Lynch Ready For Return To ACT

SpeedReading

By DAVE MOODY

 

A decade ago, Derek Lynch was among the northeast’s brightest stars. The Ontario youngster won the 1994 “True Value 250” at Maine’s Oxford Plains Speedway, outrunning OPS legend Mike Rowe in a late-race duel to claim a $33,000 payday. He won the Mekkelsen R.V. “Memorial Day Classic” at Thunder Road that same year, topping the region’s best Pro Stock racers in the heyday of the old American-Canadian Tour. The next season, he landed a coveted ride on NASCAR’s Busch North Series, and appeared to be on the fast track to racing stardom.

A year later, he was gone.

Today, Lynch is back in his native Ontario; a little older, and a whole lot wiser. The years between “then” and “now” have carried him from ACT and Busch North to positions with some of NASCAR’s top Winston Cup teams. Through it all, the desire to compete never waned, and that desire now brings him full circle, as makes plans to race in a number of ACT New England Dodge Tour events this season.

By retracing his steps from a decade ago, the Warkworth, Ontario driver hopes to restart a stalled career.

“After the success we had in 1994, it really looked like all the pieces were in place for me to take the next step,” he said. “We signed a deal to run Mike O’Connor’s Busch North cars in `95, a team that had won races in the past with Mike Rowe and Andy Santerre. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out the way we hoped.”

Lynch ran the full 1995 season for the O’Connor GMC team, but it quickly became apparent that something was amiss. The team struggled on the racetrack, with a series of crashes and back-of-the-pack finishes. Behind the scenes, rumors circulated that things were equally rocky. With nearly a decade’s hindsight, Lynch admits that much of the problem was his.

“I think a lot of it was due to my own immaturity,” he said. “Prior to taking the O’Connor GMC ride, I had never raced for anyone other than with my own family. Then suddenly, I was a 22-year old kid, away from home for the first time, in a high-pressure situation that required me to deal with three or four very strong personalities. In all honesty, I don’t think I handled it very well.

“Mike and Pam O’Connor are great people, and everyone on the team tried incredibly hard to make things work. But I just wasn’t mature enough to handle it. Andy (Santerre) had left to race for Mike Greci, but their deal fell through, and by mid-January, he was out of a ride and available. I felt that if I didn’t produce, there was this `unspoken option’ out there, ready to step in. Nobody on the O’Connor team ever said a word to me about it. They stood by me all season long. But I put a huge amount of pressure on myself, and I set myself up to fail.”

After a dismal season that produced just two top-10 finishes in 16 starts - along with four DNFs - and a 16th place showing in the final standings, the Ontario driver was released at the end of the 1995 campaign. A brief, two-race stint in his own Busch North entry a year later proved equally fruitless, and shortly after, Lynch dropped completely off the racing radar.

“After leaving the O’Connors, I went to work for Dick Glines at NRP Racing,” he said. “Dick let me work on my own car there after hours, but I figured out pretty quickly than I couldn’t run a Busch North team out of my back pocket the way we had with ACT. In the fall of 1996, I moved south and went to work for Steve Leavitt at Bobby Allison Racing, working on Derrike Cope’s Winston Cup cars. That team disbanded at the end of the year, and I moved to Darrell Waltrip’s team, working as a fabrication man.

“It was okay,” said Lynch, “but deep down, I still wanted to race. I never minded driving 12 or 13 hours from Ontario to race at Beech Ridge, but loading up someone else’s car to go testing at Sonoma was not my idea of fun. Those guys are completely caught up in the Winston Cup hoopla. If they have to work 18 hour days, that’s what they do. I could have focused on that, bought into the lifestyle, and maybe ended up (a Winston Cup crewchief) like Frankie Stoddard. Maybe I should have. But I just couldn’t do it.

“I wanted to race.”

Lynch scrounged together enough parts to race a Super Late Model part-time at Concord (NC) Motor Speedway. The team was competitive, qualifying consistently in the top-10 and finishing as high as fourth, but eventually, Lynch decided to return home to Ontario. He purchased his grandfather’s used car dealership, and joined his father in resurrecting a long-dormant auto repair service on the same site. An opportunity arose to drive a Super Late Model entry at Kawartha and Mosport Speedways, and after carrying the checkered flag six times in eight starts, Lynch’s blood began boiling again.

“We built our own car in 2000, and won five times in seven races,” he said. “That proved to everyone - myself included - that we could still get the job done, but it still wasn’t exactly what I wanted. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with running 50-lap features at your local track on Saturday nights. But after racing with Junior Hanley, Robbie Crouch, Mike Rowe, and Dave Dion, I needed to feel challenged again.

“I know from past experience that racing at Thunder Road or Oxford or Lee USA, against guys that race there every single week and know the track like the back of their hand, that’s a challenge. If you win there -- or even if you finish second or third - you know you’ve accomplished something. That’s what I want to do, so I started making plans for 2003.”

But why ACT? Why commute six or eight hours each way, when there are dozens of other options closer to home? According to Lynch, it all comes down to one word.

“It’s the professionalism,” he said. “When we raced with ACT before, we knew we wouldn’t leave the track at the end of the day thinking we had been victimized by some official’s decision. Tom Curley works hard to build a level playing field, and things are run the way they should be. Some people love him, some people hate him, but everyone knows that when you race with ACT, you’re going to be part of a profession operation.

“If you’ve got your program together and you get a couple of breaks, you’ll have success.”

The second-generation racer said ACT’s spec engine program was also a major selling point.

“When we ran (ACT) Pro Stocks a decade ago, you could build a competitive car for around $70-$75,000 Canadian,” he said. “Of that total, almost half was the engine. An aluminum-head Pro Stock motor cost about $30,000 back then, and it’s more now. With ACT’s crate engine, you’re ready to go for a little over six grand. The total car, turnkey, is $20-$22,000. It’s top-notch racing that average guys like me can afford.”

