When Racing Legend Meets Future Legend Good Things Happen

Episode #194

January 8, 2017

L to r Erny "The Flying Frenchman" Levesque meets Austin Theriault at Forest Hill Manor, Fort Kent, Maine HTF Motorsports photo

L to r Erny “The Flying Frenchman” Levesque meets Austin Theriault at Forest Hill Manor, Fort Kent, Maine HTF Motorsports photo

Early Spud Speedway Legend Meets With Modern Era Racer

What we know about a racer’s public life may not always reflect all that makes him or her a person. A classic example is Fort Kent’s Austin Theriault.

Yes, you may know that he is pursuing his dream on the big stage in NASCAR, however, that is only a part of what makes this young man tick. Much of what happens out of the public eye defines the nature of the man from the County.

One example was Theriault’s enthusiastic response to meeting a fellow Spud Speedway racer who dates back to the beginning of the Caribou racetrack, Erny “The Flying Frenchman” Levesque of St. David.

You may recall that Levesque will be inducted into the Maine Motorsports Hall of Fame April 15, 2017. Due to health concerns he is now a resident of Forest Hill Manor in Fort Kent.

While home on a two-week Christmas break Theriault took the time to meet with Levesque at Forest Hills. After a brief introduction, Theriault checked his cell phone and put it away dedicating full attention to the Spud Speedway legend Levesque.

Sometimes younger folks get distracted when visiting older folks who may repeat their stores of illness or tell about the good old days. Not so with Theriault. It may be his love for history, I am not sure, but he asked many questions of the elderly man seated across from him. Those questions seemed to draw stories out of the colorful memory bank of “The Flying Frenchman”.

Erny told of some exploits when he raced at Spud Speedway when it opened in 1964. It seemed fitting that fellow St. John Valley native Theriault and he had in common the same track albeit with a 50 year separation.

Levesque told about running a large racing slick on the right front with a truck hub to withstand cornering forces. The other three tires had to be street tires and rims. This large right front tire/rim combination gave the race cars a raked look which one may notice when studying race cars from that era of the track’s history.

The zoomie stacks sticking through the hood of the Jade East sponsored Chevy spit fire into the night when the driver backed off for the corners. Somewhat different from the side or rear exits on Theriault’s race cars.

When asked about his plans for 2017, Theriault answered the elder driver that plans were still being firmed up for the season and there were no announcements of definite plans to be presented at that time. Levesque remarked that he would love to have Theriault accompany him to the Hall of Fame ceremony in April.

With all plans still in the formative stage there was no way Theriault could assure Erny of attending the Hall of Fame Ceremony which was understandable. Theriault said he would love to see fellow St. John Valley and  Spud Speedway driver Levesque get inducted.

The time had passed quickly and both Theriault and I needed to leave but not without the young man signing the back of Erny’s motorized chair which he uses to visit others who may need to be cheered up at Forest Hills.

The back of Levesque's motorized scooter which was autographed by Theriault. Unfortunately the photo was taken before the autograph was added to the upper left corner of the  banner. You may notice the car does not carry the #29 that Levesque's cars were known for. HTF Motorsports photo

The back of Levesque’s motorized scooter which was autographed by Theriault. Unfortunately the photo was taken before the autograph was added to the upper left corner of the banner. You may notice the car does not carry the #29 that Levesque’s cars were known for. HTF Motorsports photo

Before departing Levesque said, “You have made my day visiting me here Austin. Come again anytime you are home.”

Before leaving Theriault signed a couple of autographs for folks who were fans of his. He said this about “The Flying Frenchman”, ” I was happy to spend time with him. Sad I didn’t know about him sooner when he was healthier and able to get around more.”

It was great to see the young man from the Valley display his care for others in such a positive manner. I know he always takes the time to honor his grandparents when home and credits much of his demeanor to that of his grandfather, Richard. So keep up the good work and positive attitude. It will pay off in the long run no matter what happens career-wise.

