Tuesday, May 17, 2005, Chatter • Nothing like a rookie winner

Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s got the heaviest foot of all? I guess the answer depends upon who’s driving on the quarter-mile dirt oval out at Lassen Speedway on any particular night — especially in the speedy modified class. This time it was Nick Boucher, a 17-year-old rookie with homework to do.

Sure, it’s a whole lot of fun to watch a seasoned veteran like Jeff Chew and a young veteran like Erica Harmon battle for the lead door handle to door handle all the way around the track, ducking up and down and in and out like graceful prize fighters and then squirting past the slower traffic as if they were flung from a slingshot only to have the race finally settled when one driver makes a loose little mistake on the last lap. That’s great stuff.

And I should add there are a bunch of modified drivers at the speedway who can and do and will provide just this kind of excitement as the season progresses and the championship points battle heats up. Fans can expect the other modified drivers — Jeff Meusch, Matt Murphy, Steve Bejcek, Will Zinn, Scott Boutcher and Scott Deutsch to put on a fantastic show this year. They always do.

Any number of factors have to come together for a driver to claim a victory. Everybody who knows anything about racing knows that. Often it’s simply a matter of puckering up hard, hanging on tight through the chaos in front of you and simply surviving to be in the right place at the right time when the checkered flag finally flies.

Usually, it’s one of the more experienced drivers who has learned from many, many laps in the groove to lay back, stay close, keep out of trouble and wait for an opportunity to mash down hard. The truth is most of these local modified drivers will grab their share of the spotlight before the season’s over — it just hasn’t been their night yet. This time it was the rookie’s night.

The sense of community among the drivers at Lassen Speedway bowled me over the first time I walked through the pits. If a driver’s car breaks, it seems nearly every mechanic and pit crew member at the speedway rushes over to lend a hand or yank a spare replacement part out of a trailer to get someone else’s car back in the race. It’s more than just tires and shocks and brake shoes. Blow an engine, and by golly, someone will be there to loan you a back-up motor until you can rebuild yours. Yeah, these folks might bang and bash and bend some sheetmetal on the track, but the old-fashioned all-for-one and one-for-all attitude lives large in the pits.

So whoda thunk a 17-year junior from Lassen High School — a rookie at that — could jump from the minis to the modifieds, put it all together, come up with a win in his second race at the speedway and emerge as the points leader? Nobody, that’s who. The vets and newbies have to put their cars on the track and dash for the checkered flag. The uncertainty of the result is the reason for the race in the first place. It’s the beauty of sports. It’s part skill, part luck and part the gods of sports smiling at you.

It would be easy to dismiss this rookie’s victory that way. Ah, he just got lucky, he got a break, somebody got in the way. Yada, yada, yada. You know, all that’s true. It’s always true. Every time. Every race. What’s unusual is that this driver is a teenager with a new ride. What really matters now is what happens in the next race and the one after that and the one after that. Who will rise to the top of the point standings when it’s all over, winning a few races here and there and collecting points week after week after week? We’ll have to wait and see.

You’d better check your mirror and see who’s gaining on you because I hope to catch all of you at the speedway.