Reverse gear: 2007's Top 10

No. 7

The Clark-Chapman rifts

This was supposed to be the year in which Cassius Clark and his team ended the Ben Rowe-Johnny Clark stranglehold on the PASS North Series championship. Fresh off a 2006 in which Clark drove his Ed Chapman-owned car to more victories than anyone else, the team was by and large the pre-season favorite.

But before the engines even fired for the first practice session of 2007, Clark's team hit hard times. Clark and Chapman split after disagreements on the direction the team was taking. They patched things up in time for the rain-delayed season-opening event at Beech Ridge Motor Speedway, but it was just a sign of things to come.

Before the season was at the midpoint, they formidable pairing had split for a second time. Again, they patched things up in time to keep going and finish out the year.

Unfortunately, the rift only served to underline the entire slate of racing for the No. 8 team. Disqualifications following victories at Speedway 95 and Wiscasset Raceway and repeated engine troubles througout the year were merely overshadowed by what was happening off the track.

One of the region's best teams -- and one that long represented what a limited budget and hard work could accomplish in a sport where money means more and more to success -- was damaged by the discord. What's more troubling is that these types of wounds don't generally heal within race teams.

One little thing becomes another, and then becomes yet another, until no one is talking, even while working under the same roof on the same car during the week.

The team is good enough to contend for its first PASS North championship in 2008, but only if what happened in 2007 doesn't continue to follow the driver and owner.


Lawler added to Expo lineup

PASS South champion Ryan Lawler, a Texas native now living in North Carolina, will be at the 20th annual Northeast Motorsports Expo at the Augusta Civic Center, show director Tim Attaya confirmed.

Lawler will join 4-time and current PASS North Series champion Ben Rowe to sign autographs at the event, which will be held Jan. 5-7. Sunoco Race Fuels has put together a special hero card featuring both Lawler and Rowe that will be available for signatures.

For more info about the Expo, click here.


Reverse gear: 2007's Top 10

No. 8

Return of the 'outlaws'

It wasn't one race here or there that fed this story, but a series of occurences over the course of a long 2007 season.

Patrick Laperle hopping in a car owned by Mike Lux at the TD Banknorth 250. Brad Leighton, a multi-time Busch East Series champion taking a shot at both the TD Banknorth 250 and the PASS 300 at Beech Ridge. Ben and Mike Rowe in the Labor Day Classic 200 at Thunder Road in Vermont. Venerable Dave Dion has made a habit over the last half-decade of being where the money is.

The decade dominated by racers chasing points and championships -- and the prize money and, hopefully, national prestige that goes along with those titles -- seems to be dissipating slightly. That's opened the door to more and more racers who are going places just to race.

What it's doing for the sport on the local level is not easily quantified, though one thing is clear -- it feels like we've stepped back almost 2 decades. Now, big events are beginning to feel like big events again (despite an over-abundance of extra-distance races with big purses), where you truly never know whose haulers are going to show up in the pit area until race day.

That's obviously great for fans paying to see quality racing, but it's good for track owners and promoters, too. It also doesn't hurt media coverage of the sport, as recognizeable names lend instant credibility to races in the eyes of sports editors across the region.

Again, it's not so much one event or another that's made this a Top-10 story, but it's certainly the beginning of a trend worth watching.


One more time around

New Hampshire Motor Speedway just added another parade lap to its July event.

The track and sponsor Lenox Industrial Tools announced on Wednesday that the annual Sprint Cup Series event at the facility will be extended from 300 to 301 laps -- a promotion designed to go "the extra mile" for Lenox customers and New Hampshire Motor Speedway fans.

The Lenox 301 is scheduled for Sunday, June 29.

Denny Hamlin and Clint Bowyer were the Cup winners at Loudon last season.


Reverse gear: 2007's Top 10

No. 9

DEI signs with Andy Santerre Motorsports

It was only a matter of weeks before the 2007 Busch East Series began that Andy Santerre Motorsports took the step it had long wanted to take.

During September of 2006, Santerre himself talked openly about his goals as an owner in the Busch East Series -- he wanted to work with Nextel Cup Series teams as an organization where developmental drivers could learn under his tutelage. At the time, the only driver Santerre had was Sean Caisse -- an unaffiliated young driver that Santerre had put in the seat of the No. 44 Chevrolets he had vacated.

But last winter, Santerre got the call he wanted. Dale Earnhardt Inc. put teenager Jeffrey Earnhardt at ASM, and Santerre began preparing the No. 1 Bass Pro Shops/Tracker Boats cars for the youngster with only short-track Late Model experience on his resume.

The work that ASM did with Earnhardt -- Earnhardt finished 5th in the final series point standings, winning 1 pole and posting 4 top-5 finishes in 13 starts.

Going forward, the grandson of Richard Childress, Austin Dillon, will join ASM for 2008. It's a sign that Santerre's work with DEI (which has moved all of its development operations in-house) opened eyes around the Cup Series world that it's a place where young drivers can find success.
It's also proof that Santerre might get exactly what he wants out of an ownership career in NASCAR's minor-league ranks.



Reverse gear: 2007's Top 10

No. 10

Ben Rowe's 4th PASS North Series title

Ben Rowe avoids controversy like it's some kind of flat tire while leading a race at the white flag, and his success goes largely unnoticed. Simply put, his racing career follows a simple formula: find good rides, win races, win championships.

Not surprisingly, it works.

The talent pool may not necessarily be all that deep in the PASS North Series from top to bottom, but the few competitive teams that Rowe routinely beats out for the championship honors are at the top of the Super Late Model game, both here and further south. Testament to Rowe's ability as a driver, too, is the fact that he's now won the PASS title while driving for different teams. The 2007 crown comes while competing for Richard Moody Racing, the second team he's competed for in the series.

Rowe may only have won 1 race this year in PASS North competition -- 4 fewer than his father, Mike, who finished second in the standings -- but it doesn't tell the complete story. He finished 2nd a series-high 5 times in '07.

Rowe is an exceptionally clean driver, he has an ability to take a 6th-place car and get a 2nd-place finish out of it and he simply doesn't quit driving. How many times this year did we see that yellow No. 4 pit a bunch of times in the first half of a race while it was struggling just to turn left, only to see Rowe put it on the podium by the time the day was over?

Johnny Clark is the only other driver with multiple PASS titles, and with his 4th championship this year, Rowe has distanced himself from the field -- something the history books will reflect for many, many years to come. Like his father was to the generation before, Ben Rowe will be the benchmark for this generation of Maine racers in the decades that follow.


It's the Clark and Clark show... on the road

The depth of the talent pool in the PASS North Series can easily be viewed as being a tad on the shallow side, but there's no denying that the top teams in the series are as good at their game as anyone anywhere in the country.

More proof, you say?

On Friday night at Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola, Fla., 2-time PASS North champion Johnny Clark qualified 3rd for Sunday's prestigious Snowball Derby. Two spots behind him, in 5th, was Cassius Clark, a multi-time PASS North race winner over the last 2 seasons.

The top 30 starters for the 300-lap Snowball Derby were locked in by Friday's qualifying, as were 3 provisional starters. Unofficially, 25 cars remain to vie for the six remaining starting spots to come out of today's last-chance races.

Among the notables not yet qualified for the Derby: Maine's Trevor Sanborn, driving a Jay Cushman-owned Ford, the car Jason Hogan attempted to qualify for NASCAR Nextel Cup Series driver Kyle Busch, and Steven Wallace, Busch Series regular and son of former Cup champion Rusty Wallace.


Drag racing death mars holiday weekend

How's this for ironic?

