Hoar, Olsen, Bruno Set For ACT Returns
By DAVE MOODY
Barre-Montpelier (VT) Times Argus
Three highly successful graduates of the American-Canadian Tour ranks are set to return in the coming days. Five-time ACT Dodge Tour champion Brian Hoar of Williston will compete in this weekend’s ACT twinbill at New Hampshire’s Star and Hudson Speedways, as will former Airborne Raceway Late Model king Mike Bruno of Bomoseen. Current Busch North Series, NASCAR Touring Division point leader Mike Olsen of North Haverhill, NH, meanwhile, is set to tackle a limited schedule of ACT Late Model events in a car based out of the Empire State of New York.
Hoar -- American-Canadian Tour champion in 1993, `97, `98, `99 and 2000, and currently the top rookie on NASCAR’s Busch North Series -- will steer a Chevrolet Monte Carlo for car owner Ellery Packard this weekend, as well as in the September 1 New England Dodge Dealers 100 at Thunder Road, which runs in conjunction with the Busch North Series True Value 150.
“I’ve put my whole focus on the Busch North Series this year,” said Hoar, “and that won’t change. But the ACT race at Thunder Road runs after the Busch race, so being in both shouldn’t be a problem.”
“We’ve been building this car for a while, and we’re ready to have some fun,” said Hoar of his partnership with Packard, whose #09 cars have previously been driven by Bill Herring, Dennis Demers, and Eric Williams. “We’re not racing for points or anything, so there’s no pressure. I’m looking forward to it.”
Bruno, whose Busch North Series career has stalled unexpectedly this season (more on that in a moment), will drive Jacob McGrath’s #72 Mountain Green Resort Chevrolet in this weekend’s Granite State twinbill, after serving as an unofficial advisor to the Mendon youngster in recent weeks.
“Jacob tore his car up a few weeks ago, and he’s struggled since,” said Bruno, a former CVRA dirt modified champion before turning his attention to the ACT asphalt wars. “I’m just trying to help him get pointed back in the right direction.”
For his part, Olsen said he will debut a new ACT ride next Thursday night at Thunder Road.
“It’s a car that (former NASCAR North Tour veteran) Bob Brunell has got over in Plattsburgh,” said Olsen, who began his racing career in a Flying Tiger entry at Thunder Road. “We’ve talked a little, and we’re going to run a few Thursday nights races at Thunder Road, the September 1 show there, then maybe a couple of the bigger races at the end of the season, as schedules permit.”
Olsen said he and Brunell had originally planned to debut the car tonight, but elected to wait a week to avoid a conflict with tomorrow night’s Busch North race in Stafford Springs, Conn.
“We probably could have gone ahead and raced (tonight), but I really think it’s easier to wait a week and not get all jammed up. I’m really looking forward to running the Late Model car, though. And who knows? Maybe it’ll give me an edge when the Busch North race rolls around.”
Mike Bruno’s NASCAR Busch North Series career appears to be over, the end result of what he called “a hosing” at the hands of the New Hampshire-based Verres Racing Team.
The former ACT Late Model and CVRA Dirt Modified champion said he began negotiating with Verres Team owner Bob Sowa and his driver -- former series champion Jamie Aube -- in December of last year to form a three-car team in 2001, with Aube, Bruno, and Busch North Series newcomer Robbie Kneivel (son of motorcycle stuntman Evel Kneivel) as drivers.
“I heard rumors that they were looking to put something together, and I called Bob (Sowa) in December,” said Bruno this week. “I sent him my resume, and in January, he sat me down and laid out the entire program. He explained the deal he had cooking with Kneivel, and said he wanted to make me a part of the stable for 2001.
“I explained to him that I had taken out a bank loan the previous season to buy out (former car owner) C.J. Richards. I said I was probably going to sell my equipment to pay off that loan, but Bob said `Give me 90 days to get things together, and I’ll buy everything from you.’
“I thought he was someone I could trust, so I went to work refurbishing all my stuff, sending one car to NRP for a new body, and putting all new parts on everything. On March 1, I tried to hire Tony Andrews back as my crew chief. We had worked together before and done pretty well, and I was excited to have him back. But once he talked to Sowa, the deal fell apart. Bob was telling him a bunch of crazy, off-the-wall stuff about running the 2002 Daytona 500, and he basically just scared Tony away.
