Contributed by: ACT Staff
ACTion News – Wednesday, April 2, 2008
-by Justin St. Louis
A look back through the record books will show that the American-Canadian Tour has seen some pretty important races – and some pretty important winners – pass through the gates at New Hampshire’s Lee USA Speedway. Beginning in 1987, an amazing string of championship-caliber stock car drivers has swept through the 3/8-mile oval under the ACT banner, starting with the legendary Harmon “Beaver” Dragon. The two-time ACT Pro Stock Tour champion drove a Pepsi-sponsored Chevrolet Camaro to the opening day victory that year (never mind the snow banks around the speedway that day, thank you), followed the next April by a sensational finish between former Canadian national champion Jean-Paul Cabana and six-time ACT king Robbie Crouch – Cabana won by less than a foot at the line.
Open-wheel Supermodified kingpin and local hero Paul Richardson was the opening day ACT winner in 1989, with recently-crowned ACT champ Russ Urlin holding court in 1990. Crouch would avenge his ’88 loss by winning in 1991, with Dave Dion and Kevin Lepage each driving Ford Thunderbirds to the winner’s circle in ’92 and ’93, respectively. “Racin’” Ralph Nason, a tough old bird from Unity, ME, won the final event of the era in 1995 after a year’s hiatus.
During that first stretch, Lee USA Speedway also hosted ACT at the New Hampshire Governor’s Cup event in 1987-89 (back then a mid-summer race), and a special 300-lap event in July 1988 as part of the former Stock Car Connection. Crouch (’87 and ’88) and Urlin (’89) took the Governor’s Cup victories, while future Craftsman Truck Series champion Ted Musgrave won the SCC race.
When ACT returned to Lee USA Speedway in 2003, the impressive list of winners continued: Série ACT Castrol champion Patrick Laperle won the first event in 2003, followed in succession by current Nationwide Series driver and former CASCAR star D.J. Kennington, three-time Thunder Road “King of the Road” Cris Michaud, seven-time ACT Late Model Tour champion Jean-Paul Cyr, and multi-time Pro Stock champion Ben Rowe.
If we had an accurate count of total race wins and championships scored by the drivers that have won ACT events at Lee USA, we’d tell you. We can ballpark it, though, and our best guesses are, without exaggeration, somewhere around 1,250 feature wins and at least 60 track or series championships. Simply put: Only the very best win at Lee USA Speedway.
Ten days from the printing date of this column, Lee USA is scheduled to hold its first “Test And Tune” session of the year. For many, that means laps and laps of practice, lots of tweaking, and maybe a couple busted knuckles trying to hammer out that extra half-tenth per lap. But for a group of ACT Late Model drivers on Saturday, April 12, it means a few hours of giving time for a great cause and having some fun.
Fourteen competitors, plus ACT President and Thunder Road promoter Tom Curley, have volunteered to assist the Autism Puzzle Foundation on Saturday, April 12 with its annual “Casino Night” fundraiser at the Barre (VT) Auditorium. Dealing at the blackjack, craps, and roulette tables with be ACT Late Model Tour Champion Jean-Paul Cyr, 2007 “King of the Road” Dave Pembroke, and past champions Robbie Crouch, Brian Hoar, Phil Scott, Cris Michaud, Joey Laquerre, Nick Sweet, Brent Dragon, and John Donahue. Also on hand will be top winners Eric Chase, Scott Dragon, Kip Stockwell, and the defending Thunder Road Rookie of the Year, Chip Grenier.
Tickets for the “Casino Night” fundraiser are $125 and include two dinners, $150 in poker chips, and a chance to win one of four grand prizes. The prizes will be drawn at the event, and include a $1,500 cash prize, a trip to Las Vegas with flight and hotel expenses paid, a 50” flat-screen television, and a trip for two to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series event Daytona Int’l Speedway in July, which includes race tickets, hospitality, flight, rental car, and hotel expenses paid. There will also be a silent auction with many items available. Tickets are limited and on a first-come, first-served basis.
Proceeds from the event will benefit both the Autism Speaks and the Autism Puzzle Foundation charities, as all money raised will go directly to national scientific research and local education and assistance.
To purchase tickets, make donations, or learn more about the Autism Puzzle Foundation and the 3rd Annual Benefit Dinner and Silent Auction on Sat., April 12, visit www.vtautismpuzzle.org, or click the logo on the front page of the ACT (www.acttour.com) or Thunder Road (www.thunderroadspeedbowl.com) websites.
Did you know…?
-In the ACT Pro Stock Tour era, Lee USA Speedway saw not only a lot high-quality winners, it saw just about every brand of race car pass through victory lane. Dragon, Musgrave, and Urlin each won in Chevy Camaros, joined by Crouch’s Buick LeSabre (once) and Regal (twice), Cabana’s Olds Delta 88 (yeah, a Delta 88… how’s THAT for trivia?), Richardson’s Pontiac Grand Prix, Urlin’s Chevy Lumina, Dion and Lepage’s Thunderbirds (Dion had the old-school early ‘80s body, while Lepage had the sleek ’93 Super Coupe), and Nason’s Dodge Intrepid.
-Even in the modern ACT Late Model Tour era, parity has been key at Lee USA; Laperle, Kennington, and Cyr have each won with Chevrolet Monte Carlos, but Michaud drove a Ford Taurus to his 2005 victory while Rowe took the honors in a Dodge Charger.
-Racin’ Ralph Nason was generally regarded as a Mopar guy in his ACT tenure, but he did have a tendency to jump around from car to car. Nason owns ACT wins behind the wheel of a Chevrolet, a Ford, a Dodge, and a Chrysler. In fact, in 1988, he drove all four at one point or another!
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