Bowdoin's Christopher Gould gave up a career racing motorcycles because he thought it was too dangerous. On Sunday afternoon at the Moroso Motorsports Park in Jupiter, Fla., Gould was killed when his jet-powered Funny Car crashed after making an exhibition run at the Citrus Nationals.

Gould, 52, was in his 4th year driving Funny Cars on the exhibition tour.

"There wasn't a hidden agenda for him," said Brian Lohnes, who works for both the International Hot Rod Association (IHRA) and New England Dragway in Epping, N.H. "He was doing what he was doing not because he saw it as some kind of stepping stone.

"He was a regular guy who was dreaming about doing something he loved, and he was out doing it."

According to Lohnes and other eyewitness accounts, Gould's car crashed violently after crossing the finish line. It was there that some type of parachute malfunction set in motion a grisly chain of events that led to Gould's death.

"He made a run earlier in the day, and the car had acteed strangely at the top of the track," Lohnes said, adding that funny car tragedies typically stem from throttles that hang open.

Whether the chutes deployed at all or deployed unevenly, which could cause the car to veer uncontrollably, was not known. The car made a "hard turn," according to Lohnes, into the grass alongside the strip and then tumbled.

Gould was pronounced dead at the scene. The remainder of the program was canceled.

A veteran of motorcyle racing, Gould gave that up more than a decade ago and first received clearance from the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) to compete in the Funny Car jet ranks in 2004. The cars, with the same bodies and chassis as those Funny Cars on the NHRA and IHRA circuits, sport small jet engines.

Gould only competed on a "booking" basis, meaning he was invited by promoters to shows nationwide -- thanks to his graciousness to both fans and race directors alike.

"This one hurts, it was close to home," said Joe Lombardo, track manager of New England Dragway. "Chris was living out his dream. He bought a jet car and start touring the country.

"He was really one of the good guys in this sport. There are a lot of people who treat this as more of a business, but there are some like Chris who do it because they love it. If you went down to his pit area and talked to him, even if he was working on the car, he would stop and talk to kids and their parents about it. He’s been on other side. In that respect, he was racing because it was fun."


Let's take a look back at 2007

Most days begin the same way for me now. Cold sweats. Disorientation. Incoherent mumbling. To myself.

It takes me weeks -- well, months really -- to come down from the adrenaline feed that is the 8-month grind of the local racing season. Races, stories, analysis, finishing orders, 2:30 a.m. blog entries... Truth be told, I'm not sure I ever really get over the post-racing season hangover. Like any functional junkie, I think after a while I just hide the symptoms from the rest of the world, until March rolls around and the season starts anew.

But these few weeks do give us the opportunity to look back at what we saw, kind of take stock of the year in motorsports, if you will. And if there are 2 things we fans like, it's highlight reels and top-10 lists.

Beginning next Monday, Dec. 3, and running every Monday for the next 10 weeks, I'm planning on running a top-10 countdown from the 2007 season. We'll start with No. 10 and each week work our way toward No. 1, examining one final time the biggest stories of the local season and some of the far-reaching national headlines, too. It'll take us right up to the week leading into the Shootout at Daytona...

If there's anything you'd like to see on the list, something you don't want me to forget, let me know. I'm sure it will all spark plenty of debates...

What the ELF is this?

So, who's your favorite Christmas elf?

Johnny, Cassius or Mike? You decide...
You can thank me later.


Oxford finale in NHMS crosshairs

If Oxford Plains Speedway's decision to close its 2007 season with a 150-lap American-Canadian Tour race was curious, then the track's recent announcement that it will finish up next season with an ACT event on Sept. 13 could prove disastrous.

For the first time in recent memory, ACT closed its '07 slate with a race other than the prestigious Milk Bowl, returning to Oxford on Oct. 6 for a 150-lap finale that ACT insider deemed "a favor." Though the Sept. 13 New England Dodge Dealers 150 at Oxford next season won't serve as ACT's finale (the Milk Bowl 2 weeks later will), it's a move by Oxford Plains that begs the question.


This time around there won't be the threat of cold weather, or the Fryeburg Fair just down the road apiece. Instead, that mid-September date comes smack dab in the middle of the Sylvania 300 weekend at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, the first race in the 10-race Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.

You're not asking New England fans to choose which event to attend by holding them head-to-head, because for most there is no choice — and annual attendance of more than 100,000 speaks volumes to that end. Tickets to 1 of only 2 area appearances for NASCAR's top series are purchased long in advance, and the travel plans are made well ahead of time, too. With uncertainty surrounding Speedway Motorsports Inc.'s purchase of the New Hampshire track in the future, the September race could be the final one of its kind.

Tracks much further away from Loudon, N.H., than Oxford close their gates for entire weekends for fear of poor attendance.

The weekend of Sept. 20 is an open weekend on the 2008 ACT schedule as its currently comprised. The 2 Little Guy 100's are to be held on that same day as that ACT race, too -- the same day as the final points program at Wiscasset Raceway.

Nobody in the world of short-track racing should be held prisoner by the NASCAR behemoth, but the much smarter money should have been placed on holding the New England Dodge Dealers 150 the next weekend. It would help racers who want to compete in the Oxford finale, and it would save fans, once again, from being forced to make difficult choices with their racing dollars.


Rowe puts cap on '07 season

It's a day late and a dollar short -- and most of you have probably found it by now -- but here's an unofficial top-10 from the Mason-Dixon Meltdown last Saturday night in Concord, N.C.

The PASS combination event was won by a northern driver for the 2nd year in a row, with 4-time PASS North Series champ Ben Rowe passing Corey Williams for the win as the white and yellow flags came out in the closing stages of the event. Johnny Clark was 3rd.
Defenind Meltdown champion Cassius Clark finished 6th.

Mason-Dixon Meltdown

Unofficial results

1. Ben Rowe

2. Corey Williams

3. Johnny Clark

4. Preston Peltier

5. Trevor Sanborn

6. Cassius Clark

7. Richie Dearborn

8. Adam Bates

9. Mike Rowe

10. Perry Brown


A few final laps...

Spend hours on end in a blind somewhere in the woods, waiting for Bambi's uncle (the brother of the one who died in the fire) to come walking by, and you'll get to thinking. Thinking reminded me of a couple of things I needed to do...

* NASCAR has no one to blame but itself for the fact that most of the world thinks this year's Chase has been a bore. Typically, 2 race teams separated by only a few points would qualify as real drama. Problem is, Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon are really one in the same — and NASCAR's ridiculously soft stance on the creation of superteams hasn't helped.

If Chad Knaus and Steve Letarte are working out of the same shop and same notebooks (which they are), is either really winning the Nextel Cup championship over the other? Of course not. It's a Hendrick Motorsports title, no matter who gets to stuff the trophy in the suitcase.

* The 2008 schedules are out for both Wiscasset Raceway and Oxford Plains Speedway are out, and, as promised, Wiscasset is making its stand as Maine's Pro Stock capital. The slate will included the DNK 250, the Coastal 200, a couple of Twin 125's and the final race of the PASS North Series slate.

The '250,' of course, is a direct response to the Oxford version of the 250 (you may have heard, there have been 34 of them to date) being handed over to the Late Model crowd. The Original 250 comes on July 20; the knock-off comes about a month later, on Aug. 17.

* In case you missed some of this stuff over the last few weeks:
- Jerry Gappens has been named by Speedway Motorsports Inc. as general manager of New Hampshire Motor Speedway
- Austin Dillon will drive for Andy Santerre Motorsports next year in the We Don't Have A Title Sponsor Yet East Series. Still no word on what the No. 44 and Sean Caisse's plans are
- It's Mason-Dixon Meltdown weekend in Concord, N.C. Cassius Clark is the defending champion of the event, which was held last year in South Boston, Va.


