Sunday, May 31, 2009

Déry Wins at Montmagny, Demers Second

Vermonter likely to compete for Castrol title; Donahue finishes 15th

MONTMAGNY, Qué. -- Jean-François Déry earned his first Série ACT-Castrol victory of the season at Autodrome Montmagny near Québec City on Saturday night, taking the Red Bear 100 after a late-race battle with Donald Theetge and Trampas Demers. Déry and Theetge were engaged in a side-by-side battle with about ten laps remaining when they made contact, shearing Déry's front bumper cover off his car. The caution flag flew quickly after, setting up a final sprint to the finish.

Demers, of South Burlington, made a charge from outside the top-ten at the halfway point to run in contention for the victory. "I was running in 11th on lap 50, but everyone started fading to the back, and my car wasn't fading," Demers said. "I had a bit of a rough race with Patrick Laperle, but I ran great with Karl Allard, and Donald Theetge and the 21 car (Déry) were great to race with. We're real happy. We came up one short, but it was real good."

Déry, of Val-Bélair, Qué., followed Theetge at the front for much of the first half of the race before taking the lead. Despite the damage suffered in the late incident with Theetge, Déry held on to take the victory, the fourth of his Série ACT-Castrol career and second at Montmagny. "The 10 last laps were long, and I was surrounded by veterans," Déry told Québec newspaper Le Soleil. "But today, it is me that is the veteran. I am really happy. My team did exceptional work, and through the whole race I was able to count on an impeccable car."

With the victory, Déry becomes the seventh driver to earn a qualifying berth for the ACT Invitational at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Septmeber. Demers was able to get his Jiffy Mart #85 Chevrolet by Theetge for second place as the laps wound down. Theetge finished third with Allard fourth and Mike Lavoie fifth. Defending series champion Alexandre Gingras finished sixth, one better than Laperle, who won the opening round for the series at Autodrome St-Eustache two weeks ago. Jacques Poulin, Éric St-Gelais, and Patrick Hamel completed the top ten finishers. John Donahue of Graniteville finished 15th in in the National Guard #26 Ford in his first start Castrol of the season.

After a strong start, Demers said that his team will likely expand their Série ACT-Castrol schedule to include the entire season. "We're having a lot of fun, and we're looking forward to everything we've heard about racing at Chaudière next week," he said. "We're working at it and it's been fun, and so far we've hung in there with those guys." Demers' original plan was to race the first four Castrol events before making a decision. He finished sixth in the season opener at St-Eustache.

UNOFFICIAL RESULTS -- Red Bear 100
Série ACT-Castrol -- Autodrome Montmagny, Montmagny, Qué.
Saturday, May 30, 2009

Pos.-Driver-Hometown

1. Jean-François Déry, Val-Bélair, Qué.
2. Trampas Demers, South Burlington
3. Donald Theetge Boishcatel, Qué.
4. Karl Allard, St-Félicien, Qué.
5. Mike Lavoie, Chicoutimi, Qué.
6. Alexandre Gingras, Québec, Qué.
7. Patrick Laperle, St-Denis-sur-Richelieu, Qué.
8. Jacques Poulin, East-Broughton, Qué.
9. Éric St-Gelais, St-Nicolas, Qué.
10. Patrick Hamel, St-Édouard-de-Lotbinière, Qué.
11. Claude Leclerc, Lanoraie, Qué.
12. Valérie Chiasson, Le Gardeur, Qué.
13. Sylvain Métivier, Montréal, Qué.
14. Stéphane Durand, Québec, Qué.
15. John Donahue, Graniteville
16. Yvon Bédard, St-Nicolas, Qué.
17. Dany Ouellet, La Pocatière, Qué.
18. Derek White
19. Sylvain Lacombe, Terrebonne, Qué.
20. Stéphane Descoste, Oka, Qué.
21. Jonathan Desbiens, Lévis, Qué.
22. Étienne Lemay, Leclercville, Qué.
23. David Michaud, Blainvile, Qué.
24. Kevin Roberge, Lévis, Qué.
25. Daniel Descoste, St-Joseph-du-Lac, Qué.
26. Spencer MacPherson, Carleton Place, Ont.
27. Justin Holtom, Ottawa, Ont.
28. Patrick Cliche, Vallée-Jonction, Qué.
29. Pierre-Luc Ouellette
(Photo: Third-place driver Donald Theetge (left), winner Jean-François Déry (center), and runner-up Trampas Demers on the Red Bear 100 podium at Autodrome Montmagny. Stephane Lazare photo)

PHOTOS: Bear Ridge Speedway, May 30, 2009


A photo gallery from Dad's 4 By Tool & Supply Night at Bradford's Bear Ridge Speedway, Saturday, May 30, 2009. All photos by Justin St. Louis/VMM unless otherwise noted. Click here to view album.

Donnelly, Harrington Steal Bear Ridge Wins

Bobby Dragon Wins Special Race

BRADFORD -- Chris Donnelly and Josh Harrington may be two of the top drivers at Bear Ridge Speedway in the early weeks of the season, but each one needed a little good luck on Saturday night. And when that luck presented itself, each was able to capitalize and steal a feature victory.

Sportsman Modified racer Donnelly caught leader Mike Capra as they approached the halfway point of the 30-lap feature, but was unable to overtake Capra despite repeated attempts. Fortunately for Donnelly, heavy lapped traffic at the bottom of the track forced Capra to choose the outside line on lap 15. After a three-lap door-to-door battle, Donnelly used a pick move to scoot between Capra and a lapped car and into the lead. He then pulled away for his second win in three starts on the year.

"I didn't think I was going to be able to run [Capra] down," admitted Piermont, N.H. driver Donnelly. "He got the lead on me and these cars are very even, so it's tough to do. I just kept driving it harder and harder and luckily we got into some lapped traffic."

Donnelly said track position in lapped traffic was his biggest ally. "It's easier to be in second when you're in lapped traffic because you can watch what [the leader] is doing or you can go somewhere else, and that's exactly what I did and it worked out for me. I've been doing this a long time. I'm not going to wait if I see an opening, whether it's behind a lapped car or whatever, I'm going to head down there and take a shot at it and see if it works. Mike hit a little bump and his car pushed a little bit and it worked out for me, I was able to squirt in between them."

Capra, of Alstead, N.H., held on for his second runner-up finish of the season. Wayen Stearns of Thetford Center was third over Gary Siemons and Ryan Avery.

Harrington remained perfect in the Sportsman Coupe division, having won all three features to begin the 2009 season, but his victory was an unlikely one until a late caution period bunched the field for a restart. Outside polesitter Melvin Pierson led from the opening circuit and had a sizeable advantage over Harrington until the yellow flag flew on lap 14 of the 20-lap race. Harrington kept pace with Pierson at the restart and moved inside the leader two laps later, but, like Donnelly in the Modified event, was unable to complete the winning pass without some luck.

As the signal for two laps remaining came out, Pierson slapped the frontstretch wall, which allowed Harrington to drive by underneath him and run away for the win. Pierson finished second, and rookie Jason Horniak passed Mike McGinley to take over third place just moments before Harrington took command. Billy Simmons was fifth.

"I had to be patient with Melvin, but he messed up and I finally got him," said Harrington. "I could barely see it happen, but I knew that he pushed up a bit." Harrington said he didn't think he would have won without the lap-14 caution. "Probably not," he said. "I'm getting lucky this year."

Hall of Fame drivers Beaver and Bobby Dragon and current ACT standout Brent Dragon competed in a special three-car Sportsman Modified race. All three drivers are noted for their success on asphalt tracks rather than dirt surfaces; Brent had never raced on a dirt track before Saturday night.

Bobby Dragon took the victory after the running order was inverted at the halfway mark. Brent Dragon was running in second place until his father, Beaver, gave a shot from behind as the white flag flew and moved past. Bobby Dragon, 63, drove to the win with his 68 year-old brother second and nephew Brent third.

"It was a lot of fun, but it wasn't pretty, I know that," Bobby Dragon joked. "I sure could get into this kind of racing, this was great." Brent Dragon also competed in the night's regular Sportsman Modified feature, finishing tenth.

East Montpelier's Will Hull won a razor-close Limited Late Model feature, denying Dan Eastman of his third victory of the young season. Tom Forward finished in third place; all three led the race at different points. Shane Race and Sean Green completed the top five. Mitch Durkee of Sharon won the Fast Four event after moving underneath leader Kevin Harran with seven laps remaining. Harran finished second, ahead of Andy Johnson, Steve Bell, and Jesse Durkee. Bradford's Tom Placey took his second Hornet division win, beating Bobby Lee Bell and Amanda Gray. Brenda Atherton won the Hornet Queen race.

