THE JUICE: Much Ado About Ben Rowe
Ben Rowe (#10) spent a lot of time near the front of the ACT event last week. That hadn't happened in a while. (Alan Ward photo)
-by Justin St. Louis
I made a Twitter comment about Ben Rowe during last week’s coverage of the American-Canadian Tour event at Twin State Speedway and got some criticism for it.
Rowe, at that moment, was freefalling from second place on the outside lane.
Here’s what I said: “It's so strange that Ben Rowe can win a @pass_series national championship race one week and stuggle so bad in @ACTTour the next.” (And yes, I misspelled “struggle” in my Tweet.)
About forty laps later, and much to my own surprise, I Tweeted this: “Foot in mouth. Rowe moving back up.”
For the first time in what felt like forever, Ben Rowe moved forward in an American-Canadian Tour race, marching his way back up from sixth place to finish second, netting his best ACT finish since the 2007 Milk Bowl.
One fellow Twitter-er responded to the first Tweet with the point -- and it’s a good one -- that Rowe drives a very limited ACT schedule with a team that hasn’t run full-time in over four years.
Fine, but that doesn’t make it any less strange to see the name “Ben Rowe” way down in the finishing order or not even in the starting lineup after failing to qualify. Rowe is very likely one of the top two or three most skilled short track stock car drivers in the United States, and it’s odd to see him winning races in one series and not winning races in another.
Rowe draws fans to races in the U.S. and Canada like Eddie MacDonald does at Loudon and Oxford. He’s a great racer, and accordingly is expected to run up front because of who he is and what he’s accomplished. When that doesn’t happen, people talk and I make Twitter statements and write articles.
When XYZ Touring Series promotes the fact that four-time PASS champion Ben Rowe is on the entry list and John Q. Racefan buys a grandstand ticket to see him race, John expects that Rowe will be factor for the win. As far as ACT races are concerned, up until Friday night Rowe hadn’t been a factor in three years.
Let’s take a closer look at it. Rowe drives for two very different teams in two very different series. In the Pro All Stars Series, he’s a four-time North champion and the defending South and National champion, with 32 career wins. He drives for owner Scott Mulkern, who has full-time help and big money. In the American-Canadian Tour, Rowe has maybe 25 starts over the last five years. The majority of those starts -- with the exception of a Richard Moody Racing deal in ‘07 -- have come in equipment owned by the Avery family of White Mountain Motorsports Park fame. The pairing produced four wins in 2006 when David Avery scaled back his driving efforts and Rowe got in the car. The Avery team has raced maybe a dozen times in the last two seasons, and a runner-up finish at Twin State on Friday was virtually the first bright spot since 2006.
Rowe is in his first season driving for Mulkern on the three PASS tours. In nine starts he has two wins and eight top-five finishes. In his last nine races with the Avery team, he has no wins, two top-fives, four finishes of 14th or worse, and has failed to qualify twice.
The difference is clearly in the teams, and I fully understand that. I understand the difference between a full-time team and a part-time team. I understand momentum and getting into a groove. I understand the driver being comfortable in one car and not another. Both teams have solid backgrounds -- Mulkern has many wins with several drivers in the seat, including himself, and Avery was a stout driver in his day with a fair amount of success in ACT and other weekly events -- but Mulkern’s team clearly has the advantage of running fifteen or twenty times a year, whereas the Avery car is pulled out of the shop whenever there’s extra time to race it and enough people to work on it.
But here’s my argument: Before 2006, Rowe hadn’t driven an ACT-type Late Model in more than a decade, then he went out and won four races in his first eight starts with the Avery team, which, then as now, was a part-time team. The last few years have yielded the polar opposite, results-wise.
Ted Christopher is famous for being able to contend for wins in any car he drives, and Rowe is widely considered to be able to accomplish the same type of super-driver heroics.
So when he doesn’t, it’s something people notice. Does that make him a bad driver? Of course not.
Rowe drove Mulkern’s horsepower-injected Super Late Model to the win in a PASS National Championship race at the lightning-fast, high-banked Thompson Int’l Speedway 5/8-mile just eight days before running second in Avery’s momentum-dependant Late Model at the tight Twin State 1/3-mile bullring. Two very different cars at two very different tracks, and Rowe was the only driver that ran in both races. To think he can’t wheel a car or adapt to different situations is crazy.
But Rowe needs to keep producing those results. It’s good for everyone -- ACT, PASS, race track promoters, John Q. Racefan, and writers like myself -- to have Ben Rowe back up front. It seems the only drivers that can challenge Brian Hoar in ACT this year are part-timers like MacDonald and Brad Leighton, or home-track drivers in one-off appearances. A guy like Ben Rowe can add a lot to the show, and very much did so last Friday.
Now let’s see if he can do it again.
AROUND THE REGION:
Time to take a look at the Vermont racing scene from the past week...
