PHOTO: The American-Canadian Tour field barrels into Turn 1 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. (Eric LaFleche/VLFPhotos.com photo)

-by Justin St. Louis
VMM Editor

If you missed the American-Canadian Tour Invitational at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, shame on you. The first two laps were ugly, but the final 58 laps were definitely worth the wait.

At one point during the race, I thought that a yellow flag would have done a lot of good. Then I immediately remarked that I was interested in seeing how the drivers would do with a long green flag run.

They did very well. All of them.

There were about a half-dozen cars that stormed through the field, winner Joey Polewarczyk, Jr., the most obvious among them. From 27th, Polewarczyk ran inside, outside, and in the middle on his way to the biggest win of his young career. Lee USA Speedway’s Wayne Helliwell, Jr., and Kawartha Speedway’s Dan McHattie did their home tracks proud by running up front, and Jean-Francois Dery was a pleasant addition from the ACT Castrol Edge Series. (Although Dery wasn’t a surprise — I totally called that one on WDEV’s “Score!” program with Lee Kittell on Thursday night. Just sayin’.)

For us Vermonters, it was a nice throwback to have veteran Jamie Fisher up front, and seeing the pink paint scheme he ran with the “Save 2nd Base” breast cancer awareness initiative from the S.D. Ireland Cancer Research Center was the feel-good story of the event.

All around, the racing was better than last year, the drivers were smart, and most of them proved that they could probably handle an actual championship points race next year, should that dream come true.

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Here’s ACT president Tom Curley in his own words regarding the Invitational.

On the rough start to the race: “After twenty minutes and two laps, I thought the lights were about to go out. Fortunately things improved and it was a very good race.”

On the competition: “[There were] lots of groups racing together side-by-side. The charge by Joey [Polewarczyk], Brian [Hoar], E Mac [Eddie MacDonald] and actually Joey Laquerre and a couple others was outstanding.”

On the chances that winner Polewarczyk drew the attention of observing NASCAR team owners: “I would guess that Joey did not hurt himself at all with his performance. I know that Ford is very high on him and the only question is if that could translate into some kind of break. Time will tell. But it was some kind of effort to be proud of.”

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The highlight of last year’s ACT Invitational for many was the post-race press conference with the goofiness of Nick Sweet and the unpolished-but-endearing awkwardness of 16 year-old Brandon Watson. The session this year wasn’t quite as much fun, but there were some great reminders that this wasn’t your run-of-the-mill Sprint Cup Series presser.

Jamie Fisher, try as he might, is just not that great at public speaking, and that’s fine. He says the right words and he’s often funny, but he is clearly out of his element. And Helliwell answering questions while simultaneously playing Dad was a refreshing assurance that these guys know where they come from and that they embrace it.

Joey Polewarczyk is an asset to ACT because he’s so complacent, but he’s also not at all boring. You can try to get him riled up whether he’s on the record or not — and trust me, I’ve been trying for five years — and it just doesn’t happen. He’s honest, he speaks from the heart, and he’s deliberate with his words. He speaks the same way whether it’s a “Hey, how ya doin’?” walking by him in the pits, or a room filled with tape recorders and TV cameras.

Having sat through my share of press conferences at that same head table over the last handful of years and hearing the same generic answers from 90% of the drivers in every NASCAR division, it was great to be a part of that ACT session again this year.

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Everyone is talking about Clint Bowyer’s big penalty following the event at New Hampshire. I have issues with the way both sides have handled the situation:

1. Bowyer’s Richard Childress Racing No. 33 team was warned by NASCAR officials following a lengthy inspection after the Richmond event just a week before New Hampshire about the body on its car being dangerously close to being over the allowable template tolerances. Not the templates themselves — the tolerances BEYOND those templates.

