It seems like a lifetime ago, but I was once the editor of the short track racing website Speed51.com. Back then, one of our most popular features when covering an event were our “Leftovers”. These were snippets and notes put together to tell the stories beyond who won a race and why. I loved working on these features, even if it was very labor intensive to go through notebooks and tape recorders interviews to put everything together, so it is something that I would like to try out with the North East Mini Stock Tour.
Actually, I think that Leftovers would be a perfect fit for the NEMST because we have such a tight knit and wonderful group of racers that there are no shortage of stories to be told after a race. It seems like a great way to tell those stories and also to introduce some of the new competitors who join the Tour for a race or two. As the series grows, there will be more and more to write about too. So here goes my first attempt – keep in mind it is a work in progress and don’t be surprised if I chase any of you down after the World Series at Thompson with a notebook to make the next edition bigger and better.
Sonnhalter Parks His Truck in Victory Lane for First Time in 2016
When Matt Sonnhalter won his first career NEMST feature last September, everyone expected that he would click off several more victories in short time. Unfortunately, Sonnhalter encountered more bad luck than success. He was quick for the reminder of the 2015 season and started off 2016 quick out of the box at Lee USA Speedway but a mechanical problem in that event dropped him back to running a partial schedule for 2016 that resulted in plenty of speed, but also plenty of bad luck.
On the first 2016 trip to Speedway 51 last month, it looked like Sonnhalter might shake the bad luck monkey as he was quick again in the feature. But more mechanical gremlins surfaced and he made another heartbreaking exit to the pit before the race was over.
Saturday night, Sonnhalter wasn’t going to be denied again. He put his Young Guns Racing #33 Volkswagen Truck out front early on and stayed there until lap 51 fending off Jake Rheaume for the victory. To say that Sonnhalter seemed relieved in victory lane would be an understatement. To say that it is probably going to be a lot quicker than 12 months before we see Sonnhalter back in victory lane would be stating the obvious.
Tight Field in Practice
The fact that Matt Sonnhalter, or any one driver, dominated the Speedway 51 race was somewhat shocking due to the fact that in practice, there were nine drivers who were within 2/10th of a second with their lap times. The field at Speedway 51 was a very close one.
Herriott is Almost The Champion
Although he will not officially be crowned as the champion until the NEMST season finale, Haywood Herriott essentially wrapped up the 2016 Tour title with his third place finish at Speedway 51. Herriott is one of only two multi-time feature winners on the Tour this season with victories at Speedway 95 and Speedway 51 (and the other multi-time winner, Jarrod Soucy, is only racing a partial schedule in 2016). Going into the NEMST season finale at Thompson, Herriott holds an insurmountable 41 point lead in the standings over Emerson Cayer.
Finishing third wasn’t easy for Herriott, who fought a few fuel system issues in practice and also had to make a great save in his heat race to avoid slapping the backstretch wall after getting loose. Although the incident looked exciting to observers, Herriott shrugged it off when asked about it saying that it really did not feel too bad from inside of his #17 Acura Integra.
Runner-Up Rheaume is Short a Cheerleader at Speedway 51
Jake Rheaume finished second at Speedway 51 and it was probably a good thing that he didn’t win the race. It was his career best NEMST feature finish, but Rheaume’s biggest cheerleader was not in the house to watch it.
Rheaume is less than two weekends away from marrying Kate Soucie and Saturday night marked her bachelorette party. For some odd reason, the bride and her posse did not plan that party to take place at Speedway 51’s Twisted Tea Garden and instead were away from the track. So it might have been best for Rheaume to postpone his first trip to victory lane until his better half was actually there.
Contending for a win, or even a second place finish, seemed far from Rheaume’s mind earlier in the evening. After practice, he reported that his car felt very comfortable but just was not quick enough for his liking. At that time, he reported that the car was not even as good as it had been when he finished second at Speedway 51 in August.