Like Andrews, Bruno said he began to have misgivings about Sowa’s supposed new super team. But when he took his concerns to Sowa, the New Hampshire car owner assured him that everything was on the up-and-up.
“We had race cars at NRP, motors being built at PCCW, the whole nine yards,” recalled Bruno. “But then, Jamie (Aube) suddenly started becoming extremely evasive. He told me Sowa had had a heart attack or something, and every question I asked produced a hundred different stories. He wouldn’t give me a straight answer about what was going on, and I began to suspect that things were going sour.”
The final straw, said Bruno, came just before his first scheduled race, on May 12 at New Hampshire International Speedway.
“Jamie said everything was set for me to go to Loudon, but when I went down (to the Verres shop) to pick up a new engine, they told me it hadn’t come in yet. They told me to drive down to PCCW and pick up a motor we had there, instead. Before I left, I called Robbie Patterson (owner of PCCW) to make sure everything was okay, and he told me Sowa owed him $9,400 on the motor. Jamie called Sowa, then told me they had made a deal to FedEx Robbie a check the next day.
“I drove all the way to Woodstock, only to have them tell me when I got there that there was a change of plans, and Jamie didn’t want me to pick up the motor, after all. Basically, Jamie and Sowa told me whatever it took to get me out of Manchester,” said Bruno. “They didn’t have the money to do what they promised to do, and they didn’t have the guts to tell me, face to face.
“I made it pretty clear that I was pissed,” said Bruno. “So at Loudon, Sowa came to me and asked me what the problem was. I told him, `If you don’t have the money to do this deal, just say so. Don’t jerk me around and make me look stupid.’ Sowa said he didn’t believe my car was really race ready. He looked me straight in the eye and said `I don’t think you know as much about racing as you say you do.’
“I’ve been a racer all my life,” said Bruno. “He’s been around four years. You decide who knows what they’re talking about.”
The Bomoseen driver said he now believes the Kneivel connection was nothing more than a publicity stunt contrived by Sowa and Aube to draw attention - and sponsorship - to their team.
“In my opinion, they never had any intention of putting Robbie Kneivel in a race car,” he said. “They were hoping he might have a few contacts they could use to line their own pockets.” Bruno said he is angry at Aube, at Sowa, and also at himself.
“It was a handshake deal, and I was stupid to trust them,” he said. “At Jamie’s age, he knows he’s never going to get another shot at the championship. He’s just hanging on, any way he can. By covering Sowa’s (backside), he’s covering his own. (Verres) put out a bunch of press releases at the start of the season talking about their drive for a fourth Busch North championship, but there’s not a single person on that team - Jamie included - that believes they’ve got a shot.“
Bruno said all his cars and equipment sit in his shop, in mint condition, awaiting a buyer. His lawyer has advised him to advertise everything for sale in an attempt to recoup as much of his investment as possible.
“I sold one motor and paid PCCW the $9,400, just to clear my name,” he said. “It was Sowa’s bill, but I value my reputation, and I wanted to clean this mess up the best I could.” After spending the first half of the season holding his tongue, however, Bruno clearly feels the time has come to tell his side of the story.
“Bob Sowa backstabs everyone; Dick Glines at NRP, Robbie Patterson at PCCW; whoever’s out of earshot at the moment. People tell me he’s dragging my name through the mud now, too, and I’m sick of holding back,” he said. “My wife and I are buying a second business soon, we have a baby coming in five weeks, and I don’t need any more of his crap.”
It’s not even August yet, and silly season has already begun.
The first salvo in NASCAR’s annual frenzy of ride-hopping was fired two weeks ago, when Richard Childress Racing announced the hiring of defending NASCAR Busch Series champion Jeff Green to steer their new AOL-sponsored #30 Chevrolet on next year’s Winston Cup Tour. Finding itself suddenly without a driver, PPC Racing this week named NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series point leader Scott Riggs to replace Green at the wheel of their Busch Series Nesquik Fords in 2002.
The 30-year old Riggs has burst onto the national racing scene this season, with three wins and two poles at the wheel of Jim Smith’s Team ASE Dodge, after laboring in relative obscurity the year before. He has 10 top-five and 11 top-10 finishes in 13 starts this season, including wins at Martinsville, Dover, and Kentucky. Last year, he entered 17 races with two different owners en route to a 20th-place finish in NCTS points.
