Beech Ridge Championship Night is Filled With Drama
McKeage Succeeds Rowe as Track Champion,
Chris Smith Sweats It Out in the Sports Series
By Mike Twist

McKeage Wins Track Championship at His Home Track After a Close Battle

Dan McKeage earned the 2010 Beech Ridge Motor Speedway (ME) track championship after a seventh-place finish in the Pro Series feature.

McKeage entered the night locked in a tight battle with 2009 track champion Mike Rowe.  But it turned out that those two drivers also had someone else to worry about.  While Rowe had to work forward on the grid from 12th place and McKeage from 13th in their feature, David Oliver closed the points gap considerably by running the wheels off his car and to the feature victory on Saturday night. 

Meanwhile, Rowe fought an ill-handling car and took it all of the way up to a finish of fourth.  McKeage struggled even more to finish seventh.  When all of the dust settled, the end result was the McKeage won the title by two points over Oliver and seven over Rowe.

“I was trying to win that championship tonight,” said race winner Oliver.  “We thought that we were so far out of it, but those last couple of weeks we gained ground.  My crew just digging and digging.”

“That's the way it goes,” said Rowe.  “Dan has been right there all year and if he hadn't have blown a motor, he would have been a lot further ahead before tonight.  We just didn't make it.”

Although McKeage is a former PASS Sportsman and Beech Ridge Wildcat champion, this is the first feature-division track title that he has to his name.  At first though, he didn't think that he would be announced as the 2010 Beech Ridge Motor Speedway track champion.

“That sounds real good, but as I was going down pit road after the race, I thought I had lost it,” said McKeage.  “Then people started jumping on my car and I started realizing I had won.”

Just finishing seventh was a handful for McKeage on this particular night.

“They were two by two in front of me and there was nowhere I could go,” said McKeage.  “The right front was the best tire on my car and I got together with another car early on and cut that tire down.  We put an old tire on and the car just didn't want to go for a few laps.  We were just lucky enough to get a few spots I guess.

“I this had come down to a tie, David or Mike would have beat me.  I really had to do all that I could do.  I was just hanging on and luckily it was enough.”

Racing is a family effort for McKeage, who also competes in a full schedule of PASS Sportsman events.  His father Lyman and his wife Laura race in the Wildcat division at Beech Ridge.  His cousin Mike Landry races a second car in the Pro Series at Beech Ridge as well.  All of those entries are fielded under the “Naughty 40” racing banner by the McKeages (Landry also races his own car in the PASS Sportsman ranks), and the team has no full-time help to prep so many racecars.

“It's a lot of work,” said McKeage.  “Pretty much, Matt Langevin does tons and tons of work and I just point him in the right direction - and then there is my spotter Greg (Emerson) and my mis-matched crew.  Everyone had shown up the last few weeks and I'm grateful for all of them.  I leave most of the work on the
cars to Matt so I can hang out with my wife and kids.  My hat is off to him.”

Succeeding Mike Rowe, who is a Legend in Maine motorsports circles, as track champion also added an extra sense of accomplishment to winning the championship - especially considering that the Naughty 40 team didn't use the latest and greatest piece of equipment to win the title.  Instead they used a car nicknamed "The Jungle Gym".

"The season that Mike had last year, he didn't just beat everybody.  He put a whooping on everyone," said McKeage.  "My guys and I got together during the winter and took this car, which had been out in the yard as the kids' playground for the past few years, and got it ready for this year.  We had just cut the sharp edges off it, put it besdies the kitchen and let the kids play in it.  Well, we dug it back out and got it ready.  I told them that Mike Rowe was beatable.  But we didn't prove it until we got out here this year.  Anyone who can beat Mike Rowe has done their homework."

And beating the team that fields cars for Mike Rowe, the RLF Motorsports outfit owned by Dick Fowler, is equally an impressive accomplishment.

"I've been around Beech Ridge since I was a little boy," said McKeage.  "Dick Fowler has always had the number one car.  Both he and Mike are either int he Beech Ridge Hall of Fame or will be shortly.  So to beat them...well, words can't explain it." 

Smith Wins Sports Series Title After a Wild Ride

The Pro Series championship battle wasn't the only drama-filled points race of the night at Beech Ridge.  In fact, the Sports Series race that led up to the night's finale was one of the wildest occurrences that fans at the track can remember.

Going into the race, it didn't look like that would be the case.  Chris Smith led the standings and all that he needed to do in the feature was to finish nine spots behind Donnie Colpritt to secure the title.

The racer nicknamed “Smitty” already had a pit area full of supporters.  He grew up in the track's hometown of Scarborough, Maine and logged time in the track's Sports Series and Pro Series divisions in the past.  He also went on the road for a spell too - winning the 2007 PASS Modified Rookie of the Year award and showing well in several World Series races during the fall at Thompson International Speedway (CT).  Whenever he wasn't driving regularly, Smith could still be found around the track - having also spent time working as a member of the Thursday Thunder technical inspection team there and having lent a hand turning wrenches on several other racecars.

