ACT LATE MODELS: LABOR DAY CLASSIC LEFTOVERS by Justin St. Louis
Demers, Laperle, Brown, Pembroke, Scott, Fisher, Michaud and More
VETERAN DEMERS HAS SOLID RUN IN SECOND
BROWN ALMOST A SURE THING BEFORE ROCKETING INTO ORBIT
At the Bond Auto Labor Day Classic 200, "Rocket" Roger Brown was untouchable. He was lightning quick in practice, but drew pill #100 out of 100 to determine the starting positing in his qualifying heat. Starting last meant nothing to the Rocketman. He drove from 11th place to the win, earning an ACT "plus/minus" handicap record of +10, and thereby earning the pole for the main event.
Later in the decade, Demers moved the NASCAR Busch North Series where he was a race winner and consistent Top 10 driver. He returned to racing ACT-style at Thunder Road last season, and picked up where he had left off, earning a feature win this year and eleven top five finishes in the last two seasons. On Sunday, Demers looked like he might have had a shot at earning what would have been the biggest win of his career before driving the Shelburne Limestone Corp. Chevrolet to a runner-up finish to Jean-Paul Cyr.
Dennis Demers began his racing career in ACT in the early 1990s, and was a force to be reckoned with right out of the box, winning more than his share of feature events.
once Patrick came in and I was up against Phil. I had to back off the last 20 laps, getting into the corner and on the brakes to hold it down, the car was so tight."
The handling problems on Pembroke's Twinstate Voice Data Chevrolet may have created the opportunity for the three-wide photo finish. As Pembroke, Scott, and Laperle drove into Turn 3 for the final time, Pembroke's car just wouldn't turn. "On the last lap, you've got to want it, especially when Phil's out there, so I drove it in and it slipped up. It sucks. I hate that I roughed Phil up a little bit, but I guess it turned out alright."
Dennis Demers (#86) chases Jean Paul Cyr (#32). Leif Tillotson Photo)
Pembroke held off a hard-charging Phil Scott during the closing stages of the race to protect his podium run, but a last-lap surge by Patrick Laperle left the trio crossing the start/finish line at the same time, with only inches separating third place from fifth as all three cars traded paint and Scott slammed the wall. At first, officials had Laperle in third place, but a close review of the finish determined that Pembroke had the spot.
"Holy smokes, I didn't know where we finished," Pembroke said after the race. "I was along for the ride,
Demers said that although he wasn't falling behind, he knew Cyr was faster.
"I was not strong on the outside today, and I had to make the best of it for a couple laps before it would start to go the other way for me." Using that train of thought, Demers tried to capitalize and get a jump on Cyr during the restarts.
Brown was relaxed before the start of the 200-lap feature, and planned to drive his race the same way. "It's been a wild day," he said. "We had to draw 100 out of 100, but we'll be alright. We've got a fast car, and if we can be in the top six or seven after lap 150, then we'll go. I'm not going to push it too hard in the beginning, and if someone wants to come up and lead that bad I'll just let 'em have it. There's no lap money here. The last one is all that counts, and it's a big one."
Whether he's a good liar, or just had a better car than he thought, Brown wasted little time in the main event. On lap five, he had a full straightaway lead on second place. On lap 25, he began lapping cars.
But on lap 28, everything came to a halt.
After spinning into the infield with Tim Martin, Mark Lamberton came back onto the track in Turn 3, just in front of leader Brown. As the pair came to the frontstretch, Brown moved high to put a lap on Lamberton. For reasons unknown to even Lamberton's crew members, the pair ended up in the fence - quite literally in Brown's case.
"I honestly think it happened so fast that Mark didn't even know he was there," said Lamberton crew member Phil Perry. "The spotter didn't say anything and Mark just drove his line. He feels awful, he's already gone home."
