BARRE -- Goliath meets Goliath at Thunder Road Int'l Speedbowl on Sunday. Williston's Brian Hoar and Milton's Jean-Paul Cyr -- the two all-time winningest drivers in American-Canadian Tour Late Model history -- will face each other head-to-head for the 2010 championship in the most anticipated matchup in recent memory.
TALE OF THE TAPE
Defending champion Hoar's 25 career wins top the all-time ACT Late Model Tour victory chart, while Cyr's 19 wins rank second. In 106 career starts, Hoar has 60 top-fives, 78 top-tens, and an average finish of 7.7. In 137 starts, Cyr has 60 top-fives, 86 top-tens, and a 9.3 average finish.
Hoar owns six ACT championships -- 1993, each year from 1997 to 2000, and 2009. Cyr's seven titles are an ACT record, having won in 1994, 1996, and each season from 2003 to 2007.
In addition to his ACT titles, Hoar was the track champion at both Airborne Speedway and Thunder Road Int'l Speedbowl in 1999, was that year's ACT Overall champion, was the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East Rookie of the Year in 2001, and won the 2006 New Hampshire Motor Speedway track championship.
Cyr won the Devil's Bowl Speedway championship in 1990 as a dirt track racer, won ACT's Am/Can Challenge title in 1996, is the reigning Thunder Road track champion, and is a successful off-road motorcycle racer, competing in the legendary Baja 1000 and Baja 500 events.
Hoar drove for his family-owned Goss Dodge team before joining Rick Paya's RPM Motorsports for the ACT championship last year. Paya was Cyr's crew chief from 2003-08, also serving as car owner the final two years. After a successful year driving for Joey and Jeff Laquerre, Cyr will race for veteran Gary Caron this season.
NEVER WORKED OUT
For one reason or another, Hoar and Cyr have raced the entire ACT schedule together just three times. As Cyr won championships in 1994 and 2007, Hoar endured tough seasons to finish a distant sixth each time. In 1996, the two entered the final event at Airborne Speedway in a tight battle with Dave Whitcomb. Hoar's car failed to come to life on the starting grid, though, and he was forced to watch from the sidelines.
"It's never really worked out," said Cyr. "The times he won it, I wasn't around. The times I've won it, Brian has either not been there or not been able to be up there with me."
Each driver won four consecutive ACT titles at different points, but each streak took place while the other was racing NASCAR. Hoar's 1993 and 2009 titles came when Cyr ran only weekly events at Airborne or Thunder Road.
"I think not being there at the same time as the other was good for our careers," said Hoar. "He made it look easy [in 2003-06], and I did in the '90s, but now there are a lot of new faces and it's going to be tougher. It's probably not realistic to think that we're going to be the only ones racing for the title, but it would be pretty cool."
And that championship in 1996? Cyr won by two points over Whitcomb. Hoar finished third on the trailer, 62 points back.
FAST FOES, FAST FRIENDS
"There are a lot of things that have to go just right for it to happen, and I'm hoping it happens," Hoar says of a potential championship showdown between he and Cyr. "We're at points in both of our careers where we've each won lots of races and championships. The only thing we really have left to do is to beat each other."
"If Brian wins the title this year, he'll tie my record [of seven ACT championships]," says Cyr. "I don't really want him to do that. If I'm able to pull it off and beat him, it will personally be one of the more rewarding championships I'll have had."
That intense focus should not draw bitter conclusions, though. While fierce competitors on the track, the two are close off the track; Cyr and Hoar go motorcycle riding, go-kart racing, and snowboarding together in the off-season. Cyr also remains close with Paya, speaking with him "at least once or twice a week."
Still, the drive to be the best racer is too great to ignore: "Jean is a great competitor and a great friend, but it would really suck to lose to him," Hoar says. "It would suck worse to lose to him than anyone else."
Losing to someone else is a very real possibility for both drivers. Names dropped by Cyr and Hoar as potential race winners and title contenders included Scott Payea, Joey Polewarczyk, and part-timer Eric Williams, and both are concerned about Brent Dragon and John Donahue as championship spoilers.
Payea won the Spring Green 100 at Airborne and has finished second in each of the last three seasons, including to Cyr in 2007 and Hoar last year. He hopes that the potential battle between the two will work to his advantage.
"I'm sure it's going to weigh on Brian's mind and Jean's as well," Payea said. "That's fine with me. Let them have their own battle, and I'll go and try to steal the championship from both of them."
Dragon is also a three-time championship runner-up with nine career wins, including a score at Twin State Speedway last September and a pair of wins in Canada. Donahue won at White Mountain Motorsports Park in June and finished no worse than fourth in the final five championshp events of 2009, adding a win in the Milk Bowl and a fifth-place effort at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in the process. Polewarczyk and Williams each had a win at Oxford Plains Speedway, and Williams also won at Thunder Road.
The list of top conteders -- full-time or otherwise -- also includes Brad Leighton, Patrick Laperle, Randy Potter, Dave Pembroke, Cris Michaud, Glen Luce, Jamie Fisher, Nick Sweet, and ACT newcomers Aaron Fellows, Travis Adams, Bradley Babb, and Chris Riendeau.
Cyr and Paya's long association creates advantages for both teams. Having won five of his seven ACT titles with Paya as either crew chief, car owner, or both, Cyr feels he knows Paya well enough to have educated guesses for each strategic decision Paya may make, but understands that Paya knows most Cyr's tricks behind the wheel, too.
"Rick is very clever, very methodical. He brings a whole different dimension to the Tour because he eats, breathes, and sleeps racing," says Cyr. "I've never actually competed against him because I've always been with him. It's going to be fun if there are any races where [Hoar and I] really running at par with each other. Rick has an advantage knowing how I drive, but I know his strategies. If he one-ups me I'll be able to look back at it and I'll know why and how he did it, but I think I can call his bluff, too."
Hoar doesn't see the Cyr-Paya familiarity as a problem. "I know I'm with a great team," he said. "Rick has had two very different styles of driver in me and Jean, and he's had similar results with both of us. The team does a great job, so it's up to me to work my [butt] off behind the wheel."
Cyr thinks this will be his best shot at challenging Hoar head-on. "I know the equipment he's in is great, because I used to drive it," he said. "The equipment I'm in this year is pretty aged and it's been around the block a few times, but I'm really optimistic. We tested at Canaan and I'm really pleased with how it went. Keith [Williams] and Kyle [Caron] did an unbelievable job putting the car together. It's up to the standards I'm used to. I wouldn't be racing this car if I didn't believe it could win."
(PHOTOS: 1. Brian Hoar; 2. Jean-Paul Cyr; 3. Scott Payea. Photos by Justin St. Louis/VMM)