Kissing A Cow... One Wrecked Racecar... A New Champion
LAPERLE KISSES THE COW, SAVES CURLEY SOME CASH
Patrick Laperle realized a life-long dream by winning the American-Canadian Tour's New England Dodge Dealers Milk Bowl at Thunder Road. With the win came an overwhelming sense of accomplishment, history, and tradition for the Laperle team.
Part of that tradition was the victory lane kiss of a Vermont dairy cow, an exhibition brought about by track owner Ken Squier in the early years of the Milk Bowl.
Laperle joined an elite list of short track drivers to do the deed, including fellow Canadian countrymen Jean-Paul Cabana, Randy MacDonald, and Dave Whitlock.
"It's the soggiest thing I've kissed in my life," Laperle said. "But I wanted it so badly. Wow, man, it smelled so bad. There was brown stuff all over her nose, I don't want to think about what it was. The milk was much better."
Laperle's victory in the prestigious event was popular with the fans, and also with ACT President and promoter, Tom Curley. It netted Laperle the $10,000 winner's purse, denying Jean-Paul Cyr a shot at sweeping the three ACTion Super Series events and earning a $20,000 bonus. Curley rushed to the winner's circle and gave Laperle a bear hug, lifting him off the ground.
"Curley must be happy," Laperle laughed. "Now he doesn't have to give 20 grand to Cyr."
CYR STRUGGLES, BUT CLINCHES FIFTH TITLE WITH TOP 10 FINISH
A sixth place finish may not sound too bad, but for Jean-Paul Cyr at the Milk Bowl it was a disappointment. After winning the pole by setting a new track record, Cyr's car seemed to be, well, just another car on the track. But no matter, Cyr's previous four wins made up for any shortcomings on the day, and earned him his third straight and fifth overall ACT Championship.
"Most all of our goals for this year have been accomplished," said Cyr. "So we're pretty happy. The whole crew works hard, and it's just a big team effort."
With an average finish of 5.1 over the Tour's ten race schedule, the Ehler's RV/Sticks & Stuff #32 Chevrolet was in a place ACT fans have become used to seeing it in - up front. While Cyr thinks the term "domination" is inappropriate, others may disagree. At the very least, ten wins (double the next-best total) and three straight championships since 2003 certainly sounds like a strong performance.
"I wouldn’t say I've dominated," Cyr quickly assured. "It's a good bunch of guys that we race against, and winning championships is what we set out to do. I guess we were fortunate enough to be able to do it."
everything he needed to do to try for the overall victory and handily won the final segment earning just one point, but a series of late cautions took out the majority of the race's contenders, allowing Laperle to complete a rousing comeback into fifth place. Dragon ultimately finished second.
"If they would have counted lapped cars, I would have been trying," said Dragon. "We did everything we could do and that's it. We didn't need that caution with 10 to go, we lost Rich Lowrey and the 52 (Dave Pembroke) and a couple others that Patrick couldn't get by. But you know, it's second, we finished second in the first race here this year, sixth in the 200, second at Airborne, and we won at Seekonk, so we've had a good year."
After finishing as the ACT Late Model Tour's runner-up three times (including last year), Dragon came close again, but has yet to take the crown. This season, he wound up third in points, just four markers behind Pembroke. There were circumstances that undoubtedly held him back from mounting a serious challenge at Jean-Paul Cyr.
"The Canaan race when we broke a hub, we were second to Phil Scott and going for the lead when it broke," Dragon recalled. "At Oxford, we were going for third late and had a bad deal there." Does Dragon have visions of finally earning his first ACT title in 2006? He's not sure yet.
"I'm kind of starting to get a little bit sick of it. It's like Mark Martin, you know, time to retire. It gets harder and harder every year to do this. I work every single night on the car myself, and the guys come over once a week. It's getting tiring, you know? I've got a '96 Harley, and I think I've run it about 100 miles this summer and 200 last year. I think it's got 6,000 miles on it, and I bought it with like 5,000, so I don't know.
“I'm going deer hunting now until December 12th in Ontario. I can get away and never hear a phone ring and be able to think about things and see what we want to do. It's a great series, there's a lot of competition, but we'll just see what happens."
LAMBERTON COMPLETES LATE SEASON COMEBACK
guys may not look that special, but we put them together and it's just a really amazing chemistry that the five or six of us have. We all do our own thing, we all do it well, and it just feels really good to have the team put together that I do. I think we can run with anybody."
In recent seasons, Wheeler has shifted his focus back from Tour racing to chasing after his ultimate lifelong goal - winning the Thunder Road championship.
"The Tour races that pay decent, I love going to those," he admitted, "but I don't have any interest in going to Seekonk and White Mountain and all the other tracks that don't pay as well."
