Small In Name Only: Northeast Mini Stock Tour Continues Pattern Of Accelerated Growth

It was an idea that had many around the racing scene in New England scratching their heads in wonderment five years ago.

Northeast Mini Stock Tour founder Bob Guptill on the flag stand at a recent event at Lee USA Speedway (Photo: Leif Tillotson/ Leif Tillotson Photography)

A traveling tour of Mini Stock cars? It didn’t make sense, Mini Stocks were supposed to be the low cost end of weekly racing at short tracks, not a Touring division.

Even the guy who was behind what many were calling a crazy idea wasn’t exactly overflowing with faith that it was something that could ever be successful, or even last.

“I really didn’t think it was going to work,” Northeast Mini Stock tour founder Bob Guptill said. “Nobody thought it was going to work. We all laughed at it at the start. I kind of planned the thing figuring the next year I’d be back racing at Oxford [Plains Speedway] again and the tour would be gone. But it kind of took off and it made a lot of people excited about Mini Stock racing.”

This weekend the Northeast Mini Stock Tour makes it inaugural visit to Stafford Motor Speedway as part of the track’s 42nd Spring Sizzler weekend. The division is scheduled to run a 25-lap feature as part of the Saturday schedule of features at the two day Sizzler, which concludes Sunday.

Hitting the half-mile oval at Stafford marks a major milestone for the division which began in 2009 with a six-race schedule and a mere nine cars showing up for the first event ever at Canaan Fair Speedway in Canaan, N.H.

This season the division has 12 races scheduled, including events at all three short tracks in Connecticut, Stafford, Thompson International Speedway and the Waterford Speedbowl. The division will also visit Thunder Road SpeedBowl in Barre, Vt. for the first time in 2013.

The series opened its 2013 season with a 24-car field competing at Lee USA Speedway in Lee, N.H. on April 14. The event at Stafford is the second race on the schedule.

“Going to Stafford is huge for us,” Guptill said. “And also we can now say we’ve raced or will race in every New England state with a race track. Conquering Connecticut and having races there at all three [short tracks] is huge, especially kicking things off for Connecticut this year at Stafford. And conquering New England is pretty big too.”

If You Build It …

The 28-year old Guptill, a Lewiston, Me. native, began competing in Enduro events when he was 14 years old. At 16 he began racing in more organized low end weekly racing.

After graduating from the University of Northwestern Ohio in December 2005, he began competing in the Mini Stock division at Oxford Plains Speedway in Oxford, Me. in 2006.

He competed in a Mini Stock full-time at the track through the 2008 season, earning a reputation as someone not be messed with on the track.

“I had 18 black flag penalties in 2008 for rough driving,” Guptill said. “I was the type of guy that if you touched me, I touched you back and if you couldn’t handle that, shame on you. I built all my own cars, I built all my own motors, I didn’t really give a [crap] if something happened to them because I could fix it all myself.”

In 2007 Guptill participated in the first Four Cylinders Nationals event put on by promoter Gary Sagar at Beech Ridge Motor Speedway in Scarborough, Me. He returned to participate in the event in 2008 and born was the idea of a touring division for Mini Stock cars.

The Northeast Mini Stock Tour in action in their season opening event on April 14 at Lee USA Speedway (Photo: Leif Tillotson/Leif Tillotson Photography)

“I’ve always been kind of into the business side of stuff,” Guptill said. “My parents have always owned their own businesses. I’ve always had that kind of environment around me. I loved racing and I still love racing. I went to school to build cars and I love to build cars and I would do that in a heartbeat, but there just wasn’t work out there. I was putting out my own stuff for a while called Hypnotic Automotive Specialties, building chassis. I built half a dozen cars, they all went good and they’re still around, but it never made enough to pay the bills.”

In addition to Canaan Fair Speedway, the division also visited Speedway 95 in Bangor, Me., Wiscasset (Me.) Speedway, Lee USA Speedway in Lee, N.H., White Mountain Speedway in North Woodstock, N.H. and Beech Ridge in 2009. The Beech Ridge event on the schedule was the Four Cylinder Nationals event. Of the other five events that year, none attracted more than 16 cars, but interest rose throughout the New England racing scene as the season progressed.

