Friday, October 30, 2009

Vermont Motorsports Magazine "Driver of the Year" Voting to Begin Monday

VMM Driver of the Year Awards presented by Subway

Voting for the first-ever Vermont Motorsports Magazine "Driver of the Year" awards opens on Monday, November 2. The awards have been created to recognize the efforts of stock car drivers in and around the Green Mountain State, and selections will be made by fan votes from a list of nominees in five categories. The Driver of the Year awards will be presented by Subway of Barre, Montpelier, Waterbury, and Northfield.

The awards will be given in the following categories: one each for the fan-voted Driver of the Year at Bear Ridge Speedway in Bradford, Devil's Bowl Speedway in West Haven, and Thunder Road International Speedbowl in Barre; one "On The Road" award for a Vermont driver that competes on a touring series or at an out-of-state track; and one final award for the Vermont Motorsports Magazine 2009 Driver of the Year presented by Subway.

Among the 15 nominees for Bear Ridge Speedway Driver of the Year are Sportsman Modified champion Gary Siemons of Orford, N.H., Sportsman Coupe champion Josh Harrington of Topsham, and Limited Late Model champion Dan Eastman of Thetford Center. Devil's Bowl Speedway's 14 nominees include Modified champion Kenny Tremont, Jr. of West Sand Lake, N.Y., five-time Budget Sportsman winner Frank Hoard, III of Manchester, and Pro Street Stock champion Cale Kneer of Troy, N.Y. Thunder Road Int'l Speedbowl's 14 nominees include Late Model champion Jean-Paul Cyr of Milton, Tiger Sportsman champion Jimmy Hebert of Williamstown, and Street Stock Rookie of the Year Tucker Williams of Hyde Park.

"On The Road" nominees include American-Canadian Tour champion Brian Hoar of Williston, St. Johnsbury's Stacy Cahoon, the Late Model champion at New Hampshire's White Mountain Motorsports Park, and multi-track stars Chris Riendeau of Ascutney, Josh Sunn of White River Junction, and Chris Wilk of Mendon. The nominees for the final 2009 Driver of the Year award will be the top vote-getters from each of the four individual categories, vying for the title as Vermont's top stock car racer.

"There are hundreds of talented drivers racing in and around our state that give race fans so much satisfaction every summer. Now the fans have a chance to give back to the drivers," said VMM Editor Justin St. Louis. "Every one of the racers nominated deserves recognition, but it should be very interesting to see who the fans select as the final nominees for the overall Driver of the Year award."

Voting for the Driver of the Year awards begins on Monday, November 2. Voting will be open for one week in each category, with the final Vermont Motorsports Magazine 2009 Driver of the Year presented by Subway award vote open from Monday, November 30 to Sunday, December 6. Winners will be announced following the final tallying of fan votes.

Founded in February, Vermont Motorsports Magazine is the unofficial home for online news in asphalt and dirt stock car racing in and around the Green Mountain State, covering events at all three Vermont tracks as well as facilities throughout New England and upstate New York. VMM can be found at http://vtmotormag.blogspot.com/, and on Twitter at www.twitter.com/vtmotormag. For more information on Subway, visit http://www.subway.com/.

Monday, October 26, 2009

ACT Not Likely to Visit Devil's Bowl in 2010

WEST HAVEN -- The American-Canadian Tour announced in August that it would hold its first event on the born-again Albany-Saratoga Speedway asphalt in 2010, and ACT President Tom Curley has been overheard saying his series will visit "one or two" new tracks next year.

But don't expect Devil's Bowl Speedway in West Haven to be one of them.

Devil's Bowl, the sister track to Albany-Saratoga under the CVRA umbrella, has begun the transtition from dirt to a new asphalt surface, but, according to Curley, won't host the ACT Late Model Tour. At least not this year.

"The [Devil's Bowl] announcement was a big surprise to me," Curley said on Monday. "We have not talked about an ACT race there [with promoter Jerry Richards] and our schedule for 2010 is very full on both sides of the border already. In fact [we] plan to announce it within a couple of weeks, along with the rules."

Curley was at Albany-Saratoga on Sunday to watch an asphalt race and take notes in preparation for his series' first visit at the track. While the Devil's Bowl bombshell was unexpected, he did leave the door open for the future.

"It certainly is interesting news and obviously ACT would consider being part of their future plans," Curley said.

Devil's Bowl Transition Under Way for 2010

WEST HAVEN -- Race fans might recognize the name and the logo at Devil's Bowl Speedway next year, but they surely won't be at the same race track. Vermont's biggest and fastest raceway is already undergoing major renovations in preparation for the 2010 season, shedding its clay surface in favor of a new coat of asphalt.

Promoter Jerry L. Richards confirmed Monday morning that the 4/10-mile speedplant has already begun the transition to blacktop, and that along with its sister track, Albany-Saratoga Speedway in Malta, N.Y., the Champlain Valley Racing Association -- a sanctioning body founded by family patriarch C.J. Richards in the 1960s, now run by his three children -- will take a big step into the future.

After the completion of its regular season as a clay track in September, Albany-Saratoga Speedway was converted to an asphalt track, using blacktop that had been lying under clay since 1977. Two race events have been run on the asphalt this month, including Sunday, which ran in conjunction with Airborne Speedway rules. (Airborne is a 4/10-mile asphalt oval in Plattsburgh, N.Y. that races with the same dirt-style Modifieds used weekly at the CVRA tracks.) It was announced on Sunday during the drivers meeting that Devil's Bowl Speedway would be also be paved, also harkening back to its asphalt days in the 1970s.

According to Bruce Richards, promoter of Albany-Saratoga Speedway, the races were successful. "I'm very pleased with how everything went on Sunday. It was very positive," he said.

Jerry Richards said that the reasons for the changeover are many, not the least of which was the passage of time. "We're looking into the future, far down the road, for the betterment of our company," he said. "My sister Sharon, my brother Bruce, and I are all getting older. We're in our late 40s, and we need to start planning years down the road. God forbid one of us gets sick, we need to have plans in place to be able to keep the race tracks open. That's the reality of life. Changing to asphalt will make things less strenuous and easier to manage for the whole staff.

"But I also feel that there's so much more that Devil's Bowl can offer to the community besides being a race track, and the change to asphalt will help with that. We would like to do special events with things like motocross, ATV, and snowmobile racing in the winter, but we'd also like to get involved with the local schools and towns, host things like 4H Clubs, muscle car shows, things we couldn't do [with the clay surface]. A clay track takes a countless amount of hours to prepare during the week, and everything depends on the weather. If Albany-Saratoga still had the clay on it, we wouldn't have been racing [on Sunday]."

Richards confirmed that, in spite of the switch from clay to asphalt, the rulebooks in place for all divisions at the two CVRA facilities will remain intact, likely with only minor changes after meetings with competitors during the off-season. All current officials will be kept on CVRA staff, as well. The competitors themselves, Richards said, seemed to take the news of the changeover well. "From what I could see, the drivers felt a lot of relief. Everyone has been wondering what will happen next year, and there is a rumor going that Albany-Saratoga may be sold. It may be sold in the future, it may not be sold ever. But I can say that we will definitely be operating both tracks full-time in 2010 as asphalt venues.

"This is the best avenue for both tracks to head down for the future. It's long been known that Lebanon Valley and Fonda (two dirt tracks in upstate New York) aren't interested in cooperating with CVRA rules, but already with the asphalt we have Mike Perrotte from Airborne working with us, and Tom Curley has already made a deal to have [an ACT Late Model Tour race] at Albany-Saratoga in 2010. [Curley] was at Albany-Saratoga on Sunday and he was excited when we told him about the news at Devil's Bowl. We're hoping to keep working in conjunction with them and other promoters in the northeast. I really think that Devil's Bowl will flourish as an asphalt track and offer more opportunities for family entertainment for the whole community."