UNOFFICIAL RESULTS
Bear Ridge Speedway, Bradford, Vt.
Saturday, May 30, 2009

Pos.-Driver-Hometown

Sportsman Modified Feature
1. Chris Donnelly, Piermont, N.H.
2. Mike Capra, Alstead, N.H.
3. Wayne Stearns, Thetford Center
4. Gary Siemons, Orford, N.H.
5. Ryan Avery, Thornton, N.H.
6. Bob Shepard
7. Jack Cook, Moultonboro, N.H.
8. Bryan King, Corinth
9. Jason Gray, East Thetford
10. Brent Dragon, Milton

Sportsman Coupe Feature
1. Josh Harrington, Topsham
2. Melvin Pierson, Topsham
3. Jason Horniak, Bradford
4. Mike McGinley, Barre
5. Billy Simmons, Bradford

Limited Late Model Feature
1. Will Hull, East Montpelier
2. Dan Eastman, Thetford Center
3. Tom Forward, Lyme, N.H.
4. Shane Race, South Strafford
5. Sean Green

Fast Four Feature
1. Mitch Durkee, Sharon
2. Kevin Harran, St. Johnsbury
3. Andy Johnson, Wilder
4. Steve Bell, St. Johnsbury
5. Jesse Durkee, Tunbridge

Hornet Feature
1. Tom Placey, Bradford
2. Bobby Lee Bell, St. Johnsbury
3. Amanda Gray, Thetford

Hornet Queen Feature
1. Brenda Atherton, Fairlee
2. Misty Bell, St. Johnsbury
3. Dawn Woodward

Friday, May 29, 2009

Stewart 'excited' about Governor's Cup

Two-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Tony Stewart is still excited about his upcoming trip to Barre's Thunder Road on June 25 for the CARQUEST Vermont Governor's Cup 150.

Travis Barrett of Green-White-Checker is at Dover, Del. for this weekend's Sprint Cup Series Autism Speaks 400, and spoke with Stewart about the Thunder Road event. Click here to read the story.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Juice: It'll Happen for 'Joey Pole'

-by Justin St. Louis

Seekonk Speedway racer Ryan Vanasse has the right idea. After crashing out of contention for an ACT win at Thunder Road three years ago, Vanasse said that he preferred running up front and then crashing out, over running a whole race and finishing in 20th place.

"We learned so much by running with the front runners," he said. "There's a big difference between running all 150 laps and ending up a lap or two down, or running only 100 laps but running with the lead five all day long."

Hopefully, Joey Polewarczyk can relate to Vanasse's line of thinking and feel good about his progress, but hopefully he's done getting the crashing out of his system. The Hudson, N.H. youngster has repeatedly shown that he has what it takes to be a front-runner, winning ACT Late Model Tour races at Seekonk, Oxford Plains, and Lee USA. He has podium finishes at Kawartha and White Mountain, nearly won the TD Banknorth 250 at Oxford last year, and has led the ACT points at various times in 2008 and 2009. But at Thunder Road, a track he'll race at no less than five times this season, he just hasn't been able to get the job done.

Getting his start there in a Late Model five years ago, Polewarczyk left the track with a mangled race car and -- as he often jokes -- a piece of the concrete 'Widowmaker' wall. He began to figure the place out in 2006, when he set the track record and won a segment of the Milk Bowl, eventually finishing in third place overall. But save for additional pole positions in 2007 and '08, Polewarczyk has little else to show for his eforts at the Barre track.

Sunday, he looked like he had finally shaken the monkey off his back, but spun himself out of the lead on lap 82 of the Mekkelsen RV Memorial Day Classic 100.

"Eighteen laps away from a win here," he said, arms crossed, looking at the ground. "I don't know what it is about this place. When I first got the pole here in '06 and almost won the Milk Bowl, after that night my dad said, 'You know, this is only our second Milk Bowl, it wouldn't have been right for us to win here. We have to earn our dues here.' Ever since then we haven't had the best luck here."

Polewarczyk admitted that the spin was his own fault, that he was simply running too high on the race track and lost control while battling for the win with Dave Pembroke, not unlike another young ACT phenom, Scott Payea, did in last year's Labor Day Classic. Last September, a frustrated Polewarczyk was black-flagged at the Milk Bowl after whacking the slower car of Karl Allard, rather than wait for a hole to open in traffic. The penalty effectively ended his run toward the victory. In January at Toyota Speedway in Irwindale, Calif., he spun out of second place after a self-admitted mistake with two laps to go in the Toyota All-Star Showdown's last-chance qualifying race for the NASCAR Camping World Series.

Polewarczyk said that in his next apperance at Thunder Road -- the CARQUEST Vermont Governor's Cup 150 on June 25 -- he's hoping to finally complete the mission and win. But will the pressure to perform get to him again? If he didn't have enough on his shoulders with NASCAR champion Tony Stewart driving one of his cars and with an ever-increasing Thunder Road fan base expecting results out of their young hero, Polewarczyk -- who finally says goodbye to his teens as he turns 20 years old on Sunday -- is showing signs that he is beginning to get caught up in everything.

"[Stewart] might be driving one of my cars, but he's gonna have to try to get by me to win that race," he said. "I'm pissed off now. I want to win here. I want to win at this place more than anything in the world. I thought I had it today."

It would be a shame if Polewarczyk, who in reality is the only ACT driver on the NASCAR "next big thing" radar right now, pysches himself up too much and out of another possible victory at Thunder Road, or anywhere else for that matter. But when the time comes that he does break through at the track (because it's likely not a matter of 'if' anymore), expect his stock to go up exponentially in both the regional and national development deal markets.

Why make such a bold prediction? Talk to Polewarczyk. Ask him about Thunder Road and look in his eyes, at his body language, as he responds. A win there would do wonders for his confidence, which would be the final step in getting this kid into solid championship contention and helping him make the next big move toward the top of the sport.

And it would be a shame, too, if I'm wrong about all of that. Take a deep breath , 'Joey Pole', and don't get too "pissed off." It's good to have a fire and a passion for something you want so badly, but stay relaxed and race your car, just focus on the lap you're on, not the laps you ran. Forget about lap 82, forget about the Milk Bowls. Remember that when it happens at Thunder Road, it'll happen. Even the great Junior Hanley only got one win there.

It's just sometimes your dues aren't totally paid for a while.

***

I love this picture, because it's so... abnormal. In case you're out of the loop, that's Donald Theetge on the left and Patrick Laperle on the right, and they don't usually get along that well. This photograph was taken in victory lane at the Série ACT-Castrol opener at Autodrome St-Eustache two weeks ago, after the two drivers battled all day long for the victory, which eventually went to Laperle.

The tension between Laperle and Theetge is long-standing, and certainly Québec's biggest rivalry at the moment. Last year, Theetge spun twice off Laperle's front bumper while leading -- the first time during the ACT Late Model Tour event at Airborne Speedway, the second time during the 'Showdown at Chaudière' all-star race at Autdrome Chaudière. Laperle was deemed at fault for the first incident, while Theetge was held responsible for the second. Following the Chaudière mess, Theetge got out of his car and literally ran after Laperle on the track, much to the delight of the Québec City-based -- and pro-Theetge, anti-Laperle -- crowd. The fact that the two were able to get along well enough in front of Laperle's Montréal home crowd at St-Eustache to not wreck each other out of the win is respectable, but how long will it last?

The Série ACT-Castrol heads to Autodrome Montmagny, which is, you guessed it, back in Theetge territory, this Saturday. Guess we'll find out soon enough.

***

Ah, Bear Ridge. All in all, we're still of the opinion that we like the place, but that opinion isn't nearly as sky-high as it was at the rained-out season opener. Here's why: holding an hour-long intermission on a mid-May night in Vermont with double features in unacceptable. Holding an hour-long intermission at any time is unacceptable. The temperature had dropped to the upper 40s by the time I packed my two year-old son up and left for home. If I see that Elvis Presley impersonator again at the track it'll be too soon, because he sang for half of that hour -- to every... single... woman... and... child... there...

The 20-minute parade of race cars -- all of them -- was a total waste of time (and no one told us what was going on over the public address), and the fireworks display during said parade was extremely uncoordinated and unsafe. The coffee-can-sized buckets holding the fireworks that were lined up around the inside edge of the track began to fall over as their fuses were being lighted, but the crew went ahead and lit them up anyway, even as bad things were happening. One explosion shot directly up and into a lighting fixture in Turn 3. One fell over and shot through the windshield of a race car, while another shot into the driver's door of a second one. And then, in the scariest moment, one pointed directly at the crowd, stopped only by the frontstretch wall. and the incline of the hill in front of the grandstands.

The racing was good in all divisions, the food was good, the admission and concession prices are all very family-friendly, but the show itself needs some major work. And putting drivers and fans in danger is absolutely not okay. I'll be back one more time for the Dragon family affair on Saturday, but it's going to be a make-or-break event for me. Especially if there's a fireworks show.

***

AROUND THE REGION:

Time to take a look at the top Vermonters from the past weekend...

ACT Late Model Tour: Dave Pembroke of Middlesex earned his first win in two years on Sunday at Barre's Thunder Road Int'l Speedbowl, taking the Mekkelsen RV Memorial Day Classic 100. Brian Hoar of Williston finished second for his best ACT finish since his last win in September 2000, while Milton's Scott Payea and Northfield's Cris Michaud finished third and fourth, respectively.

Airborne Speedway (Plattsburgh, N.Y.): Castleton driver Mike Bruno picked up his first Modified win of the season on Saturday night, while Brandon's Don Scarborough finished fourth. Todd Stone of Middlebury was 11th in his first Airborne start of the year. Fairfax racer Richie Turner finished third in the Tiger Sportsman event behind Plattsburgh's Robin Wood and Bucko Branham, with Milton's Bill Sawyer tenth. Mike Terry of Grand Isle was the runner-up in the Renegade feature with St. Albans brothers Lance and Dave Rabtoy fourth and fifth.