Lamberton's car was repaired and continued, but Brown's car - for the second time in 2005 - was destroyed. The #99 team's brand new chassis was wrecked badly in the season opener at Lee USA (NH) Speedway, and they skipped the Merchants Bank 150 at Thunder Road to make repairs. Brown was visibly shaken and emotionally drained following the race.
"The car was flying, insanely fast," he said. "That hurt it bad. We won't have it ready for Airborne, no way. It's not worth my time and effort to even try."
Brown was credited with 28th place, while Lamberton limped home in 24th.
"I've been right in those shoes," said Dave Pembroke. "I feel bad for him, he definitely had something working today. He was making us look like we didn't know what we're doing."
Brown will test a car normally driven by southern New England star Corey Hutchings this week at Waterford (CT) Speedbowl. If all goes well, Brown will be in the car for the Fall Foliage 150 at Airborne Speedway on Sunday.
PEMBROKE TAKES HAIR-RAISING THIRD-PLACE FINISH
Dave Pembroke has been a consistent threat all season long on the ACT Late Model Tour, and is sitting second in points behind Cyr. When ACT visited Thunder Road in May, Pembroke drove to the win. He also took a pair of regular-season victories at the quarter-mile oval before finishing fourth overall, so the fact that he finished in third in the Bond Auto Labor Day Classic 200 was no surprise. The way he finished third, however, was shocking.
Dave Pembroke waves to the crowd after being called to Victory Lane following a review of the Labor Day Classic finish. (St. Louis / 51 Photo)
Runner-up Dennis Demers (right) is congratulated by Jean-Paul Cyr's crew chief, Rick Paya, in Victory Lane. (Justin St. Louis / 51 Photo)
"There was one time that I actually thought I had a chance, when I dropped down low and got underneath him coming off turn two. I almost did that, and if I really wanted to push it I probably could have and it wouldn't have been all that difficult. But it was a good race, and Jean's a great racer. It was fun to be able to race with him and a lot of the guys up front there, they're all good guys to race with, and it was kind of neat to be part of the front group all day long."
The Labor Day Classic wasn't just another event to Demers either.
This is a pretty big race. 200 laps, 55 cars here that were trying to get in, and to end up second, that's certainly not that shabby."
This season, Laperle has made sporadic appearances in ACT, PASS, the Castrol Super Series (a new Canadian tour), and several open shows, including the TD Banknorth 250 at Oxford Plains Speedway. On Sunday, Laperle made just his second ACT start of the season in the Demers Ambulances/Precision JLM Chevrolet.
"That was one of the toughest (races) I've done," Laperle said. "The car was junk. Loose, loose, loose. We came in the pits, and there was a valve on the wheel that didn't work well. I think we pitted five times. We changed the two rear tires, and changed that valve on the right front, then the car was okay."
Laperle drove from 19th place after pitting, and brought the fans to their feet with a rousing last-lap three-wide bid for third place. He came up just inches shy behind Dave Pembroke.
The third, fourth and fifth finishers cross the line together. (ACT Photo)
Patrick Laperle waits for official word on the three-wide photo finish from ACT Chief Starter Mike Wilder. (Justin St. Louis / 51 Photo)
Looking back on the crazy finish, Pembroke wanted to reassure himself of where he was.
"Those aren't Street Stocks, right?" he asked.
Pembroke now trails Cyr by 61 points with three races left on the ACT schedule, including the Fall Foliage 150 at New York's Airborne Speedway this weekend. Pembroke has a love/hate relationship with Airborne, dating back to his days as in the Sportsman division. Three years ago, Pembroke had the field covered in an ACT event at Airborne when a lapped car spun in front of him and destroyed his race car.
"We've run decent over there, we just haven't had the luck. It owes me. We've got a new number, a new car, maybe that's what we need."
"I thought I was third, but they said we are fourth or fifth."
The Frenchman was disappointed, but kept his sense of humor.
"I was here for the win," he joked, "but I guess I'm just the third loser."
