MacDONALD AND TEAM SEE HARD WORK PAY OFF AT THOMPSONby Mike Twist
Getting to Victory Lane Took Years of Hard Work and the Right Combination of People
When the 2005 NASCAR Busch North season started, there were three men who got together as owner, driver and crew chief. Just being in the racing game after a string a disappointments was a big enough accomplishment for Jerry Morello, Eddie MacDonald and Rollie LaChance. All three had something to prove this year
As the regular season drew to a close on Sunday evening at Thompson Speedway (CT), the trio showed what they were made of by taking home the winner’s trophy while Andy Santerre won his fourth straight title. We'll have more on Santerre's story later this week.
The box score will show that MacDonald started on the outside pole and led four different times. It will show that his #77 car was out front for over 90% of the laps run. It will show how he fought one of the greatest short track drivers ever in New England, Mike Stefanik, for the win.
What the box score won’t show though is what it took to get to victory lane for each person.
Let’s start with McDonald. The young driver had won before in Busch North, but not since Beech Ridge in '02. Since then, there's been solid runs with his family-owned team, but they just didn’t have the right combination to win again. A change of ownership last season didn’t help matters and this off-season, MacDonald was a man without a plan. The funding wasn’t there to race full-time anymore.
LaChance was also without a home. After putting Tracy Gordon in victory lane countless times, he led Ryan Moore to the Rookie of the Year title in 2003. But there were no victories in 2003 or 2004 and when Moore signed on with the DEI development program for this season, LaChance was out.
Enter Morello, a car owner who had been through two drivers and several crew chiefs in two seasons. Morello saw the potential of MacDonald and LaChance and put them together. What happened next was a story that (for now) has ended in victory lane at Thompson.
“It seems like forever since Beech Ridge,” said McDonald. “We’ve had a lot of good runs in between though, especially this year with Rollie, Jerry and all these guys. It’s been a good season. We’ve had good cars, but finishing the deal hasn’t been there for us.”
The driver was aware of what the victory meant to his teammates as well.
“I’m happy for Rollie because he hasn’t had one in awhile. I kind of felt bad for that. I’m glad that we finally
got one. It’s awesome for Jerry after all of the effort that
he’s put in over the past few years. To come out with a win is awesome.”
That first victory sure didn’t come easy. Morello got into racing several years back by fielding a NASCAR Modified Tour team. Joey Caraccia and Lee Weldy both spent time as his wheelmen.
But the future of the team changed on a Friday night in December, 2001. A car parked outside Morello’s auto repair shop had a fire under the hood. That spread quickly and soon spread to the building. Fire departments from 11 towns showed up and battled the blaze. When it was out hours later, the tangible assets of the raceteam were gone.
driver and crew chief so good that they seem to be related by blood. Morello compares it to the other race team that he owns for Andy Seuss, whose father Steve serves as crew chief.
“Hooking up with Rollie was a good step and hooking up with Eddie was a good step, but the combination of those two guys is amazing. I’ve never seen better chemistry. We understand why Andy and Steve got along because they are father and son and they are like two peas a in a pod, but I’ve got to tell you that these two guys have it too. They never get mad, they are so focused and driven.”
“Everything he does is perfect,” said MacDonald of LaChance. “He just doesn’t do anything wrong.”
“Whatever they did worked because, they made it a dominant car.
“I never questioned him,” said MacDonald. “He knows what he wants to in the car and I don’t even need to tell him what the car needs. You can’t beat that.
“The car was just awesome. Rollie did an awesome job by changing everything this morning. That made me a little nervous when they changed springs and everything after qualifying second. I have all the confidence in him. He knows exactly what he is doing.”
What surprised MacDonald actually was not that the team won, but that it took all season to do that.
“At the beginning of this year when we got Rollie and the new cars, I really thought that we would do this sooner,” said MacDonald. “But it’s a tough series and we had a lot of problems.
Eddie MacDonald (#77) and Mike Stefanik (#55) battled hard for the Thompson victory. (Howie Hodge Photo)
The team turned heads in the pit area on Sunday morning by making major changes to their car after qualifying on the outside pole position.
“We haven’t gotten a pole yet,” said MacDonald sounding disappointed about qualifying second. “I wanted it. I’ve never gotten a pole. We bottomed out a little bit going in and we knew that we could get better.”
“Joey McCarthy gave Eddie a hard time today,” said Morello. “They were working all day long on the car and he came over and asked, ‘Did somebody forget to tell you that you’re on the outside pole?’
So MacDonald had to catch up with Seuss right?
“Yeah, he had his win last week,” said MacDonald. “So I had to get one this week.”
The winning feeling is enough to keep Morello in the game for a long time to come.
“Every dime has been worth it [for this],” said Morello. “I’d do it again. “I really feel like with the two teams that I’ve put together with the Seusses and with Eddie and Rollie Lachance, I’ve got a lot of good days ahead of me.
MacDonald and Stefanik were side-by-side all night. (Jim DuPont Photo)
Morello is the only car owner in New England to own a full-time Busch North and Modified team. Andy Seuss drives Morello’s #70 cars in the True Value Modified Racing Series and won at Seekonk Speedway in early October. It was Morello’s first win.
“I’ve had a phenomenal month. I had Andy win his first True Value Modified race at Seekonk and now Eddie win here. Both of them won their races in the same way, in true dominance.”
Eddie MacDonald (C) is joined in victory lane by his sister Jen (L) and car owner Jerry Morello (R). (Norm Marx Photo)
The #77 gang celebrates their win. (Mary Hodge Photo)
“We started off Modified racing back in the late 90’s,” said Morello. “We had a good organization. We didn’t have much success, but I was building a good solid team. We had the pieces and then I had a devastating seven alarm fire that took my raceshop right out. We lost everything.
“I took a year off to regroup and I helped out a couple of Modified teams when Mark Durgin got me back into racing in the Busch North Series. Ever since then, we’ve taken one step at a time.”
Durgin ran a full season for Morello in 2003 and finished second in the rookie standings to Ryan Moore [whose team was then led by LaChance]. Jamie Aube took over the car last season, but neither combination quite worked out.
“Every year, I’ve had to make some tough decisions,” said Morello. “We were missing ingredients and kept searching for those ingredients.”
Those ingredients were found this year with a combination of
"For next year, we’ve already made our plans. Everyone is coming back. Eddie’s back. The whole team is back and we’re expecting more of these next year. I want to race for a championship.
As for MacDonald, he just wants to win.
“It’s awesome. I love to race and will race anything that we can. It’s been awhile since our last win and we finally got it. Now I want more. I really want to win in California, that would be really nice.
MacDonald proved that to us by his actions after the Busch North race. Minutes after being interviewed, MacDonald hopped into his Late Model and ran it in the Outlaw event which helped to make up the World Series weekend. He completed the race, but that’s no doubt that he wasn’t satisfied when he climbed from the car.
Why not? Because instead of being happy to beat 21 other cars, MacDonald was undoubtedly disappointed by finishing second. After all, he’s a true racer and bad luck, shop fires and second place finishes aside, winning is what racers do.
Eddie MacDonald in victory lane - that's what it is all about. (Mary Hodge Photo)
Race winner Eddie MacDonald (L) and champion Andy Santerre congratuate each other. (Norm Marx Photo)