SpeedReading

By DAVE MOODY

Barre/Montpelier (VT) Times-Argus

 

Tom Curley has learned a lot about dealing with public officials in recent months, and in his mind, most of that experience has been negative. Now, the Thunder Road International Speedbowl promoter is dealing with the authorities again, and this time, he’s determined to hold his own.

Curley appeared before the Barre Town Select Board last week, as part of the annual process of renewing the track’s special events permit. And while most of the issues were dealt with quickly, some major differences arose on the topic of police protection for the speedway.

“The Kevin Cyr issues were dealt with item by item,” said Curley of a series of concerns raised by Barre Town resident and former Thunder Road racer Kevin Cyr earlier this year. “There were a number of items on the list, and the board clearly saw them for what they were: harassment. They did some research and discovered that Thunder Road is indeed not a dirty place (as Cyr had claimed), and they determined that most of his issues were non-existent.”

According to Curley, Cyr’s complaint that campers have been dumping sewage on speedway property was proven groundless after a local RV dealer revealed that it is physically impossible to do so. Allegations that the track has not been taxed for recent improvements to the speedway grounds were also found to be without merit. Cyr’s complaints about 18-wheeled Busch North transporters using the Fisher Road access road prompted board members to investigate either reclassifying the road, or working out a one-time permit for NASCAR teams.

Complaints about noise generated by the track was “a non-issue,” according to Curley, while Cyr’s allegations of a possible hazardous waste dump on speedway grounds was ultimately determined to be “cans that got buried in the 1960s and early `70s.”

One of Cyr’s issues - one concerning the amount of police protection at the speedway -- has become a major stumbling block, however. In past seasons, the Barre Town Select Board - on the recommendation of the Town’s Police Department -- has required Thunder Road to hire 10-14 uniformed police officers for a regular, Thursday night racing event, with more officers required for larger events like the Milk Bowl. Curley said that number is excessive, and added that this year, he’s ready to fight.

“I’ve rolled over on the police issue for years,” said Curley, “and quite honestly, I’m sick of it. The Barre Town Police Department tells the board how many officers they think we need, and the board rubberstamps it. They’ve said, `You need 10 cops, you need 12 cops, you need 14 cops,’ and whatever the number is, I have gone along with it, basically because it’s their ball and their court. You do it their way, or you don’t do it at all.

“But you know, after everything that’s happened in the last year, I’m not as much of a Barre Town team player as I used to be. I’m all done rolling over on this issue. When we started, I was paying $12 an hour per officer. Now, it’s $22.50 per man for 10 or 12 cops per week. I paid over $30,000 for police last season.”

Curley said the BTPD’s requested staffing numbers far exceed state guidelines for events of that type.

“The State of Vermont mandates one arresting officer per 1,000 people in attendance. According to those standards, we’ve been overstaffed by 100 percent. Even under our revised proposal, we would easily exceed the state requirement. Go to a Vermont Expos game. Go to a UVM hockey game. Do you see 12 or 14 uniformed police officers on patrol? Absolutely not. It’s ludicrous.

“This year, (Barre Town Police Chief) Mike Stevens says he needs seven arresting officers. We argued that five would be sufficient. He refused to budge, so we offered to compromise at six. He still refused.”

Curley said he has proposed an alternative that would include six BTPD officers, plus at least an equal number of community members charged with overseeing parking and various gates.

“I’d like to recruit adults from local organizations - Boy and Girl Scouts, Barre Youth Sports, or other non-profit organizations - to work at the track in exchange for a contribution to their organizations. Under our plan, we would contribute nearly $10,000 per season to these groups.”

According to Curley, Stevens wants to station three officers in the track’s “Bud Hill” area, where alcohol consumption is allowed. Two additional officers would be assigned to roam the grounds, one would be stationed at the track’s upper ticket gate, and one “Officer In Charge” would remain at a Command Center in the track’s main parking lot. Those officers will reportedly play no role in searching coolers for glass or contraband, and will not assist in supervising parking at the track.

“Chief Stevens said his officers are there only to provide for public safety,” said Curley. “Perhaps coincidentally, he has stationed all of his officers in areas with an unobstructed view of the track. So according to the plan he’s drawn up, I’m paying six of his seven officers $22.50 an hour to stand and watch the races.

“(Stevens) claims he needs three officers on the hill to prevent problems, but to our knowledge, there have been no appreciable problems there,” said Curley.“ We have requested the BTPD to provide us with a simple, one-paragraph report on any incidents they deal with on speedway grounds, and last year, we did not receive a single written report. They say they can’t function safely without all those officers, but you can walk out to their `Command Center’ anytime you want and find three or four cops standing around.”

Curley admitted that Stevens has made “a couple of minor concessions,” including agreeing that officers are not needed on `Bud Hill’ until 7 p.m., rather than 5:00, as in years past. All in all, however, the track promoter said he is unhappy with what he sees as an uncompromising and “business-unfriendly” attitude on the part of the Chief.