SENATOR SCOTT THE BIG LOSER IN THREE-WIDE FINISH, TAKES BLAME FOR MICHAUD SPIN
Phil Scott had a bit of a rough race, and an even rougher ending. The Vermont State Senator, multi-time Thunder Road Champion, and 2002 ACT Champion was running hard near the Top five with reigning "King of the Road" Cris Michaud on lap 176, when contact between the two sent Michaud spinning to the infield.
"I guess we got together," Scott said. "He was on the inside and I passed him, and I don't know... I didn't really move down, but I'm not sure that I knew he was there, either. I think I'll have to take the blame for that one."
Scott regrouped to charge his way into the Top five, and made a move to the outside of Dave Pembroke with just a handful of laps remaining. On the final turn, Pembroke slid up the track and into Scott, allow Patrick Laperle to squeeze inside and make it a three-way battle. The result was Scott finishing in fifth place, two wheels in the air as his Sonomax.com/Northfield Savings Bank Ford pounded the frontstretch wall.
"I was a little hot about Laperle, and I told him after the race was over," said Scott. "He ran me up and down the track for three laps and wouldn't give me a lane. Finally I got by him and went to the high side on Pembroke. Pembroke got a little loose and (Laperle) saw a little opening so he dove under there, and it just put me in the wall."
MICHAUD UPSET ABOUT SCOTT INCIDENT
Fresh off being crowned the "King of the Road" for the second year in a row, Williamstown, VT's Cris Michaud had nothing on his mind but winning the Labor Day Classic. Michaud had quietly made his way into third place before pitting on lap 123, and with 50 laps to go, had the quickest car on everyone's stopwatches. While Michaud was running down leader Jean-Paul Cyr, a bump from Phil Scott turned Michaud's Merchants Bank Ford around and ended his chances for the win.
Chasing down Jean-Paul Cyr for the ACT title will be no easy task, and Pembroke knows it.
"He's definitely got his act together," Pembroke said. "We won our heat race and led a lap, and he led probably the most laps, but we're staying within reach of him I guess. If you're going to beat him, it's probably going to take a deal like Roger Brown. That sucked. That was me at Airborne three years ago - leading the race and have a lapped car take you out of it. You never know."
LAPERLE HASN'T MISSED A BEAT
For years, St-Denis, Quebec driver Patrick Laperle was a championship contender on the ACT Late Model Tour. In 2005, however, he has decided to run outlaw style, not unlike the way Dave Dion raced in the 1970s and '80s, only racing (and often winning) high-profile events.
Michaud was not a happy camper.
"We had an awesome car until we got bodyslammed," Michaud said. "That's the way he races, so that's the way we'll race him next time. You know how that goes. When our car came into it, it was just awesome. To be honest with you, before we pitted, we were just riding. You know, half-throttle down the straight, not abusing the car, saving it. It's pretty tough to take because we feel that we could have won."
DRAGON'S BID FOR TWO-IN-A-ROW COMES UP SHORT
Brent Dragon came to Thunder Road with the hopes of winning the Labor Day Classic for a second consecutive year, and for a while it looked like he might have done just that. Three laps after Roger Brown's demise, Dragon took the lead from Dave Pembroke (who was running second as Brown crashed), and set a blistering pace. Dragon lead from lap 31 and began lapping cars quickly.
Cris Michaud's #6 car in practice. (Justin St. Louis photo)
Dragon's #55. (Justin St. Louis / 51 Photo)
World of Vermont Dodge began to fade, however, and by lap 110, Dragon had a mirror full of Jean-Paul Cyr. Cyr looked to get under Dragon once or twice before swinging to the outside groove and into the lead on lap 115.
"We had a good car through midway," Dragon said, "but it just got tight and we didn't have any tires left. The stagger closed right up on it. We had another set of tires, but I don't know if we could have made it back up that far (if we had pitted)."
Dragon eventually faded to finish sixth, just ahead of Rich Lowrey and Chad Wheeler.
"If it could have been 100 laps, we'd have been all set. It's alright, we came out in one piece, and we can go get ready for Airborne. We'll give 'em hell next time."
