-by Justin St. Louis
Here’s hoping your Christmas holiday was a great one, and wishing you a Happy New Year! Before we get to the “Top 25 ACT Drivers of 2007,” let’s touch on the recently released nine-race Série ACT Castrol schedule for next season.
Autodrome St-Eustache, just minutes from the city of Montréal, will open the Série ACT Castrol 2008 season with a 100-lap contest on May 18, then close the curtain with the 14th Annual St-Eustache 300 on September 21. The 4/10-mile oval will also hold a 200-lap show on July 26, with an extra bonus purse attached for American race teams that compete.
Autodrome Montmagny has two stops on the schedule, with a 100-lapper on May 31 and the Montmagny 250 – another “U.S. bonus” event – on August 23. Autodrome Chaudière in Vallée-Jct. will see the Castrol gang on June 14 and August 16, as well as at the previously-announced “ACT Showdown at Chaudière” on Sept. 6, featuring the Top 10 drivers from the Série ACT Castrol and the ACT Late Model Tour.
Autodrome St-Félicien returns to the Castrol schedule for the first time since 2006 on July 5, while Ottawa’s Capital City Speedway returns for the second year in a row on August 9. Dates have also been cleared to encourage Castrol teams to compete at Kawartha Speedway’s ACT Late Model Tour Summer Sizzler 200 on July 13 and at Oxford Plains Speedway’s TD Banknorth 250 on July 20.
We now have the first ten honorees of the “Top 25 ACT Drivers of 2007” taken care of, and will take a look this week at positions 15 through 11, as determined by a vote of media members and American-Canadian Tour and Thunder Road officials. Here’s a quick look back at drivers 25-21 from two weeks ago, and at positions 20-16 from last Wednesday:
25. Matt White, #42 NAPA Tiger Sportsman
24. John Donahue, #26 ACT Late Model 23. Mike Martin, #01 Allen Lumber Street Stock
22. Joel Hodgdon, #36 NAPA Tiger Sportsman 21. Joey Polewarczyk, Jr., #97NH ACT Late Model
20. Kip Stockwell, #36 ACT Late Model – Three feature wins at Thunder Road in first full season of weekly racing since 1997
19. Joey Laquerre, #15 NAPA Tiger Sportsman – Two 100-lap victories, 6th in Thunder Road points, and all at 64 years of age
18. Joey Becker, #16 ACT Late Model – Totally under the radar all season long, even though he was a feature winner and finished 3rd in Thunder Road points
17. Donald Theetge, #80 ACT Late Model – ACT Late Model Tour winner, two Série ACT Castrol victories, 8th in Tour points
16. Eric Williams, #7VT ACT Late Model – Won second-straight CARQUEST Vermont Governor’s Cup, always exciting to watch
And now, we honor the next five…
15. Brent Dragon, #55VT Beverage Mart/Furniture World of VT Chevrolet ACT Late Model. (Top 10 votes: 4)
Second-generation star Brent Dragon has a spectacular 13 finishes inside the Top 10 in ACT Late Model Tour points, including each of the last six seasons inside the Top 5. Somehow, the title has eluded him every year. Not one to dwell on things as trivial as that, though, Dragon is a prolific race finisher and winner, a la David Pearson of the 1960s – you never give him a thought until he’s in your mirror with five laps to go.
Dave Moody Thunder Road announcer, MRN Radio personality: “From Kawartha to Oxford Plains, (Brent is) a threat to win every time out. He has evolved into one of the top professional racers in the northeast, saving his car until crunch time before storming to the front and stealing the checkered flag.”
Dragon missed qualifying for the season opener at Oxford in April (his first DNQ since August 2000), but then went on a torrid streak of consistency – 6th at Thunder Road, runner-up in back-to-back events at Airborne and Ste-Croix, and a victory at White Mountain Motorsports Park. Dragon’s WMMP win may have been the most emotional and meaningful of his career – a career that includes the 2006 Milk Bowl win – as the team rallied around the Arsenault family that sponsors the #55 car through their Beverage Mart store in St. Albans, VT. (Mark Arsenault, a long-time friend of the Dragon family, had passed away just days before the White Mountain event.) Dragon decided to carry on, and went home with a hard-fought and well-deserved win. There wasn’t a dry eye in victory lane. Following the win, Dragon took additional Top 5s at White Mountain and Thunder Road, led laps at Kawartha
before a flat tire knocked him out, and closed the season at Oxford with a 4th-place run. He finished third overall on the Tour for the third straight year.
14. Jamie Fisher, #18 S.D. Ireland Brothers Chevrolet ACT Late Model. (Top 10 votes: 6; First-place votes: 1)
Ever since his 2003 “King of the Road” title, there seemed to have been something missing from Jamie Fisher. “The Hurricane” didn’t storm up the outside like he had become so well-known for, he wasn’t winning races, and he fell into a weekly 10th-to-15th-place funk that he really didn’t get himself totally out of until 2007. Fisher was not a race winner, but he was something he certainly had not been for a while – a solid, legitimate championship contender. In fact, he held the point lead for four straight weeks in July-August.
Gene Gagne, photographer and operator of OutsideGroove.com: “Jamie and the S.D. Ireland team have to be happy that they were once again back on top and a threat for others to take seriously.”
Fisher eventually fell to 4th overall after two of his worst Thunder Road showings of the season in the final pair of events, but fans know that he’s back, at least in the Thursday night weekly wars.
