One Step Over The Line

Laperle Upset Kick Starts 2002 Dodge Tour

SpeedReading

By DAVE MOODY

Barre/Montpelier (VT) Times-Argus

 

Dale Shaw has plenty of fans around the northeast, none of them more enthusiastic than Patrick Laperle.

The St Denis, Quebec, youngster took delivery on his new Shaw-built ACT Chevrolet just hours before the Dodge Tour’s season opener at Star Speedway last weekend, then drove it straight to Victory Lane to record a stunning upset over former Thunder Road champion Phil Scott in the “New England Dodge Dealers 100.” While the win was the third Dodge Tour score of Laperle’s young career, it was by far the most surprising, since the 26-year old Quebecer’s past successes have come almost exclusively on the half-mile Airborne International Raceway in Plattsburgh.

Laperle started seventh in the main event, took the lead on lap 40 after a long battle with polesitter Rich Lowrey, then survived a late restart that brought Scott alongside for a final, four-lap shootout. Lowrey finished third, followed by Todd Stone and Brent Dragon. Sixth went to 18-year old Oxford Plains Speedway champion Ryan Moore, followed by veteran Buzzie Bezanson, Bomoseen’s Mike Bruno, Ken Dufour, and 2001 Thunder Road king Cris Michaud of Northfield.

While Laperle and company thrived on Opening Day at Star, a number of expected frontrunners struggled. Former series champion Jean-Paul Cyr failed to qualify for the race, as did Dave Wilcox, former Busch North driver Herb Drugg, Long Island competitor Jimmy Winters, Brett Wheeler, Blair Bessett, and teammates Scott Dragon and Eric Chase. Defending Dodge Tour champion Pete Fecteau of Morrisville struggled to a 23rd place finish, while defending Milk Bowl champion Dwayne Lanphear needed the B-feature to make the main event field, only to succumb to early problems en route to a 26th (last) place finish.

A total of 39 cars attempted qualifying for the Star field, with one-third them going home without ever taking the feature green. Next up for the ACT Dodge Tour is the opening event of the 2002 Thunder Road campaign, the “Merchants Bank Freedom Lynx 150” on Sunday, May 5. Before that, the non-point “Remington `4-10’ Shootout” will pit all of last season’s series winners against each other in a $5000-to-win Invitational race at Airborne.

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Kevin Harvick made history Sunday at Martinsville (VA) Speedway, but not the way he had in mind. Harvick, driver of Richard Childress’ GM Goodwrench-sponsored NASCAR Winston Cup Chevrolet, became the first driver since D.K. Ulrich in 1978 to be “parked” from a Winston Cup race last weekend, after the latest in a series of rough-driving incidents during Saturday’s companion NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series event.

Harvick and driver Coy Gibbs traded paint a number of times on the tight Martinsville half mile, with Harvick spinning on Gibbs’ front bumper at one point in turn four. Following a caution on Lap 188, Harvick appeared to retaliate, spinning Gibbs out in turn two, and prompting NASCAR to black-flag Harvick and park him for the day. Harvick, who was already under NASCAR probation for a post-race Busch Series scuffle with Greg Biffle three weeks ago at Bristol, took NASCAR’s demand to “park the truck and come to the NASCAR trailer” literally,
stopping his Chevrolet in front of the series’ hauler near pit road

Following a lengthy, closed-door discussion, Harvick left the track without comment. On Sunday morning, NASCAR announced that Harvick had been suspended from the Virginia 500, fined $35,000, and had his probationary period extended until August 28; his second “fine and probation” combo in the last two years. Early this week, the sanctioning body announced that Harvick’s probation will be extended through the end of the 2002 calendar year. NASCAR has reportedly put Harvick on notice that if there are any further incidents, he will be suspended indefinitely.

"They thought I retaliated from earlier contact with the 20," said Harvick Sunday. "You know, it's just slick down there and I stayed in the gas. I didn't want to get spun out again. "There was no message sent between the spotters,” he said. “(Gibbs) apologized, and we said that was good."

Richard Childress initially announced that he would meet with the media first thing Monday to discuss Harvick’s "parking,” but called off the meeting, issuing a written statement instead.

"NASCAR had to do something in response to Kevin's actions during the truck race yesterday, but I think
their response was completely wrong,” said Childress in the statement. “I have not seen the clip of Kevin's
actions, so I can't comment on what he did. He has had a problem in the Busch and Truck Series, and had been on probation for his actions, but the decision to 'park' him during the Winston Cup race is wrong. NASCAR should keep the actions and punishments separate to each series.

“This should be Kevin's punishment only, but what NASCAR is doing is punishing tens of thousands of
fans who didn't know until…this morning that Kevin won't be allowed to race today. NASCAR is also punishing the entire No. 29 team and all of Richard Childress Racing…and GM Goodwrench Service, who has been nothing but loyal to RCR and the sport for many years. I will sit down with Kevin Monday morning and discuss what happened
and how we will proceed from here."

Childress called upon Kenny Wallace to fill-in in his #29 Goodwrench Chevy, with Wallace racing to a 32nd place finish Sunday.

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Never one to be outdone in the rough riding department, Jimmy Spencer was at it again last weekend, this time jousting with Maine native Ricky Craven. Craven appeared to have a top-five car early in Sunday’s race, but a pair of skirmishes with “Mr. Excitement” left him with a torn-up race car and a 30th place finish.

“He’s two laps down and races me like he’s trying to win the race,” said an angry Craven, who led 40 laps in the race’s middle stages. “I’ve raced with him for a long time, but I’ve never raced him that way.”

