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.

Cyr's got it all but locked up

If you're not a numbers-cruncher or a stat geek, this American-Canadian Tour championship picture is made for you.

Jean-Paul Cyr leads Scott Payea by 75 points coming into today's New England Dodge Dealers 150 at Oxford Plains Speedway. In order to clinch his series-record 7th championship and series-record 5th straight title, Cyr need only finish 6th or better in his heat race and 24th or better in the feature should Payea win both his heat and the 150.

In the words of ACT PR guru Justin St. Louis, "That's just not going to happen."

Especially with Cyr starting on the pole of his 12-car heat. There are 48 cars here, and 33 will start the 150. One hardly needs to pay attention to the championship picture. Just bring us Cyr for a few quotes when it's all said and done.

Cyr has not won yet this season. This could be the 1st time in Cyr's extended championship history with ACT that he's not posted at least 1 victory during a title campaign.

He's finished twice this season, most recently running 2nd to Joey Polewarczyk at Seekonk Speedway in early August. Cyr also finished 2nd here at Oxford Plains in the season-opener on April 28.

Qualifying is less than 5 minutes away...

Bristol, The Rock on 2008 PASS schedule?

The PASS schedule is shaping up as remarkably different for 2008.

According to several sources, from all different levels of involvement with the PASS North Series, the Super Late Models are heading south. Trips to both Bristol Motor Speedway and North Carolina Motor Speedway are expected next season.

PASS tried to get a race at Bristol in July of the current season -- trying to garner some attention in light of the Oxford 250's move to Late Models -- but that deal fell through when the UARA-STARS tour offered more money and thus moved in for a July 28 race at Bristol. PASS, however, did not turn its back completely on the idea of making something happen at Bristol in the future, and it appears as though the dilligence will pay off in the form of a race date in the summer of 2008.

North Carolina Motor Speedway in Rockingham, N.C., better known as "The Rock," was bought at auction this week by former part-time Cup driver Andy Hillenburg. PASS has already had discussions with Hillenburg about racing there in 2008, too, and a deal could be more imminent than some would suspect.

Hillenburg made mention of the fact when he purchased The Rock that he wanted to run several regional tours there once he was able to update some of the facilities. That led to immediate speculation that some of NASCAR's lower-level divisions could be involved, but the movement by PASS to get in there could be a real coup for that series.

There are some open holes in PASS's 2008 slate, given their recent announcements that they aren't planning as many trips north of the border as we've seen in recent years. And, dates at Bristol and The Rock undoubtedly would involve PASS South teams, giving the entire organization to show off the best it has to offer.

Gordon just plain wrong about Villeneuve

Jeff Gordon is just plain wrong about Jacques Villeneuve making his Nextel Cup Series debut at Talladega, and he makes the best argument against his own assertion.

Gordon said last weekend at Kansas that Talladega was no place for a driver to make his debut, and he backed that up again on Friday at the track. Even if you were the best driver in the world, Gordon argued, there are other places you should be racing. Other drivers, notably Kyle Busch, were just as vocal in opposition to Villeneuve's possible debut (pending qualifying).

It's not the speed the current crop of Cuppers are concerned with. It's not Villeneuve himself. It's the unknown, the unknown that they don't want to face in a bump-drafting pack of 43 cars.

The unknown is part of racing, and it always has been. The argument of not wanting to race with a Jacques Villeneuve because you don't know how he's going to drive is as bad as PGA Tour golfers complaining that a course is too hard.

It's about competition. Go out and compete against the parameters that have been set.

"They are all great talents," Gordon said Friday, speaking of not only Villeneuve, but also former open-wheelers like Juan Pablo Montoya and Dario Franchitti. "No doubt about it... I think they can be successful. That's what's gotten them successful in every other form of motorsports they've gone into. They didn't just jump into an Indy car and start winning."

But Gordon also suggested that Villeneuve should make his NASCAR debut somewhere else. Fact is, he did. That's why he ran the Truck race at Las Vegas last month.

Gordon of all people should recognize that talent is talent -- no matter what kind of car a driver is racing. Winning at places like Indianapolis and Monaco and anywhere else Indy cars and Formula 1 machines go takes skill and ability.

It's funny that these guys don't have a problem racing against former Legends car drivers and 21-year-old kids whose daddies bought their way into the Nextel Cup Series, but take a former F1 champ and bring him over and everybody goes bonkers.

Saturday's double play

Maybe I'm just a glutton for punishment, or maybe the local racing season is closing faster than a mudder at the Kentucky Derby. Maybe it's just because the Sox have an off-day. Either way, I'm going to put myself to the test today.