BREAKING NEWS -- Devil's Bowl Speedway to Asphalt in 2010

WEST HAVEN -- Champlain Valley Racing Association offficials confirmed on Monday that Devil's Bowl Speedway in West Haven will be making the transition from dirt to asphalt racing in 2010.

"The first load of shale went on the track this morning," said Jerry L. Richards, who has taken over promotional operations at Devil's Bowl. "The gravel will go on next, then we'll put the asphalt on in the spring. The base is already being laid down."

Vermont Motorsports Magazine will have more on the transition soon.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Devil's Bowl to Asphalt?

Multiple unofficial reports from Albany-Saratoga Speedway on Sunday are saying that Devil's Bowl Speedway in West Haven will be paved as soon as this week.

As we first reported in July, Albany-Saratoga was rumored to be switching from dirt racing to asphalt for 2010, due to pressure from a new microchip company in the town of Malta, N.Y., where the track is located.

Bruce Richards, president of the Champlain Valley Racing Association (CVRA) and promoter of the Albany-Saratoga and Devil's Bowl tracks, has removed the clay racing surface at Albany-Saratoga for a pair of race events this month and announced special asphalt events for early in the 2010 season -- including appearances by the ACT Late Model Tour, the True Value Modified Racing Series, and the ISMA Super Modifieds -- but that the clay would be returned to the track in mid-May.

Richards reportedly announced during an event at the track on Sunday, however, that Albany-Saratoga would continue to operate strictly as a dirt track next year, and that its sister speedway, the 4/10-mile Devil's Bowl Speedway, would follow suit with paving expected to begin at Devil's Bowl within the week.

Both tracks have operated with dirt and asphalt surfaces, but have been dirt tracks since the late 1970s, with the exception of one-time-only asphalt events in the early 1990s. Should Devil's Bowl Speedway return to full-time asphalt racing in 2010, it would be the second paved track in Vermont, joining the 1/4-mile Thunder Road Int'l Speedbowl in Barre; Bear Ridge Speedway, a 1/4-mile clay track in Bradford, is Vermont's only other operational race track.

Stay tuned to Vermont Motorsports Magazine for information and updates as they become available -- and official.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Thanks to our Senior Correspondent...

...we have a few photos and videos from the Mt. Philo Hill Climb, held in Shelburne last weekend by the New England Hillclimb Association (NEHA). One of our highly underpaid staffers, Ron St. Louis, was there to capture the action. Here's a sample of the goods:

A few racers lined up for time trial runs
John Marsha's rotary-powered Mazda ready to go. It is our understanding that Marsha's ride up Philo was the final event of his 30-year hillclimbing career.

Robbie Smolinski's Volkswagen Golf with a gorgeous backdrop of the Champlain Valley in Vermont, Lake Champlain, and the Adirondack Mountains in New York

video

Randolph's Jimi Heyder -- a.k.a. "The Road Warrior" -- was one of the original convertible Junkyard Warrior drivers at Thunder Road in Barre. You may also remember him as the guy on crutches that won Run-What-You-Brung with a broken pelvis some six or eight years ago. Well, Heyder broke that pelvis during a motorcycle run at Pikes Peak in Colorado. Here, he takes off up Mt. Philo, where, thankfully, he didn't crash. (Note: The #442 on his bike is an ode to his favorite Oldsmobile.)


video

Sherman Baumann, President of the Killington Sports Car Club (KSCC), rockets off the starting line in this modified Dwarf car.

We encourage you to check out NEHA's website and those of its affiliates, including the Sports Car Club of Vermont (SCCV) and KSCC. Check 'em out here:

NEHA: www.hillclimb.org / SCCV: www.sccv.org / KSCC: www.kscc.org

(Photos and videos by Ron St. Louis/VMM)

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Juice -- Why the World Needs Eric Williams, and a Big, Fat Thank You

-by Justin St. Louis

I was never a big fan of Eric Williams when I was a kid sitting in the grandstands at Thunder Road. I didn't hate him -- I booed Clem Despault and Dwayne Lanphear a lot more, for some unknown reason -- but I can't remember ever thinking he was "my guy" to cheer for.

He was exciting to watch, that's for sure: Like on the night he pushed someone (maybe Tom Tiller?) totally sideways -- and I'm talking nose-in-the-driver's-door-at-a-90-degree-angle sideways -- for more than a quarter of a lap, or the year he won almost half of the Flying Tiger features from the rear of the field, or all those nights he was black-flagged for whacking someone else for no apparent reason. It was long-known that Williams operated his team on a shoestring budget, hauling his car on an open trailer for longer than almost every other Late Model team. His cars almost never looked show-ready, although they were fast. And his fan club was notoriously loud, sometimes nasty, and always controversial.

As I grew up and eventually became a racer myself, I still watched and marveled at Williams, as he started becoming a constant threat for victory lane, no matter where he went. And the excitement continued: His year-long championship battle with Brian Hoar in 1999 that ultimately came down to Hoar's final-corner pass of Jamie Fisher to win the Milk Bowl and the "King of the Road" title by one point, his razor-close finish in an ACT Late Model Tour race at Canaan Fair Speedway with Dave Pembroke, his opening-day battle with Dale Shaw in 2004, his season-long confrontations with John Donahue the next year. The cars were still ugly and the fan club still cheered.

And in the last few years as I've gotten to know Williams on a bit more of a personal level through work, at least through interviews and whatnot, I've come to this conclusion: Thunder Road International Speedbowl needs Eric Williams. The American-Canadian Tour needs Eric Williams. The northeast is lucky to have him.

When Williams pulls into a race track, he's an immediate darkhorse for the win. He is certainly one of the most feared Late Model drivers at Thunder Road. He's a major threat at White Mountain Motorsports Park. And this year, he certainly stepped up his game on the flatter tracks at Oxford Plains Speedway and Beech Ridge Motor Speedway. Due to his limited budget, Williams missed three of the 13 ACT events on the schedule, and was forced to use each of his finishes to count toward the ACT championship in the "Pick 10" points format. So while Brian Hoar was able to drop his 22nd-place finish at White Mountain, Scott Payea scratched a 19th from Oxford in May, and John Donahue excluded a 20th at Thunder Road, Williams had no choice but to use his 27th-place finish at Twin State and two bad showings at Airborne Speedway. And he still finished seventh in points, better than eight teams that went to every race.

The Eric Williams mystique goes way beyond that, though; he is a true character, and the catalyst for anyone with a dream. Williams owns and operates a small, one-man auto repair shop in his home town of Hyde Park, up in far-from-everything Lamoille County. With the modest income that shop creates, he and wife Lisa tackle the regular chores of owning a home, putting their daughter Lacey through college, and preparing for son Tucker's entry into school next year. Health issues involving Williams' brother and parents have been a recent distraction, and two years ago, a mudslide threatened to wash away the family's home. Tucker, 18, has a race car and is a multi-sport athlete in high school, which, again, takes time and money. It's a snapshot of small-town Vermont working hard to make a living and still have some fun on the side.

And Williams himself is a relic of small-town Vermont. The 46 year-old stands like a piece of rough-cut lumber, and speaks like a guy that might have chopped the tree down. "Thunder Road," he once told me, with the type of native Vermont accent found closer to the Canadian and northern New York borders than to the Massachusetts and southern New Hampshire borders, "is a whole diff'rent breed'a cat. If you can win here, I guess you can prob'ly win anywhere."

