ACT/OPS Rivalry Resumes Saturday
By DAVE MOODY
Round one went decisively to the American-Canadian Tour regulars. Saturday night at the Oxford Plains Speedway, the local drivers look for a bit of revenge, when the Dodge Tour returns to the historic Maine oval for the final time this season.
Ryan Moore blitzed the ACT invaders in the Tour’s return to Oxford in 2001, while veteran Ricky Rolfe carried the day on his home turf in 2002. Three weeks ago, however, Patrick Laperle led an impressive ACT assault that claimed eight of the top 10 positions in the “Maine-ly Action Sports 100,” setting the stages for Saturday night’s return match.
"We’ve got a horsepower edge over the Tour cars, but we have to prove it over 100 laps," said New Gloucester, Maine driver Ron Henry this week. "I had an oil leak last time around, and I’m glad to be getting a second chance against them." Henry, a main event winner this season, is one of three drivers tied at the top of the track’s Late Model Stock standings, along with Jerry Harrison and three-time winner Travis Adams.
Adams was the best of the Oxford runners three weeks ago, leading the race in its early stages before fading to a sixth-place finish at the drop of the checkered flag. It’s that kind of late-race fade that the locals will have to avoid Saturday, if they hope to avoid another thrashing at the hands of the Tour regulars.
New asphalt was applied to the tricky Oxford 3/8-mile oval at the start of the season; a fact many observers thought would play directly into the hands of the OPS regulars, who have had half a season to figure out the new racing surface. That advantage failed to materialize, however, with Laperle, Todd Stone and Phil Scott sweeping the podium positions, and no Oxford drivers challenging for the win after the halfway mark.
"After watching the Maine-ly Action 100 on July 12, I know our guys are looking forward to another go,” said ACT President Tom Curley. “The Oxford guys didn’t fare as well as usual last time out, but they have some advantages on their home track, and they’ll be a force Saturday."
The ACT/OPS rivalry is unique on the Dodge Tour. Other than Thunder Road and Airborne, Oxford is the only track where local drivers are able to defend their turf against the Tour invaders. With tracks like Lee USA, Waterford, Seekonk, and Monadnock all steering their Late Model classes toward an ACT-influenced rulebook, however, it may not be long before Curley is able to duplicate the glory days of the old American-Canadian Pro Stock Tour, where the traveling tourists were challenged almost weekly by a strong contingent of home-track drivers.
Heading into Saturday night’s race, the ACT championship standings are the closest they’ve ever been at this juncture of the season. Despite a 17th place finish last weekend at Star Speedway - his worst showing of the 2003 campaign -- Brent Dragon retains the point lead by just nine markers over Jean-Paul Cyr. Scott Dragon drops to third, just 11 points out of the lead, followed by a tie for fourth between surging Dave Pembroke and Jamie Fisher. With the top eight drivers now separated by just 38 points, the scene is set for what should be a manic second-half race for the title.
"I have no doubt that we’re a contender now," said Middlebury’s Todd Stone, whose win last weekend at Star elevated him to eighth place on the leader board. "Another good run at Oxford will show that to everybody."
While Stone’s Victory put him in the thick of the title chase, the hottest driver in ACT racing right now is Pembroke. The Montpelier driver has recorded three straight top-10 Dodge Tour finishes (second, fourth and eighth), and was looking for his fifth consecutive top-five Thunder Road showing two weeks ago before being swept up in a mid-race crash. Veteran Joey Laquerre is not far behind statistically, with finishes of 11th, 10th and 4th in his last three Tour starts, while Waterbury’s Chad Wheeler has gone 11-10-11-6 in his last four outings, including a near win at Oxford three weeks ago.
Short (Track) Subjects…
…Three weeks ago, we told you that two top NASCAR Winston Cup drivers are looking to change teams next season. Both Dale Jarrett and Tony Stewart are investigating new deals for 2004, and our sources say those negotiations are progressing rapidly.
Unhappy with the poor performance of his Robert Yates team, Jarrett is now in serious negotiation with Dale Earnhardt Incorporated, hoping to replace Jeff Green at the wheel of DEI’s #1 Chevrolet next season. The former Winston Cup champion would be a perfect fit, especially if he is able to bring his current sponsor with him. DEI needs a new backer to replace the departing Pennzoil in 2004, and our sources in the Winston Cup garage say that if Jarrett leaves the Yates team, UPS will almost certainly move with him, bringing an estimated $16 million per year to the DEI coffers. Green's contract with DEI expires September 1, and General Manager Ty Norris has made no effort to re-sign him.
Despite continuing public denials, Stewart continues to talk to car owner Chip Ganassi, who reportedly upped the ante this week in an effort to lure the defending Winston Cup champion away from Joe Gibbs Racing. Sources say Ganassi has offered Stewart a multi-year contract worth $5-million per year, almost three times as much as his current deal. Stewart continues to insist that he is happy with the Gibbs team, but his agent, Cary Agajanian, admitted this week that a number of people are interested in hiring his client.
In an effort to head-off Stewart’s possible exodus, Gibbs offered the reigning Winston Cup champion a long-term contract extension this week, but admitted Tuesday that he isn't sure if Stewart will sign it. "Obviously I don't have the answer,” said Gibbs, “but I would expect him to stay here." Stewart said he has received the offer, but has not yet reviewed it.
