Others, like Walter Sutcliffe from East Haven, CT were making their maiden voyage to the “Nation’s Site of Excitement”. “This track’s a bit intimidating at first,” the veteran southern New England pilot stated. Like Nextel Cup driver Kenny Schrader who ran a Late Model race at Thunder Road in July of last year, Sutcliffe commented about the track’s fourth turn wall, “It’s going to take some getting used to, I’ve got to find the line coming off (the fourth turn). I’ve been told which drivers do well here so I’m going to try and do some following,” he finished.
  
Two-time defending Late Model “King of the Road” Cris Michaud from Williamstown, VT shook his car down without benefit of identification from his primary sponsor, Merchants Bank. For the fence sitters, it was fairly easy to tell it was the veteran competitor by his smooth lines around the high-banked oval.
Three of Thunder Road’s weekly divisions begin their quest for the 2006 “King of the Road” titles at the ACT Late Model Tour’s Merchants Bank 150 on Sunday, April 30 (post time 1:30).
PASS TEAMS TEST AT OXFORD

Meanwhile, up the road a piece in Maine, several PASS North teams took advantage of a practice day at Oxford Plains Speedway to prepare for this Saturday’s season opening New England Dodge Dealers 150.

For some, such as eight-time Pro Stock champion Jeff Taylor, it's a day to flash new colors. The traditional #88T sat in storage back at Distance Racing Products in Fairfield on Saturday while Taylor turned his first laps at the helm of the PASS Hi-Tech Motorsports ride owned by Tom and Eileen Estes.
51's NORTHERN EXPOSURE Compiled by Mike Twist
Practice, Rain, Hamlin, a Hall of Fame and More
“I can’t believe how many cars there are,” commented Quebec’s Patrick Laperle, winner of the New England Dodge Milk Bowl at the high banked, quarter-mile oval last October. “I had to come down today because I won’t be able to make the practice after the car show next Saturday, (April 29).” Laperle will perform double duty by racing a Pro Stock car at Maine’s Oxford Plains Speedway on Saturday night before heading to Barre for Thunder Road’s Merchants Bank 150 ACT Late Model Tour opener on Sunday (April 30).

Thirty-four Late Model teams representing five of the six New England states as well as New York and Quebec were in the pits, many shaking down their cars for the first time. “I just want to make sure nothing’s going to fall off or leak,” laughed Mark Lamberton from Mooers Forks, NY. Lamberton, a veteran Late Model driver and former Airborne Speedway champion has developed a fondness for Thunder Road, “The more I run here, the better I feel. It’s a real handling track that’s never quite the same twice, and seat time here really counts,” he explained.
The last time that Patrick Leperle raced at Thunder Road, he ended the day by kissing a cow in The Milk Bowl's victory lane.  He wants to win again this weekend, but will have to beat a ton of other drivers first.
T-ROAD PRACTICE PACKS ‘EM IN

Nearly 100 race teams showed up last week as Thunder Road Speedbowl (VT) officially kicked off its 2006 race season with the first practice session of the year. Keeping track of who was in what car was a bit of a challenge as many cars were not yet in full trim – including numbers. Several teams have switched their color schemes during the off-season and while the number might have been familiar, the car’s livery belied who was at the wheel.
Taylor takes over for multi-time PASS champion and two-time TD Banknorth 250 winner Ben Rowe in the Mechanical Services Chevrolet.

"We're going to run 8 to 10 (PASS) races," said Conrad Taylor, Jeff's father and longtime chief mechanic. "And we'll bring our own car out to play whenever we can. We couldn't stay away from this place."
Chris Kennison was quickest with his #10 in Oxford practice last Saturday.  Corey Williams (#47) and Eric Chase (#40) weren't very far off his pace though.  (Jamie Williams Photo)
Dale Shaw (#60) and Richie Dearborn were also testing at Oxford.  (Jamie Williams Photo)
Taylor, whose 63 Pro Stock feature wins rank third all-time in the division behind Mike Rowe and Al Hammond, wasted no time making himself right at home in the gold #00. He was one of several drivers to trip the stopwatch in the low 15-second range.

Unofficially, Oxford regular Chris Kennison topped the speed charts ahead of a three-way tie between Mike Rowe, Travis Benjamin and Ricky Rolfe.

Also in attendance were various PASS regulars and
semi-regulars including Corey Williams, Richie Dearborn, Alan Wilson, Alan Tardiff, Dale Shaw and Bill Penfold.

RAIN WASHES AWAY RACING ACTION

While practice was able to take place at various tracks, rain was the story of New England last weekend when it came to actual racing activities.  The season-opening race at Maine’s Beech Ridge Motor Speedway was washed out along with weekly shows at Monadnock Speedway (NH) and Waterford Speedbowl (CT).