The kids are alright...

Oh, if I had a nickel for everytime something like this came across my desk...

"My 11 year son won his first race a year ago in September and we asked (Travis) to do a write up on it. At the time we were pretty sure he was the youngest to win a feature race in the state. (Travis') response was that he couldn't because of too many other sports going on and there wasn't enough room, but it was funny that not long after this more racing news made the paper. (Travis) also said that he would be sure to do one on him in the spring. We're still waiting for spring to come."

Buckle up, folks, because most of you aren't going to like what follows here.

An 11-year-old winning a race is not in and of itself newsworthy. The fact that the boy in question here (and I'm not going to name names, even though I know exactly who made the above post on MaineRacing.com) won that race at Unity Raceway wasn't newsworthy, either. Yes, he may in fact have been the youngest feature winner ever at Unity, but there's far more to that story.

And it's that story that, at one point, was weighed on the news desk at the Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel. The boy in question won a race in the "Teen" division, which, at Unity, is open to anybody ages 10-17. In essence, the boy won a race that equated to a Little League baseball game.

Our papers don't cover Little League baseball, and our policy is fairly firm on that. As the boy's mother was told, if he won the championship, the family was more than welcome to send a picture of him with his car/trophy to the paper -- and that photo would run on our community sports page. It was the decision that the sports editor came to -- with input from me -- and that's where it ended. It was strictly a policy decision, not a slight to a certain family having "the wrong last name."

Unfortunately, most people are under the assumption that newspaper hacks are free to write about whatever they want, whenever they want. I'm given a lot of free reign -- and I understand that. But I also need to discuss every story that I'm planning on in full detail with my editor.

Yes, the hacks have bosses, too.

I'm particularly fond of the above criticism that after I declined to write a feature story on our 11-year-old "future Jeff Gordon" there was still other racing news reported in our papers. Yes, there was. It was called "news."

It becomes incredibly hard to sell racing stories to sports editors once football season rolls around and baseball playoffs get underway. It is the same way at every newspaper across New England -- feel free to ask around. The feature stories, the human interest pieces, are gone -- and we are forced to stick to straight news. We cover individual races and pay attention to championships, and that's about all there's room for.

It's just how it is. Yes, as a racing writer and fan, I become as frustrated as all of you about this. I'm sure the people in our sports department could bore you to death with the stories of the arguments I've had with them in the past over why we start ignoring racing just when championships are starting to be decided and extra-distance races are being scheduled.
It's one of the reasons I started blogging -- to have an outlet for all the stuff that couldn't find its way into the newspaper out of space constraints or a general lack of interest.

"(Travis) didn't seem to have a problem writing about another kid."

And to that jab, I say show me. I've never written a single feature story about kids racing cars. Not a one.
As a parent, I want my kids to get their fair share of praise, too. But I work for a company that has a certain policy about youth sports, and there's nothing I can do to change that. Period.


Big business holds New Hampshire's fate

It is the first question on everyone's mind.

What now?

Now that New Hampshire International Speedway has been sold off to corporate America, deftly renamed the New Hampshire Motor Speedway and put in the hands of people who count success by the millions, what's to become of the track's two annual NASCAR Nextel Cup Series races?

Do they stay or do they go?

Read the complete story in today's Kennebec Journal.

Bahre gets $340 million for track

Bob Bahre finally cashed in on his investment.

The 80-year-old businessman from Paris, Maine, sold New Hampshire International Speedway to Bruton Smith and Speedway Motorsports Inc. on Friday. The track in Loudon, N.H., which opened in 1990 and hosts two major NASCAR races annually, was sold for the price of $340 million.

Read the complete story in today's Kennebec Journal.


Racers chime in on New Hampshire sale

Here's a sampling of some of the thoughts circulating in the racing world regarding Speedway Motorsports Inc.'s purchase of New Hampshire International Speedway from Bob Bahre on Friday:

ANDY SANTERRE, 3-time Busch East Series winner at the track:

"There were a lot of race fans in New England before, but they could never go and see NASCAR racing up close (without traveling). Honestly, that’s where anybody from New England went. Guys like myself — or Ricky Craven wouldn’t have made it to Cup — if New Hampshire wasn’t there. We got noticed because it brought the big boys to New England. Without that, I don’t think a lot of us would have had the opportunity.

“The Bahres did a great job with the place, and to have two (Cup) dates, they were very fortunate. A lot of that was what they’ve done for NASCAR in past. But if (Bruton Smith) spent that kind of money, he might want to move a race to one of his tracks that only has one race.”

KURT BUSCH, who swept the two NHIS Cup races in 2004:

"New Hampshire has a great fan base. They sell out that race track every year we go up there. The Northeast loves their NASCAR. I would hope that racetrack keeps at least one date. I would like to see us go to a lot of race tracks just once a year and maybe trim the schedule down, but that’ll never happen.

"But (moving one of the dates), it’ll make every race that’s at their race track more important and drivers will feel more excited about winning each race — to do it when there is only one win that you can get at a track each year. But, Vegas would start off in the Chase. It would be a little warm out there the first of September. I don’t know. All of it is speculation."


"The success of NHIS, and the desire of the Bahre family to sell, made the track very attractive to SMI and several other interested buyers. SMI has a highly regarded record for hosting some of the most successful and enjoyable race events in all of NASCAR, and there's no doubt that will continue.

"While we don't have any details about SMI's plans for NHIS, all sanctions for 2008 have been signed and finalized. As a result, there will be no location changes to the 2008 schedule that was released last month. This is important to the fans, competitors, broadcast partners and sponsors who have already made plans for the 2008 races.

"Looking beyond 2008, NASCAR will continue to consider requests by any track operator, including SMI, to relocate race dates. Under NASCAR's "realignment" plan, we have worked with track owners to relocate race dates to meet the needs of our growing national fan base. Ultimately, any change must meet NASCAR�s objectives and serve our fans.

"The industry owes Bob and Gary Bahre a debt of gratitude for their leadership and commitment to NASCAR. All of NASCAR wishes the Bahre family well during this time of transition. They will always be considered pioneers in NASCAR."

Smith buys NHIS from Bahre

It's official.

For the price tag of $340 million, Bruton Smith and Speedway Motorsports Inc. have purchased New Hampshire International Speedway from Bob Bahre. Less than half an hour ago, Smith said announced the purchase, which is expected to be completed early next year.

SMI now owns 7 tracks that will hold a total of 12 Nextel Cup Series races in 2008. New Hampshire first held a Cup race in 1993 and has held 2 races annually since 1997.
Smith didn't announce any change to the track's annual schedule, though did say he's already begun thinking about the facility after visiting with an engineer.
"I do not have any plans to share at this time," Smith said.

NHIS will also have a name change and will be known as New Hampshire Motor Speedway, putting it more in line with other SMI holdings, such as Atlanta Motor Speedway, Bristol Motor Speedway, Lowe's Motor Speedway and Texas Motor Speedway.

Texas presser slated for 12:30 p.m. today

Conveniently, the Nextel Cup Series is in Forth Worth, Texas, this weekend for the running of the Dickies 500.

Of course, Texas Motor Speedway is one of the tracks own by Bruton Smith and Speedway Motorsports Inc. A press conference is expected to come at 12:30 p.m. today with news of New Hampshire International Speedway's sale to SMI.

According to a report on ThatsRacin.com, no dates will be changed in 2008, as NASCAR has already set the schedule for next season. 2009 and beyond, however, are a different story.

NHIS.com is already advertising next year's Lenox 300 on June 29 -- just 240 days away.

Bahre's timing makes perfect sense

If nothing else, Bob Bahre has always been a smart businessman.

