It’s Tight At The Top of Thunder Road LM Standings
By DAVE MOODY
With the halfway mark of the 2003 Thunder Road championship chase now past, it’s cozy at the top of the track’s Late Model standings.
Coming into tonight’s “Fisher Federated Auto Parts Night,” Jamie Fisher retains a slim, 11-point edge over former track champion Tracie Bellerose at the top of the Late Model standings. Fisher finished sixth in last week’s double points Midseason Championship, trailing a spellbinding, 15-lap battle between Bellerose and eventual winner Pete Fecteau that saw the two swap the lead dozens of times in the final 15 circuits, without swapping paint even once. Only Fred Lagoy’s stalled car - sitting broadside in the fourth corner on the final lap - kept the race from being a photo finish, and both Bellerose and Fecteau gained ground on Fisher in the battle for 2003 King (or Queen) of the Road honors.
Despite going oh-for the first half, defending track champion Phil Scott rides third this week, just 18 points behind Fisher, followed by surging Dave Pembroke, Eric Williams, and Fecteau. In all, just 43 points separate the top six drivers, in one of the closest championship battles in track history.
Once considered an Airborne Raceway specialist, Milton driver Craig Bushey has dominated the Flying Tiger Sportsman battles throughout the northeast this season, and leads the Thunder Road standings by 17 markers over former Riverside Speedway king Reno Gervais. Mark “The Hammer” Barnier is third - just 14 points further back - trailed by Jimmy Young and Scott Payea. While not quite as tight as their Late Model brethren, the top-10 Tiger drivers are separated by only 61 points, ensuring a hard-fought second-half point battle.
In Street Stock action, Willy “The Weiner” Hennequin has sat atop the Thunder Road standings virtually all season, and holds a comparatively comfortable 36-point edge over Gary Mullen in this week’s rundown. Jeff French and Jamie Rabideau are tied for third, just two points further back. The new Junkyard Warrior division is expanding at a dizzying clip, with 18 cars taking the green flag last Thursday night; the biggest field yet this season. Seamus Curley is the best of the worst so far, leading Buster Porter by 27 points coming into tonight’s event.
Last week’s main event showcased everything that is good about ACT Late Model racing, and Thunder Road in particular. Fecteau and Bellerose threw everything at each other but the proverbial kitchen sink in an all-out battle for the checkered flag. Then, when it was over, they shook hands in Victory Lane and complimented each other on a respectful, exciting race. Hope for more of the same tonight, no matter who the contenders may be.
Young Ben Rowe fulfilled a lifelong dream last Sunday night, joining his legendary father on the list of winners of the “True Value 250” at Maine’s Oxford Plains Speedway. Rowe, son of two-time `250’ champion Mike Rowe, fought off veteran Steve Knowlton on a pair of late restarts to win the race and claim a winner’s purse of $34,700. Knowlton finished second, followed by a trio of former winners; Gary Drew, Mike Rowe, and Larry Gelinas
Rowe the younger long ago stepped out of his father’s considerable shadow, winning the NEPSA and Pro All Stars Series touring championships, and leading this year’s PASS standings with a season-high four victories to date. His track record in the 250, however, needed a little work.
In 1996, his rookie season, Rowe surrendered a huge lead when he ran out of fuel with just three laps remaining, handing the win to Gelinas. In 1999, he finished a distant second to winner Ralph Nason, before trailing the controversial veteran to the checkers by less than a car length in 2000. This time around, however, Rowe was not to be denied. He started on the pole - alongside his father - and ran second to him early, before taking the lead midway. He surrendered the point to take on tires, then surged to the front for the stretch drive, holding off repeated attacks by Drew and Knowlton down the stretch.
“I’ve been coming here since I was nine years old, watching my dad,” said an ecstatic Rowe in Victory Lane. “To win this race is to beat the best drivers in the northeast. My dad always said it’s better to be the hunter than the hunted. I was content to sit back (in the race’s middle stages). I wasn’t worried.”
Rowe, who literally grew up in Oxford’s Victory Lane, began his own racing career in the OPS Mini Stock division at the tender age of 16. Papa Mike has left his mark on virtually every facet of his son’s career from the start, and Sunday, it was no different. In Victory Lane, Ben Rowe’s car sported a black rubber doughnut on its door, courtesy of his father, who pulled alongside on the cool-down lap to deliver a salute to his champion son.