Showers also washed out a day of practice for the weekly race teams and PASS Outlaws at Canaan Fair Speedway’s asphalt track on Saturday.

YOUTH MOVEMENT IS STRONG IN ACT

The American-Canadian Tour’s (ACT) youth movement, which started in 2005, will continue into 2006 and beyond according to the entries filed for the Tour’s early season events. Additionally, the geographic footprint of these competitors displays the regional reach of ACT and its 2006 12-race schedule.
previously raced on. Collins has upped the ante and will attempt the full Tour schedule in 2006.

If consistency was the name of the game, Milton, Vermont’s Scott Payea would be near the top of the list. Only one driver, 2005 Champion, Jean-Paul Cyr had a better finishing average than last season’s top freshman runner (5.1 to 7.6). Additionally, Payea, 24, was one of just seven drivers to qualify for all 10 ACT Tour feature races in 2005.

The highlight to 23 year-old Ryan Vanasse’s first season with the ACT Tour was a fourth place finish in front of his hometown crowd at Seekonk (MA) Speedway. The Warwick, RI youngster cut his racing teeth at the one-third mile oval dubbed the “Cement Palace” and showed the ACT Tour faithful the way around the Bay State oval. With a season of ACT Touring under his belt, young Vanasse states that he’ll be more comfortable at most of the tracks on the 2006 schedule and is excited to tackle Sanair’s tri-oval.
One of the elder statesmen of the “New Breed” is 26 year-old Roger Brown. Brown, from Lancaster, the 2003 ACT Tour Rookie of the Year, found his stride in 2005, turning in four top-5 finishes including a pair of runner-up efforts. The young hotshoe reports that he’s got a new car primed and ready to bring his assault at Thunder Road’s season opening Merchants Bank 150, Sunday, April 30.

Twenty-seven year-old Mike Collins of Strafford, NH, tested the ACT Tour waters, and at back-to-back events raced his way into the top ten at tracks he’d never
In spite of is age, Polewarczyk, an honor student from Hudson, NH, has several years of racing competition under his belt. After getting his feet wet on the local Late Model scene in 2004, his family based team made the transition to the touring Late Model series. In the New England Dodge Dealers Milk Bowl season ending event at Thunder Road (Barre, VT), “Joey Pole” hit his stride at the high banked quarter-mile oval. The driver, who will turn 17 years old 30 days after the Merchants Bank 150, raced his way in to the 42nd annual event by finishing fourth in the second of three Triple-50 Qualifiers.
Twenty-two year-old Marc Curtis from Leicester, MA qualified for three ACT Tour events in his inaugural ACT Late Model season. Curtis, who was used to the horsepower needed at the 5/8ths mile Thompson (CT) Speedway, showed steady improvement with the ZZ4 “crate motor” utilized by ACT. Like Vanasse, Curtis is looking forward to the familiarity of returning to tracks this year.

Other young lions to watch for in the future include Granite State residents Dan Colby (Lyman), Mike Jurkowski (Claremont), and Bobby Baillargeon (Nottingham) as well as 17 year-old Mark Anzalone from Malden, MA who will compete as a Rookie of the Year contender in 2006.

The highlight to 23 year-old Ryan Vanasse’s first season with the ACT Tour was a fourth place finish in front of his hometown crowd at Seekonk (MA) Speedway. The Warwick, RI youngster cut his racing teeth at the one-third mile oval dubbed the “Cement Palace” and showed the ACT Tour faithful the way around the Bay State oval. With a season of ACT Touring under his belt, young Vanasse states that he’ll be more comfortable at most of the tracks on the 2006 schedule and is excited to tackle Sanair’s tri-oval.

HAMLIN ENTERS TD BANKNORTH 250

Denny Hamlin wasted no time becoming the first driver in a supremely talented NASCAR Nextel Cup rookie class to win a race in 2006, capturing the all-star Budweiser Shootout in February one week before the Daytona 500. 
Long before he established himself as the next big thing in the nation’s premier stock car division, though, Hamlin was one of the most prolific Late Model drivers in the southern United States. Hamlin will return to his roots on Sunday, July 30, when he intends to qualify for the 33rd annual TD Banknorth 250 at Oxford. 

