Ageless Wonder, Rising Local Star, a Little Yankee Inginuity, Mistaken Identities and More

There were a lot of good stories that came out of the Pullen Heavy Industries 300, but there weren’t many that were big surprises.  Mike Rowe was a favorite to win.  He did.  Ben Rowe was a favorite to finish well.  He did.  Even Alan Tardiff’s top five wasn’t much of a shocker since he’s been one of the strongest drivers at Beech Ridge this season and he’s also starting to learn the ropes in PASS.
But the strength of Rollie MacDonald could be considered surprising.  The 62-year-old Canadian came down to Maine to kick some butt and take some names.  He had the only car that appeared to be capable of beating Mike Rowe, he led 53 laps and he finished third. 

Actually the Pullen 300 wasn’t the only surprise, MacDonald’s entire 2005 season has turned some heads.  It’s a season that could have easily led to MacDonald’s retirement early on if he didn’t perform as well as he had.
“I hadn’t raced since ’98.  Scott Fraser drove my cars those other years.  I had this car, it’s a car that Scott drove for me actually, and I went out and destroyed the front clip on it last year in a practice.  I cut the front clip off and hung a new Hamke clip on it.  I made some other changes and said that I would do four races this year.  If I wasn’t competitive, I was getting out.”

MacDonald raced a full season on the Carquest Maritime Pro Tour and completed every single lap.

“I ran 1,200 laps [in the regular season] and then another 150 laps in an open race that I finished third in.  That’s 1,350 [feature race laps] and 300 today.”

MacDonald has been racing for four decades.  Had he ever seen an accomplishment or a change in fates like that before?
“Oh God, no.” said MacDonald.   “I’ve never seen such a turn-around.  We finished every lap and we in the top five eight times in our 11 race series.  We never even had so much as a flat tire.  How can you beat it?”

Surprisingly, MacDonald was a little unsure of how well he was hold up in Sunday’s race at Beech Ridge.

“I had never run a 300-lap race before and I started racing in ’65.  250 laps were the most that I have done.  I said to myself today that I didn’t know if I could do this.  I was a little worried going in because 300 in a long haul. But I feel fine now.  I was a little weak when I got out of the car.  It was cool today and not real hot in the car, so that was good.”

And racing against a different group of characters was fun for MacDonald as well.
“It was a last minute deal.  The car was sitting out in the woods and hadn’t been raced for a couple of years.  We decided to throw it together and this is where we ended up.”

What Pelton ended up with was something not very often seen in the days of ABC bodies.  It was a wedge body set up to yield a lot of down force – and it was perfectly legal.

“It’s an outlaw series and I asked one of the tech guys what they meant by a wedge body.  I told them what I wanted to do and I was told okay…go and try it and it worked out pretty all right for us, we had a pretty decent day.”
and started at the rear of the field for the 300.  In the first four laps, he passed four cars.  However, on the fifth lap, he got caught up in a wreck on the backstretch which ripped away the left side of his green machine.

“I got caught up in a mess on the backstretch,” said Pollard.  “It wasn’t bad.  I don’t know if it did something to the back.  It caught the tire and whipped the rear end around.  We don’t know, we haven’t really checked it over.”

Pelton did survive to finish the race in the 14th position. 


Practice didn’t go too well for Johnny Clark.  He never quite got his #54 car comfortable and on Saturday afternoon, he decided that he was going to do something about it.
Rollie MacDonald's #13 had a few battle scars on it at Beech Ridge, but it was plenty quick.  (Norm Marx Photos)
“These guys are good to race with,” Said MacDonald of his PASS counterparts.  “I haven’t raced against many of them before.  A few of the guys used to race ACT.  I’ve had a few battles with Mike Rowe over the years.  I was pretty pumped up when I went by him on the outside.  I knew that I had a good piece here then.  He ended up winning and that’s good.  It was a good clean race and I’m happy to take third home.”

“That was fun,” said Rowe of his battle with MacDonald.  “He had an awesome car.  They told me that he was coming and I just let him go.  There was no sense early in the race to foul someone up like that.” 


Sprinkled among a pack of PASS regulars and Rollie MacDonald, in the front of the field in the Pullen 300, was one of the young lions of Beech Ridge Motor Speedway’s Pro Series.  19-year-old Alan Tardiff finished in the fifth position.
Pelton won the Outlaw feature without much of a challenge.

“It’s been a few years since I’ve won a race, that was good,” said Pelton.

After that feature, Pollard had a choice to make.  He could take the winner’s purse of $2,000 or settle for $1,000 and a starting spot in the 300-lap main event.  It wasn’t much of a decision.  Pollard chose to keep racing
The #8T of Aln Tardiff finished in the top five among some strong company.  (Norm Marx Photo)
The good run in Sunday’s race came after the weekend started on a somewhat frustrating note for the Lyman, Maine driver.

“Our luck wasn’t looking too on Saturday,” said Tardiff.  “In our qualifying race, we kind of stuffed the nose in and bent the car up on the first lap of our heat.  We came in and fixed it up real quick and got out there for the conis.  We finished fourth in that and were really happy just to get into the race.”

