Bangor Racer celebrates 20 Consecutive years at New England Forest Rally with a second place

Episode 276

August 12, 2019

Part III Bangor rally racer celebrates 20 consecutive years at New England Forest Rally with a second place 

1999 was the year that Bangor’s John Cassidy first entered the Maine Forest Rally (now New England Forest Rally) with his Honda CRX. I have known many racers who entered race one and suffered a variety of maladies which prevent them from  finishing. I was guilty of this first race syndrome with my ice racer, stock car, and pulling tractor.

The humble beginning of  Last Ditch Racing in 1999 with a Honda CRX nicknamed Fireball. The Honda got its nickname from the gasoline fire that started when initially running the Integra engine swapped into the CRX. After putting out the fire they did what good racers do, they started the engine again with the same result.  This photo was from 2000 event when John Attemus was the co-driver. Travis Smith, Cassidy’s nephew from Newburgh, was the first co-driver in 1999 when the car did not make it to the first stage of the rally. (ComicOzzy Autosport Photography by Jerry Winker)

Fast forward to 2019 at Sunday River Ski Resort in Newry, Maine. These are Cassidy’s words edited slightly to make them fit into blog format:

“Saturday is a much earlier start than Friday. Although it happens every single year, none of us are really ready for the alarm on day two.

The alarm. Dammit. Too early. Can’t hit snooze. Have to get up. Shower. Unsure why. We’re going to put on our suits that are still damp from sweat from the day before. Might as well have a few minutes of feeling fresh before we jump back into the car.

John V and I load into T4 to head to Expose. The crew loads into the Sprinter and heads to Errol, New Hampshire to set up service and get ready to give us some fuel when we get there.

The drive up to Errol on Route 26 is breathtaking in the early morning hours. The light on the mountains, the smells in the air; freshly cut hay, clover, pine, spruce and race fuel.

John V snoozes a bit on the transit as co-drivers are want to from time-to-time. Hanging in his harness, I’m not sure he’s actually breathing so I ask him a question.

He wakes long enough to answer(yay, he’s alive!) and then falls back asleep. He’s not a morning person. This I do know.

We see the boys and top off the tank. Crews are easing into the day, relatively speaking.

We start the day on the Wilson’s Mills stage. Fast and flowing. I’m not feeling it. T4 isn’t feeling it. Don’t know why. Then I remember why. I hadn’t checked the tire pressures at the start of the stage.

I check them at the start of the next stage. 45psi. Yup. I’m such a nummah. Psssshhhhhh X 4!

T4 and I are happier. We have good tire pressures, no catalytic converter and a new strut top. Time to wake up and get on it!

Next stage is long(ish) with some tight, technical sections. That’s my thing. I tell John I think we can do well in the stage and give him the head’s up that I’m hoping to push a bit.

He’s on the notes from the get go. The tight stuff is awesome. The torque from a turbo engine is great in the tight twisty stuff.

The top cars ahead of us have pulled a bunch of toaster sized rocks out into the road-usually just out of sight around corners. This makes for busy work adjusting our line mid-corner to either straddle or miss these.

Some of the stones typically encountered by rally drivers and their cars on stages of the New England Forest Rally. (Joel Sanford photo)

Next stage is a short stage, Morton Cutoff. I didn’t think I’d like it, but I’m surprised to find that I do. Go figure.

After that, we see the boys in the DOT lot for supplemental fuel on the way to the Sturtevant Pond stage, an all-time favorite for most drivers. It has everything. Fast, 6th gear stretches and what seems like a mile of left and right 3 and 4 grade turns at the end lined with awesome spectators. Towards the end of the stage, we had to slow quite a bit due to hanging dust in the low areas.

Crossing a woods bridge at speed with T4 during a stage of the New England Forest Rally. (David Cosseboom photo)

We were hot. Drinking all we could. Everything now covered in dust. Sweat stinging our eyes. I hadn’t packed anything to clean my glasses, so had to drive like I was looking through, well, more dust.

It was time for the mid-day service. The brakes were bad. And by that, I mean we didn’t have any to speak of. I figured we’d boiled the fluid in the hot temps. As I looked at the racing pedal box, I saw that the front master cylinder wasn’t moving at all. Frig.

Back to service in Errol. We waited in the sun for our time to go in, trying not to think about how hot we were. Hard to think of anything else, to be honest.

Duncan came over to get a situation update and I told him about the brakes. He might have said Frig too.