Albany-Saratoga Speedway (Malta, N.Y.): Dave Camara of Fair Haven could muster only a ninth-place effort in the Modified division on Friday night, though Londonderry's Rob Langevin finished third in the Sportsman feature and his wife, Lori Langevin, finished third in the Pro Street Stocks.

Bear Ridge Speedway (Bradford): Wayne Stearns of Thetford center won the second of two Sportsman Modified features on Saturday night, with Piermont, N.H. driver Chris Donnelly winning the opening race. Josh Harrington of Topsham won both Sportsman Coupe features on the night, with Fairlee's Doug Titus and Bradford's Billy Simmons finishing 2-3 in the first event, and Simmons and Jason Horniak, also of Bradford, going 2-3 in the second race. Thetford Center's Dan Eastman swept both Limited Late Model features. Wilder's Andy Johnson and White River Junction's Josh Sunn split Fast Four features, while Bradford's Tom Placey and Bobby Lee Bell of St. Johnsbury each took a feature win in the Hornet class. Misty Bell of St. Johnsbury won the Hornet Queen race.

Canaan Dirt Speedway (Canaan, N.H.): Thetford Center driver Wayne Stearns finished third in the Modified feature on Friday with East Corinth's Gene Pierson eighth. Dan Eastman's perfect record fell in the Street Stock race as the Thetford Center driver finished second to Tom Forward. Bradford's Tyler Stygles was third. Andy Johnson of Wilder won the Mini Stock feature.

Canaan Fair Speedway (Canaan, N.H.): Saturday's race card was washed out by rain.

Devil's Bowl Speedway (Fair Haven): Tim LaDuc and Cullen Howe split the Chittenden Bank C.J. Twin 50s to open the Devil's Bowl season on Sunday evening. LaDuc, of Orwell, beat Kenny Tremont, Jr. to win the Modified portion of the event, with Middlebury's Todd Stone and Brandon's Vince Quenneville, Jr. in third and fourth. Howe, of South Londonderry, beat Ryan Avery and Jack Gentile for the Budget Sportsman win. Fair Haven veteran Carl Vladyka opened his Pro Street Stock championship defense with a win over Salisbury's Fred Little and Ed Thompson, also of Fair Haven. Mike Clark of Brandon won the Limited feature with Leicester's Jeremy Jones second.

Empire Super Sprints: In a two-night weekend in New York State, Fairfax driver Anthony Cain finished 16th at Fonda Raceway on Saturday and 14th at Utica-Rome Speedway on Sunday. Orwell driver James Hanson failed to qualify at both events.

Monadnock Speedway (Winchester, N.H.): Putney's Dana Shepard finished 14th in the Super Stock race on Satruday night. Joe Rogers of Ludlow was ninth in the Mini Stock race with Whitingham's Ricky Bernard 13th.

PASS North Series: Danville's Steven Legendre finished 12th in the PASS 150 at White Mountain Motorsports Park on Saturday night. Ben Rowe of Turner, Me. was the winner. Kelly Moore of Scarborough, Me. walked away uninjured after a scary crash left his car upside down at the entrance of pit road.

Riverside Speedway (Groveton, N.H.): Derek Ming of Island Pond won the Outlaw Sportsman feature on Saturday with Newport Center's David Ofsuryk third. Michael Smith of St. Johnsbury was fifth in the Super Stock feature. Jesse Switser of West Burke won the Street Stock race, with Derby Line's Brendan Hunt second. Ernie LaPlant of Lyndonville was the Dwarf Car runner-up, Andy Simpson of Lyndon Center finished third in the Cyclone race, Cabot's Johanna Christman won the Angel feature, and Graniteville's Stephen Donahue won the youth division race.

Utica-Rome Speedway (Vernon, N.Y.): John Scarborough of Bomoseen finished 11th in the Sportsman feature on Sunday.

Thunder Road Int'l Speedbowl (Barre): In support action for the ACT Late Model and True Value Modified events on Sunday, North Wolcott's Brendan Moodie held on for his first Tiger Sportsman win of the season, with Joe Steffen of Essex Junction second and Barre's Lance Allen third. Danville's Bruce Melendy won the Street Stock feature over Plainfield's Jason Corliss and Hyde Park rookie Tucker Williams, while North Montpelier's Donny Yates was the Junkyard Warrior winner. David Whitcomb of Elmore won the Street Stock/Junkyard Warrior 'reserve' feature over rookies Travis Hull of Graniteville and Jamie Davis of Wolcott.

True Value Modified Racing Series: Nineteen year-old Steve Masse took an upset career-first victory at Thunder Road on Sunday. Peter Jarvis of Ascutney recovered from a late spin to finish eighth, while brother Dwight Jarvis crashed out on lap 80, finishing 17th.

Twin State Speedway (Claremont, N.H.): Rookie Dola Holland of Ludlow finished fourth in the Late Model feature on Friday with Ascutney's Chris Riendeau sixth and Williston's Rich Lowrey eighth. Ascutney rookie Joey Jarvis finished third in the Modified feature with Windham driver Nathan Kehoe fourth. Mendon's Chris Wilk was the Super Street runner-up with West Hartford's Kris Lyman fifth. Tara Tarbell of Springfieldwas the Strictly Stock winner. Cody Small of Hartland beat North Springfield's Jeremiah Losee and Cavendish driver Robert Leitch to win the Wildcat race. Kaitlin Stone of Jacksonville was second in the Sportsman race.

White Mountain Motorsports Park (North Woodstock, N.H.): Stacy Cahoon of St. Johnsbury finished fifth in the Late Model feature to open the 2009 season at the Park. Stevie Parker of Lyndonville was fifth in the Strictly Stock feature.

This weekend, Friday night has the Albany-Saratoga, Canaan Dirt, and Twin State speedways in action. Saturday will see regular events at Airborne, Bear Ridge, Canaan Fair, Mondanock, Riverside, and White Mountain, as well as the Série ACT-Castrol at Québec's Autodrome Montmagny. Devil's Bowl and Utica-Rome return to action on Sunday.

(Photos: 1. Joey Polewarczyk hasn't had the best luck at Thunder Road, but that should change soon; 2. Série ACT-Castrol runner-up Donald Theetge (left) congratulates winner Patrick Laperle two weeks ago; 3. Empire Super Sprint driver Anthony Cain at Utica-Rome Speedway. Photo 1 by Leif Tilloston, photo 2 by Stephane Lazare, photo 3 by Alan Ward)

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

PHOTOS: Memorial Day Classic


A photo gallery from the 47th Annual Mekkelsen RV Memorial Day Classic at Barre's Thunder Road Int'l Speedbowl, Sunday, May 24, 2009. All photos by Justin St. Louis/VMM unless otherwise noted. Click here to view album.

Memorial Day Classic a Memorable One at Thunder Road

Dave Pembroke may not have won at Barre's Thunder Road on Sunday if he wasn't in the right place on lap 82 of the Mekkelsen RV Memorial Day Classic 100. But he was.

The Middlesex driver was running behind leader Joey Polewarczyk with less than 20 circuits remaning in the ACT Late Model Tour race when Polewarczyk spun his car off the top of the banking in Turn 3, ending his chances for victory. Prior to that, the pair had raced side-by-side at the front of the pack for the majority of the race, with Pembroke in the low groove, never much more than a car length behind.

"I couldn't believe it," Pembroke said of the incident. "I saw the dust kick up a little bit and I watched him go over the top. I was watching to see if he was going to come back down over the bank and catch my quarterpanel. It was a lazy spin. He just dipped [his tires] off there and just couldn't bring it back. It's a fine line out there."

"It was mostly me who lost it," admitted Polewarczyk. "I was just too high and got in the marbles. I did a have a left-rear [tire] going down, but I don't think that had anything to do with me going off the track. It was a good battle, he raced me clean and I was racing him clean, it was just a lot of fun. I was just too high, that's the line I was running."

Pembroke was unsure of whether he would have been able to take the victory if wasn't for the leader's misfortune.

"I don't know. It would have been real interesting to see," said Pembroke. "I could catch him and I could get to him, but once I got inside of him and just being pinched down that little bit, not being able to run up off the corner just evened us right out. I wasn't going to move him, that's just not the way I do it. I guess I was prepared to finish second."

From there, Pembroke was never seriously challenged for the win, and cruised to his second Memorial Day Classic checkers in three years. Unlike his previous win in the event in 2007, this year's victory included an invitation to New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, N.H. for the ACT Invitational in September. He will join Polewarczyk -- who earned his NHMS starting spot by winning at Oxford Plains Speedway on May 17 -- at the race.

"I was not looking forward to having to ask him for a ticket to Loudon," Pembroke laughed. "He would have had two of them. I went through all this in my head out there, I was like, 'Jeez, I'm gonna have to borrow a ticket to get to Loudon.'"

Brian Hoar of Williston posted his best ACT Late Model Tour finish since 2000 finishing in second place. Hoar and Milton racer Scott Payea had a lengthy battle for the position during the closing laps; Payea settled for his third third-place finish of the season and his fourth podium result in five starts. Cris Michaud of Northfield, who qualified through the last-chance 'B' feature, finished fourth, one spot better than Randy Potter. Jean-Paul Cyr, Eric Williams, John Donahue, Joey Becker, and Chip Grenier completed the top ten in order.

