As Memorial Day Weekend approached, Andy Gregoire was riding a wave of momentum in the Quick 16 IHRA weekly drag racing class at Dunn Tire Raceway Park.
Buoyed by a win and two seconds in the first four races, Gregoire, a five-time track champion, figured to be a prime candidate to add a sixth title to his racing resume.
Yet when the drag racing fraternity gathered at the park May 25, Gregoire was not there. Instead, he was sitting on the rim of the Grand Canyon with his wife Maureen and their children Kelly, 9, and Jason, 7, enjoying a family vacation.
Such is the racing philosophy of Gregoire. The only thing more important than a championship to him is his growing family. He turned the car over to his brother Dennis Gregoire for the night and headed west.
Dennis had never driven the team's 2004 Uni-Select Auto Plus sponsored Chevy before and lost in the first round in a very close race with Pete Maduri Jr.
After last Friday's rainout, Gregoire will resume his title quest this Friday. He holds a slim 10-point lead over Joe Passero, 310-300, in the Quick 16 standings. Dave Lawler is also in the hunt with 280 points. Others are not far behind.
"I've been doing this for a long time, about 22 years, so it's important to do things with my family," said Gregoire, 44. "It's especially important because they're younger but they will be growing up so fast and I need to share all this with my wife too."
Of Gregoire's five titles at the raceway, two were in the Quick 16, two in the former Super Pro and one in the former Super Gas classes.
Passero has a pair of wins in Quick 16 this season, but he also missed a week of racing. Other Quick 16 winners in 2012 have been Lawler and Mark Talmadge, the defending Quick 16 champion.
"It's been a tough battle in Quick 16 this year," Gregoire said. "Joe (Passero) is a veteran who travels to many tracks. You look at the other veterans in this class such as Dave Lawler and Mike Swinarski. I mean, Mike just got back into the class and he's good. I don't know if Mark Talmadge will be there every week but he's the defending champion and he's won in so many divisions over the years."
Mechanical preparation, which includes having the engine running well, was identified by Gregoire as the prime reason his team is off to such a fast start.
"Over the winter we freshened the engine with Tom's Performance and it's paid off," he said. "I told the team that when the season starts we need to go out there with good car mechanical preparation. People are going to make mistakes. I've made mistakes but you never want to lose because something went wrong with the car and it was a lack of car preparation that caused it."
Each week, the quickest eight open body cars (with center steering) and the eight quickest door cars (left side steering) make up the Quick 16 field.
"I love the class because where else in drag racing is there a weekly class where all the cars have engines that make at least 1,000 horsepower and run in the 4-second range," Gregoire said. "My car produces about 1,200 horsepower and makes it down the one-eighth mile strip in about 4.80 to 4.90 seconds.
"We have been a little short on cars but we had 17 cars last week trying to make the 16 car field and I know other racers that will be out shortly, and then trying to qualify for the field will be much tougher."
*Eden's George Skora III won the rain-shortened TBRA Late Model 100 Saturday night before a very large crowd of 5,501 at Lake Erie Speedway. The remainder of the top six in the race, which was called official after rains ended the event on lap 86, were all Western New Yorkers including, in order: Jeff Brown, Hamburg; Dave Heitzhaus, Strykersville; Sam Fullone, Hamburg; Scott Skora, Eden; and Bobby Weber, Clarence Center.
Twenty Late Models took the green flag.
*Andy Jankowiak, the NASCAR Pro Modified point leader at Holland NASCAR Motorsports Complex, made the switch from asphalt to dirt Saturday when Holland was rained out. Jankowiak took his dirt track Sportsman car to Raceway 5, where he finished third in the Sportsman main event behind veterans John Venuto and George Bosse. While a veteran on asphalt, Jankowiak is a rookie this season in dirt track Sportsman competition.
*Chris Steele, who joined the Pete Cosco owned team this season, won the 358 Modified feature Saturday at Merrittville Speedway. It was the first ever 358 Modified victory for Cosco. Cosco owns Humberstone Speedway. Rob Murray collected his fourth Merrittville Hoosier Stock win of the year while Rocco Conte now has a trio of Mini Stock wins this season at the Thorold, Ont., dirt track facility.
*After coming very close on a few occasions, Jason Dupont finally scored his first career Little Valley Speedway Super Late Model feature race victory during the track's season opener last Sunday.
"We've been snake-bitten so many times," said Dupont. "I'm just happy to break the curse. It means a lot. We've been here since the day they opened (1997). We've been decent but it means a lot to finally get one here. This is the highlight of my career."
Randy Hall won the E-Mod main event.