Spencer, of course, saw himself as the victim, saying,” Ricky Craven says I was holding him up, so he spun me out. “

 

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There’s no love lost these days between the powers that be at the Texas and Martinsville Speedways. Reports circulated last weekend that Texas Motor Speedway General Manager Eddie Gossage -- in a continuing campaign to secure a second NASCAR Winston Cup date for his speedway -- had talked a bit of smack about the half-mile Martinsville oval, saying that not only should Martinsville lose one of its two Cup dates, it should be removed from the schedule altogether.

Those reports brought a predictable response from Martinsville Speedway President, Clay Campbell.

"Some people were quoted last week saying Martinsville shouldn't be on the NASCAR Winston
Cup schedule,” said Campbell. “That irritates not only me, but all the fans who have supported this track since I was just a boy. Martinsville helped make NASCAR what it is today. Our track has grown and made many improvements over the years. We have certainly kept pace with the progress of the sport. I think if you ask any of the fans here this weekend, they would say they’re here because Martinsville is one of their favorite tracks.

“I don't think the fans want to see a race move anywhere, especially to a one-groove track that has probably had more problems in its five-year history than we've had in 55 years. If I were running the (Texas) track,
I'd be happy to have one race and get it right."

“We try not to get into other people's business,” said Campbell, “but it's time somebody pointed out a few facts. Martinsville might not have as many seats as some tracks, but the races here are a lot more exciting than at some of the places doing all the talking. It irritates the heck out of me when I hear some other track operator talking about big markets and all that other self-serving stuff. The facts are, fans love racing here at Martinsville, (and) they always have.

Gossage, meanwhile, claimed to have never made the statements in question.

"We were disappointed by the uncharacteristic comments made by Clay Campbell,” said Gossage. “No such statement was ever made. I spoke with Clay Sunday evening by telephone, and told (him) that we made no such statement - it simply does not exist. We are disappointed by his comments; however, Clay Campbell is a good friend and an important figure in our sport.”

In a related story, shareholders of Speedway Motorsports Inc., the parent company of TMS, filed a federal lawsuit earlier this year, hoping to force NASCAR to award their track a second Winston Cup date. The group claims that NASCAR International’s ownership of both the governing body and International Speedway Corporation - which operates 13 NASCAR tracks - comprises an unfair monopoly.

The group has secured the services of controversial attorney Johnnie Cochran - he of O.J. Simpson fame - who claims to have "in excess of 50 lawyers" investigating NASCAR’s so-called "monopolistic" business practices. According to Samuel Cherry, a partner in Cochran’s firm, damages could reach $1 billion.

The suit accuses NASCAR of breaching an "expressed and implied contract” with SMI to award Texas a second race date. “The patience of the shareholders has expired," Cherry said. "When you look at (NASCAR’s) lack of action on the second race here, it's pretty obvious that without litigation…it's not going to happen. That's our job -- to make it happen."

NASCAR, meanwhile, has asked a judge to dismiss the suit, saying that many of its allegations are false and “so fatally deficient (that) the court can dismiss them now.” NASCAR President Mike Helton has said that, with the exception of California Speedway in Fontana, NASCAR has never promised even a single race date before a track has been finished, much less two.

Should SMI’s suit succeed, this writer has got a plan. I’m going to gather together a dozen kids from my neighborhood, build a baseball park in my backyard, then sue Major League Baseball, demanding a spot on their 2003 schedule. My team will get creamed every night - except maybe for when we play the Tigers - but the way I see it, there’s a fortune to be made selling tickets to fans who want to watch the Red Sox play without traveling all the way to Fenway Park.

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Short (Track) Subjects…

…The Busch North Series, NASCAR Touring division opens its 2002 campaign this Sunday at New Hampshire’s Lee USA Speedway. Defending series champion Mike Olsen heads an entry list expected to top 40 cars, including Vermonters Dave Dion, Dennis Demers, Kip Stockwell, Brian Hoar and Barney McRae. Bud Pole qualifying begins at 12:30 p.m., with the main event slated to roll at approximately 4:30.

…You knew this one was coming. Jeff Gordon has countersued his soon-to-be ex-wife Brooke, saying he should not have to equally split the couple's estate, because he risked his life to collect it. In documents filed last week in Palm Beach County (FL) Circuit Court, Gordon said he is entitled to a larger share of the couple's property, due to his “extraordinary contributions to the acquisition of the funds as a result of his hazardous, life-threatening occupation.”

"He's not a banker that goes to work from nine to five," said his attorney, Donald J. Sasser. "His life
is in his hands."

…Despite the fact that he’s barely keeping his one-man Truck Series team alive, veteran Morgan Shepherd still thinks he’s got what it takes to go Winston Cup racing. Shepherd, who has four Winston Cup wins and 481 starts on his resume, last raced on NASCAR’s senior circuit in 1999. His last full season came in 1997.

"Our plans were to be here at Martinsville," said Shepherd last weekend. "We had a guy who was
supposed to help us with the engine, and at the last minute, he backed out. We're ready to go Winston Cup racing. We've got the shop and facilities, but just don't have the money to operate." Shepherd ran 16 truck races last season, with nine DNFs and a 26th place finish in the final standings.

…Buck Baker, two-time Winston Cup champion and member of NASCAR's 50 Greatest Drivers list, died
Monday at ago 83. Baker, father of former Winston Cup star Buddy Baker, won 46 Winston Cup races and 44 poles in 631 starts. The 1956 and 1957 NASCAR Grand National (now Winston Cup) champion was inducted
into the National Motorsports Press Association's Hall of Fame in 1982. and the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in 1990