"HURRICANE" FISHER MAKES MAJOR STRIDES
Former Thunder Road Champion Jamie "The Hurricane" Fisher of Shelburne, VT has had a tough 2005 season. For the first time in four years, Fisher went winless in the regular season Thunder Road events, earning a pair of third-place finishes as his only Top 5s. Things haven't been easy on the ACT Late Model Tour, either, as has only two Top 10 finishes, his best a third-place run at Oxford Plains (ME) Speedway in July.
In fact, Fisher didn't earn a Top 10 in the Labor Day Classic, as he brought the S.D. Ireland Construction Chevrolet home in 12th spot. But, he looked stronger than he had all season, and was quite happy with his run. Fisher ran most of the race in the outside lane that made him famous in New England, but may have used his car up too early.
"I tried a little bit too hard and wore the right sides out," he said. "That's why we came in and changed the tires, because there was no way we were keeping up. We were going for the win. We probably could have held our spot up there, but we thought we'd go for it, and then I just got in the wrong lane at the end."
Fisher is looking forward to the final events of the season, something he may not have been able to say a few weeks ago.
"The car was the best it's been all summer I think, and we've got something to work with now. I mean, I know we have to go to the other tracks, but it's definitely going to be a good, competitive car. I'm real excited for Airborne. We always do really well over there... or real bad."
VETERAN FECTEAU RUNS WELL AS ROOKIE GRAVEL IMPRESSES
2001 ACT Champion Pete Fecteau has had a roller-coaster tenure in racing. For the first five or six years of his racing career, Fecteau was a Top 10 racer, but never visited the winner's circle. Suddenly, Fecteau became the 1997 Thunder Road Champion with three wins - the first wins of his career. But it wasn't until 2001 that he won another race - he won five that year and the ACT title. In 2002, he dropped off the radar. In 2003, he earned four wins. In 2004, nothing.
In 2005, Fecteau got another Thunder Road win and returned to the Top 10 in points while running a part-time ACT schedule. He survived more than his share of carnage before ultimately finishing 17th.
"Seems like we got into every wreck there was," said Fecteau. "I went to the rear I don't know how many times. For the last 20 laps, I had a right-rear going down, too.
No spring chicken, Fecteau has decided that he's just about ready to find something else to do with his time. Enter Marcel Gravel, a veteran Tiger Sportsman driver at Thunder Road, and a contender for the '05 Sportsman title.
Fecteau has taken Gravel under his wing, and has entered the youngster in a handful of Late Model events this season in his team car, including the Bond Auto Labor Day Classic 200. In his first outing last month, Gravel started at the rear of the pack, but cut a tire while running in fifth place. Sunday, Gravel not only out-qualified his boss, he had a great Top 10 run going until a late-race dump job sent him spinning.
"The first 100 laps didn't go by so good," Gravel said, "but the last 100 wasn't too bad. The second 100 was a lot faster for me, but my car wasn't as loose after we changed the tires, either. We would have been in really good shape if we hadn't been spun out. I fell back to like 14th, and then I came back up to ninth or tenth, and then somebody didn't want me there anymore."
Gravel took his rookie lumps, but looked at the situation like a level-headed veteran.
"It just sucks. I give, give, give all day and get nothing in return for it."
Welcome to the big leagues, Marcel.
Ironically, Gravel finished right on Fecteau's rear bumper in 18th place.
"He did real well," Fecteau said. "He's a good driver, and I think next year will be fun. I might run part-time, but we're going to focus on him. It's time I slowed down a little bit, my back is killing me."
The #99 of Roger Brown goes riding the wall. (Top - Alan Ward Photo) and comes back to earth hard. (Botom - Leif Tillotson Photo)
Jamie Fisher's #18 car. (Justin St. Louis / 51 Photo)
Pete Fecteau's car was a little worse for the wear following the Bond Auto Labor Day Classic 200. (Justin St. Louis / 51 Photo)