Dion Works His Magic At T-Road
Curley Suspends Laquerres, Himself
By DAVE MOODY
Barre/Montpelier (VT) Times-Argus
Photos by Leif Tillotson
There’s just something fitting about Dave Dion in Victory Lane at Thunder Road.
A two-time champion on the venerable Barre highbanks, Dion is arguably the most popular driver ever to turn a wheel there. And while it had been a while since his #29 Ford had been spotted with the checkered flag at “The Nation’s Site of Excitement,” his legions of fans still carry a torch for Hudson, New Hampshire’s favorite son.
Saturday night, the old Dion magic was back, as he took advantage of Mike Olsen’s tangle with a lapped car in the late going to win the fifth annual “True Value 150” at Thunder Road. The win came in vintage Dion fashion; a decent qualifying run, followed by a fearless outside-line charge to the front of the pack. And while Dion himself admitted he’d have had a tough time reeling in the dominant Olsen without help, he was not about to call his win a fluke.
“I’ve won `em that way, and I’ve lost `em that way,” said a smiling Dion afterward. “In fact, I was leading this very race a couple of years ago when I got tangled up with a lapped car and spun. It’s easy to do, since there’s obviously not a lot of extra room here.”
The New Hampshire native added that a win at Thunder Road is something special to him and his team, not to mention his fans.
“I really needed to win a race here,” he said. “I can just imagine all those young fans at Thunder Road saying `what’s the big deal about Dave Dion? I’ve been coming here for the last 10 years, and he hasn’t amounted to a thing!’ My fans tend to be a little older, and while they’re great about trying to defend me, they really haven’t had much to work with recently.
“This win is for them.”
While Dion was the big winner in the BNS half of Thunder Road’s Labor Day Weekend doubleheader, there were no winners at all in the ACT Dodge Tour “Dodge Dealers 100.” Former Thunder Road champion Tracie Bellerose stood in Victory Lane at the end of the evening, forcing a smile for the photographers while smoke literally rolled out of her ears. Runner-up Phil Scott bit holes in his lower lip, the victim of last-lap chicanery the likes of which has seldom (if ever) been seen before on the Barre highbanks. The Thunder Road fans, meanwhile, booed anyone and everyone within earshot.
Had the race been 99 laps instead of 100, those same fans would have gone home raving about the latest in a growing list of spectacular Bellerose/Scott battles. As they had in the season-ending Vermont Milk Bowl last September, the two waged a tremendous, all-out battle over the final 35 laps, with Scott repeatedly testing the slippery inside lane, while Bellerose stubbornly refused to yield the faster outside groove. They swapped the lead, they swapped a little paint, and they kept the T-Road faithful on their feet for the final third of the race. Unfortunately, however, the race went it’s full 100 laps, and when the leaders came upon the lapped car of Joey Laquerre in turn two of the final circuit, the entire process came unglued.
After taking the lead in turn three a lap before, Scott moved high to pass the slower car of Laquerre, only to have the East Montpelier veteran veer suddenly to the right, nearly crowding Scott off the track. Bellerose dove beneath them both to steal the win, while Scott recovered to finish a disappointing second.
Immediately after the race, Laquerre received the black flag for what many saw as an intentional act designed to hand the win to Bellerose. That assumption was fueled by the fact that Laquerre’s son, Jeff, serves as Bellerose’s crewchief, while another son, Jay, fields a car out of the same Montpelier shop. On Monday, ACT officials announced an additional two-race suspension for Laquerre, effectively ending his hopes for the 2001 Thunder Road track championship. A third son, Jamie Laquerre, was also assessed a two-race suspension.
“We had the better car, I think,” said a subdued Scott afterward. “It was greasy down low, so I wanted to wait and try to make it work up high on the last couple of laps. But one of the teammate cars came out and finished the race for us.”
For her part, Bellerose was equally upset, if not more.
“I don’t need any help, and I don’t ask for any help,” said the 2000 Thunder Road champion. “Phil and I had a great race, but I screwed up by trying to guard the bottom with two laps to go. That gave Phil the faster outside lane, and he made it work. He deserved to win.”
Bellerose took issue with Scott’s “teammate” remark, however, saying that she and Laquerre do not run team cars. “His operation is in East Montpelier, mine is in Montpelier,” she said. “Jeff is my crewchief, and Jay and I share shop space, but that’s all there is to it.
“Joey has loaned me motors in the past, and he’s even let me drive his backup car before,” said Bellerose. “We’re friends, and I know he would probably do anything in the world to help me out. But what happened Saturday night went too far. I would much rather have celebrated a strong second-place finish than go through what this team is going through now.”
While Joey and Jamie Laquerre were each suspended for two races, ACT President Tom Curley saved the harshest penalty for himself. Yesterday, Curley announced that he has suspended himself for two races, in addition to assessing a $100 fine for his role in a post-race incident on pit road.