One reason that Clark was so hot on Saturday is that he was told by other pit area sources that the car of Mike Rowe didn’t go over the scales after its heat race.  Yet Rowe was not disqualified.  Clark saw this as a case of selective rules enforcement and with several “observers” adding fuel to the fire, Clark got pretty aggravated. asked Rowe’s team about the allegations and they said that Rowe crossed the scales.  A few other observers confirmed that fact.  So what happened?

The best theory that was floated on Sunday was that it was all a case of mistaken identity.  Rowe’s red and yellow Lux Enterprises-sponsored car had a twin actually.  David Bath entered the race with one of Rowe’s old cars, a renumbered #88 sporting the same paint scheme and sponsorship.  Bath did not report to the scales after his heat race because he did not earn a transfer spot {Bath would later advance to the big show through a consi race].

Like a game of telephone, rumors started from there and it almost ended with one of the top drivers on the tour leaving in protest.
Once in the race, Tardiff used his head to stay out of trouble and steadily move up through the pack. 

“We wanted to pace ourselves,” said Tardiff.  “You can’t go out there and win the race on the first lap.  My crew was so great.  They kept me clam and told me to be smooth and be smart.  That’s what we did.  We kept the tires on the car and didn’t get into anybody.

Tardiff has entered the last two PASS events on the schedule, White Mountain and Beech Ridge, so might we see him this Saturday as the tour’s season finale at Star as well?

“That’s still up in the air now,” said Tardiff.  “You might be able to see us there.”


Immediately before the running of the Pullen 300 was 75-lap outlaw late model feature that drew some pretty big names itself.  Ralph Nason, Larry Gelinas and Jeff Crowley took on local drivers like David Oliver and Curtis Gerry.
Johnny Clark (L) consults with Clinton Teague, who lent a hand for the day.  (51 Photo)
Clark loaded up his car and hauled it to the nearby shop of fellow competitor Scott Mulkern.  There he did something completely different.  His crew changed their front end over to the soft-spring, bar-bar set-up that has proven to be successful lately.  The #54 team worked until 2am changing the car over and then returned to the track with it later that morning when the pit gates opened.

Clark had never run a car with that set-up before showing up for one very short shake-down session just a few hours before Sunday’s race, but the gamble paid off with a much better racecar.

“I’ve been walking through the pits and seeing what I could gather for information for some time now,” said Clark.  “Yesterday, we were so fed up with the way that the car was running that my car builder and I decided we needed to try this.  We all went up to Scott Mulkern’s shop and borrowed some shocks and springs and we put it all together.  With 20 minutes of practice this morning and went out for the feature.  Man, it was great in the feature.”
But the quickest, and possibly craftiest, driver of them all was a driver who lives just a few roads from the track, Richard “Bubba” Pelton.

The ride that Pelton showed up with was unique looking to say the least.  His team took a chassis that had not been raced in three seasons from his backyard and put new life into it over the past three weeks.  When it came time to put a body on the car, Pelton made one himself, using only an IROC-Z nosepiece and fabricated roof from the parts shelf.
The car might have handled great for the feature, but lady luck was no riding with Clark.  He dropped out early and finished back in 31st.

“We were running second and the carburetor started acting up.  The motor was really bogging down and was starved for fuel or didn’t have enough fuel.  I don’t know what it was.  It’s done it once before and we had it rebuilt, but it was doing the same exact thing.  We faded back to 10th and then something broke in the rear end.  That took us out.”


On Saturday afternoon, Cassius Clark was not a happy camper.  His runner-up finish in his heat race was disallowed because he did not report to the scales to be weighed after the qualifying race was held.  The trip to the scales was part of a two-step inspection process that Clark was not sure about.  The fact that there was no PA system at the driver’s meeting and that Clark was pitted on an opposite row from most of his other competitors didn’t help either.

Things got bad enough that when Clark was told that he would have to run a consi to get into the field, he loaded up his car instead and left the track.  [Click here for full story], vowing not to race.  After considering what was at stake, Clark showed back up Sunday morning and started at the rear of the field with a provisional.  He came up through the field to finish the race in the fourth position.

“We’re still a little frustrated,” said Clark.  “We should have started fifth and starting on the tail didn’t help me.  We got to car all stove up, but what are you going to do?”

It looked like Mike Rowe was able to run a textbook race on Sunday.  He led early, short-pitted for two tires, stayed out for track position when the rest of the lead lappers came in later on, worked his way back to the front and won the race.

As perfect as that seemed to be, it wasn’t the plan exactly.

“The plan was to come back in and to get four more tires [late in the race],” said Rowe.  “We were going to take those tires with 100 laps to go, but the yellow didn’t come out at the right time and that didn’t happen.  We only put on two right side tires and ran the same inside tires the whole race.  But the car stayed good and we won, so it worked out.”


