Leftovers: ACT Late Models at Oxford by Mike Twist
A Tough Show to Make, Lessons from Rowe, Driver Meeting Tidbits and Much More
Eddie MacDonald's chances of making the starting field went up in smoke within feet of the finish during his heat race. (51 Photos)
JUST QUALIFYING IS A CHORE AT OXFORD
It’s been said that to win a race, you must first finish. Well, to finish a race, you must first qualify for it. With 52 entries at Oxford, many good drivers and teams unfortunately ended up feeling like Michael Waltrip after the heat races, consis and last chance event were finished.
The most notable driver not to qualify at Oxford was Brent Dragon. A pair of provisionals were up for grabs to ACT regulars (with one going to an Oxford regular as well) and Dragon finished third in points last season. But that wasn’t enough to get Dragon in the show. To prevent sandbagging, ACT rules state that while top 10 points racers are eligible for provisionals, only the two highest finishing ones in the last chance race will be awarded a provisional start. That honor went to Scott Payea and Ryan Vanasse at Oxford, so Brent Dragon had to load up and head home early.
Dragon had good company. Busch East Series driver Eddie MacDonald was quick all day though practice, but drew a poor start for his heat race and got spun right before the checkered flag.
Also among those not making the show were Oxford regulars Scott Robbins, Scott King, TJ Watson, Carey Martin and Glen Luce. Canadians Donald Theetge and Yvon Bedard did not make the show either, along with Joey Becker and Scott Dragon.
MAINE-BORN CARS DO WELL AT OXFORD
It looks like a little bit of a friendly rivalry might be developing among a pair of Maine chassis builders in the ACT Late Model ranks this year. Both Ricky Rolfe, of Racebasics, and Jeff Taylor, who builds cars under the Distance Racing banner, have winning records at Oxford as drivers. On Saturday night, their creations combined to sweep the top three positions in the ACT event.
The drivers who wheeled those cars weren’t shy about complimenting their car builders either.
“Racebasics helped a lot,” said Brian Hoar, who was fast early but watched the finish once his car was sidelined with a rear end failure. “Those guys are awesome. They won the race with an identical car and an identical set-up. Second place was also a Racebasics car.
Winner Randy Potter had not raced at Oxford for years, but he had a good notebook from Racebasics to go by.
“The only thing that I had to go by was what Racebasics had,” said Potter. “They had a lot of cars out here. Ricky runs here and we didn’t run the same thing that he did, but he still helped me out a lot.”
Taylor is an eight-time track champion at Oxford and even though he didn’t race at the track this weekend, one of his Distance cars finished third with Joey Pole behind the wheel.
“This is a brand new car from Jeff Taylor at Distance and it was just awesome today,” said Pole after the race.
POLE LEARNS FROM A MASTER
There is nobody in history with more feature wins at Oxford than Mike Rowe, so when Joey Pole had the chance to race side-by-side with the legend midway through the ACT race there, the 17-year-old didn’t just have fun…he also paid close attention.
“That was pretty fun,” said Pole of his race with Rowe. “We were side-by-side for what seemed like forever. He’ll race you hard, but do it clean. I don’t even know if he knows who I am, so when I was beside him I just wanted to give him plenty of respect.”
Ricky Rolfe's #51 Racebasics car was quick enough to leave a wake - literally. Check out those waves in the puddles off turn three at Oxford. (Jamie Williams Photo)
“That wasn’t exactly what we were hoping for,” said Hoar. “We had a great car and it was a part failure. There is nothing that you can do about that. The rear end locked up. The bearing seized. It was brand new, but had a little problem there. We didn’t make too many laps with it. It probably has about 200 laps on it since we took it out of the box.”
Hoar has 23 victories and five ACT Late Model championships to his name (including four straight from 1997 through 2000). For the past several years though, he has been away from the Tour to compete in the NASCAR Busch North…and then NASCAR Busch East….Series.
Now he’s back home, running with ACT full-time with an occasional BES start scheduled for now and again.
“It feels great with the comradery and all of the people here,” said Hoar. “The cars are fun to drive too. It’s a lot of fun. We got here at 8 o’clock this morning and from the
“I learned by watching him that if your car goes away, to move up a few grooves. That is what I had to do at the end. I saw him doing it.”
Now Pole is preparing to head to Thunder Road Speedbowl for next week’s ACT race there. It’s a place where he has had some success in the past, most notably being a contender for last year’s Milk Bowl win there, so he’s looking forward to going back.