Northern Maine Antique Tractor Club Prepares Annual Giveaway Tractor

Northern Maine Antique Tractor Club members Phil Kilcollins, Wayne Sweeter, Joe Cheney, Ray Walton, Norm Driscoll, Richard Carter, Charlie Currier, and Danny Raymond work on the club's 2017 tractor raffle project. Unfortunately I do not have the correct left to right name identification at publication time. The Flying Farmer photo

Northern Maine Antique Tractor Club members Phil Kilcollins, Wayne Sweeter, Joe Cheney, Ray Walton, Norm Driscoll, Richard Carter, Charlie Currier, and Danny Raymond work on the club’s 2017 antique tractor raffle project. Unfortunately I do not have the correct left to right name identification at publication time. The Flying Farmer photo

Each year for the past several years the Northern Maine Antique Tractor Club has restored a tractor for raffling near the end of each calendar year. This year’s example is a 1958 Farmall 230 purchased in the Augusta area.

The Club sells raffle tickets throughout the year at their tractor pulls as well as many other shows and parades. Tickets are a dollar apiece or six for five dollars. The drawing typically is in November.

Last weekend the crew removed the hydraulics and cleaned the system throughly, and reassembled it. The wiring harness was removed and will be replaced with new. Once the tractor is ready to paint it is shipped to Caldwells in Limestone for painting.

The group hopes to have this tractor ready for the Agribusiness Trade Show at the Presque Isle Forum in early spring. Funds raised stay in the County for organizations which cater to the elderly and cancer patients.

Snow Bike

The snow bike which will be on display and available for demo rides on  Feb 5 at Houlton Moosestomper Days. Photo provided by Last Chance Motorsports

The snow bike which will be on display and available for demo rides on Feb 4 at Houlton Moosestomper Days. Photo provided by Last Chance Motorsports

Jere Humphrey, promoter of the “Tame the Track” SnoX races in Houlton February 6 wanted to update the readers on the SnowBikes mentioned last episode.

According to Humphrey, “[Moto Trax] is a company that sells conversion kits for dirtbikes that makes them into snowbikes. They are bringing 5 KTM 450 bikes with conversion kits for people to ‘try out'”.

“They travel all over the US to offer this new and upcoming design. The article last week was regarding the “Tame the Track” SnoX  is a planned race. The Last Chance Demo Day with Moto Trax is Saturday, February 4th from 10 am thru 3pm. The SnoX race is Sunday  February 5th at 11 am.”

“[I] thought where most people in the area have never heard of, nor seen, [Moto Trax] it would be ‘cool’ to be able to take for a spin, at NO charge.”

A Paul Newman Story

A few weeks ago I introduced you to Doug Milliken from California and reviewed his award-winning book. I want to close today with a story he shared with me about Paul Newman that I found interesting. These are Milliken’s words:

Interactions with “Old Blue Eyes”

Paul Newman was part owner of Newman-Haas Racing in the Champ Car World Series, aka Championship Auto Racing Teams, or “CART.” His team was using Ford- Cosworth race engines at a time when my team supplied the turbochargers to Cosworth Racing.

Paul was obsessive about racing in general, and an accomplished race driver in his own right. In the year 2000 he was 75 years old, so his years of competitive driving were fading, but he still competed in Grand Am sports cars as late as 2003, five years before his death from cancer.

Around 1999 Paul’s personal mechanic contacted me to see if we could rebuild a turbocharger on one of his historic race cars, a Nissan 300 ZX Turbo. This car produced over 900 horsepower and he loved to drive it just for fun.

Paul lived in Connecticut, and would rent the Lime Rock race circuit from time to time to tool around the track in race cars from his personal collection. So his mechanic shipped the turbo from this car to our facility, and we rebuilt it.

It was an expensive rebuild because parts of the turbocharger were custom, and obsolete in 1999. But we did it, because he is Paul Newman.

After I returned the freshly rebuilt turbo, his mechanic called to see what was the bill. I told him I had no way to invoice Mr. Newman because he was not a registered customer, we only sell to commercial customers, and I could not accept cash, so tell him it’s on us.

The mechanic called back a couple of days later and said Mr. Newman appreciates the service, and wants to pay for your expert and custom services in some way. So I told him, how about if he signs a half-dozen of his blue-eyed movie star photos for the ladies in our office, and sign them “With all my love, Paul.”

He said he would check with Mr. Newman and get back with me. He called back again and said Mr. Newman would be happy to sign as many photos as I would like, but he was not comfortable with expressing “all my love” to strange women.

So I gave him the names of the ladies in our office, and he mailed them each a personal autographed photo. And that constituted payment-in-full.

