January 10, 2016
Tom Peters the Racer Part II
I will not answer the question whether Tom Peters was the best snowmobile racer in the County since that can be subjective, however, his well documented story continues in Part II this week.
One thing that Tom Peters has that most racers do not have is excellent records of past accomplishments. He decided to pull together as much material as possible from when he raced in the late 1960’s, early 70’s. The result is a 2 inch notebook stuffed full with newspaper clippings and photographs as well as an extensive trophy collection.
Peters also has his original snowmobile suit, goggles, and helmet. He would like to get a mannequin to display the driving apparel.
Though he spent much of his career un-sponsored, he did get help with discounted racing sleds, parts and pieces from Kieffer & Plourde of Caribou. Since he had no garage he would utilize the Kieffer & Plourde shop in Caribou to work on his sled.
In the 70’s when Ski Doo first made the Blizzard sled for racing, Kieffer & Plourde ordered five, one for each racing class. They were highly selective about who got what. Peters ended up with the 640 version sold to him at cost.
“It was my sled but we ran it under their banner,” said Peters.
“In 1970 I had a relatively new 1966 car and a homemade trailer that I put my 1970 Blizzard on to go to race in the Paul Bunyan Open in Bangor at Bass Park.”
” There were a lot of sleds. I don’t remember exactly how many; I am guessing 400 or so sleds. I pulled in there and there were all those tractor trailers lined up. They had a mechanic or two for every sled or driver. Lionel Plourde was there. I said I can’t race against these guys. Look what I’ve got compared to what they have”
Lionel replied, “What do you mean? I going to tell you one thing young man. You get up in the morning and put your pants on one leg at a time just like they do. You are every bit as good as they are!”
Peters brought his sled out that Saturday for the qualifier races. “I went out on Saturday and did not qualify, ” said the County racer. “That night we kept our sleds at Timberland Machine’s garage. The Timberland team was there and Lionel asked if they had any studs and runners for the skis that we could get from them”.
“They said ‘nope we’re all out and we don’t have any more'”.
“He (Lionel) broke into their trailer after they left and they had bags of studs and all kinds of stuff. We didn’t know anything about putting them on but we got a drill and started to put holes in the track with studs.”
“We found some stuff to put under the skis and went out the next day. I had to run the consolation race to continue on to the feature. There were many in my class but I won the consolation race by over half lap after I had some rigging under me.”
The results of the consolation raised some eyebrows since the Peters sled could not qualify in day one. He really got their attention after the next couple heat races leading up to the feature.
“I won all the next heat races,” said Peters. “I think there were three which got me into the final”.
In the final Peters pulled out to almost a half lap lead until the second place racer Cal Reynolds of Gorham fell off his sled causing a red flag condition.
Peters filled in the details, “He fell off his sled so they stopped the race. Back then they restarted Indian file instead of side-by-side on the starting line. (In other words the number one sled started inside pole the number two sled would stay back one sled length to the pole sitter’s rear and likewise across the track to last where Reynolds would be for the green flag).”
“The flagman worked for Timberland and Reynolds sled was sponsored by Timberland,” Peters said with some hesitancy. “We went around the track and I came to the starting line. The flagman waved the red flag so I stopped.
The flagman said, “You are going too fast! You’ve got to slow down or I will throw you out of here.”
So I went back and slowed down and came up to the line and he threw the red flag again,” said the exasperated Peters!
“Look this is your last chance, ” said the flagman. “If you don’t slow down I am going to black flag you and take you off the track.”
“So I slowed way, way down,” said race leader Peters. The second place sled slowed down and almost stopped. When I got to the flagman Reynolds was going almost full bore on the outside and I was less than quarter throttle.”
“When Reynolds almost got to me, the flagman threw the green flag. So he got by me and I could never get by him again before the end of the race. I finished second”
“But I finished second to all those factory sleds. I thought that was quite a deal for a little guy with a single (un-sponsored) sled from Aroostook County.”
