-by Justin St. Louis
The American-Canadian Tour boys are back from New Smyrna, Florida, and – after some long nights, some even longer days, and maybe a box or two of rivets – are in one piece. Eric Chase of Milton, VT led the charge with an opening night victory (the first of his career) in the ASA/Crate Late Model division at the “World Series of Asphalt Stock Car Racing” at New Smyrna Speedway on Friday, Feb. 8, while Hudson NH’s Joey “Pole” Polewarczyk was involved in one of the race’s three red-flag pileups and finished 25th. Chase came back the next night to finish 7th, while Pole and his family team spent the entire day and most of the evening to patch their car back together. They came home 13th.
Monday, Feb. 11, Chase turned the controls over to teammate Ryan Nolin, whole proceeded to drive to a fine 8th-place finish. Pole, involved in another scrum, finished 22nd. Wednesday, the roles were reversed, as Pole finished 9th while Nolin was taken out by another competitor warming up his tires during pace laps. The car was damaged enough to be unable to continue, and Nolin was credited with a 21st-place finish. Pole finished 9th again on Thursday, while Nolin was boxed in in heavy traffic to finish 16th. Friday, Feb. 15 was the 50-lap finale for the “Crate Lates,” and saw the field take trials to determine the starting order. Polewarczyk started fourth (after a handful of disqualifications were handed out to other competitors), and he turned in his best performance of the week by finishing there. Chase, who was back in the car, broke loose during qualifying, timed deep in the field, and decided to load his car rather than risk tearing it up.
“I figured, hey, we came all the way down here and only got torn up once, and even that was relatively minor,” Chase explained. “I don’t know that there was even one other car that sustained as little damage as we did for the week, and there were over 30 cars in our division here.”
“We had some fun, but I don’t know that we’ll be coming back in the future without someone else’s money to put into it,” Polewarczyk joked. “It was a long, long week, and my crew busted their butts to keep us going every
Chase and Polewarczyk agreed that many of the week’s major accidents (two of the 25-lap features took more than one-and-a-half hours to complete, each with three red flags and lots of torn up race cars) were likely to blame from inexperienced drivers. As hard as it may be to believe, Polewarczyk, 18, and Nolin, 21, were two of the oldest drivers in the ASA/Crate division. Logan Ruffin, the division’s champion for 2008, is – get this – 13 years old! That’s not a misprint… THIRTEEN! Polewarczyk estimates that by the end of the week, no less than six cars would need new front clips after having been wrecked.
“It’s a whole different world down there, and it made me appreciate the quality of racers and officiating we have in New England,” he said.
“We got a win and some good top-ten runs out of it, and it didn’t make sense to me to risk it all on the last night,” echoed Chase. “We accomplished a lot more than we expected to down here, our heads are held high, and our car is in good shape.”
All said and done, the efforts of Eric Chase and Ryan Nolin were good enough to place them 7th in final point standings, while Joey Polewarczyk finished 11th. Congratulations to the ACT trio, it’s good to have you back! The three will be back in action at Lee USA (NH) Speedway on Sunday, April 20 for the ACT Late Model Tour’s 17th season opener, and then just six days later at Maine’s Oxford Plains Speedway.
We caught up with Jean-Paul Cyr for a minute earlier this week. The seven-time and defending ACT Late Model Tour Champion reports that things are moving along nicely at the race shop, and that the Ehler’s RV/Sticks & Stuff #32 Chevrolet will be ready to go in just a few weeks.
When asked about his plan of attack for 2008, Cyr replied, “I guess there’s no real plan, we’ll just keep doing what we’ve always done… but I do plan to win a heck of lot more races than we did last year!”
In case you missed it, Cyr clinched the ACT crown despite going winless for the first time since 2001. It would have been a real long shot to bet that such a thing would happen in 2007, and the odds are likely even higher against Cyr going “Oh-fer” two years in a row.
Tom Leavitt of Merchants Bank pointed out a peculiar statistic last spring, a few days before Thunder Road’s Merchants Bank 150. He noticed that Cyr has won the race three times, all in years ending with an even number: 2002, 2004, and 2006. Leavitt jokingly predicted that, sorry, Jean-Paul would have to wait until at least 2008 to get his fourth win in the 150. Well, take a look at your calendar, folks… Merchants Bank just may be getting ready to hand some of its money to Cyr again. Guess we’ll find out on Sunday, May 4.
The latest full-season entries for the ACT Late Model Tour have come in, and were postmarked in five
municipalities: Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Maine, and Québec. Included in the latest batch are Top 10 drivers including Maine’s Ron Henry, Québec’s Donald Theetge, and 2007 championship runner-up Scott Payea of Vermont. Also set to rejoin the Tour full-time is Scott Dragon, 12th in points while running about 3/4 of the events last year. Dragon’s last championship bid was in 2003, when he won at Thunder Road and Oxford Plains Speedway before ultimately finishing 10th overall.
Série ACT Castrol entries have recently been filed by veterans Claude Leclerc and Alexandre Gingras, young hotshoes Spencer MacPherson and Kevin Roberge, and ACT newcomer Patrick Hamel. Gingras was a three-time Castrol winner in 2007, finishing third in points. Leclerc, the Canadian “Iron Man,” placed 7th in the final tally. The Série ACT Castrol kicks off at Autodrome St-Eustache on Sunday, May 18.
Did you know…?
-The winner of each year’s Merchants Bank 150 has historically gone on to have a pretty decent season. How decent? Phil Scott (’99) and Tracie Bellerose (’00) finished third in Tour points after winning the 150, Dave Pembroke (’05) and Scott Payea (’07) were second in points, Jean-Paul Cyr has two titles (’06, ’04) and a 10th (’02) after winning the race, Scott Dragon came home 10th in 2003, and Kenny Dufour took a career-best 12th overall in 2001. Not bad.
-The winner of each year’s ACT Late Model Tour season opener (which, like 2007 and 2008, is not always the Merchants Bank 150) has also done very well. In fact, only six times in 16 years has the opening day winner failed to finish in the Top 5 in Tour points, and the only two lid-lifter winners to not place in the Top 10 overall (Dennis Demers in 1994 and Cris Michaud in 2005) did not race the entire schedule. Jean-Paul Cyr owns three titles after winning the first race, while Brian Hoar did the double in 1997. Chris Fisher (’98) and Patrick Laperle (’02) finished as the Tour runner-up in the years they won on opening day, while Demers (’93), Scott (’99), Bellerose (’00), and Michaud (’01) each finished third. Other past opening day winners include Norm Andrews, Greg Blake, Scott Dragon, and last year, Randy Potter. Seven different tracks have hosted the opening race since 1992.