the practice went off without a hitch, and reportedly, the results were outstanding for all divisions.

"We had a pit area full of cars, it was like an actual race there were so many people there," said Airborne Promoter Mike Perrotte. "A lot of guys were having a hard time finding a line, but once they find their way around it's going to be great."

Perrotte was particularly impressed with Modified champion Patrick Dupree and Renegade veteran Rob Gordon (car #H20 above - Leif Tillotson photo), who were the class of their respective divisions.

"Pat Dupree moved up the track at the end of the day, and he picked up two or three tenths (of a second per lap)," said Perrotte. "Once we get some rubber on the track, especially in the top groove, they'll really start to venture up there. Rob Gordon has his same old car in the Renegades, and he moved to the high side right from the first practice and almost lapped the field. If you're nuts enough to stick it out there, you can really go.

"Everything was great."

VMM took a ride across the lake on Tuesday to check it out (only to arrive mere minutes after the plug was pulled), and made a lot of mental notes about the place. While walking the track and taking some photos, it became very obvious that the new banking and slightly redesigned radii of the corners will create infinitely more multi-groove racing than the old surface. The pinch and 'natural push' in Turn 2 seem to have been elimintated, while a Thunder Road-like narrowing of the track out of Turn 4 will likely create some excitement, and at least judging from the race track side of the fence, may remind fans of the racing at Canaan Fair (N.H.) Speedway or the old Catamount Stadium, where it feels like the race cars are coming straight at you before turning at the last minute to head down the frontstretch. The entrance to Turn 3 having been moved out a few feet will allow for a more sweeping line, similar to Oxford Plains (Me.) Speedway or the totally circular Adirondack Int'l (N.Y.) Speedway. The multiple grooves and downhill momentum out of the corners is akin to Kawartha (Ont.) Speedway or Toyota Speedway at Irwindale (Calif.).

Speaking personally, having driven two laps around the place (albeit at 25mph), I got that seat-of-the-pants feeling that there was really something special going on with the new surface. It compares in almost no way to the track I competed on for the better part of three years as a kid, and while I miss that old layout, I could very quickly warm up to what I saw on Tuesday if I was still racing there. In fact, I'm quite jealous of the guys and girls that will get to spend their summer behind the wheel at The Big A.

Aside from the track itself, the facility's physical improvements are remarkable: a new media tower, new walls, a new, much more rigid catch fence, a new infield pit road, and a new lighting system should nicely compliment the recent improvements to the outer pit area and concession buildings. Basically, the entire Airborne Speedway property has all of the best elements of some of the finest short track racing facilities in the country, and its owner, promoter, and staff should be complimented by all racers, fans, and sponsors involved in the racing there this year and beyond.

I've said it before, and am confident that it will become fact: Airborne Speedway should prove to be a showpiece in the region for years and years to come. Can't wait for the opener on Saturday.

***

Also can't wait for the opener on Sunday. Thunder Road, of course. Not sure there's anything that can be said in this column space that could make a race fan want to go to Thunder Road any more than all the recent news to come out of the place, but here's a shot at it: Four divisions with anywhere between 120 and 140 race cars, all of which will be paraded through Barre City on Saturday morning and then again through the infield at the track on Sunday afternoon for the traditional 'Class Day' ceremonies, the excitement of the NHMS qualifier from ACT's Merchants Bank 150, the likes of racers from around the region like Laperle, Cyr, Hoar, Payea, Polewarczyk, and Rolfe, local guys like Michaud, Williams, Scott, Pembroke, Fisher, and Donahue, and the true heroes in the Tiger Sportsman, Street Stock, and Warrior divisions.

Thunder Road's season openers are always special, but it's the 50th season this year, so you know it'll be special-special. Be there.

***

If you're in Central Vermont, you know that 107.1 Frank-FM is the #1 spot to turn your radio dial. VMM HQ is a little too far north for the reception to come in all the time, but it's always been a favorite when we're in the right range. Frank-FM has graciously added "The Juice" to the racing page on its website, and will update its page weekly with each new column. Thanks, Frank, and rock on!

***

According to a few folks in the know, Twin State Speedway's season opener went pretty well last Friday night. In its first year running with a Late Model rulebook that is 100% ACT-legal, 14 cars showed up for the opener, including Thunder Road rookie Dylan Smith of Randolph, who is driving for Pete Fecteau this season. Mike Parks, race director at the Claremont, N.H. track, said he felt the racing was good and the division's potential at the track is really beginning to take shape. "Tom Curley was at the track, and the fact that he was there supporting our program adds an instant credibility to what we're trying to do," said Parks. "I think if we had anywhere between two and four Thunder Road cars there each week this year, it would help the division a lot, and give our guys something to work on." Curley, the American-Canadian Tour and Thunder Road President/Promoter, awarded Twin State Speedway a date on his ACT Late Model Tour this season, and the race, of course, is a qualifying event for the ACT Invitational at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in September. (Photo: #44 Dennis Stange, #29 Aaron Fellows, and #25 Dallas Trombley get after it at Twin State on Friday night - Alan Ward photo)

One of Twin State's top dogs, Guy Caron of Lempster, N.H., won the opening night feature, followed by Ascutney's Chris Riendeau and Mark Merrill of Newport, N.H. Sixteen year-old Smith finished last, 14th, in his first career Late Model start.

Dana Smith of Goshen, N.H. won the Modified main over Arthur Heino, Jr. and second-generation Ascutney racer Joey Jarvis. Mendon's Chris Wilk won the Super Street feature. Other winners included Ben Poland (Strictly Stock), Hartland's Cody Small (Wildcats), and 14 year-old Shawna Wallace (Sportsman).

From the This-Guy-Must-Really-Love-What-He-Does File, Croydon, N.H. standout Aaron Fellows raced in three divisions on Friday, finishing eighth in both the Late Model and Modified features, and finishing second to Wilk in the Super Street event.

***

ACT's Ford engine is still awaiting official approval, and may get it following this weekend's Merchants Bank 150 at Thunder Road. Tom Curley said that representatives from Ford will be at the Merchants Bank 150 to get a first-hand look at the performance of the engine in Cris Michaud's Late Model.

"Hopefully, (the Ford engine) will be optioned into the rule book next week following this weekend," Curley said in an email this week.

Michaud, who has now tested the engine at Thunder Road, White Mountain Motorsports Park, and Airborne Speedway, and finished 15th in the ACT Late Model Tour event at Lee USA Speedway two weeks ago, said he is optimistic about the engine's future.

"We went out and tried some new stuff at Thunder Road (last Sunday), played with the gears, and we picked up a little time on the stopwatch, and Airborne went well (on Wednesday), so that's all good," he said. "We ran well against Brent Dragon and Pembroke and Williams. I've heard that there people waiting to buy the Ford motor as soon as it gets approved."

***

Usually, this website won't cover or even discuss the upper levels of NASCAR's national touring series, but we have formed an opinion about the Carl Edwards crash at Talladega Superspeedway: NASCAR has done exactly what it was morally and legally required to do, and Talladega Superspeedway and its parent company, International Speedway Corp., have done exactly what they needed to do. (Photo: #99 Carl Edwards flies through the air at Talladega as #39 Ryan Newman grinds downt he track - Rainier Ehrhardt/AP photo)

Essentially, everyone that was at the Aaron's 499 on Sunday walked away perfectly safe, except for 17 year-old Blake Bobbitt, who suffered a broken jaw when a piece of debris hit her during the crash. When Edwards' car took a horrifying mid-air turn toward the grandstands at 180+ miles per hour on the final lap of the race, two things could have happened -- hundreds or even thousands of people could have been injured or killed, or Edwards' car could have been kept inside the racing surface and everyone could have walked away basically unharmed.

Thankfully, it was the latter.

Folks, the catch fence did its job, and Carl Edwards' race car did its job. A complete holocaust could have happened and it didn't. Had that race car gone into the crowd, it could have meant an instant end to motorsports as we know it. But it didn't. As recently as five years ago, Carl Edwards at the very least would likely have been killed given the speed and the strange angle at which he impacted the wall and fence, but advancements in driver safety and car construction certainly saved his life. And had NASCAR, ISC, and Talladega not taken measures to provide their fans with the best possible known protection against the variable that is 43 cars traveling at 300 feet per second for four hours, there would have been a major disaster.