Lynch plans to make his ACT return at Thunder Road’s Merchant’s Bank “Freedom Lynx 150” on May 4, but said family commitments will prevent a bid for a second Memorial Day Classic crown three weeks later.

"My wife Cait and I are expecting our first child in late May, so I won’t make the Memorial Day race. But I’m hoping to make six or eight appearances this season, including at least one race at Oxford Plains,” he said. “I’m really excited about getting back to ACT. A lot of the fan base is the same, and I know I’m going to be seeing a lot of old friends from the 1990s. I feel like I’ve got the best of all worlds ahead of me; a chance to race competitively on a professional circuit, but still have a normal life with my family."

It appears the maturation process is complete.

rrrr

It’s been a while since A.J. Foyt displayed his legendary temper. But two weeks ago, Foyt erupted in vintage fashion after withdrawing his struggling Winston Cup team from the Virginia 500 at Martinsville. The former Indianapolis and Daytona 500 champion cited a “lack of preparation and driver experience” as reasons for his withdrawal, which is owner’s doublespeak for “my kid is in over his head, and he’s wrecked all our race cars already.”

Foyt, who owns teams in both the Winston Cup and IRL Series, delivered a scathing critique of what he termed NASCAR’s “inconsistency” in recent weeks.

"It’s something different every week,” he said. “The (racing back to the) yellow flag thing is a bad deal, and one of these days, someone will get killed over it. I think the world of Dale Earnhardt Jr., and Tony Stewart, but whoever that judge was should be thrown out of the organization, or should be the judge of a bathroom whether boys or girls go in. If he looks at the yellow line thing and says it was right, then he was wrong."

Foyt also vented his spleen over NASCAR’s decision to disallow his team’s recent qualifying run at Talladega, after their car was found to be too low.

"After what NASCAR did to me at Talladega, we didn't see any point in going up to Martinsville and tearing something up," groused Foyt, who added he is “losing interest” in Winston Cup racing. "The deal they did to us was a big #$%&-deal, so #$%& them. NASCAR is so crooked. If you can't see that, then you are blind. More people are waking up to NASCAR, but they are afraid to speak out. I have nothing to lose, either way. I call a spade a spade, good or bad.”

Foyt also sounded off on restrictor plate racing, calling it “a glorified IROC race. If you are going to go racing, then go racing. But if you want an IROC race, then just call it an IROC race.”

Anthony Joseph’s curmudgeon act was tolerable - maybe even enjoyable - when he ranked as one of motorsports’ greatest talents. Now, however, Foyt has become the ultimate example of resting on one’s laurels. At the request of a sponsor, Foyt moved his shockingly inept Busch Series team to the Winston Cup ranks this season, over the objections of a driver (his son) who openly admitted he had much to learn. The results have been predictable. Despite using three provisional starting spots, Foyt’s team has failed to qualify twice already his season. His Harrah’s Dodge has an average starting position of 38th, an average finish of 35th, and has finished 40th or worse three times. They stand 42nd in points, just 76 better than Mike Wallace, who has raced only twice all year.

A.J., before you throw stones at NASCAR, maybe you should get your own house in order. Qualify for a race or two, finish in the top-20 once or twice, then maybe you’ll have something to say. But at present, your record as a NASCAR owner rival those of Cale Yarborough.

In short, A.J. Foyt calling NASCAR incompetent is like the pot calling the kettle black.

rrrr

Short (Track) Subjects…

…Robert Yates Racing has released crewchief Brad Parrott, and put Competition Director Todd
Parrott on indefinite leave of absence, in the aftermath of a tumultuous season marked by personality conflicts between the brothers and driver Dale Jarrett.

Jarrett said last week that he is looking for a crewchief who "supports and believes in me as a driver,” saying that comments made by Brad Parrott to others had damaged their relationship. “To be quite honest, I've been a little disappointed in some of the things I've heard,” said Jarrett. “A few of the things that happened during races (also) kind of threw up a red flag."

For his part, Parrott said he was never given the freedom to do his job. "I never once had the opportunity to put a Brad Parrott set-up under the race car," he claimed. "It was always `what this team had,’ or `what that team had.’" Parrott was hired late last week by Roush Racing to serve as car chief for Jeff Burton'.

…The Canaan Association of Racers for Racers (CARR) has announced a special event for the Mini Stock division to be held on July 5th at the Canaan Fair Speedway asphalt track in Canaan, New Hampshire. The Mini Stock 500 is a 50-lap, $500-to-win event for Canaan’s 4-cylinder class. Lap sponsorships are also being
sold, with lap leaders slated to receive $25 per lap.

"A driver has the potential of walking away with a lot of cash," said CARR spokesman Bob Stanhope. "If a driver leads every lap, and each lap is sponsored, they would walk away with $1750." To be eligible to compete, drivers will need to compete on Saturday nights at Canaan at least five times before July 5th.

… Over 70 racecars are expected to on display at Thunder Road during the track’s annual Stock Car Show, Saturday, May 3 from 9-12. Admission is free of charge. Teams from the ACT Late Model, NAPA Tiger Sportsman and Allen Lumber Street Stock divisions will compete for cash prizes, trophies and "Best Appearing" awards, with presentations made during pre-race ceremonies for the May 4 Merchants Bank Freedom Lynx 150.

Following the car show, a practice will be held for all divisions from 2-5 pm.

…Quote of the Week: Two-time champion Randy LaJoie on the state of the NASCAR Busch Series-- “I can't say the series is very healthy right now. I'd say we are almost in turmoil. The costs are too high, and guys are being driven out of the sport. And the teams being brought in as field-fillers are not competitive. It's really hurting the series."