He knew people in New England would eat up big-time NASCAR stock car racing. He knew that by keeping local tours like Busch East and Modifieds on his schedule it would foster good public relations around these parts. He knows that treating a big business like a small-town general store works.

Bahre's also smart enough to know to get out while the getting's good.

Everywhere you look, NASCAR's "stock" is plummeting. The racing is routinely criticized for being more boring than ever. The television ratings drop on what seems to be an event-by-event basis. Tracks may report sellouts, but the camera shots tell us otherwise virtually everywhere the Nextel Cup Series goes -- Talladega (yep), Atlanta (uh-huh), California (naturally)...

Add in that you've got Bruton Smith's Speedway Motorsports Inc. throwing millions upon millions of dollars you're way for your little New Hampshire International Speedway -- and what's a good businessman to do?

New England fans know that keeping their 2 Cup races is now a pipe dream, that they will be lucky to have 1 race a year if and when Smith gets control of the track. In fact, it's a very real possibility that in the matter of a few short years, Cup racing will be gone entirely from the antiquated little track in the nation's northeast. It's no big secret that among Smith's first order of business will be to move 1 of the dates to his Las Vegas facility, perhaps for the start of the Chase in 2009.

NASCAR is big business now, of course. Hundreds of millions of dollars is a small price for someone like Smith to pay for NHIS's 2 coveted Cup dates -- money Smith could easily make back 10-fold in a couple of seasons by simply moving his race to bigger, more profitable tracks.

Bahre's son, Gary, has never had any interest in running the track for his father, now 80. That being said, the family ought to get out while the getting's good.

In such a fickle business, all it would take is a couple of years worth of NASCAR in a downward spiral for the Bahres to be left with next to nothing. It may hurt for the fans to hear it, but there will never be a more appropriate time to sell the place.

All you can hope for now is that Smith doesn't want to change what's at work at NHIS already -- as ridiculous as we all know that notion to be.


Report: NHIS could be sold

According to a report in today's Boston Globe, New Hampshire International Speedway is being sold.

Globe racing writer Michael Vega says that NHIS owner Bob Bahre has reached an agreement with Bruton Smith to sell the track. Smith, under the guise of Speedway Motorsports Inc., already has 6 tracks encompassing 10 Nextel Cup Series race dates.

NHIS officials, according to Vega's story, said there's nothing to report. Still, a press conference could come as early as Friday with news of an official sale.

If Smith gets control of NHIS, the fear is that Cup racing will leave New England. Smith desperately wants to add a 2nd race at his Las Vegas facility, and it's unlikely that NHIS would continue to hold its place as both the 1st race of the Chase and the 1st race in the "Race to the Chase."


Victory champagne makes for a sticky mess

Cleaning off the desk while waiting for the fine folks at 51 Sports to send me a Halloween Howler 150 press release that will never come...

* Time and again I'm asked the same question: Why do the northern drivers all travel south for PASS races, but the southern guys never come up here? The answer is an unpleasant one.

Southern Super Late Model teams have a nasty reputation for being unwilling to travel to any event in which A) they don't think they are the prohibitive favorite to win and B) aren't guaranteed a non-handicapped starting grid.

That's it. That's the reasoning. They're so busy swimming in the NASCAR Kool-Aid that surrounds them, believing anything short of a win at the local level will kill their NASCAR aspirations faster than a blown engine, they're not willing to risk much.

* With the southern guys hospitably stepping aside, Cassius Clark won the Halloween Howler at Greenville-Pickens (S.C.) Speedway on Saturday. A disappointing year for Clark has been salvaged over the late part of the season. Faulty scales robbed him of a 100-lap win at Wiscasset Raceway last month, but he's won both the PASS North season finale at White Mountain on Oct. 14 and now the Howler.

Yeah, Cassius is good. And if people knew the shoestring budget his team worked with, they'd be even more impressed than they already are.

Top-5 from that Howler: 1. Cassius Clark, 2. Ben Rowe, 3. Derek Ramstrom, 4. Ryan Lawler, 5. Corey Williams.

* Want to see one of the most embarrassing things on the World Wide Web? Check out this thread on the Racin' Paper message board devoted to All-Star Speedway.

I don't know if track owner Bobby McArthur does or does not pay what he owes racers, and frankly, it's a discusssion I don't really want to have. But for him to make the posts he does under the screen name of "SHOWSTOPPA" is one of the most disgusting things you'll find in the world of short-track racing. This is the man running a NASCAR-sanctioned short track threatening his teams openly.

Yeah, that's good P.R. I wonder how many cars you'll see in the feature lineups next season -- assuming All-Star lasts that long...

* Game 4: Red Sox 4, Rockies 3. (Sox win World Series, 4-0.)

Yeah, it was THAT good. And, yeah, I haven't gotten sick of watching the post-game coverage yet. Probably never will.


Labbe to lead No. 36 Toyotas

There's a Maine twist to all this silly season action.

Biddeford native Slugger Labbe, best known for his Daytona 500-winning work with Michael Waltrip at DEI, will take over as the crew chief for the No. 36 Bill Davis Racing Toyotas. Mike Skinner will try and qualify the car for the next 2 events (Atlanta, Texas) and Johnny Benson will try and steer the cars into the final 2 (Phoenix, Homestead). The seat became open when Jeremy Mayfield announced his decision to sign with Haas-CNC racing for the remainder of 2007 and through 2008.

Labbe, 39, had been working with Jacques Villeneuve at BDR. He's also served in crew chief capacities at Gillette-Evernham Motorsports, Robert Yates Racing and the now-defunct Ginn Racing.

Labbe's start in NASCAR racing came as a crew member for Kelly Moore's Busch North Series operation.


Minott coming back to Wiscasset booth

In the midst of a somtimes turbulent change at Wiscasset Raceway this summer, there remained one constant.

One constant that, thankfully for track owner Doug White, will be back for a 15th straight season of racing at the facility. Ken Minott confirmed this weekend that, despite swirling rumors to the contrary, he will be back as the track's lead announcer in 2008.

Minott is a true gem on the local racing scene, a guy that people like myself can lean on. Want to know who won the Late Model feature last weekend? Ken's on top of it. Want to know how many times Chris Thorne finished 7th or worse in that division over the last 3 seasons? Well, Ken's got that info, too.

When White bought the track in the middle of the 2007 season, he brought with him the engergetic and sometimes abrasive John Crawford. Crawford was originally brought in as a consultant to White, someone who then could sell the place to potential advertisers and help bring it a little more visibility -- like he'd done with Unity Raceway when he leased that track from Ralph Nason a few years back.

But, Crawford soon ended up on a microphone, and then on a radio to help officiate races. In fact, Crawford was everywhere all the time it seemed. It became clear that it grated on Minott's nerves -- when during one Saturday night, Crawford left the announcer's booth with a scrape on his forehead.

(For the record, Minott didn't swing at Crawford. He simply knocked over a pile of "stuff" that caught Crawford's melon...)

More than Crawford's appearance, however, Minott had to weigh what all of us are forced to at times -- family obligations vs. our vocations. On a couple of occasions, Ken had asked me if I ever felt torn between work and my family. At first, it seemed an innocent enough query, but by September I knew something was on his mind.

For 14 years, Ken has missed out on Saturday cookouts, trips to Red Sox matinee games on Sundays in Boston, on watching his kids do things themselves.

He's not ready to give up either -- the family or racing. And all he wanted from this year was permission from White to miss out on a race here or there to tend to things such as, oh, I don't know, his daughter's graduation. Seems reasonable enough.

Minott will also get his Sundays, too. He's giving up the media relations portion of his gig at Wiscasset, meaning he won't have to spend hours and hours compiling race results, recaps and press releases.

