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ACT late models in action

ACTion News - April 11, 2007 -by Justin St. Louis With nothing else to do but get the snow shovel out of its barely-used spot in the storage shed, it's looking more and more like "prediction time" than it is Spring. Before the nay-sayers and the hem-hawers raise a fuss, note this preface: The following predictions are nothing more than the wild guesses of a stock car racing fan with a weekly news column. Any resemblance to actual future events - in whole or in part - is purely coincidental. Basically, if I get anywhere close to being correct, it will surely be the first time. And probably the last. Prediction #1: I think that Phil Scott will either win the ACT Late Model division championship at Barre, VT's Thunder Road Int'l Speedbowl in 2007, or he will fail to finish in the top five overall. Senator Scott has been somewhat "hit-or-miss" since winning his most recent "King of the Road" crown in 2002, and could stand to "hit" this season. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Scott was good for anywhere between two and four feature victories every year, and championships were seemingly his to lose. In 2002, the year he won his third championship at "The Road", Scott's finishing average was a ridiculously low 4.077 in the 13 championship-counting events. Results have curtailed a bit since, and only at the end of last year did the veteran Middlesex racer begin to flirt with victory in nearly every race again, like he did in that much-heralded 2002 season. Look for Phil Scott to either continue with the hot streak he ended 2006 on, or drop off the championship radar.

Prediction #2: Dwayne Lanphear, returning from a five-year retirement this season, will not win the Thunder Road championship. Lanphear is paired with a formidable team in Thompson Motorsports, and is certainly no slouch behind the wheel, but not having turned a wheel in five years can set a guy back. With John Donahue in the seat, the Casella Waste Management car Lanphear will drive has visited the winner's circle in each of the last two seasons. Therefore, problems will likely not arise from lackluster equipment, but from a driver that may have some bugs to work out. Since Lanphear's last race, engine rules have changed, tires have changed, there are new drivers to figure out, other returning veterans to shake off, and there's that big ugly thing they call "The Widowmaker" to get reacquainted with. Dwayne Lanphear used to get it done in fine style at Thunder Road... but can he still? I think he'll be in the Top 10 at year's end with a feature win or two, but inconsistencies usually stroll hand-in-hand with once-mothballed athletes. Prediction #3: Robbie Crouch will return to health in time for the TD Banknorth 250 at Oxford Plains (ME) Speedway on July 22, and take the world by storm as he finally carries the checkers at the event. Wishful thinking, perhaps, but a situation similar to that would be the feel-good story of the century. Crouch, the six-time American-Canadian Tour champion, was recently diagnosed with prostate cancer, and will likely miss much or all of the 2007 racing season. Crouch was slated to end his decade-long retirement at the helm of David Storey's potent Chevrolet, and was expected to challenge for Jean-Paul Cyr's ACT Late Model Tour title. It appears that those plans will now be on hold indefinitely. Fortunately for Crouch, success rates for the treatment and cure of the disease are high. Get well soon, Robbie! Prediction #4: The Rookie of the Year battles will be sensational across the board in 2007. The NAPA Tiger Sportsman division has perhaps the deepest talent pool of incoming freshman that it has ever had, while a pair of rookies clearly lead the way in Thunder Road's Late Models. I predict that Joel Hodgdon will use the momentum he built in his selected Sportsman outings last year to capture the crown in that division, but the Late Model war will be too close to call. Veteran Sportsman campaigners Doug Murphy and Chip Grenier have entered the Late Model fray, and will certainly have fans talking this season. The pair have more than 20 feature victories between them, and should make things entertaining until the final lap of the year. You're on your own for this one, folks. And finally, prediction #5: Jean-Paul Cyr will not take his fifth consecutive ACT Late Model Tour championship. Cyr has dominated since 2003, taking a dozen wins and all four championships in that time span, but won't quite get it done this year. Cyr has had a good run, but he'll have too much competition this year - and it may not be from who you expect. More than 60 teams are expected to attempt qualifying at the season opener at Oxford on April 28, and Cyr could just as easily fail to make the field as he could win the feature event. Who's to say an underdog like Ron Henry or Ryan Vanasse, who each have had success at Oxford, won't steal the final transfer spot in the "B" feature, make the field, and then go out and win the whole show? Cyr could face that scenario, or he could get flat-out trumped by drivers like Brian Hoar, Patrick Laperle, Ben Rowe, or Brent Dragon. In fact, I predict that - finally! - it's Brent Dragon's year to win the Tour championship. After finishing second three times, nobody wants it more badly than Dragon, and nobody (save for Cyr) has been more consistently capable off pulling it off. Dragon will join his father, the legendary Harmon "Beaver" Dragon as an ACT champion in 2007. Did you know...? -Beginning on April 26, 1992, the first 57 races of the ACT Late Model Tour were all won by drivers that call Vermont their home. Mark Lamberton of Mooers Forks, NY ended the streak at his home track, Airborne Speedway (Plattsburgh, NY), on June 26, 1999. Just five races later, Patrick Laperle became the first driver from Canada (specifically, Quebec) to win, as he took down the Fall Foliage 200 at Airborne on Sept. 12. Only six days after that, another Quebecois driver, this time Alex Gingras, took a victory at Autodrome St-Felicien. Since then, New Hampshire drivers Tracie Bellerose, Kenny Dufour, Roger Brown, and Dale Shaw have taken wins, as have Ryan Moore, Ricky Rolfe, Ben Rowe, and Shawn Martin of Maine; Sylvain Lacombe, Laperle, and Donald Theetge of Quebec; D.J. Kennington of Ontario, and A.J. Begin of Massachusetts. -That first-ever Vermonter to win on the Tour was "Stormin'" Norm Andrews of Warren, and the race was held at Sanair Super Speedway in St-Pie, Quebec. Two years and four days earlier, Andrews won the first-ever event of what became known as the Tiger Sportsman Series. That race was also held at the .89km Sanair tri-oval. -In 87 total events on the Tiger Sportsman Series, which has sporadically run in one form or another since 1990, Vermonters have won all but six events. Hometown driver Jerry Winch won at Plattsburgh, NY's Airborne Speedway on August 5, 2000 to break the mold. Following behind were fellow Plattsburgh racers Bucko Branham (2003) and Robin Wood (2005 and 2006), and New Hampshire racers Roger Brown (2002) and Joe Tetreault (2005). Wood was also the first non-Vermonter to win the series championship in 2005. -The Allen Lumber Street Stocks occasionally had a mini-tour of their own, running 21 events from 1995 to 2005. Vermonters dominated in the win category there as well, taking all but five events. Jamy Begor, Rob Clark, and Eli Beshaw represented New York, while Ron DeRosia and Nick Pilotte carried the New Hampshire banner. Interestingly, Begor, Clark, and DeRosia swept the three events held in 1998, shutting the Green Mountain State out of the winner's circle.