Hamlin, who drives the #11 FedEx Chevrolet in Nextel Cup and the #20 Rockwell Automation Chevrolet in the Busch Series for Joe Gibbs Racing, is the third driver with a NASCAR pedigree to enter the nation’s richest single-day short track race. He joins JGR teammate J.J. Yeley and Maine native and 1991 TD Banknorth 250 champion Ricky Craven in the event, which awards a first-place check exceeding $25,000. 
That is the highest major-league participation in the TD Banknorth 250 since 1992, when five drivers who were active in Cup competition at the time (Terry Labonte, Ernie Irvan, Jimmy Spencer, Morgan Shepherd and Chad Little) raced in the OPS showcase. 

“It all started for me on short tracks,” said the 25-year-old Hamlin, who won feature races on five different tracks near his hometown of Chesterfield, Va., in 2003. “Other than racing at Bristol (Tenn.) and Martinsville (Va.), we don’t have a lot of those kind of tracks on our NASCAR schedule. I hear the TD Banknorth 250 is one of the biggest and toughest late model races anywhere, and I’m really looking forward to it.” 

Hamlin will join forces with King Motorsports and driver Scott King of Livermore Falls. King finished a career-best fifth in the Oxford Networks Pro Stock point standings, and was voted as the division’s most popular driver, last season and has qualified for the TD Banknorth 250 on three occasions.
“It’s an honor for us to work with a NASCAR Nextel Cup driver for the first time,” Scott King said. “All the preparation we do every winter is centered around the TD Banknorth 250. We’re excited about working with Denny and trying to get one of our cars into the winner’s circle.” 

Hamlin’s most prolific season as a Late Model Stock driver was 2003, when he won 25 feature events. The next year, Hamlin continued his lifelong pattern as a quick study by finishing eighth in his first-ever Busch Series race at Darlington, S.C.

The TD Banknorth 250 is not Hamlin’s first exposure to a nationally significant Late Model event. In 2002, he finished second in the Sleep Inn 250 at Myrtle Beach, S.C., and seventh in the Taco Bell 300 at Martinsville.
More than 70 drivers are expected to confront the
NASCAR standouts at OPS, including defending and three-time TD Banknorth 250 champion Mike Rowe and past race winners Ben Rowe, Gary Drew, Scott Robbins and Canadian racing legend Junior Hanley. And that doesn’t include a lengthy list of short-track stars who have yet to solve the toughest short track race in America, including Johnny Clark, eight-time OPS champion Jeff Taylor, Tracy Gordon and Dale Shaw. 

KOBYLUCK SHOWS STRENGTH OUT WEST

Busch East driver Matt Kobyluck was a dominant force in the early running of the AutoZone West Series’ Casino Arizona 150 at Phoenix International Raceway last week, but engine problems eventually sidelined the Mohegan Sun Casino race team and relegated them to a 30th place finish. Kobyluck led for 56 laps in the caution-filled event before parking the No. 40 Mohegan Sun Chevrolet behind the wall at lap 75.

“This was definitely one of the best cars out there and I feel like we had a car that could have won the race,” Kobyluck said of the Mohegan Sun Chevrolet. “I’m not sure what exactly happened with the motor, but I can tell you it was big. We had nearly two seconds on the rest of the field, but I got passed by six or eight guys within five laps once the engine went.”
Kobyluck kicked off the day on a strong note when he missed the Busch Pole Award by 5/100th’s of a second. Kobyluck initially was awarded with a third place qualifying speed, but was placed on the outside front row when the 16 car’s time was disqualified.

“We practiced and qualified in the daytime and raced at nighttime so we were really trying to figure out all day what the car was going to do for the race,” said Kobyluck. “But when the race started, the car was better than it had been all day.”

Kobyluck got the lead at lap six and never looked back – at least not until lap 64.
"We thought we may be able to tough out the problems. We thought we may have just lost a cylinder or something, but when I came down pit road and my crew chief, Perry Waite, took a look, we knew it was fatal. It was hugely disappointing. We had such a good car – you hate to see something like that take you out – unfortunately, it was a harsh reality.”

Kobyluck will return to competition on June 10th at Greenville-Pickens Speedway when the Busch East Series, Grand National Division kicks off the 2006 season with the Busch East 150.

FORMER OXFORD CHAMP PASSES ON

Ervin (Erv) Whitney, who won both the Oxford Plains Speedway season title and triple crown championship in the Mini Stock division in 1971 and 1972, died Saturday, April 22, in Windham. He was 64.

Erv was a lifelong car enthusiast who managed Mobil and Texaco filling stations in the Windham area for many years. He had four children, seven stepchildren and 14 grandchildren.
On the track, Erv won 11 races between 1971 and 1973 in his distinctive, orange #14 Saab.

