Milk Bowl Magic Ready On Tap This Weekend
By DAVE MOODY
Barre/Montpelier (VT) Times-Argus
The race they call “The Granddaddy of Them All’ rolls to the line this weekend at Thunder Road; the 39th New England Dodge Dealers Milk Bowl. Posted awards for this year’s edition top the $41,000 mark, including a minimum winner’s purse of $3,000, and lap-leader bonuses of more than $3,800. But as anyone who’s ever turned a lap on the Barre highbanks knows, it’s not about the money.
While much of the pre-race talk will be about points, championships, and prize money, there’s only one real motivator in the Milk Bowl; the unlikely honor of planting a kiss on a cow in Victory Lane. This year’s “Miss Vermont Milk Bowl” - former Champlain Valley Fair two-year old futurity champion Harvest Hills Ferry Queen - will be the Belle of the Ball Sunday, as more than 40 drivers battle for the chance to make her acquaintance in Victory Lane. This year’s winner may not attack the task with the zeal of the 2002 champion, racer/dairy farmer Dwayne Lanphear, but if past history is any indication, there’ll be plenty of emotion - not to mention saliva - to go around.
The New England Dodge Dealers Milk Bowl is the fifteenth of 16 ACT Dodge Tour events for 2002, and point-leader Phil Scott comes to Barre this weekend with a chance to lock-up the championship a race early. The “Sailing Senator” from Washington County leads Canadian challenger Patrick Laperle by 88 points coming into this weekend’s festivities, and with only 106 markers available in the season-ending “Fall Foliage 200,” Scott needs to pad his margin by only 19 points to clinch his first-ever Dodge Tour title. That will be no small feat, however. Lanphear won last year’s Milk Bowl title with the highest winning score in history, finishing second, tenth and eighth in the three, 50-lap segments, for a total score of 20 points. And with one of the most competitive fields in Thunder Road history expected to attempt qualifying Saturday, this year’s winner could have an even tougher time of it.
“I think the winning score will be somewhere between 18 and 20 points,” said Lanphear this week. “There are so many good cars, it’s going to be really tough to come from the back of the pack. Most Thursday nights (at Thunder Road), it took 30 or 35 laps for the pack to break up. Some nights, they stayed two-wide all the way. There’s not much you can do when that happens except be patient, ride in the middle of the pack, and do the best you can.”
When the opportunity presents itself, however, Lanphear said drivers must be willing to take risks in an effort to get to the front.
“It’s my kind of race,” he said. “No strategy, no conserving tires, just hammer down. Pass as many cars as you can before it’s over, then come back and do it again two more times. It’s not a race for sissies.”
From its first running in 1962, the Milk Bowl has been a daunting prospect for drivers.
“We didn’t think it was doable, for man or machine,” said 1962 and 1964 Milk Bowl king Harold “Hard Luck” Hanaford. “We weren’t running as fast as these boys are today, but those old flathead coupes were a handful to drive. After the first 50 laps, my arms were hard as rocks. I wasn’t sure how we’d ever make another 100, but somehow, we found a way.”
Almost certainly, the driver who stands in Victory Lane Sunday will have started near the front of the pack. Since its inaugural running in 1962, the Milk Bowl pole winner has claimed the overall title 11 times, a tidy 29% winning percentage. The Dodge Tour troops time-trial only once a year, however, and many drivers readily admit their failure to master the technique. They had better learn before Saturday, tough. Coming from the back of the pack twice in one day is tough. Having to do it three times is almost impossible.
Pete Fecteau won last year’s Milk Bowl pole with a record lap of 13.217 seconds, then went on to win two of the three segments. A disastrous run in the middle 50-lap sprint, however, made him the first two-segment winner not to win the overall title since John Rosati in 1971, proving once again that there are no givens on Milk Bowl Sunday.
Each week from February through November, hundreds of short-track races are run somewhere in the country. Only a handful are known outside their own backyard; the Knoxville Nationals, the Oxford 250, the Stafford Spring Sizzler, and the Phoenix Copper Classic among them. The Vermont Milk Bowl is another. No matter where you travel in the world of short-track racing, people want to know about “the race where they kiss the cow.” It is one of North America’s legendary events, perhaps explaining why drivers are willing to go to such lengths to win it.
