PHOTO: It might look funny, but it’s something every racer would gladly do: Smooch a bossy at the Milk Bowl. (Leif Tillotson photos)

-by Justin St. Louis
VMM Editor

So it’s Milk Bowl time I guess. Not sure if you’ve heard or not. It’s kind of a big deal.

I’ve had the same discussion with various people for years about the importance of this race in the general landscape of short track stock car racing. Invariably, it comes back around to “Sure, it’s a big race… in Vermont,” or “It’s not the Oxford 250.”

Those arguments are probably valid, but I’ve got the same opinion about “big” races all over the country. Depending on where you are in the Midwest, nothing holds a candle to the Winchester 400 in Indiana or the Slinger Nationals in Wisconsin. In the South it’s the Snowball Derby in Florida or the once-great All-American 400 in Nashville. Up here it’s the Milk Bowl or the 250.

It’s all opinion, so who cares? No, the Milk Bowl isn’t the Oxford 250. But the Oxford 250 isn’t the Milk Bowl, either. They’re completely different races at completely different tracks in front of two very different fan bases. If you get right down to it, the Labor Day Classic 200 — at the very same place, Thunder Road — is nothing like the Milk Bowl, either.

Short track purists hate the Milk Bowl. They hate the Monza-style segment racing, they hate full-field inversions, and they hate the scoring. They’re glad to watch a race at Thunder Road, but they’d rather see the Governor’s Cup 100 or the Merchants Bank 150 or Labor Day. That’s fine.

Those of us who have been around Thunder Road forever love the Milk Bowl for all the same reasons the purists can’t stand it. We not only love the Milk Bowl itself, we embrace its format as a way to run Street Stock races or a six-lap Junkyard Warrior feature or an American-Canadian Tour race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. That’s just because we’re used to it. If we were from the South, we’d probably love time trials and single-file, heads-up starts in every division.

Personally, I like something about every big event I watch, no matter what division is running, what the track surface is, or whether the cars have fenders or not, but I love the tradition of the Milk Bowl more than any other race at any other track. Seriously, we’ve been kissing cows up here for almost a half-century — on purpose! If you win that race and have your name on a list with guys like Crouch, Dion, Cabana, Lindley, Dennis, McCabe, Hoar, Cyr, Scott, Hanaford, and Ingerson, you’ve done something you can hang your hat on.

I love the feeling of walking through the pits on Sunday morning at the Milk Bowl, when the fog is still heavy over the trees, and when you can tell who’s qualified and who’s running the “B” feature just by the sounds you hear. I love the strategy teams use with tires throughout the weekend — “Should we change right-sides before the first segment, or wait until the third?” I love watching the take-no-prisoners driving style that a typically smooth and patient racer uses just this one time each year when he’s in the running for the overall win but needs to pick up three spots in two laps. God help me, I even love the drama of the time trials on Saturday.

Some folks could take or leave the Milk Bowl. I guess, if I had to, I could take or leave everything else.

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There isn’t much to say about the ACT Invitational at New Hampshire Motor Speedway besides “Wow.”

I suggested in the Times Argus and Rutland Herald last week — after hearing it from some competitors — that perhaps the ACT Late Models are too fast at the ‘Magic Mile’ and that perhaps drivers were becoming too comfortable and willing to make high-speed, high-risk moves in traffic.

I’m glad I said that those theories were all rubbish, too.

You can’t ask for better, harder, or more respectful racing — hello, four-wide? — on a “boring” superspeedway than that. Congratulations to everyone that took part in that race. What a show.

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Yes, we’re still keeping watch on Devil’s Bowl, folks. No news yet.

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Speaking of the TD Bank 250 up at Maine’s Oxford Plains Speedway, the date for the 2012 edition was set this week at July 22, which again coincides with the annual summer break in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series schedule.

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Bear Ridge Speedway over in Bradford had an outstanding year. Maybe I’ve got a little bias since I’m the announcer there, but it’s impossible to ignore how the place has exploded in just three years.

In 2008, the Modified feature had six cars. This year there were more than that in each of the three heats every week.

There are some kids racing there that need to have a chance at a career behind the wheel. I’m convinced that Adam Pierson, Kevin Chaffee, and Joe Krawiec — each a veteran at this point but still not 30 years old — could drive any car anywhere and win.

Jordan Fornwalt was a joy to watch this year as he developed. Four wins at 14 years old — in his first season on dirt and first season in a V8 — is no joke.

Danny Douville and Chris Donnelly should be running for national championships.

Josh Harrington and Gene Pierson may not get along all that well, but they need each other on that track, and so do the fans. That Coupe show wouldn’t be half as entertaining without them.

And good lord, the pizza is awesome.