MAINE HALL OF FAME INDUCTS CLASS OF ‘06

The Maine Motorsports Hall of Fame welcomed seven new members during emotional induction ceremonies held at the Augusta (Maine) Civic Center on Sunday recently. Presented by the Maine Vintage Race Car Association, the third induction ceremonies increased the number of Hall of Fame members to 28.

The seven newest members represent all areas of auto racing - from a "daredevil" flagman to a highly respected track/touring series official, from a three-track champion to a national champion, from a driver and teacher to a dirt track master to a driver who went from the dirt tracks of Maine to the sands of Daytona Beach.
The "presentations to induction" began with Bruce Elder presenting racing legend Ernie Gahan. Even though Gahan lived in Dover, N.H., Elder noted he (Gahan) raced regularly in Maine during the 1950's at Beech Ridge Speedway, Sanford Speedway, Oxford Plains Speedway and the Lewiston Fairgrounds. Elder spoke of Gahan receiving the Carnegie Award for Heroism in 1963, along with two others for saving the life of Marvin Panch at Daytona International Speedway by pulling him from his burning race car. The highlight of Gahan's career was winning the NASCAR Modified National Championship in 1966.
 
Silas "Si" Parlin was the next to be inducted. Elder said Parlin was considered "one of the best dirt track drivers ever". A three-time track champion (Beech Ridge in
1952, Oxford in 1953 and 1954), Parlin was once told by track promoters in Quebec he could not race at their tracks because he was to dominate.  Mrs. Marie Parlin accepted the Hall of Fame on behalf of her late husband, who passed away last October.

Jerry Major then presented Ken Farrington for induction. Farrington's introduction to racing was through his mother in 1949 who worked for Beech Ridge owner Jim McConnell and later was the publicist for the Pine State Stock Car Racing Association. Ken went from an enthusiastic teenager to being a crew member in 1959 for Ed Niemi. Farrington built the motor that took Al Hammond to his first track championship in 1970. He became a technical inspector at Oxford in the late 1970's and when the NASCAR Busch North Series was formed in 1987, then race director before retiring in 1996.

Eight-time track champion Dana Graves was next to be inducted. Jerry Major told of Dana's 32-year racing career beginning at the old Exeter Raceway in 1958 where he won his first championship four years later. Dana went on to win over 200 races, winning track titles at Unity Raceway (1968, 1969, 1971, 1972) and Speedway 95 (1969, 1973 and one other).
 
Andy Cusack stepped to the podium for the first of his three presentations - Arthur 'Buster' Burt. Cusack said Burt's long association with stock car racing began in 1950 at Oxford Plains Speedway when he (Burt) drove his first race. He never won a track championship because as a member of the Air Force he couldn't race every weekend. When the Air Force transferred him to Florida in 1955, Burt got to race at places like Orlando, Lakeland, Tampa and many others. Burt is one of the few drivers to have raced on the old Daytona beach course and on the high-banks of Daytona International Speedway. He worked for Roush Racing towing Mark Martin's show car around the country and later, helped nurture Legend Car racing in Maine as the organization's director.

Legendary flagman Harold 'Lefty' Ellis was the next to be presented. Ellis flagged at Beech Ridge Speedway for 15 years beginning in 1959. Cusack noted that Lefty was one of the original daredevil flagmen, waving the flags on the track only a couple of feet from the cars. One of Ellis' most notable feats was to wave the green flag in the middle of the track with the stock cars roaring past on both sides.

The final honoree of the evening was the late Al Robinson. Cusack said even though Robinson's racing career spanned only a dozen years, he made his mark on and off the track at Unity Raceway. Robinson won his fair share of races and was the track's high money driver in 1966. Possibly his biggest contribution to racing was being a mentor to his three sons - Jeff, Tim and Al - and to two young, inexperienced drivers named Stan Meserve and Pete Silva.

Several special awards were presented during the evening. Peter Taylor was presented the Allen Brann Photography Award for his photo of a young girl getting an autograph from NASCAR star Ken Schrader at Wiscasset Raceway last July. Beech Ridge champion Bob Babb Jr., Unity Raceway champion Ed Drake and TD Banknorth 250/Pullen 300 champion Mike Rowe were honored as 2005 Driver of the Year Finalists with each driver receiving a special plaque. Later in the ceremonies, Mike Rowe was named the recipient of the 2005 Driver of the Year award.




Roger Brown  (Justin St. Louis / 51 Photo)
Scott Payea's #89 car.   (51 Photo)
Denny Hamlin  (NASCAR Photo)
Scott King knows his way around Oxford and will be Hamlin's teammate for the 250.   (Norm Marx Photo)
Matt Kobyluck raced under the lights at Phoenix.
The Maine Motorsports Hall of Fame's Class of 2006.