“Short Track Saturday” is less than 24 hours away, and there's plenty of reason for fans of stock-car racing in New England to tune in.
And, by tune in, of course, I mean come to New Hampshire Motor Speedway to watch in person.
The NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour, NASCAR K&N Pro Series East, ACT Late Model Tour and NELCAR Legends Tour will all hold events on Saturday at The Magic Mile – a day's fill for the race fan in all of us. If you're undecided about what it all means – or why it deserves your attention – I'll tell you why it's important for all four divisions.
Here's Why 2 Watch:
NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour
1st GEAR – The F.W. Webb 100 is good enough that it will be broadcast live on SPEED Saturday afternoon. The Whelen Modified Tour races at New Hampshire aren't just some of the most entertaining races ever held on the 1.058-mile oval, but they're far and away the most entertaining of the entire season on the Tour. Bump drafting, close finishes (the two closest recorded finishes in NHMS history have both happened in a Modified race in the last five years, including this July's event) and all-out racing are the staples of this ground-pounding division.
2nd GEAR – Doug Coby is running away with the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour championship chase this year, but he's never won at New Hampshire or Bristol – the two marquee facilities on the annual schedule. Coby closed late to finish third here in July. After posting the seventh-fastest speed in final practice Friday morning, is this Coby's exclamation point on the 2012 season?
3rd GEAR – There's no Nationwide Series or Truck Series event on the undercard of the Sylvania 300 this time around, but it doesn't mean you won't have a chance to see a Sprint Cup Series driver moonlighting in a support division this weekend. Ryan Newman is entered once again in the F.W. Webb 100 – and he's made waves in the Modified ranks. Not only does he have multiple wins at New Hampshire, he also has a DQ on his record after his engine was deemed illegal following a victory in August 2011.
NASCAR K&N Pro Series East
1st GEAR – The championship is coming down to the wire, with four races left and five drivers within 52 points of one another at the top of the standings. Brett Moffitt has done virtually everything there is to do in the division – winning nine of his 43 career starts and never finishing worse than third in the final series standings – and the winner of this race a year ago leads the points heading into the home stretch.
2nd GEAR – Speaking of a tight championship battle, New England's own Eddie MacDonald is right in the middle of it. MacDonald is fifth in the standings, but he's a three-time New Hampshire winner (five-time, if you include a pair of ACT Late Model Tour wins) and could jumble the title picture with another win at the track on Saturday. If he holds onto fifth in the final standings, it will be MacDonald's third Top-5 points finish in the last four seasons.
3rd GEAR – If the future of NASCAR resides in the K&N Pro Series, then this weekend's G-Oil 100 field is a perfect snapshot. Six different countries are represented – including Eric Helary of Paris, France, in a car fielded by two-time series champ Mike Olsen – as well as Cup Series development drivers, several of NASCAR's “Next 9,” a “Maine Young Gun” competition winner in Austin Theriault and a K&N Pro Series West driver in Dylan Kwasniewski.
ACT Late Model Tour
1st GEAR – The fourth annual Bond Auto ACT Invitational could be the best installment of this race yet. Last season, Eddie MacDonald and Nick Sweet battled – literally – door-to-door over the final lap, while others were doing the same for position behind them. For the first time in the race's history, the entire field looked both comfortable and competitive, a sure sign that this 2012 Invitational could finally live up to the hype surrounding the 50-lap race each season.
2nd GEAR – For those who miss the days of the old Busch North Series at New Hampshire, the ACT Invitational is the perfect anecdote. The drivers and teams are all local to the northeast and Canada, and it pits the best regional stars against one another on an even playing field. Wayne Helliwell Jr., Brian Hoar, Austin Theriault, Jeff Taylor, Shawn Martin, Nick Sweet, Patrick Laperle... and on and on and on. These are the drivers winning touring races and championships and weekly track titles all over New England. Game on.
3rd GEAR – An added wrinkle this season is a full practice session on Saturday morning, which should show up in the race itself. In the first three ACT Invitationals, a full-blown test session in August was followed by a 20-minute tire scuff session on race morning. Brian Hoar – an eight-time ACT champion and winner of a record 37 career races – said last week that the team got so little practice last year, he didn't even realize the car was bottoming out on the chassis. Give the teams an hour to work out kinks and dial in some more speed, and it could make for a very entertaining race on Saturday afternoon.
NELCAR Legends Tour
1st GEAR – In the second invitational event of the day, the NELCAR Legends Tour will hold a 25-lap event on the mini-oval in Turn 1 of The Magic Mile. The race will feature all walks of the short-track racing life – from veterans like Shaun Buffington of Connecticut to up-and-comers like 14-year-old Reid Lanpher to 2011 series champion Evan Beaulieu. Like the K&N Pro Series, it's a race that pits a lot of different agendas against one another – with the added unpredictability of having no practice or qualifying on race day.
2nd GEAR – Reid Lanpher is the youngest race winner in any division in the history of New Hampshire Motor Speedway, having won a road course event in a Legend car back in May. He'll be in the No. 59 Sedan after finishing third in his last start on the mini-oval earlier this month.
3rd GEAR – The Legend division is exploding nationwide, coming into its own not only as an affordable kit class – but also as the next step in the development process for drivers looking for an appropriate step between go-karts and full-sized stock cars. If you want to see the sport's future long before the future even begins to take focus, then this is where you want to keep your eye.