Ronnie Thibodeau of Caribou finished 5th on a Ski Doo in Class 5. Donnie Chandler of Mapleton finished 6th in Class 1 on a Ski Doo. George Cochran of Caribou on his Arctic Cat suffered a DNF in Class 5 while Leo Kieffer of Caribou finished 5th in Class 3 with a Ski Doo.
1972 A Year of Success on the Ovals and Good Bye to Racing…For Awhile
One of Peters most successful seasons was 1972 and his last as a regular snowmobile racer. House building, family, and job responsibilities did not allow spare time to repair and race sleds.
While checking on one of his accounts, Lynd Machine Shop in Houlton, Peters was discussing racing with the owner Willie Lynd. Lynn had a 1972 Blizzard 293 cc that was giving him fits. He could not make it run as well as he knew it was capable of running.
Lynd said, “Back your truck up to the door. You are going to take that with you.”
Having just bought his own Blizzard 640 Peters replied, “Willie I couldn’t afford one sled, I sure can’t afford that.”
Lynn had been around racing and had run against Peters prompting his response, “Did I say anything about money? You and Chandler (Donnie) see if you can get that running. If you get it running, you race it and bring me half the money you win with it.”
“Give me the sled back when you are done. All I ask is to just put my name on it.”
“We ran a lot of races and won a lot of races with it,” said Peters while reflecting back on the season. “Other than my first Blizzard that was probably the best, most winning sled I ran. In 1972 Ski Doo was the sled to beat.”
Local Woodstock Ski Doo snowmobile shop owner Red Buckingham was a racing enthusiast throwing his support behind many races including the one at Connell Park. He was tragically killed in a snowmobile accident in the winter of 1971.
Race organizer’s wanted to honor Buckingham by awarding one racer who exhibited good sportsmanship and good results at future Connell Park races.
In 1972 Peters was named the first winner of the Red Buckingham Memorial Trophy. He has the smaller version of the large trophy where future winners would be added. I am sure that Peters would like to know if anyone has that trophy.
Peters’ Cross Country Racing Adventures
Oval track racing was Peters favorite type of track, however, he also raced cross country style events. Cross country races in the late 60’s early 70’s was crude compared to the superbly groomed trails available now.
Most trails consisted of, at best, locally dragged trails or simply sleds running the pathway between line fences. Often time race trails simply had stakes with flags on them.
Such was the case in the Mill Outlet races that Peters ran in 1970 and ’71. Peters said the race began at the Mill Outlet store in Madawaska and finished at their Caribou store.
The course was marked with two stakes through which racers would travel between. If a racer saw three stakes next to one another that meant hard right turn or left turn with the direction not specified.
Thibodeau was in the lead when he came upon an area where there was supposed to be three stakes, however, someone had removed the center stake. Thibodeau flew through the air because the stakes were designating a 12 foot drop off.
Peters was hot on his trail and likewise flew into the air and thumped to the ground only inches behind the sled of Thibodeau. They both shook themselves off and since their sleds were unharmed put the throttle to the bar and sped out of there.
Since the teams were unsure of fuel consumption the Kieffer & Plourde team did a fuel stop for Thibodeau and Peters at the Sinclair end of Long Lake. Thibodeau arrived first and was refueling when Peters came into the pit area and was unable to stop and thumped the Thibodeau sled in the rear.
No one was injured nor were the sleds so both raced onto the final stop refueling at Little California in Stockholm but not before Peters had another incident.After leaving Long Lake he encountered a course worker on his snowmobile on a corner. The racers were moving so fast the workers mis-judged the time needed to get into position.
Without brakes and with no place to go Peters flew down an embankment. When he stopped he questioned his desire to continue, however, the sound of Thibodeau approaching spurred him into action.
Peters credited his upper body strength to wrestling oxy-acetylene tanks into and out of his truck as part of his job. This combined with a hefty dose of adrenaline got the sled back onto the trail. Surprisingly no major damage was done and the rest of the race which went without further major incidents.
