The Numbers Don’t Tell All



Barre/Montpelier (VT) Times-Argus


            Two-hundred fifty laps with no lead changes. Sounds like a snoozer, right? Don’t you believe it.


            Saturday night’s NASCAR Busch North Series/ACT Dodge Tour doubleheader at Thunder Road may not have provided much in the way of lead swapping, but there was no shortage of racing further back. The Busch North troops chased native son Mike Olsen for all 150 laps Saturday, and while they never quite caught him, the verdict was in doubt right up until the final five laps, when the lapped car of Dale Shaw threw up a roadblock between Olsen and second-place runner Andy Santerre.


            No stranger to controversy at Thunder Road , Shaw drew the ire of the T-Road faithful with a world-class blocking job on Santerre down the stretch, inspiring Busch North Series Director Lee Roy to head pitside after the checkers had flown, in search of a conference. On the way, however, he ran into Santerre, who revealed the reason behind Shaw’s seemingly unsportsmanlike gesture.


            “Andy told me he got into Dale early in the race and bounced him off the wall,” said Roy . “He said `I made a mistake and messed Dale’s car up, and he was just getting even.’ Andy was fine with it, and said he probably would have done the same thing if the roles had been reversed.”


            Also high on the list of Busch North subplots Saturday were Thunder Road alumni Brian Hoar and Dave Dion. Hoar, a five-time ACT Dodge Tour champion and multi-time winner in the Thunder Road Late Model ranks, authored one of his strongest performances of the 2003 Busch North season, running second to Olsen until the late going, when Dion stormed past to steal the runnerup trophy. Hudson, New Hampshire’s favorite son gave the Thunder Road fans another example why he is a living legend on the Barre highbanks, overcoming an 18th place qualifying performance with a spectacular drive through the field that – had the race been 160 laps instead of 150 – might have found him in Victory Lane for the second consecutive season.


            In the nightcap ACT Dodge Tour “Labor Day Classic,” veteran Jean Paul Cyr played the rabbit’s role, leading all 100 laps while a host of pursuers played an ultimately futile game of catch-up. Darkhorse Herb Drugg recorded by far his best Dodge Tour effort of the year, chasing Cyr for more than half the event before finishing third. Second-place honors went to Shelburne’s Jamie Fisher, who looked like “The Hurricane” of old, storming from seventh on the grid to overhaul Drugg (and nearly Cyr) with only handful of laps remaining. Ryan Moore, Patrick Laperle and Dwayne Lanphear also fought their way from deep in the back to finish fourth through sixth, keeping the fans on the edge of their seats all the way.


            Amazingly, a yellow flag for Jay Laquerre’s lap-two spin was the only stoppage in Saturday night’s Labor Day Classic, as the Dodge Boys ripped off the full, 100-lap distance in a record 26 minutes. Not to be outdone, the companion Flying Tiger Sportsman division feature ran the full 30-lap distance nonstop, not bad for a track recognized as one of the toughest, tightest bullrings in the business.




North Haverhill , New Hampshire native Frank Stoddard was unexpectedly replaced as crewchief of Jack Roush’s CITGO-sponsored Fords this week, replaced by Paul Andrews. 


”Frank has done a magnificent job helping to build a Winston Cup championship contending team," said driver Jeff Burton. "But after long consideration, we both think we're better served to take the next step forward by revamping the chemistry of the team, by making this change. Paul will make a great addition to the CITGO team.”


Stoddard has reportedly been offered a choice of other management positions within Roush Racing, and is also free to entertain offers from other teams. His decision will be announced in the near future. "I'm proud to have been crew chief for a start-up team that won 17 times, and earned three top-five point finishes," said Stoddard, who began his racing career with former Bear Ridge Speedway modified champion C.V. Elms, before serving as crewchief for New Hampshire legend Stub Fadden.


Andrews has been a Winston Cup crew chief since 1988, and teamed with the late Alan Kulwicki to win the 1992 NASCAR Winston Cup Championship. He has 12 career Winston Cup victories, and comes to Roush from Dale Earnhardt, Inc., where he has served as crewchief for the Pennzoil Chevrolet team and driver Steve Park. Steve Hmiel and Dave Charpentier will replace Andrews for now at DEI.




Short (Track) Subjects…


…Former Busch North Series, NASCAR Touring division Director Alfred “Bunk” Sampson passed away early Monday, after a long and courageous battle with brain cancer. Sampson lapsed into a coma Saturday, and died just after midnight Monday. One of his final public appearances came in July, when a bedridden Sampson was taken by ambulance to New Hampshire International Speedway in Loudon to visit friends and watch a portion of the Busch North race there.


            Visiting hours for Sampson are set for this evening from 6-8 p.m. at Rogers & Son Funeral Home in Merrimac , MA . Funeral services will be held tomorrow at 10 a.m. at the Pilgrim Congregational Church in Merrimac. An additional memorial service for Sampson will take place next Friday at NHIS.


