Nine Suspended After “Wild Night” At Airborne

SpeedReading

By DAVE MOODY

Barre/Montpelier (VT) Times-Argus

 

The Late Models return to Airborne Raceway in Plattsburgh Saturday night for the “Leo’s Furniture 100,” and a large number of support division racers won’t be there to see it.

 

Nine drivers in the track’s Flying Tiger, Street Stock and Renegade divisions have been fined and suspended from competition this week, after a series on pit road confrontations during last Saturday night’s program. Defending Flying Tiger champion Jerry Winch and fellow driver Jamy Begor have both been suspended for one race, while Tiger driver Mike Terry, Street Stock competitors Aaron Maynard, Chris LaVair, Jim Collins and Dustin Chris, and Renegade drivers Sherry Meunier and Shawn Duquette have all been handed indefinite suspensions.

 

In addition, as many as six fans will be barred from the speedway grounds until further notice, after a series of similar incidents in the track’s parking lot.

 

“Apparently, they had a wild night last Saturday, on both sides of the pit fence” said ACT President Tom Curley. “(Technical Inspector) Dean Gallison personally broke up seven fights. He said he barely had time to tech cars in between the brawls, and quite frankly, he’s not real happy about it.”

 

Curley, who was traveling with the ACT Dodge Tour in Winchester , New Hampshire last Saturday, said he spoke at length with his officials corps, led by Race Director Glen Wright, prior to levying the sanctions. The track owner said their reports have him questioning whether the Plattsburgh oval should continue as a weekly racetrack.

 

“When we first started at Airborne, we dealt with this kind of thing on an all-too regular basis,” he said. “In fact, at one point, I threw up my hands and said `enough’s enough.’ I turned the whole thing over to a New York-based management team for half a season, then came back and tried to start fresh the next year.”

 

This time around, Curley said the situation is more serious.

 

“This is a business, not some kind of private playground,” he said. “We’ve invested a lot of money there over the years, but if things keep going the way they have, we’re going to have to make some changes. There’s been talk in the past about turning Airborne into a `special events only’ track that runs four or five times a year, and while I would prefer not to do that, I’m also not going to subject my people to that kind of abuse.

 

“These officials signed on to tech race cars, not break up fights,” he said. “They have no desire to spend their Saturday nights pretending to be (boxing referee) Mills Lane . I’ve talked to most of them this week, and the vast majority say they’d just as soon stay home as go through what they went through last Saturday night. And the day I can’t get officials to work at Airborne anymore is the day I close the gates.”

 

Curley said he is at a loss to explain this season’s antics, as well as a weekly rash of post-race disqualifications in the track’s Street Stock and Renegade divisions.

 

“Apparently, there’s a certain element there that just doesn’t get it,” he said. “Unfortunately, their idea of fun seems to be to race for a while, then fight for a while. And when you add in the group that spends the night drinking in the parking lot, then comes to the pits after the race ready to start trouble, you’ve got a recipe for disaster.”

 

Curley said he will convene a special commission to hear appeals of the suspensions this Saturday night, but added that most of the incidents appeared to be fairly cut-and-dried. “When you’ve got people pounding on each other and pounding on each other’s race cars, there doesn’t seem to much room for debate.”

 

rrrr

 

“Soft walls” are still coming to New Hampshire International Speedway in Loudon, but not as soon as many had hoped.

 

After originally announcing their intent to install the new SAFER (Steel and Foam Energy Reduction) barrier system at the Loudon oval, owners Bob and Gary Bahre said this week that additional testing needs to be done before the technology can be adapted from Indy Cars to NASCAR Winston Cup racers. Dr. Dean Sicking, who developed the barriers for the Indy Racing League, and oversaw testing during the month prior to the Indianapolis 500, said last week that he needs to "go back to the drawing board and do testing to see what application will work" at tracks other than Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

 

 Sicking told a group of NASCAR officials that included President Mike Helton, Director of Competition Gary Nelson, and Winston Cup Director John Darby that the barrier system would work for the heavier NASCAR machines at Indianapolis , but not necessarily at other tracks.

 

"Sicking told us, `This wall will work for us at Indy for the Brickyard 400,’” said NASCAR Vice President of Communications Jim Hunter. “(But he) does not recommend this particular wall be put up at New Hampshire .”

 

NHIS officials had hoped to install the SAFER system in time for the first of two NASCAR Winston Cup races there on July 21. Now, however, it appears Winston Cup drivers will not get a chance to test the barriers until they race at the Brickyard on August 4.

 

rrrr

 
            Teammates Michael Waltrip and Steve Park are feeling the heat these days. Both have been told that their jobs at Dale Earnhardt, Inc., are in jeopardy, and that they may be replaced prior to the 2003 season. Now, it’s up to them to do something about it.

 

"(Michael’s) job is in his hands,” said Dale Earnhardt Jr. of his DEI teammate this week. "It's been a tough situation over the past several weeks, and we have tried to deal with it as best we can.”

 

Source close to the team say Waltrip – who has just one win in 511 career Winston Cup starts -- has responded well to the challenge, rallying his team around him and improving the team’s performance. The NAPA Chevrolet has strung together four top-10 finishes in its last six starts, including a season best second-place showing at Talladega .

