Contributed by: ACT Staff
ACTion News – Wednesday, October 24, 2007
-by Justin St. Louis
Joey Becker had a good season in the American-Canadian Tour (ACT) Late Model division at Thunder Road, maybe his best one yet.
“I’d say it was,” he said. “It sort of depends on how you look at the numbers, though. I almost think we ran better last year, but we ended up better this year. It was weird how it worked out.”
A month shy of his 34th birthday, Becker is paving the way for Thunder Road’s “new breed” of Late Model talent. Having just completed his fifth season steering the familiar #16 Richard Green Trucking Fords out of the far northern reaches of Vermont’s Franklin County, he finished a surprising third in the “King of the Road” championship race at Thunder Road, and has placed himself among the elite Late Model title contenders. In fact, the effort was so surprising it went virtually unnoticed.
“Some of the newspapers and radio stations first reported that Jamie Fisher had finished third in points, and I think it’s because they didn’t even consider me to be a contender (entering the Thunder Road finale),” Becker laughed. “Jamie and Dave (Pembroke – the eventual champion) and (Cris) Michaud were in such a tight battle, the media sort of forgot about me. That’s okay, that means there’s no pressure on us. That’s how I like it, that’s how my crew guys like it. We just show up and do our job, and then people say ‘Where the heck did you come from?’ when it’s all over.”
The numbers Becker spoke of initially were impressive: An opening-day victory at the Casella Mother’s Day event in May highlighted the year’s eight top-ten finishes and three top-fives in 14 starts, and a third-place showing in points was a career best. But the Jeffersonville, VT racer was right, the statistics were a little strange. In the same number of events in 2006, Becker posted two more finishes in both the top-five and top-ten, but still ranked only fifth overall.
“I think the difference is that nobody had that outstanding, record-setting year this season,” Becker philosophized.
And again, he’s right: Dave Whitcomb, with just six top-fives, led all drivers in the Late Model class at Thunder Road, and finished seventh in points. Pembroke’s title-winning season saw only five top-fives, as did Michaud’s runner-up campaign. Marcel Gravel and Kip Stockwell also earned five. By comparison, 2006 “King of the Road” Chad Wheeler had a whopping nine top-fives, as did Michaud the year before that. In 2004, Michaud had an even-better 10.
“It’s tough to win races when everyone is so good all of the time,” said Becker. “Look at the cars that didn’t qualify for the Milk Bowl this year, that should tell you how hard it is to be successful at this level.” Included on the list of DNQs at the Chittenden Milk Bowl were Trampas Demers and John Donahue – winners of the two most recent events at Thunder Road prior to the Milk Bowl.
So, as far under the radar as he has been, how does Becker feel his team will stack up against the “headliners” in 2008?
“We’re coming out fighting for the championship from day one,” he said. Given his quiet success throughout the past two seasons – say nothing of his sometimes dominant victories in the NAPA Tiger Sportsman division years ago – it seems like Becker knows how to do just that.
Unfortunately, last week’s deadline prevented us from touching on the big news regarding the True Value Modified Racing Series event at Thunder Road’s Mekkelsen RV Memorial Day Classic, May 26, 2008, but hey, we’ve got plenty of time now! The TVMRS will be sharing the doubleheader bill with Thunder Road’s Late Models, each running a 100-lap main event.
Series founder and competitor Jack Bateman tested his open-wheeled machine at “The Nation’s Site of Excitement” last week, and inked the date with Thunder Road bossman Tom Curley on the spot.
“I wanted to test my Modified at the track before we made the decision to have a race there, and it went extremely well, better than I expected,” said Bateman.
Using old tires, Bateman’s lap times were in the 12.6-second range – three-tenths of a second quicker than the current Late Model track record held by Joey Polewarczyk. “It wouldn’t surprise me to see lap times in the 12.1s and 12.2s for cars on new tires,” said Bateman excitedly. “If the guys are really hooked up, the laps could be even faster.”
Top True Value Modified Racing Series drivers include three-time series Champion Kirk Alexander of West Swanzey, NH, 2006 Champion Dwight Jarvis of Ascutney, VT, Windsor, CT’s Les Hinckley, Andy Seuss of Hampstead, NH, and Massachusetts drivers Louie Mechalides and Vinnie “Who?” Annarummo. Top-ten Série ACT Castrol driver Marc-André Cliche of Vallée-Jct., QC is also a part-time racer with the series.
The last Modified race at Thunder Road was in June 1965, won by former National Champion Dick Nephew of Mooers Forks, NY. Canadian legend Jean-Paul Cabana won the Memorial Day Classic in 1965 at the wheel of a Modified car, as well. A special “match race” was held at Thunder Road ten years later between the full-bodied Late Model Sportsman car of Dave Dion and the open-wheeled Modified of Donnie “The Golden Jet” Miller – Miller won in a landslide. A full list of race winners in open-wheel Modified events held in Vermont is currently available at www.thunderroadspeedbowl.com.