Previously, Riggs was a two-time Late Model track champion at Southern National Speedway in North Carolina, with more than 60 career wins. In 1998, Riggs collected eight top-10 finishes in NASCAR’s Gatorade All Pro Series.
Now, there’s an opening at the top of the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series. Expect the next domino to fall soon.
Short (Track) Subjects…
…Officials at New Hampshire’s Riverside Speedway announced this week that Subway Shops will sponsor the upcoming ACT Dodge Tour race at Riverside on Saturday, August 11. ”Associate sponsorships” are also being offered for the event, and will reserve a lap in your name - or your company’s - at a cost of $50 per lap. Interested parties can contact Steve Poulin at (802)-766-2400.
…This week’s quote comes from Indy Racing League driver Eddie Cheever, friend and cohort of Tony Stewart. In his words, “Out of a racecar, he just isn't very good at thinking. He's very good at thinking in a racecar, but out of a racecar, he's little more than a kindergarten student. He's a great guy, and he may get angry at my saying that, but that's the blatant truth."
…This week’s “Classless Media Member” award goes (once again) to TNT’s Bill Weber, who pressed Kyle Petty for an interview during the network’s Loudon pre-race broadcast, despite repeated requests by Petty to be left alone during a very difficult weekend. Every other reporter honored Petty’s wishes, Weber did not. In recent weeks, Weber has chastised drivers for not showing enough emotion in Victory Lane, and shamelessly baited Dale Earnhardt, Jr., with repeated references to his late father in Victory Lane at Daytona.
…Mike Bliss quit the Eel River Racing Team last Friday, just minutes after the #27 team once again failed to qualify for the race. Two weeks earlier, Bliss was named to replace Kenny Wallace, who left the team after four consecutive DNQs. Rick Mast will reportedly steer the car at Pocono this weekend, but the consensus of opinion on pit road is that Jeff Gordon couldn’t make the field in Eel River equipment.
…Ricky Craven has signed for another season in Cal Wells’ Tide Ford.
…Are You Ready For Some Racin’? Our sources say NBC is pressing NASCAR for a Monday night race in 2003, in an attempt to drum-up some competition for ABC’s Monday Night Football. You heard it here first.
…Tonight, it’s Vermont State Employees Credit Union Night at Barre’s Thunder Road, with a full card of racing for the ACT Late Models, Flying Tigers and Street Stocks, plus the Doug Danger Motorcycle Thrill Show. It’s also “Kids Ride In The Racecars” night, with motorized tours of the Barre highbanks from 4 to 5 p.m. Sorry Mom and Dad, it’s for kids age 6-12 only.
Tomorrow night, the Busch North Series runs its ASB NASCAR 150 at Connecticut’s Stafford Motor Speedway. Bud pole qualifying is set for 6 p.m., with the main event at 9:00.
Saturday Night, Airborne Raceway in Plattsburgh presents its traditional, four-division program, plus the Doug Danger Motorcycle Thrill Show, beginning at 7 p.m. The ACT Dodge Tour travels to Star Speedway in Epping, NH for the Midsummer 100, a card that includes Star's 350 Supermodifieds, Street Stocks, Strictly Stocks and Roadrunners. Local heats begin at 4:45 pm, with ACT qualifying slated for 5:30. Also on Saturday, the North East Drivers Association Late Models return to New Hampshire’s Riverside Speedway for a 50-lap feature, along with Cyclones, Strictly Stocks, Sportsmen, Dwarf Cars and a 100 lap, 4-cylinder Enduro. Bear Ridge Speedway is also back in action that same night with St Jay Auto Night, featuring Modifieds, Sportsman Coupes, Pro-Street Stocks and Fast Fours, plus a 60-lap V8 Enduro. Qualifying begins at 6:30 p.m. White Mountain Motorsports Park in North Woodstock, NH, runs their weekly, five-division program that night as well, beginning at 6 p.m.
Sunday, the ACT Dodge Tour moves to the Hudson Speedway in Hudson, NH, accompanied by Hudson's Strictlies, Rookies and Roadrunners. Local heats go at 5:30 p.m., with ACT qualifying to follow. And finally, the double points Midseason Championship rolls to the line at West Haven’s Devil’s Bowl Speedway, with special events for all divisions, plus the IMCA Modifieds. Post time is 7 p.m.