Alan Tardiff and Corey LaJoie shouldn't have been racing for the victory in Friday's NASCAR K&N Pro Series East race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
It's not because the two young drivers aren't talented. In reality, both competitors probably have more talent than the majority of those that they share the garage area with. They didn't belong up front though because these days talent alone doesn't usually win races.
Talent helps - that's for sure, but boatloads of money to buy the latest and greatest equipment along with the knowledge that comes from being affiliated with a winning NASCAR Sprint Cup Series team like Michael Waltrip Racing, Richard Childress Racing or Joe Gibbs Racing is what really gets a driver to the front these days. Consider the fact that so far this season, only the teams of MWR, JGR, RCR and the four-team Revolution Racing NASCAR Drive for Diversity operation have won all but one of the East races on the schedule.
Tardiff and LaJoie don't have nearly as much to work with. Tardiff's cars are housed in a small wood-framed two-car garage in Maine next to his father's single-man auto repair business and the family home. Parts are bought off eBay and not out of a Cup partsroom. Local businessman Archie St. Hilaire, who also fields a start-up NASCAR Nationwide Series team with drivers like Eddie MacDonald, Jason Bowles, Charles Lewandoski and Sean Caisse behind the wheel, believed enough in Tardiff to help him run a limited schedule of East events. Full-time help on the East team is non-existent. It's Tardiff, his Dad and a few loyal crew members who show up after work on Tuesday and Thursday nights that make the team go.
LaJoie might have a higher-profile name, but he doesn't have a high budget to work with either. The son of two-time NASCAR Busch Series champion Randy LaJoie maintains his car with the help of a few crew members as well. Then he loads up a dually pick-up truck and modest trailer and tows to the track to park alongside the big 18-wheeled rigs of the big boy teams that he just isn't supposed to be able to compete with.
But somehow at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, that hard work and dedication trumped that level of support, at least for a brief amount of time. With a little more than two laps to go in the race, Tardiff was leading LaJoie. Both drivers had actually passed defending series champion Ryan Truex, who drives for Michael Waltrip Racing, and pulled away from Truex. It looks like the underdogs were going to decide this one among themselves.
But that's where things went wrong. The underdog is the hungry pet in the park and will bite your arm off for just a scrap of food. As Tardiff led, LaJoie tried as hard as he could to get past him. That ambition led to LaJoie driving too deep into turn three and skating up the track. Tardiff had given LaJoie plenty of racing room, but at that point it didn't matter. The two cars made contact and Tardiff spun around before hitting the wall head-on. LaJoie nearly made an impossible save before he too got loose and spun to the infield. Truex got by and put his name in the record books as winning another race while Tardiff and LaJoie pondered what might have been.
“It was real unfortunate to get wrecked with a couple laps to go,” said Tardiff. “We had a good car. Unfortunately, it didn't end the way we wanted it to. But we had this race won until LaJoie overdrove the corner and took us out.”
“I was racing underneath him for about five, six or seven laps and then it came right down to it,” said LaJoie. “I didn't have any intention of wrecking him. After the white flag when we came to the checkers…yeah…I probably would have got into him (at that point). But I didn't mean to go in there and just wreck him. I dove in there probably a car length too deep, got loose and got into him.
“I hate it for them and I wish that we hadn't spun out. I thought that I saved it, but something happened and I got up into the marbles and lost it.”
Neither Tardiff nor LaJoie are intimidated by the big teams in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East garage. In fact, they particularly enjoy being able to beat them on occasion.
“We are two underdog teams,” said LaJoie. “They don't have any Cup affiliation. We sure as s-t don't have any Cup affiliation either. But we go out there and bust these guys up like that. It's even that much tougher to do when you only get to do it every three damn months. It's tough to shake the rust off.”
“Everybody is beatable,” said Tardiff. “You just have to get it in your mind that while everyone out here might have more resources and a higher budget, you can still beat them. If you don't come to the track knowing that you can win, you shouldn't come.
“It feels good when we do beat them and we had them covered today. We had the car to beat, but we got taken out.
“I wish we could have come out of this with a W,” said LaJoie, as he looked over after the race at Ryan Truex's car in the technical inspection area. “I'd have more satisfaction right now if I was sitting over in tech. I hate to think what I could do in that (Truex's) car. I'd be ashamed if I got beat by a home-built piece out of the LaJoie seat shop. That's just saying so much about the quality of the guys at the shop. Well, that's not many…me basically and Steve-O. We have some volunteer help too. We have a hodge-podge team, but everyone is good and everyone knows their roles.”
Winning at New Hampshire would have been especially sweet for Tardiff. He lives just 90 minutes from the track and while Tardiff's family raced at Maine's Beech Ridge Motor Speedway for years, the Magic Mile is where he was first exposed to the big-time world of speedway racing.
“I've been coming here since the place basically opened,” said Tardiff. “My family were always ticket holders and I can remember sitting in the grandstands and on the backstretch thinking that I had to get out there someday. Finally, I had a chance. We've done the best we could and made the most of that chance every time we've been here. We had a good shot of winning and….well….it just stinks. This is home.”
Although both drivers have only had the finances to run a handful of races this season, they will both be back in action this coming week at Dover International Speedway (DE). LaJoie will repair his #07 to run the East Series race on Friday, while Tardiff has earned himself a chance to make his NASCAR Nationwide Series debut with St. Hilaire's team on Saturday. Both drivers are looking to put the New Hampshire situation behind them.
“We'll go to Dover and redeem ourselves,” said LaJoie. “We'll just try not to wreck anybody else. Hopefully the #38 won't be looking for us now to wreck us either.”
According to Tardiff, that isn't going to happen. He might not have been too happy with LaJoie, but he still harbors respect for him.
“You can't (go after another driver),” said Tardiff. “This is too professional. So you can't do anything stupid. The best that you can do is to see what he has to say - whether it is the truth or not. You listen to why he did it, and then make a judgment call about it. He told me why he did it. Do I blame him? Well, yes I do blame him. But I also understand that we were both going for our first wins. He was doing everything he could to dig and I was doing what I could. I gave him room and I probably have him too much room. Maybe he wouldn't have come up and gotten me then. But it's done now.”