MacRitchie, Bellerose Turn The Corner at Thunder Road

SpeedReading

By DAVE MOODY

Barre/Montpelier (VT) Times-Argus

 

            There’s something to be said for stick-to-itiveness. Just ask Cooper MacRitchie and Tracie Bellerose.

 

            Locked in the throes of miserable 2002 seasons, both MacRitchie and Bellerose took major steps toward turning things around last Thursday night, finishing first and third in the Green Mountain Office Machines Trophy Dash” at Thunder Road . MacRitchie started eighth, inherited the lead when Sam Caron and Dave Whitcomb tangled, then held off a series of ferocious challenges by Bellerose and two-time track champion Phil Scott to claim a much-needed checkered flag. Bellerose, meanwhile, surged forward from the 21st starting slot, threading her way masterfully through a multi-car, opening lap pileup, then ran the outside lane like the Bellerose of old before losing the runnerup spot to Scott on the final lap.

 

For both drivers, Thursday’s results were a much-needed breath of fresh air.

 

Prior to Thursday night, Bellerose had recorded just one top-10 finish in seven outings – a ninth two weeks ago in her Thunder Road Thursday night debut – with an average finish of 14th. MacRitchie’s eight starts had produced an average finish of 20.25, with five finishes outside the top 20 and a season-best 14th place showing in the ACT Dodge Tour opener at New Hampshire ’s Star Speedway. Not exactly the stuff of legends.

 

“It’s been a tough season,” said MacRitchie recently. “We just haven’t had any luck at all. Anything bad that happens seems to happen right in front of us.”

 

“We’ve had a good car every week, but we just haven’t had any luck to go with it,” echoed Bellerose. “I’ve been getting myself in trouble early in races, and with the competition on the Tour, you can’t afford to be coming from the back of the pack two or three times a night.”

 

Both drivers admitted that their disappointing starts had affected their confidence on the racetrack.

 

“The driver is definitely the problem right now,” said the ever-candid Bellerose prior to Thursday’s race. “I just don’t have a lot of confidence in what I’m doing right now. That’s why we’ve decided to back off on the Tour races and get back to weekly racing at Thunder Road . I need to get comfortable in the car again, and this is where I’m most comfortable.”

 

In Victory Lane, the 2000 Thunder Road “Queen of the Road” told a packed T-Road grandstand how she felt about her first top-three finish of the year, saying, “Hopefully, this will give us a little kick in the ass.”

 

MacRitchie sang a similar tune. After the race, he marveled at the difference 40 short laps can make in a driver’s attitude, and that of his team. “What a difference a week makes,” he laughed. “This makes up for a lot of aggravation this season. There are quite a few more smiles around here than there were an hour ago. Now, we have to find a way to keep it going.”

 

rrrr

 

The Renegade division at Airborne Raceway continues to do a methodist job of cutting its own throat. Three weeks ago in this space, we commented on the division’s inability to get three drivers through a post-race tech inspection. At least one podium finisher has forfeited his trophy in each of the last five weeks, with all three frontrunners getting the old heave-ho on one occasion.

 

Last Saturday night, the trend continued, as track champion Greg Wolcott’s third win of 2002 came a cropper in the tech line, when he was cited for illegal suspension parts. Third-place finisher Shawn Fountain also bit the dust, after inspectors found an illegal, high-dollar racing shock on the right-front corner of his car.

 

            It’s been weeks since the fans left Airborne knowing who the real Renegade winner was, and one has to wonder just how much longer track management will waste everyone’s time with a division that is clearly out of control. Obviously, forfeiting trophies and prize money is not getting anyone’s attention. In this writer’s opinion, it’s time to break out the whuppin’ stick. Saturday night, Airborne owner/promoter Tom Curley should announce that, effective immediately, any Renegade driver found illegal in the tech line will receive an immediate one-race suspension, in addition to the usual DSQ. Repeat offenders will receive a four-race suspension and loss of all championship points. Three-time losers will be banned from ACT competition for life.

 

            That’s right, all divisions, all tracks, for life. Then watch the parts start flying.

 

rrrr

 

Bruton Smith’s Speedway Motorsports sold another little piece of its soul last week, renaming Sears Point Raceway in California “Infineon Raceway” as part of a $34.6 million, 10-year deal with a German microchip manufacturer. Speedway Motorsports is the same operation that peddled the naming rights to Charlotte Motor Speedway to Lowe’s Home Improvement Warehouse in a $35-million deal a couple of years ago.

 

Reports that Smith is close to selling the naming rights to his future grandchildren have not yet been confirmed.

 

rrrr

 

Short (Track) Subjects…

 

…North Haverhill, NH, native Frank Stoddard is a new daddy this week. Stoddard and wife Heidi welcomed six-pound, seven ounce Alexis Heather Stoddard Wednesday morning. Mother and baby are doing fine, Dad’s a little frazzled. Stoddard, crewchief for Jeff Burton’s CITGO Winston Cup Ford, began his racing career turning wrenches on C.V. Elms’ Bear Ridge modified, before beginning a longtime association with New Hampshire legend Stub Fadden. Heidi Stoddard handles public relations for Ward Burton’s Caterpillar Dodge team.

