-by Justin St. Louis
Well, here we are. The racing season begins this weekend at Waterford Speedbowl on the Connecticut coastline, which means it's time to start writing a weekly "Juice" again. As far as we're concerned, it's awesome. The snow is gone, the fields are flooded, and the smell of burning rubber is soon to fill the air.
The Modified Racing Series opens its seventh season at the Budweiser Blastoff 100 on Sunday with new entitlement sponsorship from BobValentiAutoMall.com, and don't be surprised if it's one of the more exciting races the series has thrown off. Among the race's 32 entrants are former MRS champions Dwight Jarvis of Ascutney, Chris Pasteryak, and defending titlist Jon McKennedy. But add in seven-time NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour champ Mike Stefanik, Race of Champions Tour king Matt Hirschman, and hotshots Doug Coby and Rowan Pennink, and it's shaping up to be a solid show.
And by the way, those 32 drivers? Their entry fees have been paid by Bob Valenti Auto Mall. Talk about a sponsor that's in it for the drivers, we give a thumbs-up to the Valenti gang. Click here for a schedule of the weekend's events.
OMG -- Did you see this extraordinary find by our good friend Jeremy Carpenter?
In case you don't know, the Kalomiris fellow in the video is the schlub that brought Thunder Road to the brink of extinction in 1978. Too bad we couldn't find this during the writing of "Fifty Years of Excitement" last summer.
We caught up with Phil Scott recently, and he comfirmed to us what many hoped he would: Expect him to challenge for his fourth Thunder Road track championship in 2010.
The Washington County Senator is running for the seat of Lieutenant Governor of Vermont this year, and was rumored to be taking some time off from racing to focus on his political career, if not hanging up his helmet altogether. Scott says that running every Thursday night at Thunder Road is the farthest thing from being a hinderence to his campaign schedule.
"It is absolutely part of my campaign," he said. "Running [the ACT Late Model Tour] out of state isn't something I have time for, but Thunder Road is close to home and is important to the campaign." Thunder Road was a key part of Scott's December speech announcing his candidacy for the 2010 election.
Scott was first voted to the State Senate in 2000, due largely to his popularity and success as a stock car driver. Scott was the Thunder Road track champion in 1996, 1998, and 2002, and the runner-up in each of the last two seasons. He also swept the ACT Late Model Tour and Airborne Speedway championships in 2002, and is third on Thunder Road's all-time winners list with 25 victories.
If there's a guy that deserves a break, it's Jimmy "Scruffy" Linardy. Short track racing has never had a friendlier group of people than the one Linardy brings to the pits, and Scruffy himself is one of the all-time characters of the sport. Linardy owns and operates a busy, heavy duty towing company near Boston, and works hard to get his race cars to the track when he has any sort of precious free time.
When he does get to the track, he's more often than not one of the cars out back, qualifying for -- by our best count -- four career ACT Late Model Tour races in six years. But he's always got a smile on his face, a handshake and a pat on the back for anyone who stops in to say hello, and he's thankful for the opportunity to even be in the pits.
In 2007, Scruffy and I were having a conversation with ACT boss Tom Curley. "We're just hoping to get into a couple this year," he said with a bit of a giggle. It was, without question, the most shining example of a racer just being there for the fun of it that I've ever witnessed. It took all year, but he reached his goal of "a couple": he raced in the Spring Green at Airborne (when only 25 cars showed up and everyone qualified), and again in the season finale at Oxford. Half of his career starts in one season, leaving just two more to spread out over five more years. And he keeps coming back. He also races most of the events at Lee USA and Waterford during the year, simply because he loves to drive race cars.
Linardy and his wife, Cindy, lost their son, 24 year-old James E. Linardy, Jr. -- "T.J." -- last week. And this follows the passing of Linardy's parents, just 11 weeks apart, in 2008.
If we're pulling for anyone this year, it's Scruffy. Hang in there, buddy.
We'll thank Bill Jenkins now for giving us a reason to turn the television on on Sundays. It's fun to root for the Latitude 43 Motorsports car, because it's one of our own racing at the highest level of stock car racing.
Vermonters will need to root a little harder than usual for Boris Said when the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series heads to tiny Martinsville Speedway this weekend, as Jenkins' #26 car is 37th in owners points and will have to qualify for the Goody's Fast Pain Relief 500 in time trials without the benefit of a top-35 provisional.