 

Park, meanwhile, has no top-20 finishes in that span, with four finishes of 30th or worse. His average finish this season is a woeful 30th, and he has spun out or crashed more than a dozen times since returning from the injured list in the fifth race of the season at Rockingham.

 

“It's not going too good right now for Steve," admitted Earnhardt, Jr. "They can't get their cars to do what they need them to do, and we're definitely going to have to take a hard look at that situation. If we can't make it work, we've got to make a change, and nobody is immune to change. I don't care if it's a driver or a crew chief or a tire changer.”

 

Earnhardt said Park has admitted that he is still not totally recovered from the severe head injuries suffered late last season.

 

“He's admitted to not being 100 percent, but he still is capable of getting the car around the race track,” said Earnhardt. “But we've had Steve for two or three years, and we haven't (gotten) a full season out of him in the car. If we can't make it work, we've got to make a change.”

 

            Park said that despite assurances from Teresa Earnhardt that he will remain in the Pennzoil Chevrolet until the end of the year, and despite news that Pennzoil has re-signed for 2003, the ongoing speculation over his status has grown tiring.

 

“You would never see rumors flying around if Dale (Earnhardt) was in place,” said Park this week. “He didn’t pull any punches. If you didn’t do a good job, he would tell you, ‘At the end of the year, we’re going to make a change.’ You always knew where you stood. Dale would want what’s best for the team. If the team feels that it’s best for Steve Park to move on, then that’s what will happen. If the deal is right for me to stay on and see this thing through to Victory Lane , then that will happen.”

 

While a number of drivers have been mentioned as possible replacements for Park, one of the more interesting scenarios surfaced last week at Pocono. Unconfirmed reports say that Pennzoil may be looking to cut costs by withdrawing its support of Sam Hornish, Jr.’s IRL team, and that discussions are currently underway to move the talented Hornish to NASCAR and DEI.

 

Stay tuned.

 

rrrr

 

Short (Track) Subjects…

 

…Kevin Lepage’s stint as relief driver for the injured Jeff Purvis continued last weekend, with a 14th-place finish in the Inside Traxx 300 at Nashville Superspeedway. The Shelburne native qualified 13th, but battled an ill-handling racecar for much of the evening. Lepage will be back in the car this Saturday at Kentucky Speedway.

 

…Fellow ACT-alum Ricky Craven may have a teammate soon. With Craven’s Tide-sponsored machine now flirting with the top-10 in NASCAR Winston Cup points, team owner Cal Wells has once again begun discussing the possibility of expansion. Craven said last week that he thinks a second PPI Motorsports team could be helpful, but does not want talk of a second entry to divert focus away from the 2002 effort.

 

"I don't want it to become counterproductive, worrying about a second team," he says. "We're very good at doing more with less."

 

While Wells debates the pro’s and con’s of a second car, he is also faces a major decisions about what manufacturer to align with in 2003. Currently, Wells plays second (or third, or fourth) fiddle to heavy hitters Jack Roush, Roger Penske and Robert Yates in the Ford parts/technology pipeline. Jumping to the General Motors camp -- most likely with the slick new 2003 Pontiac Grand Prix -- would almost certainly mean more factory support, but would require him to give up his current Robert Yates Racing powerplants.

 

"There's a lot of upside to the General Motors relationship, but the engines are the biggest
factor," he said.

 

…Tonight, Casella Waste Systems sponsors the second “Thursday Night Thunder” race program of the season at Thunder Road , with a full slate of events for the Late Models, Flying Tiers, and Street Stocks beginning at 6 p.m. Next week, it’s back the usual 7:00 start.

 

Canaan (NH) Speedway returns to action tomorrow night with “Randy's Sunoco Night,” with the Modifieds, Coupes, Pro Street Stocks, and Fast Fours all competing, along with the second Canaan outing this year for the Granite State Mini Sprints. Post time is 7 p.m.

 

Saturday night, Plattsburgh ’s Airborne Raceway hosts the ACT Late Models in the “Leo’s Furniture 100,” along with the Flying Tigers, Street Stocks and Renegades. Post time is set for 7:00 . Bradford ’s Bear Ridge Speedway is back in action Saturday night, with a 40-lap Twin State Modified Series feature highlighting the four-division racing card. The Coupes, Pro Streets and Fast Fours will join the Modifieds in action on the quarter-mile clay track. Also Saturday, Riverside Speedway in Groveton , NH , presents a full card of events for the Cyclones, Strictlies, Sportsmen, and Late Models, plus a four-cylinder Enduro and a Youth Race. Showtime is set for 7:05 p.m.

 

It’s “Speedway Safety Services Night” at White Mountain Motorsports Park in North Woodstock , NH , Saturday, with five divisions in action, headlined by a 35-lap main event for the Strictly Minis. The green flag waves at 6 p.m. And the NEKC Kart Tour runs the road course at Thunder Road Saturday afternoon, with a multi-division program beginning at 4 p.m.

 

And finally, at Devil’s Bowl Speedway in West Haven, a full Sunday night program of events is set for the 358 Modifieds, Pro Streets, Hobby Stocks, and Cruisers combines with the “Great American School Bus Race,” with a post-time of 7 p.m.