He speaks deliberately, which can be funny, even if he's not trying to be funny. Maybe that's the Chittenden County "city boy" in me giggling over the words he says, knowing they're on purpose, although my own accent has thickened of late, and my Vermontisms (I caught myself saying "move it just a frogskin more" the other day) have picked up. Williams looks at you when he talks, and has a piercing gaze in his eyes. He smiles, a little, when he speaks, and it's obvious that even though he's probably tired, he's enjoying himself.

His line following his win at Oxford last week: "I figured as long I didn't do anything mentally challenged I'll be just fine," will forever live in my mind as one of my favorite interview quotes. But he's had some other good ones recently, too.

The 11-second summary of his third-place finish in the Milk Bowl: "We had a piece of crap in the first segment, had a really good car in the second segment but got boxed in, and then the third, the car was so-so but just worked out. Did alright."

At Thunder Road's pre-season practice session in April, speaking about losing his sponsor despite winning the track championship the year before: "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."

On the possibility that he might race full-time after winning the Merchants Bank 150 season opener at Thunder Road in May: "I can't really comment and give you anything other than baloney right now, I just don't know. To be honest with you, the first thing that crossed my mind was 'Hey, I can go to Airborne now.' I had a good day, I got some money for tires, so we're headed across the lake next Saturday and give that new pavement a whirl."

On how small his team feels compared to those of the high-budget ACT Late Model Tour operations: "We come down here every year to the first big race, we pull in with our little hauler and trailer. Some of these rigs I could park my hauler and truck inside their rig and still have a picnic underneath it, you know? And you stand there and you look around and you almost say, 'Man, what am I doing? This is crazy.'"

Regarding ACT president Tom Curley: "I'd like to finish top-ten in points. We'd get a check anyway, and I wouldn't mind a little bit more of ol' T-Bone's money. It spends nice."

Eric Williams is maybe the hardest racer in the last 20 years at Thunder Road. He fights for every spot, he isn't afraid to move people if he has to, and he works on his own equipment with his own money. His reputation preceeds him, too.

Nick Sweet at White Mountain in June: "I hate seeing that black bumper in my mirror. He's always run me clean, but I still let him go if he wants a spot."

Scott Payea, after rough-housing Williams a little at Thunder Road on the last lap of a Labor Day qualifying heat: "He would have done it to me, too. He has."

John Donahue, after winning the Milk Bowl: "You don't want to piss Eric off, because he gets mad and he don't forget."

No driver creates more controversy at Thunder Road these days than Eric Williams. No driver gets more of a rise -- good or bad -- out of the spectators than Eric Williams. No driver in the ACT ranks gets booed more than Eric Williams. No driver wins big races on a short budget like Eric Williams. And you'd be hard-pressed to find many drivers saying the things Eric Williams says. He might be a hero to only a select group of family and friends wearing red #7 shirts, a villain to everyone else. But he's a wonderful character for the sport.

We need him around.

***

Still all wound up about that Hart 100 thing. Good lord was that fun. We're contemplating doing the Hangover Enduro thing at Riverside in January on New Year's Day. Guess that means we'd have to go dig the car out of the ditch at Bucktona then, eh? Speaking of which, Riverside has the annual "Frostbite" Enduro on Saturday at 1:30pm, along with the PASS Sportsman Series finale.

***

There's a pretty large contingent of northern racers headed to Dixie for the PASS South Mason-Dixon Meltdown at South Boston Speedway in Virginia this weekend, including Danville racer Steven Legendre, ACT Rookie of the Year Joey Doiron, and jack-of-all-trades D.J. Shaw. Legendre, we think, is the PASS North Rookie of the Year, but there's been nothing made publicly official about that. Even Legendre said he doesn't know if he won it or not, because PASS isn't saying anything. Either way, he grabbed three top-tens in a dozen starts in his freshman season en route to 11th place overall, and those are better numbers than some of the series' veterans put up. Doiron finished 12th in ACT points with a fourth-place run at Twin State Speedway and an impressive outing at New Hampshire Motor Speedway last month, and also had a great PASS effort at Beech Ridge earlier in the year. Shaw had five top-fives in 11 PASS starts this year, and also ran well in select ACT and NASCAR Camping World Series East races.

***

Peanut butter and jelly on white bread just isn't the same. And for that matter, Smuckers needs to step up its game. Even the Shaw's generic store brand stuff is better.

***

Ascutney's Dwight Jarvis was the runner-up behind Mike Stefanik in the True Value Modified Racing Series event at Seekonk Speedway last Sunday. What, I say, what does Jarvis have to do to win a race these days? Seekonk was Jarvis' fifth second-place run of the year. I'm guessing when you've won 19 championships in your career like Jarvis has, second place gets old after a while. The TVMRS bunch has one more stop on the schedule at Lee USA Speedway in coastal New Hampshire on Oct. 24/25 before the year is out.

***

I've come across a bit of a dilemma here, now that racing season is all but over in these parts. I'm not really sure what VMM will be up to in the next few days, weeks, or months, but I'll think of something. And when I do, you'll read about it here. Because there's kinda nowhere else to read it.

But I do want to thank each and every one of the readers to visit this little blog this year. I started a hit counter on April 1st and saw the 50,000th visitor come through last month, not quite six months into the count. I have no idea if that's a good number or not, but it sure sounds like a lot, so thank you for reading. And a huge thank you to the groups that have joined on recently to support us: RPM Racing Engines in Georgia, Vt., Burnett Scrap Metals in Williston, and C&S Screenprinting in Richmond.

The MotorMag hit 48 races this year (55 if you count rainouts), and I'm thinking about getting to one or two more before the calendar changes. I made a lot of friends, ruffled a few feathers, and saw some great racing. I developed a new appreciation for dirt racing, and although I still don't totally understand it, I like it and want to see more of it. There are some plans for VMM for the future, and they'll come along in time.

I want to send a special thank-you to the folks that do this job a lot better than I do, including but certainly not limited to Travis Barrett of Green-White-Checker, Seth Leavitt of WCAX-TV Channel 3, Big Bigelow of the Caledonian-Record, Tom Herzig of the Times Argus and the Union Leader, Mike Twist of Speed51.com, T.J. Michaels of Frank 107.1 FM, Lee Kittell of WDEV Radio Vermont, and Phil Whipple of the Lewiston (Me.) Sun Journal.

A HUGE thanks to photographers Leif Tillotson and Alan Ward for their help this year, and also to Jamie Williams.

Thanks to Pete Hartt for being there. Anna Grearson, too.

Thanks to my old man, Ron, and my friends Eddy and Jeff Companion for helping out with a few things this summer, and to both Gene Gagnes (Lil and Big) for sharing a tank of gas here and there.

Thanks to John O. Casey, Dave Moody, Cho Lee, the legends of Thunder Road, the staff at Queen City Printers, and the fans that have so enthusiastically supported "Fifty Years of Excitement".

I would be forgetting myself if I didn't thank the promoters and staff at the following tracks and series for their help, cooperation, and belief that VMM is worthwhile to them: Thunder Road Int'l Speedbowl, Bear Ridge Speedway, Airborne Speedway, Northeastern Speedway, White Mountain Motorsports Park, Oxford Plains Speedway, Fred Neergaard and New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Twin State Speedway, Riverside Speedway, Canaan Fair Speedway, the American-Canadian Tour, the True Value Modified Racing Series, and the Sprint Cars of New England.

Thanks to the drivers and teams for letting me get in their faces all year, and for not punching my lights out when they probably wanted to a couple times. (I'll probably have to thank them for that a few times over the years.)