Two championship battles. Two different series. Two very different places. With proper apologies to Cubs' great Ernie Banks -- "Let's play two."

This afternoon, I'm going over to Oxford Plains Speedway for the American-Canadian Tour season-ending New England Dodge Dealers 150. It's a long shot for Scott Payea to overtake Jean Paul Cyr, who is about to become the 1st 7-time ACT champion in history, but it will also put a capper on the track's much-, much-publicized move to Late Models in '07.

There are always a gazillion good storylines out of championship days, and there's also the subplot of the track's Late Model Challenge Series, which will also be settled today. I'm not sure that I care who wins that overall title, to be completely honest, but at least in the ACT story is a bust there's always that.

The Challenge Series is a good chance for Ricky Rolfe to take a title for himself this year, after he narrowly lost out to Travis Adams for the track's LMS crown.

As soon as that race is over -- and a story is filed for the paper and the Web stuff is uploaded -- it's less than 2 hours over to All-Star Speedway in Epping for the PASS North Series 150-lapper. Ben Rowe has such a narrow lead over his father, Mike Rowe, for the championship there with 2 races to go, it's still up in the air.

Ben's probably not that thrilled with the fact that it's only a 12-point margin, after he was questionably penalized late in the running of the D.J. Equipment 300 at Beech Ridge a couple of weeks ago.

Hard not to get energized over championship battles. In any division.


If NASCAR says it enough, it must be true

A total of 4 times, including twice in his opening remarks on Wednesday to introduce Nationwide Insurance as the new title sponsor of what is now the Busch Series, NASCAR head Brian France referred to the series as the No. 2 motorsports brand in the country.

That's 4 more times France tried to convince everybody that NASCAR is so wonderful that even its minor league is more popular than any other form of racing out there. Only problem is, it's not even close to true.

Take away all those Cup drivers -- the Busch Whackers, as they've been dubbed in recent years -- participating in Saturday's glorfied 2-plus hour practice session known as a Busch race, and what are you left with? A bunch of guys nobody's ever heard of competing in a series without an identity of its own.

It was comical when France directly referred to the Series' identity, recalling fondly the day that David Gilliland "beat the best that night in Kentucky" to jump into the national spotlight. Only problem was, Brian, Gilliland didn't "beat the best that night." In fact, as is usually the case with those few Busch standalone races, he beat a less than stellar field -- one dotted with a few Cup drivers instead of littered with a dozen or more of them.

What, is France auditioning for a job with MRN? Don't get the facts get in the way of a good sales pitch, eh, boss?

Heck, NASCAR's own Craftsman Truck Series is a better division than the Busch Series -- with better racing, a clear-cut indentity and its own distinct following from the fans and media. The Busch Series can't say that.

If Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards and Kevin Harvick and a bunch of the sport's other marquee stars ceased racing on Saturdays, would the fans still fill the grandstands or tune in so intently to the television for these races? It's unlikely.

One begins to think that if those drivers took Saturdays off once the red flag flew on final practice, the Busch Series would fall well below the Indy Racing League or even the World of Outlaws in terms of fan interest.

I don't know about you, but I don't have a whole lot of interest in watching the Kyle Krisiloffs of the world battle Stephen Leicht and Brent Sherman in for 200-mile wins. I just don't.

But strip away what makes the No. 1 form of motorsports in America -- Cup racing and its star power behind the wheels -- and that's exactly what you've got in the Busch Series.

And now it's going Nationwide with no more of an identity than it had 2 years ago.

NASCAR goes Nationwide

Let the death watch begin. How long, really, before Nationwide Insurance is out as the title series of NASCAR's top support division, the one now known as the Busch Series?

Not Wal-Mart. Not Subway. Not Visa, Bank of America and certainly not a beer company. Heck, this isn't even Geico or All-State we're talking about here.

When it came to choosing a new sponsor for its 2nd division, NASCAR looked Nationwide.

I don't even know anybody who has Nationwide for an insurer. I'm certain some people do, otherwise this company will be in some trouble when it comes time to pay the sponsorship bills.

Beginning next season, though, it's the NASCAR Nationwide Series on Saturday afternoons.

"As we say in our advertising, life comes at you fast," said James Lyski of Nationwide. "No one knows that better than the NASCAR fans."

Yep, tell us about it. First it was Winston -- gonzo. Then Nextel -- bye-bye. Now Busch -- see ya -- and soon, it will be Nationwide, too.

Or, at the very least, we can only assume.

