Contributed by: ACT Staff
-by Justin St. Louis
The full-time return of American-Canadian Tour (ACT) stock car racing to Quebec and Ontario is a huge boon to the short track industry on both sides of the international border. A solid, established sanctioning body with a history of more than just two or three years is something that has been missing in Quebec since the mid-1990s, and with ACT's uniform rules package spreading its wings, as many as 300 race teams in Canada and the United States can compete in hundreds of events this season with little or no changes to equipment.
For those that are unfamiliar with Late Model racing in Canada, the "Series ACT Castrol" in Quebec and Ontario will be a new tour to keep your eye on this summer. The series is actually entering its third year of operation, but many changes in management, scheduling, rules, and new support from Vermont-based ACT will give things a whole new look. The announcement that Castrol Canada will return as the series' title sponsor gave a nice jolt of excitement to fans and race teams, and a region-leading end-of-season point fund will surely drive the competition level up. Defending champion Donald Theetge of Boischatel, QC will gun for the $10,000 championship purse, but he'll have to hold off inaugural champion Sylvain Lacombe - better known north of the border as "The Terror of Terrebonne".
The two drivers have combined to win 18 of the series' 28 races held since the start of the 2005 season, and each driver has been strong enough to earn a feature victory on the ACT Late Model Tour. Theetge beat the Americans at the 5/8-mile Circuit Ste-Croix in 2006, while Lacombe accomplished the same feat three years earlier. Lacombe also has the distinction of being one of only two Canadians (the other is Patrick Laperle) to win a "weekly series" event in the ACT Late Model division. In August 2002, when Airborne Speedway operated under the ACT banner, Lacombe beat multi-time ACT king Phil Scott on the outside to score a 100-lap upset victory at the Plattsburgh, NY speedplant.
Laperle has reported that he will do most of his racing with ACT in 2007, following a split with long-time racing partners Julio and Rita Miglioli. Laperle will pick and choose his schedule as the year progresses, but has stated that much of his focus will be on the Series ACT Castrol. The St-Denis, QC driver ranks third in all-time ACT Late Model Tour wins (9), and has finished as high as second (in 2002) and third (in 2004) in point standings. Laperle has in his inventory a well-proven car built by Dale Shaw and a new chassis built by multi-time ACT champion Junior Hanley. Laperle has yet to decide if he will compete on the entire Castrol championship schedule, but will certainly be a threat for the win in every event he does enter.
Challenging the top dogs will be two-time Series ACT Castrol winner Jean-Francois Dery of Val-Belair, QC and Karl Allard of St-Felicien, QC, who has also won a pair of Castrol features. Dery qualified for the New England Dodge Dealers Milk Bowl at Thunder Road in 2006, but was committed to running a "home" race in Quebec on the rain-postponed make-up date for the Milk Bowl. Allard has run very successfully in a limited number of ACT Late Model Tour events since the late 1990s, was a four-time champion of the former ADL Tobacco Series in Quebec and has appeared on ESPN's Winter X-Games as a top snowmobile rider.
Representing the "old guard" of ACT drivers will be "Iron Man" Claude Leclerc of Montreal and "The Bullet" Yvon Bedard of St-Nicholas, QC. Leclerc, now 65 years young, was a six-time winner on the ACT Pro Stock Tour (1979-95), and Bedard was a solid campaigner on that series for 15 years before winning the "PROLAB ProCar" championship in Quebec in 1996. Other drivers to watch include Martin Lacombe of Terrebonne, Normand Lavigeur of Laval, part-time ACT Late Model Tour racer Daniel Bergeron of St-Benoit de Mirabel, and veteran racer and former CASCAR Sportsman Series champion Andre Coursol of St-Jerome.
Twelve championship events will be held at the fast 4/10-mile Autodrome Montmagny; Autodrome St-Eustache, located minutes outside of Montreal; the tough-as-nails Circuit Ste-Croix; the brand-new, progressively-banked Autodrome Chaudiere in Vallee-Jonction, QC; and at Capital City Speedway in the nation's capital, Ottawa, Ontario - the series' first trip outside "La Belle Province" of Quebec. Highlight events include ACTion Super Series races at Ste-Croix (June 23/24) and St-Eustache (July 28), held in conjunction with the ACT Late Model Tour. The season culminates with the "Montmagny 250" on August 25/26 at Autodrome Montmagny, and the 13th annual "Cari-All 300" at Autodrome St-Eustache on September 22/23.
There is as much to be excited about in Canadian Late Model racing this year as there is in the States, and the future of Quebec racing has never looked brighter.
In terms of "new talent", the NAPA Auto Parts Tiger Sportsman division at Barre, VT's Thunder Road is looking very strong this season. A healthy mix of returning veterans and enthusastic rookies will tackle the Sportsman class, and could steal some headlines this summer. Veteran driver Bob Adams of Milton, VT will climb behind the wheel for the first time in nearly five years this season. Adams has experience at Thunder Road, Airborne Speedway, and the former Catamount Stadium, and previously raced in the Grand American division of the 1970s and the Renegade division earlier this decade.