Before Saturday night's feature, Smith didn't look at all nervous.  Earlier in the day, he posted on his Facebook page that he was just asking for a “top five finish and a clean race”.

Smith got anything but that.

On lap six of his feature, Smith ended up nose-first against the turn two dirt bank.  He fired his car up before a wrecker arrived and drove the #55 back into the pit area.  Smith knew the damage was bad and parked behind his pit stall, shutting off the engine.

Predictably, Smith's crew came to his aid.  Then, the #24 Pro Series crew of Mike Rowe pitched in as well.  As did a few members of Keith McKinnon's Pro Series team.  The visiting spotter from DJ Shaw's NASCAR K&N Pro Series East team got under the hood and even Mike Rowe himself stood a few feet away ready to help.  Nearly 30 men were there to get Smith's car back onto the track.

“I could smell the coolant and I knew that I had a hole in the radiator,” said Smith afterwards.  “I'm glad it wasn't a big one and I'm glad that Mike Rowe's crew and everyone else came over and helped.”

Smith made it back onto the track and pushed his car another 29 laps with coolant temperatures around the 250-degree mark to just finish the race.  While his team found enough full water jugs to rival the stock of the nearby Poland Springs bottling plant, Smith started re-passing cars to try and regain the point lead.

On lap 18, trouble struck again.  Several cars wrecked in turn two.  Smith took a shot to the left rear and his bodywork was caved in - causing a tire rub.  Smith didn't pit.  If he wanted to still win the championship, he couldn't.  He just hoped the car would make it to the finish.

Eleven laps later, Smith squeaked through yet another wreck.  Meanwhile, Colpritt was passing enough cars to make it into the top three.  On the last lap, Colpritt emerged from a melee on the backstretch to move up into second.  When the smoke cleared, it wasn't quite obvious where Smith had finished.  In fact, it took the track scorers several minutes to go through the field and for news that Smith would be the champion to be spoken.

That news was very well received by Smith and car owner George Libby.

“I've got to thank George Libby for letting me drive his car this year,” said Smith.  “We talked about it over the winter, but we didn't know what we were going to do.  He didn't know if he was going to drive it or not.  We talked about March or April and we decided I would drive it for him.  He wanted me to drive it just to win the championship.  He figured we would try to do that and then sell the car.  I think it is going to be sold after this, so we did what we set out to do.”

Smith watched Libby race before he ever got into a racecar himself.  The two struck up a strong friendship though as they shared shop space in Scarborough, Maine in a garage that had once housed the NASCAR East Series Rookie of the Year winning team of Robbie Harrison.  Libby's business is based in the garage while Smith worked on his racecars there.

“I used to watch him race when I was a kid and we got reunited a couple of years ago.  We work out of the same garage on a couple of things and things really worked out,” said Smith.

So while their night wasn't a pretty one, it was a rewarding one at Beech Ridge for driver and car owner.

“Tonight when the way that I didn't want it to go - except for the finish,” said Smith.

Berggren is Honored at the Ridge

Dr. Dick Berggren, who brought race fans Stock Car Racing, Open Wheel and Speedway Illustrated magazines and appears as a commentator for the sport on various television and radio venues, was inducted into the Beech Ridge Hall of Fame Saturday night during intermission.

Berggren raced at Beech Ridge when it was a dirt track - holding the Supermodified track record at the facility before it was paved.  He often refers to his times racing at Beech Ridge with pride and was very humble when accepting the award on Saturday night.

“If at some point I'm lucky enough to make it into heaven and if they ask me if I could have back about 45 seconds of my life, I would tell them to just put me in a Sprint Car here for three laps and let me pass a few cars,” said Berggren.

Speedshots

-  Sports Series race winner Russell Morse didn't exactly make a standard victory lane speech on Saturday night.

“Tonight is the last time I'll ever be here in victory lane here at Beech Ridge,” said Morse.  “I'm sick of the politics and I'm retiring.”

-  Other feature winners of the night were Tasha Dyer in Roadrunners and Dan Bean in Wildcats.

-  David Vaughn wrapped up his first career Wildcat championship at Beech Ridge on Saturday night.

-  Matt Dow clinched his Roadrunner title after his heat race.  His team celebrated by mounting a poster board sign touting their championship over the door number on his car for the feature race.




Beech Ridge owner Andy Cusack (Left) and Dr. Dick Berggren.  (Jamie Williams Photo)
Dan McKeage  (51 Photo)
Whether in the pits or on the track, all eyes were ont he championship battle between McKeage (#40) and Mike Rowe (#24)  (Top - 51 Photo, Bottom - Jamie Williams Photo)
David Oliver won the race and almost snuck off with the championship too.  (Jamie Williams Photo)
Chris Smith's #55.  (Jamie Williams Photo)
Chris Smith had to deal with a trip into the dirt bank and some body damage from a multi-car wreck to just make it to the finish.  (Top - Jamie Williams Photo, Bottom - 51 Photo)
Chirs Smith in victory lane.  (Jamie Williams Photo)
Dan McKeage in victory lane.   (Jamie Williams Photo)