“True Value 150” Favors Local Talent
By DAVE MOODY
Barre/Montpelier (VT) Times-Argus
No stop on the Busch North Series, NASCAR Touring schedule qualifies as “home turf” for as many teams as Barre’s Thunder Road. At least seven series' regulars - Mike Olsen, Dave Dion, Kip Stockwell, Jamie Aube, Dennis Demers, Brian Hoar and Barney McRae -- call the high-banked quarter-mile home, while others - Brad Leighton, Paul Richardson, Tracy Gordon, and Dale Shaw - have logged literally hundreds of laps around the high-banked quarter mile oval.
At no track on the circuit is the home-field advantage so important as at The Nation’s Site of Excitement. In 1997’s inaugural event, unheralded first-time BNS starter Kip Stockwell stunned the series veterans, claiming the checkered flag ahead of fellow T-Road alumni Dave Dion, Stub Fadden, Bobby Dragon, and Jamie Aube. Since then, every “True Value 150” has been won by a driver intimately familiar with the Barre highbanks.
"It's a big advantage having raced there before," said Shelburne’s Dennis Demers, who began his racing career on the old American-Canadian Tour before moving to the Busch North Series, and still holds the all-time Thunder Road track record. "Anyone who hasn't raced there finds the track very intimidating. It takes at least one or two races before they figure out how to get around."
Demers said Thunder Road’s infamous turn-four “Widowmaker”
makes an immediate impression on first-time racers, as well.
"That's the feature that jumps out quickest," he
said. "There are other things you need to pay attention to, but that wall
is definitely what a newcomer notices first. The Thunder Road fans are something
else, too,” said Demers. “They get into their racing there, and that makes
While Saturday night’s “True Value 150” will serve as a homecoming for a number of Busch North racers, it will provide a simultaneous welcome home and fond farewell to one of the track’s legendary drivers.
Stub Fadden of North Haverhill, NH, ran his first race at Thunder Road in 1961, and went on to claim multiple feature wins there, along with the 1978 and 1979 track championships. One of the most popular drivers ever to turn a wheel on the Barre oval, Fadden comes out of his unannounced retirement this weekend in an effort to conclude his storied career at the track that gave him his start.
“I started at Thunder Road, and it’s always been my favorite track,” said the Racing Great-Grandfather. “It would be nice to be able to qualify for the `True Value 150,’ but even if I don’t, just getting out there and time-trialing in front of all those people will be pretty special.”
While homegrown talent always seems to fare well at Thunder Road, handicapping this weekend’s “True Value 150” reveals a large number of potential winners. Here are our picks to finish up front Saturday night, for entertainment purposes only, of course.
Mike Olsen - The current BNS point leader finally found his way to Victory Lane this season, and with that monkey off his back, there’s nothing standing in the way of a “True Value 150” win. With grandpa Stub closing out his career on the Barre highbanks that same night, Olsen will be highly motivated to bring the winner’s trophy home to North Haverhill, NH. ODDS: EVEN.
Brad Leighton - Last year’s “True Value 150” champion is on record as saying it’s high time for a repeat winner, and while the defending Busch North champion has not been as dominant this season as in the past, he’s still a top threat for Victory Lane. His no-holds-barred driving style has mellowed in recent seasons, giving him the kind of cautious aggression necessary to survive 150 trips around the Barre highbanks. ODDS: 2:1.
Dennis Demers - He’s been close in each of the last four editions of the “True Value 150,” and 2001 could easily be his year. The Shelburne native has taken every opportunity to test his Thunder Road set-up over the past few weeks, and has been among the fastest cars on the track every time. A couple of timely moves in traffic could earn Demers his second career Busch North victory. ODDS: 3:1.
Dave Dion - PRO: He’s racing less this season, allowing him to focus his effort on tracks like Thunder Road, where he traditionally fares best. CON: that same lack of seat time puts him at a disadvantage to his “race every week” Busch North colleagues. He’s never won a True Value 150, the only glitch on an otherwise spotless Thunder Road record, and he’ll be going all-out to change that statistic Saturday night. Don’t count him out. ODDS: 3:1.
Dale Shaw - Thunder Road was made for drivers like Shaw. He’s always fast, and generally willing to create room where room did not previously exist. His 1999 “True Value 150” win was awash in controversy, with charges of illegal “jackrabbit starts” levied at the New Hampshire driver, while last year, Shaw was penalized one position - from second to third -for putting the bumper to Demers on the final lap. Tough customers always do well at the Road, and Shaw is the toughest SOB on the Busch North Series. ODDS: 4-1.
Tracy Gordon - His championship hopes have disappeared in the aftermath of an early season tire-soaking controversy. The Maine driver has fallen badly off the pace in recent weeks, but if he shows up (more on that below), his experience at Thunder Road makes him a contender. ODDS: 8:1.
Brian Hoar - He’s proven he can win at Thunder Road, but an ACT Late Model has little in common with a Busch North car. After a stellar start to the 2001 BNS season, Hoar’s team has struggled in recent weeks, but a win Saturday night would turn things around quite nicely. ODDS: 9:1.
Mike Rowe - The former ACT champion loves Thunder Road, but a rash of motor problems have handcuffed his effort this season. If he can find a way to go the distance, he’ll be heard from. ODDS: 10:1.
Dale Quarterley - Easily the most improved driver of 2001, the former AMA motorcycle racer has some Thunder Road experience from his days on the old ACT Tour. Will that be enough to carry him to Victory Lane? Probably not. ODDS: 10:1.
