HEDGER: The Long Look
PLATTSBURGH, N.Y. — Plattsburgh, hard on the shore of Lake Champlain, is a long way from anywhere, with the possible exception of Montreal.
But the ancient Airborne Park Speedway, updated in recent seasons by the latest owner, Steve Fuller, and promoter Mike Perrotte, long a New York modified star, now compares favorably with any short track in the Northeast. And its compound banking may well provide the best racing surface of the lot.
The track has proven to be a perfect venue for the blinding fast ISMA supermodifieds and last weekend’s event proved a perfect place for NASCAR modified star Teddy Christopher and supermodified innovator Clyde Booth to perfect the North Carolina-based wizard’s latest creation. The only surprise for the faithful was that he’d chosen Christopher instead of a division veteran to wheel the silver beauty.
“Why Teddy?” responded Booth. “Because he’s the best there is! He’s like Richie Evans, Ollie Silva and Jimmy Shampine, the best of their era and probably all time. He’s in that league. I never got to race with Richie but the others drove for me and this deal is a bonus.”
When asked if the car might have been perfected more easily with a proven supermodified star, such as perennial kingpin Chris Perley or rideless Mike Ordway at the wheel, Booth shakes his head.
“Teddy’s only run a super a few times but he’s as good as Perley right now,” declared Booth. “I just don’t have a car as good as theirs yet. Chris has been there 16 years and they both know instinctively what they and the car will do. We’ll get there. I knew I’d made the right choice last year when Teddy ran for me the first time, at Berlin, Michigan. He started last and won, running right around the outside of everybody.”
Christopher’s tale of how he got involved with the new car is equally interesting.
“My first super ride was with Paul Dunigan but from the start, I was intrigued by Clyde’s cars because they’re so different,” said Christopher. “When ISMA came to Waterford we’d talk, then last year he called me about going to Michigan with him.
“I flew out by myself and there’s just Clyde and his wife, no crew, but we were fourth or fifth fastest in practice so I figured we were OK. Then the hub broke as we ran the parade lap for the heat. I knew his cars were light but that really caught my attention. He fixed it, I tagged the field and we won it, no problem.
“Actually, two of my best races ever have been in supers, at Thompson and that show at Berlin. I won both from dead last.”
When talk turns to Booth’s new car, Christopher talks about how they’re still developing it and how fast Perley, who’d won the night before at Oswego, always is. He also admitted to struggling at Oswego, though he thought he was much quicker at Airborne. All the time he was waiting for the inevitable question.
“What’s a guy who just turned 53 doing starting a new career in the supers?”
“I’ve thought about that a lot,” came the reply. “As you get older, other people and even you yourself start to question your ability,” Christopher said. “But I won with the TQs indoors this winter, which is really physical racing, and I won the Modified Tour race from last at Thompson. I can still do this.
“Another major factor was that my wife told me that I didn’t look all that happy and I should start doing whatever made me happy. That’s why I decided to skip Stafford and the Race of Champions at Oswego and run here. Clyde comes all the way from Mooresville and he deserves my best effort. Besides, I work hard to stay in shape and driving all these different cars keeps me sharp.”
Christopher has long had a reputation for roughing others up, something he may have deserved years ago. But age has brought patience and many of his detractors are now going off the reputation, not the actions they observe.
“Even if I wanted to, you can’t be rough with these things,” declares the 2008 Whelan Modified Tour champion with a laugh. “Look at the bumper. It’s tiny. And I haven’t used it yet, though I probably should have with the lapped cars at Stafford.
“These cars are so fast and the tires are so wide that they move around all over. You have to calculate your passes in advance, it’s not like in the modifieds where they get in a groove and run like slot cars. You can move those guys over with a little nudge but that doesn’t work here.
“These guys are real racers, there’s a lot of passing and I love the speed. Our wing doesn’t move like the other cars, so we were a little slow at Oswego and finished seventh but we’re good here. People think I’m just dabbling with the supers but I’m in this deal for the long haul. I really want to win the World Series at Thompson. We were good last year but we got some flats, so that’s what I’m aiming at.”
Down pit road, Chris Perley is watching owner Vic Miller and his crew work on his mount while keeping an eye on Christopher as well. The great ones always know who they have to beat.
“He’s doing pretty good here,” offered Perley when asked if Teddy was going to make it in the supers. “He told me that after all those years in the modifieds, his biggest thing is knowing how far to go in but he’s picking it up really fast,” said Perley. “And despite his reputation, I’m not seeing the roughness at all. He came with respect and he’s fit right in. You can’t drive that way here, so all he worries about is being fast.”
With that, the two superstars climbed in and went to war. Perley would suffer mechanical ills and pit under yellow midway in the race before returning to action.
Christopher moved steadily from the eighth row to the lead and lapped up to the top ten, running the car high and low, “passing ’em where I got to ’em” as he put it.
“I’m still a modified guy at heart,” explained Christopher. “Once Clyde moved the wing so that the right front would dig in and turn the car, I was good to go. This thing is fast.”
Perley, Christopher and all the supermodified faithful will be waiting to see if it’s fast enough to handle the Miller No. 11 when Perley’s guys again get the gremlins under control.
It’s a good bet that the two of them will settle the World Series between them, a battle likely to be worth the price of admission in itself.