Even farther removed from competition is Rick Garand of Middlesex, who hasn't been in a race car since 1996. Garand won three features and nearly stole the Thunder Road championship as a Flying Tiger rookie in 1995, and was a heavy hitter in the "Killer B" division before that. Reports have Garand sharing the driver's seat with cousin and former title contender Eric Pembroke, who has been on the sidelines since 2003. Pembroke has a pair of Thunder Road wins to his credit, the last coming in 2000.
Reports also have hometown driver David Finck making a return to the Barre highbanks this year. Finck, idle since the 2000 season, was a top threat in the late 1990s and has Tiger Sportsman Series victories at Thunder Road and Airborne Speedway to his credit.
Leading the Sportsman rookie parade is 2006 Allen Lumber Street Stock champion Eric Badore of Milton. Badore has tested the Sportsman waters in each of the last two seasons, and will make a full-time run in 2007. Street Stock Rookie of the Year Shawn Sicard of Barre will try to become just the second driver to win consecutive rookie titles at Thunder Road. (Who was the first? Find in out in the "Did you know...?" segment!) Sicard has a brand-new Sportsman chassis built by his multi-time champion father-in-law, Chuck Beede. Fellow past Street Stock Rookie of the Year Joel Hodgdon of Craftsbury, Street Stock feature winner T.J. Ingerson of Lisbon, NH, Riverside Speedway ace Derrick O'Donnell of Bradford, and veteran Street Stock racer Tim Potter of Plainfield will also make a charge for the freshman crown. Potter's brother, Matt, was the 2006 Thunder Road Tiger Sportsman Rookie of the Year.
It appears that the would-be contenders for the Power Shift Junkyard Warrior title at Thunder Road have emerged from hibernation, as the division's membership roster has expanded recently. With 2006 King of the Road Maynard Bartlett, Jr. headed to the Street Stocks, the title chase is wide open. Bunker Hodgdon, III (Bunker the third, mind you) is the leading candidate to fill Bartlett's shoes. Hodgdon was a three-time winner in 2006 and finished in the top-five an impressive 11 times. Finishing in any position 11 times is impressive in the Warrior division, and jealous competitors might have a bullseye painted on Hodgdon's Volkswagen.
Also returning for another try are feature winners Jamie Davis, Frank Sanborn, and "The Other" David Whitcomb of Elmore (not to be confused with the Late Model driver of the same name). Dale Bickford, although winless in 2006, also knows how to get around. A product of special "skills" training from driver coach Danny Bigelow combined with nearly a decade's worth of effort in the Riverside Speedway Enduros, Bickford grabbed six top-fives last year, including three runner-up finishes.
Joining the veteran bunch (and likely off their collective rockers) are newcomers Stephen Belitsos of Northfield, Fred Schroeder of Bristol, and Kerri Sanborn of Graniteville. Good luck, and godspeed, Warrior newbies!
Did you know...?
-Claude Leclerc, returning to ACT racing on a regular basis this year, will try to set the competitive example for the Series ACT Castrol young guns. Leclerc was known as ACT's "Iron Man" during his career with the former ACT Pro Stock Tour, attempting to qualify for 351 of the 353 events held from 1979 to 1992. Leclerc cut back to a 75% schedule from 1993-95, and raced with CASCAR and various other series until joining what is now the Series ACT Castrol in 2005. During his previous ACT career, Leclerc's first and last victories came in the Spring Green - at two different race tracks. The first came in the 1983 edition at Catamount Stadium in Milton, VT. After Catamount closed in 1987, the race eventually moved to Airborne Speedway in Plattsburgh, NY. Leclerc became the first driver to win the race at Airborne, defeating legends Jean-Paul Cabana and Robbie Crouch in 1990.
-The ACT Late Model division's rules package has been a big hit in northern New England and Canada, but it seems to be working elsewhere, too. Dennis Botticello reeled off three wins at Waterford (CT) Speedbowl in 2005 using an ACT-legal car against Waterford regulars, and Ryan Vanasse took a feature win at Seekonk (MA) Speedway using his Tour car in 2006. Ben Rowe has already seen action this season, competing in the Pro Late Model class at South Alabama Speedway's "The Rattler" weekend in early March. Rowe set fast time in qualifying with his Richard Moody Racing ACT ride and was leading the main event when spun by another competitor. Rowe recovered to finish fifth.
-It was mentioned earlier that Shawn Sicard will attempt to become only the second driver to ever win back-to-back Rookie of the Year titles at Thunder Road. So who was the first? At just 16 years old, Ryan Nolin won the Street Stock Rookie of the Year award (and the Tri-State Series championship) in 2002. The following season, Nolin was the Tiger Sportsman division's top newcomer. And just for fun, Nolin added the Late Model rookie trophy to his mantle in 2005. Other drivers to win ROTY awards in two divisions (but not consecutively) are Eric Williams, Scott Dragon, John Donahue, Marcel Gravel, Jamie Fisher, Scott Payea, Steve Renaudette, Mark Eddy, Jay Laquerre, Bubba Hickory, Travis Calkins, and Nick Sweet.