Who’s Hot, Who’s Not On The ACT Dodge Tour
By DAVE MOODY
With three races complete on the 2003 ACT New England Dodge Tour, the championship picture is becoming clearer. While it is always possible to rebound from a slow start - Pete Fecteau’s unlikely 2001 title run proved that, once and for all -- Saturday night’s race at Monadnock (NH) Raceway marks the end of ACT’s first quarter. And for a number of the Tour’s preseason title hopefuls, it’s already “now or never” if they hope to make a run for the 2003 crown.
The hottest of the hot so far this season has been Scott Dragon. The second-generation driver exploded out of the blocks with an Opening Day win at Thunder Road, and hasn’t missed a beat since. Three top-five finishes in three starts have positioned him at the top of the Dodge Tour standings - a position he admittedly never expected to be in - and while he has yet to experience the pressure of a late-season championship drive, the early returns are overwhelmingly positive.
Were it not for Dragon’s white-hot start, everyone would be talking about Jamie Fisher. Two months ago, I pegged 2003 as a “make or break” year for the Shelburne driver, who has come oh-so-close a handful of times in his career, only to come up short in the end. A difficult 2002 campaign is now just a bitter memory, with finishes of fifth, second and third in three ACT starts to date. And while the memory of his late 2001 swoon may come a-copper down the stretch, “The Hurricane” looks poised to carry this battle all the way to the finish.
Another driver off to a solid start is veteran Jean-Paul Cyr, who has returned to the form that earned him the 1994 and 1996 ACT championships. A 20th place showing on Open Day at Thunder Road was countered by a win at Airborne and a solid, second-place showing last weekend, putting JPC just 21 points out of the championship lead. If it comes down to experience in the final month of the season, Cyr will have the advantage.
The list of “Who’s Not” for 2003 is topped by Canadian youngster Patrick Laperle. After finishing a close second to Phil Scott in last year’s Dodge Tour title chase, Laperle has seen a combination of bad luck and bad decisions drop him well down the ACT leader board. A disqualification in the season-opening Merchant’s Bank “Freedom Lynx 150” got his season off on the wrong foot, and a series of cut tires and untimely spins has put him even further in the hole. Laperle’s best finish so far is Sunday’s 13th place effort at Thunder Road, and while ACT’s handicap system is known for rewarding misfortune with up-front starting spots, it’ll take nothing short of a miracle for the St. Denis, Quebec driver to get back in the title hunt.
Just slightly ahead of Laperle on the misfortune scale is former Thunder Road champion Cris Michaud. The 2001 “King of the Road” made some major personnel changes at the end of last season, and the results to date have been less than encouraging. Michaud has yet to crack the top-10 in three Tour starts, and is mired in 17th place in the championship standings. Like, Laperle, he should benefit from ACT’s handicap system in coming weeks. Unfortunately, Michaud has yet to show the speed necessary to translate an up-front start into an up-front finish.
And finally, poor Phil Scott. The defending ACT, Thunder Road, and Airborne champion is currently tied for seventh in the Dodge Tour standings; a spot most drivers would kill for. And yet, the talk on pit road is that the racing Senator from Washington County may have lost a step from a year ago. He’s been competitive - with finishes of 7th, 16th, and 6th so far - but has been in contention to win only once; an ill-fated Airborne outing that saw him spin out of the top three with less than five laps remaining.
Simply put, Scott is a victim of his own success. He has set the bar so high in recent seasons that anything but total dominance is seen as cause for concern.
After just two races, Dwayne Lanphear’s retirement is over.
The former Thunder Road champion announced his retirement from the sport at the end of last season, saying he was unable to get a fair shake from ACT officials. “I’m under the microscope out there,” said Lanphear, whose aggressive driving style earned him the wrath of Race Director Tom Curley on a many occasions over the years. “They watch every move I make, and if I touch anyone, I get the black flag. They’re trying to handcuff me, and I’m not going to race in handcuffs.”
At the wheel of brother Mark’s Old Vermonter Wood Products Chevrolet, the “Thunder Road Bad Boy” wasted little time returning to form Sunday, attempting to squeeze into the middle of a three-wide heat race sandwich in Thunder Road’s cramped third turn. Lanphear made it through relatively unscathed, but sophomore driver Corey Pittsley did not, riding the length of the frontstretch on two wheels after slapping the wall, and sustaining suspension damage that sidelined him for the remainder of the day. Later in the same race, Lanphear bumped Jamie Fisher from behind, prompting Curley to send the mercurial Morrisville driver a message.