Bobby Allison's Talladega wreck in 1987 was bad, way worse than Edwards'. Richard Petty's barrel roll against the fence at Daytona the next year (photo left, courtesy NASCAR), or Dale Earnhardt's crash at Talladega in 1996 could have had tragic consequences for sepctators. Those races were certainly eye-openers in terms of catch fence technology. And when Carl Edwards landed safely back on terra firma on Sunday, rather than in a 140,000+ seat grandstand, it was proof positive that the fence engineers had done their jobs correctly.

Now, what if Edwards' car had been 10 or 12 feet higher in the air? Then we'd have a problem. But if the fence was 12 feet higher, what if Edwards' car went 13 feet higher? There are all kinds of questions that can be asked, answered, then asked again. Nobody ever expected Tracie Bellerose to end up in the parking lot at Thunder Road, but she got there, and now there's a fence in Turn 3 that may likely never be used to keep a race car in-bounds, simply because it takes a lot of things to wrong (or right, if you want to scientific) all at the same time to get a stock car flying through that space.

Can everyone learn from the crash on Sunday? Absolutely, and the fence will certainly be rebuilt stonger, better, and safer for competitors and spectators before the Sprint Cup Series returns in October. But the fact is, there are always unforseen variables that cannot be prevented at automobile races -- three fans were killed at an IRL IndyCar event at Michigan Int'l Speedway in 1998 when an errant tire flew many rows up into the grandstands; a tragic crash at LeMans in 1955 killed 82 people; loose hoods from Cup cars have flown 40 feet above the track and into the grandstands at Daytona Int'l Speedway (Ernie Irvan, 1998, Robby Gordon, 2003), although neither incident was fatal -- and race fans, like drivers and crew members, attend events at their own risk.

Edwards was quick to blame NASCAR's 'yellow line' no-passing rule and the requirement of restrictor plates at Talladega and Daytona for the cause of the crash. "We'll race like this until we kill somebody," he said Sunday, "then [NASCAR] will change it."

Allison, whose '87 wreck was mostly responsible for the implementation of restrictor plates, pooh-poohed Edwards' comments.

"(Racing is) as safe as we see modern entertainment," Allison said in an Associated Press article. "If you're at a hockey game and the hockey puck comes into the grandstands and hits you in the head and kills you, it's not safe. If you're at the football game and the football hits you in the head and kills you, you're not safe. If you're at a baseball game and the baseball hits you and kills you, you're not safe."

Amen to that, Mr. Allison, and kudos to NASCAR and ISC for keeping their fans and drivers as safe as they can.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

VIDEO: The New Airborne Speedway

A slow lap around the new Airborne Speedway in Plattsburgh, N.Y., just before the rains came on Tuesday, April 28. Hopefully, this video will give you some idea of how much the track has changed, but it really is a sight to behold in person. (And, for what it's worth, it was the first race track experience for the VMM Plymouth Neon... please excuse the radio antenna in the video!)

Airborne's 2009 season opens on Saturday, May 2 with the Econo Lodge 50 for the Modified division.

PHOTOS: Airborne Speedway


Looking into Turn 1 from the frontstretch - note the extension of the wall


Looking back into Turn 1 from the pit road entrance


Looking back into Turn 1 at track-level from Turn 2

Not a great shot, but by using the light poles as a ruler, it's a way to compare the height of the new banking in Turns 1 and 2
Looking into Turn 3 from the backstretch
Turn 4 from the top of the banking - note the downhill slope to the frontstretch and the "natural push" that the new configuration has created coming out of the corner
More evidence of a Turn 4 push: Track owner Steve Fuller slapped the wall with the track's two-seat Late Model during a hot-lap session on Monday
Defending Airborne Speedway Tiger Sportsman Champion Bucko Branham, a welder for Fuller Construction, takes a break from building the new catch fence on the frontstretch
All photos by Justin St. Louis/VMM

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Five Years Old, the True Value Modifieds Look Ahead

Jack Bateman was a driver without a place to race. Ongoing disagreements at Twin State Speedway in Claremont, N.H. meant that the track's lead division -- the ground-pounding, open-wheel Modifieds so beloved by New England race fans -- would be gone from competition in 2004. Modifieds were off the card at Monadnock Speedway an hour down the road in Winchester, and things were so unpredictable at Canaan Fair Speedway an hour north that racers and fans gave up on the track.


But rather than sit idle, Bateman formed the Modified Racing Series. He picked up title sponsorship from True Value Hardware, and now in 2009, the series has just completed its first event of its sixth season. Bateman is still the series' President and is still a competitor with the tour. Drawing 26 cars to Mondanock on Saturday night was an average showing for the series on the pit side, and a packed grandstand on the other side of the fence was more of the norm.

Bateman sees the first half-decade of the True Value Modified Racing Series as positive. "Well, we've had an awful lot of fun with the thing, and it looks like the guys enjoy what we're doing, and that's really what it's all about," he said. "Our whole theory is to have a good time. As long as everybody's having a good time, it's all good."

The series was formed not only to give weekly-level racers a place to compete, but also to give those racers a place to showcase their talents without going broke, an alternative to the high-dollar equpiment and schedule of the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour. So far, it's mission accomplished; drivers from all six New England states plus Pennsylvania and New York competed at the season opener last weekend.

"I think it's an opportunity for guys who love Modifieds to race on a touring deal without having to pay the NASCAR-type money, and I think that's what attracts a lot of people," Bateman said. "And there's a few of those (NASCAR drivers) that are coming over because it just isn't feasible financially to do what they're doing."

Kirk Alexander, the series' all-time leading winner and the 2004, 2005, and 2007 champion, agrees.

"If you want to come race Modifieds on a touring series and spend the least amount of money, this is the one to do it on," he said. "And they're paying a lot better now, they're paying two grand to win. I know it isn't a ton of money, but when you don't have to spend a lot to be there at the race track it's pretty good."

NASCAR champions Mike Stefanik, Ted Christopher, and Ken Bouchard, have been attracted to the True Value series, and top young talents like Matt Hirschman, Jimmy Blewett, and Rowan Pennink have competed successfully on the series. In addition, drivers better known for their winning résumés in full-fendered cars -- drivers like Jean-Paul Cyr, David Pinkham, and Vinnie Annarummo -- have been frequent competitors.

Alexander is proud of the work his fellow True Value regulars, like 2006 champion Dwight Jarvis, Les Hinckley, Jon McKennedy, and Saturday's winner, Rob Goodenough, have done against the invaders; of the 'big gun' drivers, only Hirschman has been able to break into victory lane, last year at Twin State.

"Matty's the only one that has won. It means a lot. I mean, it's not like they come in and walk all over us," Alexander said. "I mean they're good, but they're good under their rules where they can spend a lot of money. Guys like Mike Stefanik, who has been racing forever, and that guy is an awesome driver, he knows his stuff. Teddy Christopher, he's awesome. But you know these (True Value) guys are good and there's some talent here that you don't just come in and walk all over us. They keep it down to a minimum on bumping and jamming, they don't put the bumper to people. You want to see good racing, and that's what we do."

"They're usually pretty competitive," Bateman says, "but it takes quite a lot of ingenuity to win on these little bullring tracks. Most (of those) guys are used to running big tracks like Stafford, Thompson, New Hampshire, Martinsville, and places like that. It's different with these little short tracks, it takes a different tact."

In recent years, Bateman's series has developed young talent including Andy Seuss, Bobby Grigas, and 2008 champion Chris Pasteryak, who now compete in the NASCAR ranks. Grigas, the 2006 TVMRS Rookie of the Year, is a consistent top-ten driver with the Whelen Modified Tour, while second-generation racer Pasteryak is in his first season there. Seuss has won two of his four starts on the Whelen Southern Modified Tour this season, beating the likes of Christopher and past champions L.W. Miller and Burt Myers.

It seems that given the momentum the True Value Modified Racing Series has built in its first five years -- full fields, full grandstands, and dates at top New England tracks including Oxford Plains, Lee USA, Thunder Road, Thompson, and more -- the next five years should be pretty good, too.

