Temperatures Rising at Thunder Road
By DAVE MOODY
In each of the last two weeks, temperatures inside the racecars at Barre’s Thunder Road soared well into triple digits. Apparently, it’s even hotter under the drivers’ collars. For the second week in a row, Victory Lane at “The Nation’s Site of Excitement” has featured a deafening mix of cheers and jeers, after controversial incidents in the track’s headline Late Model division brought the issue of rough riding to the forefront.
Two weeks ago, winner Joey Laquerre felt the wrath of the Thunder Road fans, after he and defending track champion Phil Scott traded sheetmetal repeatedly in a three-lap dash to the checkered flag. Seven days later, NASCAR Busch North Series regular Barney McRae wore the black hat, after being disqualified for rough riding on the final lap of an event won by Dave Pembroke. While the incidents were similar in many ways, the penalties were different. Laquerre kept his winner’s trophy, while McRae was penalized to the final spot in the 26-car field.
Why the difference? According to McRae, it’s personal.
“The 44 (Pembroke) was on the outside of me,” said the St. Albans driver after Thursday’s race. “Every time, he’d drive his left-front into my right rear, and it would put me up toward the top of the track. Every lap, he’s into me. They’re thinking I’m going up into the wall, but I had the wheel cranked (to the left). I didn’t wreck him, so I don’t care. I don’t feel I was doing anything wrong.”
McRae, who clashed repeatedly with Tom Curley in his days on the old ACT Pro Stock Tour, said last week’s incident was the latest in a series of unfair decisions against him by Thunder Road’s Race Director.
“Tom and I have a history of this kind of stuff,” said McRae. “This is five or six races that Curley has singlehandedly taken away from me. He’s got a lot of stuff going for him, but he doesn’t want me to race.”
The St. Albans driver said talk of an ACT suspension is unnecessary, since “unless (Curley) apologizes, I’m gone.”
Curley never called McRae to apologize. In fact, he never had to.
“I was out of town for two days last week, but Barney called me first thing Wednesday and said we needed to talk,” said the ACT President. “I told him I did my talking with the black flag, but that I was willing to listen if he had something to say. He spoke at length about how it wasn’t his fault, and how I’ve screwed him out of all these races over the years.
“When he was all done, I told him there was no question in my mind that he was trying to wreck (Pembroke) Thursday night, and that after pointing the black flag at him, then giving him a face-to-face warning, he had been given three chances to do the right thing.”
Curley admitted that McRae’s history played a part in the decision to throw a black flag.
“Barney is a tenth to fifteenth-place driver,” he said. “From the time he started out in the Mini Stocks at Catamount Stadium, that’s were he has always run. The (old) ACT, Busch North, Thursday nights at Thunder Road, Barney always runs tenth to fifteenth. That’s where he’s comfortable. Take him out of that element, though, and he’s a different driver. His decision-making process changes, and that usually results in torn-up race cars.
“Barney’s been around a long time, and he knows how to play our handicap system,” Curley said. “He worked himself onto the pole Thursday night, and when the fast guys caught him - as he had to know they would -- he responded the way he has responded in the past.”
Curley said McRae, who has never won a main event in his nearly three decades of racing, is welcome to return to Thunder Road. However, the St. Albans native will not be starting up front.
“Part of his penalty is that we calculated the handicap as if he had won the race,” said Curley. “There’s no way he’s going to come back and start on the pole all over again. If he chooses to come back and race, I guess that’s fine. If he chooses not to, that’s also fine.”
The ACT President also responded to questions comparing the McRae/Pembroke incident to the previous week’s dustup between Laquerre and Scott.
"Joey and Phil are not two rookie drivers,” he said. “They have been racing for a lot of years, and in my opinion, both of them did what they had to do to win a race. Both of them took liberties, and both pushed the envelope as far as they could. The situation with Barney and Dave Pembroke was different.
“Crowding a guy high in turns two and three (as Laquerre did) is one thing. (McRae) sticking a guy in the frontstretch wall is another. Also, Phil and Joey’s battle did not jeopardize anyone but them. The McRae/Pembroke deal happened on restarts, with the entire pack bearing down on them.”
Curley also disputed allegations that Laquerre -- a full-time ACT supporter -- was dealt with more leniently than McRae, who races on the rival NASCAR Busch North Series. In his words, “people have short memories. Just two years ago, I threw Joey out of a race at Thunder Road and tried to choke his kid! I ended up suspending myself for a couple of weeks over the deal.
“If that makes him one of `Curley’s boys,’ I don’t see how.”
