-by Justin St. Louis
One down, 70-ish to go. VMM took in its first race of the year at Waterford Speedbowl last weekend, and witnessed a decent show by the Modified Racing Series troops, the NEMA Midgets, and Waterford's Late Models, Mini Stocks, and Street Stocks.
The MRS race had 11 cautions, but we're willing to forgive that and chalk it up to first-race growing pains. That and the fact that one of those cautions was for a spectacular seven-car crash at the flagstand that sent Jimmy Dolan flying through the air. If you're gonna wreck, boys, make it big and do it in front of the grandstands so the paying fans can see. Job well done. (We wouldn't be applauding the crash, of course, if anyone got hurt. Thankfully there were no injuries reported.)
Doug Coby was clearly very strong and deserved to win the race, but it would have been interesting to see if Rowan Pennink could have beaten him. Pennink changed an engine Sunday morning and was forced to come from 25th starting spot to rap on Coby's back bumper with ten laps remaining. Under caution on lap 90, though, Pennink's car shut down. Initial reports were that the car's fuel cell ran dry, but that was later discounted by Pennink's team members, who instead cited an unknown mechanical failure.
The Mini Stocks at Waterford are among the best four-cylinder divisions I've ever seen anywhere, bar none, and the Street Stocks going three- and four-wide around a track that isn't really built for that kind of racing was a lot of fun to watch. The Late Models were a bit strung out at times, but there were a few good battles and some key wrecks that changed the complexion of the race. The NEMA race wasn't much to write home about, but it took only five minutes from green to checkers, and it was cool to have a first-time winner in Chris Leonard.
All in all, it was a great way to begin the 2010 season, and we're looking forward to the American-Canadian Tour opener at Lee USA Speedway on April 18.
What was not great was the 60-lap, hour-long-plus SK Modified feature, one that featured no less than four different spins by Frank Mucciacciaro, and a ton of restarts that -- to this unbiased non-regular to the track -- looked a bit fishy.
Leader Keith Rocco jumped the start half the time, played jackrabbit half the time, and brake-checked the field before rocketing to the green the other half of the time. (There were so many restarts that there were actually three halves of the race. I counted.) I won't suggest that Rocco gets special treatment at Waterford, but it seemed fairly obvious that he was going to get away with whatever he wanted to when it was time to take the green flag.
Maybe that's the way Waterford does things, I don't know. It would be easier to point fingers if another driver had been the polesitter for any of the restarts, but Rocco led every lap and was therefore the point man the entire race. We just hope it was a one-race thing and that it's not a regular occurence.
For safety's sake, Mucciacciaro needs to either get a spotter, a mirror, or a big rubber ball to live inside. Maybe all three. I saw him chop down on other cars, I saw him drive directly into other cars, I saw him spin completely on his own, and I saw him end up in a pileup across the finish line when he was running in last place. And again, the officials need to say something. Let him ride around and make some laps and get seat time, but when he starts to ruin the race, put him on the trailer. Come back next week and try it again.
At the races I've always enjoyed seeing, there would have been one warning for Rocco's mind games, and no more than three strikes for Mucciacciaro's disregard for the race. Hopefully Waterford Speedbowl will catch on before I go back there in October.
At 6-2-2, the Habs have the best record in the East over the last ten games. We should just let those silly Bruins scoot by us for seventh place so they can get schlacked in four games by the Penguins in the playoffs, ya know, since the B's obviously won't put up a fight against them when it matters anyway.
And then there's Atlanta and the Rangers lurking back there just outside the cutoff. In reality, I said at the beginning of the season that I'd be surprised if my boys from Montréal made the post-season, so I'm pretty tickled that we're in a position to be there.
Hmm? What? This is a racing blog? Wow, my bad. Anywho...
The new three-track alliance between Bear Ridge, Canaan, and the new Big Daddy's Speedbowl can only be a good thing for dirt racers and fans in the area. With the headline Sportsman Modifieds running under a common rulebook, the popular Twin State Series has been recreated, and underwriting has been found in Gravco Janitorial Services.
With the momentum Bear Ridge Speedway gained last year in the Modifieds -- going from an average of 6 cars in 2008 to 25 by the end of 2009 -- and the promotional creativity of Canaan's Dick Therrien and the enthusiasm of Mike "Big Daddy" Rivers, we're expecting big things this season.
