ACT Dodge Tour Fires Up Saturday
By DAVE MOODY
Barre/Montpelier (VT) Times-Argus
More than 40 ACT Dodge Tour teams are set to fire `em up Saturday, searching for the winner’s share of a $20,500 purse in the “New England Dodge Dealers 100” at Star Speedway in Epping, NH.
The list of pre-race entrants includes no less than 14 prior Late Model champions, including 2001 titleholders Pete Fecteau of Morrisville (ACT), Cris Michaud of Northfield (Thunder Road), Mark Lamberton of Mooers Forks, N.Y. (Airborne), and Ryan Moore of Scarborough, Maine (Oxford Plains). Moore, a rookie driver on the ACT Dodge Tour, copped his first career series win last season on his home track.
“We improved our consistency during the 2001 season, and that is what we’re looking to do on the ACT Dodge Tour,” said Moore, son of former NASCAR Busch North Series champion Kelly Moore, and last year’s Late Model champion at Oxford Plains. “This year is going to be a learning year for us. We’ll be traveling to tracks that we’ve never seen before, and racing with drivers that are very competitive. I’m looking forward to learning from, and racing with, some of New England’s finest drivers.”
On the opposite end of the learning curve is Vermont veteran Brent Dragon, who despite a seventh-place finish in the overall 2001 ACT Dodge Tour points, has made some major changes in the off-season.
The second-generation Milton driver - son of former NASCAR North Tour king Harmon “Beaver” Dragon -- grabbed four top-5 finishes last year, but failed to crack Victory Lane. Dragon has revamped his team for the 2002 campaign, and has adopted an intensive training campaign of "eating less, exercising more," in an effort to make himself more competitive behind the wheel. The three-time Airborne Raceway champion has shed 35 pounds over the winter, enough to require changes in the setup of his Vermont Mack/Leo’s Furniture-sponsored Chevrolet.
"Thirty-five pounds is a lot to account for in a race car," he said. "We’ve had to reposition all the lead in the car."
Dragon has hired a number of new crewmen in an effort to upgrade his on-track performance, including crewchief Pat Lynch, who has previously turned wrenches on the Pard Brothers team for driver Robbie Crouch.
"We’re going to keep it at one car this year,” said Dragon. “I had two last year, and getting either one just the way I wanted it was hard. One of the keys for me is to improve at Thunder Road, but if we can do that, I think I can put together a top-five season.”
Dragon, who underwent laser eye surgery prior to last season, says that if all those changes don’t pay off, he’s ready to take even more drastic measures.
"Maybe, I’ll have to consider plastic surgery," he laughed.
Dragon, Moore and nearly 40 other Late Model competitors will tackle the tough Star quarter-mile oval Saturday at 2 p.m., in the first of 16 events on the 2002 ACT Dodge Tour. The series then moves to Thunder Road International Speedbowl in Barre for the “Merchants Bank Freedom Lynx 150” on Sunday, May 5, before traveling to Airborne International Raceway in Plattsburgh, N.Y. the next Saturday for the 27th annual “Ehler’s R.V. Spring Green 100.”
A year ago, the 15-race ACT Dodge Tour schedule produced 10 different winners, including six first-time ACT victors.
Speaking of Thunder Road, the Barre Town Select Board has finally issued “The Nation’s Site of Excitement” a permit to operate in 2002. The permit, issued last Tuesday night, ensures that despite a lengthy period of wrangling between the track and the town over police protection at the speedway, there will be racing at the Road this summer.
"Compromises have been reached and I think both sides are satisfied with the results," said Thunder Road co-owner Tom Curley.
The Busch North Series, NASCAR Touring division is set to kick off its 16th season at Lee USA Speedway next Sunday, April 21. A dozen Busch North drivers reached Victory Lane last year, and the competition is expected to be equally intense in 2002, a season that will feature 19 races at 14 tracks in eight states from Maine to Delaware.
Mjke Olsen of North Haverhill, N.H. captured the 2001 Busch North championship by a whopping, 212 point margin over sophomore driver Mike Johnson of Salisbury, Mass. Olsen won the first two races of his career on consecutive weekends in June to take the point lead, then but together a solid second half to easily claim the crown. Olsen’s Little Trees Chevrolet team returns intact, with crew chiefs Harry Norcross and Dave Allbee, plus the sage advice of car owner Stub Fadden, Olsen’s grandfather and a legend in New England stock car racing.