The list of former Milk Bowl champions is long and storied. From “Hard Luck” Hanaford in 1962, through Larry Demar and Russell Ingerson, the Dragon Brothers and Stub Fadden, Bill Dennis and the late, great Butch Lindley, Crouch, Cabana, Lepage and LaJoie, only the best have found a way to grace the Milk Bowl’s Victory Lane.
Sunday, one more name will be added to the list.
General admission tickets for the 39th New England Dodge Dealers Milk Bowl -- good for both Saturday and Sunday -- are $20 for adults, $5 for children age 6-12. Saturday-only tickets ($10) will also be sold. Post time each day is 1:30 p.m.
Sunday’s Milk Bowl program also marks the next-to-last point races of the season for Thunder Road’s Tiger/Sportsman and Street Stock divisions. In the Tiger ranks, “Double-O Joe” Steffen leads the way by a scant 18 points over former Riverside (NH) Speedway champion Reno Gervais, with Doug Murphy just 21 points back. Sophomore sensation Travis Calkins also remains within easy striking distance, just 29 points behind Steffen.
The Street Stock battle appears to be a two-man affair, with North Troy’s David Allen leading second-generation driver “Little Brendan” Moodie by just eight points, 907-899. Elmore’s Rusty “The Logger” Dewees is third, with 849 points.
Both the Tigers and Streets will run twin-segment “Mini Bowl” events Sunday, with the overall winner determined Milk Bowl-style. No Thunder Road Late Model points will be awarded this weekend. Their final point race comes next Sunday in the Dodge Dealers “Fall Foliage 200.”
Short (Track) Subjects…
…Former Milk Bowl champion Bobby Dragon returns to his roots this weekend, attempting to qualify a team car out of the Eric Chase/Scott Dragon stable in this weekend’s Milk Bowl. Dragon, the 1972 champion of the event, has been a part-time competitor on NASCAR’s Busch North Series this season, where time trials are a weekly staple. That advantage - combined with his second-segment victory a year ago -- should be enough to make him a darkhorse favorite Sunday, at least. Amazingly, Dragon’s first segment victory came back in 1969, giving him a 28-year run of Milk Bowl excellence.
…One of Dragon’s contemporaries, resident Maine racing legend Mike Rowe, proved last weekend that he’s still got the old magic, as well, topping the Pro All Stars Series at the track that made him famous, Maine’s Oxford Plains Speedway. Rowe took advantage when leader Gary Drew faltered in the late going, then took the checkered flag when rain began to fall. Victory Lane was like a Rowe family reunion, as Rowe’s youngest son Ben locked-up the 2002 PASS championship with a fifth-place finish.
…A grand jury convened in Sullivan County, Tennessee, found no grounds for action in the alleged assault by driver Tony Stewart, following last month’s Sharpie 500 at Bristol. That decision effectively ends the case, which began when a female fan accused Stewart of shoving her against his team's hauler. “As I've contended all along, I did not assault anyone,” said Stewart. “I'm relieved to know a grand jury has come to the same conclusion. I'm glad to have this matter behind me, and it's heartening to know the fairness with which the legal system handled the case, specifically…the Sullivan County Sheriff's Office.
…From the “Everything Old Is New Again” Department, Hendrick Motorsports is reportedly talking with Ken Schrader about returning to the UAW/Delphi #25 Chevrolet in 2003. Schrader won four races in Rick Hendrick-owned equipment between 1988 and 1996. In other Hendrick news, Rick Hendrick’s son, Ricky, will make his Winston Cup debut in November’s “Pop Secret 400” at Rockingham. The younger Hendrick is currently a full-time competitor on NASCAR’s Busch Grand National Series.
…The pickin’s are a slittle slimmer this weekly, as most of the area speedways are down to “special-events only status for the remainder of the year. Saturday at New Hampshire’s White Mountain Motorsports Park, all five weekly divisions run their final point races of the year, along with the kids truck division. Williamstown’s Pat Corbett holds a 19-point advantage in the Late Model standings coming into Saturday’s finale, which posts at 6 p.m.
And finally, the Busch North Series, NASCAR Touring Division runs the “Carquest Fall Final” at Connecticut’s Stafford Motor Speedway Sunday afternoon, the next-to-last race on their 2002 championship schedule.