Good for Minott for putting family first. Good for Doug White for understanding the asset he has in Minott. Good for Wiscasset Raceway fans for getting the best deal of all.


A few wild pitches from the week...

I've got to level with you. With the Sox in the American League Championship Series, I've been distracted.

I mean, real distracted. Who can worry about the All-Star Speedway Pro Stock Nationals or some silly Nextel Cup Series race in Martinsville, Va., when Jacoby Ellsbury's going to get the start in center field or J.D. Drew is lining up a 1st-inning grand slam? It's about priorities here, gang.

That being said, I know I've got a captive audience (uh, maybe not...) that's clamoring for some racing news, a readership that could care less about curve balls and balks.

Here's what I've missed this week:

* We've found the answer to Greg Biffle's prolonged 2-season Nextel Cup Series struggles, and it's got nothing to do with Roush Fenway Racing's Fords or the driver's flavor-of-the-month crew chief. It's the driver himself.

Just 37 years old, Biffle's already thought about running part-time down the road if the opportunity presented itself.

"To be totally honest, if I could sign a 3-year deal that I ran 15 to 17 races [a year], I'd strongly consider ending the full-time thing sooner," Biffle said. "It gives you a life."

In a sport that is so brutally competitive, you're never going to be a threat for a championship if you're wishing you were off doing other things. Period.

The "life" you want has to be a racing life, one that is full-time, no ifs, ands or buts if you're going to succeed these days.

* Scott Chubbuck and the Hight Motorsports gang continued their barnstorming ways, swooping in to win the shortened Pro Stock Nationals at All-Star on Saturday night. The 150-lap race was shortened because it ran up against curfew -- a wreckfest that didn't start until somewhere in the neighborhood of 11 p.m.

News flash for All-Star owner Bobby MacArthur -- It's October. It's cold enough to begin with. Add on an 8-hour show, and you tell me who on God's green earth wants to sit through it.

And with the rumors of cheating for an "open" competition at the track, I'm seeing why so many of the area's Pro Stock staples opted to just sit that one out.

* NASCAR's got to figure out how to work this whole owner points/car number scenario out once and for all. Not only can I still not figure out how the No. 15 Menard's Chevy or Paul Menard got the points from the No. 14s formerly piloted by Sterling Marlin at Ginn Racing after Ginn and DEI merged, but now comes a report that Petty Enterprises is simply going to swap car numbers on the Nos. 43 and 45 to make sure Kyle Petty gets into races.

The idea, quite simply, is to take advantage of Bobby Labonte's past champions' provisional opportunity should Petty's No. 45 slip out of the top-35 in points, and thus be in for the guaranteed starting spot each week.

There's something wrong with the entire system when you can just whack a few different decals on one car and -- woolah! -- you're in the race. Really wrong.

* Tony Stewart may be right, but that doesn't mean he has to say it.

After he and Paul Menard had a mini-incident on pit road at Lowe's Motor Speedway last weekend, Stewart sounded off on Menard.

"You can have your father buy your ride and write DEI a big check, but you can't buy talent...," Stewart said after the Lowe's race. "(John Menard's) bought his son a Nextel Cup ride and he's just got enough talent to just be in the way most of the time."

Given the state of Nextel Cup racing these days, you could say that about half the starting field -- or more -- each week. But calling Menard out, just because Stewart has a platform via his weekly satellite radio show, was unnecessary.

Not that Menard kept quiet, either.

"I've known Tony for 10 years," Menard said. "He's not a very mature person. Yeah, I wouldn't be here if my family didn't support me. I don't think he would be either if his family didn't support him. You can't get too wrapped up in it... I know him well enough to know he's a 50-year-old kid in a six-year-old's body. He's got the platform to say that stuff. Good for him. I hope he feels better about it."
* And now, you're starting lineups for Game 7 of the 2007 ALCS. Leading off and playing second base, No. 15, Dustin Pedroia...


WOW! This is big news!

You know, I was just sitting here saying to myself, "Self, I wonder when we'll see that new Nationwide Series logo?" And, wouldn't you know it, it appeared.

Now I'm not one to criticize NASCAR (uh....) but don't you think they would have had this a couple of weeks back, when they made the announcement that Nationwide Insurance was taking over as the title sponsor of Nextel Cup final practice?

I mean, let's get the ducks in a row people.

Yeah, I know. It's slow this time of year.


Mods hit Thunder Road's high banks

This is an interesting gamble that Tom Curley is willing to take.

Like sprint cars in Maine or dirt racing in Canada, Modified racing just hasn't caught on in the northern reaches of New England. That's not stopping Curley from bringing in the True Value Modified Series for an event to run as part of a doubleheader with the American-Canadian Tour on Memorial Day weekend next season at Thunder Road Speedbowl.

It will be a 100-lap race, the 1st Modified race at Thunder Road since 1965.

The 2 sides announced the event after series owner and competitor Jack Bateman (umm, yeah, it's a, uh, mild conflict of interest, isn't it...?) tested on the 1/4-mile and reported running lap times in the mid-12-second range.

Still, Curley likely hasn't gone into this blindly. The TVMS has its roots in northern New Hampshire -- not exactly a Modified hotbed -- and this little grassroots series has found a way to prosper. While the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour has petered out in northern New England, the TVMS raced at Oxford Plains Speedway this season and races in New Hampshire still, too.

The NASCAR Modified Tour is dominated by a driver roster hailing from virtually every corner, city, town and village in Connecticut, but the TVMS has a more geographically-diverse roster. That should serve it well moving forward.

Still — Modifieds at Thunder Road? Boy, it just doesn't sound right.

Chase delivers on NASCAR promise (Not that it makes us feel any better)

Got an interesting comment from a regular reader of Green-White-Checker today.

"The Chase is a fraud format and has failed to deliver on its promise," he wrote.

Hey, you may not like the format gang, but it has absolutely delivered on its promise. Brian France and the rest of the ring masters running NASCAR's traveling circus never promised any great shakes when the Chase for the Nextel Cup format was introduced a few years ago.

All we were promised was a contrived championship battle, one that wiped out whatever anyone had done during the first 26 races of the year and essentially reset the competing field at an equal points position. Once that was done, you were going to get 10 races toward the Cup -- a format that would compete with the NFL, college football and MLB playoffs for fan interest (read: TV ratings and, thusly, advertising revenue).

It didn't matter if you were the best team for the whole season or not. It only mattered that you could be better than the 9 or 11 other teams in the Chase with you for the last couple of months of the season.

The racing hasn't been any better on the track, with or without the Car of Tomorrow (read: Talladega, or at least I think that was Talladega we saw) -- but that's not what NASCAR promised. A "true" champion hasn't necessarily been crowned -- but that's not what NASCAR promised. There haven't been any great worst-to-first performances, either -- but that's not what NASCAR promised.

All NASCAR promised was a controlled setting for its final 10 races, and they've continually found themselves tweaking that system, rightly or wrongly. And that's all they really promised.

In that vein, the Chase is EXACTLY what NASCAR promised. We just don't have to like it.


Clocking in on 1 last Maine racing weekend...

Though the conspiracy theorists certainly suggested that the points race in the PASS North Series was manufactured through a controversial call at Beech Ridge Motor Speedway a few weeks ago, Ben Rowe still survived to win his series-record 4th championship.

In a race won by Cassius Clark at White Mountain Motorsports Park on Sunday afternoon, Rowe finished 5th to lock up the title. Rowe earned the title by just 18 points over father Mike Rowe, who finished 2nd to Clark. Trevor Sanborn was 3rd and Johnny Clark was 4th.

Ben Rowe had 2/3 of his points lead wiped out with a penalty for rough driving at the D.J. Equipment 300 -- a race his father won to set up the championship showdown on Sunday.

