Feature Friday: The Amsoil NELCAR Legends Tour
After a thrilling finish to last week's opening round of Thursday Thunder, the drivers of the Amsoil NELCAR Legends Tour looked to do it all over again, as they strapped into their machines for another 25 laps of mid-week competition. 18 cars would start the feature as the sun set in the Southern Maine sky.
The higher points drivers, in inverted order, set the front half of the field, ahead of the lower point drivers, who lined up as they stand, followed by the top three finishers from last week.
This formation left the front row of the starting grid in the hands of middle school teacher, and veteran competitor Anthony Pagliarulo in the 60, and 5th year driver Matt Chagnot in the 8. Pagliarulo took the lead into turn one, and paced the opening circuits in his white Chevy sedan. As the entire outside lane began to slip behind, the drivers in the preferred inside line quickly marched to the front of the field. Steve Benincasa in the 7, a rookie to legends, but certainly no stranger to Beech Ridge as a longtime driver in the Wildcat division, pestered Pagliarulo for the lead until finally making his way to the point on lap 6. Bob Weymouth in the 399 and Matt Grant in the 84 followed through the hole that Benincasa created, and took over spots 2 and 3 respectively, and began to pressure the first year driver. However, just a lap later, the yellow flag flew for a spin by the 42 of New Hampshire driver Steve Johnson, bunching up the field for what was sure to be an exciting restart. Benincasa raced back to the lead with Grant hot on his heels, as Weymouth found the outside to still be just as treacherous as the start of the race, and slipped back to 3rd. Grant worked over the King Automotive #7 for several laps, before finding a gap out of turn 2, and rocketed his way to the top spot. Grant settled into the lead, but Weymouth stayed right on his bumper waiting for a chance to pounce on a mistake. A little bit further back in the field, the 19 of Kevin Girard Jr. and the 96 of Joey Pastore battled their way to the top 5 from their starting spots near the rear. Passing was at a premium for most drivers when things settled down, as it would take an outstanding effort to advance position on the outside line. Grant kept his Gore Moving & Storage coupe right on the white line at the bottom of the track, giving the tricky outside groove a free opportunity to anyone who was able to run there.
The fans who came to watch would not go home disappointed due to a lack of excitement, as Matt Grant held off all challengers to win his first career legends race, in another nail-biting finish to Thursday Thunder! Grant's first win was certainly as special one, as the Windham driver was able to take home a checkered flag from the track he calls "home", after spending many,l nights in the grandstands watching races at Beech Ridge growing up. Bob Weymouth never relinquished the second spot, and also brought his Interstate Trailer Sales sedan home with a Masters division win, Kevin Girard Jr. took the 3rd place trophy back home to Old Orchard Beach for the second straight Thursday, and also earned the Semi-Pro win, Joey Pastore passed a multitude of cars again this week to bring home P4 for the Puzzled Racing team, and Steve Benincasa had a solid race after leading some laps early on, earning a 5th place finish in his black and orange Chevy sedan.
With just one day to regroup, the Amsoil NELCAR Legends Tour teams will head to the Interstate, with Exit #180 set as the destination to visit Speedway 95 for the second and final time in 2015. Can Mathew Bourgoine sweep both races at his home track? Will we see Girard or Grant make a return trip to victory lane? Or will a new name emerge on top in Hermon, at a track notorious for creating first-time winners in the legend ranks. We will find out soon enough!
Special thanks to the sponsors that make this season possible; Amsoil Four Season Synthetic, New England Legends Sales & Service, Puzzled Racing for Autism Awareness, and Dysart's Truck Stop.