It was sure nice to be at a race track in March. In fact, I'm not sure I've ever witnessed a race in person during that particular month. I'm also not sure I'll ever want to again, at least not in New England. #freakingcold
Yes, that was a Twitter reference. #getonthebandwagon
The call by Mike Ford to bring Denny Hamlin out of the lead and into the pits was probably the gutsiest move a crew chief has made in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in a long time, and Hamlin's drive from ninth to the win in four laps was the paydirt. Don't ever again tell me short tracks don't belong in NASCAR. If you weren't excited about Martinsville you need your pulse checked.
We had heard some rumblings last year of Mike Bruno possibly coming back to ACT a little bit in 2010, and Saturday's open practice at Albany-Saratoga Speedway in Malta, N.Y., confirmed that for us. The Bomoseen racer was behind the wheel of Jacob McGrath's #72 car, joining Jamie Fisher in his familiar S.D. Ireland #18. (Click here for a photo of the two in action on the Champlain Valley Racing Association website.)
Bruno told us that he, McGrath, and Barney McRae have put a team together to run a handful of events, beginning with ACT's first-ever trip to Malta in April, and the special 100-lap Late Model event at Devil's Bowl in West Haven on May 23. He also said he may run the car once or twice on Thursday nights at Thunder Road.
Bruno plans to race his dirt-style Modified full-time at both Albany-Saratoga and Devil's Bowl, and will bring the car to Airborne Speedway for the big events.
"I want to get back to racing ACT within the next two or three years," Bruno said. "I had been trying to get a ride for this season, but when the CVRA paved both Malta and the Bowl, I figured I'd race my Modified here in my own back yard at my two home tracks. The deal with Jacob is going to be good -- he's going to work for me this summer on the Modified, and I'm going to help him with the Late Model. He'll drive it a few times and I'll drive it a few times."
Bruno said the the thing he looks forward to most about the partnership with McGrath is having a crew chief in McRae.
"Barney's a funny guy and people joke about him sometimes, but the truth is he really knows everything about these cars," Bruno said. "Having him at Malta was great. It was really nice for me to be able to get in the seat and just be a driver, rather than have to think about what the chassis needs, or this or that. I'm happy we've got him to help us out."
THIS WEEKEND: Seventeen year-old Steven Legendre of Danville takes on Maine powerhouses Ben Rowe and Johnny Clark, NASCAR's David Ragan, and the stars of the PASS South Super Late Models for the Easter Bunny 150 at the legendary Hickory (N.C.) Motor Speedway on Saturday. The race is Round #2 of five in the PASS National Championship.
Legendre finished third in his last outing at Dillon (S.C.) Motor Speedway on March 13, and was 6th in the PASS National opener at New Smyrna (Fla.) Speedway in January. He sits fourth in National points. Brad Leighton of Center Harbor, N.H., won at New Smyrna and leads the National standings, followed by Clark, New Brunswick's Lonnie Sommerville, Legendre, and Preston Peltier of North Carolina. Strong, Me.'s Dale Brackett sits seventh with Rowe in eighth.
VMM's favorite sandwich man, "Subway Dave" Parker will be at Hickory, and we'll have periodic updates as they are available on our Twitter page. Yup, I said it again. Twitter. #justdoit
Closer to home, New Hampshire Motor Speedway is holding an open house on Saturday and offering fans a chance to drive their own cars around the 1.058-mile speedway in the FANtasy DRIVE. Many racing oragnizations will be taking part in displays and fan-friendly promotions including the American-Canadian Tour with drivers John Donahue and Brent Dragon (that oughta be fun... Milk Bowl memories anyone?), Thunder Road's Nick Sweet, and Lee USA Speedway's Wayne Helliwell, Jr. Legendary media men Ken Squier and Dr. Dick Berggren will also be on hand for a fan Q&A session. Visit www.nhms.com for more details.
(PHOTOS: 1. Waterford's Street Stocks were fantastic; 2. Keith Rocco (#57) got this much of a jump more than a couple times; 3. Mike Bruno's gonna be busy this year. All photos by Justin St. Louis/VMM)