“We get to go there next week. For now, it is my favorite track. We’ll just have to see how that is after next week.”
MIKE ROWE STRUGGLES WITH HANDLING ISSUES
Mike Rowe ran in the top five for much of the race at Oxford, but faded to a seventh-place finish in the race. All things considered though, that was pretty good. His #24 car’s handling was less than ideal in its first time to see the track in 2007.
“We were just wicked loose on the bottom,” said Rowe. “ I to set it on the outside, so I just ran to the outside and gave everyone the bottom. I chunked the tires with about 20 laps to go and just held on. We just have to get a little bit of practice with the car and see how to adjust it. We only ran it once last year and just haven’t had enough practice on it. But we’ve got a whole racecar, so that is good.”
BEN ROWE STRUGGLES WITH A FLAT TIRE
Mike Rowe’s race was much better than that of his son Ben though. The younger Rowe had a tire losing air from the drop of the green flag. He eventually pitted to change it, but without the benefit of a caution at the right time, went several laps down and finished back in the 27th position.
Ben Rowe's #4ME and Mike Rowe's #24ME. (51 Photos)
“The left rear was going down,” said Rowe. “We came in and thought it was in the bar. We tried to put a round in the sway bar and went back out. Then I knew it was left rear going down. I stayed out and knew that we would either get lapped and get a caution. Once we got lapped, I came in and they changed it. It wasn’t a wasted day though. This was a good test for the 250.”
The highlight of Rowe’s race might have been the strong performance of David Avery in the #10 car. Last year, Avery stepped away from the driver’s seat to put Rowe in. The combination clicked and Rowe won four races in the car. This year, Rowe is driving for Richard Moody Racing and Avery has gone back to his own car. He finished fifth at Oxford,
“I’m proud of David,” said Rowe. “That is a new car this season and he’s back in the
“The car went very, very well. We were building off the knowledge that we gained from our last race in 2006 – the Little Guys 100. Going into that race, the car would be tight in the beginning. It went real good for 10 laps and then it would get loose. So we knew on a long run, the car would get loose. The certainly happened, but not as bad. So now we will take the knowledge that we gained here and apply it to the 250. Certainly, we should have a top five car for that race.”
Finishing strong in the ACT feature helps to put Adams in a good position to contend for the track championship when the weekly Late Model wars start this Saturday night.
“It certainly does,” said Adams. “To come out strong and start out where we left off last year is good. We won four of our last fives races last year. We’ll certainly build on this for the weekly racing series.
seat. It’s good for him to have a finish like that. He can drive a racecar. I just went over there last year to help them out and David told me that he learned from me last year just listening on the radio. So that’s good. I know how hard that whole bunch works, and I’m happy for those guys. Hopefully, they don’t get used to beating me too much.”
ADAMS REPRESENTS OXFORD WELL
2006 Oxford Late Model champion Travis Adams finished a very solid eighth in the ACT opener. It wasn’t the victory that he was hoping for, but it wasn’t shabby by any means either.
Hoar's #45 gets pushed back to the pits after things got a little too heated with it. (51 Photo)
HARSH PENALTIES IN STORE FOR ANY TINKERING
The hallmark of the ACT Late Model tour right now is parity between cars. Teams are not allowed to modify their spec engines or shocks. Tour director Tom Curley wants it to stay that way. In the pre-race drivers’ meeting, he made it clear that any efforts to cheat up those components would bring major consequences.
“If you screw with the rules, we will catch you,” said Curley. “Play with these shocks or these engines and I will blackball you at every track that we are associated with. I will do everything that I can do to keep you from racing this type of car around here. So don’t play around with any of it.”
HENRY COMES CLOSE TO A TOP 10 FINISH NEAR HOME
Before Oxford Plains Speedway became the Eastern New England base of ACT Late Model racing, Ron Henry was one of the first racers from the state of Maine to chase the Tour. He would tow all across New England, but Oxford is the track that is closest to his home – which is within 30 minutes of the track.
moment that we got here we have been going non-stop. We haven’t been sitting around with our arms folded. I’ve been doing enough of that for the last five years. We had a lot of fun – right up until that lap when it broke. We’ll be back next weekend at Thunder Road.”
CYR ALREADY OFF TO A GOOD START TOWARDS ANOTHER TITLE
Jean Paul Cyr is a six-time ACT Late Model champion. In the past though, he has seen the Oxford track as a bit of an Achilles’ heel to his title plans. This time though, that was far from the case. Cyr left the 150 lapper on Saturday night with a fine second-place finish.