Kip Stockwell - Can Cinderella return to the Ball? Can lightning strike twice in the same place? Maybe, but Stockwell continues to race a filet mignon series on a hamburger budget. He is outspent 20:1 by much of his competition, and has little going for him but enthusiasm and experience. Maybe that will be enough. ODDS: 12:1.
The Longshots -- Barney McRae, Stub Fadden, and Rich Lowery. Like Stockwell, McRae continues to do more with less. He probably won’t win, but a top-five finish is definitely within his grasp. Lowery has virtually no Busch experience, but then again, neither did Stockwell. And what about Fadden, the ultimate Cinderella pick? He hasn’t raced in two years, he’s less than 12 months removed from a vicious battle with cancer, and he’s 10 years older than virtually every other driver in the field. Stubby probably won’t win Saturday night, but jeez Louise, wouldn’t it be great if he did?
So, who are we picking? We’ll go with old age and treachery over youth and enthusiasm. Dion, over Demers and Rowe.
The 5th annual “True Value 150” begins with practice Saturday at 1 p.m., followed by Bud Pole qualifying at 6:15, with the feature event at approximately 8 p.m. Thunder Road's regular Thursday night divisions will also be in action during the evening, with heats beginning at 5 p.m. The ACT Dodge Tour “Dodge Dealers 100” will immediately following the Busch North run, at approximately 9:30.
Will Tracy Gordon be at Thunder Road Saturday? Until last weekend, the answer was an obvious “yes.” But in the aftermath of a hard crash last Sunday at Nazareth, the Maine driver is hinting that his Busch North season may be over. Gordon and fellow Maine driver Bill Penfold were racing side-by-side, when contact between the two longtime adversaries sent Gordon’s Tic Tac Chevrolet hurtling driver’s-side first into the wall. The result was a destroyed engine, a demolished racecar, and an angry driver.
"My headrest is bent out the side window," said Gordon, after his on-track confrontation with Penfold spilled over into harsh words (and reportedly some pushing and shoving) in the garage area. "I'm fine, but it could have killed me. It really could have killed me. If I hadn't have had a headrest, my head would have smashed right off the cement."
Gordon said his frustrating 2001 season has him looking for a new place to race next season.
“I am going ASA racing next year,” he said. “I will not be back to Busch North. ASA racing is going to be so much more fun after a year like this.” Further, the former Oxford Plains Speedway champion said he may pass-up this weekend’s race at Thunder Road. “If I come back next week, it'll be because of points. If I come back. And right now, I don't know.
"I've blown two motors and wrecked a race car in two weeks," he said. "This leaves the team in pretty bad shape. (The Nazareth crash) took the driveshaft and drove it right into the motor, so now I'm out three motors, and I don't have another one. I also don't have the money to lease one."
Currently ninth in the Busch North Series points, Gordon would pay a heavy financial price for skipping the Thunder Road show. As a result, despite his comments made in the heat of the moment at Nazareth, insiders expect him to run the remainder of the 2001 schedule, before turning his attention elsewhere next season.
Short (Track) Subjects…
…The rumor mill continues to blow smoke concerning who will be where when the 2002 Daytona 500 rolls to the line. One of the more reliable rumors has Stacy Compton replacing Buckshot Jones in the Petty Enterprises' #44 next season. It is common knowledge on pit road that Jones got the P.E. ride by bringing along a large sponsorship package. Unfortunately, a weekly parade of destroyed racecars has eaten up all that sponsorship money, and plenty more, to boot. With Compton’s current ride -- Mark Melling’s #92 Dodge - still seeking a replacement sponsor for the departing Kodiak, Compton is examining his options for next season.
One of the drivers said to be in the running to replace Compton is Jerry Nadeau, who would theoretically return to Melling Racing, with Ward Burton taking over the #25 Hendrick Racing Chevrolet. These two rumors don’t hold much water, however. Nadeau has had a strong year with Hendrick, and is unlikely to move during the offseason. Burton, meanwhile, has a standing contract with Bill Davis Racing thru the 2002 campaign.
…Quote Of The Week -- Jeff Green, after coming out on the losing end of a late race bump-and-run session with Kevin Harvick in the “Food City 250” Busch race at Bristol: "He's my teammate on Sunday, but I don't like him. He's out there doing burnouts, but I don't know if I could sleep at night. At least I can sleep at night."
…Quote Of The Week, Part II - Harvick’s response: "He should know by now, I'm not very patient. I guess he drank too much chocolate milk and his stomach hurt."
…Subway Sandwich Shops will reportedly be the primary sponsor of Robert Pressley’s #77 Jasper Motorsports Ford next season. The team is also close to signing Lipton Tea as an associate sponsor.
…Bear Ridge Speedway in Bradford presents a special Friday night program this week, with all four weekly divisions and a four-cylinder Enduro on Vermont National Guard/Rich Clifford Concrete Night. Starting time is 7 p.m.
Meanwhile, New Hampshire’s Canaan Speedway fills the hole on Saturday night, with four weekly divisions in action, highlighted by a 40-lap 2001 Twin State Modified Series event, the tenth race of the 11-event series. Post time Saturday show is 6:30 p.m. It’s Littleton Harley Davidson Night at White Mountain Motorsports Park Saturday at 6 p.m., with bike races for kids up to age 10. And of course, Vermont’s biggest racing doubleheader rolls to the line Saturday night at Thunder Road, with the Busch North Series “True Value 150,” the ACT Dodge Tour “Dodge Dealers 100,” plus invitational races for the Flying Tigers and Street Stocks. BNS qualifying begins at 5 p.m., with feature racing slated for 8:00.