Wheeler summed everything up pretty simply: "I want to be 'King of the Road'. That's what I want to be in life, I just want to be 'King of the Road'.
ROOKIE PAYEA'S FIFTH TOP FIVE FINISH CLINCHES FOURTH OVERALL
At the beginning of the season, fans of the ACT Late Model Tour saw something they had never really seen before - a rookie driver with a legitimate shot at earning the championship title. That driver was young Scott Payea, a graduate of the Tiger Sportsman division. Payea finished in the top five in each of the first four Tour races, and was quickly tagged as the next "Wonderboy" of New England short track racing.
The freshman capped off his Rookie of the Year run in fourth place in both the Milk Bowl and in the point battle. In fact, the finish helped Payea achieve a 10-race average finish of 7.6, a mark only beaten by champion Jean-Paul Cyr. Throughout the season, Payea took everything in stride, noting that while his AC Sports/Wendell's Furniture team was strong, they were simply a rookie group, and good finishes were merely a bonus.
After qualifying well on Saturday at the Milk Bowl, Payea sat back, realized his achievements, and yet remained humble.
"Being our rookie year, I'll finish fourth or fifth," Payea said. "Whatever. I'm having a blast."
NOLIN TAKES A TOP 10 IN FIRST MILK BOWL
Nineteen year-old rookie Ryan Nolin spun heads in time trials, clocking in with a lap under the previous track record, and setting the third-fastest time overall. Once the race began, Nolin fell back in the field, finishing 16th in the first segment. Chassis adjustments over the next two segments allowed the youngster to rack up finishes of sixth and 13th for a point tally of 35, good enough to finish 10th overall.
Patrick Laperle's victory lane kiss with Dickens the cow. (51 Photo)
Cyr's 2005 title ties Brian Hoar's record of five career ACT Late Model Tour Championships. Another in 2006 would equal Hoar's record of four straight. Add to that the fact that Cyr is only seven victories away from tying Hoar's all-time win record (23). Will he challenge Hoar's numbers?
"Chances are, we really won't know until late November or December, but it looks like we'll keep going," Cyr said. "The records don't mean much to me, really. I just want to win races and championships, and the numbers will take care of themselves."
THUNDER ROAD TRACK RECORD SMASHED IN TIME TRIALS
Rule changes in the ACT Late Model division in 2005, including a new triple-disc clutch option and an all-new 8" Goodyear tire, decreased lap times at every track this season. ACT, however, runs heat race qualifying at every event except the Milk Bowl, which is the only time of year the drivers must time trial. The new rules package was never more apparent than in Milk Bowl qualifying, where eight drivers broke the one-lap record of 13.217 seconds, set by Pete Fecteau in 2001.
New Gloucester, Maine driver Ron Henry, regarded by many as an underdog, was the 13th of 53 drivers to take time. With a first lap of 13.661, Henry would have been very lucky to make it in the field. However, his second lap shocked the crowd, as he turned a new record time of 13.192. Following Henry's run, Dave Pembroke, rookie Ryan Nolin, Patrick Laperle, Jean-Paul Cyr, Chad Wheeler, Trampas Demers, and Phil Scott each broke Fecteau's old record. Cyr's best lap of 13.067 seconds earned him the Booth Bros. Dairy/H.P. Hood Pole Award, and was good enough to set the Thunder Road track record for the sixth time since the current Late Model division began time trialing at the Milk Bowl in 1996.
BRENT DRAGON FINISHES SECOND IN THE RACE, THIRD IN POINTS
"The Milk Bowl is the toughest race of the year, and I just drove the hardest 150 laps of my whole season," Wheeler said. "I used it up, and I thought we had a top three car at the end, but Lowrey shut down on the front stretch and it just made a big mess. I'm happy to come home fifth at this point. I think we had a top three car, I don't know if we had a winning car, but to come home fifth, I guess I'm satisfied with that."
During his full-time seasons at Thunder Road since 1997, Wheeler has been a title contender in almost every one of them. He credits his team for the success.
"I know it's a cliché, but the team effort was just absolutely amazing," Wheeler said. "Individually, these
Mark Lamberton's #29 car (51 photo)
Milton, Vermont veteran Brent Dragon came into the third segment of the Milk Bowl tied with Jean-Paul Cyr and Dave Pembroke for second place overall. In the three-segment, cumulatively-scored event, the driver with the lowest point total at the end of the day in declared the winner. Dragon and company were six points - a sizeable gap - behind Laperle entering the final round.
Early on, it looked like Dragon's Furniture World of Vermont/Kinney Drugs Dodge would be the one to overcome all obstacles, taking the lead after Laperle's car slapped the wall at the start of the race. He did
"There was a hole there for a second, and I stuck it in a little ways," Pembroke said, "but it closed up quick. Henry went into the corner and there was a legitimate hole there, but I tried to back out of it because I know where he was headed. As soon as he came back down, I couldn't get out of there quick enough. Once the right front got tangled a little bit I started climbing the side of his car, and it was over from there, I was just along for the ride at that point."
needed. We went eight races with having no luck, so it's nice to get a little now."