***

Masse Breaks Through in Modifieds


Nineteen year-old Steve Masse pulled off a major upset in winning the True Value Modified Racing Series event. Just two weeks ago at Waterford Speedbowl in Connecticut, the Bellingham, Mass. sophomore earned his first-ever top-five finish, then passed the series' reigning champion, Chris Pasteryak, with 13 laps remaining before taking the checkered flag.

One year ago, an inexperienced Masse wrecked his car at Thunder Road on both Saturday and Sunday of the Memorial Day Classic, and was also taken aside by officials at Waterford following a rough race in which he evoked the ire of many competitors and officials, and was essentially advised to not race over his head. Now in 2009, it seems the youngster has learned his lessons, and ironically, the two tracks have proven to be a godsend.

Masse also thinks his turnaround has been due to a combination of experience, attitude, and luck.

"It was just patience, just trying to pick them off one by one," he said. "My crew gave me a really good car, and Brad [LaFontaine] set it up and he really gave me a good car to work with this weekend. It's all about the mindset of just taking it one lap at a time. And I think it's a little bit of not having bad luck this year. To be honest, I think last year I had some bad situations I was in and things didn't turn out like I wanted them to, but this year it's just been one hell of a year."

After his winning pass on lap 87, Masse ran away and hid from the field, stretching out to nearly a third of a track lead over runner-up Rowan Pennink. Three-time TVMRS champion Kirk Alexander finished third with Eddie Dachenhausen and Jack Bateman in tow. Pasteryak faded dramatically over the final laps, finishing ninth.

***

Granite Memorials a Popular Addition to Thunder Road 50th

The addition of the new 'Memorial Park' at Thunder Road -- several Barre-crafted granite memorials honoring past champions and race winners, sprinkled around the track's grounds -- was a very popular attraction during the weekend. The pieces, according Thunder Road promoter Tom Curley during a pre-race address to the crowd, were carved and erected in a matter of about five days by local granite workers, and were as much a tribute the Barre community's heritage in the stonecarving industry as they were to the drivers they honor.

Thunder Road has operated primarily on Thursday nights for 50 years for one main reason: most of the local granite sheds paid their employees on Thursday afternoons in 1960, and track owner Ken Squier wanted to offer the workers and their families cheap entertainment while there was money to spend.

***

Tiger Sportsmen Put on a Show

Thunder Road's famed NAPA Tiger Sportsman division hadn't seen a caution flag in feature action since September 2008. That changed in a big way on lap 14 Sunday, as nearly half of the field piled up in Turn 1, including two-time champion Shawn Fleury, who slammed the temporary wall at the top of the track. Another pileup started when Mark Barnier and Tommy Therrien cleaned each other out three laps later, taking four more cars with them. The final caution came on lap 30 when Pete Ainsworth's car, which was involved the Barnier-Therrien scrum, overheated and spun in Turn 1.

The resulting restart set up an exciting showdown for the win between Brendan Moodie, Lance Allen, and Joe Steffen; Moodie had led nearly the entire distance, with Allen and Steffen running door-to-door inches apart on Moodie's rear bumper. As the green flag flew on lap 30, Allen drew even outside Moodie's car and nosed ahead to lead one circuit before Moodie regained control. Steffen nipped Allen for the runner-up spot, and the two were followed closely by Bobby Therrien, Cody Blake, Jeff French, and Derrick O'Donnell.

***

Street/Warrior Class Continues to Entertain

In the pit area grandstands, countless former drivers were overheard saying "I wish I still had a car," while watching the Street Stock/Junkyard Warrior main event and 'reserve' features on Sunday afternoon.

The combination of the two four-cylinder divisions this season has been one of frustration for some of the current competitors, but has quickly become a favorite of fans and former racers -- chiefly those that raced Street Stocks in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Fun-to-watch crashes and wild three- and four-wide racing familiar to that time period have made a return to the track, thanks in no small part to the disparity in experience between the 'haves' and the 'have-nots', and also no doubt to the sheer number of competitors; 56 cars competed on Sunday in the class.

And so far, the newbies have outdone the veterans: young Bruce Melendy scored the Street Stock victory in the main event, with defending champion Jason Corliss a close second. The opening day winner, 17 year-old rookie Tucker Williams, finished in third place. Donny Yates was the Junkyard Warrior winner, finishing 17th out of 30 starters in the main event. In the 'reserve' feature for non-qualified cars, David Whitcomb was the winner with rookies Travis Hull and Jamie Davis second and third, respectively.


(Photos: 1. Dave Pembroke crosses the finish line to win the Memorial Day Classic in front of a packed house; 2. True Value Modified Racing Series winner Steve Masse; 3. Thunder Road's new "Kings of the Road" monument; 4. Tiger Sportsmen Pete Ainsworth (80), Dave Finck (37), and Brian Delphia (55) get together as Bobby Therrien (4), Tim Potter (28), and Jeff French (06) escape; 5. Warrior driver Fred Schroeder (red and yellow) and Street Stocker Vern Woodard (73) crash in Turn 2 as Mike Gay (03) and Dan Lathrop (6) scoot by. Photo 1 by Eric LaFleche/VLFPhotos.com; Photos 2, 4, 5 by Leif Tillotson; Photo 3 by Justin St. Louis/VMM)

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Harrington, Eastman Double Up at Bear Ridge

Donnelly, Stearns Take Modified Wins

BRADFORD -- Bear Ridge Speedway officially opened its 2009 season on Saturday night with Chris Donnelly and Wayne Stearns splitting main event victories in the headline Sportsman Modified class, but it was Josh Harrington and Dan Eastman serving notice that they'll be the men to beat at the Bradford dirt track this year. Harrington and Eastman each swept a pair of feature events to open the season in the Sportsman Coupe and Limited Late Model divisions, respectively.

Harrington's first win came in the postponed KDD NAPA Auto Parts event, which was rained out after the first of two 20-lap segments was completed last week. After winning the first segment of the Monza-style race a week ago, Harrington finished second behind Doug Titus in the second round on Saturday night for a total low score of three points. Titus, who finished third in the first segment, was awarded second place overall with four points. Billy Simmons, making his first start in a Sportsman Coupe, finished third overall after segment finishes of fifth and fourth.

The second win for Harrington came in the regularly scheduled Wicked Racing Products/Snap-On Tools feature, where the Topsham driver came from eighth starting position to take the lead on lap four, then cruised to an easy victory over Simmons. Jason Horniak, Harrington's teammate, finished third over Bryan King and Titus.

Thetford Center driver Eastman also had an easy time of it in the Limited Late Models, winning both segments of the opening night feature as well as dominating the regular event. Tom Forward was the runner-up in both features. Frank Thurston finished third overall in the make-up race, while Jeremy Hodge completed the podium finishers in the regular event.

Things were a bit more intense in Sportsman Modified action, as a field of twelve cars took to the track. With both segments of last week's opener lost to rain, the division ran 70 green-flag laps in feature event action on Saturday night. Mike Capra of Alstead, N.H. outraced Thetford Center's Stearns and Piermont, N.H. driver Donnelly to take the first 20-lap segment, but could muster only fifth in the second round. Donnelly, however, marched through the field in the second leg to battle three-wide for the lead with Jason Gray and Gary Siemons before taking over. He held on to win the segment over Dan Douville and Siemons. When the scores were tallied, Donnelly's low score of four points was enough to beat Douville and Capra (six points each) for the overall victory. Unofficially, Siemons finished fourth overall ahead of Stearns.

Stearns was in better form in the regular 30-lap feature, setting a blistering pace early in the going from his outside pole starting position. After a lap 2 caution for Jeremy Huntoon's stalled car, Stearns opened up to a lead of more than a full straightaway, leaving the focus on a furious battle for second place. Jack Cook, Siemons, Gray, and Donnelly raced two- and three-wide at several points for the position before Siemons, of Orford, N.H., finally took the spot from Cook on lap 22. After passing Gray a few laps earlier, Donnelly came into contact with Cook before taking third place away moments after Siemons passed Cook. Cook spun his car in Turn 2 with two laps remaining to bring out the second and final caution flag, but none of the top six positions changed during the green-white-checker sprint to the finish. Following Stearns, Siemons, and Donnelly across the line were Capra, Gray, and Bob Shepard. Completing the unofficial top ten were Huntoon, King, Cook, and Douville.

Andy Johnson of Wilder won both segments of the Fast Four make-up feature to post the overall win over Kevin Harran and Ryan Dutton, while St. Johnsbury's Josh Sunn won a wild nightcap for the division of Johnson and Mitch Durkee. Dutton and Steve Bell took each other out of podium contention in the final corner, allowing Johnson and Durkee to move in for the finish. Tom Placey of Bradford won the first Hornet division feature while the second feature results were unavailable. Misty Bell won the Hornet Queen event.

UNOFFICIAL RESULTS
Bear Ridge Speedway, Bradford, Vt.
Saturday, May 23, 2009

Pos.-Driver-Hometown

Sportsman Modified Feature #1
1. Chris Donnelly, Piermont, N.H.
2. Dan Douville, Bridgewater, N.H.
3. Mike Capra, Alstead, N.H.

Sportsman Modified Feature #2
1. Wayne Stearns, Thetford Center
2. Gary Siemons, Orford, N.H.
3. Chris Donnelly, Piermont, N.H.