"I think it's a good deal, (Bateman) is going in the right direction," says Alexander. "You've got all these different kinds of rules and motor combinations so it makes it possible for people to come in with stuff that don't cost them a lot of money. I think it'll be a good thing."

"We're in pretty good shape, considering the economy and that sort of thing," said Bateman. "We've got 26 cars here, I think that's a fairly respectable number. We'll just see how it goes throughout the season and take it from there."

(Photo 1: Rowan Pennink's #25 car sits in front of a full grandstand at Monadnock Speedway on Saturday night. Photo 2: The TVMRS pits are always full of cars. Photo 3: Qualifying heat action is intense and gives the TVMRS a distinction from NASCAR's time-trial qualifying. Photo 4: The TVMRS field under the lights. Photos 1, 2, and 4 by Justin St. Louis/VMM; Photo 4 by Alan Ward)

Monday, April 27, 2009

Ragan Added to Thunder Road Lineup

BARRE, VT -- Add David Ragan to the list of NASCAR drivers that will flock to Thunder Road Int'l Speedbowl in Barre this summer. As part of the track's celebration of 50 seasons of racing this year, Ragan will compete in the regular season finale on Thursday, August 27. The second-generation Unadilla, Ga. driver joins two-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Champion Tony Stewart, who will compete in the CARQUEST Vermont Governor's Cup 150 on June 25, and former champions Bobby Allison and Richard Petty as a visitor to Thunder Road.

"We wanted superstars from our past, present, and future to highlight our 50th anniversary activities," said Thunder Road co-owner and promoter Tom Curley. "We wanted a racer who we believe is ready for future stardom on NASCAR’s top level of racing. David Ragan is the real deal."

Ragan earned his first NASCAR Nationwide Series victory at Talladega Superspeedway on Saturday and is currently third in that series' championship standings. He ranks 26th in the Sprint Cup Series, with a best finish of sixth in February's Daytona 500. Ragan currently drives the #6 Ford Fusion for Roush-Fenway Racing on both the Sprint Cup and Nationwide series. His father, Ken Ragan, made 50 starts in the Sprint Cup Series in the 1980s and early 1990s.

Ragan was on the track at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, N.H. during a Goodyear tire test earlier this month at the same time as ACT Late Model Tour drivers Donald Theetge, Phil Scott, and Dave Pembroke; the latter two will compete against Ragan at Thunder Road.

"We were some impressed with their driving, and I can’t wait to get after them at Thunder Road in August," said Ragan. "Thunder Road is one place I have really wanted to run. This will be a hoot."

Thunder Road's 50th season opens on Sunday with the ACT Late Model Tour's Merchants Bank 150.

(Photo courtesy NASCAR)

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Goodenough Wins TVMRS Thriller at Monadnock

WINCHESTER, N.H. -- Rob Goodenough fans rejoice. Kirk Alexander fans cringe. Dwight Jarvis fans stand proud. Jon McKennedy fans take what they can get. And every fan goes home a winner.

The True Value Modified Racing Series opened its sixth season in fine style at Monadnock Speedway in Winchester, N.H. on Saturday night, with a wild finish that brought the packed grandstand crowd to its feet.

For the first 89 laps of Saturday night's Bond Auto Spring Dash 100, three-time series champion Alexander looked as though he would take his fifteenth TVMRS victory at Monadnock, until he attempted to put a lap on Kenny White, Jr. The two inadvertantly made contact at full speed, sending leader Alexander hard into the Turn 2 wall, ending his race and opening the door for a barnburner of a finish.

Enter Goodenough, McKennedy, and Jarvis.

Running in positions two through four at the time of Alexander's demise, the trio suddenly found themselves playing the lead roles in the final act of the season opener. As the green flag flew for the restart on lap 89, Goodenough and McKennedy, who made up the front row, banged wheels, sending a plume of smoke into the air from the middle of Turn 4 all the way down the frontstretch to Turn 1 before they seperated. As McKennedy slowed only momentarily to regroup, Jarvis snuck under him and into second place.

Jarvis, who drove from 22nd place after pitting under caution on lap 21, raced, as one fan put it, "the hardest he's driven in years," and stirred his fans into a minor frenzy that grew louder with each pass. Mike Holdridge followed Jarvis on lap 92, taking third place away as McKennedy slapped the frontstretch wall, but just seconds before Holdridge's car lost power and came to a stop, bringing out the ninth and final caution flag.

As True Value Modified rules dictate, restarts inside 10 laps to go require single-file formation. As Goodenough held his line to protect the lead, Jarvis looked high and low each lap until the white flag flew, when he made a banzai run on the outside entering Turn 3, drawing even with Goodenough's car. But the drag race went to Goodenough by a bumper, handing the driver from nearby Swanzey, N.H. his first TVMRS win since a Monadnock score in 2007.

"It was very fast-paced, rough, it was (deep breath)... it was interesting out there," said Goodenough. "I needed that break (Alexander's crash), I admit it, yeah, he had a fast car and he would have won this race unless something happened like it did. (But) that's what being a strong second-place competitor does, it just pays off one of these nights, and that's just what it did today."

Alexander took his fate in stride, sparing White of any direct blame. "The car was awesome, just lapped traffic, you know, things got out of control there. Maybe I should have backed off, maybe not," he said. "It looked like the 77 (White) was trying to hang it down, I don't know if he got his left-front caught on the guy in front of him or something, but it looked like he shot right, and I just turned right with him and locked up my brakes and that was the end of that. It kinda sucks, but what are you gonna do, get mad about it? Big deal, we'll come back and win next week." Alexander was not hurt in the crash.

Once Alexander met his end, Goodenough and Jarvis stole the show.

"I was trying to hold it down to the bottom because this thing was getting really loose," said Goodenough. "I thought (Jarvis) was coming up the outside of me, and he did one of his famous moves. I think he was looking out there and snuck it back down to the bottom and then went back out. I knew he was going to go anywhere he could go. I was just trying to keep it in one groove, and the guys told me I was going to have to be on my toes for the last couple of laps because he had something for me. They were right."

"I knew I was going to have a good run, the car was there and it hooked up good," said Jarvis, of Ascutney. "I'm pretty happy, and I was pretty confident we'd head back up through (after pitting). The car was real loose at the end. I think if I could have got up beside (Goodenough) I had something for him, but I had it all hanging out, she was loose."

McKennedy, of Chelmsford, Mass., held on for third place ahead of Eddie Dachenhausen and Sean Bodreau. The unofficial top-ten was completed in order by Rowan Pennink, Mike Douglas, Joe Doucette, Jack Bateman, and Bill Park. Peter Jarvis, Alexander, and Dachenhausen won the qualifying heats, while Pennink won the last-chance consi.

Feature winners in Monadnock Speedway's weekly divisions were Russ Hersey (Outlaw Pro Stock), Matt Mead (Super Stock), and Tim Jackson (Mini Stock).

UNOFFICIAL RESULTS - Bond Auto Spring Dash 100
True Value Modified Racing Series - Monadnock Speedway, Winchester, N.H.
Saturday, April 25, 2009


Pos.-Driver-Hometown
1. Rob Goodenough, Swanzey, N.H.
2. Dwight Jarvis, Ascutney
3. Jon McKennedy, Chelmsford, Mass.
4. Eddie Dachenhausen, Danbury, Conn.
5. Sean Bodreau, Claremont, N.H.
6. Rowan Pennink, Huntington Valley, Penn.
7. Mike Douglas, Jr., Auburn, N.H.
8. Joe Doucette, Framingham, Mass.
9. Jack Bateman, Canaan, N.H.
10. Bill Park, Manorville, L.I., N.Y.
11. Peter Jarvis, Ascutney
12. Jimmy Dolan, Bethel, Conn.
13. John Cleary, Madison, Conn.
14. Steve Masse, Bellingham, Mass.
15. Mike Holdridge, Madison, Conn.
16. Kirk Alexander, West Swanzey, N.H.
17. Kenny White, Jr., Weare, N.H.
18. Todd Annarummo, Swansea, Mass.
19. Todd Patnode, Swanzey, N.H.
20. Jacob Dore, Sanford, Me.
21. Kevin Iannarelli, Maynard, Mass.
22. Les Hinckley, Windsor Locks, Conn.
23. Tony Ricci, Westbrook, Me.
24. Butch Perry, Ashaway, R.I.

