Town, Track Still Searching For Common Ground

SpeedReading

By DAVE MOODY

Barre/Montpelier (VT) Times-Argus

 

Work continues in an effort to hammer out an agreement between management at Barre’s Thunder Road International Speedbowl and the Barre Town Police Department.

As reported here last week, the two parties have hit an impasse in their efforts to negotiate an agreement for the BTPD to provide police protection at the speedway, with track owner Tom Curley calling Chief Michael Stevens’ demands excessive, unnecessary, and prohibitively expensive. Without a signed security agreement, the track cannot receive the permits needed to open for the 2002 season.

Depending on whom you talk to, the tiff between Curley and Stevens is either a case of grandstanding by the mercurial Curley, or the inevitable result of years of financial exploitation by the BTPD. And while the argument is largely one of opinion, a search of public records reveals a handful of pertinent facts.

According to the annual Report of the Town Officers, there were 53 incidents of vandalism to a motor vehicle in Barre Town in 2000-2001. There were 10 incident reports filed for possession or manufacture of controlled substances, 22 for driving under the influence, eight for disorderly conduct, two more for public nuisance, and three for illegal possession of alcohol by a minor. On 16 occasions, the Barre Town Police filed incident reports concerning intoxicated persons, and there were a total of 50 reports concerning larceny from a motor vehicle.

It is impossible to determine how many (if any) of those 164 incident reports were filed as a result of activities at Thunder Road, since the statistics are not broken down in that manner. However, even if 10 percent of those incidents occurred at the track - highly unlikely, since only 18 racing events took place there in 2001 - it would appear that Thunder Road does not comprise a major drain on the town’s law enforcement resources.

Last year, Curley claims to have paid Barre Town Police officers $33,000 for roughly 1,500 man-hours of work at the speedway; an average of $22 per hour. Accepting for a moment the premise that those 16 incidents (10% of the annual total) took place at the track, Thunder Road paid a total of $1,833 per incident for police protection, an astronomical amount considering that many incidents do not result in an actual arrest.

Police officials will argue - correctly, we believe -- that their presence at Thunder Road serves as a deterrent, and that, were they not so visible at the speedway, problems would be more likely to occur. The question, then, appears to be one of degree. Are 10 uniformed, arrest-capable officers needed for events of this type? Or would seven officers, backed by an equal number of adult volunteers to oversee parking and procedural matters (as proposed by Curley) be sufficient?

Sources say there is no provision in the town charter requiring the speedway to employ Barre Town Police officers. Track management could, in effect, “farm out” the job to off-duty officers from neighboring towns, the Washington County Sheriff’s Department, or other arrest-capable law enforcement officials. All that is required is that Stevens sign-off on the plan.

A decade ago, Thunder Road severed its relationship with the Barre Town Fire Department, hiring a private company to provide for on-site fire and emergency medical services. Perhaps it’s time to examine a similar tack on the security front.

With Curley and Stevens both seemingly unwilling to budge, perhaps its time they simply agreed to disagree. Declare an impasse, terminate the relationship between Thunder Road and the BTPD, and institute a new security plan that provides for the protection of fans and racers alike, at a price the speedway can afford.

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What’s it going to take for someone to notice Kevin Lepage?

The Shelburne native hauled his unsponsored Busch Series entry to Las Vegas last weekend, rolling the dice in hopes that someone - ANYONE - might find him worthy of their sponsorship dollars. After starting 21st, Lepage ran among the leaders all day, eventually finishing fourth behind winner Jeff Burton, fellow Winston Cup “Busch-whacker” Michael Waltrip, and Johnny Sauter.

Lepage took home $42,470 for the run, and now stands 21st in Busch Series points, despite running only two of the three races held to date. In two Busch Series starts this season, Lepage has an average finish of sixth.

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Bob Webber Jr. says he’s looking for respect in his rookie season on the ACT Late Model Series.

Webber, son of Star and Hudson Speedway owner/promoter Bob Webber, will team with noted southern New England chassis builder Robert Watts to field a pair of ACT Late Model entries this season, with an eye toward a full schedule of Thunder Road Thursday night racing, plus at least a part-time slate on the traveling ACT Dodge Tour.

"Lots of people think this is just a thing to pass the time,” said Webber of his racing exploits, which will share time with his promotional efforts (along with his father) at Star and Hudson. “But that's not how Robert is looking at it. Knowing the competitiveness he has, I doubt he is going to settle for anything less than 110%. The ACT Dodge Tour is new for both of us, but he has done a lot of research into the design of this chassis.

