Craven: Park Needs Support

SpeedReading

By DAVE MOODY

Barre/Montpelier (VT) Times-Argus

 

            All Winston Cup driver Steve Park needs is time and support. That’s the opinion of Maine native Ricky Craven, who a decade ago, bounced back from the same physical and emotional challenges that currently threaten to sideline Park’s career. 

            “I’ve talked to Steve quite a lot lately,” said Craven of Park, who has struggled to overcome serious brain injuries suffered in a Busch Series crash last season. “Though we never really raced against each other until we got to Winston Cup, I feel like we come from the same place. We’re both from the northeast (Craven from Maine , Park from New York ), and when I ran Busch North, he was winning races on the Modified Tour.  

            “Steve is an incredibly talented race driver,” said Craven. “He got beat up a little last year, but he’s 100 percent now. All he needs is time to get his confidence back, and a team that supports him unconditionally.  

            “Right now, every time he gets into a little scrape, people are looking at him with raised eyebrows. Maybe even some people on his own team. They’re making a list of every mistake he makes, trying to justify the same “damaged goods” label they hung on me. I battled that for a long time, and it was very difficult,” he said. “A lot of car owners walked past me without every giving me a second look, because they believed I was supposedly too hurt, too scared to get the job done anymore.”  

            Craven said his own experience taught him that no matter how hard you try, there are going to be periods of adversity.  

            “I told Steve, `You’re going to go through tough times in this sport,’” said Craven. “And right now, this is one of his tough times. It may last a day, it may last a month, nobody knows. But no matter how long it lasts, he has to persevere. My tough time came in 1999 and 2000. I was with the Midwest Transit team, and we didn’t have the funding or the people to be competitive. It was tough, but I knew that if I stayed focused, I could survive.  

            “That’s the attitude Steve needs right now.”  

            Craven said the pressure of the Winston Cup Series has produced a “now or never” philosophy that makes it difficult to succeed.  

            “Everyone lives and dies according to what happened last week,” he said. “There’s so much attention paid to `who’s in the top 10, who’s in the top 20,’ that nobody is willing to think long term. Drivers, crewchiefs, and crewmembers know that either they get it done now, or they’re out the door tomorrow. Teams don’t have time to develop chemistry anymore.”  

            Chemistry, said Craven, has enabled his Tide-sponsored team to thrive this season.  

            “We’ve had the same people in place for the last 18 months. Nobody has fallen for the lure of more money, nobody has jumped ship to join another team. We’re all here, we all get along terrifically, and we’re all committed to putting this team at the top of the hill. We’re not there yet, but we’re gaining.”  

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            It took Jerry Lesage 19 years to find his way to Victory Lane . And it was worth the wait.  

            Last Thursday night at Thunder Road , the Winooski veteran parlayed a second-row starting spot and a flawless racecar into his first career victory, weathering a dramatic, last lap charge by two-time track champion Phil Scott to claim the first-place trophy in the Casella Waste Systems Trophy Dash.  

“I’d say this is a dream come true, but I’m not sure I even dreamed this big,” said Lesage, who began his racing career on the old Northern NASCAR circuit at Milton ’s Catamount Stadium in 1984. “Our goal for the season was to get a top-five finish, but now, I guess I’m going to have to raise my goals a little.”  

“With two laps to go, I had four or five car lengths on Phil, and they were telling me on the radio, `you’re okay, you’re okay,’” said Lesage. “Then, all of a sudden, I look in the mirror and all I can see is green. I wanted to protect the bottom, but I opened up door in turn two on the last lap.”  

Scott pushed the nose of his Ford underneath Lesage’s Alpine Sprinkler Chevrolet going into turn three, and the two made contact. Lesage dirt-tracked his way through the final turn, crossing under the checkered flag inches from the wall, and less than three feet in front of Scott.  

“I figured `What the heck, even if I pound the wall I’m going to finish second,’” said a beaming Lesage afterward. “I don’t get into that position very often, so I was going for broke.”  

Scott, meanwhile, said Lesage made all the right moves. “If it was the last lap of the Milk Bowl, maybe I (drive it in) a little deeper. But tonight, it would have been the wrong move. Jerry had a great car, and he deserved to win.”  

Lesage credited his crew for the victory, and also a bit of outside help.  

“Brian Latuch (co-crewchief for Brad Leighton’s NASCAR Busch North Series team) has been giving us some pointers, and we changed three shocks right before the feature. Obviously, it worked.”  

Lesage’s Thursday night win showcased everything that is right about the ACT system. Without the advantage of an up-front starting spot, comparatively low-buck teams like Lesage’s have little or no hope of ever cracking Victory Lane . But with the faster cars handicapped at least to the middle of the pack, guys like Lesage know that on any given night, when the conditions are right, they can carry the checkered flag.   

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                        Still recovering from injuries suffered in a savage NASCAR Busch Series crash on May 19 at Nazareth , Jeff Purvis said last weekend that he has not yet decided whether to continue with his career.   

