Bruno “Having Fun” In Dodge Tour Victory Lane

SpeedReading

By DAVE MOODY

Barre/Montpelier (VT) Times-Argus

 

            Mike Bruno is becoming adept at making something out of nothing.

             The former DIRT 358 Modified and Airborne Raceway Late Model champion tried his hand at the Busch North Series, NASCAR Touring division a couple of years ago, and while he enjoyed some success early in his rookie season, when the money began to dry up, Bruno’s string of up-front finishes withered, as well. The 2001 season was one to forget for the Castleton resident. A contentious breakup with the New Hampshire-based Verres Racing Team left him without a planned Busch North Series ride, and Bruno spent most of the summer on the sidelines, before making a return to ACT racing in the final month of the season.

             This year, Bruno literally started from scratch, fielding an ACT Late Model entry with the help of longtime New York car owner Dick Nephew. He hoped to contest a full slate of events on the traveling ACT Dodge Tour, as well as a Thursday night schedule at Barre’s Thunder Road, but even Bruno admitted at the start of the season that he had no idea what to expect.

             “We’re greener than new grass,” he laughed prior to the start of the 2002 campaign. “I’ve got three guys on my team, and only one of them has ever even been to a race before. Forget about working on a Late Model team, they’ve never even sat in the grandstands! We’re going to set our goals fairly low, try and have a good time, and see if we can’t win a race before it’s over.”

             Exactly five races into the season, Bruno has already achieved his goals. A razor-close decision over former Thunder Road Flying Tiger champion Dave Pembroke put his Crickets Restaurant/ Budweiser Chevrolet into Victory Lane at New Hampshire ’s Monadnock Speedway, and boosted his “green as grass” team to second in the overall ACT Dodge Tour standings, with four top-10 finishes in five starts.

              “I guess you could say we’ve overachieved a little,” smiled Bruno this week. “I honestly thought it would take us a little longer to get to Victory Lane , but the guys are working hard and learning fast. I also think I’ve got a little different attitude behind the wheel this season, and that’s helping, too.”

             In the past, Bruno was admittedly consumed with taking the next step up the motorsports career ladder. Today, however, the Castleton resident said he’s focusing on fun.

             “I always loved racing, but I can’t honestly say I’ve always had fun at it,” he admitted. “When I ran dirt, I had a master plan to get to asphalt. Once I got to the ACT circuit, I was always conscious of trying to get to Busch North. I never really enjoyed being where I was, and by focusing so much on that `master plan,’ I put a lot of pressure on everyone, especially myself.”

             With weekly Thursday night racing at Thunder Road beginning tonight, followed by another Dodge Tour outing Saturday night at White Mountain Motorsports Park , Bruno wonders how his inexperienced team will handle the extra pressure. But he is confident that, no matter what happens on the racetrack, his new positive attitude will get him through.

             “I didn’t used to be the most popular guy on pit road,” he admitted. “But I always shrugged it off, saying, `Hey, I’m not here to make friends. I’ve got things to accomplish.’ Now, I’ve learned to relax a little and have fun. I get along a lot better with my fellow drivers, we interact more with the other teams, and it’s been a much more enjoyable season.”

             Apparently, it’s a formula for success.

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 In 2001, Autodrome Montmagny was an enthusiastic supporter of Quebec ’s ADL Tobacco Touring Series for Late Model Sportsman stock cars. Today, the Quebec oval finds itself not only off the series schedule, but out of Late Model racing altogether.  

            The speedway, owned by longtime northeast Pro Stock racer Ralph Nason of Unity, Maine, recently dropped the Late Model Sportsman class from its weekly race program, alleging that ADL officials intentionally scheduled events to conflict with their track.  

According to Autodrome Montmagny Public Relations Director Sylvio Turgeon, Montmagny’s 2001 agreement with the ADL Series prohibited the speedway from running local LMS events on the night of series races at other Quebec tracks. As a result, Autodrome Montmagny was able to schedule only “four or five” non-ADL Late Model events last year.  

“These tracks are a business,” said Turgeon. “We have to bring (the fans) a good show every week, so during the winter, ADL and Montmagny Speedway each went their own way. ADL put up a lot of money to strike a deal with Autodrome St-Eustache to replace Montmagny, and it was OK with us. It was part of the game, and we did see any problem with it.”  

Unfortunately, Montmagny’s decision to go it alone did not end the dispute.               

