Craven Focused On New Hampshire Win



Barre/Montpelier (VT) Times-Argus


Every race is a big race for Maine native Ricky Craven. But this weekend’s “ New England 300” NASCAR Winston Cup race at New Hampshire International Speedway is something special.


Raised on the bullrings of northern Maine , then transplanted to NASCAR by way of the American-Canadian Tour, the Newbergh, Maine , driver considers the Loudon oval to be his home turf. A number of his career highlights have occurred there, and every time the NASCAR circuit travels to southern New Hampshire , Craven’s name appears on the short list of potential winners.


“Growing up, I loved the Boston Garden ,” said Craven this week. “As a New England boy, the memories I have of Larry Bird, Dennis Johnson, Danny Ainge and Kevin McHale at the Garden are priceless. As a racer, New Hampshire International Speedway is to me what the Boston Garden is to a basketball player, or what Fenway Park and the Green Monster are to a baseball player.”


While she clearly holds a special place in Craven’s heart, the “Magic Mile” has not yet allowed him to claim her ultimate prize. Like a pretty schoolgirl playing hard-to-get, she has allowed him to visit Victory Lane only in support division races. Those wins earned him a place on NASCAR’s elite Winston Cup roster, and a pair of Bud Pole awards in 1996 and 1998 proved that has what it takes to win there. But on Sunday afternoons, NHIS has been a fickle suitor. Craven’s best Winston Cup finish there is a 13th place showing in 1999.


“In the past, I may have gotten too caught-up in the whole `coming home’ business,” he admits. “The week before New Hampshire has always been filled with personal appearances, radio and TV interviews, autograph sessions, you name it. All that stuff is important, but as much as I enjoyed seeing my friends and fans from the old days, it distracted me from the reason I was really there; to win a race. You spend Friday and Saturday hustling here and there, not getting to bed until midnight or 1 a.m. Then, when Sunday comes, you’re not fully rested and focused on the job at hand.


”That’s going to change this week.”


Craven, who once lived just two miles from the speedway in nearby Pembroke , NH , is cutting back his schedule of personal appearances this week, with an eye toward finally driving his Ford Taurus into the one Victory Lane he covets more than all others. He says his family and friends will be seeing less of him this weekend than they have in the past. He hopes everyone will understand. And in return for that understanding, he hopes to throw an even bigger party Sunday afternoon. 


“The allegiance I have with New England race fans is second to none,” he said. “I owe them a victory. I want to win New Hampshire for them, and when I do, it’s going be one heck of a celebration.”




Tire softening is back in the news this week, after Late Model driver Jim Cilley was suspended for the balance of the 2002 season and all of 2003, the result of illegal tires detected prior to last Thursday night’s “Times-Argus Midseason Championship” at Thunder Road. It was Cilley’s second tire-related suspension in the last three years, as the Groton veteran was forced to sit out more than half of the 2000 campaign due to a similar violation. The ruling also includes loss of all 2002 points, and a fine of $1,000.


            While ACT officials have not commented on the degree to which Cilley’s tires were altered, sources say the violation was detected during a pre-race durometer (hardness) test, and confirmed when Cilley’s tires were physically dismounted from the wheels, revealing a foreign substance inside. Ordinarily, teams are required to purchase their tires immediately prior to each week’s race, eliminating the opportunity to treat them with illegal softening compounds. Last week’s race, however, marked the first time this season that teams have been allowed to run used tires; an attempt to trim their inventory and save money.


 “I thought you could run anything you wanted in practice,” said Cilley, claiming he never intended to run the treated tires in qualifying or the main event. “We were going to Riverside (NH) Speedway on Saturday night. They’re paying $500 to win with a short field of cars, so we were going to use them there.”

Cilley did not dispute that the tires in question had been altered, saying, “We knew it was there.  Hell, everyone knew it was there. We were flying past everyone in practice. But I’d have to be some kind of idiot to cheat in my sponsor’s race.