 

…Best wishes for a speedy recovery go out to Riverside (NH) Speedway Chief Starter Stanley Skinner, who was struck last Saturday night while venturing trackside after waving off a late-race restart. Skinner was transported to a local hospital for X-rays, but his injuries were reported to be minor.

 

…The MacDonald kids – former ACT star Randy and sister Teri – made a bit of NASCAR history last weekend, when they raced against each other in the Craftsman Truck Series “O’Reilly Auto Parts 200” at Memphis Motorsports Park. Randy MacDonald qualified 12th and finished 20th, the final truck on the lead lap. Little sister Teri finished 29th – nine laps down – in her maiden voyage on the Craftsman Truck Series, after using an owner’s provisional to start 34th. They were the first brother/sister tandem to compete against each other in a major NASCAR Series since Tim Flock and his sister, Ethel Flock Mobley, ran the beach road course at Daytona in 1949.

 

…Hot off a near victory in last weekend’s race at Sears Point Raceway, Jerry Nadeau has signed to drive a Michael Waltrip-owned #00 Chevrolet at Chicagoland Speedway on July 14th. The deal is a one-race-only arrangement, as Nadeau continues to seek a full-time position.

 

…From the “Good News/Bad News” Department, Bill Davis Racing will fold its #23 Busch Series team following Friday night’s race at Daytona International Speedway. Davis will move the team, along with driver Scott Wimmer, to the NASCAR Winston Cup Series for a limited schedule of seven races this season, with an eye toward a run for Rookie of the Year honors in 2003. Davis Pontiac will be sponsored by Siemens, beginning with the “Tropicana 400” at Chicagoland Speedway on July 13.

 

…Andy Petree Racing will field two cars in next weekend’s “Pepsi 400” at Daytona. Mike Wallace will steer a Petree-owned #33 Chevrolet, while Bobby Hamilton will be in his familiar #55.

 

…Look for Joe Gibbs Racing to switch from Pontiac to Chevrolet next year. Sources close to the team say Gibbs will take drivers Bobby Labonte and Tony Stewart to the Chevy camp in 2003, with official announcement of the deal being withheld until Pontiac finds a team to replace Gibbs. PPI
Motorsports owner Cal Wells – who currently fields Fords for Maine native Ricky Craven – is reportedly the leading candidate to jump to the Pontiac camp. That deal, if it happens, will reportedly not occur for at least another month.

 

…Investors in Bruton Smith’s Speedway Motorsports, Inc., continue their lawsuit against NASCAR International in an effort to secure a second Winston Cup date at Texas Motor Speedway. The owners of Pikes Peak International Raceway are taking a different tact, negotiating to sell at least a share of the track to International Speedway Corporation, parent company of NASCAR. PPIR President Rob Johnson declined to discuss specifics of the deal this week, but did confirm that negotiations are ongoing. Sources say that without such a deal, Pikes Peak has virtually no chance of ever getting on the Winston Cup schedule.

 

…With the July 4th holiday nearly upon us, there’s a full slate of racing on the calendar in the coming days. At Thunder Road tonight, WDEV Radio presents a three-division program of events for the Late Model Sportsmen, Flying Tigers and Street Stocks, beginning at 7 p.m.

 

The Canaan (NH) dirt track will be back in action tomorrow night at 7 p.m. , when Chase's Auto Parts presents a 40-lap Twin State Modified main event, the third Canaan outing of the season for the Granite State Mini-Sprints, plus Sportsman Coupes, Pro Streets and Fast Fours. The quarter-mile Canaan dirt track will also host a special mid-week event next Wednesday; a special Independence Day event highlighted by a Sunoco Coupe Series 40-lapper and fireworks. The Modifieds, Pro Streets and Fast Fours will also be on the Wednesday racing card.

 

Plattsburgh ’s Airborne Raceway is back in action Saturday night, as Coca-Cola presents the track’s annual Independence Day celebration. The Flying Tigers, Streets and Renegades will all be on the docket, along with fireworks to close the evening. The first green flag flies at 7 p.m. Groveton, New Hampshire’s Riverside Speedway rolls out a four-division card of events featuring round two of the “Coca-Cola Triple Crown Series” for Riverside Sportsman/Flying Tiger cars, plus Cyclones, Strictly Stocks, and a 75-lap Ladies Enduro, with a post time of 7:05 p.m.

 

At Bear Ridge Speedway in Bradford , Saturday's “H.O. Taylor Chevrolet Night” will include a fireworks display, an extra-distance feature for the Pro Street Stocks, and a V8 Enduro, on top of a full card of Modified, Coupe and Fast Four racing. Post time is 6:30 p.m. After two consecutive weeks of heavy rain, White Mountain Motorsports Park in North Woodstock , NH , will try again Saturday at 6 p.m. , with “Pat's Auto Sales Night,” featuring the Late Models, Super Streets, Strictly Streets, Mini-Cup Cars, Kids Truck Division and Strictly Mini's. The green flag waves at 6 p.m.

 

And finally, Devil’s Bowl Speedway in West Haven rolls Sunday night with a full race card, headlined by their annual “Hobby Stock Havoc” event, with a post time of 7 p.m.