Things were looking pretty cloudy for Ben Rowe early in the 300-lap race.  He got tangled with another car, cut down a tire and spun on the frontstretch.  A caution came out and kept Rowe from losing a lap, but soon after the incident it was obvious that he didn’t have the same car under him.
Rollie MacDonald (L) talks to Mike Rowe (R) after they both finished in the top three.  (Norm Marx Photo)
The #27P on the track (Norm Marx Photo)
Did Mike Rowe's #24 (Top - Norm Marx Photo) look too much liek the #88 that David Bath was pushing?  (Bottom - 51 Photo)
Pelnton's #27P had a different look to it compared to the other cars at the track.   (51 Photo)
But who needs a fast car when you have a fast pit crew.  When the majority of lead laps cars pitted for tires in the middle of the race, Rowe’s guys were the quickest of the bunch.  They changed all four tires and beat everyone off pit road to line up just behind the four cars that didn’t pit.

From there, Rowe rolled on to finish second.

“This was all the crew,” said Rowe.  “We got tangled up with another car early and got into the wall.  After that,
we were horrible.  But we made a great pit stop for four tires and somehow came back out in fifth place.

“The pit stop made it for us.  We shouldn’t have been up there, but these guys made a four-tire stop and we came out fifth.  That’s awesome.  It was unreal.  We have a guy who has never changed tires before on the crew and a guy who last year raced against me [former PASS regular Travis Kheil].  They’re young, athletic and they are quick.”

Rowe had nothing to try and wrestle the win away from his father Mike though.

“I was just hanging on at the end.  I just kept digging.”


The biggest mystery of the Pullen Heavy Industries 400 came on Sunday, when the question had to be asked - where were the people?

Attendance for the event most of the weekend was very impressive.  RVs were re-routed to a remote campground starting at Noon on Friday because of the track spaces were filled up, Saturday’s heat races left the pit as standing room-only, eight people deep and the stands were pretty well filled for the heat races.

But on Sunday, there were more empty seats.  The admission price for the race was reasonable, tickets were $30 at the gate and cheaper if bought in advance.  There was a big marketing push leading up to the race, there was plenty of racing on the docket and the fans that did show up were thrilled with what they saw.  A fan forum on a popular Maine racing website buzzed on Monday morning with reports of people who had a great time and thanked the organizers of the event. 

So why were the stands so empty?

One reason could have been the weather.  Gray skies rolled over the speedway a few hours before post time, but it never actually rained either.  Another reason could have been the fact the ACT was holding their Late Model Nationals 90 minutes down the road at Lee USA Speedway on the same day.  Yet, there was very little that event organizers could do about that.

There are only so many open race dates in Northern New England during the fall before the weather starts to get prohibitively cool.  Plus, you can eliminate the weekend of the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series race at New Hampshire since going opposite that would be short track event suicide in these parts.


One of the entrants for the race was NASCAR Busch North Series driver Brad Leighton.  The New Hampshire driver was a former regular at Beech Ridge years ago in the Limited Sportsman and Modified classes and returning to his roots was something that he enjoyed.  Of course, finishing the race in the seventh position wasn’t bad either.
“It’s fun,” said Leighton.  “First of all, they did a nice job pulling this show off.  They ran a ton of laps with the weather threatening.  They sped thing up and did a nice job.  We led some laps and didn’t finish up where we wanted to, but what the heck.  We had a good weekend, nobody is mad and the car’s not all beat up, so we’ll look forward to doing this again.”

Another good reason for Leighton to race at Beech Ridge was because his sponsor, Irving Oil, has a large presence in Southern Maine.  Since the NASCAR Busch North Series no longer races at Beech Ridge, this event
was a chance to take an Irving-sponsored car [fielded by SP2 Motorsports as a team car to winner Mike Rowe] and show it off in front of a home crowd.

I appreciate Irving coming on board.  They’ve supposed me for the last three years so it was fun to have them aboard in their backyard for this race.”


Young Tony Ricci had a weekend that was definitely mixed.  He had a transfer position just about locked down in his heat race, but got passed at the line by Rollie MacDonald.  He then made it into the field through the consi, but got disqualified after it was found that the wrong gear was put into the car.  It looked like he would be on the outside looking in for the big show.
But the hard working driver had his situation noticed by people in high places and was given the promoter’s provisional to get into the race.  However, that was also a mixed blessing.  Ricci wrecked hard and finished last in the event.

“We definitely had some ups and downs,” said Ricci.  “We made the race but that is definitely a big down there,” Ricci said as he pointed to his heavily damaged racecar.  “I don’t know what happened.  There was a wreck on the backstretch and I thought that I had it cleared.  The #83 [Donnie Whitten} got into me and he seems to think that someone got into the back of him.  I couldn’t see what happened.  All that I saw was wall.”
Ricci, who has helped out several PASS teams in the garage area with his wrenching skills, vows to be back eventually though with his #4 car.

“The car is repairable, but not for this year.  It will be next year before it sees the track again.”


New Zealand driver Michael Pickens drove the #154 car as a teammate to Johnny Clark at Beech Ridge.  The two met at the Roush Racing "Gong Show" earlier this summer and became fast friends. will have a full story on Pickens and Clark later this week.  Stay tuned.

The #00 team make a quick pit stop.  (Norm Marx Photo)
Leighton's #25.  (Norm Marx Photo)
Tony Ricci  (51 Photo)