ACT Late Model Tour: Graniteville’s John Donahue finished seventh in Friday’s event at Twin State Speedway with Williston’s Brian Hoar eighth. Mark Hayward of Newport, N.H., was the winner.
Airborne Speedway (Plattsburgh, N.Y.): Brandon’s Don Scarborough was seventh in Saturday’s Modified feature with Aaron Bartemy of Sheldon ninth. Milton’s Bill Sawyer was fifth in the Sportsman feature. Milton’s Rob Gordon won the Renegade feature over Dave Rabtoy of Swanton, Cody Benoit of Milton, and Kevin Boutin of Swanton.
Albany-Saratoga Speedway (Malta, N.Y.): Don Scarborough of Brandon won Friday’s Modified event with Rutland’s Mike Bruno third and Jimmy Ryan of Whiting seventh. Hunter Bates of Middlebury was fourth in the Sportsman race with John Reome of Corinth seventh.
Bear Ridge Speedway (Bradford): Dan Douville of Concord, N.H., won Saturday’s Sprint Cars of New England event over Kevin Chaffee of Orange and Tunk Berry of Center Ossipee, N.H. Woodstock’s Jim Morgan was the Sportsman Modified winner over Gary Siemons of Orford, N.H., and rookie Derek Graham of Woodsville, N.H. East Corinth’s Gene Pierson won the Sportsman Coupe race over Jason Horniak of Bradford and Josh Harrington of Topsham. Newbury’s Jeremy Hodge won the Limited Late Model race over Troy Comeau of Rumney, N.H., and T.C. Forward of Lyme, N.H. Verhsire’s Tim Hodge won the Fast Four race over White River Junction’s Josh Sunn and Robert Tilden of East Thetford. Rookie Jesse Smith of Topsham won the Hornet feature over Bradford’s Tom Placey and Brad Martin of Thomaston, Conn. Melissa King of Corinth won the Hornet Queen race over Kelly Marshia and St. Johnsbury’s Donna Racine.
Big Daddy's Speedway (Rumney, N.H.): Josh Sunn of White River Junction was Sunday’s Sportsman Modified runner-up and Ed Tobin of Hartland was ninth. Will Hull of East Montpelier was third in the Outlaw Late Model feature, and Sunn was also the Mini Stock runner-up.
Canaan Dirt Speedway (Canaan, N.H.): Rookie Dan Eastman of Thetford Center was the Sportsman Modified runner-up on Friday with Josh Sunn of White River Junction seventh and Brookfield’s Chris Chambers eighth. Sunn was third in the Mini Stock feature, and Tunbridge driver Dakota Stender won the Bandit race.
Canaan Fair Speedway (Canaan, N.H.): Mendon’s Chris Wilk was fourth in Saturday’s Pro Stick feature with Kevin Menard of Sharon seventh. Jamie Hodgdon of Ascutney was fourth in Saturday’s Pure Stock feature. Bradford’s Mike Parker was the Bandit runner-up with Ascutney’s Tyler Lescord fourth.
Devil's Bowl Speedway (West Haven): Don Scarborough of Brandon won Sunday’s Modified feature over Leon Gonyo of West Chazy, N.Y., and Kenny Tremont, Jr., of West Sand Lake, N.Y. Don Miller of Wells won the Sportsman feature over Middlebury’s Hunter Bates and Joey Trudeau of Hague, N.Y. Chris Wilk of Mendon won the Pro Stock/Super Street Challenge over Kim Duell of Porter Corners, N.Y., and Mike Paquin of Greenwich, N.Y., and Hydeville’s Bill Duprey won the Renegade race over Frank Monroe of Granville, N.Y., and Milton’s Cody Benoit. Essex Junction drivers Chad Brown and Nate Woodworth were 1-2 in the Bomber Warrior feature with Kalob Gagnon third, and Conrwall’s Garrett Given won the Duke Stock race over Castleton’s Scott Atwood and Brian Bishop, Jr.
Fonda Speedway (Fonda, N.Y.): Londonderry’s Rob Langevin was the Modified runner-up in Saturday’s regularly scheduled feature with Dave Camara of Fair Haven sixth. Bomoseen’s John Scarborough posted a win and runner-up finish in the two 602 Limited Sportsman features.
Lebanon Valley Speedway (West Lebanon, N.Y.): Bennington’s Neil Stratton was the Modified runner-up on Saturday, with his father, Hector, tenth. Chuck Towlsee of Manchester was third in the Pro Stocks.
Mohawk Int’l Raceway (Akwesasne, N.Y.): Todd Stone of Middlebury was ninth in Friday’s Modified feature.
Monadnock Speedway (Winchester, N.H.): Windham’s Nate Kehoe was fourth in the Sportsman Modifieds of Saturday with Robert Hagar of Windsor eighth. Mini Stock driver Joe Rogers of Ludlow finished fourth.
NASCAR Nationwide Series: Kevin Lepage of Shelburne finished 37th in Saturday’s event at Iowa Speedway.