“He told me he had to catch me to put a mark on it,” smiled the younger Rowe afterward. “It’s unbelievable. Winning this race after starting next to my dad? You couldn’t script it any better.”
While the “True Value 250” appears to have lost much of its luster, it remains one of the northeast’s premier events. Fewer than 80 cars attempted qualifying for this year’s event, the lowest total in memory, and far short of the 150-car fields the race attracted little more than a decade ago. Of the 39 drivers that made the race, 28 were from Maine. Four New Hampshire drivers made this year’s race, along with two from new Brunswick, and one each from Massachusetts (second-place finisher Steve Knowlton), Quebec (ACT regular Patrick Laperle, who finished 13th), and Vermont (Pete Fecteau, 27th). Laperle drove a specially prepared Pro Stock entry in the midsummer classic, while Fecteau simply bolted wider tires and wheels and a bigger carburetor on his own ACT-legal mount.
Look for at least two top drivers to have new rides at the start of the 2004 NASCAR Winston Cup season.
Despite repeated denials, sources close to Joe Gibbs Racing say that 2002 Winston Cup champion Tony Stewart will leave the team at the end of the season to join Chip Ganassi Racing, at the wheel of the Target Dodge currently driven by Casey Mears. Stewart has one year remaining on his contract with JGR, but sources say Ganassi has already agreed to buy out the remainder of the pact. Stewart denied rumors about his impending move this week, saying that no other teams have contacted him. He admitted, however, that he and Gibbs have not been able to talk recently, because Stewart has been “too busy.” He said he expects that he and Gibbs will talk soon.
"There are probably a lot of people that have been trying
to come after him," said Gibbs this week. "One
thing about this sport is that if you're real good, chances are there's going to be some people knocking at your door." Gibbs said his team managers are "kind of working on" a long-term contract extension with Stewart.
In a related story, former NASCAR Winston Cup champion Dale Jarrett is reportedly shopping his resume to a number of top teams, in an effort to find a new place to race in 2004. Jarrett, the 1999 Winston Cup champion and three-time Daytona 500 winner, has struggled mightily this season in his Robert Yates Racing/UPS Ford, with one win and only four top-10 finishes in 18 starts. He languishes in 29th place in the current standings, 11 spots behind new teammate Elliott Sadler.
While Yates has made a series of moves already this season to boost his team’s lagging performance, Jarrett - at age 47 -- reportedly does not feel he has the time to wait for Yates to rebuild, and wants to move to another team where he can be competitive immediately. The most likely place for Jarrett to land? Dale Earnhardt, Incorporated’s #1 Chevrolet. Pennzoil recently announced that it will not return as major sponsor for the team next season, and Jeff Green’s status is said to be shaky, at best.
Ty Norris, General Manager of DEI, said this week that he’d love to have Jarrett join the team, if he were to become available. “If Dale was on the market, and if DEI were looking for a driver, there's not a more experienced guy, with tons of class, who sponsors love, and who has tremendous ability. There's not an organization in this garage that wouldn't love to have Dale Jarrett. Dale and I are friends, and Dale is friends with Dale Jr. But I've never had a conversation with him about driving for us.”
Short (Track) Subjects…
…Despite struggling to make their primary team competitive, Morgan-McClure Motorsports will enter two cars in Sunday’s “New England 300” at New Hampshire International Speedway. Johnny Sauter will drive the team’s #4 Kodak Pontiac for the second week in a row, with second-generation driver David Reutimann steering a #04 Pontiac, also sponsored by Kodak.
"We wanted a second car for some time, and now seemed like an opportune time to act,” said team owner Larry McClure. “We feel we have two very talented young drivers to give an opportunity to drive in Winston Cup. This will give the team time to work with both drivers.”
…Things could get sticky between Todd Bodine and the team that has fielded cars for him this season on the NASCAR Busch Series. After struggling to secure sponsorship all year, Herzog Jackson Motorsports did not field a car for last weekend’s event at Chicagoland Speedway, and laid off all but a skeleton crew this week.
Crewchief Tony “Rambo” Liberati said the team still hopes to find a sponsor and return to the series, but Bodine wasted no time finding a new ride. The New York native drove the Evans Motorsports/Kleenex Chevrolet last weekend, a car vacated recently when former series champion Randy LaJoie was relieved of his duties. In an exclusive SpeedReading interview, Bodine refused to comment when asked if he was contractually bound to return to HJM, if they find a sponsor.