His performances on the ACT Late Model Tour need a bit of improvement, though there was one superlative, shining moment at Kawartha Speedway – Fisher was drilled by an under-experienced driver in the first lap of his qualifier, sending the car hard into the wall. His crew worked intensely (in windy 40-degree weather, mind you) to rebuild the front end of the car, and rolled the mangled Chevrolet onto the starting grid as the drivers were being introduced, not knowing what to expect. With a car he described as “bent really bad,” Fisher soldiered home in 15th place.
Darla Hartt, Vice President, American-Canadian Tour: “Jamie’s biggest asset is his love of competition. It’s not just about the trophies – he appreciates the race… He’s a driver with a lot of heart, and as both an organizer and a fan, I value that highly. Jamie and his team always make me look forward to the next race.”
13. Cris Michaud, #6 Merchants Bank/Burrell Roofing Ford ACT Late Model. (Top 10 votes: 3)
Ten years ago, nobody would have begun to guess that Cris Michaud would be chasing down his fourth Thunder Road track title. Heck, most people thought he might have been washed up after his first crown in 2001. But Michaud is undoubtedly one of the most perseverant drivers in Thunder Road history, having gone through major changes in equipment and crew a couple of times and bouncing back quickly.
Dave Moody: “Anyone who thought his off-season split with crew chief Jeff Laquerre would drop him off the list of Thunder Road title contenders was sadly mistaken. Michaud was as fast as ever, and pushed Dave Pembroke all the way to the final lap of the season before relinquishing his grip on the title.”
Following the departure of Laquerre, the addition of new crew chief Kendell Legendre for the ’07 season proved to be a smart call. As a result, Michaud, like Mr. Moody stated, pushed everyone a little harder on the track. His championship battle with Pembroke and Fisher became an instant classic, even though he finished as the runner-up. In a season where victories were very hard to come by for high-point drivers, Michaud led the Late Model division with an 8.071 finishing average, taking five Top 5 results and landing just 14 points shy of the “King of the Road” title. It should be no surprise that Michaud would love to get that fourth championship in 2008.
12. Randy Potter, #02NH P&R Excavating Services/JML Grinding & Excavating Chevrolet ACT Late Model. (Top 10
Perhaps the biggest and most refreshing surprise of the 2007 was Randy Potter’s season-long performance on the ACT Late Model Tour. His all-volunteer team and patchwork of sponsorship support defines the term “grassroots racing” in northern New England, and the fun and success the group enjoyed spilled over to other teams on the Tour.
An opening day wire-to-wire win at Oxford Plains Speedway left mouths agape in the grandstands, control tower, and press box, and set the tone for a spectacular season in which Potter came home 4th in Tour standings. Potter’s team received more congratulatory handshakes and pats on the back than maybe any other throughout the summer.
Mark Thomas, Racin’ Paper Editor: “It was a good season for a great racer.”
Marc Patrick Roy, Série ACT Castrol reporter for Speed51.com: “(Potter) posted very impressive statistics on the ACT Tour, but he makes this year’s list for being a very competitive and clean racer all year that showed he can – and wants to – run up front. He showed many during the Bond Auto Labor Day Classic that he can drive the wheels off the car.”
Though impressed by the OPS win, many felt that Potter’s best showing was his runner-up finish in the holiday 200-lapper at Thunder Road. Potter used great pit strategy and a supremely handling race car to walk around the outside lane as the laps wore down, finishing second and gaining on the leader every lap before the checkers fell. He also earned Top 5s at Airborne, White Mountain, and Kawartha. Nobody doubts that with a touch more
consistency, Potter would be knocking on the door of his first Tour title.
11. Alexandre Gingras, #27QC Autobus La Québécoise/Sky Jet Chevrolet ACT Late Model. (Top 10 votes: 5)
Falling under the “checkers or wreckers” category isn’t always a bad thing. Québec’s Alexandre Gingras is, without exception, one of the most fun drivers to watch in any series anywhere. A dozen laps shy of a Série ACT Castrol podium finish at Autodrome St-Eustache in May, Gingras vaulted his car over the Turn 4 pit wall, barrel-rolling it in front of the frontstretch grandstands. So, two weeks later, at Ottawa’s Capital City Speedway, he evened the score by winning the race.
Marc Patrick Roy: “Who can come back from a roll-over and win the very next race? A championship contender can.But in the end, he was either on the podium or involved in a wreck.”
And popular? Oh man. Gingras’ driving style almost immediately commands the attention of any race fan in the grandstands. A heated, sometimes nasty rivalry between Québec and Ontario racers and fans has been long-standing, but when Gingras pulled up to pass the race leader (Vermonter Dave Pembroke) at Capital City, the crowd went wild.
Dave Pembroke, Thunder Road Late Model Champion: “That’s the only time in my life that I’ve ever been able to hear the crowd cheering from inside the race car while we were under green. It didn’t matter to the Ontario fans that he was from Québec, he’s good and they wanted a Canadian to win. He’s a hero up there.” And that’s not all. Gingras also took victories at Circuit Ste-Croix and Autodrome Chaudière, eventually finishing third in Série ACT Castrol points. But the American fans like Gingras, too. He was popular – and fast – in his ACT Late Model Tour outings at Oxford Plains and Airborne early in the season, and showed that he can run just as well on U.S. soil as he can north of the border.