Contributed by: ACT Staff
ACTion News – Wednesday, March 26, 2008
-by Justin St. Louis
The American-Canadian Tour stock car racing season begins in less than a month at New Hampshire’s Lee USA Speedway. The fast 3/8-mile oval has been home to some great racers over the years, including champions Paul Richardson, Buzzie Bezanson, Scott Bonney, Ricky Wolf, Jr., and J.R. Baril. Past and present Lee USA drivers that will be more familiar to ACT fans include Joey “Pole” Polewarczyk, A.J. Begin, Mark Anzalone, and the last ACT runner-up at Lee, Jeremy Harclerode of Newmarket, NH.
Harclerode used his home-track experience in July 2006 to finish second to winner Ben Rowe, beating multi-time ACT race winner Mark Lamberton, seven-time ACT Champion Jean-Paul Cyr, and ageless veteran Joey Laquerre. The Lee USA Late Models run under a rulebook nearly identical to ACT’s, and have always been very competitive both at home and away.
But, they’ll be looking to settle a score and finally take their first ACT win at home. In addition to Rowe’s 2006 victory, Cyr, Cris Michaud, Patrick Laperle, and Ontario pro D.J. Kennington have been ACT winners at Lee. As a sidebar, Vermont’s Ryan Nolin also won a pair of weekly events there last season.
Ricky Wolf, Jr. is one of the Lee veterans looking forward to breaking through and taking the first win, but his is a sticky situation. Wolf has called Lee USA Speedway home since the early 1990s, and was the 2004 Track Champion and the NASCAR New England Regional Champion. In 2008, though, he’ll be competing as an ACT Late Model Tour rookie for the Willoughby Motorsports team, running as a teammate to the legendary Bobby Dragon.
So, if Wolf were to win the NH Governor’s Cup 100 on Sunday, April 20, how would it be regarded? Is it a case of hometown-boy-makes-good, or is he now an “outsider” with ACT?
“Figuring that out would be a great problem to have,” Wolf laughed. “I think for now we’re just going to concentrate on qualifying for the show.”
Not one to rest on his laurels, Wolf expects a few growing pains during his first couple of months with the Tour, but is excited about racing against the rookie crop that has entered the 2008 season.
“I’ve raced against Tyler Cahoon once at White Mountain. That kid has this Late Model deal figured out,” Wolf said. “I’ve been to watch at Thunder Road a couple of times, and I was impressed with Nick Sweet and Matt White, too. It’s going to be fun battling them all for the rookie title. If I have one thing going for me to offset my inexperience at tracks other than Lee, it’s that I’ve got a great team behind me that has raced at almost every track on the schedule, and I’ve got a irreplaceable resource in my teammate, Bobby Dragon. He’s already flooded me with information, and I’m going to be asking a lot more questions.”
Wolf was recently on the first-ever iMassRacing internet radio/podcast talk show with host Marc Lemay, and he had an entertaining discussion about his racing background, his outlook for the 2008 season, and other interesting topics. (Shameless plug: this column’s author is scheduled to appear on the show soon, as well. Details soon.) To hear Wolf’s interview, visit www.iMassRadio.com, and check into the site often – Lemay has big plans for the show in the future.
A press release in late February discussed the positive growth that Barre, VT’s Thunder Road has seen during the off-season. The champions in each of the NAPA Tiger Sportsman, Allen Lumber Street Stock, and Power Shift Online Junkyard Warrior weekly divisions have decided to make a jump to the next level in 2008, each moving up with some stout competitors. Interestingly though, while the drivers change, we’ve learned that the equipment is going to stay somewhat the same.
Check this out: Sportsman Champion Nick Sweet has purchased the former Richard Moody Racing entry driven by Ben Rowe on the ACT Late Model Tour. In the transaction, Sweet sold his ’07 mount to Street Stock Champion Bobby Therrien. As Therrien graduated to the Sportsman ranks, the seat of his A.H. Fence Dodge Daytona became available. Warrior Champion Bunker Hodgdon, who had plans of driving a family-owned Ford Mustang in the Street Stock class this season, received a phone call from A.H. Fence’s Arny Hill, asking him to pilot the former Therrien ride. Sort of a neat little progression for three of Thunder Road’s four 2007 Kings.
“It’s definitely an amazing opportunity to drive that car,” said Hodgdon. “We’re very excited and believe we will have one heck of a year.”
Mark the number of full-season entries for the ACT Late Model Tour up to 27, a remarkable showing, and more than last year. The five most recent entries to have come across the desk are nothing to scoff at, either: Patrick Laperle, Phil Scott, Leon Heckbert, John Donahue, and Brad Leighton.
St-Denis, QC driver Laperle was the 2007 Série ACT Castrol Champion and Chittenden Milk Bowl winner. Scott, of Middlesex, VT, is the 2002 ACT Late Model Tour Champion and owns three “King of the Road” crowns. Wilton, ME’s “Neon” Leon Heckbert is a cagey Oxford Plains Speedway veteran with a dozen Late Model wins there, including just a few weeks after coming out of retirement last summer. “Irish” John Donahue, of Graniteville, VT, won the Bond Auto Labor Day Classic 200 at Thunder Road last September for his first career ACT victory. Leighton is the 1995 ACT Champion and a two-time title winner of what is now the NASCAR Camping World East Series (back when it was called Busch North).
Meanwhile, the Série ACT Castrol boasts a healthy full-season roster as well. The five most recent entries include Québec racers Martin Lacombe of Terrebonne and Dany Ouellet of La Pocatière, tied for 11th in final point standings last year, Lac Etchemin driver Stéphane Lecours, who was a solid performer in his three Castrol starts last year, 2007 Rookie of the Year Éric St-Gelais of Levis, and #4 point man Jean-François Déry of Val-Bélair, who put together an amazing season filled with Top 5 finishes.
Did you know…?
-Ricky Wolf may give the ACT Late Model Tour driver a little more than they want to handle at Lee USA Speedway. Since the current ACT-type Late Model rules took effect at Lee in 2004, Wolf has nailed down ten feature wins along with his track and New England titles. Bad luck has plagued him in his two previous outings with ACT, however: At his debut in September 2004, Wolf was taken out in a mishap before the green flag. In May 2005, he finished 19th with a broken suspension part. Look for bigger things to come from him this year.
-Nick Sweet, Bobby Therrien, and Bunker Hodgdon combined to win eleven main events at Thunder Road last year. Sweet (3) and Therrien (6) led their respective divisions in victories, while Hodgdon (2) was only one off the mark. All three also scored or tied season-high tallies in Top 5 finishes (Sweet – 6, Therrien – 9, Hodgdon – 11).
-Were it not for Patrick Laperle and Sylvain Lacombe, Jean-François Déry (he says you can call him “Jeff”) might have been remembered as the man with the best record in Série ACT Castrol racing in 2007. Déry posted five-straight Top 5 finishes to open the year, and four-straight Top 10s to finish the season. Two 18th-place runs (at Chaudière and St-Eustache) were the low points, but they were split up by a 4th-place showing at Ste-Croix. All told, Déry had seven Top 5s, ten Top 10s, and an average finish of 6.8 over a dozen starts.
Comments and questions, as always, are welcomed at firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out the websites at www.acttour.com and www.thunderroadspeedbowl.com to stay on top of the action!