Though it was Rowe's 4th title, it was his 1st while driving for Richard Moody Racing.


I've been critical of so-called retirement tours in the past in the Nextel Cup Series (see: Mark Martin, who still hasn't retired, not really, and Bill Elliott, whose happy to hop into a car whenever some team needs a "past champion's provisional" starting spot), but I'm a big fan of the way Dale Jarrett plans on going out.

He's going to run the Bud Shootout (Or the Coors Light-ning Dash, maybe? NASCAR can feel free to use that name if they want, free of charge...), the 1st 5 points races and then the All-Star Challenge at Lowe's Motor Speedway in May. After that, he's going to give the seat of the No. 44 UPS Toyota over to David Reutimann.

An All-Star race is a great way for this former champion, and a solid ambassador for the sport, to go out. I'm just keeping my fingers crossed that Jarrett doesn't pull a Martin and advertise a big farewell tour (complete with $30 hats and t-shirts that the fans gobble up) and then change his mind.

Not that someone isn't entitled to changing their mind.


I finally rode in a pace car, and, I've got to say, even Mr. Cynical himself walked away fairly impressed.

For my son's 4th birthday, I took him to the Long John Open at Unity Raceway. Part of that day included a ride in the pace car before the Teen feature. And, yeah, we almost fell out of the passenger seat when the car whipped off turn 4 and into the infield to start the race.


And, 50 mph looks a lot slower when you're sitting in a press box. No wonder guys get hooked on this racing game...


For that Long John Open, the track should be commended.

After a disappointing season of car counts perilously close to single digits for other Super Street open competitions, a full field of 30 cars showed for the Long John. It just goes to show that while racetrack after racetrack may have a hard time drumming up new interest in its offerings, tradition still holds people's attention.

When it comes to racing in central Maine, the Long John, now 19 years in the books, remains an event people want to be part of. It's that one last time on the track, and it's that one last time to go camp out for a weekend somewhere.

It may have been bigger and better in its heyday, but it's still a pretty good day of racing just the way it is now. And, 60 degrees under sunny skies on an October afternoon never hurts anything.


The guy with the Nextel Cup hauler ought to win the PASS Modified championships, else it just wouldn't look right at all.

Chris Staples claimed his 2nd Modified title in as many years on Saturday in the 40-lap division by finishing 6th in a 50-lap "extra distance" feature at WMMP. Jason Taylor won the race.

Staples' teammate, Mark Lucas, landed 2nd in the final standings.

After Mike Fowler beat Matt Lee in the 100-lapper that night for the PASS Outlaw Late Models, Jimmy Rosenfield was named the division champion.


Is it just me, or are we seeing the Jeff Gordon of the late 1990s, the one who couldn't lose no matter what he did?
Oh yeah, and not that anyone cares, but it's awfully wrong to wait 5 hours for a game to be decided -- living and dying with every pitch -- only to have Eric Gagne give it away.

Hard not to remember how excited I was when the Sox got him at the trading deadline. Now, though, I'm wondering if we'll see him in another game (meaningful or otherwise) in a Boston uniform.


Better get a restrictor plate on that thing

Sure, Super Late Models are faster than Late Models. Supermodifieds are faster than tour-type Modifieds. Super Streets are even faster than Street Stocks.

But it's all relative, isn't it? Just ask Russ Wicks.

Driving what was supposedly a stock car built to "NASCAR specifications," Wicks set a new world speed record in a Dodge Charger on Tuesday. Wicks, who holds world records of more than 200 miles per hour on both land and water, has set the stock car mark of 244.9 mph at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah.

The record was confirmed by Guinness World Records. The new mark shatters Wicks’ previous stock car world speed record of 222 miles per hour.

Long John practice rained out

If the rain doesn't let up, maybe they can make this Long John Open into a speedboat race.

Practice for the annual season-ending event at Unity Raceway was rained out by persistent showers across the state on Friday, though track officials remained optimistic that the grounds would be ready in time for practice to begin on Saturday morning.

In addition to the $1,500-to-win Long John 100 for the Super Street division, there is also a 100-lap event for the Limited Sportsman machines paying $750 to the winner. There are 5 other divisions on the card, too, running features varying in length from 15 to 30 laps.

Heat racing begins at 1 p.m. Saturday.

No All-Star makeup for PASS, season ends this weekend

This likely qualifies as old news by now, but the rained out PASS 150 at All-Star Speedway will not be made up.

Weather has not been kind to the PASS North Series over the last 2 seasons, and this fall has been no exception. After already moving the D.J. Equipment 150 at White Mountain Motorsports Park from mid-September to this weekend because of rain, PASS was left without any wiggle room at the end of its schedule.

This weekend's 150-lapper at White Mountain will serve as the official end of the PASS North season. 3-time series champion Ben Rowe leads his father, Mike Rowe, by 12 points entering the race. Richie Dearborn is 40 points behind Ben -- giving him, at least technically, an outside shot at his 1st championship.

The reality is that Dearborn would have to win the race in a field featuring upwards of 30 cars -- plus not lose any points in the heat races -- while both Rowes would have to finish in the final few spots in the running order. It's highly unlikely, particularly considering the seasons each of the Rowes' respective teams have put together.


Open door policy for open-wheelers

In another move that can hardly be called surprising, Patrick Carpentier is making the jump to NASCAR.

Someone should tell New Englander Jeff Simmons that the market is hot right now for open-wheel drivers over on the stock car side. So hot that, well, Patrick Carpentier can make the move straight to Cup.

Gillett Evernham Motorsports made it official on Wednesday, the former CART driver will run a full-time Sprint Cup Series schedule and part-time Nationwide Series schedule for the team in 2008. Carpentier debuted with the team by finishing 2nd in a Busch race in Montreal, following that up by leading 7 laps in the Cup race at Watkins Glen the next week.

These days, you don't have do a whole lot more than that to warrant a million-dollar Cup contract. Carpentier resume is as follows: 2 Champ Car wins, 3 CART victories and a Toyota Atlantic Championship. That's it.

Still, GEM is ready to roll Carpentier out.

“Patrick (Carpentier) has shown tremendous talent in every series he has driven throughout his career and has a bright future in NASCAR," George Gillett said in a release. "We are committed to giving Patrick the best resources and opportunities available to make this transition and we look forward to a great deal of success together both on and off the track.”


An identity all his own

On Friday night, assuming he qualifies for the race, Jason Keller will make his 418th career Busch Series start at Lowe's Motor Speedway. It will break the mark held by Tommy Houston.

As NASCAR readies to make a switch to the Nationwide Series and the Busch Series' identity erodes bit by bit, it's understandable that NASCAR wants to tout the achievement of someone like Keller. What we have to hope is that this business won't all get run over by a pace car after Friday's Dollar General 300 is complete.

There are so many agendas in the Busch Series, I hope that we maintain enough spots for all those agendas and not just become a series with 25 or 30 Cup drivers on a Saturday, and then just a couple of spots just left for everybody else," Keller said. "That's what concerns me.

"I mean, I think the series is great when you have 12 to 14 or so Cup drivers, because they are more recognizable. They are more known to the fans, and that brings notoriety to our series, so I'm all for that. But when you start getting up to the 24, 25, even higher, numbers of Cup drivers in the series, it kind of puts it over to one side and that concerns me a little bit."

Keller is a driver with a different agenda. Like former series champion Randy Lajoie before him, Keller has no real interest in Cup Series racing and the circus that goes along with it. He's far too happy spending Sundays at home with his wife and kids.

But choosing his family has come at the cost of his racing career. And, because he's 37 years old and not the 18- or 19-year-old polished kid that every team is looking for in its development program, he's had to settle for what he can get this year.