Northeast Mini Stock Tour: Chris McKinstry of East Thetford won last Thursday’s event at Thompson Int’l (Conn.) Speedway.
Riverside Speedway (Groveton, N.H.): At Summerfest Weekend on Friday and Saturday, Island Pond youngster Brett Gervais was the Late Model winner, with Dilyn Switser of West Burke seventh. Dean Switser of St. Johnsbury won the Jake McDowell Memorial 100 Street Stock race with Concord’s Brett Rowell sixth and Mike Smith of St. Johnsbury ninth. Waterford’s Lorin Vear won the Cyclone race. Cabot’s Joanna and Lyndsay Christman were third and fourth in the Angel race with Lisa Hodgdon of Danville fifth.
Seekonk Speedway (Seekonk, Mass.): Ascutney’s Dwight Jarvis was 24th in last Wednesday’s Modified Madness event. Todd Annarummo of Swansea, Mass., was the winner.
Sprint Cars of New England: Kevin Chaffee of Orange was the runner-up at Bear Ridge Speedway on Saturday. Dan Douville of Concord, N.H., was the winner.
Thunder Road Int’l Speedbowl (Barre): Joey Becker of Jeffersonville won Thursday’s Late Model race over Phil Scott of Montpelier and Barre’s Nick Sweet. Matt Potter of Marshfield was the Tiger Sportsman winner over Barre rookie Jason Allen and Bobby Therrien of Hinesburg. Williamstown’s Mike MacAskill won his second-straight Street Stock feature over Travis Hull of Graniteville and Garry Bashaw of Lincoln. Brock Parrott of Williamstown was the top Junkyard Warrior over Fred Schroeder of Bristol and Kevin Dodge of Barre.
Twin State Speedway (Claremont, N.H.): Robert Hagar of Windsor was fifth in Friday’s Modified feature, and Mendon’s Chris Wilk was the Super Street winner. Kyle Davis of Pittsford was the Strictly Stock runner-up with Kaitlin Stone of Jacksonville third.
White Mountain Motorsports Park (North Woodstock, N.H.): St. Johnsbury’s Stacy and Tyler Cahoon were third and fourth in Saturday’s Late Model feature, with Morrisville’s Dwayne Lanphear sixth, Northfield’s Norm Andrews ninth, and Bernie Lantagne of McIndoe Falls tenth. Hyde Park rookie Tucker Williams was the Super Sportsman winner over Williamstown’s Jimmy Hebert, with East Haven’s Michael Moore fifth and Tim Potter of Plainfield sixth.
Thursday, Aug. 5
Thunder Road Int’l Speedbowl, Barre -- 6:30pm (New England Antique Racers)
Friday, Aug. 6
Albany-Saratoga Speedway, Malta, N.Y. -- 6:45pm (Regular Event)
Canaan Dirt Speedway, Canaan, N.H. -- 7:00pm (Sprint Cars of New England)
Twin State Speedway, Claremont, N.H. -- 7:30pm (Regular Event)
Saturday, Aug. 7
Airborne Speedway, Plattsburgh, N.Y. -- 6:00pm (Regular Event)
Bear Ridge Speedway, Bradford -- 6:00pm (Regular Event)
Big Daddy's Speedbowl, Rumney, N.H. -- 6:00pm (Sprint Cars of New England)
Canaan Fair Speedway, Canaan, N.H. -- 6:00pm (Regular Event)
Monadnock Speedway, Winchester, N.H. -- 6:00pm (Regular Event)
Riverside Speedway, Groveton, N.H. -- 6:00pm (Clash of the Titans Qualifier)
White Mountain Motorsports Park, North Woodstock, N.H. -- 6:00pm (Regular Event)
Sunday, Aug. 8
Devil's Bowl Speedway, West Haven -- 6:00pm (Regular Event)
Thunder Road Int’l Speedbowl, Barre -- 6:00pm (Enduro 200, Street Stock/Warrior Specials)
Modified Racing Series: Sat., Aug. 7 -- Beech Ridge Motor Speedway, Scarborough, Me. (6:00pm)
NASCAR Camping World Truck Series: Sat., Aug. 7 -- Nashville Superspeedway, Nashville, Tenn. (SPEED/8:30pm)
NASCAR Nationwide Series: Sat., Aug. 7 -- Watkins Glen International, Watkins Glen, N.Y. (ESPN/1:30pm)
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series: Sun., Aug. 8 -- Watkins Glen International, Watkins Glen, N.Y. (ESPN/1:00pm)
Pro All Stars Series: Sat., Aug. 7 -- Newport Speedway, Newport, Tenn. (7:30pm)
Sprint Cars of New England: Fri., Aug. 6 -- Canaan Dirt Speedway, Canaan, N.H. (7:00pm)
Sprint Cars of New England: Sat., Aug. 7 -- Big Daddy’s Speedbowl, Rumney, N.H. (6:00pm)