But most of all, again, thank YOU, the readers of Vermont Motorsports Magazine. I've had comments and emails come in from everywhere all year thanking me for the stuff I've written. Folks, don't thank me, thank the drivers and the promoters for making all this happen. All I do is write down what they say and give you a place to read it. I can't tell you how flattered I am to hear someone at Thunder Road or Bear Ridge tell me that they read VMM "two or three times a day" -- say nothing of the folks that say it that are from New Hampshire or New York or Maine -- even a racer from Rhode Island once this summer!

The first year was rocky at times, but I feel like it was a positive one, overall. Here's hoping the next one or two or 17 will be even better.

Thank you, everyone, and winter well.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Williams "Can't Believe" Oxford ACT Win

New England Dodge Dealers 150 coverage presented by C&S Screenprinting and Burnett Scrap Metals

OXFORD, Me. -- All Eric Williams wanted to do was get through the Milk Bowl at his home track in Vermont. No wrecks, maybe a little slice of the race's generous $75,000 purse. If he did that, he could take his race car to Oxford Plains Speedway in Maine the next week, with hopefully enough Milk Bowl money to at least cover the cost of tires, fuel, and entry fees, and finish the ACT Late Model Tour season inside the top ten in points, despite missing nearly one-third of the season's races.

Turns out, things went a little better than Williams had planned. After a surprise third-place finish in the Milk Bowl at Thunder Road Int'l Speedbowl, Williams brought his small, family-operated team to Oxford, and still had a bit of cash left over. Still, Oxford Plains Speedway had never been that kind to the driver that had won so many races on his own turf back home. In fact, since his Late Model rookie year in 1995, Williams had only three top-ten finishes -- including his first career Oxford top-five this past May -- at the tricky, low-banked 3/8-mile, despite a close relationship with nine-time Oxford track champion Jeff Taylor, Williams' car builder, setup advisor, and friend for the better part of 20 years. A decent run Sunday would lock up seventh place in ACT points for the year, his best showing on the Tour since tying for third in 2002. That's all he wanted.

But by the time the sun began to set behind the grandstands, he'd have easily achieved that goal. He'd also be carrying around a first-place trophy from the track that had haunted him for so long.

"I love it, I can't believe it," Williams said, a mile-wide grin stretched across his face. "I've always struggled up here, this is a hard track. I think this track is probably hard to everybody like Thunder Road is hard to everybody else when they come there. They're like two different extremes. I just can't believe it."

Williams was elated to win at Oxford, but his victory also validated his fifth-place finish earlier in the year and backed up his runner-up showing at Beech Ridge Motor Speedway in July, a track often compared to Oxford. Williams said Taylor's Distance Racing Products company was a big part of that success, as was Chas Howe, co-owner of the famous Michigan-based Howe Racing Enterprises, one of the nation's leading chassis fabricators.

"Now we've got a flat-track setup," Williams said confidently. "This is the same setup we had at Beech Ridge, so that's nice. [Taylor] has helped me out all through the years, and he kind of helped me hook up with Howe. I've been working with Howe and we've all been kind of working together. Howe is really focused on getting better with the [ACT] cars, and to be a part of it. I've been working with Howe for three years now and Jeff was a big part of starting that up and helping me get it. Him and Howe are obviously a big part of [my success]. All I've ever had are Distance cars and Howe cars since I started in the Tigers. My old Tiger car [in the early 1990s at Thunder Road] was made by Jeff Taylor. So he was pretty happy, and of course he built [runner-up Joey Polewarczyk's] car. Top two, that makes him feel pretty good Monday morning, you know?"

Williams took advantage of a bobble by leader John Donahue on lap 119 to take over the top spot. Polewarczyk, who dominated the first half of the race, passed Donahue on the outside for second place two laps later, and the pair staged a restart duel during the balance of the race. Williams slipped up the track entering Turn 1 on a lap 124 restart, allowing Polewarczyk to take the lead on the backstretch, but he regained control of the race before the lap was completed. Williams won another restart battle on lap 140, then Polewarczyk got the jump on the final restart with five laps remaining in the race. Williams was again able to sneak back ahead for the lead before the start/finish line, and Polewarczyk was relegated to second place. Donahue finished third, with Brian Hoar clinching the ACT Late Model Tour championship in fourth-place finish. Oxford regular Tim Brackett was fifth.

Although Polewarczyk supplied plenty of pressure, Williams thought he would be okay as long as he didn't make any mistakes. "I knew that I couldn't screw up, and if I didn't screw up, within one lap I'd take off," he said. "The very first lap, the first restart we had when I was beside him, I went [into Turn 1] and I got real loose and it caught me off guard. I was like, 'Where'd that come from?' But I probably didn't clean my rear tires enough. You see guys out there kind of spinning a little [under caution], that's what you're doing, getting pieces of rubber off the rear tires. And so I made sure I did that the next time, and then I backed off just a little bit early [in Turn 1], rather than lose it, to just stay there. As soon as I punched it on the backstretch, I'd pull away from him. I'd see how quickly I pulled away and I figured, as long I didn't do anything mentally challenged I'll be just fine."

UNOFFICIAL RESULTS -- New England Dodge Dealers Fall Spectacular 150
ACT Late Model Tour -- Oxford Plains Speedway, Oxford, Me.
Sunday, October 11, 2009


Pos.-Driver-Hometown (# - denotes rookie)

1. Eric Williams, Hyde Park
2. Joey Polewarczyk, Jr., Hudson, N.H.
3. John Donahue, Graniteville
4. Brian Hoar, Williston
5. Tim Brackett, Buckfield, Me.
6. Bradley Babb, Windham, Me.
7. Jay Laquerre, East Montpelier
8. Scott Payea, Milton
9. Brent Dragon, Milton
10. Jamie Fisher, Shelburne
11. Glen Luce, Turner, Me.
12. Travis Adams, Canton, Me.
13. Joey Laquerre, East Montpelier
14. Aaron Ricker, Tamworth, N.H.
15. D.J. Shaw, Center Conway, N.H.
16. Shawn Martin, Turner, Me.
17. Chip Grenier, Graniteville
18. Austin Theriault, Fort Kent, Me.
19. #Joey Doiron, Berwick, Me.
20. Eddie MacDonald, Rowley, Mass.
21. Tommy Ricker, Poland, Me.
22. Corey Morgan, Lewiston, Me.
23. #Quinny Welch, Lancaster, N.H.
24. Nick Sweet, Barre
25. Randy Potter, Groveton, N.H.
26. Scott Dragon, Milton
27. Shawn Knight, South Paris, Me.
28. Ricky Rolfe, Albany Twp., Me.
29. Pete Potvin, III, Graniteville
30. Jeff White, Winthrop, Me.
31. Tyler Cahoon, St. Johnsbury
32. Ben Rowe, Turner, Me.
33. Eric Chase, Milton



(PHOTOS: 1. New England Dodge Dealers 150 winner Eric Williams (right) and runner-up Joey Polewarczyk, Jr. (left) were all smiles in victory lane; 2. Williams (#7) leads Polewarczyk (#97) late in the race. Photo 1 by Justin St. Louis/VMM; Photo 2 by Alan Ward.)