Peters remarked that without brakes he bounced off the trees lining some of the “rabbit trails” he encountered on the home-stretch.
Thibodeau went on to win the race with Peters in second. Peters was so exhausted he could hardly move at the finish line.
In 1971 Peters won the Mill Outlet race and Thibodeau did not finish due to mechanical trouble.
The “Old Man” Still Has It
Peters was unable to race after the 1972 season as mentioned previous. He was convinced by T.W. Willard in 1976 to buy a Polaris for riding around his home on the Presque Isle Road, however, no racing took place until he heard about a race from WAGM-TV to Caribou High School.
Since he lived directly across the Caribou Road from the TV station that news caught his attention.
The day of the race he came home from work in the morning and told his wife he was going to the station to register.
Diane said, “You’re too old to be racing against those kids”.
“Well I will go out and show them how to race,” relied Peters.
After registering he returned home to get ready. Peters recalled,” I put my suit and helmet on and drove my sled into the field where the race was to start. I remember Reggie (Thibodeau) and the Haines boys (Danny and David) were there. They said,’What are you doing here? You gonna race?'”
The implications were clear that they and probably others felt Peters was too old to be competitive in this cross-country race. What they did not know was that after the announcement of the race unbeknownst to even his wife he began practicing the ride and picking the fast route to Caribou High School.
So it was with a little bit of quiet confidence that Peters replied to their quips, “Ya I guess I’ll ride over with you guys and see if I can stay with you.”
“We left here and I was in fourth or fifth place,” recalled Peters. “I knew the way. There was a place where you needed to go through the woods and through a whole bunch of farm machinery and I knew where to go.”
“I never let off the throttle and passed them all and never saw them again until the finish line at Caribou High School. It took me 14 minutes with that little 340 Polaris. The young fellers didn’t laugh at the old man then.”
As we approach the Motor Mayhem 2016 to be held at the Northern Maine Fairgrounds March 12, 2016, I plan to feature the rebuild of the sled featured on the cover of last week’s episode.
Peters lives in Presque Isle with his wife of 52 years, Diane. They have four adult children Jennifer, Lisa, Carmen, and Thomas II. He asked that anyone with information about sleds with USSA numbers 4074 or 1955 contact him at 207.764.3440.
WAR and Austin at Expo
The Northeast Motorsports Expo at the Augusta Civic Center was the place to be for motorsports fans from the central part of Maine. The very popular event featured race track displays as well as vendors from throughout Maine.
The Wyatt Alexander Racing (WAR) team took advantage of the opportunity to debut their 2016 Super Late Model Toyota Camry. They were part of the AR Bodies display.
Fort Kent’s Austin Theriault made an appearance courtesy of EJ Prescott Racing. He was able to fly in for Saturday evening and Sunday morning. He discussed current plans and provided photo ops for fans.
Red Bull Frozen Rush at Sunday River
The third annual Frozen Rush downhill race for Pro 4 Off-Road trucks took place Friday at Sunday River in Bethel. This is the only off road snow course race for Pro 4 trucks in the nation. Crowds were estimated around 10,000 to watch the nine truck field.
The winners had to work their way through eliminations where two trucks would race down the slopes very similar to slalom racers on skis except with 900 horsepower at their disposal.
The top three finishers were the same as in 2015. Third place Rob MacCachren, second place went to Ricky Johnson who won the inaugural event in 2014, and first place went to Bryce Menzies for the second year in a row.
Thanks to Jason Brackett of Iron Oak Studios. He is the writer and photographer at My Life at Speed who captured these images at the event. You may also see video highlights at Red Bulls Frozen Rush website.
Next Week Drag Racer From the County, Gene Cyr
Due to the extra length of this week’s blog I bumped the Gene Cyr story to next week. Stay tuned! Until then…
Let’s go racing,
Soli Deo Gloria