Viens Starts and Finishes Solidly in the Top Five
Finishing just off the podium, but showing plenty of consistency throughout the 51 lap race was Michael Viens. The driver of the #85 Mustang started fifth and ran a trouble-free race to finish fourth. Veins is also ranked fourth in the Tour standings. He is one of seven drivers to have appeared at every event in 2016.
Leblanc Makes Strides at Speedway 51
Cody Leblanc has shown progress throughout the 2016 season, but his #7NH Acura RSX has been a bit of a problem child – not fully cooperating when the team has made set-up changes to get it to the front. Still, the team has employed a never-give-up attitude and gotten better and better each week.
So when Leblanc pulled into Speedway 51, at track where he has raced Tiger Sportsmen and Late Models in the past, the expectations were high. This time, the car gave back too. Leblanc won his heat race and finished a career best fifth in the feature event.
Gray OK After a Hard Wreck
Brandon Gray predicted a Young Guns Racing one-two finish on Facebook last week. He almost made that wish come true too. Gray was chasing his teammate, eventual winner Matt Sonnhalter, early on at Speedway 51 when trouble arose. A wheel hub broke while running second and that spun Gray around hard into the turn four wall. Gray was dejected, but otherwise OK. Earlier in the evening, Gray took down one of the heat race victories.
After the race, Gray said that he might be done for the season but after a little reflection, he might be giving that a second though. On Sunday morning, Gray posted photos of the Young Guns Racing team already getting to work on the truck to Facebook and although there will be some work ahead of them, don’t count out a trip to the World Series for the #00 team.
Cayer’s Bad Luck Continues
Emerson Cayer sits second in the NEMST standings and has been quick throughout the 2016 season, but lady luck has not been on the side of his #88 team this year…or even in 2015…as the former Tour champion has been winless since the summer of 2014.
It looked like that might change at Speedway 51. Despite a heat race slide off the door of another competitor, the #88 was quick and in a position to head towards the front of the 51 lap feature. Cayer started the main event in seventh and was moving towards the lead when a tire went flat. Eight laps were lost in the pits under green and even though Cayer was just as quick as the leaders when he came back out, he was too deep in a hole to fight back. Cayer was credited with a 14th place finish.
Donahue Enters, Then Exits, Race Before the Green Flag
Stephen Donahue of Graniteville, Vermont was set to make his NEMST debut at Speedway 51 driving the #00 Dodge Neon owned by Brandon Gray. Donahue, son of ACT Late Model standout John Donahue, was even going to be able to start on the pole for the 51-lap feature after the inversion was favorable to him. It was a last minute deal too as Donahue filed his entry after practice concluded for the day and just before his heat race. However, Donahue had to withdraw from the NEMST feature event after Gray’s #00 suffered from overheating issues near the end of its Street Stock feature.
Smiling Faford Leads Laps Early
Donahue’s drop out moved Justin Faford to the pole position and the Westminster, Massachusetts driver made the most of that by leading the opening laps in his red and blue #04 Ford Mustang. Faford looked very comfortable out front and the young driver was smiling ear-to-ear after the race, but he just didn’t have enough ponies in his pony car to finish the race there. Faford finished 11th as he continues to improve his performances on the Tour.
Missing in Action – Speedway 51 Edition
A few familiar faces were not at Speedway 51 this time around. The most notable was Mike Parker, who finished third in the last trip to the track but is running a partial schedule in 2016 planned around family events and youth sports schedules. Early season championship contenders Pete Zakarite and Nick Maniatis were also absent after crash damage and mechanical issues respectively moved both competitors to a part-time schedule. Also missing was Connecticut’s Mitch Bombard.
Southern Fried Mini Stocks Coming Up
While the NEMST schedule only has one point race left on it for 2016, there are still a few South East Mini Stock Tour events on the docket for the season. The start-up Southern Tour will visit South Carolina’s Dillon Motor Speedway on October 23rd and South National Motorsports Park on Thanksgiving weekend, November 25th-27th.