“I put over $10,000 into the tour that first year,” Guptill said. “The way I got into the tracks, I had called the tracks and didn’t charge them anything to show up. I just came and put on my shows and I would pay the purse myself. And then I’d call the tracks like a week later and ask them if they could give us a couple hundred bucks for putting on the show. So all the purses came out of my pocket to start with.”

In 2010 the schedule jumped from six to nine events, including a visit to Thompson Speedway, the division’s first foray into Connecticut. The Waterford Speedbowl was part of a nine-event schedule in 2011. In 2012 the schedule reached 10 races with an average car count of 24 for those events.

“I’m real proud of what’s it become,” Guptill said. “I see it [written about] and I do a lot of [media appearances] and it’s helped me a lot. It’s made me feel like it’s actually something. I walk around the pit area at tracks and people come up to me and they know who I am because of what I’m doing with this and that’s pretty cool. They know what I’ve done and accomplished.

“I was at [a racing trade show] over the winter in Indianapolis and there was a guy that owned a dirt track in Alabama that came up to me and said he had heard about what we were doing with the Northeast Mini Stock Tour. Somebody from Alabama with a dirt track that knew about what we were doing here with this and had heard about it? That was just really cool for me to hear that.”

Danny Field of Deep River, a former regular at Waterford and Thompson, was the 2012 Northeast Mini Stock Tour champion. Field is one of a number of former Thompson and Waterford regulars now competing regularly in the series.

Glen Thomas Jr. of Groton, a former regular in the X-Car division, part of the Wacky Wednesday program at Waterford, is running his first full-time season with the Northeast Mini Stock Tour in 2013.

“I like the fact that you can bring a whole different car than everyone else has,” said Thomas, who races in a Nissan 240. “Like my car has fuel injection compared to the Mustangs with the carburetor. You have a whole wide range of vehicles, from Volkswagen’s to Fords and Chevy’s and Nissan’s and Toyota’s and even still, it always seems to be real close at the end of all the races no matter what different types of cars there are in the division.”

Sizzling At Stafford

Stafford Speedway has been a facility where Guptill has been trying to find a way through the gates since early in his Tour’s growing process. Guptill said he had been talking to Stafford Speedway general manager and CEO Mark Arute for more than two years before they came to an agreement on putting on the 2013 event late last year.

The Northeast Mini Stock Tour in action in their season opening event on April 14 at Lee USA Speedway (Photo: Leif Tillotson/Leif Tillotson Photography)

Stafford held it’s only other Mini Stock race in the track’s history as part of its Fall Final program in 2009.

“He seems to be running a good show,” Arute said. “We didn’t want to take [Mini Stocks] on ourselves as far as managing the people. Back [in 2009] when we did it was I was disappointed with the turnout of the Mini Stocks. It was less than impressive. I kind of really didn’t see anything there that I liked. Now [Guptill] has really organized it and he seems to be a good manager of the division and I figured we’d give them a shot.”

In 2009 at Stafford, Chad Baxter of Pascoag, R.I. spun Joe Kendall of Winchendon, Mass. out of the lead on the final lap to win the 15-lap Mini Stock feature. The day ended with much controversy surrounding the finish on the track and some off of it with drivers in the pits, leaving a sour taste for the division for Arute.

“The biggest hurdle that we faced was giving them a good car count, but beyond the car count, they want to know you’re going to put on a good show,” Guptill said. “So they’ve reviewed a lot of shows to make sure we’re putting on quality shows. Beyond that was the Mini Stock race they held in 2009 had a lot of controversy around it.

“I had heard that they vowed they would never have another Mini Stock race there again. To get a family to overcome those thoughts and hold a Mini Stock race again, to me that’s pretty huge.”

Said Thomas: “It’s really cool. … It’s like a really prestigious track for us, the most prestigious track in the Northeast in my opinion. There’s only been one real Mini Stock race there. To be part of the first ever organized Mini Stock Tour race there is a pretty cool experience.”

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