Contributed by: ACT Staff
Seventeen year-old sophomore racing sensation, Joey Polewarczyk of Hudson, NH earned the Milk Bowl pole starting position when he turned the first sub-13 second Late Model lap in last Saturday's annual Booth Bros/HP Hood Time Trials. The youngster's lap, which knocked 58 year-old Dennis Demers out of the coveted pole spot, stood firm even though many of the ACT Tour's elite came later in the order, including multi-time ACT Tour champion, Jean-Paul Cyr, whose record the youngster shattered. For his efforts, the high school Junior won a $1,000 bonus.
Why are Polewarczyk, and the other young guns finding success in a relatively short time with the highly competitive traveling ACT series and at tracks around the region? Many are part of the "Jeff Gordon Generation" of drivers, youngsters who began their racing careers while in elementary school. Gordon, a four-time NASCAR Champion, aimed to be a race car driver from an early age. He worked his way up through the open wheel sprint car ranks, finding many victories and championships along the way before moving to NASCAR stock cars.
Polewarczyk, or "Pole" as he is known, a second generation competitor, first got behind the wheel of a go-kart at age seven. At 13 he won 30 of 31 races he started. Along the way he's collected rookie of the year titles and championships. Two years ago he became the youngest driver to race with the ACT Tour. He is now the youngest to win the New England Dodge Dealers Milk Bowl pole.
Another 17 year-old member of the "Jeff Gordon Generation" who's already amassed tons of seat time is Malden, MA racer, Mark Anzalone. The senior at Northeast Vocational in Wakefield, MA also began his career at seven. In his first year racing ╝ midgets he was victorious in 17 of 19 starts. Like Pole, who he met at a race in 2000, Anzalone worked his way up the divisional ladder collecting awards and championships before moving from karts to full-bodied race cars. Anzalone has claimed the ACT Tour's 2006 Rookie of the Year title as well as the Bond Auto/WIX Filters Reserve Championship.
At just 16 years of age, and in his first year racing a Late Model, Center Conway, New Hampshire's DJ Shaw won the season-long Championship chase at White Mountain Motorsports Park. The second generation competitor raced a kart for three years before making the jump into a stock car. From the outset, his talent behind the wheel was evident - he lapped the entire field en route to victory in his first kart race. A year ago, he won 17 of 18 races running against adults. According to his father, former NASCAR Busch North champion, Dale Shaw, DJ could have started racing earlier, but he initially didn't express an interest. "I had a kart in the shop for two years but he never bugged me about racing it or even paid much attention to it," the elder Shaw commented.
Worcester, MA competitor, 23 year-old Marc Curtis first sat in a go-kart at age nine. He too was on the fast track up through the ranks, securing rookie of the year honors and championships along the way. At 14 he moved to New Hampshire's Monadnock Speedway where he raced a full-sized car. Unlike most of the others, Curtis took a break during his high school years to letter in football and track, as well as serve on the Student Council. At 19 he climbed in a Late Model. For the past two years he's been racing across the Northeast with the ACT Tour.
Curtis, along with his father a former racer, has observed that it appears the present-day young guns have possibly adapted quicker to racing since they appear to have better equipment at a younger age than their predecessors.
In his first year as an ACT competitor, 23 year-old Bobby Baillargeon from Nottingham, NH has found a new challenge visiting different tracks. Starting in a kart at age 11, he's amassed over 100 top five finishes, in addition to a stretch with the national karting tour. At 19, Baillargeon was ripe for a new experience. He settled on the Late Model class at Lee (NH) USA Speedway, and eventually ACT. "Jeff Gordon's been quoted as saying, `You can't stay anywhere more than three years'," Baillargeon explained of his, and other competitor's movement through the ranks.
Rhode Island's Ryan Vanasse agrees with Baillargeon's recollection of Gordon's comment, "If you stay too long in a division as you're coming up through, you can learn bad habits. Personally, I think I might have stayed too long at various points during my career," he explained. Unlike the "Jeff Gordon Generation" competitors who cut their racing teeth before their permanent teeth were in, Vanasse, 24, got involved in the sport the old fashioned way - as the son of a racer. "I'd always been around racing, my dad used to drive, so I learned about the sport by watching him and helping in the shop."
At 14 he climbed in a 4-cylinder car at Hudson (NH) Speedway and raced against adults since there wasn't a kid's class. "I don't feel that I'm at a disadvantage (as a young driver on the track) since I didn't have the karting experience. Sure, I would have liked to do it. I've found that, no matter what your background, there's a learning curve you go through, especially when you go touring," he finished.
Scott Payea, 24, from Milton, VT came up through the ranks at Barre, Vermont's Thunder Road Int'l Speedbowl and Airborne Speedway, Plattsburgh, NY. The '05 ACT Tour Rookie of the Year started in the 4-cylinder Street Stocks before moving to the Tiger Sportsman class. Surprising most, he moved directly to the traveling Tour with no Late Model experience. By the end of his first season there were few doubters where his talent was concerned - Payea secured fourth in the season-long standings with a finishing average of 7.6, which included an impressive five top fives. "There's a huge difference between a kart and a car," he explained, "I would've like to get into driving earlier, to learn the finesse areas, how to pick a good line. That's the kind of thing a kid can learn at a young age," Payea finished.
Nineteen year-old Ryan Nolin, who has been racing against Payea for several years, agrees with his rival, "I've driven a kart a couple of times, and at Thunder Road you're going flat out all the way around, single file. I feel I learned more about driving in traffic in my Street Stock although I learned the most about racing in the Tiger Sportsman. I don't feel I'm at a disadvantage since I didn't run a kart," he finished. Young Nolin also broke the Thunder Road track record during Booth Bros/HP Hood Pole Qualifying and was one of just three to turn in a sub-13 second lap. Nolin began his career at 14 in a Street Stock.
ACT president Tom Curley reflected on the young talent who attempted to qualify for the 43rd annual New England Dodge Dealers Milk Bowl, "Those in the last youth movement, Jamie Fisher, Dave Pembroke, Eric Williams, John Donahue, Cooper MacRitchie, were a group in their 20s. They've spent a number of years getting their programs to the position where they can take the reins from the Pete Fecteau, Joey Laquerre, Dave Whitcomb, Phil Scotts of the world. This new group, their successes have come quicker, although possibly not easier. Much of this is due to ACT's Late Model maturity."
He continued, "The younger kids being successful can be attributed to, 1) their prior racing experience - they have seat time, and 2) the ACT leadership had recognized how important the youth movement is to establish longevity. I don't know when we've has as talented a group as this. First there was Dave Dion, Beaver and Bobby Dragon, Dick McCabe. Then Crouch and Rosati. Cyr and Brent Dragon. Now Pole and Nolin - it's neverending.
"The next area to watch is to see what kind of impact the "outsiders" will have on the Tour in the future. Having new growth from the outside is healthy. Some drivers may find it's not as easy to change old habits from a weekly track to what makes sense for a Tour," Curley finished.
It appears that Jeff Gordon had a point, ` You can't stay anywhere more than three years'.
The New England Dodge Dealers Milk Bowl's traditional pre-race ceremonies will begin at 1:00 pm on Sunday, October 8. Immediately following the pre-race festivities, Joey Pole will lead the 30-car field to green in the first 50-lap segment of the New England Dodge Dealers 43rd annual Milk Bowl.