“I look forward to opening the campaign on my home turf, Star Speedway. I am focused on proving myself to the people that think we are going to just be another backmarker."

Watts, meanwhile, said he sees the Webber effort as an opportunity to expand his chassis-building horizons.

"When Bobby first approached me about building him a car, I was apprehensive,” said Watts, who has built winning Pro Stock entries at Star, Hudson and Lee U.S.A Speedways. “Not because of him, but because of the threat of not being on top. When I saw he was putting everything together to be a first class team, I knew he was for real. He's not looking for any free rides. He just wants to be competitive no matter where we race this year."

The team will start the year with 2002 Monte Carlo built on a Camaro snout chassis, a combination that is common in Pro Stock racing, but not on the ACT Tour for some time. Plans call for a 2002 Dodge Intrepid tube snout car to be built for ACT Dodge Tour shows, and also some Open Competition racing.

Last year, Webber recruited racers at Star Speedway to donate a portion of their winnings to the “Racing Against Cancer” charity each week; an effort that raised over $10,000 for cancer research. This year, Webber has committed to donating all of his ACT Dodge Tour winnings to the Racing Against Cancer Team.

Webber said his primary goal for the 2002 season is to win Rookie of the Year honors at Thunder Road.

“I love that place,” said Webber. “I always have, back to my go-kart racing days. We’re still looking for a major sponsor, but even without it, we will be there every week; 193 miles each way. It’s going to make for some long Fridays, but I’m looking forward to it. It’ll be fun.”

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Short (Track) Subjects…

…The 2002 ACT Dodge Tour full-season entry list now numbers 32 drivers, with more than a month still remaining until the series opening “New England Dodge Dealers 100” Saturday, April 3 at New Hampshire’s Star Speedway.

Among the latest additions to the ACT roster are New Hampshire drivers Tracie Bellerose of Gorham, Buzzie Bezanson of Plaistow, Troy’s Herb Drugg, Gary Knight of Charlestown, Bethlehem’s Kenny Dufour, Victor Johnson of Troy and Sam Gooden of Whitefield. In addition, 2001 Thunder Road Late Model Rookie of the Year Cooper MacRitchie, and 2001 ACT Dodge Tour Runner-up Jamie “Hurricane “ Fisher of Shelburne, have also inked full-season entries for the traveling Late Model Series.

They will join defending ACT Dodge Tour Champion Pete Fecteau of Morrisville, 2001 Thunder Road Late Model Champion Cris Michaud of Northfield, last year’s Milk Bowl winner, Dwayne Lanphear, and former Airborne Raceway Champions Mike Bruno and Brent Dragon as part of a 40-car field looking to make the starting grid for the season opening event at Star.

 

“ACT has sold 74 Late Model licenses to date,” said Series spokesman Tom Herzig this week. “That list includes some drivers who primarily race once a week at their local track, but after a long winter, the first race of the year is tough to resist. There may well be 45 cars or more at Star.”

…Thunder Road Street Stock alums Justin Hart and Ron Morrill are set to graduate to the Flying Tiger wars this season. Hart’s racing pedigree is fairly solid. He is the son of former Tiger competitor Alex Hart, and the nephew of former Thunder Road Late Model and Flying Tiger frontrunner Greg “Burger” Blake, and will wheel a Tiger entry formerly driven by another uncle, Rodney Hart.

…Flying Tiger driver Corey Pittsley will jump to the headline LMS class next season, while veteran Kendell Legendre will reportedly scale-back his schedule. The Danville driver, who began his carer at New Hampshire’s Riverside Speedway before becoming a Thunder Road regular five years ago, is projecting a limited slate of up to six races in 2002, in an effort to spend more time with his growing family.

…Randolph’s Kip Stockwell has announced an increased sponsorship with The Flooring Network for his NASCAR Busch North Series effort. The retail flooring distributor has been involved with Stockwell on a limited basis since 1999, but has agreed to a deal that will involve all 86 of its northeast dealers for 2002. The program, which includes a season-long promotion offering fans a chance to win new flooring for their home, comprises a 300% increase in funding for the team.

"This will help us step up our racing program, and compete every week in the coming season,” said Stockwell, who cut his teeth in Thunder Road’s Flying Tiger and Late Model ranks before moving to the Busch North Series."