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Results

UNOFFICIAL RESULTS -- New England Dodge Dealers Fall Spectacular 150
ACT Late Model Tour -- Oxford Plains Speedway, Oxford, Me.
Sunday, October 11, 2009

Pos.-Driver-Hometown (# - denotes rookie)

1. Eric Williams, Hyde Park
2. Joey Polewarczyk, Jr., Hudson, N.H.
3. John Donahue, Graniteville
4. Brian Hoar, Williston
5. Tim Brackett, Buckfield, Me.
6. Bradley Babb, Windham, Me.
7. Jay Laquerre, East Montpelier
8. Scott Payea, Milton
9. Brent Dragon, Milton
10. Jamie Fisher, Shelburne
11. Glen Luce, Turner, Me.
12. Travis Adams, Canton, Me.
13. Joey Laquerre, East Montpelier
14. Aaron Ricker, Tamworth, N.H.
15. D.J. Shaw, Center Conway, N.H.
16. Shawn Martin, Turner, Me.
17. Chip Grenier, Graniteville
18. Austin Theriault, Fort Kent, Me.
19. #Joey Doiron, Berwick, Me.
20. Eddie MacDonald, Rowley, Mass.
21. Tommy Ricker, Poland, Me.
22. Corey Morgan, Lewiston, Me.
23. #Quinny Welch, Lancaster, N.H.
24. Nick Sweet, Barre
25. Randy Potter, Groveton, N.H.
26. Scott Dragon, Milton
27. Shawn Knight, South Paris, Me.
28. Ricky Rolfe, Albany Twp., Me.
29. Pete Potvin, III, Graniteville
30. Jeff White, Winthrop, Me.
31. Tyler Cahoon, St. Johnsbury
32. Ben Rowe, Turner, Me.
33. Eric Chase, Milton

Saturday, October 10, 2009

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


video


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

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

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

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

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

video


video


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

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

Long Live Bucktona.



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



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

Hart 100 Driver Roster

Bucktona International Speedway
1st Annual Hart 100
Driver Roster

0 Brett Pierce
1 Jim Sanborn
2 Bob Bigelow
2jr. Danny Bigelow
7 Logan Clark
8 Ted Clark
9 Chip Grenier
9ER Jimbo Ducey
13 Markus Farnham
13x Amanda Habel
18 Dave Parker
21 Ansel Quintin
25 Anthony Sweet
27 Sean McCarthy
29 John Lavanway
30 Bud Sweet
36 Randy Johnson
40 Craige Grenier
44 Justin Hart
44xxx Eric Chaloux
51 Danny Doyle
52 Mike Ducey
60 Jason Hill
63 MC Ingram
64 Keith Williams
69 Bugs Moran
75 Jordan Currier
77 Josh Bernier
88 Nathan Sweet
90 Mike Rollins
00 Jordan Dunkling
07 Larry Hedges
09 Kasey Miller
007 Reuben Stone
107 Justin St. Louis
312 Jesse Moran
666 James Hood
681 Ben Ackerman
911 Nate Pike
2009 Brad Lothe

Friday, October 9, 2009

Mixed Entries Headed Into Oxford

New England Dodge Dealers 150 coverage presented by C&S Screenprinting and Burnett Scrap Metals

OXFORD, Me. -- Entries from all over the region have been flooding into Oxford Plains Speedway for the ACT Late Model Tour season finale this Sunday. OPS and ACT officials are expecting cars from across northern New England and Canada.

"We would be thrilled with fifty cars," said OPS Marketing Director Butch Lenberg. "And fifty seems to be the benchmark number for these ACT races [at Oxford] over the last few years. It's the last hurrah for us this year, and there's no reason why we shouldn't have all of our regulars here to compete with ACT."

Lenberg said he expects to see track champion Travis Adams of Canton, Me. attempt to qualify for the race, along with former OPS title winners Shawn Martin, Tim Brackett, and possibly Al Hammond.

Vermont Motorsports Magazine has learned that former Thunder Road Int'l Speedbowl champion Eric Williams of Hyde Park has filed an official entry with ACT for the New England Dodge Dealers 150 on Sunday, as has former White Mountain Motorsports Park champion Quinny Welch of Lancaster, N.H. Milk Bowl pole winner Nick Sweet of Barre and Série ACT-Castrol competitors Daniel and Stéphane Descoste of Québec are expected to travel to Oxford, and multi-time PASS champion Ben Rowe will return to the seat of the Avery #10NH car.

Speed51.com reported earlier in the week that young D.J. Shaw will be driving the #55NH car for owner Pete Duto, and Beech Ridge Motor Speedway driver Bradley Babb will race the #60NH car owned by Sally Bolduc, while Big Bigelow of the Caledonian-Record is reporting that White Mountain Motorsports Park champion Stacy Cahoon of St. Johnsbury will be behind the wheel of his familiar #83 car at Oxford. Duto ranks seventh in ACT Owner Points on the strength of two wins by Brad Leighton this season, and the car has also been driven by Phil Scott and Bobby Dragon. Bolduc's entry was raced in ACT competition by Andy Shaw at White Mountain in June and by T.J. Watson at New Hampshire Motor Speedway last month. Cahoon's lone ACT Late Model Tour win came at Oxford in 1995.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

You Think You Know, But You Have NO IDEA...

So I'm finally getting back behind the wheel on Saturday. Yep, it's true. Bucktona International Speedway is hosting its first-ever "official" race this weekend, and I'll be there in this glorious little Neon.

(Like I said in "The Juice" this week, if you don't know what Bucktona is, ask around, someone in Central Vermont will tell you.)

Ben Bushey, a former Thunder Roadster that used to swap paint with me in the Street Stocks, but now spends his time winning races at Twin State Speedway, donated this hot mess of an Enduro car to the cause, and Chris Burnett of C&S Screenprinting and Burnett Scrap Metals has -- for reasons known only to him -- agreed to support the effort. (I lied to Burnett and told him I'm covering the ACT race at Oxford on Sunday. Pfff... sucker!)

Anyway, if even half of the people rumored to race in this thing show up, we'll have ourselves one heck of a show. I've heard of at least one current ACT Late Model Tour driver, two former Thunder Road Late Model champions, several former Tiger Sportsman winners, two T-Road Street Stockers, maybe a Warrior driver or two, and a notable crew chief that will be there, whether they're racing or not. We've also heard that there will be an actual Street Stock car in competition and have visual comfirmation of a Warrior car already in the pits.

And oh man, wait until you see the track. High banks, tight turns, long straights, and maybe a few other surprises. Ho-lee-cow.

My car's got a solid roll cage, a fire extinguisher, a window net, three or four spare tires (two of which will end up on my street car if they survive, because they're in better shape than the snow tires I have in the pile in the yard right now... for real), a triple-digit number, and a traffic cone bolted to the roof. This thing is for real, kids.

Yeah, I guess VMM will be at Oxford Plains Speedway on Sunday for the ACT finale, but really, who cares? This Bucktona deal is obviously the event of the year. Ask around, you gotta see this.

Saturday. Be there.

--Justin

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The Juice -- At What Point Did John Donahue Become a Star?

-by Justin St. Louis

Don't look now, but there's a new kid in town. Actually, there's nothing new about him at all, really, or kid-like. He's a hard worker with strong, dirty hands, hints of an old-time "ayuh" accent, and has been around this game for the better part of 20 years.

But all of a sudden, for the first time, John Donahue is a headline driver.

There's no telling the exact moment when he became one. Sunday, after winning the Milk Bowl? It might have been the crown jewel of his career, but it certainly wasn't his first win, or even his first important win. But in writing the post-race wrap-up of the Milk Bowl on Sunday and Monday, I found myself surprised, thinking something to the effect of, "Holy cow, Donahue's racked up quite the résumé. When did that happen?" In reality, it began a lot longer ago than I realized, maybe longer than anyone did.

A farmer by trade, the woodchuck-through-and-through Donahue rolled out of the rural Graniteville hills with a block-long Chevrolet for the "Killer B" class at Barre's Thunder Road in 1994. He recalled thinking that his car -- a larger, heavier, less powerful version of the era's Flying Tigers -- was "too slow" to have any fun in, so he moved up to the Tigers to race against his older brother, Bill, who had followed in their father Paul's footsteps as a multi-time winner and championship contender in the division.