Short track specialist David Stremme took control of the car at Bristol last weekend -- with a tribute paint scheme honoring the Air National Guard -- and brought Latitude 43 its best finish in 24th place. Mike Bliss and the Tommy Baldwin Racing #36 team entered the race tied for 35th place with the Front Row Motorsports #37 usually driven by rookie Kevin Conway, with the Jenkins car 24 points behind.
Fortunately for Jenkins, Bliss failed to qualify. Unfotunately for Jenkins, however, Conway finished 28th, and Robby Gordon's #7 finished 22nd -- each a season-best result. While TBR #36 dropped to 38th place, FRM #37 held on to 35th and Gordon passed Jenkins to take over 36th. Latitude 43 cut the defecit in half to just 12 points behind 35th place and the coveted "locked-in" spot for Martinsville, but alas, is still a "go-or-go-homer" this weekend. (Note that Conway and David Gilliland have swapped their #37 and #38 rides, respectively, for FRM this weekend; the #38 car ranks 32nd in standings and will be safely in the field. Conway has never raced at Martinsville, while Gilliland has seven Sprint Cup starts there and is a likely bet to get the #37 qualified on time.)
With road course ace Said back in the Latitude 43 car at Martinsville, the pressure is certainly on. Boris finished 18th in his only career Nationwide Series start at the track in 2006, and qualified fifth for a Camping World Truck Series event there in 1998.
Here's the tale of the tape for Martinsville:
Sam Hornish, Jr./Penske Racing #77 Dodge -- 33rd in owner points (392 points)
4 NSCS starts at Martinsville
Avg. Fin.: 33.0
Best Fin.: 28th, 2008 Goody's Cool Orange 500
Last Martinsville NSCS race: 36th, 2009 Tums Fast Relief 500
Note: Finished 9th at Martinsville in only career NCWTS start
Travis Kvapil/Front Row Motorsports #34 Ford -- 34th in owner points (374 points)
8 NSCS starts at Martinsville
Avg. Fin.: 27.9
Best Fin.: 18th, 2008 Goody's Cool Orange 500
Last Martinsville NSCS race: 43rd, 2009 Tums Fast Relief 500
Note: 12.3 avg. fin. in 9 NCWTS starts at Martinsville
David Gilliland/Front Row Motorsports #37 Ford -- 35th in owner points (355 points)
7 NSCS starts at Martinsville
Avg. Fin.: 31.9
Best Fin.: 24th, 2008 Goody's Cool Orange 500
Last Martinsville NSCS race: 39th, 2009 Tums Fast Relief 500
Note: 16 of 23 career K&N Pro Series West Top 10s came at short tracks
Robby Gordon/Robby Gordon Motorsports #7 Toyota -- 36th in owner points (346 points)
19 NSCS starts at Martinsville
Avg. Fin.: 34.6
Best Fin.: 20th, 2005 Advance Auto Parts 500
Last Martinsville NSCS race: 37th, 2009 Tums Fast Relief 500
Note: Former NNS short track winner at Richmond
Boris Said/Latitude 43 Motorsports #26 Ford -- 37th in owner points (343 points)
3 combined NNS/NCWTS starts at Martinsville
Avg. Fin.: 24.3
Best Fin.: 18th, 2006 Goody's 250 (NNS)
Making first Martinsville NSCS attempt Sunday
Note: Qualified 5th in NCWTS event at Martinsville in 1998
Mike Bliss/Tommy Baldwin Racing #36 Chevrolet -- 38th in owner points (307 points)
9 NSCS starts at Martinsville
Avg. Fin.: 31.1
Best Fin.: 14th, 2002 Old Dominion 500
Last Martinsville NSCS race: 39th, 2008 Tums QuikPak 500
Note: 6 Top 10s in 11 NCWTS starts at Martinsville
(PHOTOS: 1. The Modified Racing Series gets after it at Waterford on Sunday; 2. Senator Scott (left) shares a laugh with Governor Jim Douglas (right) at Thunder Road last June; 3. Scruffy Linardy at Oxford, Me., last October. All photos by Justin St. Louis/VMM)