Sportsman Coupe Feature #1
1. Josh Harrington, Thetford Center
2. Doug Titus, Fairlee
3. Billy Simmons, Bradford

Sportsman Coupe Feature #2
1. Josh Harrington, Thetford Center
2. Billy Simmons, Bradford
3. Jason Horniak, Bradford

Limited Late Model Feature #1
1. Dan Eastman, Thetford Center
2. Tom Forward, Lyme, N.H.
3. Frank Thurston, Vershire

Limited Late Model Feature #2
1. Dan Eastman, Thetford Center
2. Tom Forward, Lyme, N.H.
3. Jeremy Hodge, Bradford

Fast Four Feature #1
1. Andy Johnson, Wilder
2. Kevin Harran, St. Johnsbury
3. Ryan Dutton, Bradford

Fast Four Feature #2
1. Josh Sunn, St. Johnsbury
2. Andy Johnson, Wilder
3. Mitch Durkee, Sharon

Hornet Feature #1
1. Tom Placey, Bradford
2. Carl Sweet, East Corinth
3. Amanda Gray, East Thetford

Hornet Feature #2
Results not available

Hornet Queen Feature
1. Misty Bell, St. Johnsbury

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Juice: The Waiting is the Hardest Part

-by Justin St. Louis

I'm totally stealing this timeline idea from Shawn Courchesne, but they say imitation is the most sincere form of flattery, right? This is how last Saturday went...

3:04am -- Get home from work.

6:52am -- (eyes closed) Why so loud? What is pounding? I know I didn't go out last night, but why do I feel hung ov... Wait, what is this thing on me? For the love of humanity, what is on my head this early in the morni... Oh, it's a child. My child. Right. "Hi, Daddy," says Landon. "Buddy.... goooo... plaaa ova derrrr..." I reply.

6:58am -- (eyes still closed) Okay, okay, I'm up. And the kid rodeo begins.

7:22am -- Donuts. For everyone.

7:31am -- That couch looks awful good right now.

7:31:30am -- No, no, no, got lots to do today. Let's go check the radar, it's been raining since 1981, maybe it'll let up in time for the races tonight.

7:35am -- Not a chance. Who wants to watch 'Pinocchio'?

7:38am -- That did the trick. (pats self on back)

7:52am -- Pretty sure I'm gonna doze off here, thanks in no small part to the dulcet tones of one Jiminy Cricket.

9:02am -- (re-opening eyes) Movie must be over, because I hear pounding, running, falling, and crashing again.

9:07am -- Weather looks worse. How is that even possible? And the Bear Ridge Speedway website has no updates yet.

9:08am -- Rodeo II.

9:31am -- We interrupt the madness to bring you 'Imagination Movers'.

9:42am -- That Uncle Knit Knots is so boring.

9:56am -- Before this is over, I'm checking the weather.

9:57am -- Why do I torture myself this way?

10:00:02am -- And we're back. Round 3.

10:45am -- Daddy's gotta get in the shower and get ready for a funeral. Enter Papa, Neenie, and a trip to pick up some cousins.

11:27am -- More weather. More disappointment. And no updates from the track yet.

11:29am -- On the road to the gathering.

2:15pm -- That was actually the most fun I've ever had at a funeral. Pretty sure I'd never heard 400 people simultaneously quoting Groucho Marx before: "Last night I shot an elephant in my pajamas. What he was doing in my pajamas, I'll never know."

2:17pm -- Some friends and I decide to meet for some lunch.

2:18pm -- Where is my computer? Why don't I have a Blackberry? Oh, right, it's Vermont. That's it, I'm calling the track.

2:21pm -- "What do you mean it's been raining in Burlington all day?"

2:34pm -- Welcome to Moe's!

2:36pm -- Have to inform my friends that, no, I'm sorry, but I can't go out tonight. I've got a rainout to attend on the other side of the state.

2:55pm -- What they say is true, the Homewrecker really is 20 ounces of pure love.

2:57pm -- And pure heartburn.

3:20pm -- After the hugs and the making of future plans, I'm off to the car.

3:24pm -- "Nope, the sun is still out here in Bradford." You've got to be freaking kidding me.

3:52pm -- I arrive home to find not one, not two, but four kids eight years old or under playing outside. And of course, mine is the one with no shoes, running in the gravel driveway. With my tie on.

3:56pm -- Flip flops with the straps in the back now firmly secured to feet of said yard ape.

4:00pm -- Watching toddlers play basketball is, surprisingly, not much different than watching my adult friends and I doing the same thing. AAAIIIRRRRBAAALLLL.

4:02pm -- Well, I've got to figure out if I'm headed east for this washout or not. Weather looks the same. So... yes?

4:09pm -- Back to the running around.

4:14pm -- You know... are flip flops such a good idea?

4:14:07pm -- And down he goes! Like father, like son, I guess.

4:14:30pm -- This is actually quite the dinger. Caution on the speedway. The cleanup is going to take a minute. Safety crew attending to crash scene.

4:18pm -- Awful hard to clean the dirt out of a knee scrape when you're kicking me in the face and screaming, Landon. Pfff... two year olds. Such whiners.

4:26pm -- A tube of neosporin and two giant Band-Aids later, we've still got one unhappy kid.

4:26:30pm -- Wow, I should have left a half hour ago.

5:00pm -- After lots of hugging, tear-wiping, tickling, story-reading, and you're-okaying, Daddy checks the weather again.

5:02pm -- This is friggin killing me. It's now raining at Vermont Motorsports Magazine headquarters. Hard. Raindrops the size of Chihuahuas. But Bear Ridge Speedway is still racing tonight.

5:06pm -- One last hug for Junior, and I'm headed out.

5:20pm -- (at 45mph on I-89 in Middlesex/Montpelier because the rain is so bad my windshield wipers can't keep up) "Really. You're still racing tonight. Okay."

5:31pm -- Quick stop at the ATM in Barre, and I'm soaked from walking from my car to the bank. It's literally on the other side of the street, maybe 100 feet from where I parked.

5:45pm -- I nearly miss my turn off Route 302 to Route 25 because... oh, I probably don't need to tell you... it's raining.

5:47pm -- What, am I in the Twilight Zone here? There's no rain. But... it was just... what?

6:01pm -- Well, I missed post time, but at least I'm in Bradford.

6:05pm -- What is this line of traffic? I don't remember Bear Ridge being this popular.

6:07pm -- Drive-up ticket booth? Really? I better get a sundae, too. Extra sprinkles, please.

6:16pm -- Still waiting.

6:20pm -- Finally I'm in. No ice cream, but they gave me a free 50/50 ticket with my admission. And hey... where is everyone? What was the line I just waited in?

6:21pm -- Turns out, everyone was running late, and I haven't missed a lap of racing yet.

6:23pm -- I wonder how my little knee scraper is.

6:23:10pm -- Never mind, no cell service out here. Guess I forgot where I was.

6:24pm -- I'm still amazed at the sparse crowd versus the line of traffic I was in. Must be I wasn't the only one that rode alone.

6:25pm -- First race comes out. Ten pace laps later, we're under green at Bear Ridge Speedway.

6:26pm -- These Hornet racers are insane.

6:36pm -- In a car that looks way too nice to race on dirt, Tom Placey wins ahead of Karl Sheldon, whose car, um, doesn't.

6:36:30pm -- I totally dig the fact that I'm at a dirt track in the most ruralestest...est? area of rural Vermont, but the track's official radio station partner has a booth set up 20 feet behind me and they're playing a Death Cab For Cutie song. Just a total clashing of worlds right there. Love it.

6:37pm -- Late Models return to Bear Ridge. Five of them. And hey, that sky is looking awfully dark.

6:45pm -- Dan Eastman, a guy I recognize from not only his dirt success, but his respectable Tiger season at Thunder Road last year, spanks 'em. Oddly, I find myself having a good time watching five cars -- none of which are competitive equals -- go around this little race track.

6:46pm -- Eight Sportsman Coupes come out, and I already know that Josh Harrington is going to win.

6:54pm -- Twenty laps later, I was right. Bryan King, who has been driving car #X since I was a kid, finishes fourth. In my one and only dirt race, I won a three-car 'celebrity' race (LOL) at Canaan in King's car. Proudest moment of my life. Or at least, of that week.

6:55pm -- Another five-car race. These are the Fast Fours, I guess. And I'm starting get a couple little raindrops on my notepad.

7:05pm -- I don't care how many cars there were out there, or that they're four-cylinder cars (looking at you, TB), that was entertaining. The guy that won, Andy Johnson (another name I recognize from Thunder Road in the '90s), kinda buried 'em, but the battle for second was a two- or three-wide deal through the whole race, and it wasn't over until they hit the finish line. If this division had ten more cars, we'd really be in for something. Or maybe they got lucky this one time.

7:06pm -- A dozen Modifieds come out onto the track, which is a pretty good number considering the fact that there were only six of them last year.

7:07pm -- Uh-oh. It's started. But, actually, what's the deal here? Do dirt tracks rain out? You can't dry mud, right?

7:10pm -- I guess they do. The Mods go back to the pits.

7:15pm -- Hey, there's Alan Ward, whose photography work you've enjoyed on this site.

7:35pm -- Good talk, but Al's been missing his wife for the last half hour, so he's off to find her. I'm sure she's in the car, dry, like a rational person would be.

7:36pm -- Speaking of irrational, there's Dale Buddy, my favorite Warrior racer at Thunder Road. It's still raining, but we're already wet so let's stay outside and talk until they pull the plug on this thing.