“I can’t talk about that,” said Bodine, saying lawyers for both sides are investigating the situation to determine what his obligations may be. Herzog Jackson does have a confirmed sponsor for one more event this season; the Kansas Speedway race in September, where Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve is set to sponsor their #92 Chevrolet. Whether Bodine will be the driver or not remains to be seen.
Bodine is expected to steer the Kleenex car this weekend in New Hampshire.
…Kerry Earnhardt has finally worn out his welcome at FitzBradshaw Racing. The NASCAR Busch Series team, co-owned by businessman Armando Fitz and NFL Hall of Fame quarterback Terry Bradshaw, announced Tuesday that veteran Tim Fedewa will replace Earnhardt - son of the late Dale Earnhardt -- in Saturday’s race at NHIS, and beyond.
“Tim Fedewa is the right choice for the team at this time,”
said Fitz. “He has four Busch Series wins, so he understands what it takes to
grab a checkered flag at this level. We haven’t made an exact determination of
how long Fedewa will be in the seat. That depends on the level of success we
achieve, and how we ultimately evaluate
how we can best use our driving talent. The team is simply not gelling right now, and if we want to win, we need to gel."
…John Andretti is reportedly on the short list of drivers being considered to headline Toyota’s inaugural season on the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series in 2004. Andretti was released by Petty Enterprises earlier this season, and has recently tested cars for Dale Earnhardt, Inc. The Indianapolis native could be behind the wheel of a fourth DEI entry in next month’s Brickyard 400.
…Plattsburgh’s Airborne Raceway will host a $5,000-to-win Enduro on Sunday, August 31. The track is posting a $5,000 winner’s purse and $1,000 second-place money, contingent on a minimum of 200 entries. Rules are available through the ACT/Airborne office, 7 Stowe Street Waterbury, VT (802) 244-6963 or at the track on Saturday race nights. Any two-wheel drive car with a wheel base of 108" or less will be eligible. Thunder Road’s 19th annual M&M Beverage Enduro is set for Sunday, August 3 at 6 p.m. The winner of the M&M Beverage Enduro will earn $2,000.
…The weekend racing slate is a busy one, beginning (as usual) at Thunder Road, which returns to action tonight with “Fisher Federated Auto Parts Night,” beginning at 7 p.m.
After raining out last week, the Canaan Fair (NH) Speedway dirt track will try again tomorrow night, with a regular card of weekly racing action.
Saturday afternoon, it’s NASCAR Busch and Busch North Series racing at New Hampshire International Speedway in Loudon, with the Busch Series leading off the twinbill at 2 p.m. Saturday night at Airborne Raceway in Plattsburgh, NY, it’s “Tuner's Speed & Sound Night,” with the Run-What-U-Brung Spectator Drags, and the annual Kids' Poster Contest. The Tiger Sportsmen, Street Stocks, Renegades, and Junkyard Warriors will be on hand, with post time set for 6:30 PM. Riverside Speedway in Groveton, NH, presents their 4th Annual Lancaster Lions’ Club Night Saturday, with Late Models, Strictly Stocks, Cyclones, the NELCAR Legends, and an 8-cylinder Enduro, beginning at 6:35 p.m. White Mountain Motorsports Park in North Woodstock, NH, is back at it Saturday as well, with the PASS Pro Stock Series in town for a 150 lap main event, along with the Super Streets, Strictly Streets and Strictly Minis. The first green flag flies at 6 p.m.
On the Canaan (NH) Fair Speedway asphalt track Saturday night, Factory Direct Flooring of Claremont presents a full card of racing,including an extra-distance Mini Stock feature, Super Streets, Late Models, Pro Stocks, and a 4-Cylinder Enduro, along with race one of the Modified Magic Series. Racing starts at 6:00 p.m. It’s “Wells River Savings Bank Night” at Bradford’s Bear Ridge Speedway, with a full slate or events for the 358 Modifieds, Sportsman Coupes, Pro Streets and Fast Fours, plus the Granite State Mini Sprints and a Tri-Track V-8 Enduro event. Action kicks off at 6:30.
Sunday afternoon, the NASCAR Winston Cup Series “New Hampshire 300” rolls to the line at New Hampshire International Speedway in Loudon. Sunday night, Devil's Bowl Speedway in West Haven presents its popular Kids' Night promotion, featuring kiddie rides, and all divisions in action.