The biggest weekly series race of the season at Beech Ridge Motor Speedway (ME) is the annual 100 lapper for the headlining Pro Series (Super Late Model) teams. It's always been a race that all of the top drivers at the track want to win, and look forward to all season long.
Defending track champion Mike Rowe has built up quite a resume in his day. He owns 150 career victories up the road at Oxford Plains Speedway (ME) including three Oxford 250s. He won seven times during last year's Beech Ridge championship season alone. Rowe is in the record books as winning eight career events in what is now known as the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East. He was the first ever race winner in PASS South and currently has 16 PASS North victories to his name. Then there are all of the victories and titles on the old American-Canadian (Pro Stock) Tour, in weekly racing at Wiscasset Raceway, in NEPSA and so on.
This past Saturday night though, Mike Rowe might have wanted to win the 2010 installment of the Beech Ridge Pro Series 100 more than most of the other races he's ever entered….and win it is exactly what he did.
Just one week before, on the same grounds where Rowe raced this weekend, three-time track champion Bub Bilodeau raced his final race. After completing the Saturday night weekly event on June 5th, Bilodeau drove back to his pit pad and went into cardiac arrest. He soon perished and word of his passing slowly made it through the pit area. Everyone was shocked, but Rowe took it especially hard. Bilodeau proceeded him as the track champion in 2008 and wanted to reclaim that crown this season. The two men had raced against each other for years and when Rowe got the opportunity to race at Beech Ridge weekly, instead of running a tour, he thought of the challenges of racing against Bilodeau when making his decision to accept the ride in Dick Fowler's racecar.
“That's why I came down here, to race against him,” recalled Rowe. “Bub was saying that he was going to kick my butt this year and now we're here missing him. It's just terrible….terrible.”
So Rowe was motivated to win in Bilodeau's memory and even enlisted the help of the fallen champion's brother in his quest. But that didn't exactly go well as team drew blindly for starting positions in the qualifying races.
“Dickie [Fowler] had Rick, who was Bub's brother, come up and draw for us tonight,” said Rowe. “We were the first ones to draw and Rick got up there able to pull anything from 1 to 22. He pulled out the 22 first thing. I got a chuckle and said, 'Bub's laughing about that'. It was kind of funny.”
It also wasn't something that was going to prevent Rowe from making it to the front. It just made him work harder. Rowe moved up to finish third in his qualifying race. That placed him sixth on the grid for the feature. Within the first three laps, he moved up to fourth. By lap 35, he was leading the race.
“We worked our way to the front and things just worked awesome for us,” said Rowe.
Rowe's march wasn't as simple as it would be in a storybook though. Dan McKeage led laps early and then Bill Rodgers came up to challenge Rowe. Those two drivers, who pitted actually pit next to each other at the track, made contact in turn one and two on a lap 38 restart. Rowe emerged clean, but Rodgers ended up with a cut left rear tire. After spinning, which led to a caution period, Rodgers pulled in front of Rowe under caution to show his displeasure. Rodgers had reason to be unhappy as he never contended for the rest of the night - eventually being credited with a finish of 17th.
Rodgers and Rowe didn't talk after the race, but Rowe vowed to contact him this week to try and work out any issues.
“I felt bad that I got into Billy Rogers there,” said Rowe. “I hate that happened. I was just trying so hard to win this one for Bubs. I just got into him a little bit. He's had some tough luck and he didn't need this. I really hate that it happened.”
Walt Pugsley would be the next threat to Rowe's lead, but while Pugsley's #90 machine got close to Rowe, he never really was able to challenge to take the lead. 19-year-old Aaron Ricker was a different story though. Ricker was all over Rowe's back bumper late in the race and if not for a late race caution, Ricker might have taken the lead away.
“He was going good,” said Rowe. “We had a good race going and that #90 car [of Pugsley] was right there too. There was no cakewalk there for sure. I worked my butt off.”
“I didn't need that caution because this car just doesn't take off,” said Ricker. “After two or three laps it comes into it. That caution just killed me. Mike got his tires cooled down so he could run hard for a few laps at the end of the race. If that caution hadn't have come out, I think that I would have caught him. The car was just perfect to drive. It just wouldn't take off and was loose after a restart. The tires just needed to come back into it before it was a rocketship again.”
After the final restart, Rowe cruised to the victory. On his cool down lap, his RJF Motorsports team handed him a special Bub Bilodeau flag that was hand made for the occasion. Rowe then circled the track in a victory lap, but swerved coming out of turn two and slowed in front of the section of the grandstand right ahead of where Bilodeau's pit stall was. Even from the racecar, Rowe could make out the Bilodeau family and crew standing there. So he gave them a special salute in a very emotional moment.
“I sure did [see them],” Rowe said. “All of them were up there and I saw them by the fence, so I kind of waved the flag towards them. After we did victory lane, I stopped in there and shook everyone's hand. It's just such a sad, sad day for us.”
Ricker finished second followed by D.J. Shaw, Richie Dearborn and Tony Ricci. Speed51.com will have their stories, and more about how the Beech Ridge community honored Bilodeau, in our Beech Ridge Leftovers later this week.