We’ll stand by what we told you three weeks ago. Look for
Stewart to steer Ganassi’s #41 Target Dodge next season.
…Speaking of Robert Yates, sources say he may be looking to sell his two Winston Cup teams. According to published reports, Yates has spoken to both Chip Ganassi and Joe Gibbs about acquiring his operation, which fields Fords for drivers Dale Jarrett and Elliott Sadler. Yates scoffed at the stories last week, saying, “Robert Yates-Bill Gates sounds pretty good, but other than that, I'm not interested.”
Yates just signed a new, five-year contract with Ford Motor Company in January, and his sponsorship contract with UPS continues through the 2006 campaign. The amount of legal wrangling necessary to sell Yates’ Ford-based operation to either Ganassi (who fields Dodges) or Gibbs (Chevrolet) would be astronomical. Whether the longtime team-owner sells his teams outright or not, sources close to the situation say he will almost certainly continue turning over more of the day-to-day operations to his son, Doug, while spending more time at his beach house in Myrtle Beach, S.C.
…Veteran Morgan Shepherd is nothing if not devoted. Shepherd, who drives a self-financed “Racing With Jesus” Ford on NASCAR’s Winston Cup circuit, reportedly turned down a major payday last weekend at Pocono, tendered by team owners Kyle Petty, Larry McClure, and A.J. Foyt. With 44 cars in the garage and only 43 spots available in Sunday’s race, sources say the trio made Shepherd an attractive offer to withdraw his car before qualifying and guarantee their struggling operations a spot.
Despite being offered far more money than he likely would have made through his usual tactic of qualifying, starting, and retiring early, Shepherd turned the deal down. He reportedly replied that if even one person was moved by his story and drawn to the church, it would be worth the money he forfeited. The veteran driver qualified for the race -- sending McClure’s Kodak Film-sponsored Pontiac home - and earned $42,186 for a last-place finish.
…Mike Wallace has been released from the #01 US Army Pontiac, and will be replaced by Mike Skinner in three of the next four races. Road-racing specialist Boris Said will steer the car at Watkins Glen, as regular driver Jerry Nadeau continues his recovery from injuries suffered earlier this season.
…NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series veteran Robert Pressley will
drive the #4 Kodak Pontiac in this weekend’s Brickyard 400, after Todd Bodine
failed to qualify the car at Pocono. Fellow Truck Series
regular Jason Leffler will steer the #0 NetZero HiSpeed Pontiac this weekend, while John Andretti drives a fourth entry out of the Dale Earnhardt, Inc. stable.
…And you thought they just bolted some fenders on? Not anymore. Here’s the process Toyota Racing Development went through recently to produce a NASCAR-approved body for its 2004 Toyota Tundra NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series entry. Engineers scanned a stock Tundra body, then digitally morphed it over 2004 body templates provided by NASCAR, which had also been scanned into a design computer. Once the Tundra body digitally complied with the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series templates, the information was translated to create a high-density urethane foam model. That model was then used to creating the first set of Tundra body parts.
…A grand jury has been convened to hear drug charges against suspended NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series driver Brian Rose. Rose, who was suspended in April after failing to take a drug test as ordered by NASCAR, was arrested last week and released after posting a $7,500 bond.
…Phil Scott and Jamie Fisher renew their battle for the Thunder Road Late Model championship tonight on “Kinney Drugs Night.” Scott, the defending track champion, was a winner last time out on the Barre high banks, while Fisher has led or shared the lead since the Fourth of July. The Tiger Sportsmen, Street Stocks and Junkyard Warriors will also be in action, along with an appearance by the Raminator Monster Truck, and a tricycle triathalon for kids six and under. Post time is set for 7:00 p.m.
Friday night on the Canaan (NH) Fair Speedway dirt track, they kick off Canaan Old Home Days with a regular racing card, plus the New England Sprint Cars and Spectator Drags.
Saturday afternoon, the NEKC karts tackle Thunder Road in the “Pearl Street Motors Special,” with a post-time of 4 p.m. The ACT New England Dodge Tour returns to the Oxford Plains Speedway for the “New England Dodge Dealers 100,” while the NASCAR Busch North Series is back in action at the Seekonk Speedway in Seekonk, MA, for the “Budweiser 150.” That same night, Bear Ridge Speedway in Bradford presents “Irving Oil Night,” headlined by the 358 Modifieds in a combination Victoria 200 Qualifier/Twin State Modified Series event. At Groveton, New Hampshire’s Riverside Speedway, Carroll Concrete/Guildhall Sand & Gravel present the sixth annual “Strictly Stock Bash;” 100 laps of Strictly stock racing, plus Sportsmen, Cyclones, a 4-cylinder Enduro, the Allison Legacy Cars, and race car rides for the kids starting at 6:00 p.m. On the Canaan (NH) Fair Speedway dirt, ASETEX Tire & Auto presents a full card of action that includes the Southern New England Modified tour, starting at 6 p.m. White Mountain Motorsports Park in North Woodstock, NH, also returns to action Saturday night at 6 p.m., with all five regular divisions competing.
The Empire Super Sprints invade Devil’s Bowl Sunday night
for their only appearance of the season, joining the regular CVRA divisions in a
7 p.m. program.