The forecast for tonight calls for clear skies and cooler
temperatures in the 70s. But with double points on the line and a razor-close
championship battle underway, things may stay hot under the collar for a while
Short (Track) Subjects…
…ACT Dodge Tour driver Patrick Laperle will do double duty this weekend, steering his own ACT Late Model in Saturday night’s Dodge Tour event at Maine’s Oxford Plains Speedway, then driving Julio & Rita Miglioli’s JLM Precision Pro Stock in Sunday’s “True Value Oxford 250.” The car was built and prepared by former NASCAR Busch North Series driver Dale Shaw, who also built Laperle’s ACT mount. The Miglioli car was driven at Oxford earlier this season by Sylvain Lacombe.
…Scott Dragon has signed a two-race sponsorship agreement with Planet Dog, a Maine-based pet products manufacturer. Planet Dog will be on the #70 Chevrolet’s quarterpanels this weekend, and also when ACT return to Oxford on Saturday, August 2.
…Four NASCAR Winston Cup drivers who tested the new pavement at New Hampshire International Speedway last week say not much has changed.
''The track itself is the same track,'' said Maine native Ricky Craven. ''There's really not that much difference.'' NHIS owner Bob Bahre resurfaced the track with asphalt imported from Trinidad, hoping to avoid the heat-induced chunking that has occurred in previous years. Also last week, NHIS announced plans to install the SAFER barrier system in times for the track’s second 2003 Winston Cup race in September. The move has long been planned, awaiting only final approval by the soft-wall system’s developer, Dr. Dean L. Sicking.
“We are very pleased to announce that following Dr. Sicking’s recommendation to NASCAR, we will be installing the SAFER barrier at New Hampshire International Speedway,” said Bahre. “It is our plan to have the barriers in place for the Sylvania 300 weekend this September.”
…Toyota’s plan to join the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series has now reached the recruitment phase, with the Japanese automaker reportedly talking to Travis Kvapil’s #16 team, as well as the #46 team of veteran Dennis Setzer. Both teams would reportedly expand to two-truck operations next season, with Setzer’s operation fielding a second entry for longtime Toyota Goody’s Dash Series driver Robert Huffman. Speculation has Kvapil’s team expanding to include former Truck Series champion Jack Sprague, who would reportedly step back to the trucks for a year or two in an effort to be on the Toyota team when the automaker steps up to Winston Cup in 2005 or 2006.
Other teams said to be investigating Toyota-backed NCTS entries are James Finch’s Phoenix Racing, and Bill Davis Racing, whose Winston Cup operation was dropped by Dodge for alleged clandestine work on a Toyota truck series entry.
…Central Asphalt Paving of Jefferson NH will sponsor the America-Canadian Tour’s fourth annual “Granite State 100” on Saturday night, August 9. The event will be the eleventh race on the 16-race ACT Dodge Tour for 2003.
…Stacy Compton came within 40 seconds of not being allowed to race last Saturday night, after inspectors found an oversized fuel cell in his Kodak Pontiac. NASCAR ordered that the car be in the garage until it was fixed, and Compton joined the field during the final warm-up lap. If he had not been on the track when the green flag waved, he would not have been allowed to race.
…The Late Models are out at Plattsburgh’s Airborne Raceway. Track officials, citing low turnout, have announced that the Late Model division will not compete there again until the ACT New England Dodge Tour “Fall Foliage 200” September 14. The Tiger Sportsman, Street Stocks, Renegades and Junkyard Warriors will continue as weekly divisions.
…Tonight, the Times-Argus presents the Thunder Road Midseason Championships, with double points up for grabs in all four divisions. Post time is set for 7 p.m. Tomorrow night is “A&C Sweeping Services Night” on the Canaan Fair (NH) Speedway dirt track, with a full card of racing, plus the Granite State Mini Sprints and the fifth Tri-Track V8 enduro event of the year.
Saturday afternoon, the NEKC karts contest their “Auto Works/Pearl Street Motors Trophy Dash,” including the Allison Legacy cars, beginning at 1 p.m. Saturday night, Airborne Raceway in Plattsburgh returns to action with the Tiger Sportsmen, Street Stocks, Renegades, and Junkyard Warriors on hand. Post time is set for 6:30. White Mountain Motorsports Park is back in action Saturday with a regular card of racing, double features for the Strictly Minis, and kids’ bike races, beginning at 6 p.m.
At Riverside (NH) Speedway Saturday night, it’s the 17th annual “Budweiser Midseason Championships,” with double points on the line for the Tiger Sportsmen, Strictly Stocks and Cyclones, plus the New England Allison Legacy Series and the Spectator Drags. On the Canaan (NH) Fair Speedway asphalt track, the New England Antique Racers and New England Dwarf Cars join a full card of racing presented by Benning Street Bar & Grill. Racing begins at 6 p.m. At Bradford’s Bear Ridge Speedway, Mekkelsen RV presents Midseason Championship Night, plus a Twin State Modified event and a four-cylinder enduro.
And finally, Devil's Bowl Speedway in West Haven returns to action Sunday night, with the double-point Midseason Championships in all divisions. It will also be New York State Stock Car Association Night at the speedway. Racing will begin at 7 p.m.