Mike Perrotte in his #35 power slides
the clay on Friday nights at Mohawk (NY) Speedway, while
Saturday night at Plattsburgh he tries to keep his guys
somewhat straight on the asphalt. (Andy Watts Photo (L) and
Coastal 181 (R))
The most meaningful measure of weekly racing is the modified main.
Mike Perrotte gets it.
A tough, popular, and decidedly
capable Northeastern racer himself, Perrotte’s been slinging dirt
for decades and continues today as a Friday-night regular at Mohawk
Speedway in Hogansburg, NY. Mike knew he faced a different challenge
seven years ago when Steve Fuller asked him to promote the races at
his newly acquired but largely dilapidated Airborne Park Speedway,
in Plattsburgh, NY, tight on the Canadian border.
There was a
quandary. There were no obvious tracks with whom Mike could
cooperate. Airborne was asphalt; all the hot rods in local garages
were built for dirt. Ever the racer, Mike took a gamble, one at
which others, such as DIRT’s Glenn Donnelly, had failed. He invited
in those high-standing, center- seated, straight-axle dirt machines
to the pavement, their Hoosier dirt tires and all.
very beginning Mike’s concept took cautious flight, fueled by his
workaholic approach and his connectedness to the racing community.
Within three years, progress was strong enough to allow Fuller to
repave, layering in a near-perfect, multi-grooved, graduated
banking, along with all kinds of aesthetic improvements to the
nearly 60-year-old facility.
Last Saturday night, 28 mods
lined up for the feature, vibrating and thundering under July’s Hay
Moon. The event was exceptional, rocking the bleachers from the
unfurling of the green.
Remarkably, Perrotte has been able
to preserve just a tad of unruliness from the field’s dirty legacy.
The cars are stable and clearly fast in the mid-16s on the smallish
half-mile in multi-lane traffic. But it is oh-so different from what
you’d expect. This isn’t bird-watching a flock of touring-type
asphalt modifieds on their sometimes endless follow-the-leader
journey. The Airborne cars gobble up just about every inch of
available racing surface, slippin’ and slidin’ side by side, every
driver as up on the wheel as you can get.
It’s a treat to
see. The inherent thrill of racing is that if you don’t take it to
the edge, you’re a stroker. If you venture over the edge, you may
well be toast. At Plattsburgh, you can actually see that happening
real time. If someone gets too racy in one of those turns, a
telltale plume of smoke will trail off that chain-grooved right rear
Hard-charging Mike Reyell gets a little loose in his #02
mount, smoking up
the neighborhood just a bit. (Andy
“It gets your attention
racing here,” emotes Cam Grady, who snagged second last week. “Most
of us can go 16.5 seconds, but to go 16.2 you really have to be
aggressive. Fans like it, though, and Steve and Mike treat us like
humans even if most of us aren’t.”
The fear over time, of
course, is that this feature could lose its excitement and
intensity. What if the crew chiefs get too good with a dirt chassis
on asphalt, if the cars get too buttoned-down? Perrotte’s all over
that. “I watch it so carefully. I test constantly, too. We keep
frame heights and motor heights way high. And it turns out those
Hoosier dirt tires work well, because, if you do get to spinning
them, you don’t necessarily ruin them.”
agrees. He’s been around for a while. The trucking magnate first
towed a car into Plattsburgh from Canada in 1961, with legendary
Jean-Paul Cabana at the controls. Now it’s Martin Roy, Jean-Claude’s
son-in-law. “A few seasons back we could only get 30 laps out of a
right rear. Now it’s 130 because we are getting better with shocks
and things.” That’s the truth. Roy won Saturday’s hotly contested
feature, his second of the year, as other high-point guys, George
Foley and Patrick Dupree, were mired in L.A. freeway-type traffic.
Roy in the Fortin Motorsports #90 and Green Mountains
Vinnie Quenneville work their dirt cars off the
turns in orderly fashion on Plattsburgh’s graduated
pavement. (Andy Watts Photo)
Yep, the main at Plattsburgh rekindles that old spirit of
Saturday-night racing – that loud, testosterone-laden pinnacle of
the week. A wound-up announcer, a wide-open 30-lap shootout, lots of
cars, fast ones at the back, the whole town watching.
special treat up there in the Champlain Valley. They’ve got it
right, even in this blasted economy that just can’t seem to get off
© 2011 Lew Boyd, Coastal 181