“We (put out) our 2002 schedule in early January,” said Turgeon. “ADL’s schedule came out in late March, with five races at Circuit Ste. Croix – one hour away -- the same day as our shows. We have already changed our schedule once, postponing the previously announced June 29 race to June 30, to give our local LMS teams a chance to compete with ACT at Ste. Croix that day. But (as a way of thanking us), Denis Lachance, owner of St. Croix , changed his August race to place it on the same day as our `Montmagny 250.’” 

            Despite that move, Turgeon said Autodrome Montmagny continued to try and avoid direct competition with the ADL Series. Unfortunately, he said, those efforts have not been supported by the racers.  

“Two weeks ago, when ADL raced at Ste. Croix, we had our first program the next day. Many LMS drivers gave us their word that they would race at Montmagny, but very few of them remembered,” said Turgeon. “We have to present a show every week, and we cannot (continue to) deal with LMS teams asking us if we can pay more than ADL. So we have decided to fix the problem now, not in one or two months. We decided, at least for this summer, to pull the plug on the LMS division.  

“ADL is a big sponsor, and they brought the touring series alive,” he said. “But here in Canada , new laws are coming within the next two years to limit the sponsorship of these (tobacco) companies. Maybe the drivers think the best way for the moment is to take the money and see what happens later.”  

Whatever their motives, Turgeon said it is clear to him that ADL wants no Late Model racing at Montmagny in 2002. Now, they will get their wish.  

“Montmagny Speedway can count on three other very good divisions,” he said. “We have to put on a show every week, and with this kind of situation, we think the best way was to put the LMS out, give more money to our other divisions, reduce the ticket price, and bring in some special events like PASS on June 8 and July 6, and the CASCAR Super National Series on August 11.”  

While Turgeon’s version of the story predictably paints Autodrome Montmagny in a favorable light, it bears mentioning that ADL backers almost certainly see the situation differently. In fact, our sources in Quebec say Ralph Nason’s oval is not above pulling a little behind-the-scenes chicanery, either. Apparently, Montmagny attempted to issue American-Canadian Tour President Tom Curley a bit of an ultimatum a few weeks ago, threatening to schedule a race against ACT’s upcoming event at Ste-Croix, unless Curley agreed to co-sanction their season ending “Montmagny 250.” Anyone who knows the ACT boss can predict how that worked out.  

Late Model racing in Quebec has long been on shaky ground. Even the ADL Series, now the sole sanctioning body for the class, is forced to combine LMS-style cars, a few leftover Pro Stocks, and CASCAR-legal machines to fill the field for its events. Despite these problems, however, it appears the promoters there are still more interested in cutting each other’s throats than cooperating for their own good.  

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After weeks of speculation and debate, the Wood Brothers Racing Team has finally agreed to grant Elliott Sadler his release. Sources close to the situation say Sadler has already signed a new contract to drive for Robert Yates Racing next season, replacing veteran Ricky Rudd in the Texaco Havoline-sponsored #28 Ford.  

Sadler downplayed the rumors last weekend, saying, "I have not signed any contract with any race team. I am actually talking to three different teams right now. I'm more close with one than I am the other ones, but have not signed with any of them." Sadler added that he wants to have a deal in place for 2003 as quickly as possible, preferable before the end of this week.  

Rudd meanwhile, said he believes the deal is already done.   

"I understand they (RYR) have signed Elliott," said Rudd last weekend at Dover . "I've got a good feeling that it's true. I told Robert I'd let him know in July about what I was going to do next year. We talked about it, I let him know my timeline, but they never really let me know theirs. Evidently, theirs was a little more pushed than mine was. I guess for Robert, some sense of urgency or panic set in, not knowing what I was going to do." 

In other Winston Cup “Silly Season” news, sources say veteran Ken Schrader could be out of the #36 Pontiac soon, replaced by recent Hendrick Motorsports castoff Jerry Nadeau. Nadeau, currently subbing for the injured Johnny Benson in the MB3 Racing/Valvoline Pontiac, may replace Schrader as soon as Benson is healthy enough to return.  

Schrader, meanwhile, is rumored to be talking with Kyle Petty about replacing John Andretti in the Petty Enterprises #43 Dodge next season. Petty said last weekend that he hopes to retain Andretti, whose contract is up at the end of the season, but knows that the second-generation driver is exploring other options.  

"John's been out talking, and that's a fact of life in Winston Cup racing," Petty said. "We want him to stay.”  

Also, we reported three weeks ago in this space that Dale Earnhardt, Inc., was speaking to driver Matt Kenseth about joining their operation next season, possibly as a replacement for Michael Waltrip. Now, DEI is also talking with Kenseth’s current sponsor, DeWalt Tools, about coming along for the ride.  

