April 21, 2018
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Unity Raceway to hold Phippen race on Aug. 27

By Larry Mahoney, BDN Staff

Another memorial race to honor the late John Phippen will be held at Unity Raceway on Aug. 27 beginning at 6 p.m.

The popular Town Hill race car driver collapsed and died of a heart attack in his trailer following a 100-lap race at Hermon’s Speedway 95 in September.

The John Phippen Memorial Late Model 100 was held at Speedway 95 on July 21 and it was won by Mike Hopkins of Hermon.

The Unity race, according to Wally Gibbons, the race promoter, will be called the Big John 59 and it will be a 58-lap Late Model race.

Phippen drove car No. 59.

George Fernald Jr., who leases Unity Raceway from Ralph and Nancy Nason, said the race has “come together really fast and really well.”

The primary sponsor, according to Gibbons, is John Linnehan from the Good News Center in Ellsworth. He was also the main sponsor of the race at Speedway 95.

“John makes things happen. He wants to make people happy,” said Gibbons.

Gibbons said they have already secured sponsors for every lap and drivers who lead a lap will receive from $50 to $150 per lap. It will vary per lap.

The race winner will pocket $1,000, although Gibbons expect that figure to rise as the purse money increases with additional sponsorship.

There were 13 Late Model cars at the Phippen Memorial at Speedway 95, but the rules pertaining to the cars will be relaxed for the Unity race.

Cars at the Speedway 95 race had to have Koni shock absorbers. That is required for the Saturday night Late Model regulars at Speedway 95.

Fernald said they can use any shocks they want at Unity “as long as they don’t cost more than $175 per shock.”

Fernald said they will accommodate any Late Models that want to run the Big John 59. Any car that doesn’t meet the requirements will be assessed a weight penalty.

Fernald said he respects and likes Speedway 95 co-owner Del Merritt and completely understands Merritt’s reasoning for wanting to stick to the track rules pertaining to shocks in order to appease the regulars at his track.

“Del did what he felt he needed to do for his race and I’m doing what I feel I have to do for my race,” said Fernald.

Gibbons had raised money for the Speedway 95 race, but he said he returned the money to the sponsors when Merritt wouldn’t relax the Koni shocks requirement.

Gibbons said Linnehan has close to $4,000 invested in the race.

In addition to his sponsorship money, Linnehan has put up money to raffle off a package including two tickets and $140 spending money to the Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on Sept. 25, two $100 bills to paying fans in the grandstands and five $100 bills to paying fans in the pits with the lucky numbers.

As the result of his sponsorship, Linnehan will be allowed to preach before the race.

Fernald said Gibbons has been the driving force behind the race.

“It wouldn’t have happened without him,” said Fernald, who said he helped Gibbons obtain sponsors along with Ed Bellows and Mike Gulliver.

Gibbons, who considered Phippen one of his idols, said there will also be an auction for the right to drop the green flag for the race and to wave the checkered flag at the end of the race.

“The bidding will start at $259 apiece,” said Gibbons, who will continue trying to line up more sponsors.

Gibbons said the Wicked Good Vintage Racing League has bought Phippen’s backup car and will restore it for use as the pace car.

After lap 58 is completed, the winner will be given the checkered flag, get out of his car and run around Phippen’s backup car to emulate Phippen’s victory celebrations.

Gibbons also said a wreath will be presented by Phippen’s widow, Debbie, to Linnehan as part of the Reach Across America project and the wreath will be sent to Arlington National Cemetery where it will be placed on the grave of a soldier.

He also announced that Glenburn’s Emma Libby is the first of four recipients of a John Phippen Sportsmanship trophy for epitomizing the sportsmanship of Phippen, who won seven points titles at three different tracks during his impressive 31-year racing career. The Speedway 95 Stars of Tomorrow class driver was the top vote-getter among the fans, said Gibbons.

Bourgoine, 15, captures first win

Fifteen-year-old Mathew Bourgoine of Newport recently picked up his first victory in the Nelcar Legends (vintage) Cars series at Unity Raceway.

Bourgoine spent three years racing go-karts at Thundering Valley Raceway in St. Albans before joining the Legends Cars series last year.

However, he couldn’t race at certain tracks because he was only 14. Some tracks require that the driver be 15 years old.

Not only did he win at his home track, he is currently running third in points.

Bourgoine called his win “awesome.”

“I had to hold off (Kevin) Hutchins,” said Bourgoine, who drives a 1934 Ford coupe.

He credited Terry Kirk with helping him produce great setups for every race.

“We’ve had a great year. We’re doing a little better than I thought we were going to do,” said Bourgoine, who now has his eyes on second place in the points.

“I’m only five points behind,” said Bourgoine, who would like to eventually win a points championship before moving on to another series.

Bourgoine is home-schooled and will be a sophomore in the fall.

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