October 1, 2017
The reality of racing Pro Stock
When I first met the Messer family (Robb & Penny and their son Ryan) from Harvey, New Brunswick I was mowing the infield grass at Spud Speedway in Caribou. They were at the track to get in some practice laps before their Atlantic Modified race the next day.
I had to work on another project and Penny offered to assist me in preparing the track by finishing mowing the infield while Robb and Ryan worked on the race car in the pits. She donned her hearing protectors and proceeded to do a great job.
I offered her a job as my assistant groundskeeper, however, she did not think the commute from Harvey would make economic sense.
Since that time I have followed the racing career of Ryan in Atlantic Modifieds, Late Model Sportsman, and then Pro Stocks this season. I have been impressed with the perseverance and dedication show by this small team which usually has Robb, Penny, Ryan, and one of Ryan’s high school friends working during the week to prepare for the weekend races.
I jokingly call the RYAN Motorsports garage the Maritime Penske shop. It is immaculate with clean floors, bright walls, organized tool storage, a car lift, and well-lit.
I noticed from the get go that the Messer operation was not your typical racing team. The parts of the race car were clean and the truck and tow rig were spotless. Maybe Robb is obsessed with clean, I am unsure, however it is nice to see such a well run outfit.
Some comments that Penny Messer made in her July 31, 2017 Facebook post seem to sum up what happens with this small stock car racing team, She said, “I know every week I say how proud I am of my guys..but this week I really mean it!”
“I wish people in the stands could experience the life of a racer and his crew for just one week. Especially, a three-man crew!”
“I look around the pits and see teams every week with 6 or 7 members and think wow..that’s awesome. And then I look at our team. A boy and his dad working on the car every single night and a terrific friend spending his Saturday doing everything they can to compete with those teams.”
“You guys rock! You never give up, you try new things, you learn from your mistakes and you’re not too proud to ask for advice.”
The rookie showed he belonged in the Pro Stock class at Speedway 660. Despite only being 16 and in the top class at the Geary Woods track, he took the feature June 18 and finished well in competition all season long. He was named the Pro Stock Rookie of the Year.
The capstone to RYAN Motorsports season had to be the season finale, the McLaughlin Trusses 250. Young Messer by virtue of his heat race win earlier in the day, started from the pole position.
From his pole position, Messer did fine until a spin late in the race put him a lap down. He finished 11th one lap down just behind veteran racer and former winner of this race, Presque Isle’s Kirk Thibeau. Cassius Clark won the 17th annual event.
Racing is expensive, especially in the top divisions. At season end the Messer family had some tough choices to make about the 2018 season. After discovering that Ryan was certainly capable of competing in the Pro Stock division, the family decided to campaign their Late Model Sportsman in 2018.
The interesting part of the decision was that not a single complaint came from any Messer family member. They were extremely grateful for the opportunities presented to them in 2017.
Robb commented that, ” I just don’t think we can afford to purchase and campaign a competitive Pro Stock on our budget. We hope to return to the class at some point, but just not sure when or how. … we know we are capable of running at that level”
Engine builder, Richard “Dick” McNeal
One of the characteristics that fascinates me about long-time friend and crew chief for me this year, Richard “Dick” McNeal, is his ability to make some interesting devices. He owned C & M Bike in Caribou for many years. He made a living selling and repairing bicycles.
It was always a delight to see some of his clever workarounds when it came to bicycles. Inevitably if he had time he would bring me to the back room of his small shop where he would be putting together a chrome-moly version of a road or off-road high performance bicycle.
These bicycles were some of the finest and fastest. They also were very limited editions, usually only one or two at most.
Dick is a Caribou High School (1967) and University of Maine at Orono graduate (Class of 1971 at UMO). He majored in Agriculture Mechanization while at Orono. He returned to northern Maine where he and I team taught the agriculture courses at Caribou High School in the mid 1970’s.
After getting done at Caribou High School, McNeal went to Southern Maine Vocational Technical Institute (now Southern Maine Community College) in Portland. He majored in Machining at the tech school under the instruction of Mr. Hewitt who McNeal considered brilliant in his field of expertise.
