WEST HAVEN -- Consider the Devil’s Bowl Speedway experiment a success, at least as far as the first practice session goes.
Champlain Valley Racing Association management paved the track this month after four decades of operating it as a dirt facility, invoking the ire of some race teams and fans. But to the surprise of the nearly 30 teams that tested the new asphalt surface on Saturday afternoon, the results of the change were impressive.
"It’s gonna be fast," said Tim LaDuc, a veteran Modified standout from nearby Orwell. "I think it’ll be competitive. There appears to be a couple of lanes for traffic, so hopefully it’ll be good." LaDuc has raced a handful of times on asphalt at Airborne Speedway in New York and Canaan Fair Speedway in New Hampshire.
Former American-Canadian Tour champion Dave Whitcomb of Essex Junction and Modified driver Mike Bruno of Bomoseen, a veteran of both dirt and asphalt surfaces, likened the new surface to the 5/8-mile Riverside Speedway in Ste-Croix, Que.
"I'm looking forward to it. I like the fast tracks and the long straightaways," said Bruno, who won at the CVRA’s other track, Albany-Saratoga Speedway -- also a newly transformed asphalt track -- on Friday night. "It kind of seperates the guys that can drive it down deep into the corner and keep the car straight."
Keeping it straight, though, is Bruno's biggest concern for his fellow competitors. "It’s gonna be pretty wild. It’s going to take a while with the [Modified] guys here because a lot of them haven't raced pavement. I think it’s going to be a lot of defensive driving in the beginning for the first few races, but I think the racing will get better as the guys get more acclimated to the race track."
Sportsman driver Hunter Bates of Middlebury said the difference between the asphalt and dirt surfaces is big. "It's a lot tighter and a lot less forgiving [than dirt]," Bates said. "We’ll help each other out a little bit, but it’s pretty tough to figure it out as a whole. Everybody’s going to have to try to learn."
A few small groups of fans watched the practice. Most were impressed at the increased speeds of the open-wheel divisions, especially the top-tier Modifieds. Bruno was clocked at a little more than 106-mph in the first practice session, less than one mile per hour off the existing dirt track record, and Bruno admitted he "wasn't pushing it" at the time.
Race fan Sharon Randazzo of Granville, N.Y., was eager to see how things would turn out with the new surface after watching dirt races at Devil's Bowl for more than 20 years. "This is the first time we've seen the cars on asphalt, so it should prove interesting for this year."
"I'm excited. I want to see it."