7:45pm -- Dude, they're pulling 50/50 tickets... TEN of them.

7:48pm -- "...and for prize number ten, ticket number 023986." Yahtzee!

7:49pm -- Upon redeeming my ticket, I receive a sa-weet NAPA t-shirt and hat, thanks to the night's sponsors. And the ladies in the prize booth are selling copies of the Bear Ridge 35th Anniversary book for a buck apiece, so I pick one up.

7:49:30pm -- Wait... 35th Anniversary? Isn't this the track's 42nd season? Must have been hot sellers.

7:50pm -- While headed to the car to drop off my swag, I decide I've had enough of the rain, so I park myself inside and open this book. It's pretty awesome, actually, especially for a racing history nerd like me.

8:01pm -- I head back inside the gate to see what's up, and just as I get there, here comes another T-Road buddy, T.J. Ingerson, who informs me that the plug has indeed been pulled. Not sure how I missed that one... oh, right, I was in the car. With the windows up. Idiot.

8:05pm -- I'm back on the road, headed home.

9:15pm -- I'm home, and I'm wet, cold, hungry, and tired, but somehow thoroughly satisfied with my first trip to Bear Ridge Speedway in five years. I'll be back.


***

AROUND THE REGION:

Time to take a look at the top Vermonters from the past weekend...

ACT Late Model Tour: John Donahue of Graniteville posted a season-best runner-up finish behind winner Joey Polewarczyk in the New England Dodge Dealers 150 at Oxford Plains (Me.) Speedway on Sunday. Eric Williams of Hyde Park finished fifth, with Milton's Scott Dragon seventh in his first start of the season.

Airborne Speedway (Plattsburgh, N.Y.): Airborne Speedway's Saturday night program was rained out.

Albany-Saratoga Speedway (Malta, N.Y.): Dave Camara of Fair Haven finished fifth in the Modified division on Friday night, with Middlebury's Todd Stone eighth. Londonderry's Rob Langevin was seventh in the Sportsman feature. Cullen Howe of South Londonderry was the runner-up in the regularly-scheduled Budget Sportsman race, while Manchester's Frank Hoard, III finished sixth in the make-up feature from May 8. In the Pro Street Stocks, Fair Haven driver Ed Thompson was the runner-up in the regular event with Benson's Jeff Washburn fourth in the make-up feature.

Bear Ridge Speedway (Bradford): Rains washed six of the ten features out at Bear Ridge Speedway's season opener on Saturday. Prior to the weather, Josh Harrington of Topsham beat Melvin Pierson of East Corinth in the Sportsman Coupes, while Dan Eastman of Thetford Center won the Limited Late Model race. Andy Johnson of Wilder won the Fast Four event, with Bradford's Tom Placey winning the Hornet race.

Canaan Dirt Speedway (Canaan, N.H.): Thetford Center driver Wayne Stearns finished second in the Modified feature behind winner Randy Howe on Friday. Dan Eastman won the Street Stock event over East Montpelier's Will Hull. Josh Sunn of White River Junction was third in the Mini Stock race. Si Allen of West Windsor finished fourth in the SCONE 360 Sprint Car feature.

Devil's Bowl Speedway (Fair Haven): The season opener at Devil's Bowl Speedway was cancelled due to cold weather on Sunday.

Monadnock Speedway (Winchester, N.H.): Putney's Dana Shepard finished 12th in the Super Stock race on Satruday night, while Whitingham's Ricky Bernard matched that result in the Mini Stocks.

Riverside Speedway (Groveton, N.H.): At the season opener on Sunday, Dwayne Lanphear of Morrisville finished third in the Late Model feature ahead of St. Johnsbury's Bob Ailes, Sr. Concord's Denny Degreenia was the runner-up in the Super Stock feature with St. Johnsbury's Michael Smith fifth. Jesse Swister of West Burke won the Street Stock race with Brendan Hunt of Derby Line second and Lyndonville's Tyler Therrien third. Ernie Laplant of Lyndonville was fourth in the Dwarf Car race. Anthony Mason of Orleans and Dale Bickford of Lyndonville finished 2-3 in the Cyclones.

Série ACT-Castrol: South Burlington's Trampas Demers finished sixth in the Série ACT-Castrol season opener at Autodrome St-Eustache near Montréal on Sunday. Patrick Laperle was the winner after a long battle with arch rival Donald Theetge.

Twin State Speedway (Claremont, N.H.): Guy Caron finally lost in the Late Models, finishing second to Aaron Fellows on Friday; Ascutney's Chris Riendeau finished fifth. Double-dippers Caron and Fellows swapped their finishing spots in the Modified race, though, as Caron took his first win in the division this year; rookie Joey Jarvis of Ascutney was fourth. Mendon's Chris Wilk was back in form in the Super Streets, taking the win, while Tara Tarbell of Springfield finished third in the Strictly Stock feature. Cavendish driver Robert Leitch won the Wildcat race over North Springfield's Jeremiah Losee and Cody Small of Hartland.

This weekend, Thunder Road in Barre hosts the Mekkelsen RV Memorial Day Classic, with 100-lap features for both the ACT Late Model Tour and the True Value Modified Racing Series. Local division qualifying is on Saturday, with features on Sunday. Bradford's Bear Ridge Speedway presents a regular card of racing on Saturday night, plus make-up features from last weekend's abbreviated program. Devil's Bowl Speedway in Fair Haven will try again with its season opener on Sunday, with the Chittenden Bank C.J. Twin 50s for Modifieds and Budget Sportsmen.

(Photos: 1. The line to get at Bear Ridge; 2. "Humor is reason gone mad,"; 3. Good times; 4. Ridiculous times; 5. A fantasticly entertaining race; 6. A nice piece of memorabilia. Photos 1, 3, 6 by Justin St. Louis/VMM; Photo 4 by Speed51.com; Photo 5 by Alan Ward.)

Monday, May 18, 2009

Dragon Family Headed to Bear Ridge

BRADFORD -- The historic Bear Ridge Speedway dirt track will pay homage to a famous Vermont racing family in two weeks. But it's not necessarily a dirt track family.

Legendary brothers Bobby and Harmon "Beaver" Dragon, along with Beaver's son, Brent, will compete in a special event on Saturday, May 30 at the track in Modified cars. The Milton family rose to national prominence in the barnstorming days of the early 1970s NASCAR Late Model Sportsman circuit, as Beaver and Bobby won countless races and championships across the northeastern United States and Canada, and participated in several of the country's biggest events, including Daytona Int'l Speedway and Charlotte Motor Speedway. Much of their success came at asphalt short tracks like Thunder Road in Barre and the former Catamount Stadium in their hometown.

Brent Dragon has been a regional star for more than 20 years, and is a top driver on the ACT Late Model Tour. Bobby, 63, is still a part-time competitor with ACT, while Beaver, now retired from driving at age 68, serves on the Motor Vehicle Racing Comission for the State of Vermont. Both are members of the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame.

Brent Dragon said he is a bit skeptical, but excited to try the dirt. "It's something I've never done before in my life," he laughed, "and of course Dad and Bobby raced a lot of dirt in their early days, so I'm hoping I don't look too bad out there." Brent also said that his uncle is particularly looking forward to the event. "Bobby's very excited to race there. He has kept track of all of his races, and Bear Ridge is one the only tracks around here that he'd never raced at."

If all goes well in the special race, Brent Dragon is scheduled to compete in the night's regular Modified feature as well. He said he hopes his experience at Bear Ridge Speedway is better than that of another famous asphalt short tracker that tried the dirt.

"One night about four years ago, we all went to Lebanon Valley [in New York] to watch the Modifieds, and they announced that Ted Christopher was there to race that night," Brent Dragon remembered. "And didn't he sail off into Turn 1 and cause a huge wreck on the first lap.

"I'll try not to do that."

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Polewarczyk Wins at Oxford

OXFORD, ME. -- Joey Polewarczyk, Jr., just shy of his 20th birthday, has earned himself a trip to New Hampshire Motor Speedway in September. Polewarczyk, of Hudson, N.H., won the ACT Late Model Tour's New England Dodge Dealers 150 at Oxford Plains Speedway in Maine on Sunday afternoon, outrunning Graniteville's John Donahue and former OPS champion Tim Brackett of Buckfield, Me., and securing a starting spot for the ACT Invitational at NHMS.

Polewarczyk made his debut at the 1-mile NHMS superspeedway in Loudon, N.H. last fall, finishing sixth in a NASCAR Camping World Series East event.

Unofficially, Shawn Knight of Oxford, Me. finished fourth in the New England Dodge Dealers 150 ahead of Hyde Park's Eric Williams.

Patrick Laperle clinched an ACT Invitational starting spot earlier in the day by winning the Serie ACT-Castrol season opener at Autodrome St-Eustache in Quebec.

Laperle Wins Castrol Opener

ST-EUSTACHE, QUE. -- Patrick Laperle won the 2009 Serie ACT-Castrol season opener at Autodrome St-Eustache near Montreal on Sunday. The St-Denis-sur-Richelieu, Que. driver, who won the 2007 Castrol championship and 2008 ACT Late Model Tour title, won the caution-filled 100-lap event over fellow former Castrol champion Donald Theetge of Boischatel, Que. and young Brandon Watson of Stayner, Ont. Unofficially, Ontarian Pete Vanderwyst and Quebec racer Martin Lacombe completed the top five. The St-Eustache 100 was postponed one day by rain.