(Photo 1: Bond Auto 100 winner Rob Goodenough celebrates his victory. Photo 2: (L-R) Runner-up Dwight Jarvis, winner Rob Goodenough, third-place Jon McKennedy. Photos by Justin St. Louis/VMM)

Friday, April 24, 2009

Laperle Confirms Plans to Chase ACT Castrol Title

Patrick Laperle made it official on Thursday: he will contend for his second Série ACT-Castrol championship this year.

The St-Denis-sur-Richelieu, Que. driver was the Cinderella story of 2007 as he came back to win the Castrol title less than six months removed from a life-threatening blood infection. He used a relief driver, cousin Jacques Laperle, in the first race of that season, then posted an incredible string of top-five finishes to beat Sylvain Lacombe by just 12 points for the crown. He then won the 2008 ACT Late Model Tour championship by a single point over Milton's Scott Payea; Alexandre Gingras was last year's Castrol champion.

"Last year on the ACT Tour there was a lot of traveling and it was very hard on the team," Laperle said in a team-issued release. "Many tracks were far from home. This year we want to enjoy being with our young families while still competing in the sport we love."

Prior to the ACT Late Model Tour opener last week, Laperle told Vermont Motorsports Magazine that he was considering chasing the Castrol championship one more time. Laperle is looking to secure an starting spot in the inaugural ACT Invitational at the 1-mile New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, N.H. this September; the winner of each Série ACT-Castrol event and the series' championship point leader as of Sept. 19 will be invited to compete at NHMS. Laperle also said that he will compete in selected ACT Late Model Tour events in the U.S., beginning with the Merchants Bank 150 at Barre's Thunder Road on May 2/3.

The Série ACT-Castrol opens its nine-race championship season, held in Québec and Ontario, on Sat., May 16 at Autodrome St-Eustache near Montréal. Laperle won the 100-lap opener at the track last year.

(Photo courtesy Marc Patrick Roy)

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Juice: Ten Things, Lots of Modifieds, and Who's Quinny?

-by Justin St. Louis

We're one race down, about 60 to go, give or take a few. And we couldn't be any happier about it! Here's this week's "Juice"...

***

Brad Leighton winning the first starting spot for the ACT Invitational at New Hampshire Motor Speedway has its positives and negatives. The pros are that Leighton is a top-name driver, a proven winner at NHMS, has first-class equipment, and will represent ACT, northeastern Late Model racing, and NHMS well. The cons -- there are far fewer cons than pros -- are that Leighton (right, Eric LaFleche/VLFRacing.com photo) is just a part-timer with ACT, that he is one of the guys that everyone expects to dominate at NHMS, that now the "little" teams that make it in will have to work that much harder to beat him, and that as ACT-type race teams go, his is one of the few "superteams" that sort of -- sort of -- makes the purist, underdog-loving race fan go, "Oh, well, Leighton's in, so guys like (name a 5th-place driver at your local track) might as well not even show up."

But actually, thinking further about it, how is that possibly a bad thing? A little team should have to work harder to beat the champions and the proven winners. It should be a motivation piece, not a deterrent. Imagine this: Timmy Jordan from Waterford Speedbowl gets into the ACT Invitational, or how about young Brandon Watson up at Kawartha Speedway, or Ryan Vanasse at Seekonk Speedway, and one of those guys actually breaks into the winner's circle at Loudon. And say Brad Leighton, the guy no one is supposed to be able to beat, finishes second. Would that not be a major victory for short track racers everywhere?

The more we, as nitpickers, try to find something wrong with the ACT Invitational at NHMS, the more we simply can't find anything wrong with it.

***

We noticed a lot of things at the ACT season opener last weekend, and here are ten of them in no particular order:

1. The concentration of top-tier Vermont-based teams is shrinking. In fact, there were only three native Vermonters (Scott Payea, John Donahue, Brian Hoar) to finish inside the top-ten in the NH Governor's Cup 150. The same thing happened twice at Oxford Plains Speedway last year, and there were only four Green Mountain racers in the top-ten at Lee USA (and a few other tracks) last year. In the grand scheme of it all, that's a very good sign.

2. Is there no more ACT partnership with Toyota? The pace car on hand was the Dodge Charger, and the Toyota logos are now gone from the ACT website and the official Race Report. Maybe we answered our own question, we'll have to see at Thunder Road.

3. The number of drivers known for their success in other areas now participating in ACT is growing more and more. You can add former Busch North Series standout Mike Johnson and southern New England stars Fred Astle and Jeff Zuidema to the list.

4. When announcer John Spence asked the crowd if anyone was cheering for the Montréal Canadiens, I was the only person that stood up. And now I know why.

5. Two big surprises -- Joey Laquerre showed up, and Claude Leclerc didn't. Kinda weird.

6. How awesome was that Hobby Stock guy Chris Titcomb that finished third? (right, Alan Ward photo)

7. Why isn't J.R. Baril a stronger force to be reckoned with when the ACT guys come to his house? Larry Gelinas, Wayne Helliwell, Ricky Wolf, Jeremy Harclerode, and occasionally Bryan Kruczek have run well against the Tour teams, but when ACT is at Lee USA, multi-time champion Baril (also a multi-time winner of long distance events at various tracks and a former PASS North regular) has sort of... just... been there.

8. You know, Cris Michaud really wasn't that far off on Sunday. It was only the first race with the Ford engine, and really, 15th isn't bad after a 150-lap show with an unraced, unproven combination. We're hoping that ACT's decision to hold off on approving the engine for competition won't last too much longer. Michaud admits that his driving style hasn't adapted yet to the different power curve of the Ford engine, and that changes in setup, like adding more gear (Michaud said his team ran 20 more points than normal in the gear ratio at Lee to try and make the car better) might help. It's a work-in-progress, just like the Chevrolet engine Michaud helped to develop in 1999 and 2000. Give it a few weeks, and you'll see a front-running Ford, just like when Phil Scott won in his second start with the Chevy engine against the "big motors" in 2000.

9. Tyler Cahoon could really surprise some people this year.

10. God bless those weekly guys that came to Lee from places like Oxford and White Mountain and Wiscasset and Waterford to just have a chance at sniffing an invite to Loudon, N.H. and the 1-mile New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Guys like Shawn Martin, Travis Stearns, Glenn Martel, Mark Anzalone, and Corey Morgan. And God bless the guys that are giving the touring thing a shot for the same reason, like Miles Chipman and Rowland Robinson. That's what the whole NHMS event is about, and the race fans are going to be the big winners because of it.

***

VMM: "That was quite a battle you had with Quinny."

Eddie MacDonald: "Who's Quinny?"

MacDonald was surely not the only one asking that question after the NH Governor's Cup 150 last Sunday. Quinny Welch, in case you hadn't heard, is one of the top Late Model racers at White Mountain Motorsports Park, having won the track title there in 2007, and finishing a close second last year, but he doesn't get out much. Welch made a surprise visit to Lee USA to see how well he stacked up this year, and went home with a fine fifth-place finish, the first ACT top-five of his career. He ran either nose-to-tail or side-by-side with home-track hero MacDonald for the final 75 laps of the race, tha pair swapping the fourth and fifth positions several times. (Photo left: Welch (#78) and MacDonald (#17) going at it. Alan Ward photo)

"It was a helluva run, I wasn't expecting it," said Welch. "We started out really tight (but) were just a little better than all of the guys in front of us, and all of a sudden it kicked in and got some wicked good bite on the top side. Then we got to MacDonald, we battled with him for the whole race and it was very good, it was clean. To race with him here is pretty impressive for us. It's pretty cool. The guys did a great job, and all weekend long we were pretty good, we made the right choices, and there we were."

With a shoestring budget, Welch put a plan in place for the season -- and he, just like virtually everyone else with a Late Model, wants to race at NHMS -- but may have to change his direction if he keeps running well with ACT.

"I want to run White Mountain full-time to try to get to Loudon, but if we keep running like we are right now we might get a shot at Loudon before we have to run a whole season to do it," he said. "My goal was to start the first three (ACT races). If we made it here we could go to Thunder Road, and we made it, so we'll go to Thunder Road in two weeks, and then I'd really like to go to Plattsburgh (Airborne Speedway). I think that's a track that's suited for me, and nobody else has been there yet so I think we'll have a good shot at that one."