"It's tough because I want to be a part of a series week-in and week-out," said Keller, whose made only 16 starts this season. "I mean, I equate it to only playing golf once a month. It's hard to get in a rhythm. It's very tough for me to get in a rhythm over the summer months because I raced for a couple of different teams. I mean, there for 2 months, I had a team for every other week and a different spotter every other week, and some of the small things that go along with that — it's just it's hard to get into a rhythm."


Don't pass on good PR

"The most important thing I have is credibility," Bill Quirk tells me. "All it takes is one time, and that credibility is shot -- and then I've got nothing."

These are the words a PR man must live by, and Quirk has done the job.

Spend any amount of time in the newspaper business, and you'll quickly lose track of the hundreds of PR people who aren't worth the threads in their own shoelaces. The flip side of that equation, of course, is that you can count on one hand the number of people who excel in the position.

Quirk is one of those people I count on my hand. Problem is, PASS doesn't always see the need for someone who is media savvy.

At some point last season, Quirk and PASS had a falling out. Quirk isn't usually one to tell tales out of school -- particularly to some snot-nosed little racing writer -- so the details of that divorce have remained somewhat muddled. Suffice it to say, through piecing it all together from a variety of sources, Quirk and PASS president Tom Mayberry disagreed on a few things, Mayberry turned to the bigger PR monster at 51 Sports and Quirk was out.

While Quirk was out, a few things happened in 2007. Or, better said, a few things failed to happen -- namely, press releases and results were not getting out to media outlets. If you weren't willing to subject yourself to what Speed51.com purports to be journalism and motorsports coverage (you know, as long as you're one of its clients), you could find the results a day or so later.

At races, there were no entry lists, no media kits, no starting lineups and, if you weren't quick enough to tackle a scorer with a copy of the finishing order before they left the tower, no results. From April through mid-June at Unity Raceway, I received exactly ZERO in the way of literature from PASS.

For those of you that may or may not care, that's no correspondence on behalf of PASS with the one media member who regularly covers its events. You can read between the lines.

On Sunday morning July 1st, my first interaction of any kind with a PASS PR representative came as the sun was coming up. That morning, I'd written about how Kyle Busch had been wrongly credited with a PASS North Series win less than 6 hours earlier at All-Star Speedway.

A few minutes before 7 a.m., Bob Dillner approached me in the media center at New Hampshire International Speedway. Diller, the SPEED Channel reporter covering the Nextel Cup Series, is the founder of 51 Sports and, as of then, handling PR for PASS.

After first telling me he hadn't actually read the entire article (uh, rule no. 1, Bob, at least do the author the service of reading something in its entirety before quibbling with it), he told me what I wrote was wrong (again, without having read all of it) and followed up by lecturing me on how I should have done my job. Imagine that -- the guy who erroneously broke the story in 2006 of Richard Childress Racing teams using tricked-up shocks in the 1st race of the Chase that year lecturing me on responsible journalism. It was laughable.

I told Dillner that until PASS reversed its decision, I was absolutely right. Dillner said that something would likely come about "in the next few days." I said until that happened, I wasn't going to back off my story. Dillner told me he hoped I'd write something more positive when a decision was announced. I told him I always called it like I saw it.

Two hours later, Mike Rowe was officially credited with that victory as Busch was stripped. I did not hear a word from PASS (or Dillner) in the aftermath. PASS has since (in a good move) divorced itself from Dillner's 51 Sports.

The next time I heard anything from PASS? When Mayberry asked Quirk to help him out with some press releases in August.

Not coincidentally, PASS coverage has been easier to come by in newspapers, in trade papers and on the Web since Quirk was brought back into the fold. There have been timely press releases and results from PASS, not just for the Super Late Models, but also for the Modified and Sportsman divisions, too, which were essentially ignored previously.

The upgrade in coverage is entirely Quirk's doing, and it shouldn't be overlooked. Officially, Quirk still doesn't have a job with the series -- he's simply being used as a "PR consultant."

It's time to remove that label and put him on the payroll. ACT gets a ton of attention in New England, in part, because its PR staff is second-to-none when it comes to being both accessible and personable. They have information, they are willing to share it, and they are available when you need anything and everything, both at the race track and away from it.

Without someone like Quirk, PASS boasts none of the above. With someone like Quirk, the media remains more inclined to pay attention to all of your series, because they know where to turn when they have questions.

The job of a PR man can't be an afterthought, not when people have so many entertainment choices these days. A PR man who's on the job can have a direct impact on the perception of a series.

In these parts, there are few in that group.

Gear jammin': Talladega

Top 4 stories from Sunday's UAW-Ford 500 at Talladega Superspeedway:

1st gear -- Gordon is the master: If Jeff Gordon's not careful, people are going to start saying he can see the air the way Dale Earnhardt was often accused of. The move he pulled off to cut in front of Tony Stewart and take advantage of that momentum was masterful, plain and simple, Gordon fan or Gordon hater. If there's a better driver out there in the Cup Series right now, I say prove it. He's got 6 career wins at Talladega now, 5 series wins in 2007 and inherited the points lead from teammate Jimmie Johnson with the victory.

2nd gear -- DEI/Childress engines: What it is now, like every other race that Junior's blown up in? Clint Bowyer was the only DEI or Childress driver in the Chase not to grenade it at some point, which leaves you wondering not only what happened to the 2 teams -- who happen to have an engine alliance -- but why these problems are still popping up at DEI. The future is, at best, a tenuous one moving on to 2008.

3rd gear -- Villeneuve doesn't cause the big one!: So Jacques "He-Doesn't-Belong-Out-Here-With-Us-NACAR-Good-Old-Boys" Villeneuve ran all 188 laps, finished 21st, never got into a scrape and didn't wipe out all 12 Chase contenders by deciding to hang a hard right across 4 lanes of traffic. Amazing that a Formula 1 champ can drive, isn't it? And, for the record, for all the accusations of inexperience -- Bobby Labonte (yes, THAT Bobby Labonte, a former champion and guy with a resume that's 7 pages long) was the one who caused the dreaded "big one." Not that it was necessarily his fault, but it just served to show that restrictor plate racing is such a crapshoot, anyone can have troubles.

4th gear -- Cut to The Chase: It looks like it's down to a 4-horse race with 6 Chase events left. Gordon, Johnson (-9), Clint Bowyer (-63) and Stewart (-154) are the only guys with legitimate hopes. For 5th-place Carl Edwards, 200 points back (assuming his appeal is denied this week), is a lot of ground to make up on 4 teams that are running really well right now.


NASCAR and ACT: Lessons in points racing

If you take anything away from Tom Curley's American-Canadian Tour driver's meetings, it's what sounds like a mantra.

"We are not NASCAR."

Curley laments almost all things NASCAR -- in particular, he's not fan of the bump-and-run pass that has become commonplace in Cup Series events on short tracks. "That's not racing," Curley told a group of drivers before a race earlier this season.

Ironic, though, for a series founded on anti-NASCAR principles, that the kind of points racing that leaves NASCAR teams downright giddy is exactly the kind of points racing it takes to win an ACT championship. Winning isn't even close to being the most important thing -- just finishing in the top-10 every week is.

Exhibit A: Jean-Paul Cyr. Cyr won his series-record 7th championship on Saturday at Oxford Plains Speedway, and his series-record 5th straight title. And he did so without a single trip to victory lane. In 1994, the year of Cyr's first title, he won 1 race, the fewest during a championship run, according to ACT PR man Justin St. Louis.

The key to claiming the '07 crown, in Cyr's own words, "We were pretty consistent. We top-5'ed and top-3'ed them to death."