“It’s disappointing,” he said. “The Select Board instructed him to sit down with us and hammer out an agreement, but he just doesn’t give us anything to work with. It’s like the town road crew saying, “Give us our budget and leave us alone. We’ll decide what to do and when to do it. The taxpayers have nothing to say about it.

“We cannot open this race track until we have a Special Events Permit in hand,” said the Thunder Road promoter. “Before that permit can be issued, town ordinances require that we have a contract and security plan signed by the Chief of Police. We’ve had three meetings so far, and as it stands right now, we’re still frustrated, and we’re still without a permit.

“I’m fed up,” said Curley. “I’m tired of being dictated to, and I’m tired of shelling out money for no apparent reason. It’s bad business. I’m not going to roll over this time, and if push comes to shove, I’ll shut the place down and spend the summer on the beach. Ken (Squier) can run the track if he wants to, but I won’t.”

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Matt Kenseth's win in Sunday's "Subway 400" NASCAR Winston Cup race at North Carolina Speedway in Rockingham revived the long-simmering debate over whether or not to end races under the yellow flag, and if so, when?

Kenseth, who had dominated the second half of Sunday's race, led the field back to the caution flag with a handful of laps remaining, and coasted home to the win when track officials were unable to clear the debris from Robbie Gordon's blown tire in time for a restart. After the race, some teams questioned NASCAR's decision not to red flag the race, pointing to a number of recent decisions to do just that, including a lengthy red flag in the season-opening Daytona 500.

Opinions vary on whether or not to throw the red flag after a late-race crash. Traditionalists argue that an advertised 500-mile race should be 500 miles, not 502 or 503. They point out -- correctly -- that teams have worked all day long to calculate fuel mileage and tire wear down the final lap, and say that extending the event penalizes those who have done their jobs best. Others counter that a yellow-flag finish is the auto racing equivalent of showing up for a date with Cindy Crawford and finding Phyllis Diller waiting at the door, feeling that in return for their hard-earned ticket money, fans deserve to see an all-out race to the checkered flag.

One thing virtually everyone agrees on, however, is that some sort of uniform policy is needed to determine whether or not the red flag will be thrown. NASCAR continues to insist that decisions on whether to extend a race beyond its advertised distance must be made on a case-by-case basis. That policy, however, leaves the sanctioning body open to charges of favoritism, like those leveled after Sunday's race. Simply put, If Matt Kenseth is allowed to cruise to an uncontested 70-mph win at Rockingham, why should Ward Burton have been forced to sweat-out a 180-mph, green-white-checkered flag shootout at Daytona?

What is needed is a concrete policy on when the red flag will be thrown, and when it will not. NASCAR is the only major league sport that -- as a set policy -- makes its ruling on a case-by-case basis. The NFL does not allow its referees to ignore penalty calls in the final two minutes of a game, and the Major League Baseball strike zone does not change after the seventh inning. NASCAR needs to follow suit, instituting a policy that once an event is within three laps of the planned distance, it will finish under caution. Prior to that, the red flag will be thrown for cleanup, followed by a green-white-checkered flag finish. That way, fans and teams alike would know what to expect, and NASCAR will remove itself from the debate of who gets the infamous "win under caution" and who does not.

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Sunday's race at Rockingham also served as the maiden voyage for NASCAR's new "single engine rule," with teams qualifying, practicing and racing on the same powerplant. The move, which had been under discussion for more than a year, was designed as a cost-cutting measure, eliminating the need for special qualifying motors. Sophomore driver Kurt Busch was the first to feel the sting of the new policy, forfeiting a top-10 starting spot after engine problems in Saturday's final "Happy Hour" practice forced his Sharpie/Rubbermaid Ford team to go to a backup powerplant.

Five drivers experienced engine problems in the 400 itself, including Dale Jarrett, whose motor went up in smoke while leading in the race's early stages. And while some observers pointed to those five DNFs as a sign that the new rule needs work, they failed to point out that in last year's spring race at Rockingham -- under the old engine rule -- six drivers exited the race with blown motors.

So much for that argument.

Maine native Ricky Craven had a great day Sunday, winning the Bud Pole by more than two-tenths of a second, dominating the first 100 miles of the race, and running among the top seven all afternoon en route to a solid, fifth-place finish. Craven's final standing might have been even better, had not his Tide-sponsored team elected not to pit under the race's next-to-last caution flag, while running third. While every other lead-lap car dove onto pit road for tires, Craven and crewchief Mike Beam decided to stay out, hoping to gain track position and hold off the field on slightly older rubber.

"We talked it over, and I was 100-percent behind the decision," said Craven of the call. "In the end, though, it was obviously the wrong thing to do. Fresh tires are a huge advantage at Rockingham, and we just couldn't hold those guys off. I honestly thought more cars would elect to stay out, and when I looked in the mirror and saw everyone headed for the pits, I said `Oh oh, this could be a problem.' But at that point, the decision was made, and we had to play it out."