In his rare ventures outside his home track, Welch has run very well; last year, he finished eighth in the Milk Bowl at Thunder Road, and won a 100-lap Late Model open at Riverside Speedway. Those results, plus the top-five finish at Lee and the battle with MacDonald -- one of the hottest things on east coast short tracks these days -- should give Welch the confidence he will need to go with the skill his team has displayed so far. A great candidate, in our opinion, for one of the "at-large" bids for the ACT Invitational at NHMS, should he not earn a guaranteed starting berth otherwise.

***

Danville's Steven Legendre, as we had reported a week or so ago, is now racing with the PASS North Series. Legendre made his debut in the Super Late Model ranks at Speedway 95 near Bangor, Me. on Sunday, finishing a respectable 15th, the final car on the lead lap.

Defending PASS North Champion Johnny Clark won the NAPA 150 after passing Richie Dearborn and Cassius Clark with less than 15 laps remaining to take the opening day victory, the 17th of his PASS North career. Cassuis Clark capitalized after contact with Dearborn moved him up to second place; Scott Chubbuck also slipped by for third. Dearborn, who led much of the race, finished fourth ahead of Adam Bates. Derek Ramstrom, Chris Staples, John Flemming, Ben Rowe, and Donnie Whitten completed the top ten in order.

***

How cool is this?


Dan Bowes (silver #25), Justin Belfiore (black #98), and defending Lee USA Speedway champion Eddie Witkum, Jr. (white #39) raced here for the lead just inches apart near the halfway point. Bowes would hold off Belfiore for the victory.

You have got to respect anyone that can wrestle a 700-horsepower bullet around a 3/8-mile track, averaging laps about 100 miles per hour, and not wreck the guy outside of him. Too bad we didn't get any footage when they were THREE wide.

***

Brett "The Jet" Hearn of Sussex, N.J. won the 35-lap season opening 358 Modified event at Albany-Saratoga Speedway in Malta, N.Y. on Friday, ahead of Ronnie Johnson and Matt DeLorenzo. Middlebury's Todd Stone finished in fifth place, with Dave Camara of Fair Haven in seventh. Airborne Speedway promoter Mike Perrotte of Elizabethtown, N.Y. finished 10th.

Derrick McGrew of Ballston Spa, N.Y. won the 25-lap Budget Sportsman race with rookie Tim Hartman second in his first-ever open-wheel race. Manchester's Frank Hoard, III finished third. Rob Yetman of Castleton, N.Y. won the Pro Stock feature for his first career victory, while Dan Petronis of Mechanicville, N.Y. won the Limited feature.

***

The True Value Modified Racing Series kicks off its sixth season (sixth, already?) at Monadnock Speedway in Winchester, N.H. on Saturday with the Bond Auto Parts Spring Dash 100 beginning at 6:00pm.

Kirk Alexander of nearby West Swanzey, N.H. is among the expected entries for the event, and has taken 14 of his series-leading 31 victories at the high-banked 1/4-mile. Les Hinckley of Windsor Locks, Conn. and Ascutney's Dwight Jarvis are also expected for the race; Hinckley has three TVMRS wins at Monadnock, while Jarvis has won twice there in TVMRS competition, including the Spring Dash in 2006. Jarvis is also a five-time Monadnock Speedway track champion.

Along with the TVMRS troops, the "Mad Dog" will see its Outlaw Pro, Super Stock, Mini Stock, and 4-cylinder and full-size Enduro divisions open the curtain on their 2009 seasons.

***

Speaking of the True Value Modifieds, the series has cancelled its May 16 event at All-Star Speedway in Epping, N.H. All-Star promoter Bobby MacArthur had been in some hot water with the Town of Epping, and seems to have sorted the situation out in time to open his season as scheduled, but will not see the TVMRS cars at his track this year.

The Town of Epping initially refused MacArthur's operating license application due to several unaddressed issues, including the storage of between 300 and 400 used tires on the speedway's grounds. MacArthur's permit to hold stock car racing events has since been granted, but not in time for the powers that be in the TVMRS office to keep their faith in those at the All-Star Speedway office.

***

Andy Seuss of Hampstead, N.H. took his second NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour win in four events this year, beating George Brunnhoelzl at Lanier National Speedway in Georgia... and again, the car count was deplorable. While Seuss had plenty of tough competition from top drivers Brunnhoelzl, Ted Christopher, and L.W. Miller, there wasn't much else. A dismal 14 cars showed up to compete at Lanier.

The WSMT is off until July 3 at Caraway Speedway, when it makes its second of six trips to the Asheboro, N.C. half-mile. If the number-one Modified division in the southern United States is going to survive, it's going to need to a little better than fields of 16, 20, 26, and 14 cars. We'll see if the early summer vacation will help the some of the missing teams get some legs underneath them and help the struggling series finish the year strong.

***

Okay, okay, okay, the Burger King likes square butts and he cannot lie. We get it.

We'll see you at the races!

Monday, April 20, 2009

Despite Tough Off-Season, Payea Still Strong

To lose a championship is one thing, to lose it by a single point is another. To do it twice is unreal. And to have your team undergo huge changes and leave the future hanging in doubt tops it all off. Scott Payea has lived through that nightmare, but isn't letting it affect him.

Payea led the ACT Late Model Tour point standings for nearly the entire 2008 campaign, winning twice and leading nearly 25% of the laps run during the year, only to get caught up in a late-race incident at the season-finale Milk Bowl and eventually lose the championship to Patrick Laperle by one point. Four years earlier, the same thing happened to Payea in the NAPA Tiger Sportsman class at Thunder Road; a crash in the final event of the year dropped Payea from the point lead and handed the title to Reno Gervais by, again, just one point.

"I'm over it. Last year is last year," he said. "It could have been a hundred points and it wouldn't have mattered. We finished second the year before, too."

But following the loss of the ACT crown last season, Payea's family team hit a major road block. Long before the end of the season, his father, Jim, had made it known that he was looking for other options for the team, as fielding a championship-caliber Late Model operation had become too challenging financially. With just two months before the start of the 2009 season, the Milton racer was without sponsorship, without money, and without a ride. After a lot of hard work, however, Payea and crew chief Chris Companion were able to attract their main sponsors to return for another season, and together purchased the race car they had seen so much success with.

"Things were challenging during the winter, there's no question about that, but we ran well yesterday. It's proof positive that we're still strong," Payea said. Despite the fact that there was tension during the off-season, he scoffs at the notion that his team is getting a new start this year. "I don't know about (calling it) 'rebuilding'. It's basically the same team. Some people are in some different roles, but it's the same equipment and we've got some good people in place. And we wouldn't be able to do it without Ouellette Plumbing & Heating, AC Sports, and Leahy Press. Thankfully, they came back with us. I'm responsible for the finances now and getting the sponsorship was a challenge, but Dad is still helping out with talking to sponsors, and my parents were at Lee cheering me on.

"I have nothing to prove, people know how good we are. I just want to win races and try to go for it again this year."

In Sunday's season opener at Lee USA Speedway, Payea led a handful of laps, had an exciting 30-lap door-to-door fight for the lead with Joey Polewarczyk, and finished in third place. Last year he finished fourth in the race - a difference of two points from Sunday's finish - and began another run at the ACT championship.

"Last year's (championship outcome) was tough to take, but we started this year off strong with a third place. It's one spot better than last year, so hopefully at the end of the year we're one spot better."

In two weeks, Payea will head to a place he knows well, and to a race he has an incredible record at -- Thunder Road and the Merchants Bank 150. Since his rookie season in 2005, Payea's worst finish in the event is fourth place, and he will try for his third straight victory in the race on May 3.

"We're going to Thunder Road, and we want to get three in a row," he said. "We're strong, we're firing on all cylinders."


(Photo 1: Scott Payea (#89) and Joey Polewarczyk( #97) put on a show at Lee USA Speedway on Sunday. Gene Gagne photo. Photo 2: Payea and Polewarczyk's duel went on for over 30 laps. Leif Tillotson photo)

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Leighton Headed to the Big Dance

Victory lane at Lee USA Speedway is generally one of the nicer places for an American-Canadian Tour driver to visit; the spoils at the New Hampshire seacoast oval usually include nice trophies, a bottle of champagne, and a few beauty queens. But for the first time on Sunday afternoon, the winner was greeted with one more prize: An invitation to the big dance.