We spoke with Ryan Vanasse, who was one of 31 Late Models in the pits at the Lee USA Speedway “Oktoberfest” last weekend. Vanasse reports that after a last-lap bout with another car, he spun from the second position in his qualifying heat and was forced to start on the tail for the feature. By the lap 10 mark of the 50-lapper, he was just outside the top ten and making headway when the steering rack began to stick on his Team V Transportation car.
Finally, with about six laps remaining, the rack stuck completely, spinning the car out of sixth place in Turn 2. After a trip to pit road under the caution flag, the crew freed up the steering enough for Vanasse to finish the race and then watched their driver march from 23rd at the restart to finish 15th.
“It was a typical way to end our season,” Vanasse lamented, “but we ran really well and got the car figured out for next year.”
Vanasse, who along with maybe Ron Henry, Jamie Aube, Brian Hoar, and Scott Dragon, helped carry the banner for drivers with the worst luck all season, used his back-up car at Lee, the car he campaigned full-time on the ACT Late Model Tour in 2006. His primary ride for 2007, a Race Basics chassis, has been overhauled and dialed in for another go next season.
Vanasse also reports that Jimmy “Scruffy” Linardy, one of the most likeable guys in northeastern short track racing, was in attendance at the Oktoberfest, running his ACT #77 car to a strong 13th-place finish. “He ran well,” relayed Vanasse.
Linardy, in his first full year of Late Model racing, qualified for a pair of ACT Late Model Tour events in 2007, at Airborne Speedway in May and at the season-closing New England Dodge Dealers 150 at Oxford Plains Speedway a few weeks back. The former A.J. Begin crewmember and Lee USA Roadrunner (four-cylinder) driver finished 22nd at Airborne and 27th in Oxford, making solid gains every time out on the track.
Incidentally, multi-time Lee USA Speedway Track Champion J.R. Baril won the race. Other notables included Seekonk Speedway star Gerry DeGasparre (5th), Oxford Plains Speedway regular T.J. Watson (7th), former Lee USA Champion Ricky Wolf, Jr. (10th), White Mountain Motorsports Park feature winner and part-time ACT Late Model Tour competitor Oren Remick (12th), TD Banknorth 250 runner-up Dale Verrill (20th), former ACT Late Model Tour Rookie of the Year Mark Anzalone, Jr. (24th), and Mark Childs, Jr. (27th) and Miles Chipman (30th), each of whom tested ACT waters in 2007. Andy Seuss won the True Value Modified Racing Series season finale.
Did you know…?
-Eight full-time Thunder Road Late Model competitors earned the best points finishes of their careers in 2007. Champion Dave Pembroke and third-place Joey Becker led the way, ahead of Rookie of the Year Chip Grenier (6th overall), Mike “Beetle” Bailey (8th), Marcel Gravel (12th), Shawn Fleury (13th), Brooks Clark (23rd), Doug Murphy (24th). Their previous bests had been Pembroke: 2nd in 2004; Becker: 5th in 2006; Bailey: 15th in 2006; Gravel: 13th in 2006; and Fleury: 20th in 1999. Grenier, Clark, and Murphy had never attempted more than two races in a season prior to 2007.
-The 29 drivers that comprised the finishing order of the 44th Annual Chittenden Milk Bowl at Thunder Road in September have combined for – get this – no fewer than 35 touring series championships and at least 29 track championships. That does not take into account Rookie of the Year titles, mini-series titles (like Roger Brown’s L/A Harley-Davidson Challenge championship this year, or Jean-Paul Cyr’s Am/Can Challenge title in 1996), state championships, or titles in a “support” division like the NAPA Tiger Sportsman, Allen Lumber Street Stock, or Power Shift Warrior classes. Add in the titles from the drivers that failed to qualify, and the numbers top 40 and 35, respectively.
-Nick Sweet became the first Barre, VT driver to win the Thunder Road Sportsman title since, well, technically he’s the first. Greg “Burger” Blake was the 1989 Thunder Road Champion, but lives just across the line in East Barre. Beede brothers Chuck (1985) and Dan (1987) have long claimed Williamstown and/or Graniteville their homes, although when both men were in their ACT Tour days in the late ’80s and early ‘90s, they were “relocated” by the media the Barre. Bobby Therrien is the first Street Stock champ from the town of Hinesburg, VT, and is the third Chittenden County resident to win the crown. Before him were Joe Small (Milton – 2004-05) and Jason Gibbs (1994). Bunker Hodgdon is the second Hardwick, VT driver in a row to win the Warrior title, following Maynard Bartlett, Jr.