Still, Cyr was disappointed at not having won this season. He finished 2nd on 2 occasions -- at Oxford in the season opener in April and at Seekonk Speedway in early August -- and talked about the 2 events at White Mountain Motorsports Park he felt like he dominated without results.

"I'm the one that likes to win as many races as I can," said Cyr, whose 18 career wins put him second behind Brian Hoar (23). "We're second all-time in ACT as far as wins go, but I'd rather be first. We've been off our game a little bit this year. We spent the year experimenting and trying new things -- but I guess the old things were pretty good."

Cyr may not be happy about the manner in which you need to race to win an ACT championship, but the fact remains that with evenly-matched teams running spec equipment in heavily-handicapped starting fields, points racing is the only way to work toward a championship. Teams simply aren't going to dominate by winning 1/3 or 1/2 of the races on the schedule.

Strange was it to see Cyr's final shot at victory come at a track he has a love-hate relationship with. After years of the Thunder Road Milk Bowl being the series' finale, this year that honor went to Oxford. Even though Cyr has never won at Oxford, he thought it a fitting finish for the series.

"I'm used to it all being done at the Milk Bowl and not having to worry anymore," Cyr said. "But with the '250' being here, and us being able to participate in that now, I kind of felt it was fitting that this would be the last points race of the year."

Rain washed out PASS 150

Gary Norris Jr. and Mike Landry beat the rain Saturday night at All-Star Speedway, but the PASS North Series drivers weren't so lucky.

After a couple of rain delays, the PASS 150 was finally washed out. The cars were on the track taking their pace laps -- they'd even been given the "1-to-go" sign -- when showers pelted the track yet again.

Around 11 p.m., PASS made the decision to call things off. No decision on a possible makeup date was immediately announced, though the series is expected to make a decision by the middle of the coming week.

Norris won the PASS Modified feature at All-Star, his 4th win of the season in the division, while Landry picked up the victory in the Sportsman class. The victory was Landry's 1st this season -- after he won a 100-lap event at Beech Ridge on Sept. 24 but was disqualified in post-race tech.


Oxford regulars defend home turf

Chalk one up for the Oxford Plains regulars.

After having their hats handed to them by American-Canadian Tour regulars in the 4 previous extra-distance Late Model races at the track, including the prestigious TD Banknorth 250 won by Roger Brown, the local guys got the job done on Saturday.

Travis Adams, a 3-time track Late Model champion and winner of 6 weekly features in 2007, won the ACT season-ending New England Dodge Dealers 150 over Brown and Donald Theetge. And fellow OPS competitor Doug Coombs had as much to do with Adams' win as Adams himself.

Adams wrestled the lead from pole-sitter Scott Dragon on lap 95, and he held that lead until lap 123, when Dragon reeled him in and went back by. It appeared Dragon, a 3-time ACT winner in his career, was going to crack victory lane for the 1st time since he won at Oxford back in 2003.

Only, it wasn't going to be that easy.

On lap 141, Coombs spun onto the pit road entrance in turn 4. His car never stopped, and he looped it back around trying to get it straightened out and back on the track.

Only problem was that the leaders were coming. Dragon never saw him.

"He came right out of nowhere," said Dragon, who finished 29th. "I couldn't even believe it. He came wheeling right back onto the track and right in front of me. He probably didn't see me. I'm sure he didn't. It was just one of those deals."

Coombs was genuinely hurt -- inside and out.

"I just kept hearing, 'Go, go, go,' (on the radio) and then it was, 'Don't go!' " he said before heading to the hospital to have his hand and wrist checked out following the hard hit. "I feel terrible for the other guy. I heard, 'Go on and get back out there,' and then I heard, 'Don't go!' It was too late."

Adams said he had one more move left for Dragon, but he never got the chance to show it.

"Oh, absolutely," Adams said. "It was looking really good... I had something for him. It's too bad he got caught up in that wreck."

After seeing the likes of Brown, Randy Potter, John Donahue and Eddie MacDonald take the money and the trophies in Late Model races earlier this year, Adams felt good about being the 1st Maine driver to win one of the Oxford Late Model Challenge Series events.

He felt even better about being an Oxford regular.

"That means a lot. It's a fact I didn't even know," Adams said. "I'm really glad that I could support Oxford -- an Oxford regular won this race today. That's probably what makes me most proud. If I couldn't have won, I definitely wanted Ricky Rolfe to have won. I just feel glad that an Oxford car won, more so than a Maine driver."

Fortunately for Adams -- though not so fortunately for Dragon -- an Oxford driver saw to that in more ways than one.

Adams earns 1st career ACT win

Travis Adams put the wraps on a stellar season at Oxford Plains Speedway by winning the ACT New England Dodge Dealers 150 on Saturday.

Adams, who had won 11 features over the last 2 seasons at Oxford in weekly competition, earned his 1st ACT win. Six of those victories came in 2007.

Scott Dragon was leading when he collided with the spinning car of Doug Coombs with 9 laps remaining. Dragon's day was done, and Adams inherited the top spot.


American-Canadian Tour

New England Dodge Dealers 150

Unofficial results

1. Travis Adams, Canton
2. Roger Brown, Lancaster, N.H.
3. Donald Theetge, Boischatel, Que.
4. Brent Dragon, Milton, Vt.
5. Eddie MacDonald, Rowley, Mass.
6. Shawn Martin, Turner
7. Alan Tardiff, Lyman
8. John Donahue, Graniteville, Vt.
9. Randy Potter, Groveton, N.H.
10. Tracie Bellerose, Gorham, N.H.

Waltrip turns in shocking qualifying effort

Michael Waltrip won the pole. I repeat, Michael Waltrip won the pole.

How did it happen? Maybe NASCAR figured he's been slow all year that he didn't need a restrictor plate for this weekend's UAW-Ford 500 at Talladega. Maybe it was the fuel. Or what they put in the fuel...

Let me make sure I've got this straight -- restrictor plate racing is so easy that Michael Waltrip can put his car on the pole, but we're all worried about whether or not Jacques Villeneuve is worthy of a Nextel Cup Series start? Villeneuve, by the way, qualfied 6th.


Double-digits in wins at Waterford Speedbowl apparently earn you a quick trip home from Oxford Plains Speedway.

Bruce Thomas Jr., who competes at the small Connecticut track, ran away with Waterford's Late Model championship this year. That wasn't especially hard to do it seems -- think: Super Street division at Wiscasset Raceway. There were usually only a dozen cars.

He came to Oxford for his ACT debut on Saturday, and spun out while running all alone and leading his heat race -- just a lap and a half after the field took the green. Tough times.


The 48 cars entered in the New England Dodge Dealers 150 at OPS came as a surprise to most people, including ACT officials. They were hoping they'd just have enough to fill out the 33-car starting grid.

Early reports out of All-Star Speedway, though unconfirmed, had somewhere in the neighborhood of 30 Super Late Models signing in for the PASS North Series 150 tonight.

Why so many cars in these places? The season's almost over, and there aren't that many chances left to run cars. Fan interest may be waning with things like high school football, county fairs and hunting seasons, but for teams, it's a scramble to get to as many races as they can before the snow flies.

Cyr is 2008 ACT champion

It's over. Just like that.

Jean Paul Cyr won his heat race -- not the win he's looking for today, or this year, for that matter -- but it was enough to claim his record 7th American-Canadian Tour championship.

Scott Payea finished 4th in his heat, giving Cyr an insurmountable 85-point lead heading into the New England Dodge Dealers 150.

The title is the Milton, Vt., driver's 5th in a row, another ACT record.

Still, Cyr is looking for his 1st feature win of 2007. Unofficially, he'll start 15th in the 33-car field this afternoon.