“We never had any intention to run those tires at Thunder Road . As far as I know, you can run anything you want in practice. I should be able to run Busch tires in practice if I want. As long as I’m legal when the race starts, who cares?”


ACT officials, however, said the tires in question had been registered by Cilley as the tires he intended to race that night, and the track’s hand-written registration sheets appear to confirm that assertion. In addition, written notices are posted at a number of locations in the Thunder Road sign-in and pit areas, stating, WARNING! Tire softeners or conditioners are prohibited from racetrack property as potentially hazardous chemicals. Violators will be subject to penalties.


“When we sat down at the winter meetings, the big question was how we were going to police the tire softener ban in the `used tire races,’” said Thunder Road owner/promoter Tom Curley this week. “We told everyone categorically that we were not going to allow the stuff on the property. I told them we would check tires, we’d go into their trailers, we’d look for cans of the stuff in their cabinets; whatever it took.


“Jim Cilley made a very bad decision when he decided to run treated tires at this race track.” 


Cilley said that while he is obviously finished at Thunder Road for the foreseeable future, it does not mean the end of his racing career.


In his words, “There are other tracks.”




Short (Track) Subjects…


…Officials at the Hudson (NH) Speedway and the American Canadian Tour announced this week that Hudson ’s ACT Dodge Tour event -- scheduled for Sunday, July 28 -- has been cancelled. Adverse weather conditions delayed the start of construction at the quarter-mile oval this spring, and work is not expected to be completed in time for the race.

ACT President Tom Curley said the Hudson date will not be replaced, cutting the ACT Dodge Tour schedule to a total of 15 events. The previous day’s race at Star Speedway in Epping , NH , on Saturday, July 27 will take place as planned.

…Former NASCAR Late Model Sportsman champion Morgan Shepherd has entered Sunday’s “New England 300” Winston Cup race at Loudon. Shepherd was a regular competitor at Thunder Road and Catamount Stadium while chasing national championship points in the mid-1970s. Perennially short of help these days, Shepherd will reportedly received race day assistance from a couple of old friends from his northeast barnstorming days; Dave and Roger Dion.

…Winston Cup driver Kevin Harvick will return to the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series this weekend at NHIS, his first appearance on the series since April, when a skirmish with Coy Gibbs – and the off-track antics that followed – resulted in him being "parked" by NASCAR for the next day's Winston Cup race at Martinsville, Va.

…Despite not knowing who will drive his second car next season, Robert Yates is moving full steam ahead to add a third entry to his stable. Sources say Yates has completed negotiation with Domino's Pizza to sponsor the new car, whether or not current driver Ricky Rudd retires or moves to another team. M&M/Mars – which announced recently that it will not return to the #36 Pontiac driven by Kenny Schrader next year – will reportedly join the Yates operation as sponsors of the #28 Ford, with either Rudd or Elliott Sadler at the keyboard.

Dale Jarrett’s UPS-sponsored Ford will remain unchanged for 2003, leaving Yates with two distinctly different scenarios. If Rudd retires or moves, the Yates stable will consist of  Jarrett in the #88 UPS Ford, Sadler in the #28 M&Ms Ford, and a still-unknown driver in the new Domino’s Pizza Ford. If Rudd stays, it’s Jarrett in the #88, Rudd in the #28, and Sadler in the new car.

Write that down, there will be a test later.

...Speaking of Schrader, the veteran driver is reportedly talking to Petty Enterprises about driving their #44 Dodge next season, the latest in a growing lost of drivers hoping to be penciled into that spot.

…ACT Dodge Tour rookie Ryan Moore finished third Sunday in the annual “True Value 250” at Maine ’s Oxford Plains Speedway. Moore , the 2001 OPS Late Model Champion started 27th in the 43-car field, and methodically made his way forward to finish behind winner Scott Robbins and runnerup Mike Rowe. Moore plans to race his Pro Stock car at Oxford later this season, once the ACT Dodge Tour schedule is complete.