Lamberton's Jeffords Steel Chevrolet experienced some problems with the starter shutting down, including during the pace laps of the final segment.
"We'd been having starter problems all day, so I knew it was just a matter of getting a push if we needed to. It was getting a little exciting, and I was hoping the starter was binding up and not something else."
A low-buck racer with an all-volunteer crew, Lamberton is the only full-time ACT competitor from New York State. He hauls out of tiny Mooers Forks, less than three miles from the Canadian border, and sometimes help is hard to come by. Lately, that has begun to change for Lamberton, with the addition of 20 year-old Phil Perry.
"Everybody that works on the car is great," Lamberton said, "but I've needed that one key crew member, that one key radio guy. Phil's awesome. He is as good as I've ever had on the radio. He's calling things before they even happen and watching. I think he's been here enough with Jamie (Rabideau, Lamberton's cousin and a former Street Stock racer at Thunder Road) that he knows who to watch in the fast line, it's just unbelievable. And he's pretty sharp around the car. All day today, everybody on the crew was just perfect. I needed it, because like I said before Lee, I didn't care if I ever raced again. I was like 'Okay, I've had enough, I can't keep up, I just can't do it anymore.' It's nice to see everything come together."
WHEELER CAPS SUCCESSFUL SEASON WITH FIFTH-PLACE FINISH
Chad Wheeler survived not one, but two late-race wrecks, including a major pileup with ten laps to go, to finish fifth in the Milk Bowl. Wheeler, the Thunder Road points runner-up in 2005, "used up" his Land Air Express of New England Pontiac in the final segment.
Dave Pembroke's family members and crew push their car to the starting grid. (51 photo)
"The qualifying part was good, but the actual race didn't go as I wanted," Nolin said. "It should have started off better than it was, but we made changes right before the end and the car was a lot better."
Having clinched the Rookie of the Year title at Thunder Road a month earlier, Nolin's main goal was simply to get his Mountain Air Systems Chevrolet in the Milk Bowl field.
"I'm just so happy that I qualified," Nolin said. "I saw 13.3 on the scoreboard, and I thought 'Hey, that's pretty good,' and then they told me that that was my first lap and that my second lap was a 13.1. That was amazing. Being a rookie and qualifying up there, among the champions and the winners of these races, I'm pretty proud of that. I kind of knew that I wasn't going to be able to stay up there, but at least we can say that we ran with them for one lap. That was the highlight of the weekend."
Using a five year-old chassis and engine package borrowed from Eric Chase, Nolin's all-teenager crew ran well with the big dogs in 2005.
After having a dismal season in 2005, Mark Lamberton turned things around with a fifth-place finish at Lee USA Speedway in late September. At the Milk Bowl, Lamberton returned to Thunder Road, the site of a wild crash with Roger Brown a month ago that destroyed Brown's car. Lamberton not only ran strong, he surprised many by finishing in third place.
Even Lamberton's own expectations were blown out of the water.
"Our big plan was to come here and stay out of trouble and get in the show," Lamberton said. "For once our day went good instead of bad. We had some luck on our side, we got a lot of inside starts, and we got the breaks we've
Despite the crash, Pembroke was very happy with his team's effort in the Milk Bowl, which included earning the outside pole and winning the first segment. The 2002 Milk Bowl champion entered the final round tied for second behind Patrick Laperle, and was running in fifth place at the time of the Henry incident. Had the race finished before the crash, Pembroke would certainly have been in the overall top three, likely second behind Brent Dragon. Instead, he finished 12th overall, with finishes of first, 13th, and 22nd in the final round for a total score of 36.
"I'm happy with it," Pembroke said. "It's not the way we wanted to end it, but this weekend was good. Passing Jean-Paul Cyr on the outside (to win the first segment) was cool. We can't be to ashamed of what happened today."
Pembroke's family team was thrown for a major loop in the 2004-05 off-season. For the first time since they began racing Late Models, the team had not one, but two new race cars in the shop. For starters, the original Pembroke chassis was sold to rookie Joe Perreault, and a new car was built for weekly racing at Thunder Road. Just after that, a phone call from New Hampshire car owner David Storey landed the second car in the shop for use on the ACT Late Model Tour.
With three wins on the season and a runner-up points finish on Tour, Pembroke thinks his team stepped up to the challenge.