“Tell his spotter that if he touches the 18 (Fisher) again, he’s going home,” said Curley. No further contact ensued, and Lanphear eventually qualified for the main event. After 100 fairly uneventful laps, he was credited with a 14th place finish.
Nice to have you back, Dwayne.
Following up on something that appeared in last week’s column, I received a note from a friend in the law enforcement community, responding to my comments on the lack of charges in the Ed Carroll shooting case.
Carroll was mortally wounded by an errant hunter’s bullet while sitting in his living room nearly six months ago, and I criticized Washington County State’s Attorney Terry Trono for not yet filing any charges in the case. My friend, who asked to remain anonymous, pointed out that it is not, as I claimed, against the law to lie to the police. In his words, “people do it all the time. If a person is under oath in court, or gives a sworn statement to a police officer that is not truthful, then they can be charged with perjury. However, if a police officer asks `did you fire your gun on December 1, 2002,’ and the person answers `no,’ even though they did, they have not committed any crime.”
In addition, he explained the concept of “reckless endangerment,” which was charged in a similar case in southern Vermont recently.
“Title 13, Section 1025 of the Criminal Law Statute states that when a person recklessly points a firearm at another, or in the direction of another, it is considered to be conduct which places (or may place) that person in danger. In the Carroll case, the person firing the shot may have done so because they were shooting at a deer, with no indication that anyone was going to be put in danger as a result of his conduct. That may be the issue Terry Trono is struggling with; the question of exactly what can be charged.”
Short (Track) Subjects…
…Kevin Lepage finished 32nd in the Coca-Cola 600 at Lowe's Motor Speedway, running largely on his own dime. Lepage, whose shop is located just miles from the speedway in Mooresville, NC, carried a small sponsorship from Fast Boy Wings; a restaurant chain based in Jacksonville, Florida, and started 27th in Saturday night’s race, after outqualifying a number of better-financed teams.
The Shelburne native said afterward that had the race run to its conclusion, he likely would have been somewhere in the top-25. And while he would like to run more races this season - either Winston Cup or Busch -- Lepage said it’s all about money.
“We can run here pretty cheaply, since it’s close to home,” he said. “But to go out on the road, we need a sponsor. As a driver/owner, I think I can do a better job than many of the teams out here. We’re always looking, and if someone steps forward, we can be ready to go racing tomorrow.”
…Like Lepage, fellow ACT alum Randy MacDonald is pushing a pencil these days, trying to keep his struggling Craftsman Truck/Busch Series operation afloat. The Ontario native said recently that he needs $50,000 per month in prize money and sponsorship to keep his team going, and after crashing on the final lap at Lowe’s - in a truck borrowed from Mansion Motorsports - the “Ontario Golden Boy” collected less than $10,000.
"I didn't sleep a wink Friday night thinking about it,''
said MacDonald, adding that he is considering all options to stay afloat.
"We're not closing the door by any means. I've come this far with my dream,
not going to quit, but I've got to come up with some other sources of money.
"I want our present situation to work, but if it doesn't, the next strategy is to find some drivers to rent our equipment.”
…Jerry Nadeau was discharged Monday from Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center in Richmond, Virginia, and transferred to the Charlotte (NC) Institute of Rehabilitation. Doctors said Nadeau is improving daily, and is on an “excellent recovery path.” His rehabilitation will now continue in North Carolina, with physical, recreational, occupational and speech therapy scheduled. There is no timetable for his possible return to competition.
…How big a deal will the remodeling of Homestead-Miami Speedway be? The project, which will lead to variable-degree “parabolic banking” at the Florida oval, will require 4,050,000 cubic feet of fill; enough to bury a football field eight stories deep. That dirt would fill more than 10,000 dump trucks; enough to form a 30-mile, bumper-to-bumper traffic jam. Construction at the speedway will continue 18 hours a day, seven days a week, in order to finish the project in time for the Winston Cup, Busch, and Truck Series finales in November.
