-by Justin St. Louis
Seriously. Seriously? Do you expect me to just accept "Madhouse"? No sir.
Fantastic on-track and in-car footage, great behind-the-scenes profiles, and intense shots of passionate fans in the grandstands cheering on their drivers.
The racing, however, is garbage.
I've been told for years by a bunch of folks that Bowman-Gray Stadium down in Winston-Salem, N.C. is as crazy as it looked in the series premiere of The History Channel's newest television show. But that's ONE track. There are a thousand others in the country that are nothing like that, and hopefully never will be. For whatever its reasons, the team of officials at Bowman-Gray seem to think that that style of racing -- which is shown on TV to be nothing more than seeing how hard one guy can drive into another and wreck him, and then punch his lights out after the race -- works.
But let's see Burt Myers and Junior Miller, bitter rivals and arguably the two most intriguing characters on "Madhouse", come to any track up here in the northeast, or even any other track in the south, and try to get away with wailing on each other over and over and over and over and over. And over. The clip of Myers ramming Miller intentionally in 2008 -- then backing up and doing it again twice more, with an official standing just a couple of feet from the cars -- is great for entertaining a bunch of idiots. But it is absolutely deplorable antics for a semi-professional sporting event. What's even more embarrassing is that the country's most powerful auto racing organization -- NASCAR, Bowman-Gray Stadium's governing body -- not only turns a blind eye to it, but allows it to be the main draw for a freaking television show!
Does anyone remember in 2006, when Robin Blake put on a similar act at Twin State Speedway in Claremont, N.H. (which was a NASCAR-sanctioned track at the time) in 2006? Blake has been through two trials for assault with a deadly weapon as a result of the incident, and pending further litigation (which is supposedly continuing this month), Blake is facing up to seven years in prison. So, Bowman-Gray, am I missing something here? Or is it just you?
The show's five main characters -- multi-time champions Miller and Tim Brown, low-buck underdog Chris Fleming, and Myers and younger brother Jason Myers -- are all totally arrogant, and seem to have nothing but disdain for each other. Trash-talk is the rule, and fistfights seem to be the law. Bowman-Gray's officials -- whether intentional or not -- are seen as totally out of control of their drivers, and none worse than track manager Gray Garrison. The pre-season meeting shown between Garrison, Miller, and Burt Myers is laughable. And not in a "Seinfeld" kind of way.
The reality of the thing is this: I've got my DVR set to record every episode of "Madhouse" and I completely intend to watch the entire series. It's winter, and I want to see race cars on TV. But I'm not watching the show because of the racing itself. I'm a moron that gets duped into catchy, compelling, drama-laden shows, and "Madhouse" fits the bill. If you're a bloodlust, or a non-race fan that loves junk TV, then The History Channel has what you're looking for at 10:00pm every Sunday.
But know this: the short track fan in me cries a little every time I watch.
Looking through Alan Ward's photos of the Pre-Hangover 150 at Riverside Speedway, I counted at least three Cadillacs (almost 10% of the starting field), two Junkyard Warriors from Thunder Road including the championship car, more than a few "borrowed" road cones on cars, and a Christmas tree sticking through the roof of a race car.
According to the Champlain Valley Racing Association's website, the Tiger Sportsman division will now be its own seperate entity, and the former Limited division is now the Renegades, a la Airborne Speedway. It was previously announced that the Limiteds would be grandfathered in to the new Tiger Sportsman class. Also, the division will run only at Devil's Bowl Speedway in West Haven, and not at sister track Albany-Saratoga Speedway in Malta, N.Y.
This move may actually be a little troublesome. While the idea of keeping the Limited/Renegade division close to its roots is appealing and certainly not a bad move, there may have also been a good case for having the grandfather clause in place, simply in terms of car counts. My fear is that the DBS Tigers won't have the strength in numbers initially, and that the division will end up like the one at Canaan Fair Speedway in 2005 -- with around five or six cars a night, and cancelled after one season.
