What all of those events have in common are either a location where the weather is mild or a roof over the track to keep out the cold and elements. They also have fancy racecars with all of the latest racing parts like Super Late Models, Modifieds or Midgets.
On the other hand, the Pre Hangover 150 at Riverside Speedway in Groveton, New Hampshire has absolutely none of that. The location of the race is within 50 miles of the Canadian border, so it’s cold. Damn cold in fact. It’s snowy too. The track surface is actually 10 inches of packed snow.
State of the art machines? That might apply to some of the snowmobiles in the parking lot, but it doesn’t apply to what hits the track. The racecars are mostly just off-the-road examples of some pretty sad and tired production vehicles.
Somehow though, what might seem like a recipe for disaster to any sane person was a successful raceday at Riverside for the second year in a row. The stands were more than half full and license plates from every New England state except Rhode Island were spotted in the parking lot or pit area. Everyone from fans to competitors were just happy to be on hand to get their racing fix in the middle of the holiday season and promoter Dick Therrien looked like a marketing genius after the event instead of being having to be fitted for a straitjacket.
There were 46 pre-entries for the race, but only 40 of those made it to the starting grid. Of those, only three cars finished the grueling race. We’ll talk more in details about that later.
The rules for the race were few and far between. No all-wheel-drive vehicles or studded snow tires were allowed. A basic rollcage was mandatory and drivers had to wear a firesuit (but were specifically told that it could be under a snowmobile suit to keep warm). This led to the fact that the cars competing were very diverse. They ranged from a Limited Sportsman complete with Redneck Racer-style exhaust pipes sprouting out of the hood to a Ford Taurus that Cody Hodge actually drove to the track on race morning.
Other vehicles included a Saab, a gaggle of Neons, an early 1970’s Oldsmobile roughly the size of Rhode Island, a Petty-Blue Dodge with Dinoco sponsorship and a four-foot high rear wing – just like in the movie “Cars” and one lone Vette (no, not a Corvette…a Chevette!)
And while the mix of racecars was odd, the atmosphere at the track was just plain surreal. Many spectators for the race showed up on snowmobiles (we think that we might have even seen local resident and ACT standout Randy Potter ride by on one, but it was hard to tell with him being bundled up in cold weather gear). There was a slight traffic jam in the parking lot too, as more spaces were plowed out by a large front end loader just before post time. A pair of huskies were spotted in the pit area digging out snowbanks and there wasn’t just an ambulance on call for the race - A second medical unit, a snowmobile with a rescue sled being towed behind it, was also parked in the infield.
From the green flag, the #09x Toyota Camry of David Wilds took the lead. Not far behind, there were a pair of drivers who were seeing their previous fortunes at the track change though – one was for the better and one was for the worse.
The winner of last year’s inaugural Pre-Hangover 150, Floyd Bennett, Jr., had his day go sour right away. On the first lap, he spun off turn four into the snow and lost several laps before getting back on the track. He would come back to break into the top 10 at one point, but hit a stuck Ford Ranger just before halfway, which caused heavy front end damage to his own Pontiac Grand Am. That eliminated his chances of repeating the victory.
Meanwhile, a driver whose last memories of being in the driver’s seat weren’t good at all was enjoying a very good day. Doug Bandy was seriously injured in a wreck during October’s Frostbite 150 at the track. He was airlifted out after a red flag in that race and spent quite some time in the hospital. But his rehab was going great and he came back to race in this event. He shook any rust off quickly too, taking the lead in his #3 Neon early on.
Bandy’s time out front was pretty uneventful, but the races of those behind him were anything but that.
Adam Lovejoy might have been the most spectacular driver in the big Chevy Caprice. Lots of V-8 power and aggressive snow tires kept him in the game for awhile – producing some impressive rooster tails of snow in the process too. But eventually, his rear wheel drive machine would go spinning into an infield snowbank after literally running over a Mazda sedan. With a few feet of powder in the infield to get stuck in, Loevjoy was finished for the day.
Maine’s Team Cosmo made plenty of noise too - with at least a half dozen cars in the field, including the vintage Oldsmobile mentioned above, a Chevy Caprice station wagon complete with a #07 Jack Daniels paint scheme and two cars – a Lumina and a Chrysler Lebaron, that placed in the top 10 of the final rundown.
Robert Howard wheeled a Ford Ranger in the event, but it proved to be a bad choice for the snowy surface. The #22 machine was tail-happy early on, so Howard pitted to have his crew fill the bed with snow. That didn’t do much to weight down the truck or improve its handling. Finally, the rough track surface took its toll on the little pick-up. The truck’s bed started to come off and after a dozen more laps, it finally flew completely off on the backstretch. Without any rear weight, Howard lasted about three-quarters of an additional lap before spinning into a snowbank. He was pulled out and tried to return, but this time only lasted a half lap before parking it into another snowbank and being done for the day.
The track also took its toll on Michael Dearden’s #26 Cavalier. The car, which is normally driven by Todd Lefebvre in the Roadrunner class at Beech Ridge Motor Speedway (ME) eventually finished second, but was free of many parts when it got to the finish line. Early on, the C-pillars vibrated away from the car – taking part of the roof with it. Then the passenger’s side door flew open. Then the hood flew off. The front bumper was also lost at one point as well and when the race was over, the left rear wheel was bowed in at a 45 degree angle. The abuse that this car took to merely finish the race was amazing.
Mike St. Germain took home the best appearing car award for his #777 stock car (which races occasionally in Maine). The judges were obviously impressive with the assorted props bolted to the roof of the racecar. Those included traffic cones, stuffed animals and Taz from the Looney Tunes. Not so impressive though was the dragging exhaust system that eventually got the #777 black-flagged from the event.
Although he ended up not making it to the finish, Jordan Davis deserved the “Steady Eddie” award for puttering around with his #340 mid-1980’s Chevy Nova. Jordan got run into and spun out all day long, but somehow kept going until getting stuck just near the end of the race. He still completed enough laps though to be credited with a sixth-place finish.
Through all of this though, the #3 of Bandy just kept on leading. Despite being at a disadvantage for not having working windshield wipers, Bandy only managed to get stuck in the snow once and he still got out of that mess quick enough to win by two full laps over Dearden.
“I took off early,” said Bandy of his race strategy. “If you can go, you’ve got to go. I slowed down at the end and it seemed to go pretty good.”
Leaving the track towing the winning racecar, and not taking a medical helicopter ride out of the facility made a much better ending to Bandy’s day than his last race at the track. After winning the Pre Hangover 150, Bandy’s recovery is now pretty much complete.
“I had a very small fracture in my neck and my spine [from that wreck],” said Bandy. “It healed up pretty good. I’m still going through therapy and I’m sure my therapist is going to be pretty mad at me, but it’s worth it.”
Bandy didn’t have to think much about whether he was going to race again after his wreck. It just came naturally.
“I’ve been here since I was 13 years old and I’m sure that I’ll be back.”
Runner-up Dearden will likely be back too, but as was described before, his Cavalier might be a goner after all of its damage in the race.
“The track was so noisy and everything was banging around so much, I didn’t know if anything was broken and just making a lot of noise,” said Dearden, who borrowed the #26 car, but normally races for Team Orange in the Wildcat class at Beech Ridge. “I didn’t know what it was, but it was a hell of a time. This is my first time racing in the snow.”
It probably won’t be his last either. Despite the cold and the wear and tear on their equipment, just about everyone who raced in this year’s Pre Hangover 150 expressed their plans to make it an annual event. It might not have the luster of the Oxford 250,