One new racing facility joins the Busch North Series this season, as the Adirondack International Speedway in Beaver Falls, N.Y. hosts the Busch North troops on Saturday, August 17. A year ago, the ACT Dodge Tour headlined the inaugural event at the new Empire State oval.
…With sponsors tough to come by on the NASCAR Busch Series, a number of drivers on NASCAR’s top support division are investigating the possibility of running at least a limited schedule of events on the Winston Cup tour, where money is a bit easier to come by.
Vermonter Kevin Lepage said a few weeks ago that he is investigating the possibility of selling one of his Busch Series cars and building a Cup entry. Now, former NASCAR North Tour and two-time NASCAR Busch Series champion Randy LaJoie says he is also ready to take a stab at Winston Cup racing later this season. LaJoie’s team has already built one Winston Cup Chevrolet, and is currently awaiting a sponsorship agreement before announcing a limited schedule of Cup events this season.
"We would like to do five or six races this season," said LaJoie this week. "We’ve said that if we got the money, we would look at doing it. I think our race team is ready to compete at that level.”
FitzBradshaw Racing is also making plans to tackle the Cup Series next season with driver Kerry Earnhardt. The team is co-owned by NFL Hall of Fame quarterback Terry Bradshaw, and currently stands 27th in Busch Series points. Last week, they announced a sponsorship deal with Jani-King, and team spokesmen said they hope to secure enough backing to run Earnhardt in five Winston Cup events next season.
And finally, less than a month after announcing that they too will move from Busch to Cup, BACE Motorsports has aligned itself with Andy Petree Racing to field a #74 Chevrolet in as many as 15 races this season. Petree’s team will supply engines and chassis to BACE, and the two have agreed to share information between the #74 team and Petree’s #55 Chevrolet, driven by Bobby Hamilton.
Former Winston West Champion Chad Little will pilot the BACE Motorsports entry in a limited schedule, which will reportedly focus on intermediate tracks. The team will debut at California Speedway in three weeks, with additional outings scheduled at The Winston Open and Coca-Cola 600 at Lowe's Motor Speedway, along with June events at Dover and Michigan. Additional races may be added, if sponsorship can be found.
Short (Track) Subjects…
…Ray Evernham will field a third car next weekend at Talladega, with a driver that is anything but new. Evernham said last week that he will enter a third Dodge Intrepid with veteran Dick Trickle at the keyboard. No sponsor has yet been announced for the effort, which is being described as a one-time-only venture. Sources say Trickle’s #91 will be used in a research and development mode, to test setups and variations.
"Every team needs an R&D team, and if we've got the cars and the driver, we might as well enter them in some races," Evernham said.
…Former All-Pro Series promoter and Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway President Bob Harmon is suffering from inoperable lung cancer, according to a statement released last week by the series. All-Pro spokesman Bill Desmond said Harmon was diagnosed March 27 after a long period of ill health, and has already begun chemotherapy treatments.
…The preseason practice schedules are set at both Thunder Road and Airborne Raceways. Thunder Road will throw open the gates next Wednesday from 4-7 p.m., while Airborne has scheduled an open practice session next Saturday, April 20, from noon to 4 p.m. A second T-Road practice is set for Thursday, April 25 from 4-7 p.m.
…Don’t be surprised to see a female driver this season on the NAPA Flying Tiger Tour. Former Thunder Road Late Model champion Chuck Beede reportedly worked a deal during the offseason that saw him take Corey Pittsley’s Flying Tiger entry in trade for a rolling Late Model chassis. Beede’s daughters, Rachel and Renee, are weekly competitors in Thunder Road’s entry level Street Stock division, but with a perfectly good Tiger in the barn, it probably won’t be long until one of the girls - or both -- tests the eight-cylinder waters.
…Fellow Street Stock alum Terry Pearce, Jr., would reportedly like to graduate to the Flying Tiger ranks as well, after purchasing a car from Josh Lovely over the winter. Pierce is reportedly still lacking sponsorship for the effort, however, and has yet to secure a motor. Unless some money can be found soon, Pearce’s new toy may spend the summer in the garage.
…Former Street Stocker Marc Jones will run for 2002 Flying Tiger Rookie of the Year honors in last season’s John Donahue car. Justin Hart has purchased uncle Rodney Hart’s Tiger entry, while fellow Crunch Buncher Fred Dezan is the new owner of one of Chip Grenier’s 2001 Flying Tiger mounts. Grenier will run for the 2002 Thunder Road title in the former Mike Rollins Chevrolet he purchased last season.