And that's just where Brad Leighton is headed.

Leighton won the ACT Late Model Tour's season opener at Lee, and becomes the first driver to earn a starting berth in September's inaugural ACT Invitational at the 1-mile New Hampshire Motor Speedway in nearby Loudon, N.H. From 19th starting position, he steadily marched his way toward the front of the field, won a long and physical battle for the lead with young hotshoe Joey Polewarczyk, and drove into victory lane to accept the spoils as the winner of the New Hampshire Governor's Cup 150.

With nine career wins at NHMS in NASCAR Camping World Series East, Leighton, of Center Harbor, N.H., is the all-time victory leader there. He won Camping World championships in 1999 and 2000, and was the 1995 title winner on the former ACT Pro Stock Tour. For the last few seasons, he has split his time between ACT Late Models, Camping World, and Pro All Stars Series races, running strictly for wins rather than points. ACT announced last November that it had reached an agreement to run a Late Model invitational event at NHMS, New England's only superspeedway, with the winner of each of its races earning a starting spot at NHMS. Immediately, Leighton made the ACT Invitational his first priority.

"That's what I wanted, that's my baby," he said following the Governor's Cup win. "We actually added a few extra races on my calendar in order to give us a better opportunity to qualify, so it's nice to get that out of the way."

For the first two-thirds of the race, it looked like young guns Polewarczyk and Scott Payea might have decided the win among themselves. After early leader Mike Olsen spun to bring out the caution flag on lap 52, Payea and Polewarczyk ran side-by-side inches apart for the next 30 circuits, trading the lead no less than five times. But as the leaders began to negotiate lapped traffic, Leighton sliced through the field and was able to catch and pass Payea on lap 90. While lapping cars at a rate of one or more per lap, 19 year-old Polewarczyk, of Hudson, N.H., ran the high groove, using the backmarkers as picks to keep Leighton at bay.

Leighton bumped Polearczyk in Turn 4 on lap 111, but slowed to allow the leader to regroup. After Leighton dived underneath Polewarczyk on the backstretch on lap 123, the two made contact again - this time with Polewarczyk as the aggressor - and traded the lead twice in Turns 3 and 4. But as Polewarczyk caught the cars of Larry Gelinas and Randy Potter nine laps later, Leighton executed another inside move to make the winning pass. He cleared Polewarczyk's car on lap 135 and ran to the checkered flag for his second career ACT Late Model Tour victory.

"He's pretty good, huh? He's real good, he just used his stuff up maybe a little bit early," Leighton said of Polewarczyk. "He started closer to the front (eighth), I started, what, nineteenth. It's easier to pass a slower car than it is a good car. He had to pass Payea, Brian Hoar, Olsen, good cars, fast cars. He used a lot of stuff up doing it. I got up to ninth place and I didn't really use the car much, because I just waited for opportunities where a guy slid up (the track) and I took off. And frankly, I'm typically not that patient, I can't believe I held back that long. I usually just get it done."

"That was rough," said Polewarczyk. "(Brad) got into me once, so when he went by me I figured I'd give him a shot. But it was fun, and I had a lot of fun racing Scott, too. This was a good race."

Leighton and Polewarczyk seemed to enjoy the battle, shaking hands and sharing a laugh in victory lane. "The only thing different is when I got into the back of Joey, I allowed him to continue to lead," Leighton said. "He got into the back of me and he took the lead and ran. That's alright, I give it and I take it. I'm not a whiner. As long as you're willing to be giving it, you had better want to take it, because you're getting it. It was good stuff. Good show."

Payea, of Milton, finished in third place ahead of Rowley, Mass. driver Eddie MacDonald and Quinny Welch of Lancaster, N.H. Forty-five cars attempted to qualify for 30 starting positions.

Polewarczyk took losing the race - and losing the New Hampshire Motor Speedway qualifier - in stride. "I wanted it bad. I really, really, really wanted it, but you know, there's always next week," he said. "We're gonna have a good year this year."

Leighton, who will share his Peter Duto-owned Irving Oil/Subway #55NH Ford with Phil Scott this season, complimented his crew on the win. "These guys deserve it, they worked their butts off all winter long. You know, we didn't qualify for this race last year. They're going to run the full (ACT schedule) with Phil Scott filling in some shows, I think I'll end up running eight. I guess Peter will go try to run for the car owner's championship. To me, I've been there, done that."

Nearing the end of his career, Leighton has made it known that he has no interest in running for championships, and that winning events like the ACT Invitational at NHMS are his main focus.

"That's why we came. It's (all about) wins, because it won't be long that I won't be doing this anymore."

But for now, Brad Leighton is still doing it. And he better get those dancing shoes ready.

(Photo 1: N.H. Governor's Cup 150 winner Brad Leighton. Photo 2: Leighton (#55NH) and Joey Polewarczyk (#97) fight for the lead behind the lapped car of Brent Dragon (#55VT). Photo 3: Leighton's car shows signs of battle following the ACT Late Model Tour season opener. Photo 4: Leighton and Polewarczyk (right) share a light moment in victory lane. Photo 1 by Leif Tillotson; Photo 2 by Alan Ward; Photos 3, 4 by Justin St. Louis/VMM)

Unofficial Results - New Hampshire Governor's Cup 150
ACT Late Model Tour - Lee USA Speedway, Lee, N.H.
Sunday, April 19, 2008


Pos.-Driver-Hometown
1. Brad Leighton, Center Harbor, N.H.
2. Joey Polewarczyk, Jr., Hudson, N.H.
3. Scott Payea, Milton
4. Eddie MacDonald, Rowley, Mass.
5. Quinny Welch, Lancaster, N.H.
6. Ricky Wolf, Jr., Northwood, N.H.
7. John Donahue, Graniteville
8. Wayne Helliwell, Jr., Dracut, Mass.
9. Brian Hoar, Williston
10. Mike Olsen, North Haverhill, N.H.
11. Randy Potter, Groveton, N.H.
12. Larry Gelinas, Gorham, Me.
13. Eric Chase, Milton
14. Brent Dragon, Milton
15. Cris Michaud, Northfield
16. J.R. Baril, Haverhill, Mass.
17. Tyler Cahoon, St. Johnsbury
18. Donald Theetge, Boischatel, Que.
19. Jeremy Harclerode, Newmarket, N.H.
20. Glen Luce, Turner, Me.
21. A.J. Begin, Merrimac, Mass.
22. Mark Anzalone, Jr., Malden, Mass.
23. Pete Potvin, III, Graniteville
24. Miles Chipman, Epping, N.H.
25. Bryan Kruczek, Newmarket, N.H.
26. Bobby Dragon, Milton
27. Jeff Zuidema, Brookfield, Mass.
28. Fred Astle, Jr., Westport, Mass.
29. Jamie Fisher, Shelburne
30. Corey Morgan, Lewiston, Me.

Heat winners: Zuidema, Welch, Gelinas, Cahoon
Consolation winners: Kruczek, Leighton
"B" Feature winner: Helliwell

Friday, April 17, 2009

Corbett Family to Riverside Late Models

The father-son team of Pat and Shaun Corbett have joined the Late Model division ranks of Groveton, N.H.'s Riverside Speedway for 2009. Pat Corbett has been in retirement from racing since his 2002 track championship at White Mountain Motorsports Park, but will race the Bond Auto Triple Crown Series and the inaugural $5,000-to-win Clash of the Titans 150 in August. His son, Shaun, will drive in the remaining Late Model events held at the high-banked 1/4-mile during the summer.

"The racing bug has been there, but the timing just wasn’t right to get back into the sport," Pat Corbett said in a Riverside Speedway release. "Then Riverside announced the Triple Crown Series, plus the giant $5,000 to win event, and I said to the family, 'This series of events would be perfect for me.' We have always been a family operation, as my wife and sons will be an integral part of the team, and on the non-series events Shaun will be behind the wheel. Our good friends at Jet Service Envelope and Vermont Shifter Karts are back on board as sponsors and we are ready to shake down the cobwebs!"