Laperle's victory gives him a guaranteed starting berth for the inaugural ACT Invitational at the 1-mile New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, N.H. this September. Laperle is the first Canadian to qualify for the race, joining Brad Leighton of Center Harbor, N.H., Eric Williams of Hyde Park, and Milton's Scott Payea. The fifth qualifier will be decided later today at Maine's Oxford Plains Speedway with the completion of the ACT Late Model Tour's New England Dodge Dealers 150.

Devil's Bowl "Weathered" Out Sunday

FAIR HAVEN -- Officials from the Champlain Valley Racing Association have postponed the season opener at Devil's Bowl Speedway on Sunday night due to a forecast calling for temperatures in the low 30s. Practice sessions will be held instead, with regular admission rates. Visit http://www.cvra.com/ for more details.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

VIDEO: Bear Ridge Speedway

Most of Saturday's racing action was washed out by rains, but Bear Ridge Speedway in Bradford was able to complete a portion of its opening night program. Here, Topsham driver Josh Harrington (#71) dominates the first round of Sportsman Coupe racing.

video

In the three other events completed at Bear Ridge before rains moved in, winners were Dan Eastman of Thetford Center (Limited Late Model), Andy Johnson of Wilder (Fast Four), and Bradford's Tom Placey (Hornet). A bit further away, Johnny Clark of Hallowell, Me. won an exciting PASS North event Unity Raceway. Scott Chubbuck finished second with Randy Turner third; Danville's Steven Legendre finished 13th, unofficially.

Included among the weather-related casualties were the season openers for Riverside Speedway in Groveton, N.H. and the Série ACT-Castrol at Autodrome St-Eustache near Montréal, as well as Airborne Speedway's weekly program in Plattsburgh, N.Y.

The ACT cars will be in action on both sides of the border Sunday, as the Série ACT-Castrol will run at 12:00 noon and the ACT Late Model Tour will race as scheduled at Oxford Plains Speedway in Maine at 2:00pm. Riverside has moved its program to Sunday at 2:00pm, while Airborne will not make up its event; Bear Ridge management made no announcement at the time the race card was stopped.

Devil's Bowl Speedway in Fair Haven opens its 2009 campaign on Sunday at 6:45pm.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The Juice: I Hope There's a Driver Roster

-by Justin St. Louis

This weekend, Vermont Motorsports Magazine heads to waters unfamiliar to this asphalt junkie. Like the guppie in a pool of sharks. Like the lone Junkyard Warrior in a Street Stock feature. Yep, I'm going dirt racing.

It's off to beautiful Bradford and the rustic Bear Ridge Speedway dirt on Saturday night for the track's season opener. Now, I feel like The Ridge might be a good way for me to ease into this whole dirt racing thing, because I've been there as recently as five years ago, and I feel like I've done a fair-to-middlin' job of keeping up with the weekly happenings there over the last few seasons. What's particularly odd to me, though, is that I spent a huge amount of my childhood and early teens growing up in West Newbury, maybe five or ten miles from the track, and I've been there maybe -- maybe -- five times in my life.

I can think of going once or twice as a kid, including the night my father "raced" his pickup in a three-lap Run-What-You-Brung fiasco that bounced that poor sack of bolts around so bad that the battery literally fell out of the thing. I'm talking about the truck, of course. I went one night on a whim in 2001 with a Street Stock buddy from Thunder Road, Kerry Henry, when we brought his car over just for fun. I pretended to be the crew chief, and we earned ourselves a Top 10 that night, thank you very much. My last trek over there was for the opener in 2004, and other than the 35-degree temperatures, I remember thoroughly enjoying my evening there. Good pizza, as I recall. I'm looking forward to returning on a regular basis this season and getting to know one of Vermont's best-kept secrets a little better.

Sunday, it's down Route 7 for what feels like an eternity from the Burlington area, to Fair Haven and the glitz and glam of the 1/2-mile Devil's Bowl Speedway. This is where I get totally lost. I went to Devil's Bowl once. I was five years old. It was 19-eighty-freakin'-eight. Other than driving by it on the way to Albany, N.Y. for the NCAA American East basketball tourney in March, I haven't seen the place in a decade. And I haven't been nearly as diligent, until the last year or so, at keeping up with Devil's Bowl and the CVRA. So this'll be fun.

Luckily, I've been extended an invite into the Todd Stone pit for, as it was put to me, the "nickel tour." But see, I know Todd Stone and a couple of his crew guys from their ACT days, so that should help. Plus, I hear they won the Devil's Bowl title last year, so who better to help me get familiar with the place than them?

I'll be relying heavily on instinct, help, and driver rosters this weekend, so bear with me. And please keep in mind that if the word "cushion" is used 162 times too many, it's just because, really, I've never had the chance to use the word before and I just want to sound like I know what I'm talking about.

Rest assured, I don't.

***

For the first time on Sunday, maybe in his career, Scott Payea showed an absolute killer instinct. Since his debut in a Late Model in 2005, and especially for the last two years, it seems like more often than not, Payea has had the best car on the track for the first 50 or 75 or 100 laps and spends a lot of time out front leading the race, only to finish second or third or sixth. Sunday at Airborne Speedway's ACT Spring Green 100, it was completely different.

Payea started ninth and easily worked his way up through the field, then waited like a spider in the web for Randy Potter and Brad Leighton to dispose of themselves. For 90 laps, the show was entirely Leighton-Potter, Potter-Leighton.

But then with ten laps to go, the fly begins to buzz around the web: Leighton fades... Payea moves up.

At lap 92, a slight breeze begins to blow, and the fly is off course: Randy Potter begins to show signs that he'd used his car up... the eight-legged Payea inches closer.

At lap 94, that's it! The fly is in the web! Potter washes up the track in Turn 2 and Payea pounces!

By lap 95, it's over. Potter's back to second, and there was Scott Payea, wrapping up that juicy fly in a coccoon, ready to have some Spring Green dinner.

Listen, Payea is as good as it gets, but for him, that exhibition on Sunday was a totally different kind of good. He's won races, but until Sunday it's always been in the Cale Yarborough style -- drive hard every lap and bury them all. Here is a breakdown of his ACT career win tally:

1. Thunder Road, May 2007: Payea leads the final 59 laps going away for his first win.
2. White Mountain, August 2007: Payea battles Ben Rowe throughout the race and leads 27 laps early, but inherits the lead as Rowe loses a tire with 18 laps to go.
3. Thunder Road, May 2008: Payea leads three times for a total of 84 laps, including the final 41, save for three tours after a lap-127 restart when Dave Pembroke noses ahead.
4. Waterford, June 2008: After a five-lap duel at halfway with Bruce Thomas, Payea leads the final 46 circuits and cruises to an easy win.

And now, after being up front at Lee and Thunder Road this year, only to finish third in both races...

5. Airborne, May 2009: Payea waits, and waits, and waits for the leaders to make a mistake. When they do, he steals the win with five laps remaining.

Prediction: If Payea can find a solid mix between the two styles of dominance and patience, it'll be a long, long year for everyone else on the ACT Late Model Tour.

***

As a kid in the granstands, you always choose your favorites. Putting my integrity as an unbiased writer on the line here, I'll admit that at Airborne, Bucko Branham was always one of mine. When I began racing there weekly in the early 2000s, I also helped out on Jerry Winch's Tiger Sportsman team. Jerry and Bucko raced together and knew each other pretty well, and although I had never met Bucko, I still marveled at his skills behind the wheel.

One day in September 2002, Jerry loaded up his Tiger car on one trailer, his new Late Model on another, and along with Mike Wells, Brian McGinley, their cars, and a total of just four additional crew members to work on the whole fleet, myself included, we made the long haul down to Adirondack Speedway. Bucko happened to be there with his car, too.

Jerry decided that as a reward for our help during the year, the four of us crew guys -- Jeremy, Chris Cayea, me, and this kid Junior -- each got a turn in the Tiger car. Junior had never been in a race car, so he only got a few laps of practice before he brought it in. Jeremy had driven a handful of Street Stock races, so he got a few more practice laps. I had been racing for three years, so I got to drive in the heat race. Chris had wrapped up the Rookie of the Year title in the Tigers at Airborne that year, so he got to race the feature. I did shockingly well, racing from 14th on the outside in eight laps to just miss the win by a bumper to Andy Heywood. Cayea was runing third in the feature when he was spun by someone and ended up, I don't know, seventh or something.

Well, on opening day at Airborne in 2004, almost two years later, I was working as an official at Airborne doing some announcing and whatever else was needed of me. And as I walk by Bucko Branham's pit, he waves me over. By now, we'd met a few times and had a friendly relationship, though we still didn't know each other that well outside of me interviewing him in victory lane.

"You drove Jerry's car at Adirondack, right?" he asks.
"Yeah, why?" I say.
"You did a good job that day. Would you want to try my car out?"

Now, I was still a way-too-excitable 20 year-old kid, still racing a Street Stock at Thunder Road while working the events at Airborne. Of course I wanted to try Bucko's car out. So, shirking my official's duties for about 15 minutes during practice, I climb in through the window of the fastest race car at the track, owned by a guy I grew up cheering for. And a dozen or so laps later, after burning the right-rear tire off the car through the corners, I see the black flag waving at me.

