Drop The Green/ACTion News - 4/18/07
-by Justin St. Louis
By now, everyone knows that American-Canadian Tour racing is one of the best things going in short track racing these days. That was not intended to be a statement of boastfulness, but rather an objective, realistic look at things. As one of ACT's competing divisions is faced with constantly changing rules, rising costs, and a schedule lacking excitement when compared to past seasons, quite a few drivers took a look at ACT as an affordable and fun way to get their fix. When another one of ACT's competitors announced a race schedule so exponentially larger than last year it would double or triple travel budgets, teams from that series also gave ACT some thought.
Defection is not a new scenario in short track racing, and ACT has been involved in this same type of situation before - on both sides. Following a bitter divorce from NASCAR North sanction in 1985, Tour Director Tom Curley created the American-Canadian Tour to give racers a home. When NASCAR returned in 1987 with what is now the Busch East Series, Curley's ACT threw out its rulebook, abandoning the steel-bodied Late Model Sportsman-type car and switching to the lighter, faster, sleeker Pro Stock-type chassis and bodies used by the American Speed Association, the southern All-Pro Series, and many New England tracks. Naturally, this created some controversy, and several teams defected back to NASCAR. Others, however, were drawn in from their homes at Lee USA, Hudson, Star, Oxford Plains, Wiscasset, Beech Ridge, Seekonk, and other venues to compete with ACT against similar cars and rules packages.

Folks, that didn't happen by mistake.
Curley had visions of a more unified rulebook to govern pavement Late Model racing in the 1980s and 1990s, and it worked quite successfully until a financial collapse set things back in the winter of 1995-96. By then, however, a new Sportsman class had been built at ACT's home tracks, and picked up in 1996 where the Pro Stock-type tour had left off. Through years of painstaking tests, tweaking of rulebooks, conferences, and convincing track owners and promoters to try his new product, Curley has developed the ACT Late Model Tour of today. Affordable and identical "spec" parts, including engines, tires, shock absorbers, and bodies have been phased in to ACT, its home track at Thunder Road in Barre, VT, and over a half-dozen other speedways in the US and Canada over a manageable period of time.
The result of this means that the door is open for as many as 250 teams to compete with ACT this season, and quality drivers like Brian Hoar, Ben Rowe, Mike Rowe, Jamie Aube, Chuck LaChance, Kip Stockwell, Ricky Rolfe, Scott Robbins, Tim Brackett, Tommy Tompkins, and scores of others have made the switch from other series and tracks to the ACT waters on a full-time or part-time basis.
Have you not heard of some of those drivers? Hoar and Stockwell should be familiar to Thunder Road fans, as they were pioneers of the "new" tour in 1996 (it actually began in 1992 as an offshoot of the Pro Stocks). Both have been running the Busch East Series since the late 1990s. Hoar is a five-time ACT Late Model Tour champion, and was the New Hampshire Int'l Speedway track champion last year. Stockwell is a veteran racer with strong ties to (and many victories at) Thunder Road.
Aube, both Rowes, and Robbins have eight TD Banknorth 250 victories between them, and all but Robbins have been successful in ACT competition in past years. LaChance has been one of Maine's toughest independent racers over the last 15 years. Rolfe is a former ACT winner and multi-divisional champion at Oxford, and Brackett is a former Oxford champion that has made headlines in Maine for 20 years. Tompkins is a two-division star at Oxford Plains (ME) Speedway, and has been winning all kinds of races for over a decade.
Now that you know their names, expect to see these drivers at the New England Dodge Dealers 150 at Oxford on April 28. Joining them will be about, oh, 50 other racers trying to get their seasons started off the right way. Unlike last week's column, there won't be any predictions made for the Oxford opener. It's going to be hard enough to qualify for the show, winning will just be a bonus.
Did you know...?
-Only twice in the 15-year history of the ACT Late Model Tour has the opening day race winner failed to rank among the top ten in points at the end of the season, and only five times has the winner been outside the top three. Dennis Demers won the 1994 season opener at Airborne Speedway in 1994, but ran a part-time schedule while focusing on a rookie effort in the former ACT Pro Stock Tour. Cris Michaud kicked off 2005 with a victory at Lee USA Speedway, but elected to concentrate on a successful bid for the Thunder Road championship instead. Norm Andrews won at Sanair Super Speedway in 1992 before finishing 8th overall, Greg "Burger" Blake finished 6th overall after winning the opener at Thunder Road, and Scott Dragon finished 10th after his opening day win at Thunder Road in 2003. Dragon, however, was in championship contention late in the season before serving a 100-point penalty for using illegal shocks. All other opening day winners have finished first, second, or third in points - Demers (winner at Airborne) was third in 1993, Jean-Paul Cyr was the champion after victories at Circuit Ste-Croix in 1996 and Thunder Road in 2004 and 2006, Brian Hoar (Thunder Road) won the title in 1997, Chris Fisher (Airborne) was the runner-up in 1998, Phil Scott and Tracie Bellerose finished third in consecutive seasons after winning at Thunder Road in 1999 and 2000, Michaud was third after a victory at Star Speedway in 2001, and Patrick Laperle finished second overall after winning the lid-lifter at Star in 2002.
-In a drastically different outcome of the same statistic, the opening day Late Model division winner at Thunder Road (since the division began in 1992) has only won the track championship twice. Tracie Bellerose pulled it off in 2000, while Phil Scott did it in 2002.   Only five times since 1982 has it happened in the NAPA Tiger Sportsman division: Joey Laquerre in 1982, Greg "Burger" Blake in 1989, Chet DeVarney, Jr. in 1993, Eric Williams in 1994, and Shawn Fleury in 2005. The Allen Lumber Street Stocks have seen only Wayne Wojtyna in 1993 and Ryan Dodge in 1997 pull it off, and like Wojtyna in the Streets, inaugural Power Shift Online Junkyard Warrior champion Seamus Curley took his only win in the division's first-ever event in 2003.
-The former ACT Pro Stock Tour had the opening day winner-turned-champion thing in a few instances, as well. Harmon "Beaver" Dragon won the series' first-ever event at Catamount Stadium in Milton, VT in 1979, then went on to claim the Tour championship. Dick McCabe pulled off the same feat at Oxford in 1981, and Junior Hanley repeated McCabe's Oxford win in 1993. In a bit of a stretch, Hector Leclair won the Tour opener at Catamount in 1982, and later captured the Late Model Sportsman championship at the 1/3-mile speedway. Does that count? If it does, then add Jeff Taylor's win in 1994 at Oxford, which also led that track's Pro Stock championship.