"We've done pretty well for having two cars this year that I'd never driven before," he said. "The guys that help me deserve a ton of credit, because this car (Storey's Tour car), we didn't touch. Literally, all we did is adjust air pressure from the shop, and it was awesome. They really put the time in on both cars, and that's why we do well. And the sponsors and the car owner, and all these people that make it happen. I just sit in it and drive, I get the fun part."
Pembroke said that a pairing with Storey may be in the works again for 2006, but it depends on scheduling and family commitments.
"All in all, I think Dave Storey's happy," he said. "He's talked to us about what we want to do for next year, so that's cool. We haven't really said yes or no, but we're going to take the car home and tear into it a little bit and get the pieces that it needs back onto it. We'll wait and see what Tom (Curley) is going to do for a Tour, then we'll make a decision. This is nothing that I want to do by myself. A lot of guys make this happen, and a lot of wives, and more and more kids every day it seems like, so that's a big part of it. We'll wait and see where everyone's at."
ERIC CHASE NINTH ALL AROUND
In 1999, Milton, Vermont helicopter pilot Eric Chase decided to try stock car racing. With a fair amount of funding behind him, he decided to jump feet-first into the Late Model division. At first, things weren't, well... great, to put it mildly. Wreck after wreck, failing to make the feature nearly every week, and simply being in the way almost became customary.
But, like any good racer, Chase figured things out as the seasons progressed. In 2001 he took his first Top 10 finish, and earned his first Top 5 last season. In 2005, Chase finished ninth overall in the ACT Late Model Tour points, solidified by a ninth-place run in the Milk Bowl.
"Ninth isn't bad at all," the happy-go-lucky driver said. "That's where we finished the year, too, so it works out well. Man, top ten in points, that's a good year."
Chase drew attention this season by becoming the first driver to run well with a GM Crate Motor in his PASS Pro Stock car, finishing sixth in his IBG-PASS series debut at Maine's Oxford Plains Speedway. Chase looked back at his brief career, and realized that the progress he's made is significant.
"You gotta start somewhere," he said. "Next year, we just gotta keep going, that's it. At the beginning it was pretty bad. It's a big step to start in a Late Model, we've got some good racers here."
Chase is looking forward to running more races, becoming more competitive, and turning some heads. Were it not for a few bad nights (including a lap one wreck in the ACT event at Oxford - Chase was the polesitter when a spun lapped car blocked the track in front him), he feels his Gary Clay Builders/Mansfield Heliflight Chevrolet may have been a Top five contender.
"The best thing is that the nights that get away from us, if we can get those back next year, that'll make all the difference," he said. "We'll run the ACT Tour, we'll probably run some PASS stuff and maybe run some other stuff, too. Our goal is fun."
"We accomplished all of our goals, except that I wanted to win a race," Nolin said. "We were in contention a few times and it just didn't happen."
While Nolin didn't carry the checkers, he did take three top five finishes, including a second-place run in July.
"I think we showed that we were able to run with these guys. The equipment that we have isn't what a lot of the others are, and we make do with what little money we have. I'm proud to drive for this team."
BECKER READY FOR WINTER
During his years in the Street Stock and Tiger Sportsman divisions at Thunder Road, Joey "Berzerko" Becker was wildly popular with race fans. His banzai moves, wild wrecks, and many wins earned him a reputation as a hard charger, and rightly so. When he was named the new driver of Rick Green's #16 in 2003, he turned a new leaf. For the first time in his decade-long career, Becker was an also-ran.
There was nothing wrong with the equipment, just a lack of knowledge and experience. Things have been up and down for the Richard Green Trucking team, including a thrilling victory in the 2004 Memorial Day Classic at Thunder Road and a Thursday night win this season, and at the same time, multiple finishes in the sub-20th range. Becker led several laps in the Milk Bowl's second segment and finished overall, a good run by his account.
"We did alright," Becker said. "I think we led halfway, so we got a $500 bonus. We raced our way into the Milk Bowl on Saturday, and we had a pretty solid run. The car's in one piece, like it matters, it's the end of the year anyway, but I guess it shows something."
After a long season, the Jeffersonville, Vermont driver is ready for the off-season.
"I'm pretty happy it's over, now we can rest for a while," he said. "I'm gonna have a few beers and put in for a nap."
DESPITE WRECK, PEMBROKE HAPPY WITH MILK BOWL RUN
Dave Pembroke's successful season came to an abrupt halt 10 laps earlier than expected, as a third-segment crash with Ron Henry crippled his Second Storey Homes/Twinstate Voice-Data-Video Chevrolet.
Jean-Paul Cyr's team celebrates its fifth ACT championship. (51 Photo)
Chad Wheeler certainly "used up" his car at the Milk Bowl (51 photo)
Ryan Nolin works on his car during practice. (51 photo)
Brent Dragon (55) passes Rich Lowrey (8) to take the lead in the final segment. (51 Photo)