When the 2010 ACT Late Model season finally gets started this coming weekend at Albany-Saratoga Speedway (NY), one week after the official season opener at Lee USA Speedway (NH) was rained out, Ricky Rolfe won't be there. Then again, he wasn't going to be racing at Lee either and it might be a few more races until we see the popular Maine driver behind the wheel of his #51.
Rolfe isn't sitting out because of the tough economy or because he had a 2009 season, his first as a full-time driver on the ACT Tour, full of bad luck. It's for a reason much bigger than that, but it's also one that makes Rolfe even more determined to overcome.
Rolfe was diagnosed with cancer in the off-season. A tumor was found in his colon and a third of that colon was removed. Rolfe is now recovering from that surgery and regiment of chemotherapy is coming up next. Yet the future looks bright for Rolfe as he battles back from it all.
“Long term, everything looks good,” said Rolfe. “They found a tumor in my colon and were concerned about it spreading. They took out 40 lymph nodes, but only one of the 40 had cancer. The chemo is just to make sure that they kill the rest of it. But I'm doing good. Honestly, I expected it to be a lot worse. I've been welding my whole life, so I really thought they would find something in my lungs.”
While Rolfe won't be racing right away, he's already back to work building racecars at Racebasics for fellow drivers like Brian Hoar, Travis Adams, Donald Theetge, Jean Paul Cyr and Stacy Cahoon. Actually, there are scores of other Racebasics Late Model customers out there, but those are just the ones who won championships in the past season. With that kind of a busy shop, Rolfe didn't want to sit out of work for very long.
“Two weeks after the surgery, I was back,” Rolfe said. “But I was doing easy jobs and slow work. I'd take my time doing tinwork and hanging bodies - not a lot of stand-up work. I really feel good, I'm just a little sore.”
Rolfe did cut back on working on his own car - the #51 Brackett Mechanical Late Model though.
“We haven't been working on it much at night, really only on the weekends,” Rolfe said. “I usually would work every night on it, so that's a lot different for me.”
Rolfe is one of the most popular men in all of New England Late Model racing, so you'd expect that the racing community would step up to support him during this time. They haven't disappointed with that at all.
“Yes, there has been a lot of support,” said Rolfe. “A lot of people have been saying prayers and telling me that I'll get through it. It's kind of a surprise, but then again it's not. I'd do the same thing for anyone else and that's what the racing community is like.”
Two people in particular have been very inspirational to Rolfe - his father and also one of his crew members and sponsors, Scott Thomas of Superior Striping.
“It's funny, well not really funny, but ironic that my father had the same thing a month before me. He got his out of the way without chemo. Then I've got a buddy, Mark, who has been going through chemo for three and a half years. He first got sick on the weekend when we were down at South Boston for the first Mason-Dixon Meltdown. He's been coaching me a lot through this.”
Ever the racer, Rolfe is already hoping to set his chemo schedule up around racing.
“When I'm doing chemo, I need to wear a pump around for 48 hours. But it's not bad, it's like a fanny pack. I'll take chemo every other week and although we haven't talked about a schedule, I'm going to push to have it on Mondays, so that gives me plenty of time to recover by the weekends.”
Where and when Rolfe will be racing, or even what events he goes to, is still up in the air.
“I'll be out of the car for at least the first three ACT races. I was probably going to go to Lee to watch, but Albany this weekend is just too far to travel right now. Thunder Road - we'll see. That depends more on how prepared my racecar is. We got a little behind after my surgery. We were going to try and get to Airborne but if we missed the first few races, we'll be out of the points chase, so there's no pressure there. We'll just do it for fun.”
Well, maybe. There is still one championship this year that could be possible for Rolfe.
“Our plan is to race at Oxford, so maybe we'll run for the championship and run the ACT races when the schedule allows it and I feel good. We'll see how it is when I start chemo. The features at Oxford are 20 or 30 minutes and everyone tells me that I won't have much energy. The ACT races are longer, so that could be tough. We'll see.”
But there is one long race, the July TD Bank Oxford 250, that Rolfe will be ready for no matter what as he continues to chase a victory in that prestigious event.
“We'll try to do whatever we can for the 250,” said Rolfe.
Running mainly at Oxford would be a familiar situation for Rolfe. He owns 33 feature victories to date at his home track and was the 2002 Late Model champion there.
Wherever and whenever he races, Rolfe has the full support of his team. Team owner Mark Brackett has told Rolfe that they will “will go racing whenever he feels like it” and no other driver will be taking Rolfe's place.
Which is good, because getting back into the car might be the best medicine of all.
“My doctor isn't very familiar with racing,” said Rolfe. “But I said to the doctor that getting into the racecar pretty much fixes everything.”