Craven's call -- while ultimately not the correct one -- showed just how far his Cal Wells-owned team has come in the last 12 months. A year ago, the Tide team would have been thrilled simply to be running in the top 10, and would not have considered gambling for the win. Sunday, however, they gave away the third position in an effort to win it all, an attitude that will ultimately pay dividends for them in the long haul. Despite a mediocre start at Daytona, we're standing by our preseason prediction that Craven and the "Tide Ride" will be in the top-10 in Winston Cup points at the end of the 2002 campaign.

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Shelburne's Kevin Lepage was at Rockingham last weekend -- sans car -- in an effort to drum up financial support to this weekend's NASCAR Busch Series race in Las Vegas. Hot off an eighth-place showing at Daytona, Lepage was admittedly disappointed in his inability to secure backing for even a one-race deal at the Rock, and is increasingly pessimistic about his chances of scoring even a part-time backer for the 2002 season.

"It's not looking good," admitted Lepage Saturday. "I've beaten every bush I can think of, and there's not even been a nibble on the line." With a handful of Winston Cup teams and an equal number of Busch Series operations still without sponsorship, Lepage said the current sponsorship picture is little more than a fire sale.

"There are (Winston Cup) teams out there who were looking for a $10-million sponsor six months ago," he said. "Right now, they'd sign on the dotted line for half of that, or less. A guy with two or three million could take his pick of Busch teams. People are getting pretty desperate."

Far from folding the tent on this racing career, however, Lepage said he is considering a surprising next step.

"I've got someone interested in buying my superspeedway car," revealed Lepage. "If I can do that, I might just build myself a Winston Cup car. It's no more expensive to build than a Busch machine, and the travel and logistical expenses are virtually the same. The tire bill is higher in Winston Cup, but so are the purses, and it's a hell of a lot easier to get sponsors interested in a Winston Cup team.

"Last place in the Winston Cup race this weekend pays the same as third or fourth in the Busch race, so you tell me where it makes the most sense to run," he said. "I haven't made a final decision yet, but I'm thinking real hard about converting this deal over to Cup."

 

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Short (Track) Subjects…

…The schedules are set for both Bear Ridge and Canaan Speedways. Promoter C.V. Elms, III, has put together a pair of calendars for the dirt ovals that run from early May into September.

Saturday, May 4, will mark the season opener at Bear Ridge in Bradford, with the Canaan, N.H. track set to open the following week, on Friday, May 10. Elms also announced that he will promote a race on the third-mile Canaan asphalt track on Sunday, June 16, with a multi-division card headlined by the NEDA Late Models.

Bear Ridge will open the season with its traditional day-long festivities on May 4, beginning with the annual Majestic Trophy Car Show at Bradford's Oxbow High School from 10-1. From there, the scene shifts to the speedway for open practice from 2-4 p.m., followed by the season-opening NAPA/Bradford Auto Parts card beginning at 6 p.m. At Canaan, practice day will be held on both the dirt and asphalt tracks on Sunday, May 5. Opening night's Brownie's Auto & Speed Parts event will go to post the following Friday, May 10, with action beginning at 7 p.m.

 

According to the annual Report of the Town Officers, there were 53 incidents of vandalism to a motor vehicle in Barre Town in 2000-2001. There were 10 incident reports filed for possession/manufacture of controlled substances, 22 for driving under the influence, eight for disorderly conduct, two more for public nuisance, and three for illegal possession of alcohol by a minor. On 16 occasions, the Barre Town Police filed incident reports concerning intoxicated persons, and there were a total of 50 reports concerning larceny from a motor vehicle.

It is impossible to determine how many (if any) of those 164 incident reports were filed as a result of activities at Thunder Road, since the statistics are not broken down in that manner. However, even if 10 percent of those incidents occurred at the track - highly unlikely, since only 18 racing events took place there in 2001 - it is clear that Thunder Road does not comprise a major drain on the town’s law enforcement resources.

Last year, Curley claims to have paid Barre Town Police officers some $33,000 for roughly 1,500 man hours of work at the speedway; an average of $22 per hour. Accepting for a moment the premise that those 16 incidents (10% of the annual total) took place at the track, Thunder Road paid a total of $1,833 per incident for police protection, an astronomical amount considering that many “incidents” do not result in an actual arrest.

Police officials will argue - correctly, we believe -- that their presence at Thunder Road serves as a deterrent, and that, were they not so visible at the speedway, problems would be more likely to occur. The question, then, appears to be one of degree. Are 10 uniformed, arrest-capable officers needed for events of this type? Or would seven officers, backed by an equal number of adult volunteers for parking and procedural matters, be sufficient?

Clearly, the town and track remain worlds apart.