Oxford 250: July 20, 2008

The next installment of Maine's most significant stock car race has been scheduled for July 20, 2008.

For the 5th consecutive year, the track announced on Tuesday, the Oxford 250 will be held on a scheduled off-weekend for the Nextel Cup Series. It will mark the 35th consecutive running of the summer event, which saw a record number of entries at almost 190 last year with 97 teams attempting to qualify.

Oxford Plains Speedway owner Bill Ryan has made no secret of his desire to keep the race on off-weekends for the Cup teams. Matt Kenseth, Kurt and Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, J.J. Yeley, Ricky Craven, Kevin Lepage and Terry Labonte have all been in the race in recent years because of the scheduling. With NASCAR finalizing its '08 schedule last week, Ryan went ahead and made the announcement.

"There has been a buzz in the Cup garage about our race ever since Matt Kenseth and Kurt Busch entered in 2004," Ryan said in a release on the track's Web site. "Every winter and spring, it’s exciting to answer the phone and hear who might be interested in giving it a shot."

The race, won by Roger Brown of Lancaster, N.H., this summer, will again pay at least $25,000 to to the winner, plus lap money.

Season gets sillier and sillier... and sillier

Haven't we gone far enough with this whole televised press conference thing?

I get the whole Junior hysteria -- well, I get it to a point. He's never quite done enough on the track to warrant 98 percent of the sport's attention from fans and media, but he is an Earnhardt, after all, and he does currently drive the Budweiser car.

But a press conference for Indy 500 champ Dario Franchitti today (10:30 a.m., ESPN2) to announce he's going to drive for Chip Ganassi? Must-see TV? Puh-leeze.

Here's the sad truth: In most newspapers across the nation, this will be no more than a footnote, a 2-inch brief stuck in with NHL preaseason news and local bowling results. And that's if it doesn't just end up on a transaction listing somewhere:


Chip Ganassi Racing signs Dario Franchitti to drive No. 40 Dodge in Nextel Cup Series in 2008.

It's been 5 years since Ganassi's equipment was even remotely competitive. In 2002, Sterling Marlin was a legitimate threat to win the Cup in Ganassi's No. 40s, but an injury at Kansas kept him out of the car and thrust Jamie McMurray into the spotlight with a subsequent win at Charlotte.

Watching a replay of NASCAR in Primetime on ESPN Classic last night, there was a segment on Juan Pablo Montoya's move to NASCAR. The episode detailed his heading to Infineon Raceway in search of a win, and had people talking about how this was how Montoya would be judged. If he couldn't win on a road course, they reasoned, he'd likely never make anything of a stock-car career.

Could someone hit the brakes?

If Montoya can't win in a Ganassi ride, it's got nothing at all to do with his skills behind the wheel. He's won everywhere in everything. If Montoya can't win in the No 42s, it's because of inferior equipment, not inferior abilities.

Same holds true for Franchitti.

Last time I checked, Robby Gordon was a pretty darned good little racer. But look what he's doing in 2nd-tier equipment.


Gear jammin': Kansas Speedway

Top 4 stories from the Life-Lock 400 weekend...

1st gear -- The finish: According to NASCAR spokesman Jim Hunter, a car does not have to maintain pace car speed under the yellow flag, and that includes when coming to the checkered flag during a caution period. Greg Biffle was credited with Sunday's win, just as he should have been, despite the fact that he was running slower than the pace car on the frontstretch coming to the checkered flag, allowing Clint Bowyer and Jimmie Johnson to pass him. Hunter said that all a car needs to do is maintain "reasonable speed." NASCAR deemed Biffle to be doing just that.

2nd gear -- Restarting after rain: Can't believe the conspiracy-theorists found fault with NASCAR's decision to dry the track and restart the race with just less than half the race still to be run. NASCAR's certainly been at fault before for the way in which it's handled rain before, during and after races, but they were right here. Chase race or not, teams come with the expectation of running a certain distance -- or, short of that, having every effort made by the sanctioning body to get to an advertised distance. Kudos to NASCAR for giving it a shot.

3rd gear -- Good move/bad luck: Tony Stewart and crew chief Greg Zipadelli undoubtedly believed they had the race won when they stayed out during a round of green flag pit stops for the leaders that came just as the skies opened up a second time. But as the sunshine rolled in and the race restarted, Stewart was forced to pit. That put him back in traffic, and his day fell apart from there, eventually crashing out after getting a tap from Kurt Busch.