What service may look like in rally racing. Huge jacks like the one at the rear of car lift the rally car into the air and special jack stands are inserted into prepositioned slots on all 4 sides of the rally car. (Eric Thompson photo)

Once in service, the boys were on T4 like bees on honey(or like my dogs on spilled cat food). They found that the right rear brake pads were done. As in destroyed. Maybe that’s why we didn’t have brakes? Rear pads got changed and we went back out. Pedal felt better. More fuel and back out.

We essentially did the same loop of stages, again. It was now about 3PM. We’d been in the heat for hours. At service we had emptied all the water bottles out of the car. It looked like we were having a bottle drive.

We pushed a bit harder in the long stage with the technical bits. I like to push at the end of a rally. I figure everything that might be an issue on T4 would’ve surfaced by now. I also figured that other crews might be fatigued and just cruising to finish.

The second loop went well, with the exception of not having any brakes to speak of. I told myself they were overrated anyway. Stig Blomqvist probably didn’t even use them!

Another service before the final stage and then the long transit back to Sunday River.

Last service of the day. Meet Duncan at the in-control and let him know the brakes still seem to be rears only. Otherwise, we’re good. Tired, hot,  but good. John tells me on the transit back to service that maybe we should take it easy through the last stage and just get to the finish. Hmmm…maybe.

Once in service, the boys put new pads on the other side in the rear so that we’re freshy-fresh on both sides. Turns out that we didn’t have time to bleed the rears at the last service with the single side pad replacement. Because the rear lines had some air in them, the rear master cylinder could compress a lot, not allowing any force to be transmitted to the front master through the balance bar.

Likely something in the setup that I overlooked or perhaps common to dual master set ups? Regardless-after bleeding-we had front brakes again! Take it easy through the next stage? Hmm…

Digression: At the last service, Duncan thought the rear caliper was seized up and that’s why the pads failed. The piston wouldn’t move. After several minutes, we realized that the rear brake line lock valve was engaged. Duh! New protocol is to release the line lock once the car is up on jack stands. Sorry Duncan!

We fuel and transit to the next stage. A cool technical stage with great views of the mountains-not that we had time to look. This stage is all that lays between the crews and the transit home.

We launch into the stage and shortly after the start we come into a left 2 turn. It’s torn up by the preceding cars and I find a rock someplace in there. The impact is so hard, that it rips the wheel out of my hand. The next few seconds are spent making sure the car sounds and feels ok. It does.

We continue on, pushing a bit more. John ups the pace of his…pace notes. We come across the finish and there are cars parked after the finish. We see our crew all gathered there, they’ve come down to see us finish.

It feels like everyone is waiting for us to get out of the car, because they are. We get out and drag our helmets off. We get a couple of bottles of cold water. Heaven. I find John V and we give each other a big hug. The crew comes over in celebration.

We know that we can make it back to Sunday River. T4 knows the way only too well. She’s been doing it for 13 years now.

John V and I ride back in silence. Both in our own heads. Reflecting on the weekend in our ways. We’re not big talkers. There are local fans out by the road. They cheer as we drive by. We honk and wave. We smile. They smile. It’s a win-win.

We pass Chris Duplessis and his co-drivers. They’re dripping wet from a dip in a roadside stream. All smiles. The swim was likely better reward than the trophy that he unfortunately won’t get later.

We arrive at Sunday River. Triple checking our math before requesting our time in.

We park T4 in Parc Ferme and head to the BBQ buffet. The team arrives and beverages are procured for all. Plates are heaped and we enjoy it all. Especially each other’s company.

The awards are delayed, so we decide to go shower and come back. We do all that and the regional awards still haven’t happened. We were third and first in class(only in our class FYI).

Our friend Chris Duplessis had finished second, but was handed a huge penalty which dropped him off the podium. That gave us his spot and another team ours. Not a good feeling for us. Not a good feeling for Chris and his team or the other regional competitors.

John Cassidy V and Iv left to right accepting second place in the Regional race at New England Forest Rally 2019. (Last Ditch Racing photo)

We got up on stage and accepted our trophies and champagne. We got some pics and then headed to what used to be the Foggy Goggle(now The Camp) for beverages and camaraderie. We were entertained by the Irish contingency and a new bride still in her dress. Legends of the sport were in attendance as well. No photobombs by Higgins this year though.

I was literally falling asleep trying to stand and hold a conversation, so we had to leave early(ish). I don’t remember even trying to fall asleep.

Sunday AM and the rally hangover already rearing it’s head. Sore muscles. Swollen hands and fingers. We all showered and then started lugging food, gear and bags out. Humidity was oppressive and the showers were undone in short order.”