And it turned out that "Irish John" was a chip off the ol' block, finishing third in points as a rookie. During the five seasons that followed, he would earn a pair of Thunder Road championships, a Triple Crown title at New Hampshire's Riverside Speedway, a "Tiger 50 Series" title, well over two dozen feature races at Thunder Road, Riverside, and Airborne Speedway in New York, and three Strictly Stock features at Oxford Plains Speedway in Maine.

In 2002, Donahue was hired to drive an American-Canadian Tour Late Model for Lee Delphia, winning top rookie honors at Thunder Road and finishing second on the Tour to the well-financed Ryan Moore, while also taking a Limited Sportsman win at Oxford. But a split from Delphia as the season ended left Donahue without a full-time ride for 2003, and the funding for his Maine-based team dried up as well. Donahue was on the outside looking in before another car owner, Mike Thompson, put Donahue in his Late Model for 2004.

Although comparatively underfunded, the team notched a win in the 2005 regular season finale at Thunder Road, a second win in mid-2006, and was constantly a top-five threat. A few on-track tussles brought some fanfare, including a couple involving Eric Williams, one of Thunder Road's all-time great villains. Add to that the fact that T-Road impresario Ken Squier loved to say the words "Irish John Donahue" (as he still does), and the name was becoming a water cooler topic in the offices of Central Vermont each Friday morning after the races, but still rarely appeared in print, radio, or television.

A windfall ride from new car owner Kendall Roberts -- complete with flashy, high-profile sponsorship from the National Guard, a pair of brand new cars with technical support from chassis builder Dale Shaw, and the occasional performance boost in crew chief Jeff Laquerre, at least in the first season -- appeared at Donahue's door in 2007, and, as far as my best guess goes, anyway, that's probably when things really began to click. Donahue knocked off a 100-lap open win at Oxford in June and took his first ACT victory in Thunder Road's 200-lap Labor Day Classic in September. The next season, he won back-to-back races at Thunder Road, on Mother's Day and in the ACT race on Memorial Day, then finished in the top-five in points with both the weekly Thunder Road chase and the ACT Late Model Tour. But still, he was never much for the headlines.

Now, this year, Donahue scored a dominating ACT win at White Mountain Motorsports Park, has three ACT runner-up finishes, pulled down a third-place effort in the Oxford 250 after leading some laps, took fifth in the ACT Invitational at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, won last week's Milk Bowl, and is about to again finish among the top five in ACT points. And we're finally talking about him. You'll notice that Donahue has won some races, big ones at that, but like was said earlier, he's been winning from the very start. So what's made him a star now? I think the answer might be John Donahue himself.

It's easy to tell that when speaking with the media, Donahue's still not always comfortable being in the spotlight. But he's certainly come a long way from the days of his Tiger championships; Donahue won the Milk Bowl season finale in 2001 to clinch both the track and Tiger 50 titles, and he got out of the car with big smile and a two-fisted "Rocky" salute to the crowd. All well and good for photos, but his victory lane speech -- and I still remember hearing it -- was pretty much void of the content or emotion a race fan might expect to hear from a driver going through so much excitement.

Last Sunday at the Milk Bowl, though, Donahue played it up for the crowd, for the media, for Squier, for the Governor, for everybody. He performed a series of smoky, spinning burnouts while carrying the checkered flag. He dumped Booth Bros. milk down his frontside as he drank from the bowl trophy. He lifted the farm-style milk can above his head as though it was the Stanley Cup. He kissed the cow in victory lane -- on the lips -- twice. He celebrated with his family and team. As a couple of television cameras and a crowd of a half-dozen reporters stuck their microphones in Donahue's face, he flashed a confident smile, answered on-the-spot questions, and even cracked a joke or two. He never backed down from a question, gave honest answers, and even spit a little bit of fire when confronted with another driver's ruffled feathers. At White Mountain in June, his victory lane and post-race radio interviews were well-spoken and entertaining. His confidence with being a publicly prominent sports figure in the region seems to grow after every top-five finish (and he's on a streak of six straight right now).

Travis Barrett of Green-White-Checker asked Donahue on Sunday if he has felt overlooked as a top driver. I asked him a similar question after the Fall Foliage 300 at Airborne last month, speaking in terms of the ACT championship battle. And it seemed as though Donahue didn't really care if he was forgotten or not. "I'm sort of out of the picture," Donahue said at Airborne. "That's okay, make 'em think." And then he rambled on -- yes, rambled -- about how good his car and his team are, and gave this writer more than enough to fill a blog post's worth of space.

If anyone on the track, in the media, or anywhere else -- myself included -- forgot to think about John Donahue in the past, well, we won't now.

He's not the new kid in town. But he's definitely in town.

***

Three words: Bucktona International Speedway. If you don't know, ask someone who does.

***

Interesting stuff from the Milk Bowl pit meeting:

--ACT president Tom Curley said that there is "no question" that his series will be invited back to New Hampshire Motor Speedway next year. Ken Squier said the same thing.

--Curley said that the 2010 ACT Late Model Tour schedule is expected to be completed and published by the end of October. The Tour will not return to Kawartha Speedway in Ontario, but will visit "one or two new tracks".

--ACT's announcement that it will continue to sanction the Castrol Series in Canada comes this early, in part, to dispell rumors that the recent Patrick Laperle scandal drove Curley's group away. In fact, Curley said he's going back to Canada in 2010 because he's "pissed off" about the Autodrome St-Eustache incident and wants to continue holding fair races for the teams that have supported him.

--Okay, this wasn't at the pit meeting, but we overheard Curley telling third-place finisher Eric Williams that he is exploring the idea of expanding the Milk Bowl's three segments from 50 laps each to 75 laps, as early as next year. Curley thinks that another 25 laps would help bring back the possibility of the single-digit Milk Bowl win and bring back more excitement to the race. The fact that John Donahue's winning score was 17 points, and other recent winning scores have been as high as 23 points -- a far cry from Brian Hoar's 4-point win in 1998 -- means to Curley that the segments are just too short to produce the kind of racing the Milk Bowl became famous for. With the current ACT rules package, the cars are too equal to allow for three back-to-front drives through traffic. Robbie Crouch was the last driver to win every segment and score a perfect three points... in 1986. And it was a distant nine years ago that Phil Scott and Tracie Bellerose each scored eight points in the race, the most recent single-digit scores.

***

Speaking of Bellerose, she will be back in competition at Riverside Speedway on Saturday behind the wheel of a Late Model owned by Jane LeBlanc. Bellerose has been out of competition since a 10th-place ACT Late Model Tour finish at Oxford Plains Speedway in October 2007.

***

And speaking of Oxford, we'll be there on Sunday for the New England Dodge Dealers Fall Spectacular 150 and the ACT Late Model Tour season finale, welcoming a new supporter to Vermont Motorsports Magazine in Burnett Scrap Metals of Williston, Vt. Burnett has been involved in local racing for many years, and fielded a pair of race cars -- Neal Foster's Tiger Sportsman and Keith Fortier's Junkyard Warrior -- at Thunder Road in 2009.

Brian Hoar will try to fend off Scott Payea at Oxford for his sixth ACT championship, and first since 2000. Payea, of course, is looking for his first title, but will have to break his streak of not-so-good luck at Oxford. In ten career ACT starts at Oxford, Payea's got an average finish of just 12th, with a pair of sixth-place runs as his best finishes. He also has two 17ths, a 19th in May of this year, and a 22nd. Payea readily admits that Oxford is his achilles heel, and has been rumored to be building a second chassis for the 2010 season strictly to help improve his Oxford program. It'll be fun to watch, either way.