“I lost control of my emotions and reacted to a comment…regarding favoritism,” said Curley. “My reaction was to grab the individual by the shirt, and a shoving session ensued. I was clearly to blame, …(and) apologize to all who are associated with our organization. I am well aware that I should be responsible for my actions, and that I am not in a position to be any less responsible than I have required (you to be) over these many years.”
Curley will sit out Saturday’s ACT Flying Tiger 50 Series finale at New Hampshire’s Riverside Speedway, as well as Sunday’s race at Thunder Road, reportedly turning over his Race Director’s duties to Airborne Raceway R.D., Glen Wright.
Short (Track) Subjects…
…Saturday’s “True Value 150” win by Dion struck yet another blow for the Thunder Road homeboys, as each of the five editions of the race have been won by a driver who either began his career on the Barre oval, or spent considerable time racing there. Dion joins Kip Stockwell, Tracy Gordon, Dale Shaw and Brad Leighton on the list of past winners, proving yet again that experience rules the Road.
…Winston Cup “Silly Season” is in full swing, with a number if drivers and teams investigating their options for 2002. Vermonter Kevin Lepage could have a teammate next season, as Morgan-McClure Racing is examining the possibility of adding a second team, if sponsorship can be found. Team owner Larry McClure said the move makes sense from both the business and racing points of view.
“Having a second team allows you to do things more economically,” he said. “You can run a second team more cheaply than you can the first. Another team would also allow us to try certain things that we can’t with just one; things with the engine, chassis, or aero package. Also, with a second team, if one guy is complaining about something, but the other guy isn’t, you’re able to get to the bottom of problems more quickly.”
Mike Skinner is being mentioned as a possible driver for the second team, as well as being mentioned as a replacement for Joe Nemechek, who said to be leaving the Andy Petree-owned #33 team at the end of the season.
Rumors also persist that Jerry Nadeau will be out of the Hendrick Motorsports #25 next season. A week ago, we reported that the Connecticut native was talking to Melling Racing about replacing Stacy Compton in the #92 Dodge. Now, it appears that UAW-GM will stay with Hendrick as a sponsor, while Nadeau is replaced by former driver turned TV commentator Wally Dallenbach.
And finally, Jeremy Mayfield is sounding like a driver in need of a change of scenery.
"I'm going through the same old up and down season like I have (before),” said Mayfield this week. “I feel like right now I'm better than I've ever been as a driver, and I've wanted it more than I've ever wanted it. We need to look at this, and figure out what is best for all of us.”
…Don't pack that hooded sweatshirt and thermal coffee mug away just yet. Canaan (NH) Speedway promoter C.V. Elms, III, has announced a "Run-What-Ya-Brung" Open Competition event at the New Hampshire dirt track on Friday, September 14 at 7 p.m. The show will include Modifieds, Open Competition Late Models, Street Stocks and Four-Cylinders, along with a Chain Race.
"We're throwing the rule book out on this one," Elms said. "This show is going to be a fun one that will leave both the racing teams and all the fans with something to talk about all winter." While safety rules will be strictly enforced, the tech specs are going out the window. Drag tires, wings, and sail panels will all be allowed and there will be no limitations on engine size.
…Tomorrow night, Canaan (NH) Speedway presents a four-division race program, along with a 4-cylinder Enduro to cap the program, with post time set for 7 p.m. Bear Ridge Speedway in Bradford returns to its traditional Saturday night slot this week, with Bixby Auto and Power Equipment Night. All four weekly divisions will be in action, along with a V8 Enduro, beginning at 6:30 p.m. Riverside Speedway in Groveton, NH returns to action Saturday night with its final point race of the 2001 campaign, and while the three weekly division championship battles all appear to be mathematically clinched, there’s still some jousting to be done for the rest of the top-10 positions. The third and final race of the Riverside Coca-Cola Triple Crown Series - combined with the ACT NAPA Flying Tiger 50 Series finale - headlines the card, beginning at 6 p.m. Also Saturday, White Mountain Motorsports Park in North Woodstock, NH, rolls out its weekly five-division lineup, beginning at 6 p.m.
Thunder Road crowns its 2001 champions Sunday, as “Parts Plus Night” wraps up the track’s point-counting schedule. Cris Michaud holds a tenuous, 44-point lead over Jamie “Hurricane” Fisher in the battle for the 2001 Late Model title, with former champion Phil Scott another point back in third. John Donahue’s lead in the Flying Tiger standings is 37 points over Chip Grenier, while Georgia driver Dan Nolin has already wrapped-up the Street Stock honors. Post time at the Road is set for 5 p.m.
And finally, the Busch North Series travels to Maine’s Beech Ridge Motor Speedway Sunday afternoon, for the PTM Racing 150. Point leader Mike Olsen and 2000 Rookie of the Year Mike Johnson have already visited victory lane there this season. Bud Pole Qualifying is set for 2 p.m., with racing at 4:30.