My car owner, Bucko Branham, had me black flagged for driving like an idiot.

"I thought you were good!" he laughs, but only half-kidding. "What the hell happened? I almost had a heart attack! Get out of my car!"

We still laugh about it to this day, but that's just another example of the kind of guy Branham is. That day was one of the highlights of my racing career, right up there with winning on Memorial Day at Thunder Road. I owed him that article from the other day, and then some. So, as a retired racer, as a fan, and as a guy that likes to tell stories, thank you, Bucko Branham.

***

AROUND THE REGION:

Time to take a look at the top Vermonters from the past weekend...

ACT Late Model Tour: Scott Payea of Milton earned his first ACT win of the season and the fifth of his career at the Furniture World of Vermont Spring Green 100 at Airborne Speedway in Plattsburgh, N.Y. on Sunday. Brent Dragon, also of Milton, finished fifth, with Williston's Brian Hoar sixth, Ryan Nolin of Georgia eighth, and Shelburne's Jamie Fisher tenth.

Airborne Speedway (Plattsburgh, N.Y.): Adam Bartemy of Sheldon finished fourth in the 30-lap Modified feature on Sunday, with Castleton's Mike Bruno in sixth. Aaron Bartemy, Adam's older brother, finished eighth. St. Albans racer Jason Bonnett earned his first Sportsman win of the season, with Swanton's Kevin Boutin taking down the Renegade main event. Mike Terry of Grand Isle, Lance Rabtoy of Fairfax, and Milton's Rob Gordon finished in positions three through five.

Albany-Saratoga Speedway (Malta, N.Y.): Todd Stone of Middlebury finished seventh in the all-star invitational Modified Clash. Brett Hearn remains undefeated at the track through three events. In the Sportsman feature, lone Vermonter Rob Langevin of Londonderry finished third.

Canaan Dirt Speedway (Canaan, N.H.): Thetford Center drivers Wayne Stearns and David Lacasse finished 1-2 in the Modified feature at the track's season opener on Friday night. Only two Sportsman Coupe drivers showed, and the cars were grouped into the Modified feature. Melvin Pierson of East Corinth beat Topsham's Josh Harrington to get credit for the Coupe win. East Montpelier's Will Hull finished second in the Street Stock event to Ryan Christian. Josh Sunn of White River Junction won the Mini Stock feature.

Canaan Fair Speedway (Canaan, N.H.): Rain pushed back Saturday's season opener on the "Awesome Asphalt" to this Saturday, May 16.

Monadnock Speedway (Winchester, N.H.): Rains washed out the racing program on Saturday night following Mini Stock qualifying. A full card of Modified, Outlaw Pro Stocks, Super Stocks, Mini Stocks, 4- & 8-cylinder Enduros, and the All Star Race Trucks Series is on tap for this week.

True Value Modified Racing Series: Ascutney brothers Dwight and Peter Jarvis slumped home 20th and 21st, respectively, at Connecticut's Waterford Speedway on Saturday night. Dwight Jarvis completed just 60 laps, while Peter Jarvis made only 52 laps. Doug Coby of Milford, Conn. won the race in his first TVMRS start.

Twin State Speedway (Claremont, N.H.): Guy Caron made it three-for-three in the Late Models, while Ascutney's Chris Riendeau finished second. Rookie Dola Holland of Ludlow was third after leading several laps. Joey Jarvis of Ascutney finished third in the Modified event with Windsor's Robert Hagar sixth. Tara Tarbell of Springfield finished third in the Strictly Stock feature with West Hartford's Jeremy Blood fifth.

The Série ACT-Castrol opens its season at Autodrome St-Eustache near Montréal on Saturday, while the PASS North Series is at Unity Raceway in Maine. The ACT Late Model Tour is at Maine's Oxford Plains Speedway on Sunday. In Vermont, Bear Ridge Speedway opens its gates for the first time on Saturday evening at 6:00pm with double features and fireworks, while Devil's Bowl Speedway in Fair Haven kicks off its 2009 season on Sunday at 6:45pm with a regular card for all divisions.


(Photos: 1. Canaan Fair Speedway's Modified field ready for green - Alan Ward photo; 2. Scott Payea takes ACT checkers at Airborne - Leif Tillotson photo; 3. Yours truly in Bucko Branham's car, 2004 - Dave Brown photo; 4. Todd Stone at speed at Albany-Saratoga Speedway on Friday night - CVRA photo)

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The House That Bucko Built

Watch an NBA basketball game on television some time, and invariably you will see at least one player -- LeBron James maybe, or Dwayne Wade -- make a huge dunk in front of the home crowd and proclaim, "This is my house!" It happens all the time.

Over in Plattsburgh, New York, at Airborne Speedway, there is a race car driver that would have every right to pull a showstopping move like that after a big win, not that he ever would. After all, Airborne is for all intents and purposes, "his house."

Twenty-seven years younger and wet behind the ears, a kid named Brian Branham -- known universally as "Bucko" -- tried his luck in a stock car at his hometown race track.

"In 1982, me and my cousin bought a car, we split a car," says Branham, leaning up against his familiar #20 Tiger Sportsman racer. "He ran one race and I ran one race and that was pretty much the end of it right there. I decided it was what I was going to do." The two were following in the footsteps of Bucko's father, Bill, who was a master short track racer in the northeast for more than two decades.

"The next year, I built my own car and finished second the first race out. It was pretty fun. Since then it's just been climbing the ladder, stepping back down a couple times, and moving back up. And I've raced with some great people."

More than two decades later and unquestionably the most popular driver at the track, Branham says his greatest accomplishment came in May 2005, during a four-year stretch when he raced in two divisions at the track. During Airborne's first year running dirt-style Modifieds as its headline class, Branham came home a winner in his first-ever start in the open-wheel division. He won a feature race every Saturday night during the first four weeks of that season, twice each in the Modified and the Sportsman.

He also has fond memories of the 1990s, when he and his cousin, Robin Branham, who was his partner in that first car in 1982, were a force in the Late Model division. "I had a lot of fun doing that until it started getting too expensive," Bucko says. "But the Tiger division is probably the best it's ever been right now."

Away from the race car, Branham is a construction worker for Plattsburgh-based Fuller Construction, owned by the same man that purcahsed Airborne Speedway two years ago, Steve Fuller. Fuller's company spent many hours revamping the track in 2005 and 2006, when Elizabethtown, N.Y. automobile dealership mogul George Huttig leased the facility. As a driver, Branham knew Airborne perhaps better than anyone, but now his relationship with the 51 year-old race track became something more. It was his own sweat and hard work going into the track to ensure its future.

When Fuller bought the property from deed holders Tom Curley and Ken Squier in 2007, Branham became even more involved in the beautification of the speedway. This spring, he took part in the estimated half-million-dollar facelift the track received, including the construction of a new VIP/media tower, new fencing, new lights, and a completely new track surface.

Airborne Speedway quite literally became the house that Bucko built. Ever the jokester, Branham realized the irony of his involvement with the speedway in two different facets of his life -- work and play -- and capitalized on the moment with a symbolic joke.

"When I was paving it, I threw some money on the track before the roller came through," he laughed, "so I can say I've got a couple dollars in it." But quickly, Branham becomes serious again. "[It feels] just like I own the place. I've been here so long, I probably wouldn't know what to do if I didn't come here."

Obviously an established veteran, Branham said that he has been called upon many times by track promoters and technical inspection officials at multiple tracks in the region for his input on rule changes and procedures. Last year, in his 25th full season of racing, Branham finally earned his first championship at Airborne. His wife and daughter are his biggest cheerleaders in the grandstands and pit area, his nephew, Robin Wood, is not only an unofficial crew member, but a fierce competitor in the Sportsman class. Branham -- who has recently taken on the nickname "Professor" -- beat Wood in a thrilling Sportsman finish to open the season two weeks ago.

But even as competitive as he still is after two-and-a-half decades, Branham sees the light at the end of the tunnel.

"I'm probably retiring pretty soon," he says. "Ain't much else to do, you know? Modifieds, I've done that, had some success in that. I'd like to run [an ACT Late Model at the Fall Foliage 300 in September] and see how that works out. Other than that, I'm happy in the Tigers. I'll race for probably a couple more years."

And it's Branham's family that he's keeping in mind. "They've stuck with it because I like to do it. That's why I think it's probably time for me to start giving back to them. Even though I hate to get away from racing, they deserve more. I think it's time."

For now, race fans can still delight in watching the black-and-silver #20 charge through the field at Airborne on any given Saturday night. But they know that when the time comes for Bucko Branham to hang up his helmet, it will be a tall task to replace him.

Especially in his own house.

(Photos: 1. Bucko Branham takes a break from building a portion of the frontstretch catch fence at Airborne Speedway last month; 2. Branham carries Late Model checkers in 1995; 3. Branham (#20) and nephew Robin Wood (#61) race closely together on opening day two weeks ago; 4. Branham (center) with his family and crew members in victory lane. Photos 1 and 4 by Justin St. Louis/VMM, Photo 2 Justin St. Louis collection; Photo 3 by Leif Tillotson)

Monday, May 11, 2009

PHOTOS: Airborne Speedway Spring Green

A collection of photos from Airborne Speedway's Furniture World of Vermont Spring Green, Sunday, May 10, 2009. Photos by Leif Tillotson, Alan Ward, and Justin St. Louis/VMM. Click here to view photos.