Eddie MacDonald had just won the 36th annual TD Banknorth 250 at Oxford Plains Speedway and he knew it was the first time his crew chief, Rollie Lachance, had been part of a triumphant team after several near misses and second-place finishes with Strong’s Tracy Gordon.
“I’m glad I was the driver who was able to win it for him,” said Rowley, Mass., native MacDonald, who is running second in points in the Camping World East series with Lachance as his crew chief.
Lachance, who grew up in Auburn, said he has been going to OPS “since I was a little kid.”
For MacDonald and Lachance, winning both Camping World East series races at New Hampshire Motor Speedway last year and winning the 250 on Sunday accomplished two of their goals.
“People ask me which meant more to me. It’s apples and oranges. Both are among our top five goals. They’re both great [accomplishments], racing-wise, said Lachance who, like MacDonald, was back to his full-time job on Monday. He’s a foreman at parts shop and MacDonald is a contractor.
“[For the 250], you have several different types of cars and it doesn’t matter what you’re running for a car,” Lachance added. “It’s the 250 and there are going to be some really good cars. If you win, you’re going to have to beat some really good teams,” said Lachance.
MacDonald finished eighth in the 250 a year ago and Lachance learned a valuable lesson about tires that he applied on Sunday.
“We started with new tires last year and led the race early. But then we put on two new tires and two used tires and the car was junk,” said Lachance. “This year we started with the tires we used in the heat race so when we pitted to change the tires [in the 250], we wanted our tires to be brand new. We sacrificed the early part of the race.”
However, MacDonald actually led nine laps early and ran among the top five on the used tires leading up to the change.
“We changed four tires on our pit stop which was a bit risky because we could have fallen a lap down. But the crew did a great job,” said Lachance who used crew members from the Camping World East series along with some local volunteers.
Second-place finisher Patrick Laperle tried to catch MacDonald but Lachance, who was also MacDonald’s spotter, said he noticed that Laperle’s car peaked after “8-12 laps so we just had to survive [keep the lead] until he peaked.”
MacDonald was able to hold the lead over the final 81 laps.
“Patrick got within a car-length but I thought we had a better car,” said Lachance who also took some comfort in knowing Laperle “is a very clean racer” and wouldn’t spin MacDonald out.
MacDonald’s Late Model car, a Chevy Monte Carlo, is one that is co-owned by MacDonald and Lachance.
“Eddie bought the car before I teamed up with him,” said Lachance. “He wrecked it at his parents’ track [Lee USA Speedway, N.H.] and it sat [idle] for a year. But we had a little extra money so we had Dale Shaw put a snout [front clip] on it.”
The car has a truck arm-suspension system similar to the ones they have in their Camping World cars “and I’m used to working with that design. We can also use parts from our Camping World cars on it.”
They usually race it four or five times a year, according to Lachance.
When he first got involved in racing, Lachance wanted to be a driver but he thought it would be advantageous if he learned about different aspects of the sport first. So he began working with Scott Ames, who was Gordon’s crew chief at the time.
“We used to work until late at night so I learned a lot of things about racing. I learned about the mentality you’ve got to have [to be successful]. [Ames] helped me to the point I figured I might like doing this instead [of driving a race car],” said Lachance.
He evolved into the Camping World East series where he has been the crew chief for Gordon, Shaw, Ryan Moore and now MacDonald.
He has won races with all but Moore and has made 18 trips to Victory Lane in the Camping World East series to date.
The 42-year-old Lachance is in his fifth season with the 29-year-old MacDonald and thoroughly enjoys working with him.
“He’s great. He never gets wound up at all. It took me a little while to read his body language and the tone of his voice,” said Lachance. “It’s a lot of fun and that’s why I enjoy working with him so much. He has a great attitude. It’s super important for him to run well at the end of the day but it isn’t brain surgery, we’re just taking left hand turns.”
They take great pride in the fact they are an under-funded team owned by Rob Grimm in the Camping World East series but are beating NASCAR Sprint Cup-sponsored teams on a regular basis and landing second in points.
“We don’t have any full-time people on our race team. Our budget is a quarter of what it is for some of the other teams. But we’ve got Eddie behind the wheel and he saves the equipment so we don’t have to spend time fixing the equipment and can devote that time to the car’s setup,” explained Lachance.
So what is the key to being a successful crew chief?
“Communication, taking meticulous notes and being open-minded,” said the Edward Little High School graduate.
In addition to the remainder of the Camping World East series, they intend to run the Late Model car at ACT races at Beech Ridge Motor Speedway in Scarborough on Saturday; an invitational race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on Sept. 19 which they qualified for with their Sunday win and, possibly, an Oct. 11 race at OPS.