It's Friday again. Time to dust off the ol' Mini Stock for a test drive around the cul-de-sac at the end of the street...
WHILE FANS OF NASCAR at the sport's highest level have clamored for years that a greater emphasis needs to be placed on winning, there aren't any such complaints in these parts. To wit: the title runs of ACT Late Model Tour champion Wayne Helliwell and NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour champ Doug Coby.
Both Helliwell and Coby took remarkably similar paths to their respective championships in 2012.
Helliwell won four of 10 ACT points races this season (.400 winning percentage), while Coby won five of 14 races (.357) on the Modified Tour. Helliwell posted Top-5 finishes in seven races and was in the Top-10 in nine of the 10 events on the schedule. Coby, meanwhile, scored eight Top-5 finishes and 11 Top-10s.
It's all about consistency, but more than that, it's about consistently being in contention for a trip to Victory Lane.
Almost as remarkably, Helliwell won the third and fourth races of the season to help build a lead at the top of the ACT standings, while Coby was similarly dominant in the first half of the year with a pair of wins at Stafford Motor Speedway and a win at Waterford Speedbowl all before the month of June had ended.
Perhaps it has to do with the relatively short schedules the two tours utilize – when compared against a 36-race NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season – where there is very little wiggle room for poor results. Brian Hoar nearly chased Helliwell down, literally, in the final race of the season before Helliwell won the Fall Foliage 200 at Airborne Speedway to lock up his first career ACT title. Hoar also won four races this season, and third-place finisher Austin Theriault won a race and never finished outside the Top-10 once.
When you've only got 10 races to accumulate points, you've got to make the most of every available weekend on the calendar.
“Unbelievable. It's mind-blowing right now,” Helliwell told Vermont Motorsports Magazine after winning the championship at Airborne. “Last year, we finished second and I thought it was a fluke. And to start the season like we did, finishing second to Brian (in the first two races) and how it turned out, I would have never imagined it.”
Coby went into the Whelen Modified Tour season and set a lofty goal for a Wayne Darling-owned team that was making its first full run at the Tour schedule. He wanted to be the first driver in history to finish in the Top-10 in every race.
He came up short in that feat, but he ran away with the championship – thanks in part to his win total and having finished in the Top-5 in more than half of the races.
“As far as putting the pieces of the puzzle together, I knew that this team had good motors and they had a good cars,” Coby said. “The first time I drove this car, we should have won the World Series here in 2010. That was a dominant performance by that car, where a part broke and we finished third.
“That's where the story started. That's where we kind of all knew, 'Wow. This could be good.'”
It certainly was. And for two drivers that combined to win nine of a possible 24 races (.375), they put on quite a show for their followers over the course of the 2012 season.
ONE CHAMPIONSHIP THAT is still to be determined is the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East, which has seen more shakeups over the last two months than a blended juice smoothie.
First, Chase Elliott seemed poised to run away early in the year, and then it appeared that it was Brett Moffitt's turn to finally cash in on a promising – and success-filled – career in the series. Corey LaJoie had struck gold with two wins in three starts in June, but crashes and a fire not long after that stretch seemed to take him out of contention and open the door for Rev Racing rookie and open-wheel standout Kyle Larson.
Now, as they head first to Greenville Pickens Speedway next weekend and then on to the finale for the series' inaugural visit to Rockingham Speedway on Nov. 2, Larson has just a one-point lead over LaJoie.
Larson won at New Hampshire Motor Speedway last month, but LaJoie won the most recent event at Dover.
It's Game On in that series as it marches to a close on a year that will crown a first-time champion.
“We struggled big time last time we went to Greenville,” said Larson, whose first experience in a stock car came one year ago when he went to the Drive For Diversity combine through Rev Racing. “We can't have another one of those nights. It's not my type of race track. I need to learn to slow down and save my tires. I think we have a good car, but it's up to me there.
“If we can leave Greenville without losing too many points, or even gaining a few points, we'll be in really good shape. It would mean a lot, especially in my first year of full-bodied stock cars, to get a championship.”
TIP OF THE week comes from regular reader “The Owl”: Scared money never wins.
THERE ARE ONLY two other tracks in the northeast that come to mind that have the same potential Oxford Plains Speedway has when it comes to the ability to dramatically alter the landscape of short track racing in the region.
Bill Ryan reached agreement this week to sell the track to Tom Mayberry, the longtime promoter of the Pro All Stars Series (PASS), and Mayberry announced almost immediately that he plans to hold the Oxford 250 next summer as a Super Late Model race. The event had been a Late Model event, held in line with ACT Late Model Tour rules, since 2006.
Oxford will abandon a Late Model class as it stands now, turning it into more of a Late Model-Super Late Model hybrid, according to Mayberry, who made an appearance on John Williams' “In The Pits” radio show Friday morning. Mayberry said he intends to formulate rules to allow the current Late Model competitors at Oxford to compete as a Super Late Model through weight breaks, 10-inch tires and a different carburetor package.
Mayberry's eye is on the Oxford 250, which has attracted more than 75 cars to try and qualify in recent years – though most were from New England and Canada.
“What I want to get back to is where short-track drivers come from all over the country,” Mayberry said on “In The Pits,” noting the days of Morgan Shepherd, Geoff Bodine and others entering the event, particularly when it was NASCAR-sanctioned.
With such a marquee event affected by a change in track ownership, and ultimately rules, there are plenty of things at play. PASS will hold three tour races at Oxford in 2013 (up from one this year), while it's unclear if any ACT Late Model Tour events will be contested. They had two at Oxford this year, down from three in previous seasons.
How does the Oxford news compare to other tracks in terms of its far-reaching effects? It would be if Stafford Motor Speedway in Connecticut announced it was no longer going to run Modifieds or Thunder Road International Speedbowl in Barre, Vt., saying it was doing away with a Late Model division.
TORONTO BLUE JAYS general manager Paul Beeston told a Boston newspaper that he wasn't interested in prospects as compensation if the Red Sox were to lure manager John Farrell away from north of the border, that he was only interested in a “decent player.”
My question: What if the Sox don't actually have any “decent” players?
FOR THE THIRD time, the PASS North Series will attempt to finish off its season with the PASS 150 at Oxford Plains Speedway this weekend – after twice being rained out already.
Former NASCAR K&N Pro Series East regular Travis Benjamin leads Cassius Clark by eight points heading into the last race of the year as he chases his first career championship in the series.
Six-time series champion Johnny Clark has a mathematical shot at the crown (54 points out) in third, while DJ Shaw – son of Dale Shaw – is fourth.
YOU'VE BEEN A great audience. Try the thick-cut asiago BLT, and don't forget to tip your waitress. Rancid is here, so stick around.