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Short (Track) Subjects…  

…Shelburne’s Kevin Lepage second “pinch hitter” outing in the Timber Wolf #37 Busch Series Chevy produced a ninth-place qualifying effort and an 18th-place finish last Saturday on the Monster Mile at Dover . Lepage will be back in the car this weekend.  

…All Pro Racing Series founder Bob Harmon lost his battle with lung cancer last Thursday that the age of 70. In his 52-year promotional career, Harmon promoted short track Late Model events throughout the south, most notably the “All American 400” at the old Nashville fairgrounds speedway. He was one of the three principals -- along with ACT’s Tom Curley and ASA President Rex Robbins – of the ill-fated “Stock Car Connection,” which brought top Late Models stars from around the nation together for a series off All Star events.  

Graveside services were held this past Tuesday in Booth, Alabama , honoring Harmon’s wish to keep the weekend open for racing.  

…Reports of Rick Mast’s impending retirement from the sport are premature. Mast, who has sat-out the last two races from Junie Donlavey’s Duke’s Mayonaise #90 Ford with undisclosed health problems, said this week that he has no plans to retire from racing, and said doctors continue to search for an explanation for his recent fatigue and weight loss.  

…NASCAR’s recent policy of allowing racers to keep their wins despite post-race irregularities may be in for a change. NASCAR President Mike Helton warned Winston Cup car owners and crew chiefs last week that future violators of the series’ minimum height requirement could face a loss of championship points, or even have their wins taken away.  

"We seem to have a rash of cars with that cannot meet the minimum height," said Helton at Dover . "So far, we have chosen only to use a fine as a reaction. I just want to make sure that everybody understands there are other options NASCAR can use if it keeps going this way."  

…There’s another busy weekend of racing action ahead, beginning tonight at the Nation’s Site of Excitement, Thunder Road . The Late Models, Flying Tigers and Street Stocks are set to duke it out under the lights for the first time this season in the Howard’s Friendly Market Trophy Dash, with a special early post time of 6 p.m.  

Canaan (NH) Speedway will try again tomorrow night, after suffering their first rain out since the 2000 season, with twin 40-lap features for the Twin State Modified Series and Sunoco Coupe Series, on NAPA Auto Parts of Lebanon Night. The Canaan card also includes the Pro Street Stocks and Fast Fours, with qualifying beginning at 7 p.m.  

             The ACT Dodge Tour Late Models invade White Mountain Motorsports Park in North Woodstock , New Hampshire , Saturday Night for the Country Pools, Spas and Billiards 100, with regular events for the White Mountain Late Models, Super Streets, Strictlies, Strictly Minis and Mini Cups. Post time is set for 5 p.m. That same night, the Busch North Series makes its annual spring visit to Beech Ridge Motor Speedway in Scarborough , Maine for the PTM Racing 150, with the feature event scheduled for a 9 p.m. green flag, following a full program for the regular Beech Ridge NASCAR Weekly Racing Series classes. Practice gets underway at noon , with Bud Pole Qualifying set for 5:15 p.m.

              At Groveton, New Hampshire’s Riverside Speedway, Saturday night’s program will include twin features for the Strictly Stocks (held over from opening night), along with Round One of the Coca-Cola Triple Crown Series for the Riverside Sportsman (Flying Tiger) division. Racing for the Cyclones and Dwarf cars is also on tap, along with an 8-cylinder Enduro, beginning at 7:05 . Bear Ridge Speedway in Bradford will also be back in action Saturday, with a full night of Modified, Coupe, Pro Street Stock and Fast Four racing, along with the second eight-cylinder Enduro of the year. Post time is 6:30 p.m. And finally, the Snap-On Tools/NEKC Go Karts tackle the Thunder Road road course Saturday afternoon for the E.F. Wall/Domino’s Pizza Trophy Dash, with a 4 p.m. post time.

             …And finally, we offer this paragraph lifted straight from a Claremont (NH) Speedway press release this week: Matt Waite led (as) an eight-car Pro Stock field took the green flag for their 30-lap feature. Waite led Bucky Demers #26, Mike Brousseau #1 in the Cellular One-sponsored car, Bryon Baker #11, and the Aubuchon Hardware car of Dave Davis #28 for 30 circuits without a single change in positions. The win is Waite’s first of the season.”  While it may lack promotional accumen, you can’t fault their honesty!