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The Juice

THE JUICE: Bringing The ACTion South

- Justin St. Louis on 28 Oct 2010

Taking this ACT traffic jam to Florida would be a good thing, as far as we're concerned. (Leif Tillotson photo)PHOTO: Taking this ACT traffic jam to Florida would be a good thing, as far as we're concerned. (Leif Tillotson photo)

-by Justin St. Louis
VMM Editor

The American-Canadian Tour is something that most pure short track fans and racers have heard of, but only a very small fraction has seen. And most of that fraction is centered in rural Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, and Quebec.

Those that have seen the product know that it’s everything it’s cracked up to be with high car counts, manageable expenses, and very talented racers. The ACT model of controlled spending, “spec” rules with engines, tires, and shocks, and on-paper parity began at Thunder Road in Barre a decade ago and since has expanded to nearly a dozen tracks and series. But again, unless you’re in New England or southeastern Canada -- and that’s a pretty small populace, relatively speaking -- ACT is just another blip in the results column.

If the American-Canadian Tour went to Florida, would you go to race? Would you even go to watch? We’d like to think you would, and we’re sure Tom Curley hopes so, too.

But should ACT even go in the first place? Let’s break it down.

Bringing ACT to Florida, even if only for one or two races in early February, does some extremely positive things for the series.

Because media folks like Speed51.com, National Speed Sport News, Late Model Digest, and of course us here at VMM are fond of ACT, it gives them a reason to talk about the snow-captive series during the dead of winter, when they would otherwise have forgotten. That gives ACT an often-absent presence in the national spotlight during the off-season, which is obviously a good thing.

The short track south is oversaturated with weekly tracks and touring series hyping expensive Super Late Models, only to have many car counts in the single digits or low teens. One exception is ACT’s biggest northern competitor, the Maine-based Pro All Stars Series, which expanded to the south five years ago and has been successful virtually since the beginning. The problem is that PASS competes directly against no less than six similar series in the southeast, forcing teams to make choices on where to compete, and therefore leaving short fields in many Super Late Model races. While the south certainly may not need another touring series, introducing the cost-controlled ACT-style Late Model with its own identity and rules package may give race teams a place to call home and essentially force them to support “ACT South,” if you will, with their one-series equipment. The same problem that affects southern touring series is faced at many weekly short tracks, and one needs to look no further than the progress made here in New England to see what the end result could be.

Not only could ACT spark the interest of race teams and track promoters looking to save a buck or two in the south, the region is a market ACT could tap into and grow within for the somewhat uncertain future (what with Curley’s planned retirement looming in the next three to five years). It took about seven years for Curley to expand his common Late Model rules idea from his core group of 50 teams to the 300 under the ACT umbrella today. Starting that expansion now in the south means that the ball would be rolling at a pretty good clip by the time Curley hangs up his hat.

The idea is not without precedent: Does anyone remember the Stock Car Connection that Curley organized in the late 1980s with the American Speed Association and the All-Pro Series? There were races in the northeast, the Midwest, and the south. While the SCC was a cursed flop, that doesn’t mean it would be again.

Though it’s not as publicly raging a debate as it used to be, Curley and PASS president Tom Mayberry haven’t got much love for each other, and, like good promoters do, they are constantly trying to one-up the other. We’re not so bold (or stupid) as to name a leader in the battle -- Curley has the Late Model and Tiger tours, Mayberry has Super Lates, Sportsmen, and Modifieds; Mayberry expanded south in 2006, Curley expanded north in 2007; Curley’s Late Models have the Oxford 250, Mayberry has national championship events at Beech Ridge and Thompson; Curley has New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Mayberry reopened North Wilkesboro -- but any chance for Curley to get another leg up on Mayberry (or vice versa) is another small victory, and if Curley can get another one and retire on it, well, he’ll have won the war, so to speak.

Assuming that an ACT race in Florida would run as smoothly as the majority of them do in New England, Curley showing off impressive young drivers like Joey Polewarczyk, Austin Theriault, and Brad Babb during Daytona Speedweeks not only helps those drivers in their quest to get a big break in the sport, but if one of them succeeds as Ricky Craven or Kevin Lepage did 15 years ago, that lends more credibility to ACT as a solid training ground, and hopefully sways a couple of wealthy NASCAR Dads to bring their kids to ACT for a couple of years before they sign their Joe Gibbs or Hendrick development contracts.

Now, the bad news. Here are the round-trip mileage numbers from key locales within ACT to New Smyrna Beach, Fla., and back:

Barre, Vt.: 2,732
North Woodstock, N.H.: 2,770
Oxford, Me.: 2,808
Quebec City, Que.: 3,128

You get the idea.

The cost of fuel for a truck and trailer alone would total between $750 and $1,000. Add around $400 in entry fees for a crew of six people (assuming it’s a two-race trip at $35 per pit pass). If four tires are allowed for each race, that’s $1,000; add another $500 if six tires are allowed.

Personnel expenses would be roughly $500 for hotel rooms for two nights and $750 in food for the crew (at an average of just over $10 per meal, three times a day for four days).

If you’re keeping score and using the low-end numbers, that’s a $3,400 trip before the car ever touches the race track.

