-by Justin St. Louis
For most racing folks up where we're located, this weekend is a big one. For Late Model fans, the American-Canadian Tour kicks its 25th season off at Lee USA Speedway on the New Hampshire seacoast on Sunday, while the open-wheel fans can enjoy the first-ever Modified Racing Series/Race of Champions Tour showdown at the all-new Albany-Saratoga Speedway in Malta, New York. A bit further east, the Pro All Stars Series Super Late Models open their North schedule at Speedway 95 near Bangor, Maine.
As much as we'd love to be in two or three places at once, VMM is headed to Lee to find out who the first qualifier for the ACT Invitational at New Hampshire Motor Speedway will be.
Now if only Mother Nature can cooperate.
Getting back to Thunder Road for Tuesday's practice session -- strangely enough -- did this soul a whole lot of good. Yeah, we started the season a few weeks ago with an actual race at Waterford, but it was cold, windy, wet, and far from home. In fact, there was a pretty decent snowstorm that we trudged through on the way back north.
But the weather at Thunder Road was pretty close to perfect for mid-April in Vermont, and the ride home was about three-and-a-half hours shorter. In fact, I even got back in time for supper, in time to tell my new puppy, Witten, that no, this was my spaghetti, not his.
We got a pretty-much-complete list of the Late Models and Tiger Sportsmen that were there, but God help me if I was going to get all of the numberless and even paintless Street Stocks and Warriors.
Late Models we counted: Norm Andrews, Joey Becker, Cody Blake, Nathan Brown, Craig Bushey, Brooks Clark, John Donahue (two cars), Aaron Fellows, Jamie Fisher, Grant Folsom, Reno Gervais, Chip Grenier, Brian Hoar, Joey Laquerre, Cris Michaud, Doug Murphy, Scott Payea, Dave Pembroke, Chris Riendeau, Phil Scott, Nick Sweet, Dave Whitcomb, Matt White.
And Tigers: Eric Badore, Mike Billado, Jeff Bousquet, Jason Corliss, Josh Demers, Alex Ferno, David Finck, Shawn Fleury, Neal Foster, Kevin Godfrey, Troy Gray, Jimmy Hebert, Joel Hodgdon, John Lambert, Mike Martin, George May, Derrick O'Donnell, Matt Potter, Tim Potter, Ricky Roberts, Tucker Williams, Mike Ziter.
John Donahue had both of his cars at Thunder Road, including one with the new Ford crate engine. Donahue was happy with the switch and basically echoed the thoughts of others that have tried out the new powerplant.
"It's got a longer power curve," he said. "I feel like all my speed is at the end of the straightaway, rather than out of the corner with the Chevy motor." Donahue said he thinks it will be very interesting at shorter tracks like Thunder Road. He also practiced the engine at White Mountain Motorsports Park last week and was pleased with the performance of it there.
Our favorite Tweet of the week: "@LaxSpeedway: We are proud to announce that Festival Foods' Oktoberfest Bratwursts are the Speedway's official Bratwurst this year."
Gotta hand it to LaCrosse Fairgrounds Speedway for constant promotion. The Wisconsin track's annual Oktoberfest is a national short track happening, and to me, the Bratwurst thing seems like a fantastic year-long reminder of that event. (And honestly, who wouldn't want to eat a couple of those every Saturday night at the races?) Good work, LaCrosse.
It's been suggested that VMM should sign some sort of endorsement deal for an official food.
I wonder if I can get Mike Perrotte to get on board with this. Eight Airborne Speedway Michigan Dogs a week and you've got a deal.
Check out these cool videos produced by the Air National Guard in association with Vermont's own Latitude 43 Motorsports. And while you're at it, check out some cool videos we put together from Thunder Road.
An interesting deal: Jay Webb will be back behind the wheel of a Tiger Sportsman car this season. Webb struck a deal with car owner Chris Burnett that brings a new engine under the hood of the #19 car driven weekly at Thunder Road by Neal Foster in exchange for a seat in the car at the four ACT Tiger Sportsman Series races at White Mountain, Canaan, Thunder Road, and Riverside. Webb will also turn some wrenches on the car when Foster drives.
The Milton racer won the 1997 Renegade championship at Airborne and was one of the Tiger division's top racers in the early 2000s with six feature wins there and in long-distance series events. He and Burnett have each spent the last few years as crew members for RPM Motorsports on the ACT Late Model Tour, winning titles with both Jean-Paul Cyr and Brian Hoar.
I'll say it now: it wouldn't surprise me a bit to see Jay Webb snare a win or even contend for the Tiger Sportsman Series championship this year. On top of that, Foster made big gains at the end of last year, and his program should improve quite a bit more this season with Webb in the pits.
Notably absent from Thunder Road Late Model practice: Jean-Paul Cyr, Tracie Bellerose, Brent Dragon, Eric Chase, Mike Bailey, Tony Andrews, Rich Lowrey, Dylan Smith, and Tom Tiller.
That's right, Tom Tiller was not there. Come to think of it, he's missed the last few practices, too. Hmm.
The best moment from practice was a conversation with Cris Michaud, who has become a gold mine for instantly classic quotes. You see, Michaud is as much a hockey fan as he is a racer, loving specifically the Montréal Canadiens. (He's a smart man. Habs over Washington in six. Ovechkin who?)
While we can't reprint everything from the conversation, it started something like this:
VMM: "Hey Cris, how are ya?"
Michaud: "(Expletive) Canadiens... They can't (expletive) get one (expletive) win before the (expletive) playoffs?"
...and it went on from there. We feel your pain, Cris Michaud, we feel your pain. Hang on to 1993. It could happen again.
Saturday, April 17
Airborne Speedway, Plattsburgh, N.Y. -- 1:00pm (Open Practice)
Albany-Saratoga Speedway, Malta, N.Y. -- 12:00pm (Quarter-Midgets, NETS Trucks, Enduro)
Canaan Fair Speedway, Canaan, N.H. -- 9:30am (Tire Sale)
Monadnock Speedway, Winchester, N.H. -- 12:00pm (Open Practice)
Sunday, April 18
Albany-Saratoga Speedway, Malta, N.Y. -- 1:00pm (MRS/ROC Modifieds)
Big Daddy's Speedbowl, Rumney, N.H. -- 12:00pm (Car Show)
Lee USA Speedway, Lee, N.H. -- 1:00pm (ACT Late Model Tour)
Twin State Speedway, Claremont, N.H. -- 12:00pm (Open Practice)
ACT Late Model Tour: Sun., April 18 -- Lee USA Speedway, Lee, N.H. (1:00pm)
Modified Racing Series: Sun., April 18 -- Albany-Saratoga Speedway, Malta, N.Y. (1:00pm)
Mr. DIRTcar 358-Modified Series: Sat., April 17 -- Can-Am Speedway, LaFargeville, N.Y. (4:00pm)
NASCAR Nationwide Series: Sat., April 17 -- Texas Motor Speedway, Fort Worth, Tx. (9:00pm)
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series: Sun., April 18 -- Texas Motor Speedway, Fort Worth, Tx. (3:00pm)
Pro All Stars Series: Sun., April 18 -- Speedway 95, Hermon, Me. (1:30pm)