I hope for the sake of the track and of the sport that teams from Thunder Road and Airborne will support the Devil's Bowl Tigers enough until a solid home base is built up for the division that has been so successful for Tom Curley and Mike Perrotte. I believe White Mountain Motorsports Park will have less trouble building its Tiger spinoff "Super Sportsman" division than Devil's Bowl, due to the fact that the Super Street class it replaces is no longer running (and therefore has a dozen or so teams looking for something to do with their race cars), and the fact that Thunder Road teams have raced at White Mountain before and seem to enjoy the place. Devil's Bowl -- as of this writing -- has no official Thunder Road-, Airborne-, or ACT-sanctioned Tiger Sportsman events. Hopefully teams will be enticed to try something new and will travel to Rutland County without being required to do so.
Asking Devil's Bowl drivers to convert from dirt to asphalt is a big enough challenge. A slow conversion from the old Limiteds to the Tigers might have worked. Keeping the Limiteds as they are will most likely work. But keeping the existing division and creating a totally new division? There exists the potential for some Limited/Renegade teams to convert their cars to Tigers, which in turn lowers the car count for the Renegades and negatively affects that division. There exists the potential for absolutely nobody to support the new Tigers. And, of course, there exists the potential for nobody to support Devil's Bowl at all.
Only time will tell. Keep your fingers crossed and your chins up. We need this to work.
The USA/Canada games in the recent IIHF World Junior Championship tournament were without question two of the very best hockey games I've ever seen. The NHL is going to see some talented kids in the next couple of years. Wow.
And for what it's worth, the Habs are above .500 for the moment. We'll see how things look after the All-Star break.
Here are some odds and ends we've picked up recently:
-- NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Rookie of the Year Joey Logano will return to the NASCAR Toyota All-Star Showdown at Toyota Speedway at Irwindale (Calif.) on Jan. 29-30, driving for Fadden Racing and car owner Mike Olsen, based out of tiny North Haverhill, N.H. Logano will carry the sponsorship of The Home Depot, his Sprint Cup sponsor. The Toyota All-Star Showdown is regarded as the "Daytona 500" of NASCAR's Camping World Series East and West divisions.
Olsen, a former Thunder Road standout and grandson of the late multi-time track champion Stub Fadden, won the CWSE championship in 2001 and 2006 as a driver. Logano won the Showdown in 2007, and was the apparent winner last year until he was penalized for rough riding with Peyton Sellers on the final lap.
-- Williamstown youngster Jimmy Hebert has his Tiger Sportsman cars for sale, and hopes to make a jump to the ACT Late Model division for 2010. Hebert, 18, became Thunder Road's youngest Tiger Sportsman champion last year.
-- Ben Rowe teaming up with Scott Mulkern can only mean trouble for the PASS North Series. Rowe, a four-time champion of the series, is obviously quite talented, and Mulkern has deep pockets and likes to spend money on racing. The team has four cars at their disposal, with a pair of Chevy engines and another pair of Dodges. And for the record, Mulkern knows what it takes to win, having won a PASS North race and a pair of features on the former PASS Outlaw tour himself. Watch out, Johnny Clark.
-- Eric and Tucker Williams each have new race cars for 2010, but aren't sure if they'll be able to race them. Eric, a two-time ACT Late Model Tour winner last season, was offered "a deal he couldn't refuse" according to Tucker, and is having a new Howe Racing Enterprises house car being built at Howe headquarters in Beaverton, Mich. Tucker, the Thunder Road Street Stock Rookie of the Year, has acquired a Tiger Sportsman car formerly driven to a bunch of wins on either side of Lake Champlain by Robin Wood and Joey Becker. How often the cars race depends on sponsorship funding, Tucker says.
-- We're headed to the ACT/Thunder Road Banquet of Champions on Saturday to hob-knob and bench-race. Keep your eyes peeled for news and things coming soon after.
(PHOTOS: 1. Burt Myers (#1) and Junior Miller (#69) sure do put on a show at Bowman-Gray. A bad one. 2. Ho! Ho! Ho! It's an Enduro! Photo 1 by Eric Hylton; Photo 2 by Alan Ward)