“(The decision is) not going to some in five or six months. It's going to take a lot longer than that,” said Purvis from his home in Tennessee . “I'm in a lot of pain, and I can't get comfortable with this neck brace I have to wear. I've felt a whole lot better, but the good news is that doctors expect me to eventually make a full recovery.”  

Purvis is currently fitted with a halo device, anchored with a series of screws in his skull, to stabilize his fractured neck vertebrae. His scheduled June 22 marriage to fiancé Margo Turner will occur as scheduled, but the reception has been postponed until after his recovery is complete. And while she has pledged to support his future husband in whatever road he chooses, Turner has made it clear she hopes the former world dirt track champion has run his final race.  

“Margo has been there for me from the start, and I couldn't have made it without her support,'' said Purvis. “But I realize she wants me to quit. My parents want me to quit, and my sons want me to quit. But do I want to quit? That's a question I can't answer right now.''  

Shelburne native Kevin Lepage drove his fourth race in relief of Purvis last weekend, qualifying 18th and finishing 12th in the “Kroger 300” at Kentucky Motor Speedway.  

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Short (Track) Subjects…  

…After a year away, former Thunder Road LMS Champion Tracie Bellerose is returning to the Thursday night wars for the remainder of the 2002 season. Work conflicts prevented Bellerose from competing at the track on a regular basis last year, but after a rocky start to the 2002 campaign, Bellerose’s Merchant’s Bank-sponsored team has reportedly decided to refocus its efforts on Thursday night racing, in an attempt to regain their momentum.  

…The end of an era could be at hand. Winston Cup team owner Junie Donlavey said Saturday that he is mulling retirement from the sport. The 78-year old Donlavey lost his driver, Rick Mast, to a mysterious (and as yet undiagnosed) illness a few weeks ago, and his sponsor, the C.F. Sauer Company, withdrew their support two weeks ago due to poor on-track performance.  

Donlavey said Sunday that his team will not be at Sears Point next weekend and may fold if it can't find a sponsor. "I'm going to find a way to go to Daytona in July," said Donlavey, who began fielding racecars in 1950. "I just want to be there for one more race. After that, it doesn’t look good."  

...Former American-Canadian Tour Pro Stock competitor Randy MacDonald will be part of NASCAR history Saturday at Memphis Motorsports Park, when he and his sister, Teri, race against each other in a NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series event there. They will become the first brother/sister combo to start a
major NASCAR race since Tim Flock and his sister, Ethyl Flock Mobley, competed on the beach road course at Daytona in 1949.  

Known as the “Ontario Golden Boy” during his stint on the ACT Tour, Randy MacDonald is a regular on the Craftsman Truck Series. Teri has previously competed on the ASA, IMSA, and CASCAR
Series’, and hopes to run for NCTS Rookie of the Year honors in 2003.
 

…Saturday marks the 35th anniversary of racing at Bradford ’s Bear Ridge Speedway, and owner/promoter C.V. Elms, III, is throwing a party. A 40-lap Sunoco Coupe Series event is on tap, along with last Saturday's rained-out 40-lap Twin State Modified Series event, a full card of Pro Street Stock and Fast Four racing, and special appearances by many of the drivers and racing personalities who've left their mark on the speedway during its first 35 seasons. Should be quite an evening. 

…There’s no shortage of action on the local scene this week, beginning tonight at Thunder Road , which returns to its regular summer post time of 7 p.m. , with a full slate of Late Model, Flying Tiger, and Street Stock racing on Green Mountain Office Machines Night. The annual kids’ poster contest is also on tap.  

The Canaan (NH) dirt track is back in action tomorrow night, with all four weekly racing divisions in action. Post time is 7 p.m.

 Riverside Speedway in Groveton , NH , returns to action this Saturday night with Issacson Steel Night, with racing for the Cyclones, Strictlies, Sportsman and Dwarf Cars. The NEDA Late Models make their second Riverside appearance of the summer with a 50 lap main event, along with an 8-cylinder Enduro. The first race of the night will get the green flag at 7:05 p.m. Also Saturday, it’s Speedway Safety Services Night at White Mountain Motorsports Park in North Woodstock , NH . Added to the regular Late Model, Super Street , Strictly Street and the Mini-Cup schedule will be the Senior Tour Auto Racers, and a 35 lap Strictly Mini main event. The green flag flies at 6 pm .  

Thunder Road fans can get some “home cooking” away from home Sunday, when the ACT Dodge Tour travels to the third-mile Canaan USA Speedway asphalt track, accompanied by ACT’s Subway Flying Tiger Grand Slam Series, and the ACT Street Stock Series. The green flag flies at 1:30 . And finally, Devil’s Bowl Speedway in West Haven tries again Sunday night, with their annual “Summer Sendoff,” with features for the 358 Modifieds, Pro Streets, Hobby Stocks, and Cruisers, plus an Enduro, with a post time of 7 p.m.  

…Andy Petree went shopping last week, reportedly buying six digits worth of Fords from Penske Racing South. The move comes as Petree prepares to partner (one of those new-age verbs everyone seems to love so much) with Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones. Jones has a business relationship with Ford, prompting the shopping spree.