Pat Corbett, 50, of Williamstown, was a top Late Model and Flying Tiger driver from the mid-1980s until his 2002 retirement, winning over a dozen events at White Mountain, Barre's Thunder Road, New York's Airborne Speedway and Malone Int'l Raceway, and Maine's Beech Ridge Motor Speedway. His biggest win was the final of his three American-Canadian Tour victories - the 2000 Memorial Day Classic at Thunder Road. Shaun Corbett raced two seasons in Thunder Road's NAPA Tiger Sportsman class and a partial schedule in the Allen Lumber Street Stock division earlier in the decade.

Riverside Speedway's season get underway on Saturday, May 16.

(Photo: Pat Corbett carries the checkers at White Mountain Motorsports Park in 2002. Photo courtesy WMMP)

Tiger Sportsman Series Schedule Unveiled

The American-Canadian Tour released the schedule for its new Tiger Sportsman Tri-State Series on Thursday. The three-race season begins on Saturday, July 11 at the newly redesigned Airborne Speedway half-mile in Plattsburgh, N.Y. New Hampshire's 1/3-mile Canaan Fair Speedway oval returns to the ACT fold on Saturday, August 1, with the series' finale at Barre's 1/4-mile Thunder Road on Thursday, August 13. Each race distance will be 100 laps.

The series has a sporadic history with many formats and titles, but has been a popular addition for race teams and fans. Chuck Beede of Williamstown won the most recent championship in 2006. Interest in a small, three-race series was very high at a pre-season rules meeting in February.

"I’m glad the Tour is back," St. Albans driver Jason Bonnett said in an ACT press release. "It’s fun to go to different tracks and race different people instead of racing the same track every week. I also like the challenge of adjusting the car to different setups for the different tracks." Bonnett, a two-time Airborne champion, finished third in Tiger Sportsman Series points in 2006 and won a 100-lap Series event at Canaan in 2005.

Jamy Begor of Mooers Forks, N.Y. is another Airborne driver looking forward to the experience. "It’s a great idea to run a three race series because you can go to a couple different tracks and it fits the budget," he said. Begor was also a winner at Canaan with the former Street Stock Tri-State Series.

ACT Tiger Sportsman Tri-State Series Schedule
Day-Date-Track-Location
Sat., July 11 - Airborne Speedway - Plattsburgh, N.Y.
Sat., Aug. 1 - Canaan Fair Speedway - Canaan, N.H.
Thu., Aug 13 - Thunder Road Int'l Speedbowl - Barre, Vt.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

ACT Champion Laperle to Skip Lee USA Opener

American-Canadian Tour Champion Patrick Laperle will not be present at the series' 2009 season opener at Lee USA (N.H.) Speedway this weekend. Laperle announced in February that he would not defend his ACT Late Model Tour title and confirmed Thursday that he won't be making the five-hour haul from his St-Denis-sur-Richelieu, Que. home to the New Hampshire seacoast this weekend, but will likely be at the next two events at Thunder Road and Airborne Speedway in May.

After winning the Série ACT-Castrol championship in 2007, Laperle ran a part-time schedule with the Québec/Ontario-based tour last year. One of the races he ran was the season opener at Autodrome St-Eustache, which he won. He will not repeat the feat this weekend with the ACT Late Model Tour at Lee.

"(Lee is) two days with practice on Saturday and the race on Sunday, and it's a long trip for us. It would cost us a lot, and it only pays $2,000 to win," said Laperle. "We want to win at Thunder Road for the 50th anniversary, I'm saving my car for Thunder Road. I can't wait to see the new Airborne, plus it's the closest track to home in the U.S., and we'll be at St-Eustache (the Castrol opener on May 23) for sure."

Laperle had originally planned to hit only big-money events on both sides of the border with the ACT Late Model Tour, the Série ACT-Castrol, and the Pro All Stars Series. His Super Late Model car intended for PASS competition, however, was badly wrecked in Florida during New Smyrna Speedway's World Series of Asphalt Stock Car Racing two months ago and is still in need of repair. And like several drivers in the northeast, Laperle has a new Late Model car under construction, designed specifically for the inaugural ACT Invitational event at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in September by short track legend Junior Hanley.

With his plans changing due to the Super Late Model's current state, Laperle said he may return to the Série ACT-Castrol full-time. Plans right now hinge on the level of support his sponsor, Normand Girard of JPN Racing, will commit to.

"I don't know what he wants to do, so I guess we will see," Laperle said of Girard. "If he wants to run the whole season in Québec, I will. We're supposed to be having a meeting about it soon."

(Photo courtesy ACT)

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Juice: Racing, Debates, and a Major Award

Woo! Racing season! The top two full-fendered touring series in the northeast kick off their seasons on Sunday, and if you're not at a race track, you're missing out.

***

It sure was good to take in some practice action at Thunder Road on Tuesday. A bit chilly toward the end, but still real good. And seeing 70 race cars on a Vermont Tuesday night in April is incredible.

Some of the surprises included Joey Doiron of Berwick, Me., who came to T-Road for the first time. "It was a long haul, but I got to skip school, so it was worth it," he said. Doiron, 17, held his own against the big guns, but more importantly, got some good seat time at a new track. "I actually liked it. People tell horror stories about hitting that wall in Turn 4, but I didn't have any problems. It's a neat place." Doiron will split his time in 2009 between the Pro Series (Super Late Models) at his home track, Beech Ridge Motor Speedway, and the American-Canadian Tour.

Other Late Model young guns on the track included Kyle Caron, who at 18 looked like an elder statesman, and 16 year-olds Dylan Smith and Steven Legendre. Smith spun twice, while Legendre left a donut on the door of Brooks Clark's car after some close-quarters action.
We didn't bring a stopwatch, but the word on the street is that Nick Sweet might give the Thursday-night crowd a pretty good go at it this year, according to yesterday's unofficial lap times. Dave Pembroke and Brent Dragon were also at the top of the charts.

A nice-looking field of Tiger Sportsmen, Street Stocks, and Junkyard Warriors was also on hand. If you want our opinion, there may not be a better looking race car in the pits this year than David Allen's #11 Street Stock (right). David Greenslit's #20 car is pretty sharp, too. Check out Leif Tillotson's VLFPhotos.com gallery here.

***

Man, are they getting it done at Airborne. The progress is incredible - look at those banks!

***

Why am I getting into dirt racing this year? Because of pictures like this. That's Orwell driver Tim LaDuc at Albany-Saratoga Speedway at a recent practice. (Dave D'Alessandro/CVRA photo)

***

Thanks to Jason Schoellen and Bill Kimm, there's a raging debate on the message boards of nascar.com about whether or not the Sprint Cup Series should have more night races. In what began as one of the website's 'Head2Head' features, Schoellen was in favor of the idea, citing the fact that "Saturday night races hold true to the racing roots of local short-track events. It's what most drivers, especially those raised on dirt, are used to. Fans could watch the Cup race at night like they would at home and still be back in time for church on Sunday and work on Monday."

Kimm was agin the idea: "When I think NASCAR, I think Sunday afternoons with my dad ... I don't think about racing under the lights until well past midnight. Bristol ... remained the only nighttime event until the early '90s when Richmond and Charlotte added lights. Now, with money the driving force and TV ad time premium in the prime-time hours, we are seeing more and more nighttime events. Do we need more? Absolutely not."

As it is now, there are 12 such races on the schedule including the non-points Budweiser Shootout and Sprint All-Star Race, with nine of them running during primetime on Saturday nights between April 18 (Phoenix, this weekend) and October 17 (Charlotte), or, short track racing season.

It is this writer's opinion (and that of many on the nascar.com forum) that Saturday-night TV races do nothing to help the sport of auto racing as a whole. As Schoellen suggested, it is a proven fact that race fans often stay at home on the loveseat to watch the Sprint Cup Series under the lights, rather than attending a local short track that they regularly visit, like Bear Ridge or Riverside or Airborne. And if Schoellen was really concerned about "holding true" to the roots of short track racing, he would see that and understand that those TV events hurt the short tracks.
Kimm, and a lot of forum participants, touched on the long history of NASCAR running on Sunday afternoons. "Don't get me wrong, I like night races," Kimm wrote. "There's something to be said about seeing the cars sparkle under a fluorescent glow at tracks like Bristol and Daytona. But it should be a special event, not the norm - it takes away the uniqueness."