4th gear -- Was that an apology?: So, did Denny Hamlin or didn't Denny Hamlin apologize for the incident with Kyle Petty last week at Dover. Hamlin said that the pair didn't talk during the week, only that he learned a lesson. But Hamlin hardly sounds contrite or sincere when he says, "No matter what you do, Kyle is going to be right and a lot of what he did was right. It's tough. You never want to be involved in an incident, especially with Kyle because he's respected a lot." In other words, if it was Jeff Green or John Andretti back there that Hamlin ran into, they wouldn't be as respected so it wouldn't matter? Hamlin was right about one thing -- "I've just got to learn to grow up as far as that's concerned."

The best you've never heard of

In 2004, I was certain I'd seen the 2 best race car drivers nobody had ever heard of.

That summer, in the DNK 250 at Unity Raceway, Johnny Clark and Ben Rowe raced side-by-side just inches apart for what seemed like 20 laps on a track that intimidates many drivers. These young guys from central Maine may have been household short-track names here at home (certainly Rowe was and Clark was well on his way to establishing himself in Super Late Model racing), but in other parts of the country, they may well have been John Doe and Joe Smiley.

Rowe never got closer to NASCAR's big stage than a few Busch North Series starts. Clark got invited to the Jack Roush tryout affectionately known as "The Gong Show" in 2006, but it was little more than a farce of a television reality show.

I'm thinking there's another "best guy nobody's ever heard of" out there now. His name is Patrick Laperle.

Surely, the NASCAR powers know little of the French-Canadian driver with an accent so thick you'd swear he was the backup netminder for the old Sherbrooke Canadiens of the American Hockey League, circa 1985. But Laperle's resume in these parts is amazing.

On Sunday, he won his 2nd Milk Bowl in 3 years at Thunder Road. He's also won the aforementioned DNK 250 at Unity, and he's won in a Super Late Model at Oxford Plains. He's the ACT "Canadian" champion for this year, and anywhere he goes, he's in that class of "immediate threat to win."

When Mike Rowe couldn't get back from Nova Scotia in time for the TD Banknorth 250 this July, car owner Mike Lux hand-picked Laperle to replace his driver. Laperle didn't qualify the car, but he went out 2 weeks later and finished sixth in a 100-lap event in Lux's ride at Seekonk Speedway.

On Sunday, Laperle was the only driver to finish in the top-10 in all 3 of the Milk Bowl's 50-lap segments. For that, he got the honor of kissing a cow in victory lane.

By a 9-point margin, Laperle was the Milk Bowl champion. Who did he beat?

Oh, some guy you may have heard of by the name of Ben Rowe.

It's a combination of moose and machine

I've got a pretty unique role at the newspaper, one I'm not sure anybody else out there has anywhere in the country.

On one hand, I'm the outdoors writer. It's not so much a newspaper "beat" as it is a feature writing position, and I'm pretty well free to write about whatever adventures I'm up for. One week it's rock climbing, the next it's off to cruising along at 35 mph on an ATV trail somewhere in the back woods. In between, there's plenty of time for hiking, hunting, fishing, camping, canoeing and whatever else strikes my fancy.

There's also my dual role as auto racing writer -- covering races and events, breaking news, writing columns and keeping up with news and notes. It's a traditonal beat in the newspaper sense: "You're our guy on this, you're responsible for not getting beat to stories."

This was one of those weekends where I really felt pulled in all directions.

Saturday afternoon, while at L.L. Bean's annual hunting expo full of seminars and sales, I felt like a racing wife. I wanted to call Cassius Clark to find out how Hickory was going, and I wanted to call over to Thunder Road to see how qualifying was going for the Milk Bowl. There was a Modified show at Stafford, some supercross stuff at Unity and a little thing -- maybe you've heard of it? -- called the Chase for the Nextel Cup.

On Sunday, I was up a full 3 hours before sunrise -- 3:30 a.m., if you're scoring at home -- and was off into the Maine woods and mountains in search of moose. We logged more than 10 miles of mountain hiking while breaking our own trails for virtually all of it, called in a few bulls and lived off stale donuts, cheddar cheese and fresh apples.

I loved every minute of it. But a voice in my head kept reminding me about the Over the Hill 150 and the Milk Bowl, and I couldn't stop thinking about racing. It only got worse when, being with a guide from the town of Strong, the conversation turned to the careers of Martin Truex Jr. and Tracy Gordon. Gordon's from Strong, and master Maine guide Roger Lambert once worked on Gordon's team.

It's a small world...

It's a small racing world. And, as the best moose guide I've ever known said to me, "Once you get that racing bug... Oh, boy. And I had it twice in my life. That's why I had to stop."