2. The New Hampshire car reportedly measured .060” (sixty one-thousandths of an inch) beyond the tolerances.

3. Cheating is cheating is cheating. Period.

4. Richard Childress is well within his rights to appeal NASCAR’s ruling. However, Childress is claiming that a combination of a few congratulatory bumps from other cars after the checkered flag and the tow truck that pushed Bowyer’s car to victory lane when it ran out of fuel is what’s to blame for bending the body and leaving it out of spec. Unless that tow truck was going 40 miles an hour when it met Bowyer’s rear bumper — and it wasn’t — Childress is really scraping the bottom of the barrel with his excuses.

5. Someone asked me if the fact that Shane Wilson is now a confirmed cheater tarnishes his image as a “local boy” from Vermont. The answer is no. Go through every single top NASCAR team and try to find a crew chief that hasn’t been caught bending the rules at some point in his career, I dare you. Hell, go through every ACT team and try to do the same thing, it won’t be easy. If you’re at the Sprint Cup Series level, you’re being creative and trying to find an edge anywhere you can. Sometimes it burns you. It burned Shane Wilson. Move on.

6. Anyone that’s up in arms about the severity of Bowyer’s 150-point penalty, the 150-point deduction to Childress in the owner standings, the $150,000 fine to crew chief Shane Wilson, or the six-week suspensions levied on Wilson and car chief Chad Haney needs to cool their jets a little. In any other series anywhere in the world, the win would have been taken away entirely and the entire team would have been suspended. As it is, Bowyer will get credit for not only winning the race, he gets to keep 45 of the 195 points he “earned” at New Hampshire and all of the $248,000 purse that NHMS paid. (That is, of course, unless he ponies up the cash for Wilson’s fine.)

7. Anyone that’s up in arms about NASCAR waiting until Wednesday to announce the penalties also needs to cool their jets. While the car initially passed post-race inspection at the track, NASCAR confiscated the car and brought it back to its Research & Development Center — as is standard procedure at virtually every race — to further inspect the car. That’s where the violation was found. That means that NASCAR did a thorough job inspecting the car, which, if done in the interest of fair competition, is respectable. NASCAR also found violations with the No. 46 Whitney Motorsports car.

8. A couple of our Twitter readers suggested NASCAR gets its act together regarding pre-race inspection. While I can see the positives of that, there’s a lot of time between Friday morning inspection and when the checkered flag falls Sunday evening. Who knows what can happen during that down time? I suggest that NASCAR gets tougher and more thorough during its at-track post-race inspections. And then, when a car is deemed illegal, suck it up and disqualify that car, strip its driver and team of all points and purse, and give the second-place guy the win he deserves. Is it messy in the media? Sure. But does it help NASCAR’s credibility? One hundred percent. And sixty-thousandths, for good measure.

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Make sure you get yourself to Bear Ridge for Saturday’s first annual New England Dirt Track Championships.

Twin 25-lap features scored Monza-style for five divisions for extra purse money, plus the Hornet Queens, a demolition derby, fireworks, kids bike giveaways, and track championships decided in each division, all for ten bucks. Can’t beat it. See you in Bradford at 5:00pm.

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Speaking of Bear Ridge, we were saddened to hear of the passing of the track’s first champion, Merlin Bean, last Saturday.

Bean was an underdog racer if there ever was one — when the overhead Modifieds were outlawed at Thunder Road halfway through the 1965 season, Bean’s slower car was the only one allowed to stay and race against the underpowered flatheads.

He was by no means a bad racer, though, in fact Bean was a standout at tracks like Thunder Road, Bear Ridge, Northeastern Speedway in Waterford, and Dog River Speedway in Northfield.

Bean died at his home in Marshfield. He was 80.

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One last thing from the ACT Invitational: Nick Sweet is likely done for the year.

After winning the Thunder Road championship in August, the bottom just fell out for Sweet; two days after winning his title, Sweet had brake issues at Autodrome Chaudiere. The team chased the brake problem all week and still had troubles at Thunder Road on Labor Day weekend, then suffered a cracked spindle and failed to qualify. The wreck at New Hampshire was the final straw.