***

Rookie Jacob Dore of Sanford, Me. celebrated his first True Value Modified Racing Series win... a day after the race. Dore finished second across the finish line at Twin State Speedway on Sunday, but was named the winner of the Ricky Miller Memorial 112 on Monday after Matt Hirschman was disqualified. Dore, 20, was informed of the ruling as he was doing homework in his dorm room at the University of New Hampshire. Dwight Jarvis of Ascutney was fourth, and his nephew, Joey, finished 19th in a car normally driven by his father, Peter. The TVMRS cars now head to Seekonk Speedway in Massachusetts on Saturday and Sunday for the annual D. Anthony Venditti Memorial Fall Classic event.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Donahue Spars With Dragon at Milk Bowl

Chittenden Bank Milk Bowl coverage presented by RPM Racing Engines


John Donahue and Patrick Laperle weren't racing for the win at Thunder Road Int'l Speedbowl's Labor Day Classic last month, but they were definitely the show to watch all day. At Sunday's Milk Bowl at the Barre track, Donahue found a new boxing partner in Brent Dragon. But the stakes were much higher this time.

Donahue and Dragon were head-and-shoulders above the rest of the Milk Bowl field on Sunday, and entered the third and final 50-lap segment racing each other for the overall victory in Vermont's biggest annual race and a $10,000 top prize. Dragon, the 2006 Milk Bowl winner, held a razor-thin, one-point advantage over Donahue, and the two raced each other exactly as if that was the case.

By virtue of their ninth- and tenth-place finishes in the second leg of the race and the traditional full-field inversion between segments, they found themselves starting the final round in the 21st and 22nd positions and needing to move forward quickly. Making daring moves in traffic -- including a four-lap stretch where either Donahue, Dragon, or both was racing three-wide on Thunder Road's narrow surface -- eventually push came to shove.

And both drivers shoved. Dragon put his nose under Donahue and Glen Luce on lap 17 to complete a three-wide pass, one that Donahue wasn't fond of.

"I don't like being put three-wide, but this is the third segment, this is the Milk Bowl," Donahue said. "I said, 'Alright, my car is good enough, I can put you three-wide.' So I did."

And he did. On the next lap, with Dragon now on the outside lane, Donahue stuck his nose in an opening in the middle lane. Dragon, as a result, was briefly knocked off the track, and, he says, out of contention for the win.

"When I got ran off the backstretch there, it knocked the rear end out and instantly I knew it, I could feel it," Dragon said. "It just made the car so loose, and I was done. I was along for the ride at that point." Dragon acknowledged that his driving style at the Milk Bowl was out of character for the usually smooth, calculated racer. "We wanted it bad. We wanted to win it and that's what you've got to do in the Milk Bowl. That's just part of the deal. I wanted to win."

Dragon said he was surprised by Donahue's move, and although he understood that the lure of a Milk Bowl win fuels drivers to race harder, losing the race that way was hard to take.

"Yeah, a little bit. I didn't expect John to run me like that," he said. "I mean, I probably do in the Milk Bowl, [but] I had him pinned behind a car on the backstretch and I was in good shape, I would have gained a couple spots right there, and he just ran me off the backstretch. I can't believe I didn't crash, I got that far out into the dirt. That's the worst part of it."

Donahue saw the move as an eye-for-an-eye situation. "He says I cut him off. Whatever," said Donahue. "He put me three-wide. You know, what comes around, goes around. He might be mad.

"I mean, this is the Milk Bowl, this happens once a year. I don't know how else to put it. I wanted it more than he did. I got rough. I usually don't drive like that, but this is a once-in-a-lifetime deal."

While winning that first Milk Bowl may be something a driver only gets to do once, Dragon said experiencing Donahue's tactics was not. And it's not something he'll likely forget as the American-Canadian Tour season comes to a close at Oxford Plains Speedway next Sunday.

"No, it's the second time it's happened this year [with Donahue]," Dragon said. "I'll be good with it, and I'll keep it in my memory bank. That's part of the deal.

"We'll see what happens next week."

(PHOTOS: 1. Brent Dragon (#55) gets underneath John Donahue (#26) and Glen Luce (#7); 2. Donahue repays the favor with Dragon outside and Eric Chase (#40) and Joey Becker (#16) down low. Photos by Leif Tillotson)

Monday, October 5, 2009

Donahue in Good Company with Milk Bowl Win

Chittenden Bank Milk Bowl coverage presented by RPM Racing Engines

BARRE -- Three years ago, John Donahue's name was often little more than a footnote in American-Canadian Tour race finishes or year-end point standings. And three short years later, the Graniteville driver has firmly established himself as a driver that will be remembered long after his final lap.

With a win in the 47th running of the Chittenden Bank Milk Bowl at Thunder Road Int'l Speedbowl, Donahue became just the tenth driver in history to win each of the track's "big three" events -- he won the Memorial Day Classic in 2008, the Labor Day Classic, the site of his first ACT Late Model Tour win, in 2007, and now Sunday's Milk Bowl. The victory means his name will be now etched in all three granite monuments at the Barre track honoring past winners of the events, alongside pioneers Larry Demar and Russell Ingerson, Hall of Famers Jean-Paul Cabana, Bobby Dragon, Dave Dion, and Robbie Crouch, and modern-day heroes Jean-Paul Cyr, Dave Pembroke, and Brent Dragon.

It's something Donahue spent a lot of time thinking about, too.

"This'll put the third one on there now," Donahue said after his Milk Bowl victory. "[It means] a lot. A month ago, Tom (Curley, ACT president) brought us all up there, the drivers, and I'm looking on down through and I'm on two of [the monuments], and I said, 'Boy, I'd really like to be on that Milk Bowl one, that way my name is on all three of them.' I've been thinking about it since then."

And perhaps appropriately, it was one of those names already carved into each piece of the rock -- Milton's Brent Dragon -- that Donahue had to outduel to win the Milk Bowl.

Dragon won the opening 50-lap round of the three-segment, cumulatively scored race, with Donahue third. Donahue finished ninth in the middle leg, one spot better than Dragon, and trailed Dragon by one point entering the final 50 laps. And that's when Donahue turned up the wick.

Both drivers raced three-wide through traffic, along with Scott Payea, Brian Hoar, and Brad Leighton, who each would be within striking distance under the right circumstances, near the one-third mark of the final segment. Dragon and Donahue traded jabs on the track, knowing their mid-pack battle was almost certainly for the overall victory.

Dragon pushed three-wide under Donahue and Glen Luce on lap 17, then swapped lanes on the next lap. Donahue seized the opportunity, returning the three-wide favor. In the intense action, Dragon's car was shoved momentarily off the backstretch, while Donahue was able to squeeze by. Two laps later, Payea spun off the track with Dave Whitcomb and Eric Chase to bring out the caution flag.

Donahue and Dragon realigned in 13th and 14th for the restart on lap 20, which proved to be the decisive moment of the race. Traffic in Donahue's inside lane moved faster than Dragon's high side group, and Donahue picked his way through the field to finish fifth in the segment. But Dragon, his car knocked out of alignment from the contact on lap 18, was only able to muster a tenth-place finish in segment. With the final tally added up, Donahue's 17 segment points secured him his first Milk Bowl win, four points better than Dragon's 21, and nine better than Eric Williams of Hyde Park.