In April of 2000, the Long Beach Grand Prix rolled into my hometown. I lived only ten minutes from the race circuit, and I could hear the faint scream of race engines off in the distance sitting in my living room.

I took my 17-year-old daughter to see Paul Newman’s newest movie, titled “Where the Money is.” The movie was OK, but I was disappointed in it because it was a terrible message for my teenage daughter. It was the romanticized story of a loveable bank robber who was sentenced to a long-term in prison. He had a massive heart attack, and during the recovery, he faked dementia in order to get assigned to medical facilities, which were easy to break out of. So he broke out, and he and his girlfriend went on a wild life of crime sprees and excitement. End of story.

At the time I thought, really? Crime pays? I had to have a talk about it with my daughter.

On Thursday evening of race weekend I went to the Rock Bottom Brewery near the city street race circuit and sat at the bar in my uniform shirt that had my name and “Garrett Turbochargers” logo on it. I did this almost every year because I usually met interesting people from the race teams this way.

Most team members are in town and checked into their hotels by Thursday of race weekend, and many gravitate to the bars on Thursday evening. Practice begins Friday morning, so many of these same people do not have the opportunity to bar hop once the cars start running. They are too busy then.

In 2000 the guy sitting next to me at the bar said something like “You’re from Garrett Turbos? Do you know how I can get in contact with your racetrack support engineer?”

And I replied “You are sitting next to him.”

“Oh, great. I am with Newman-Haas Racing, and this morning Mr. Newman asked the crew that if they see that Garrett engineer roaming around, please tell him I want to speak with him, and to check in with the Newman-Haas hospitality hostess to arrange a meeting.

So on Friday I checked in with the Newman-Hass hospitality hostess and she gave me a time to return. I came back and told the hostess I was here for my appointment to speak with Mr. Newman. She led me to his table, and he seemed happy to meet me, and we talked about turbos briefly. Then he revealed the reason he had summoned me.

He said he really loved his pet Nissan 300ZX, it’s a real kick in the ass. But he was having difficulties keeping the obsolete and very complex car running. I knew about the issues servicing the turbo, but he said he had similar difficulties servicing the engine and other components, and he wanted my opinion whether he should just turn her into a museum show car and buy a modern naturally aspirated Trans-Am car to have fun tooling around Lime Rock.

My answer was – your call, but I am sure we can keep your turbo working properly in the long-term. As far as the engine, have you talked to Clayton Cunningham in El Segundo, Ca? Paul snapped back “Hell no, I don’t know anybody. I live in a bubble.”

Ok, sorry I asked. On parting, I mentioned I had just seen the premier of his new movie, and he caught me off guard when he asked “How did you like it?” with a big smile below those baby blues.

I didn’t expect him to ask me what I thought of his movie and I wasn’t prepared, so without thinking I auto-responed “It was OK.” But the way I said those three words was with the emphasis tailing off, you know so that “It was OK” really meant “It was mediocre.”

I felt bad, and immediately had regret that I didn’t lie to him and just tell him that it was great! I mumbled something about crime pays and left quickly. The movie critics agreed with me. “Where the Money is” received a 46% rating out of 100 on the “Tomatometer” at Rotten Tomatoes, and 34% of the audiences surveyed said they liked it in movie exit polling.

Later that weekend I was in the hot pits during Saturday qualifying, and when the session ended I pushed my way through a crowd back toward the garage area. In the crowd I saw Paul Newman on a scooter trying to get back to his hospitality area, and moving smartly whenever possible to try to avoid fans trying to start-up conversations.

He saw a slight hole and went for it, and a woman stepped in front of him, not seeing his advancing scooter, and he hit her. He jumped off and apologized profusely to the woman, checking to see if she was OK.

The lady looked up in pain, and when she saw who hit her she said “That’s quite alright. You can run over me anytime Paul!” The crowd emitted a collective laugh. She was fine and everyone went about their business.

 

Coverage of the Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona Coming in A Couple Weeks

I am following closely the results of IMSA’s preview “The Roar Before The 24″ with 54 cars entering the trial this weekend. Loads of material on performance results or the lack thereof. Too much to tell you this week.

Let’s go racing,

Tom Hale

Soli Deo Gloria

 

 

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.