ACT
ACTion News
The ACT Late Model practice was "Mother Natured-out" at Oxford Plains (ME) Speedway on Saturday, so officials at Plattsburgh, NY's Airborne Speedway opened their gates for ACT teams on Sunday. Oxford will host the ACT Late Model Tour season opener this weekend, and while practicing there may have been a bit more beneficial, Airborne's test-and-tune was a good one for the teams that showed. Six-time and defending champion Jean-Paul Cyr was among the fastest of the eleven drivers that took part in the session, clocking in lap times in the 17.3-seconds range. "Rocket" Roger Brown and Eric Chase were also quick, as was returning five-time champion Brian Hoar. Others turning laps included Ryan Nolin, Jamie Fisher, Brent Dragon, Scott Dragon, Joey Becker, Pete Potvin, and Quebec veteran Claude Leclerc.

Fisher was pleased with the performance of his car. The driver that Ken Squier dubbed "The Hurricane" used his 2006 ride while a new chassis is being completed. "The car feels really good, but it's always hard here in turns three and four," he said. "There are some bumps that you have to stay up above, and the pavement on the outside lane doesn't grip quite as much. But we're really good in turns one and two and really good on the straightaways."

Fisher narrowly lost the Tour championship in 2001 and was "King of the Road" in 2003, but has fallen out of championship-contender status of late, sometimes struggling to break the top ten in certain events. His veteran team began to rebuild its momentum late in the going last season, but offered this perspective on why he has dropped back some: "I don't think anything has really happened [to our team], but everyone else got a lot better. With these cars all being so similar with shocks, springs, and all the stuff you can buy, it's really hard to get an edge now."

The Shelburne, VT racer has had the financial backing of S.D. Ireland Brothers Concrete since 1995, and was a powerhouse from his days in the Allen Lumber Street Stock division through his championship season four years ago. As the Late Model rules package and ACT's "spec" engine program developed to take more of their current form, Fisher became a bit less of a threat.

"Before [the current rules package], you could say that more money meant more speed, but that's not the case anymore. I don't know if that's what helped us out so much before, but it kept us ahead of some people. Now everbody's on the same playing field."

With a new mount in the garage and a more confident attitude, Fisher feels that he and his team are ready to turn heads again. "We're going for the championship," he said bluntly. "Lefthander came out with a new chassis design this year, and I thought we should get it just so we can try and get even better. The competition is so close we needed to try something extra. Whether that's what we needed to do or not, we'll find out."

If the new chassis works for Fisher, look for hurricane warnings all over New England and Canada this summer. The outside groove might get stormed up like it used to.

***

"Rocket" Roger Brown of Lancaster, NH was very happy with his car at Airborne. "We're very good today. This is the best we've ever been at this track by far," he said. "The rear-end, body, and all the bolt-on parts are new. We took a lot of stuff off of this car and put it on our older car."

Brown's "older car", you might recall, was put into semi-retirement after a wild crash on the Thunder Road frontstretch in 2005. While leading the Bond Auto Labor Day Classic 200, Brown bounced off a lapped car and pounded the wall. The car was bent from stem to stern and removed Brown from championship contention. After almost two years' worth of resuscitation, the car's heart is beating again.

"She lived," smiled Brown. "She lived, and she's going back to Thunder Road."

***

Lee USA (NH) Speedway held its traditionally exciting season opener last weekend, combining two great Lee traditions. For the first time, the New Hampshire Governor's Cup event and the Late Model Nationals were held as one 150-lap event. "Home" teams from Lee were joined by visitors including former Vermont Milk Bowl champion Dave Pembroke of Montpelier, VT, returning ACT veteran Jamie Aube of Bow, NH, and 16 year-old sensation D.J. Shaw of Center Conway, NH, last year's Late Model champion at White Mountain Motorsports Park.

Shaw won the event over veteran Wayne Helliwell, Jr. and Chicoutimi, Que. hotshoe Michael Lavoie. Pembroke won his qualifying heat, then ran in the top three for the opening stages of the feature event before finishing fifth. After making big gains from Saturday's practice session at the track, Aube finished eighth in his Late Model maiden voyage.

***

The troops will be headed out to Thunder Road in a couple of weeks to open the 48th season of racing at the historic oval. Quite literally, in a couple of cases.

A pair of drivers will be flying the nation's colors this season in the Late Model division. Former NAPA Tiger Sportsman champion John Donahue has joined forces with car owner Kendall Roberts and the Army National Guard. The Guard will sponsor a pair of Ford Fusions in Donahue's efforts toward the "King of the Road" crown, and will also be on the team's cars for all five Oxford Late Model Challenge series events and all US events on the ACT Late Model Tour.

Donahue's announcement broke last week, and follows the arrival of current Sportsman champion Shawn Fleury to the Late Model ranks. Fleury, with car owner Scott Fearn, will retain the support of the Vermont Army National Guard. Fleury's 2006 Sportsman title bid was the first season for the partnership.

***

Did you know...?

-D.J. Kennington of London, ON made his Busch Series debut at Phoenix Int'l Raceway last weekend. Kennington becomes the fourth driver with an ACT Late Model division victory to take part in that series, joining Dale Shaw, Ryan Moore, and Kevin Lepage. Kennington won the New England Dodge Dealers National 150 in his only ACT start (to date) at Lee USA in September 2004, while Shaw took a victory a month earlier at Oxford Plains. Moore was the 2002 ACT Rookie of the Year, and owns victories at Oxford, White Mountain, and Thunder Road. Lepage won the "Mini Bowl" at the Vermont Milk Bowl at Thunder Road in 1993. The race counted for the Thunder Road championship, rather than the ACT Late Model Tour. Lepage also has two Busch Series victories.

-On seven different occasions, a driver has taken his first ACT Late Model Tour victory at a track hosting a series event for the first time. In 1992, the first year of the Tour, Sanair Super Speedway, Airborne Speedway, Thunder Road, and Beech Ridge Motor Speedway each held their first events on the series. In those events, Norm Andrews (Sanair), Brian Hoar (Airborne), Greg "Burger" Blake (Thunder Road), and Dave Whitcomb (Beech Ridge) took their first career wins. Stacy Cahoon's first ACT win came at Oxford Plains in the track's first series event in May 1995, followed by Phil Scott at Canaan Fair Speedway in September 1997 and Cris Michaud at what is now All-Star Speedway in Epping, NH in April 2001. The ACT Late Model Tour visits Autodrome Ste-Eustache (Montreal, Que.) on July 28 and Kawartha Downs Speedway (Kawartha, ON) on September 15. Let's see if history can repeat itself again!

-The record for first-time winners in an ACT Late Model Tour season is six, set in 2004. Joining Kennington and Shaw that season were Joey Becker (Thunder Road), Roger Brown (Waterford Speedbowl), Shawn Martin (Oxford), and Steve Fisher (Seekonk Speedway).