Donahue began his career as a Flying Tiger/Sportsman racer at Thunder Road in the mid-nineties, winning more than his share of races and championships, but had little in the way of headline-grabbing success in the top-tier Late Model class -- and certainly with the touring ACT division -- until recently. His Milk Bowl victory and planting the traditional kiss on a "trophy queen" cow, he says, is the crowning achievement of his racing career.

"It's right at the top. I've had a lot of good races, I won a [Labor Day] 200 here, but this is different," he said. "You've got three different segments, you stop, you have to think about it, re-do your car. This is one I've been wanting for a long time. I'm just going to soak this one in and be happy."

Williams' third-place finish went virtually unnoticed, overshadowed by the Donahue-Dragon saga, but his segment finishes of seventh, fifteenth, and fourth were good enough for the podium spot. Joey Polewarczyk, Jr. of Hudson, N.H. (28 points) and Brian Hoar of Williston (29 points) finished fourth and fifth overall. The top-ten was completed by Dave Pembroke, Jamie Fisher, Nick Sweet, Joey Laquerre, and Chip Grenier. Track champion Jean-Paul Cyr, who won the third segment finished 11th overall, while second-segment winner Wayne Helliwell, Jr. finished 18th overall in his first start at Thunder Road.

***

Eighteen year-old Jimmy Hebert of Williamstown became the youngest driver in history to win a championship in Thunder Road's famed Tiger Sportsman division on Sunday, taking a four-point victory over Tony Rossi of Barre. Hebert overcame a tense moment on lap 17 of the 50-lap finale when hard contact with Mark Barnier cut Hebert's left-rear tire, sending him into a spin down the frontstretch. After pitting under the caution period, Hebert recovered for a 13th-place finish.

"It's ten times better that I ever thought it would be," said Hebert. "Ever since I was little, I dreamed of this. I never thought I would race at 16, say nothing about winning a championship at 18. The first year we really struggled and everybody seemed discouraged, but last year we put together some good runs. This year we worked on consistency and it really paid off for us."

Shawn Fleury of Middlesex took the lead from upstart Jason Corliss on lap 28, then cruised to his second win of the season. Mike Ziter followed Fleury past Corliss, but was penalized with under ten laps remaining for spinning a lapped car off the backstretch. Ziter was placed last in the 28-car field. Danville driver Corliss, the 2008 Street Stock champion making only his fourth appearance in the Tiger Sportsman division, finished second officially, with Bradford's Derrick O'Donnell third, Rossi fourth, and Bobby Therrien of Hinesburg in fifth.

Pete Ainsworth, who entered the final weekend with an eight-point lead in the division, failed to qualify for the main event. He slumped to a fourth-place championship finish behind Hebert, Rossi, and Brendan Moodie.

Tommy "Thunder" Smith of Williamstown moved into sole possession of first-place all-time in the Street Stock division with his 20th career win, his third of the season. Mike Martin of Craftsbury Common was the runner-up, with rookie Danny Doyle of Hancock third, Garry Bashaw of Lincoln fourth, and Randolph's Markus Farnham fifth. Veteran driver Gary Mullen of Tunbridge captured his first championship with a ninth-place finish, beating Martin for the title by 26 points.

Like Ainsworth, Junkyard Warrior point leader Donny Yates of North Montpelier failed to qualify for the Milk Bowl finale, but was still able to clinch his division's championship on the strength of six wins during the season. Ken Christman of Cabot took his third victory, over Keith Fortier of Hinesburg, Kevin Streeter of Waitsfield, Northfield's John Prentice, and Tommy Elwood of Morrisville.

UNOFFICIAL RESULTS -- 47th Annual Chittenden Bank Milk Bowl
Thunder Road Int'l Speedbowl, Barre, Vt.
Sunday, October 4, 2009

Pos.-Driver-Hometown-(Segment Finishes/Total Score)
1. John Donahue, Graniteville (3+9+5=17)
2. Brent Dragon, Milton (1+10+10=21)
3. Eric Williams, Hyde Park (7+15+4=26)
4. Joey Polewarczyk, Jr., Hudson, N.H. (4+22+2=28)
5. Brian Hoar, Williston (16+4+9=29)
6. Dave Pembroke, Middlesex (5+19+7=31)
7. Jamie Fisher, Shelburne (10+13+8=31)
8. Nick Sweet, Barre (2+17+12=31)
9. Joey Laquerre, East Montpelier (11+8+15=34)
10. Chip Grenier, Graniteville (9+25+3=37)
11. Jean-Paul Cyr, Milton (8+29+1=38)
12. Phil Scott, Montpelier (6+27+6=39)
13. Scott Payea, Milton (12+5+23=40)
14. Brad Leighton, Center Harbor, N.H. (13+6+22=41)
15. Tyler Cahoon, St. Johnsbury (22+2+20=44)
16. Glen Luce, Turner, Me. (18+16+11=45)
17. Tony Andrews, Northfield (24+3+18=45)
18. Wayne Helliwell, Jr., Dracut, Mass. (27+1+19=47)
19. Joey Doiron, Berwick, Me. (14+7+26=47)
20. Quinny Welch, Lancaster, N.H. (21+12+17=50)
21. Matt White, Northfield (15+28+16=59)
22. Chad Wheeler, Waterbury Center (19+30+13=62)
23. Mark Hayward, Unity, N.H. (25+11+27=63)
24. Mike Olsen, North Haverhill, N.H. (17+18+28=63)
25. Eric Chase, Milton (20+14+29=63)
26. Joey Becker, Jeffersonville (23+21+21=65)
27. Pete Potvin, III, Graniteville (28+24+14=66)
28. Rich Lowrey, Charlotte (26+20+25=71)
29. Mike Bailey, South Barre (30+23+24=77)
30. Dave Whitcomb, Essex Junction (29+26+30=85)

NAPA Tiger Sportsman (# - denotes rookie)
1. Shawn Fleury, Middlesex
2. #Jason Corliss, Danville
3. Derrick O'Donnell, Bradford
4. Tony Rossi, Barre
5. Bobby Therrien, Hinesburg
6. Ray Stearns, East Corinth
7. Brendan Moodie, North Wolcott
8. Tommy Therrien, Hinesburg
9. Josh Demers, Middlesex
10. Lance Allen, Barre

Allen Lumber Street Stock/Power Shift Online Junkyard Warrior (# - denotes rookie)
Pos.-Driver-Hometown (# - denotes rookie)
1. Tommy Smith, Williamstown (SS)
2. Mike Martin, Craftsbury Common (SS)
3. #Danny Doyle, Hancock (SS)
4. Garry Bashaw, Lincoln (SS)
5. Markus Farnham, Randolph (SS)

20. Ken Christman, Cabot (JW)
21. Keith Fortier, Hinesburg (JW)
22. Kevin Streeter, Waitsfield (JW)
23. John Prentice, Northfield (JW)
24. Tommy Elwood, Morrisville (JW)
(PHOTOS: 1. John Donahue hoists the Milk Bowl trophy after his first win in the classic event; 2. Donahue smooches Larolupine, the Milk Bowl trophy queen, as Governor Jim Douglas looks on; 3. Tiger Sportsman champion Jimmy Hebert; 4. Street Stock champion Gary Mullen. Photos by Justin St. Louis/VMM)

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Congratulations to John Donahue and team!




"Irish" John Donahue captured the Chittenden Bank Milk Bowl at Barre's Thunder Road Int'l Speedbowl on Sunday afternoon, earning the $10,000 top prize and a piece of local short track racing lore. Our congratulations to Donahue, crew chief Dale Shaw, car owner Kendall Roberts, and the entire #26 National Guard team. VMM will have a recap of the event soon, presented by RPM Racing Engines.

(Photos by Justin St. Louis/VMM)