Let’s assume that most teams take a loss no matter where they’re racing, because in reality, that’s the truth. If a team picks up a $1,500 sponsorship for the trip, that’s still almost $1,000 they need to win on the track to make the trip make sense, and $2,000 to break even.

That means that if there are two races, last place ought to pay around $500. Using a purse structure that would look pretty close to normal on an ACT entry blank, this payout would make the most sense:

1st - $2,000; 2nd - $1,400; 3rd - $1,150; 4th - $1,000; 5th - $850; 6th - $700; 7th - $675; 8th - $650; 9th - $625; 10th - $600; 11th - $575; 12th - $550; 13th - $525; 14th-24th - $500. Total purse: $15,000.

There’s no dire need to pay any more, but of course no one would turn down an extra couple thousand more thrown into a purse. A $20,000 purse would really be something. If a team races both nights and doesn’t sustain any major crash damage or blow an engine (and again, this is assuming it’s only two races), they’ll take about a $500 loss for the whole trip.

Folks, that’s not bad. If 70 teams can afford to take a day off in the middle of the week and test at New Hampshire for eight hours -- and not get paid a purse -- then there shouldn’t be too much of a problem getting them to Florida to actually race and get a paycheck. If 60 teams can afford to go to the Milk Bowl for two or three days, or if 85 teams can go to the Oxford 250, and half of them don’t even qualify, they can probably spend the cash to go to Florida and at least make some of it back.

If the excuse to not go to Florida is because a team is afraid it would crash and need to repair the car, that team shouldn’t be racing in the first place. Crashes happen in Florida just as they happen at Thunder Road or Oxford or Airborne or in the parking lot.

The problem, you’ll find, is getting a race track promoter who is willing to pony up an extra fifteen thousand bucks in the middle of Speedweeks. It’ll be even harder to find two. Or three. It’s no secret that the grandstands at New Smyrna Speedway’s World Series aren’t exactly sold out each night, and with Daytona ten minutes up the road, lots of fans spend their money on tickets to the ARCA race or the Bud Shootout or the Truck race. A total take at the back gate from an ACT race using the figures we came up with would be about $5,000, leaving the promoter with a $10,000 overhead -- plus purses from any other divisions competing -- to make up for in front gate tickets and concessions.

In reality, at a $20 front gate ticket, it’s not a huge gamble. Still, our best bet is that Curley could lease at least one of the tracks he hopes to bring his series to -- or agree to cover a portion of any loss incurred by the track that night, or something along those lines -- or even bring a sponsor with him and pay part of the purse himself.

As good as the ACT model is, the best thing Curley has going for him is his name. He wasn’t voted the national Auto Racing Promoter of the Year for no reason. If he says he can make something work, people usually listen and watch him get it done.

It all comes down to the fact that Curley would never put his teams or his series in jeopardy; if he can’t drum up enough interest and get a commitment from two dozen teams to go to Florida, he’ll scrap the whole thing. He’ll have nothing lost, and publicity like this and other articles gained.

In our opinion, not only could an ACT Speedweeks mini-series work, it should work. Whether an expansion happens over a five-year period or not, we think it’s a decent gamble for teams and promoters to at least try a southern swing once.

If nothing else, this could start a yearly tradition of mid-winter racing for the American-Canadian Tour and add another dimension to the series, another goal to shoot for. If teams want to support it they will. We hope they do.

***

AROUND THE REGION:

Time to take a look at the Vermont racing scene from the past week...

Allison Legacy North Race Series: Nick Sweet of Barre finished second in Sunday’s event at Lee USA Speedway. James Logan of Dighton, Mass., was the winner and series champion.

Lee USA Speedway (Lee, N.H.): Chris Wilk of Mendon finished third in Sunday’s Pro Stock feature at Oktoberfest. Rob Gioia of White River Junction was fourth in the Four-Cylinder feature.

Modified Racing Series: Ascutney’s Dwight Jarvis finished tenth in Sunday’s season finale. Steve Masse of Bellingham, Mass., was the winner, and Jon McKennedy of East Chelmsford, Mass., was the champion.

***

THIS WEEK:

Saturday, Oct. 30
Big Daddy’s Speedbowl, Rumney, N.H. -- 4:00pm (Halloween Enduros)
Lee USA Speedway, Lee, N.H. -- 2:00pm (Oktoberfest make-up features)
Star Speedway, Epping, N.H. -- 3:30pm (Halloween Howler)

TOURING SERIES:

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series: Sat., Oct. 30 -- Talladega Superspeedway, Talladega, Ala. (SPEED/3:00pm)
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series: Sun., Oct. 31 -- Talladega Superspeedway, Talladega, Ala. (ESPN/1:00pm)

IN THEIR OWN WORDS:

"I don’t care what kind of car it is. If it’s got four tires and steering wheel, I’ll drive it." --Nick Sweet

"I want a championship next year, that’s what I want. I’m gonna get it next year. If I run the full season, I’m gonna get it." --Modified Racing Series driver Steve Masse

"I’ve never had a season where we’ve had this number of podium finishes. Never. And I dare say nobody else has, either." --ACT champion Brian Hoar

"It’s crazy to think that however many years ago I was sitting in the stands up here watching my dad trying to make the race and now we’re in victory lane." --Milk Bowl winner Joey Polewarczyk

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