Contributed by: ACT Staff
ACTion News – Wednesday, May 14, 2008
-by Justin St. Louis
Last Sunday at Thunder Road, Late Model stock car racer Mike “Beetle” Bailey capped off a feel-good story that should prove to be a pretty hard one to top.
The former Allen Lumber Street Stock champion and multi-time NAPA Tiger Sportsman winner moved into the American-Canadian Tour Late Model division in 2006 on the smallest of shoestring budgets. With a well-used, ex-Jeff Spooner chassis that raced as a mid-pack car for several seasons, Bailey held his own in the weekly Thursday night wars at Thunder Road. He notched five top-ten finishes and netted 15th place in the final point standings, a rather respectable rookie effort. During the following off-season, Bailey and his close-knit team began to “focus on the little things” and make the car perform consistently.
That focus paid off with four top-fives and an eighth place finish overall, along with the “Most Improved” award for 2007, as voted by drivers in the Late Model division. It seemed as though Beetle had arrived at the top.
But at the season-opening Merchants Bank 150 two weeks ago, Bailey’s racing turned world turned upside down. A hard crash in qualifying destroyed his low-dollar racer, shearing the right front corner completely off the car and mangling the chassis that had seen so many laps.
That night, the beaten car was unloaded at Bailey’s house and stripped of its broken pieces. Its driver talked with a friendly rival, Joe Becker, and came up with a solution. Becker took delivery of a used (but straight) front clip donated by Ryan Nolin, and offered to try patching up Bailey’s car. In the Richard Green Racing shop in Enosburg Falls, VT, just a stone’s throw from the Canadian border and almost two hours from Bailey’s South Barre home, Becker cut the twisted clip off the car, welded up the ex-Nolin piece, and added some additional chassis parts delivered free of charge by noted crew chief Brian Latuch.
“We got the car back home at about 2:30 Thursday morning,” said Bailey. “I got a little bit of sleep, went to work, and then everyone just started to throw parts on it on Thursday night.” So many parts, in fact, that the car wasn’t finished until 3:00 Sunday afternoon – two hours before post time for the Harvest Equipment Mother’s Day Special at Thunder Road.
And then Beetle Bailey went out and drove to the best finish of his Thunder Road Late Model career: third place, one spot better than his friend Joe Becker.
“It’s like the whole thing didn’t really happen. I’m still just astonished,” said Bailey. “I just wanted to get to the track, get in the race, and finish. The car was pretty decent in practice, but not what I was used to. I sort of figured I’d fall back as soon as the race went green. To be there at the end and to even be able to hold Joey off for third…”
On a Tuesday afternoon, long after the checkered flag had fallen, long after the hands were high-fived and the results were published, Bailey still trailed off in speech, unable to find the right words.
“I’m just overwhelmed by the outpouring of support I got from everyone. Joey, Richard Green, Brian Latuch, the Nolin family, they helped so much. John Donahue and Tony Andrews offered to give us anything we needed. Doug Murphy offered his whole car for me to drive. And there were others. It’s one of those things that’s just not possible without help, and we got it.”
“It was such a long, emotional week,” said Jen Bailey, Mike’s wife. “It’s just amazing that it all went the way it did. It feels like we won.”
So now what? Bailey isn’t sure. “I’m on the fence about racing Memorial Day,” he said. “The smart thing to do would probably be to stay home, since the race doesn’t count for Thunder Road points… but then again, neither did the Merchants Bank race. I’ve got a new sponsor, Vermont Roof Check, and they’ve given us so much support, they’re behind us one hundred percent. I’ll ask them and see what they want to do.
“I’m just happy I’ve still got a race car.”
John Donahue has served notice that he will not go away quietly this year, no matter where he is. Donahue won the Harvest Equipment 50-lapper, ran to ninth in the Merchants Bank 150, grabbed fifth place at Oxford Plains Speedway, and recovered to finish 11th after a spin out of the top three at Lee USA Speedway. His National Guard #26 Fords sit first in Thunder Road points and third on the ACT Late Model Tour. We’d recommend keeping an eye on “Irish” John this season.
Two others we’re watching are NAPA Tiger Sportsman point leader Tom Therrien and Allen Lumber Street Stock rookie Micheal MacAskill. Therrien looks like he’s ready to win himself a title this year, having transferred through the last-chance “B” Feature in both events and driving from the back to the front in the main event each time in impressive fashion. The older of the Therrien brothers, Tom finished fourth overall last year.
MacAskill finished fifth from 20th starting position at the Harvest Equipment event, spending most of the race in the outside lane. After two races, he sits 10th overall in points and leads the rookie standings. Beginner’s luck, or is he the real thing? We’ll find out at the Mekkelsen RV Memorial Day Classic on Sat./Sun., May 24/25, as part of the ACT Late Model Tour/True Value Modified Racing Series twin-100s doubleheader.
The ACT Late Model Tour returns to Plattsburgh, NY’s Airborne Speedway for the 34th Annual Furniture World of VT Spring Green 100 on Saturday, May 17 with a 5:00pm start time. The next day, just up the road about an hour, the Série ACT Castrol opens its season at Autodrome St-Eustache just outside Montréal with a 100-lapper. Qualifying begins at 1:30pm on Sunday, May 18.
Strong fields of cars are expected for both events, and at least two drivers, Lanoraie, QC veteran Claude Leclerc and London, ON rookie Jonathan Urlin, are planning on doing the double. Another Ontario rookie, Spencer MacPherson, will be making his way St-Eustache on Sunday. MacPherson finished a stout 15th at Thunder Road after his long haul from the Ottawa area last weekend, and also attempted to qualify at Oxford last month. Busy guys, those three!
Did you know…?
-Seven Late Model drivers tied or established career-best Thunder Road finishes at the Harvest Equipment Mother’s Day Special. Obviously, winner John Donahue was one of them, having raised his “weekly” victory total to three. The other six were Mike Bailey (3rd), Brooks Clark (7th), Matt White (14th), Spencer MacPherson (15th), Tony Andrews (17th), and Miles Chipman (21st).
-Five automobile manufacturers have been feature winners at Thunder Road this season: Ford, Chevrolet, Pontiac, Mercury, and Volkswagen. Fords have won both Late Model events and the Harvest Equipment Street Stock race, while Volkswagen has won both Power Shift Online Junkyard Warrior events. Chevrolet, Pontiac, and Mercury each have one win.
-Joey Laquerre hasn’t lost a NAPA Tiger Sportsman Mother’s Day Special race since 2005… and he didn’t race Tigers that year. The 64 year-old blitzed the field to win the Harvest Equipment feature, breaking his own divisional record with his 16th win.
Stay up to the minute online at www.acttour.com, www.laserieactcastrol.com, and www.thunderroadspeedbowl.com. Your feedback is always welcome via email at email@example.com.