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Checkered Flag Bandits

Tuesday, June 21, 2011
Shane Narbonne took the 88th Loudon Classic's main event, one of five road course wins on the weekend. Photo: On Track Media

After this weekend's Loudon Classic, we might be short a checkered flag or two here at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

That's ok.  They shouldn't be hard to find.  I'm pretty sure I know where they ended up.

We'll start by checking the garage of Shane Narbonne and hauler of Shaun Buffington.

Our first suspect, Narbonne, is a 21-year-old motorcycle racer that competes regularly at NHMS in the Loudon Road Race Series.

This past weekend, the oldest motorcycle race in North America became a vacation for Narbonne with his destination being Victory Lane.  It was an area he visited often.

The Tyngsboro, Mass., native finished with five wins in six road course races (the sixth must have been disappointing with only a third-place, wink, wink) and that included a win in the main Classic event, the Middleweight Grand Prix, Saturday afternoon.

On top of all those wins, he also won his class in the Sideways Promotions run on motards (dirt bikes) on the mini-oval Friday night.  One of the road course wins was also on a motard and included some off-road dirt elements, as well as a few jumps.  Give him something on two wheels and he'll probably go faster than the rest on it!

At first, I wasn't sure how to feel about motorcycle racing.  I first attended a race in May and was a little worried about how crazy and dangerous it seemed.  It didn't take long to get hooked on it and, as one of my friends who attended this past weekend's Classic and a few recent NASCAR weekends, motorcycle racing might be the most exciting event run here at "The Magic Mile."

The Loudon Road Race Series has raced here for years and provides some of the most exciting action on two wheels.  The NHMS road course, in particular, has a reputation for being a thrilling course, especially the famous Bowl that comprises turn 6.

LRRS allows unparalleled access in comparison to other events.  Spectators are allowed to get onto pit road and right up along the wall of the track, and there are a few mini grandstands throughout the infield to get a good view of the action.

The series boasts some of the best racers in the northeast and Narbonne is both figuratively and literally carrying the flag right now.  After a third place finish in the Middleweight GP to start the season in April, he's taken the checkered flag in each of the last two races to take over the points lead.

However, his success might stand in the way of his quest for the LRRS Championship.  Narbonne said that while he'd like to make as many races as he can, his foray into the AMA (American Motorcyclist Association, a prominent national series) could conflict with the schedule.

Still, with four weekends left on the LRRS schedule in 2011, I can guarantee that weekends of hording checkered flags here at NHMS are still in Narbonne's plans.

In a fitting contrast between LRRS and the Amsoil Nelcar Legends Tour, where the only thing in common is the motorcycle engine, Buffington is a mirror opposite of Narbonne with the only commonality being winning.

While Narbonne is a young prodigy among veterans like Eric Wood and Scott Greenwood, Buffington has dominated the U.S. Legend Cars International races at NHMS by using his veteran experience against a field whose majority of entrants have yet to earn their high school diplomas.

Buffington has won all four USLCI races held here at "The Magic Mile" in 2011.  The past two utilized the 1.6-mile road course and Buffington used his knowledge from growing up racing go-karts at NHMS to set up his car properly for the turns and gain a competitive advantage.

When I asked him last month, current Nelcar (the New England series which is a part of the national USLCI) points leader Bob Weymouth said one reason Buffington was so successful at NHMS was because "he has more time to set up his car than I do."  Then, he conceded, "That...and he's just better."

Buffington is undefeated in his Legends career at Loudon and, with 460 points, holds a 28-point lead over Weymouth in New Hampshire Motor Speedway points this year.  However, like Narbonne, it's unlikely he'll take home his series' championship either.

As I mentioned, Buffington is a mirror opposite; instead of jumping to a national series, he tends to stay closer to home.  A father and owner of the family business, Buffington simply doesn't have as much time to make the trips across New England every weekend to attend all the races.  Despite his dominance when he does start (he's won all five races), he sits in eleventh place with 590 points, a whopping 390 behind Weymouth.

If one thing's for certain, it's that both Narbonne and Buffington are dominant racers in their respective series when they are able to participate.

The Legends cars will be racing again on the morning of July 17th as a pseudo opening act for the Sprint Cup's LENOX Industrial Tools 301.  Then, as is usually the case, LRRS and Nelcar will share weekends on July 23-24, Aug. 20-21, Sept. 3-4 and Oct. 15-16.  LRRS' "Dash for the Cash" Middleweight Grand Prix runs as the last of 10 races on Saturday before the track gets set up with a mini-oval for the Legends race later that evening.

If you haven't seen Narbonnne, Buffington and their respective series, be sure to mark weekend on the calendar and come check them out!

Perhaps you can even help us retrieve those checkered flags while you're here!