…Dale Earnhardt, Inc. announced this week that Michael Waltrip will drive their NAPA-sponsored Chevrolet for at least two more seasons. "Michael Waltrip is living up to what Dale saw in him. He's a tremendous asset to the company, both as a driver and as a part of the company's personality," said team owner Teresa Earnhardt in announcing a two-year extension of Waltrip’s contract.


…Roush Racing will move Busch Series driver Greg Biffle to the NASCAR Winston Cup Series, beginning in 2003. Biffle’s current sponsor, Grainger Industrial Supply, will remain with the team.


…This week’s top quote came from Chicagoland Winston Cup winner Kevin Harvick, after defending series champion Jeff Gordon called his move to take the lead on the apron of the racetrack 'stupid.' In his words, "Jeff Gordon got second. Maybe if he'd have been a little braver, he might have won."


…Quote of the Week II: Robert Yates on the chances of Ricky Rudd returning for 2003; "I'd say it's slim. I think his best situation would be (to go) somewhere that will be very competitive and pay very well. That's just not in my deal. My deal is too thin.”


…This week’s sign that the apocalypse is upon us? Hermie Sadler as a professional wrestler. Sadler, who weighs approximately 150 pounds soaking wet, wrestled NWA “superstar” K-Krush in Nashville , Tennessee , last week, as part of an ongoing publicity stunt with the organization. In return for cashing-in on Sadler’s name, the NWA made a cash donation to the Faison School for Autism in Richmond , Va. , where Sadler's daughter is a student.


"I have really enjoyed being on the show,” said Sadler. “It is all about entertainment.”


No, Hermie, it’s about making a doofus of yourself in public.


…It’s another busy week of racing on the local scene, beginning with tonight’s “Fisher/Federated Auto Parts Fan Appreciation Night” at Thunder Road . Tickets prices have been rolled back more than a decade, with adults admitted for $5, kids $2, and a family of four just $10. Post time is set for 7 p.m. Also today, Bud Pole Qualifying for the NASCAR Busch North Series teams take place at New Hamoshire International Speedway in Loudon , NH .

Tomorrow, Winston Cup Bud Pole Qualifying takes to the track at NHIS, while tomorrow night, Canaan (NH) Speedway will have the Pro-Street Stocks and Fast Fours in action, along with a chain race, spectator racing and other special events. Post time is 7 p.m.

The NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series invades NHIS Saturday afternoon for the “New Hampshire 200,” followed by the New England 125” for the Busch North Series cars. Saturday night at Riverside (NH) Speedway , it’s Lancaster Lions Club Night,” with all Lions Club Members admitted at a discount. The Cyclones, Strictlies, Sportsmen, Late Models and Dwarf Cars are all on the card, along with an eight-cylinder Enduro and a double point show for the traveling Pro Four Modifieds, with a show time of 7:05 p.m. Also Saturday, Bradford’s Bear Ridge Speedway will be back in action with a 40-lap Sunoco Coupe Series main event, along with 358 Modified, Pro-Street Stock and Fast Four racing, plus a four-cylinder Enduro on “Bradford/ Pratt's Petroleum Night.” Post time is 6:30 p.m. Saturday night’s program at White Mountain Motorsports Park in North Woodstock , NH , features the PASS Pro Stocks in the “D-J Equipment 150.” Also on the docket are the Super Streets, Strictly Streets, Strictly Mini's and the Kids Truck Division. Racing begins at 6 p.m.

And finally, Devil’s Bowl Speedway in West Haven , VT , has back-to-back nights of excitement scheduled for this weekend. Saturday, the track will host its first Night of Thrills, which will include a 100-lap Enduro, and a figure-eight race, with action starting at 6:00 p.m. The regular CVRA divisions will be back in action Sunday for their annual Senior Citizens Night, with the green flag flying at 7 p.m.