Over the nine-year history of PASS North racing, a few select teams have put up such great numbers that they have become legendary. Tom Estes' Hi-Tech Motorsports team and Richard Moody Racing both have produced plenty of success, mostly with Ben Rowe behind the wheel. [The Estes team is no longer, while RMR is still winning races in 2010 with Brad Leighton as their driver]. Johnny Clark Motorsports has had Clark drive to victory lane for that operation plenty of times. Those three operations have combined to win eight of the nine PASS North titles in history, with RMR also scoring a PASS National Super Late Model championship to boot.
Right up there with those teams was SP2 Motorsports. The operation, which was based out of Saco, Maine got its start with Bubba Pelton and Jarod Robie behind the wheel, but really hit their stride with Maine Racing Legend Mike Rowe in their #24 cars. Together, Rowe and SP2 won the inaugural PASS South championship and some of the biggest races anywhere - including the Oxford 250 (when it was a non-points, PASS-affiliated Super Late Model show), the Easter Bunny 150 at Hickory, the PASS 300 at Beech Ridge and the Atlantic CAT 300 up in Nova Scotia.
The SP2 moniker came from team principals Scott Pullen and Steve Perry. Late last decade, the duo closed up shop after a successful run. Perry stayed involved in the car ownership game for awhile afterwards - fielding entries for Kyle Busch, Brad Leighton and TJ Brackett among others, as well as helping out Derek Ramstrom. Perry then sold off his equipment and focused his attention to turning around a pair of Maine racing mainstays - The Mainely Motorsports television program and the annual Northeast Motorsports Expo in Augusta - after buying the rights to both ventures and investing time, money, sweat, blood and tears into the ventures.
While both the television show and the racing trade show have improved greatly under Perry's involvement, one thing was still missing. Perry couldn't get too far from his car owner roots. So he kept his eyes open for opportunities to own a race team again - and this year, he'll get his wish with the debut of Mainely Motorsports Racing.
Perry's team will run the entire PASS North schedule, starting with this Saturday's season opener at Beech Ridge Motor Speedway. Unlike the old days with Rowe behind the wheel though, he won't be relying on a single pilot to run the car in each and every race.
“We've got drivers of all shapes, sizes and even genders driving the racecars this year,” said Perry.
So far, that means splitting the driving chores between a very diverse roster. Colorful veteran Billy Penfold, Northern Maine racing newbie Austin Thireault and road racer Larry Maloney with all be sharing the seat of the Mainely Motorsports Super Late Model while Perry's daughter Alicia continues to race karts for the team.
For Penfold, this arrangement will mark a return to PASS North after a few years making only a few starts now and again. The Maine driver has also run in what is now known as the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East for several seasons and at local tracks throughout Maine. Penfold has a reputation for speaking his mind and not backing down on or off the racetrack. He's been too busy running his business, Oxford Auto Salvage, to field his own racecars though.
“Billy has the equipment, but not the time to do it. He wants to just be able to focus on driving the racecar and that all,” said Perry.
Perry isn't nervous about his new driver's reputation for finding himself in the eye of a storm.
“I've told Billy that I don't need to do this to just go to the racetrack and get the whole crew into a fight,” said Perry. “I believe that Billy can win races and have some good finishes. Billy Penfold is one hell of a driver. I hope that we can just tone that Billy Penfold that we all know and love down a little bit.”
Thermal meanwhile has no reputation to live up to or down from. The 16-year-old driver from Aroostook County, Maine honed his skills driving a Late Model at Spud Speedway in Caribou. The track, which is close enough to Canada to hit with a potato launcher, is also pretty far removed from the mainstream American short track world. To get his name out, the young man is embarking on a season of PASS North and ACT Late Model events.
“I met him and his family for the first time at Caribou,” said Perry. “He won that race and it opened some eyes, but I was even more impressed with how he carried himself. I was impressed by his positive attitude. His family and I stuck up a friendship and they came down with their racecar and supposed the Northeast Motorsports Expo. They have a Racebasics car on order and are going to run some ACT races. They were looking at some PASS races too, so we struck up a deal for five races. We're going to run Austin at places that are close to his home - Spud Speedway and New Brunswick as well as tracks where he'll also run the ACT car - Beech Ridge and White Mountain.”
Larry Moloney, a former Busch North road racer, is the third driver in Perry's stable. His goal is just to adapt to short track oval racing.
“He's going to be doing a lot of testing for us and learning these oval track cars,” said Perry.
Perry still could add another driver of two to his line-up. He hasn't selected a driver to run the fall PASS 300 race at Beech Ridge, the fall PASS North race at White Mountain Motorsports Park (NH) or anywhere on Labor Day weekend - where either running the Peterbilt 250 at New Brunswick's Speedway 660 or the PASS South race at North Wilkesboro Speedway (NC) could be in the cards.
Since word about Perry's operation has gotten out though, there has been plenty of interest in the ride for those events.
“I'm surprised at the interest that we've gotten,” said Perry. “We're not coming off a championship season and I'm just getting back into it and trying to build something for the future.”
Building that team involves hiring Roger Varney, who has worked with drivers like Jay Fogelman and Trevor Sanborn in the past, as a crew chief and sharing a shop in Biddeford, Maine with the #7 PASS North team of car owner Peter Petit and driver Donnie Whitten. That team is also right next door to the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East team of Burgess Racing and driver Jody Lavender. So Perry has plenty of places to turn for when he needs help. He also has plenty of character from the old SP2 days to look up as well - including their old driver Mike Rowe.
“I'll tell you, Mike is awesome,” said Perry. “We talk regularly and I can turn to him for anything we need. Everyone looks at Mike Rowe as Mike Rowe the racer, but they never realize just how much he puts into the sport off the track.”
Another Mike from the SP2 days, sponsor Mike Lux, is involved in the new venture for Perry.
“Mike Lux has been right there helping me out every step of the way. He's not here as a sponsor, but as an advisor I guess. We've maintained a friendship through the years. He's the only one from SP2 who is involved with this team, but everyone who worked on the SP2 team is all still friends. Racecars come and go, but when you can build and keep a friendship in this business, it's priceless.”
When Perry's Super Late Model hits the track this year, it will feature the #12 on the side. When Perry was part of SP2 Motorsports, Rowe gave the team its most success with the #24 on their car. So since Perry is now on his own, does his current number reflect that he is half of what was SP2?
“No, not at all,” laughed Perry. “You know, it's funny. I never even though of that until one of my buddies asked me about that. The real story is that back in 1987 when I started racing, #12 was the number that I wanted and my wife, who was then my girlfriend, wanted the #87. We went with #87, but #12 was always one I liked too. My daughter ended up with #12 on her karts, so I figured that I might as well run the same number that she runs.”
The #12 Mainely Motorsports team will make their debut this weekend at Beech Ridge with Austin Theirault in the car.