The ACT tech area is not going to be a friendly place for anyone caught playing with shocks or engines. (51 Photo)
HOAR ON FIRE – IN MORE WAYS THAN ONE
Brian Hoar hoped that he would come out of the box on fire during his return to ACT racing – and he was, but maybe not quite on the way that he had hoped.
Hoar had some of the quickest practice speeds and was shaping up to be a contender for the feature win, but while running second on lap 30, a ball of flame erupted under his car. That dropped him out of the event with a finish of 32nd.
Oxford, but did not have his car there. He’ll run a regular runner in ACT Late Model this season. Robbie Crouch had hoped to return full-time to the Tour this season, but is undergoing cancer treatments and had to postpone his comeback.
Oxford Late Model regular Tommy Tomkins didn’t quite have his car ready for this race, but he did lead all 30 laps of the Strictly Stock feature to start the year off right in that division.
Also missing in action at Oxford were Joey Laquerre, Tracie Bellerose (who will be making her 2007 debut at Thunder Road this weekend) and Oxford competitor Ricky Morse.
“Coming to Oxford, finishing second and leaving without a scratch on the car, I’ll take it,” said Cyr.
Cyr’s path to that second-place finish was a very strong car in the outside lane of the racetrack.
“Right now, the outside groove is the place to be,” said Cyr. “I started out on the inside for awhile and the car wasn’t working quite right, so I kept moving up until it did. There was a pretty good group up there. I spent about half of the race up there.”
MISSING IN ACTION
Although there were 52 Late Models in the pit area at Oxford, the numbers could have been even higher. A number of high-profile competitors did not come out to race in the season opener.
Patrick Laperle was absent. He reportedly was recovering from an illness back home in Quebec and will be in action before too long. Kip Stockwell was walking the pits at
Henry had a strong performance on Saturday night, coming one spot shy of a top 10 finish at Oxford.
“Not bad at all,” said Henry of his 11th-place run. “I’m very happy with it. I came home with the car in one piece and it went a whole lot better than last year. Last year, we couldn’t catch a break. Just to qualify was a fete in itself.”
Henry is very happy with how the ACT Late Models have taken to the Oxford track.
“The last few races here have been really good,” said Henry. “There haven’t been a lot of cautions and people have been using their heads very well. That makes for good racing.”
One thing that was obvious at the Oxford ACT race was the amount of pride that competitors had for their homestates.
A number of cars sported their driver’s state after the number – including the #4ME and #24ME entries of Maine’s first racing family – the Rowes (Ben had the #4 and Mike the #24).
Then there was the #11RI of Rhode Island’s Ryan Vanasse, the #14VT of Vermont State Senator Phil Scott and the #27MA of Massachusetts competitor Marc Curtis, Jr and of course, there was also the very prominent #02NH of race winner Randy Potter from New Hampshire.
The only New England state not represented with a number/letter combo was Connecticut.
No entrants from the Nutmeg state were at Oxford, possibly because the only track in the state that runs Late Models under the ACT rules package is Waterford Speedbowl, and they had their own weekly points event on the same night as the Oxford race.
CURLEY AND ROWE HAVE SOME FUN IN DRIVERS’ MEETING
ACT Chief Tom Curley had some fun at Mike Rowe’s expense in the pre-race drivers’ meeting.
In explaining how the two top finishers in the last chance race would both advance to the feature event, Curley referred to it as “the Mike Rowe rule”, explaining that he didn’t
want to second place runner to “get itchy for the transfer spot and turn around the leader” like Rowe had possibly done in the past.
Rowe showed his quick wit by telling Curley that the younger guys in the audience might need a demonstration of that using toy cars – a show that Curley has done in driver’s meetings past.
Curley replied that wasn’t going to be possible and admitted that he wrecked those diecast cars in the drivers’ meeting for last year’s Milk Bowl. He promised that a new set of cars would be making their debut soon though.
TRACKSIDE NOW IS NEXT
Speed51.com will be on hand for the next stop on the ACT Late Model schedule - Sunday's event at Thunder Road Speedbowl (VT).
The Merchants Bank 150 will be featured as part of 51's Trackside Now coverage on Sunday. Be sure to log on to Speed51.com on Sunday afternoon to check out the latest from the track on Quarry Hill.
Mike Rowe listens to Tom Curley in the ACT drivers' meeting. (51 Photo)
Randy Potter represented his home state of NH well at Oxford. (Alan Ward Photo)