…It looks like there will be no SAFER barriers in place when the NASCAR Winston Cup Series competes at New Hampshire International Speedway in July. Analysis of recent testing on the energy absorbing barrier system is scheduled to be completed within two weeks, but installation is expected to take 60 days, leaving too little time for the necessary work to be done.
…The World of Outlaws Sprint Car series is in major financial trouble. Last weekend, Cabarrus County (NC) Sheriff's deputies seized at least three trailers, a souvenir rig, and a pace truck belonging to the series, in an effort to secure assets involved in a civil suit filed by Wheeler Television Inc. against the World of Outlaws. Wheeler Television is run by Patti Wheeler, daughter of Lowe's Motor Speedway president H.A. "Humpy" Wheeler, and is suing the WOO for a reported $500,000 owed for World of Outlaws race broadcasts that aired last season on the Speed Channel.
While WOO spokesman Richard Day was unavailable for comment last weekend, sources in Charlotte said Bruton Smith’s Speedway Motorsports, Inc., has expressed interest in purchasing the series, at a reported cost of $5 million. Defending Winston Cup champion Tony Stewart is also said to be interested in acquiring ownership of the series.
…This week’s “Think Before You Speak” Award goes to Jimmy Fennig, crewchief for Kurt Busch's Rubbermaid Ford team, who spouted off about the alleged preferential treatment given to Dale Earnhardt, Jr., by NASCAR.
''What makes me maddest is…the fact that NASCAR let the #8 car stay out there, knowing he was going to blow a motor, and didn't black-flag him,” huffed Fennig. In fact, the smoke from Earnhardt’s car was caused by brake problems, not an expiring engine, and the Budweiser Chevrolet driver drove immediately to the pits, without the need for a black flag.
…Tomorrow night, it’s “NAPA of Lebanon Night” on the Canaan Fair (NH) Speedway dirt track, with the Twin State Coupe Series, last week’s rained out Twin State Modified Series event, Pro Streets, Fast Fours, and the Spectator Drags. The green flag waves at 7:00 pm.
As usual, Saturday night is the busiest night of the racing week, with a wide range of options for area fans. The ACT New England Dodge Tour hits the road for a 100-lap event at Monadnock Speedway in Winchester, NH, with post time set for 6:30. The NASCAR Grand National Division, Busch North Series returns to the Seekonk (MA) Speedway for the “Budweiser 150” Saturday, with practice at 1 p.m., Bud Pole qualifying at 4 p.m., and race time set for approximately 7:30 p.m.
It’s “Tuner’s Speed and Sound Night” at Plattsburgh, New York’s Airborne International Speedway Saturday, with racing for the Late Models, Tiger Sportsmen, Street Stocks and Renegades, plus the "Run What-U-Brung" spectator races and the annual Kids Poster Contest. Post time 6:30 p.m. Bear Ridge Speedway in Bradford presents “Woodsville Guaranty Savings Bank Night” Saturday, with a full card of racing for the 358 Modifieds, Sportsman Coupes, Pro Streets and Fast Fours, plus a Twin State Modified Series Event and the Granite State Mini Sprints. Last week’s Twin State Coupe Series event will be made up Saturday night, as well.
At Riverside (NH) Speedway Saturday night, the 23rd Annual “NAPA Opening Day Spectacular” kicks off the 2003 season, with the Tiger Sportsmen, Strictly Stocks, Cyclones, STARS Antique Racers, and a 100-lap four-cylinder Enduro. Post time is 6:35. On the Canaan Fair Speedway asphalt, five weekly divisions and the New England Dwarf Car Association are slated for action, with racing beginning at 6 p.m. New Hampshire’s White Mountain Motorsports Park goes under the lights for the first time Saturday night, with the Late Models making up their rained out 75 lapper, along with regular events for the Super Streets, Strictly Streets, Strictly Mini's, Mini-Cup cars, and the Kids Truck Division. The first green flag flies at 6 p.m.
Finally, on Sunday, Devil's Bowl Speedway in West Haven returns to action with the second annual “Judith L. Richards Memorial. “The day-long event, a benefit for the Rutland Area Visiting Nurses Association/Hospice, features a car show, live band, kid’s rides, autograph sessions, raffles and giveaways in the afternoon, followed by a full card of racing at night.