SOUTH PARIS, Maine – To say that Travis Stearns was disappointed with the way his first full season on the ACT Late Model Tour started would be an understatement of epic proportions.
But after finishing fifth in the People’s United Bank 100 at Devils Bowl Speedway in West Haven, Vt., on Sunday, June 30, the Auburn, Maine, driver thinks that his Richard Green Racing team has finally started to show signs that a big summer lies ahead.
“Big time,” Stearns said after his run in the second round of the Vermont State Championship Series. “The bad luck thing really hit us bad. I’ve always had bad luck – I know I have – but this has been ridiculous. In the ACT race at Canaan, we were OK, but I got taken out. At White Mountain (Motorsports Park) we were great, I was really happy, but it got rained out. At (Riverside Speedway) it was the same thing. I was really happy with the car.
“We’re getting there. We’re on to something.”
Stearns was the fastest car in final practice at Devils Bowl on Sunday, but an early tangle saw him have to restart from the rear of the field with 88 laps remaining in the People’s United Bank 100. He rolled all the way up in to the Top-5 before the race hit the two-thirds mark. He nursed a right front tire that was slowly going flat well enough to finish fifth.
With some of the biggest Late Model races of the year still to come – like the inaugural International 500 at Airborne Speedway in less than three weeks – Stearns is finally feeling like he and crew chief Mickey Green are making strides in the No. 16 Richard Green Trucking/La Quinta Inns & Suites Chevrolet.
An eighth-place finish in the ACT season opener at Lee USA Speedway in April showed promise in the team’s first time out together, but it was followed by a run of bad luck. Even still, Stearns has qualified for every race this season.
“To be honest with you, I’m not sure what was really wrong,” Stearns said. “This whole team, we’ve never really been used to struggling, but nobody has given up at all. All of the guys on this crew – they’ve stayed 100 percent positive and worked like crazy, and I can’t thank them enough. We keep driving forward.
“A lot of the stuff that worked last year, both for me and for Austin (Theriault), is not working anymore. We’re kind of starting over. Every week it was frustration top of frustration. I think the last couple of weeks, we’re finally starting to see some progress. It’s getting a little something going for us now.”
Stearns praised Crazy Horse Racing owner Mitch Green for his perseverance in helping get the team pointed in the right direction.
“They’ve done everything at Crazy Horse,” Stearns said. “They keep the car right there. Mitch does everything – and he’s the best one for not getting frustrated. He doesn’t panic at all. I’ve hit the panic button many, many times. He has not. He just keeps on reinforcing that we’re getting better. It’s the same with everybody. (Car owner Richard Green) is the same way. We’re getting there.
“I told Mickey, obviously this is about where I thought we’d start the season and then build from here. Disappointment doesn’t even begin to cover our first half of the year. Disappointment – that was, like, two months ago. I really feel like we’re going to get hot going toward the end of the season. Believe it or not, I’m already looking forward to next year. I know we’ve still got two-thirds of this season left, and I really feel like we’re going to get onto something. Next year, people are going to see it.”
Stearns and the RGR No. 16 head to Star Speedway this Saturday night, July 6, for the ACT Star 150.