McNeal mentioned that his former instructor had recently passed away, which saddened him since he had a lot of respect for Hewitt who learned his trade at Bath Iron Works and the railroad.
While at SMVTI, he did work-study in the welding shop which became very important to him throughout his career. He credited Houlton native John Donovan and Mr. Shaw, who was from Perth Andover, New Brunswick with teaching him much of what he knows about welding.
McNeal racked his brain, yet was unable to remember Mr. Shaw or Mr. Hewitt’s first names. I remarked that it was great that he was able to remember their last names since this dated back to 1980-81. That tells me he had a great deal of respect for those men.
McNeal currently lives in Presque Isle and works for R.L. Todd Electrical in Caribou, Maine as a mechanic. He keeps their fleet of vehicles running and on occasion does fabrication work for the company.
And that brings to the main point of this episode, McNeal’s excursions into scratch building engines. I have rebuilt dozens of engines in my career, however, not once did I build an engine from piles of different metals.
You can see that the above engines are scale model aircraft engines. The total length of both engines is less that one foot. Using only some rudimentary plans, McNeal built these engines.
When asked how many engines he has built, McNeal replied, “Ten or so. My most challenging were the 1/4 scale Offenhauser Indy Car engine and a three cylinder aircraft engine.”
“I got it (the aircraft engine) all done and nothing fit, it wouldn’t fit. I either made the cylinder or connecting rod with the wrong dimensions or it could have been the planetary gears I made for the inside portion of that engine.”
“I could have bought the planetary gears, however, I wanted to make them. That did not work.”
“The number of hours is hard to figure,” said McNeal. “I work on them for a while, then put them aside for another more pressing project. I probably have about 100 hours in each engine. The set-up is what takes the time not necessarily the machining.”
McNeal loaned a couple of engines to me for a photo shoot. I hope to get some of the other engines for future episodes. The above two-cycle diesel engine uses compression to ignite the fuel. The fuel is an interesting combination of 3 parts ether, two parts castor oil, and three parts kerosene with a small amount of cetane booster thrown into the mix.
“I do not usually even try to get the engines running,” quipped McNeal. “I enjoy making them, not running them.
I hope if he decides to get the diesel engine running he invites me over. The engine is based on a World War II design developed in Europe when fuel quantity and quality was a problem. It uses the compression to adjust timing similar to the early adjustable spark ignition on Model T Fords.
“I built all of my engines using a lathe, milling machine, rotary table and dividing head,” said McNeal. ” I also utilize a dial indicator especially when making gears.”
If anyone in the Aroostook County area scratch builds engines like McNeal, I would be interested in visiting them. He does not own any CNC machines to make parts, in fact he does not have a computer; imagine that.
BAS Wins Another Track Championship
Presque Isle’s Bryan Searles wrapped up his second track championship for 2017, this time at Thundering Valley Raceway in St. Albans, Maine. After winning the 30 lap Fall Shoot-Out he was awarded the title.
Searles had previously won the Junior Cage Kart class at Spud Speedway and was named Sportsman of the Year by the Northern Maine Karting Association.
After 35 straight feature race wins, Damian Theriault’s streak comes to an end
If it were not for an extremely rare chain guard breaking, I suspect Caribou’s Damian Theriault would have continued his winning ways. In the Fall Shoot Out at Thundering Valley Raceway, Damian had the lead until six laps from the end when his chain guard broke and locked up the clutch putting him out of the race.
Despite having his winning streak come to an end, Damian Theriault succeeded in capturing his fourth track championship in 2017. It takes many hours of meticulous preparation to finish all races without a DNF. To win all but one makes him worthy of the championships.
WAR back in action
Wyatt Alexander Racing will be back in action for the final time this season at Wiscasset Speedway for their Fall Fury October 7 starting at noon. Alexander, who is a freshman at the University of North Carolina Charlotte majoring in mechanical engineering with an emphasis on motorsports, will be in the family #96 Super Late Model.
Caribou’s Jesse Michaud plans to be at the race as part of the Wicked Good Vintage Racers portion of the program.
Best wishes to both teams with County connections.
Let’s Go Racing,
Soli Deo Gloria