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SATURDAY SHOWDOWN: Eddie MacDonald Leads Short-Trackers To NHMS

Tuesday, August 21, 2012
Photo: Travis Barrett/GWC

Like virtually every short-track racer across New England, Eddie MacDonald started his racing career with one simple dream.

“I remember driving through the infield tunnel for the first time,” MacDonald said of his initial trip to New Hampshire Motor Speedway, in the late 1980s, as the track was being constructed. “The tunnel then was just two flaps of corrugated metal blowing in the wind. Really, the place was just a mess at that time.

“But right from that first time, I always just wanted to be able to race on it.”

MacDonald, a native of nearby Rowley, Massachusetts, first got that chance in 2001 as a rookie on what is now the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East. He's since gone on to compete at The Magic Mile in five different divisions, and he will represent the face of the New England-bred stock car driver when the track hosts its first annual Short Track Tripleheader as part of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Sylvania 300 weekend this September 22.

That day will feature the G-Oil 100 for the K&N Pro Series, the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour F.W. Webb 100 and the fourth annual ACT Invitational for the American-Canadian Tour Late Models.

MacDonald is already counting down the days to the Tripleheader.

“Having all those races right here locally is definitely a big deal, because with almost everyone from around this area – everyone that will run there in the Modified and Late Model tours are within a 3-hour radius from the track – it's everyone's home track,” MacDonald said. “To have such a huge event, everyone wants to go there and win it.”

And the “Rowley Rocket” will likely have two chances to win on that day. He's expected to be on the grid for both the K&N Pro Series East and ACT Invitational starting fields, and he's had plenty of success in both, too. MacDonald has five career wins at New Hampshire – three in the K&N Pro Series and two in the ACT Invitational, including both the first Invitational in 2009 and again in last year's event.

MacDonald also has made starts at New Hampshire in a Modified, a NASCAR Camping World Truck Series ride and in the NASCAR Nationwide Series.

“I don't know if I like one better than the other, I really don't,” he said. “They each have their own deal, their own characteristics. The Late Model is a lot of fun. You can drive so deep into the corners and really stand on the gas. The corners are more fun in ACT cars, because it seems like you're always three- or four-wide, and you just stay on the throttle. We've had more success with the ACT car there, and passing all those cars is a lot of fun, too.

“But each (division) is so different, it's hard to say you like one better. You know, I'd love to be able to win there in a Truck or a Nationwide car, too. They're all fun in their own right.”

Mike Stefanik of Coventry, Rhode Island, the seven-time Whelen Modified Tour champion, is the only other driver in history to have competed at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in a K&N Pro Series car, a Modified and an ACT-sanctioned Late Model. Steve Park, the former Cup Series driver and race winner, joins MacDonald as the only driver in history to compete in five divisions at New Hampshire.

But MacDonald is the only New England native to have raced in five different divisions at New Hampshire, and here is no decision to be made when it comes to choosing his career highlight at the facility. That one's an easy choice.

It was his first win on the track in 2008 – the first half of a season sweep of K&N Pro Series East races that year.

“It definitely is. That was almost identical to the ACT (Invitational) last year,” said MacDonald, a two-time Oxford 250 champion. “Me and Trevor Bayne, right down to the last straightway, it was a battle. We were bouncing off each other in the corners, right down to the last corner. It was just awesome.

“We were really the little guys in the series. I hadn't won at Loudon, and (crew chief Rollie LaChance) hadn't either. We were both trying so hard for so long. You had all the Cup teams in the series, so it meant so much more to be able to beat those guys and get the win there.”

MacDonald knows something about being the “little guy,” too. His family owns Lee USA Speedway – just down the road from New Hampshire Motor Speedway – which hosts the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series on Friday nights throughout the season.

It's where MacDonald got his start, long before he ever arrived on the scene as the face of New England short-track racing's premier divisions.

“That's what makes it mean so much more at New Hampshire,” MacDonald said. “I can remember my father would take me there when they were building the track, before it was even a track. He bought a lot right next to the speedway – before the gravel was poured, before the track was really anything. Once it became a track, he turned his lot into a parking lot.

“To be able to start out like that as a kid, and then work our way up to weekly racing and then to the K&N Pro Series and then to get the chance to run there.

“And then once you can run there, you want to be able to win there.”

It's something MacDonald has done five times over in his career. And it's something every short-track racer participating in September's first Short Track Tripleheader will be trying to do, too.

-- TB

(This story originally appeared in the NASCAR Lenox Industrial Tools 301 weekend program at NHMS in July.)