“This won’t end my career,” Sweet said, “but we’re probably not going to make the Milk Bowl.”

Sweet reported that the front clip and many bolt-on parts were destroyed, and the fact that the transmission broke in the crash means that there is likely damage to the center section of the chassis.

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AROUND THE REGION:

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

ACT Late Model Tour: Jamie Fisher of Shelburne finished third in Saturday’s ACT Invitational at New Hampshire Motor Speedway with Brian Hoar of Williston fourth and Joey Laquerre of East Montpelier eighth. Joey Polewarczyk, Jr., of Hudson, N.H., was the winner.

Canaan Dirt Speedway (Canaan, N.H.): Friday’s races were postponed due to wet track conditions. The program has been moved to Friday, October 1.

Lebanon Valley Speedway (West Lebanon, N.Y.): Cullen Howe of South Londonderry won Saturday’s Sportsman race.

Mohawk Int’l Raceway (Akwesasne, N.Y.): On Friday, Todd Stone of Middlebury was 22nd in the Mr. DIRTcar 358 Modified event. On Saturday, Stone was 27th the Super DIRTcar Big Block Modified feature, and Anthony Cain of Fairfax finished 12th in the CRSA Sprint Cars.

Pro All Stars Series: Scott Dragon of Colchester finished eighth in Friday’s finale at White Mountain Motorsports Park, with St. Johnsbury’s Steven Legendre 11th. Richie Dearborn of Hollis, Me., was the winner, and Johnny Clark of Hallowell, Me., was the champion.

Riverside Speedway (Groveton, N.H.): On Friday, Dan Sidney of St. Johnsbury was the Outlaw Sportsman winner. St. Johnsbury’s Rob Isham was third in the regular Street Stock feature and Tom Sokolis of Brownington was fifth in the make-up event from June 19. Lorin Vear of Waterford was the Cyclone runner-up. In the Daredevil youths, Joey Laquerre of East Montpelier was the Veteran runner-up with Island Pond’s Brett Ming fourth, and Anthony Lacoss of Lyndonville was fifth in the Rookies.

White Mountain Motorsports Park (North Woodstock, N.H.): Pete Potvin, III, of Graniteville was Saturday’s Late Model runner-up with Tyler Cahoon of St. Johnsbury ninth. Bradford’s Derrick O’Donnell was the Super Sportsman winner over David Finck of Barre, Gary Griswold of Wells River, and Tony Rossi of Peacham.

***

THIS WEEK:

Saturday, Sept. 25
Airborne Speedway, Plattsburgh, N.Y. — 5:00pm (Season Finale, Open Comp. “Run What Ya Brung”)
Albany-Saratoga Speedway, Malta, N.Y. — 9:00am-4:00pm (Car Show, Autocross)
Bear Ridge Speedway, Bradford — 5:00pm (Season Finale, New England Dirt Track Championships)
Big Daddy’s Speedbowl, Rumney, N.H. — 6:00pm (Super Street Shootout)
Monadnock Speedway, Winchester, N.H. — 2:00pm (Season Finale)
Riverside Speedway, Groveton, N.H. — 4:00pm (Championship Finale)
White Mountain Motorsports Park, North Woodstock, N.H. — 6:00pm (Season Finale)

TOURING SERIES:

ACT Castrol Edge Series: Sun., Sept. 26 — Autodrome St-Eustache, St-Eustache, Que. (1:00pm)
NASCAR Camping World Truck Series: Sat., Sept. 25 — Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Las Vegas, Nev. (SPEED/9:00pm)
NASCAR Nationwide Series: Sat., Sept. 25 — Dover Int’l Speedway, Dover, Del. (ESPN2/3:00pm)
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series: Sun., Sept. 26 — Dover Int’l Speedway, Dover, Del. (ESPN/1:00pm)
Pro All Stars Series: Sat., Sept. 25 — Hickory Motor Speedway, Hickory, N.C. (5:00pm)