During a slump in racing, there is a lot more at stake than the prize money difference between first and fifth place, the lack of recent victory lane photos or having a new hardware to put into the trophy case. In many cases, a team can implode enough during a run of winless races that eventually the time since a last victory is measured in years instead of months. Some teams never really recover.
The best competitors aren't immune to slumps, but they can react differently enough to eventually break out of one. After all, what made them winners in the first place is just what is needed to win again.
Take Joey Pole for example.
Over the past several years, Pole has been one of the strongest Late Model competitors in New England and certain parts of Canada. Up until last weekend, he had collected four ACT Late Model victories in his young career. He has sat on the pole for the Milk Bowl and led laps in the Oxford 250. He won last year's Governor's Cup at Thunder Road Speedbowl (VT). He showed well in a few NASCAR East Series starts.
But this year, Joey Pole hadn't even gotten near victory lane before this past weekend. The reasons why were easy to put into a race report - flat tires, wrecks, broken parts….but harder to explain. Pole is still one of the best young talents in the country, his family-owned team works just as hard as they have in the past and and their equipment is just as good as it was in 2009. In fact, this year, Pole's #97 partnered up with the Ford Motor Company to help further their ACT crate engine program. So if anything, Pole should be even stronger this season than he was last year.
That was anything but the case though as up until Saturday night, Pole's half-season has been one long experience in frustration and heartbreak.
Pole and his team didn't give into the temptation to just feel bad for themselves though and they were rewarded by enjoying a completely dominant run to victory lane in Saturday night's ACT Late Model race at Beech Ridge Motor Speedway (ME).
Given the circumstances, this was more than just your average victory.
“This is the best accomplishment that I've probably ever had,” said Pole. “It's just because we have been so down this year. We're so back in the points and the ways that things have gone has been tough. We've had flat tires, bad luck and whatever. So to come back tonight and win this way is great. We were fast in practice, fast in our heat race and fast in the feature. You can't really ask for a better night.”
Pole started on the second row, but moved past early leaders J.R. Baril and Corey Morgan on lap 14. After that point, Pole checked out. During a long green run, lapped ten cars in the next 45 laps and extended his lead greatly.
“I was going pretty good,” said Pole. “My plan was that I wanted to put as many lapped cars between me and the second place guy. That way, if something did get burned up, I would have a cushion. But it never really worked out that way.”
That was because the second-place guy, Jeff Taylor, was also lapping Beech Ridge at a mighty clip. On a lap 83 restart, Taylor pulled into the lead briefly. Less than 10 laps later though, there was another caution period and another restart. This time Pole got the advantage and moved out into the lead again. From there, he was never challenged through the remainder of the race.
“This car took about three laps to get going on a restart,” said Pole. “We run bleeders and it takes that long for the pressures to build up. Jeff got me on one of those restarts. I got him on the first one and I don't think he liked it. So he got me on the second one.”
The race was run under very foggy conditions, where at times the fans in the fronstretch stands couldn't even see the backstretch of the track. A fine mist and threat of showers also threatened the race, yet the weather stayed acceptable enough to run the entire 150 advertised laps of the event. Still, the threat of having the event shortened factored into Pole's plan to attack the race.
“It was definitely on my mind. I talked about it with a few other drivers before the race and we thought it was going to be a race to lap 76 [halfway]. Once lap 76 came around, and there was a caution on lap 76, I was like, 'come on, start pouring!”
But it didn't pour and at lap 150, Pole was still leading. There would be no flat tires, broken parts or anvils falling on his head on this night. The bad luck was gone, at least for this event, and Pole showed that he was just as capable of winning as he's been throughout the last few seasons.
Rookie Austin Theirault paced himself to a runner-up finish in the event over Tim Brackett, Corey Morgan and John Donahue. We'll have more from those drivers, along with news about Ford's first ACT Late Model victory, later this week in our 51 Leftovers from Beech Ridge.