Thank you to John Cassidy for this inside look at a Maine based rally team competing with some of the best racers in North America.

The Vermont Sports Car paddock at New England Forest Rally. This is the factory backed team which I will visit at their new headquarters in Milton, Vermont. Full report in next episode. (HTF Motorsports photo)

Overall winners of 2019 New England Forest Rally on left co-driver Craig Drew and driver David Higgins on right. Their 2019 Subaru WRX STI is sponsored by Subaru USA and prepared at Vermont Sports Cars new facility in Milton, Vermont. (David Cosseboom photo)

Cumberland Motor Club celebrates 9 years at Loring facility

Southern Maine based Cumberland Motor Club has been making the trip to the former SAC Base at Loring in Limestone since 2010 to host one of the largest autocross events in New England. The large wide runways make for a more open racing course than CMC typically runs in southern Maine.

This year’s two-day event registrations were slightly lower. Autocross co-chairman Per Christopher Moberg commented that, ” Good but not great attendance. 105 competitors vs 120 last year. Weather was deterrent for locals I suspect.”

“Courses were well received. Today’s was liked more than Saturday’s. There were some very good drivers from outside our club in attendance. That was awesome!”

“We will be back. There is no venue like Loring”

The Subaru owned by Ryan Wurfel and also driven by Caribou’s Matt Beaulieu was fast both days of the autocross. Wurfel from Brunswick, noted that his car, a 2010 Subaru WRX Hatchback features a built EJ255 block with a TD06 20G turbo Tuned by Baxley’s Speedshop in Windham. (Brandon Doughty photo)

One of the more unique vehicles at the CMC Autocross was this 1993 Ford F150 Lightning downed and driven by Scott Allen, Alfred, Maine. Allen has raced at Loring twice and guaranteed that he would be the fastest pickup. He was the only pickup. He purchased his truck in 2012. (HTF Motorsports photo)

Daniel Ramos, Canton, Maine with his 1987 VW Scirocco. “I’m not a regular autocrosser, but I always try to make it to Loring. Been about four times within the past five years. Other cars I’ve driven in previous years are my 1974 Dodge Charger and my dad’s 1998 Dodge Neon R/T” (Brandon Doughty photo)

After multiple passes the groove, or “racing line” is very easy to distinguish even after the marker cones are removed. (Per Christopher Moberg photo)

Swanson All-time USAC Silver Crown leader with win 28


Kody Swanson continued his domination of the USAC Silver Crown Series Saturday night at the high banked Salem Speedway, Salem Indiana. Pictured here with team owner Gene Nolen on the left, wife/spotter Jordan and sons Trevor and Adam. (Jordan Swanson photo)

Despite having to go to the back-up car for the second time this season, Kody Swanson and the Gene Nolen Racing team persevered by digging out the back up car and working on it to make it fast. Swanson won the pole by over .3 seconds over Booby Santos III.

Despite winning the pole, Swanson changed four shocks and four springs from the primary car without hesitation on the part of the Nolen crew.

Swanson went on to lead all 75 laps of the Joe James/Pat O’Connor Memorial at the .555 mile 33 degree banked track. Despite a caution on lap 69 when he had a seven second lead, Swanson mastered the restart and beat Bobby Santos III by .914 seconds. Third place went to Aaron Pierce, followed by Kyle Hamilton and David Byrne.

With the win, Swanson’s points lead over Justin Grant is 71 and 120 points in front of third place David Byrne. The USAC Silver Crown Series moves next to the 1-mile dirt track at the Illinois Fairgrounds, August 17 in Springfield, Illinois for the Bettenhausen 100.

Austin Theriault best finish of 2019 NASCAR season

Making a stop at the NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series race at Michigan Speedway, Austin Theriault racked up his best finish yet on the top circuit, a 32nd place finish. (Rick Ware Racing/Austin Theriault Racing photo)

Comments from Theriault about the third race in the Cup Series post race:

Post race with the winning Michigan trophy is Harvick rear tire carrier Mike Morneau from Maine. (Cheryl Brown Morneau photo)

Let’s Go Racing,

Tom Hale

Soli Deo Gloria (Matthew 5:16)

Tom Hale

About Tom Hale

Tom wrote 14 years as freelancer for the Bangor Daily Sports covering motorsports in Maine. Now blogging and concentrating on human interest stories about people and places in racing. He races Champ Karts and owns HTF Motorsports in remote Westmanland, Maine