Poster 'Chevyfan41' agreed, also bringing up the short track thing: "NO! Saturday night is historically local dirt track night. Sunday afternoon is when Cup races should be!"

Followed in the very next post by 'kenhow8': "Yes, they should race as many as possible! The Sunday afternoon races are getting boring since they started racing (the) COT."

(Someone should probably inform 'kenhow8' that the cars, tracks, drivers, and therefore races, won't change whether the sun is out or not.)

One thing that bothers me is the idea posted by many that they grew up on Saturday-night racing at their local short track, and therefore that's where NASCAR belongs. I ask the question: If you enjoy the local track so much, why don't you continue to support it? I mean, TiVo and DVR have been around for a while now, and you can always fall back on the ol' reliable VCR if you need to. Tape the NASCAR race, go out and cheer on some local heroes. That's what I do, anyway.

Whether I'm right or wrong - and I'm probably wrong - the debate is interesting. There are positives to running the night races - increased TV exposure and advertising for the sponsors that support the upper levels of NASCAR, and some of the hosting tracks do see an increase in attendance - but surely as many negatives that affect more than just the top-tier NASCAR teams. Let 'em know what you think.

***

Montréal in 6. That's all I'm saying.

***

The ACT/Ford crate engine test went as well as expected, says Cris Michaud. He and Eric Williams took part in a practice session designed specifically to test the new Ford R&D powerplant on Tuesday afternoon at Thunder Road, to directly compare on-track performance against the exisitng Chevrolet 'spec' engine currently used in ACT racing.

Michaud and Williams raced each other at speed in several situations, including Michaud running in front of and behind Williams, and on both inside and outside lanes. Like his previous test with the engine at White Mountain Motorsports Park, Michaud was pleased with the results.

"Again, the lap times were the same here at Thunder Road as last year," he said. "The horsepower is exactly the same as the Chevy motor on the (dynamometer) sheet, but the torque is a bit different. There is definitely more high-end torque with the Ford, where the Chevy has better low-end power."

Williams said he thought Michaud's car performed as well as it would have with the Chevrolet engine, although he factored Thunder Road itself into the equation.

"It's hard to tell at Thunder Road, Thunder Road's not a motor track, so I wouldn't judge anything from it," Williams said. "I've run here with a plug wire off and run better than I did with it on. I ain't taking much from it."

Williams also thinks Michaud might have been playing a game of possum. "They're playing their cards," he suggested. "You know what I mean? Come on, they didn't start racing yesterday. They're better than they showed, and they were good."

It looks like the true test will be on Sunday at the ACT Late Model Tour opener at Lee USA Speedway on the New Hampshire seacoast. Michaud will be running the Ford engine in a race for the first time.

***

Going quickly back to last week's piece on car counts, we've got some good news to report: The NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour attracted 25 cars for its event last Saturday night at Caraway Speedway in Asheboro, N.C., while the PASS South 'Easter Bunny 150' brought 42 Super Late Models to Hickory (N.C.) Motor Speedway. The WSMT's previous season high had been just 20; the PASS event was only the second race on the series' schedule, but still more-than-doubled it's opening day count.

***

Do you know what that is? Do you? That's a major award. And it's mine. On the fridge. (Nevermind the Lightning McQueen magnet, here, focus.)

What's it for? It's the Pac Man Award.

What's the Pac Man Award? Uh... well, actually, most dodgeballs to the face.

...But it's mine.

***

Okay, race fans, here's your assignment: This weekend, get out and enjoy some racing. It doesn't matter if you go to Lee USA for the ACT race, Speedway 95 for the PASS North race, or if you clear out a track in your hayfield. It's the official beginning of spring!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Williams Unlikely to Defend Thunder Road Title

Eric Williams has won just about everything there is to win at Thunder Road. Milk Bowl, check. Labor Day Classic, check. Governor's Cup, double check. King of the Road, check. There is little left for him to prove, and that may be a good thing. He may not have another shot.

Less than eight months ago, Williams celebrated his first Late Model track championship at the Barre oval and was an American-Canadian Tour winner at White Mountain Motorsports Park in New Hampshire. Now, he faces the reality of sitting idle while his friends and foes bang fenders on summer Thursday nights.

For more than 15 years, the Hyde Park racer has simultaneously invoked the ire and awe of many Thunder Road race fans for his exciting, aggressive style. His infamous "Sea of Red" fan club has riled up thousands of spectators, and although not always popular, have become a fixture at the track. Williams has scores more detractors than supporters, making him Thunder Road's modern-era villain, and therefore, a promotional gold mine. The days of his metal-crunching battles with drivers like Cris Michaud, John Donahue, and Dale Shaw have become part of the track's lore.

And sadly, those days seem to be numbered.

Williams' winning efforts have long been heralded as those of the ultimate low-buck underdog. He landed Cellular One as a sponsor earlier in the decade, easing his own financial responsibilities with operating a Late Model team. When Cellular One changed its identity to Unicel, the company continued to support Williams. But now with telecommunications giant AT&T buying out the more rural Unicel, Williams was left to fend for himself. And in the tough economy the country is facing, he has almost no other support.

"It's a bummer not having sponsors. Unicel sold out, and all our contacts went with them," he said. "We're only going to race, as of right now, part-time. It takes some pretty good financial backing to be able to run. I can't spend that kind of money myself. Not that we had a ton of it (with Unicel), but at least we had enough."

Williams said he would have looked forward to the added attention and prestige of trying to defend his Thunder Road championship in the track's 50th season, but for now will shift his primary focus to helping his son Tucker in his first season of Street Stock racing. In the mean time, he'll stay on the radar by racing occasionally.

"The plan right now - it could change if something comes along - is to just run some big shows. All that (prestige) stuff, I ain't really been thinking about it," he said. "Not to sound blunt, but that's the way it is. We're a small, low-buck outfit. I would love to be able to come and win another (championship) right in a row, but I also would like to see Tucker do well.

"I don't race to prove things, I race because I like to race. I'm glad that I had a good year, if that happens to be my last full-time year, you never know. I'd like to think the economy will turn around. If I hang around at least some, maybe something will come along. I certainly ain't saying I'm all done racing, it's just as of right now I don't have the funds to race full-time."

If Eric Williams doesn't find the funds he needs, he could be done racing forever. And Thunder Road fans - whether they like Williams or not - will see an era draw to a premature close.

(Photo courtesy Thunder Road)

PHOTOS: Thunder Road Practice, Tuesday, April 14

The gates swung open for the first time in 2009 at Thunder Road Int'l Speedbowl in Barre on Tuesday, April 14, and we were there to say hello to spring. By our unofficial count, there were 23 Late Models, 22 Tiger Sportsmen, and a combined 23 Street Stock/Junkyard Warrior cars. All photos by VMM.

Late Model pits

Derrick O'Donnell (#68) of Bradford and Jamy Begor (#19) of Mooers Forks, N.Y. in the Sportsman pits
Street Stocks and Warriors in the pits

American-Canadian Tour Late Models Matt White (#42VT), Eric Chase (#40VT), Cal Poulin (#87), Brent Dragon (#55VT), Chip Grenier (yellow/white), and David Paya (#72VT)

Tiger Sportsman Kevin Godfrey of Wentworth, N.H.

Just because spring is starting to show up doesn't mean winter's totally gone yet... Yeah, that's snow.

Dave Whitcomb's crew gets to work

Shawn Fleury's #31 Sportsman is sporting the new Five Star Chevrolet body

Pete Potvin, III's Late Model

Tony Andrews (#1) and Nick Sweet (#88)
Cal Poulin was a one-man show on Tuesday night

Brooks Clark confers with his crew

A crewman checks the stagger on Grant Folsom's #81

David Paya returned to the track after more than a decade's absence



Young Joey Doiron (#73) made the long haul from Berwick, Me. He was parked near Milton's Scott Payea (#89) and Danville's Steven Legendre (#20)

Late Models at twilight

Donny Yates' Warrior (yellow/blue) vs. Jamie Davis' Street Stock (black/red)

Wayne White, Lacey Wimble, and Nate Sweet watch their drivers



June Dragon and Amy Murray keeping track of Brent Dragon