It may be the dead of a snowy, cold winter, but a handful of American-Canadian Tour racers are headed to the track. With Florida’s, ahem, slightly warmer climate than the frigid northeast, no less than five drivers with ties to ACT are headed to the south the get their off-season fix.
Beginning this weekend at USA International Speedway in Lakeland, FL, the 4th annual “Speedfest” will see northern representation from Maine racers Mike and Ben Rowe. Ben, who scored Top 5 finishes in ACT Late Model Tour competition at Thunder Road’s Bond Auto Labor Day Classic 200 and Chittenden Milk Bowl last season, is a heavy favorite to take back a win that slipped away at Speedfest in 2007. Father Mike, himself a Top 5 runner at the Milk Bowl and the 1994 ACT Champion, will do his best to see that his boy waits another year. Among the drivers pre-registered are former Speedfest winners Eddie Hoffman and Charlie Menard, NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers Kyle Busch and David Stremme, and former White Mountain Motorsports Park Champion D.J. Shaw of Center Conway, NH. Racing at USA Int’l Speedway is January 24-26.
Two weeks later, up the road a piece in New Smyrna Beach, the 42nd annual World Series of Asphalt Stock Car Racing will take place over nine consecutive nights of short track racing at New Smyrna Speedway. Eight divisions will compete during one of the longest, most stressful – and, by most reports, most fun – weeks in racing, kicking off the traditional “Speedweeks” festival in Florida.
In the “Crate Lates” at New Smyrna – a crate-engine class of Late Model cars similar to those run in ACT, but closer to the American Speed Association (ASA) Late Models of the Midwest and Southeast – ACT will be well-represented by New Hampshire young gun Joey “Pole” Polewarczyk and Vermont teammates Eric Chase and Ryan Nolin. Polewarczyk (at Seekonk Speedway) and Nolin (at Airborne Speedway) each took their first career ACT Late Model Tour victories in 2007, while Chase was a solid performer to finish 11th in points.
Eighteen year-old Polewarczyk tried his hand at the World Series in 2006 running a Limited Late Model (sort of a cross between a NAPA Tiger Sportsman car and a Late Model), but suffered a series of engine woes that kept him on the sidelines for most of the week. After blowing engines on each of the first two nights of racing, then-16 year-old Joey Pole drove to an impressive sixth-place finish from the back of the field with a borrowed powerplant. The next night, even that motor blew. Polewarczyk, now in a different car, of course, is almost guaranteed a better experience this time around.
Chase and Nolin, who have aligned themselves under one roof for 2008, will share the driving duties behind the wheel of Chase’s #40 car.
“Everyone around here is all pumped up, ready to go,” said Chase from his Mansfield Heliflight headquarters in Milton, VT on Monday. “We’ve just finished up the new car, and now we’re figuring out our travel plans.”
Chase says it’s unclear whether he will drive on opening night, or if Nolin will steer the car. “We’ll play it by ear. I’m too old to race every night, so Ryan’s going to have to fill in for me,” he joked.
The veteran driver pointed out that although the crate-engine Late Models are the second-tier division at the World Series, the competition will still be tough and exciting.
“That other class is just a week-long game of seeing how much money you can blow,” he said. “There are some talented drivers, sure, but if you wreck a car or blow a motor, you’re taking a major hit in the wallet for no good reason. We have plenty of talent in this division, too. My team has come a long way, and we’re good enough to race anywhere in the northeast, so we’re going to try our hand down south, too.”
Chase is right about the talent level in the Crate Lates; top drivers like Jimmy Lang, Drew Brannon, Tyler Townsend, and Keaton Feller have entered the division for 2008, along with NASCAR Nationwide Series competitor Jerick Johnson. Brannon was a feature winner during last year’s World Series, while 15 year-old Townsend, of Longview, TX, won in just his fourth start behind the wheel of a Late Model car at New Smyrna last year, finishing third in points. The World Series begins on Friday, February 8 and runs each night through Saturday, February 16.
To follow along with your favorite ACT drivers down south, click on www.newsmyrnaspeedway.org for the World Series at New Smyrna Speedway, or www.usaspeedway.com for Speedfest.
Brent Dragon of Milton, VT has filed the first full-season entry for the ACT Late Model Tour’s 2008 season. Dragon will drive the #55 Beverage Mart/Furniture World of Vermont Chevrolet in all 12 scheduled events, and reports that he is “more excited this year than I’ve been in a long time.”
With the crew chief services of chassis specialist Mike Kenyon behind him, Dragon will try to finally get the elusive ACT Late Model Tour title that Jean-Paul Cyr has been keeping for himself these last five years. Dragon posted a win at White Mountain Motorsports Park, runner-up finishes at Airborne and Ste-Croix, and finished third in ACT points for the third straight year.
Did you know…?
-In a combined 25 starts on the ACT Late Model Tour in 2007, Joey Pole, Ryan Nolin, and Eric Chase tallied two victories, six Top 5 finishes, and ten Top 10s. Pole and Nolin each scored their first career victories, and Pole’s 7th-place effort in points was a career-best. Chase’s 11th-place points finish was the second highest of his career, as he was 9th overall in 2005.
-It was feast or famine for Ben Rowe in ACT races in ’07: In four starts, he had two Top 5 finishes, and two finishes outside the top 25. He began the season with handling problems at Oxford Plains Speedway (28th), then suffered a flat tire in his next start at White Mountain (27th). But he cranked it up at Thunder Road, which had previously been his worst track, finishing 5th in the Bond Auto Labor Day Classic 200 and 2nd at the Chittenden Milk Bowl. Father Mike Rowe, in three ACT starts, was 7th at Oxford in April, and 13th and 5th at Thunder Road.
-Brent Dragon, despite missing the field at OPS in April, put together a tremendous finishing average of 7.5 over the balance of the season. His win and a pair of runner-up showings were complimented by three more Top 5s, and only two finishes worse than 11th: a 16th at Oxford in the green-to-checkers Time Warner Cable 100, and 21st at Kawartha Speedway after a flat tire.
Comments, questions, and anything else can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. Keep checking the websites at www.acttour.com and www.thunderroadspeedbowl.com!
Sources: Justin St. Louis/ACT LM Tour PR