(EDITOR’S NOTE: Brandon Paul is the Northeast Editor of Speed51.com. The views which are expressed in the following column are his own and not necessarily the views of Speed51.com and/or its partners)
The dust has settled in the Northeast region one week after one of the biggest racing weekends of the 2014 racing season. Travis Benjamin (Oxford 250) and Patrick Laperle (ACT International 300) both saw their 2014 seasons change in the blink of an eye just one weekend ago, as they both walked away with $25,000-plus paydays as a result of their respective wins in the two highest paying Late Model events in the Northeast.
Still, despite the fact that both races provided some of the most exciting racing action fans will witness all year long, a lot of the talk following the race surrounded the on-going debate of American-Canadian Tour (ACT) racing vs. Pro All Stars Series (PASS) North racing and ACT promoter Tom Curley vs. PASS North promoter Tom Mayberry.
Regardless of what side of the fence you’re on, you’re not going to change your opinion. That fact has been proven through endless debates on social media streams and internet forums.
If you like the faster, more expensive Super Late Models, then that is what you’re going to pay your hard-earned money to watch. If you enjoy the excitement of more spec and cheaper-to-maintain cars with less horsepower, but cars that have been known to provide three or four-wide racing, then more than likely you’re going to head to one of Tom Curley’s ACT shows.
The United States of America is a free country and because of that, you have a right to choose. You have a right to choose where you live, what you eat, and in this case, where you choose to watch a short track racing event during the middle of July.
Regardless of where you choose to spend your money to take in a day (or night) of racing, both of these sanctioning bodies are capable of providing quality racing and good entertainment value. That proved to be true on the weekend of July 18-20, 2014.
The name “Oxford 250” will always have a special ring to it that is and will be hard to match by any short track racing event going up against it on the same race weekend. The prestige, the format, and the history behind the event make the Oxford 250 a must-see event for any short track racing fan regardless of whether it’s an “open show” or is sanctioned by a Late Model or Super Late Model touring series.
By all accounts, the 2014 running of the Oxford 250 didn’t disappoint. For the first time since I got into racing about 15 years ago, I wasn’t at the Oxford 250 last weekend, but from what I’ve heard the racing was excellent. The people I’ve talked to tell me it was one of the best “250’s” in recent years with many drivers making their way through the field and teams using different pit strategies to really mix things up at the front of the field.
To that, I say, “fantastic.”
What I don’t say, “fantastic” to are the people quick to pull the trigger and claim that the Oxford 250 was a much better race than what took place at Airborne Park Speedway in Plattsburgh, New York on that same day during the second running of the ACT International 300.
Sure, the car count (29) in Plattsburgh wasn’t anything to write home about. It was less than expected and ACT promoter Tom Curley would more than likely be the first person to tell you that. A wide variety of situations ranging from drivers getting hurt in fishing accidents (yes, we’re talking about you Ray Parent), to drivers being forced to go through in-depth technical inspection the night before at another race track, attributed to the number of cars that entered the ACT International 300.
Still, the old adage proved to be true during this event: it only takes two cars to make a great race.
Using the segment-style format made famous in The Milk Bowl at Thunder Road (VT), also owned and promoted by Tom Curley, the drivers in attendance put on a whale of a show for fans that made their way to Plattsburgh on that Sunday afternoon.
For the first time in the history of ACT Late Model segment-style racing, three drivers (Patrick Laperle, Joey Polewarczyk, Jr., and Nick Sweet) entered the final segment tied with five points each. This set up a 75-lap dash with $25,000 on the line. In the end, the driver who recorded the highest finishing position during that segment would go home with the top prize.
Starting 18th, 19th and 20th in the final segment, all three drivers maneuvered through the field slicing and dicing towards the front while making incredible three-wide moves. Polewarczyk would eventually get caught up in an incident making his way through the field, but the battle remained on between Sweet and Laperle.
When Sweet made a move, Laperle would make a better move. When Laperle made that better move, Sweet would make another move. In no other style of race would a battle for a position outside of the top-10 be so exciting. On this day, many would argue it was one of the best segment-style races ever held in the Northeast.
As the two drivers made their way into the top-10 and eventually into the top-five, neither was able to stretch out a comfortable gap over the other. Eventually, Sweet took over the lead with just over 20 laps to go.
Race over, right? Wrong.
Laperle eventually made his way to the inside of Sweet with 20 laps to go and the two drivers remained side-by-side for the remainder of the event. One lap the advantage would go to Sweet at the line, the next lap it would go to Laperle.
Good, hard, clean racing at its finest was on display until the checkered flag waved and the Canadian, Laperle, was able to nose out ahead of Sweet to claim the $25,000-plus payday.
As fans made their way out of Airborne Park Speedway on that Sunday evening you could hear things being said from fan-to-fan such as, “that was the best race I’ve ever seen,” “what an awesome race” and “we got our money’s worth with that one.”
After the conclusion of the race in victory lane, while being chock-full of emotions, Patrick Laperle made a statement that ruffled a lot of feathers among the people that elected to spend their money at Oxford Plains Speedway on that Sunday afternoon.
Laperle stated, “I know we just put on a better show than they will in Oxford.”
Was the comment truthful? It depends on who you ask. Ask someone at Airborne that day and they’ll tell you yes. Ask someone at Oxford that day and they’ll tell you no.
Despite hearing fans at Oxford discredit what went on at Airborne and vice-versa, fans at both events left the race track they attended pleased with the race that they watched. That in itself is great for the sport of short track racing, but is there a big enough pond for these two fish to swim in on the same day?
Columns have been written and fans have asked, “Why can’t these two big races (ACT International and Oxford 250) be coordinated on different days or different race weekends?”
The answer is quite simple. These two promoters choose not to work together, and the unfortunate truth behind the matter is that they will probably never choose to work together. It is what it is and nobody is going to change their opinions whether it’s in a 1,000-plus word column, or a 140-character jab on social media.
Would it work and be beneficial to the racing community if these events were held on different weekends, or even different days on the same weekend?
Of course it would, but in all reality the group of fans that would attend both events would end up being slim.
In the Northeast, Maine is the home of Pro Stock/Super Late Model racing. These type of cars run at Oxford, Beech Ridge Motor Speedway and Wiscasset Raceway on a weekly or bi-weekly basis. Out of the tracks currently in business in the state, only Wiscasset and Speedway 95 run regular Late Model divisions regularly.
In contrast, the territory surrounding the Barre, Vermont area is ACT Late Model country. Airborne, Thunder Road and Devil’s Bowl Speedway all run ACT Late Models as a weekly division and that is the type of full-fendered Late Model which fans in that area are accustomed to watching.
This isn’t to say that there wouldn’t be a group of diehard fans that would make the trip to both tracks if they were held on a different day or race weekend, because there would be. The problem is that you have a greater chance of walking outside and getting struck by lightning than convincing the promoters to run their biggest events of the year on different dates.
Until a time when this becomes more of a reality, if that time ever comes, race fans will have a choice to make. Regardless of what Late Model event short track fans choose to attend in the middle of July, this year’s Oxford 250 and International 300 proved that both are worth the price of admission.
While the prestige of the Oxford 250 will continue to fuel that event for years to come, there is a new race to keep an eye on in the Northeast. That race, the ACT International, has proven that the racing on the track is second to none and has given race fans in a different area of the Northeast the opportunity to witness and grow their own big time event.
-Brandon Paul, Speed51.com Northeast Editor - Twitter: @Brandon_Paul51
-Featured Photo Credit: Leif Tillotson