…The 2002 season will be John Andretti’s last with Petty Enterprises. Andretti said this week that he will leave the Petty team at the end of the year, and while he did not announce his plans for the future, sources say he is in active negotiation with Chip Ganassi to wheel Ganassi’s third Winston Cup Dodge in 2003. One of the major stumbling blocks between Andretti and Petty Enterprises was Kyle Petty’s steadfast refusal to allow his driver to compete in the Indianapolis 500. Ganassi would not only allow Andretti to take part, he owns an IRL team.


With the loss of Andretti, Petty Enterprises is expected to trim its Winston Cup roster from three cars to two next season.


…And you think YOU hate rain at the racetrack? Last Sunday at Darlington , track officials footed the bill for 12,500 gallons of jet fuel -- at $1.25 a gallon -- in an attempt to keep their speedway dry during a rain-plagued weekend of Busch Series and Winston Cup racing. Seven jet driers made more laps than any racecar, costing the track a whopping $15,625 in fuel alone.


…Some people simply have too much time on their hands. Last week, an astute poster on one of the region’s on-line racing forums wrote that Thunder Road ’s “True Value 150” purse of $85,044 works out to an average of $2,262.84 per mile.   By comparison, New Hampshire International Speedway – the track everyone says Busch North should race at more often – paid just $1,224.15 per mile for its May BNS race, and $1,254.01 per mile in July. Connecticut ’s Waterford Speedbowl, a short track like Thunder Road , paid a comparatively paltry $1,625.50 per mile for its 150-lap race earlier this season.

And yet, the Busch North troops still complain about Thunder Road .

…The Budweiser Flying Tiger/Sportsman championship at New Hampshire’s Riverside Speedway comes down to the final race – Saturday’s “Pat's Auto Sales Night” -- with Mike “Beetle” Bailey of Barre holding a 48-point edge over Pete Potvin. Worcester ’s Jerry Nelson of Worcester goes into the Dwarf Car finale with a healthy, 100-point edge over Jeremy Hall, while Mike Hughes of Canaan boasts a slim, 16-point edge over rival Jeff Marshall in the Strictly Stock division. Luke Shannon has locked-up the Cyclone division race, with a 134-point pad over “Little” Brendan Moodie of North Wolcott. The NEDA Late Models and a youth race for kids age 10-14 is also on the card, with post time is set for 6 p.m.  The Southern New England Pro 4 Modified event set for Saturday night has been cancelled.

…Just weeks after announcing that they will convert from Ford to Pontiac next season, Cal Wells’ PPI Motorsports team has decided to start their own engine program, as well. Wells and driver Ricky Craven currently purchase engines from Robert Yates Racing, but Yates builds only Ford motors, leaving Wells without power for next season.

…Here’s bad news for Saturday night short track operators. Last week, officials at Darlington Raceway were openly discussing the possibility of installing lights at the legendary South Carolina track, with an eye toward moving their races to Saturday nights next year. In addition, Lowe’s Motor Speedway recent announced that their fall race will move from Sunday to Saturday night in 2003. NASCAR Vice President George Pyne said he expects that trend to continue, since "moving a few late-season races to Saturday nights would shield NASCAR from having to go head-to-head with the NFL on Sundays."

It’s all about ratings, people.

…This week’s top quote comes from Winston Cup point-leader Sterling Marlin, commenting on NASCAR’s ever-evolving aerodynamic package. "Since last year, we’ve had a two-inch kick out on the nose,” said Marlin. “We've also had stuff taken away. Now, we're back to an inch and a half. Chevrolet has more nose jobs than Michael Jackson."

…After a rare Saturday night program last week, Canaan (NH) Speedway returns to its regular Friday racing program tomorrow night, with all four weekly racing divisions in action, along with the Granite State Mini-Sprints. Post time is 7 p.m.

Saturday night, the Busch North Series, NASCAR Touring division returns to Maine ’s Beech Ridge Motor Speedway for the rescheduled “Irving Oil 150.” At White Mountain Motorsports Park in North Woodstock , NH , racing resumes Saturday night with “Littleton Harley Davidson Night,” with all five regular divisions, plus the Legends Tour. Action begins at 6 p.m. Bradford ’s Bear Ridge Speedway returns to its Saturday night schedule this week, when TC's Snowmobile & ATV Parts presents a full card of racing highlighted by a 40-lap Sunoco Twin State Coupe Series main event. Post time is 6:30 p.m. Riverside Speedway in Groveton, NH, gets back at it Saturday at 6:00 p.m., with the final point races of the season for Riverside four weekly divisions, plus the N.E.D.A. Late Models, Pro-4 Modifieds and a youth race.

And finally, the N.E.K.C. Karts are back in action Saturday afternoon at Barre’s Thunder Road , beginning at 4 p.m.