PHOTO: Get a good look at Alex Labbe’s No. 36 car. You won’t be seeing much of it for a while. (Justin St. Louis/VMM photo)
-by Justin St. Louis
For the life of me, I can’t figure out what Alex Labbe was thinking. Last Sunday, there sat an opportunity for the rising 18 year-old star to win a 200-lap race against the toughest field of competitors in Quebec all season long, and he blew it.
Labbe crossed the finish line first and passed the technical inspection that the American-Canadian Tour required for the event. But when two competitors — Patrick Laperle and Patrick Hamel — filed an official protest, ACT requested to impound Labbe’s engine.
Here’s what I see wrong with this: First of all, everyone knows better than to screw around with Tom Curley’s rules. ACT’s tolerance for rules violations — especially those regarding the “spec” engines, tires, and shock absorbers that the series mandates — is less than zero.
Second, Curley offered the Labbe team three chances — which is two too many — to comply with the protest. That shows a lack of respect for the rules, the series, the competitors, the sponsors, and the fans. If you want to win races, you’d better be willing to at least appear that you’re doing it legally. To refuse an inspection is admitting guilt before the questions are even asked.
Third, and this point came from our Canadian media buddy Marc Patrick Roy in a conversation we had while the dead body in the Labbe controversy was still warm, even if the engine was illegal, at least have it inspected. There’s always a chance — maybe not a great chance, but a chance nonetheless — that you won’t get caught.
Am I condoning cheating? Of course not, but I’ll give you this first-hand example: When I was 16 and racing Street Stocks, I finished in the top three and was sent to inspection. I had purchased a car with illegal rear springs, but I didn’t have any spares or the money to replace them, so that’s what I used. When the inspectors asked for those springs, I started shaking, knowing that I was going to get disqualified. But I turned them over, and for some reason I passed. In fact, I moved up from third place to second when another driver in front of me was disqualified. I don’t know why it happened that way, but it did. Human error accounts for a lot of things, and who knows whether or not Labbe’s engine would have been caught.
In reality, nobody really knows for sure except the Labbe team and the last person to turn a wrench inside that engine whether or not the motor was legal. But out-and-out refusing to have your car inspected — on a major touring series and in a prominent race — is either unnecessary and inappropriate pride, or admittance of guilt. Either way, it’s a stupid way to lose a win and interrupt what appears to be an outstanding future.
For the record, I like Alex Labbe. He’s a nice kid with a fun sense of humor, and he’s got more natural driving ability in his pinky finger than half of the drivers in this region have in their whole bodies, combined.
I’ve seen Labbe do some incredible things in his cars, and I have really enjoyed watching the first couple of seasons of his big-league career. If I had a chance to send one of the kids racing ACT down south for an opportunity in NASCAR, he’d be on the short list of candidates with guys like Sweet, Theriault, and Polewarczyk.
My guess is that Labbe will end up converting his equipment to PASS Super Late Model specs, where he’ll struggle for a year or two against Johnny Clark and Ben Rowe, just like everyone else. By the time he figures it out, he’ll have turned 20 or 21 years old and wasted two solid years of his career.
My hope is that I’m wrong. My hope is that he’ll pay his ACT fines and come back, or that if he doesn’t, that he’ll get a grip on PASS sooner than later.
Either way, what a shame that all that had to happen.
Bozo vs. Patof. Get on board. #battleoftheACTclowns
We’ve been able to confirm that the rumors about Devil’s Bowl Speedway are true: Mike Bruno is in the middle of talks with owner C.J. Richards and his family about purchasing the facility.
Bruno, of Castleton, won seven feature races at the track this year in NASCAR Modified and Pro Late Model competition, and has been a part-time competitor at Thunder Road in Barre, Albany-Saratoga Speedway in Malta, N.Y., and on the American-Canadian Tour.
Bruno has never promoted a race track before, but says he has several new ideas and is hoping to bring the West Haven track back into a profitable status. Bruno believes he will keep the track in its current form as an asphalt facility, and reported earlier this week via Twitter that he has met with NASCAR officials, presumably to extend the Whelen All-American Series sanction agreement currently in place at Devil’s Bowl.
We’re obviously keeping close watch on the situation and will have more news as it becomes available.
I’m sorry, but I just can not get on the edge of my seat about the Timmy Hill vs. Blake Koch battle in NASCAR Nationwide Series rookie points. I mean, even Landon Cassill offered up a few top-tens in his half-schedule, lone-rookie run a few years back.
Sergio Pena, huh? I’m starting to buy it. Darrell Wallace, Jr., too. And that Brian Hoar kid just might make it, too, if he keeps at it.
A big thank-you goes out to “Awesome” Tom Placey for letting me take that little Hornet car of his out for a 75-lap Enduro jaunt around Bear Ridge last week. I had no idea that we’d end up winning the thing, but I was absolutely sure that I was going to do the Charleston on the roof once I did win. And I did. And it was good.
So was that victory lap in reverse.
I’ll get another chance on Sunday as VMM tackles the six-hour endurance race at Airborne Speedway. Aboard a 2001 Oldsmobile Alero left for dead by my girlfriend, we’ll try to see who can do the, uh, not-worst in what is believed to be some sort of obstacle course race.
The rules allow a team of three to six drivers, so we’ve assembled an all-star cast to pilot the VMM Oldsmobomber:
“The Cadyville Comet” Ricky St. Clair, Cadyville, N.Y.
“Terrible” T.J. Ingerson, Lisbon, N.H.
Anthony “Race Geek” Sweet, Barre, Vt.
Brittni “The Wrench” Simmons, Winooski, Vt.
Jason “The Pich’” Piche, Winooski, Vt.
“The Winooski Weapon” Justin St. Louis, Winooski, Vt.
We’re not sure how we did it, but we drummed up a little bit of sponsorship for the race, too, from Rent-A-Wreck of Plattsburgh, N.Y., Begor’s Supply of Mooers Forks, N.Y., and C&S Screenprinting of Richmond, Vermont.
Chris Burnett of C&S Screenprinting has been working on the car at all hours of the day and night, and will be thanked every day until I’m 74 years old. Special thanks to John “The Birdman” Adams and my uncle Jeff, too, for assistance with parts.
We figure we probably won’t win the race, so we’re going for the other big prize: Airborne is paying 250 bones for the best paint scheme. We’re going with a Vermont theme: