Written By Dave Rodman

Gerard Owen Callaghan’s visor was foggy but he found Victory Lane at Palmer

All photos by Dave Rodman or Kevin O’Day

LOUDON, N.H. (May 16, 2021) Racing – like every other aspect of life – is rife with clichés. And as it is everywhere else, these clichés are based in fact. Luckily for Northeast Formula Vee (NEFV), which operates “as a clan within the greater club that is New England Region (NER), SCCA”, it’s thriving and prospering in the aftermath of Covid-19 thanks to perseverance, commitment and passion.

The 2020 pandemic – while it trimmed the NEFV schedule to four weekends – did nothing to blunt the camaraderie, competition and outright fun that is at the center of what the Formula Vee class is in New England.

And after a slow start to 2021 at Palmer Motorsports Park on May 1-2, where eight Vees competed over the two-day event – although FV stalwarts Tom Galuardi and Bruce “Big” Rodman worked as flaggers and Vee newbie Dave “Little” Rodman ran Sound Control – the paddock at New Hampshire Motor Speedway (NHMS) swelled to 22 cars, and the competition in the three sun-splashed races held May 15-16 reflected the influx of talent.

Long-time NER Vee racer Roger French – back in New England after finishing a professional career that took him across the United States – even came back to flagging at Palmer and New Hampshire and there’s some hope we can get him back in a Vee!

Special tip of the Hoosier cap goes to the six drivers that have made the effort to get their equipment ready and compete in both of the first two New England Formula Vee weekends. Gerard Callaghan and his oldest son, Gerard Owen Callaghan; 2020 NEFV Rookie of the Year Dan Genis, Jason Dube, Tom Kenney, and Marty Gatto are well on their way to unofficial “100% attendance awards” after slogging through Palmer and getting sun- and wind-burned at NHMS.

At New Hampshire, opinions were mixed on the popularity of being first on track Saturday morning in the absence of a Friday test day. And the 20-minute qualifying session that began at 8:15 gave little indication of exactly how the races would unfold, save for the fact that Loudon ace Nick Galuardi, a Saturday-only entrant, was on the pointy end of the 22-car grid, in second, in his venerable scarlet #05 Caldwell D-13. Chris Barry, who warmed-up for his New England season running SCCA Majors at COTA, Summit Point and VIR, once again under the wing of Dave Scaler’s redoubtable Advantage Motorsports, was on pole with a lap in 1:17.067, an average speed of 74.740 mph, in his blazing orange #07 Citation, one-tenth better than Galuardi’s 1:17.185.

NH “tornado” Tyler Reynolds continued the special streak that began with his 2020 wedding by qualifying his familiar burnt-orange #33 Citation third, at 1:18.222.

Anticipation was high coming out of the lunch break for the 23-minute plus one lap opener. G.O. Callaghan gridded fourth in his black #12 Problem Child, coming off a spectacular, career-first and rain-soaked victory in the Palmer Sunday feature. A rightfully-proud Alex Juhasz lined his immaculate, new ground-up self-built purple #77 Gecko 21-2 in fifth, for its first race.

Always-cheerful David Grimes was a little grim sitting in seventh in his ex-Dan Grace #19 Citation, sporting a spiffy new multi-hued paint scheme courtesy teammate Dube, but troubled by a pesky fuel-feed issue. Bruce Rodman scuffed tires in qualifying and still lined-up ninth with a completely-rebuilt front end courtesy Van de Car Race Prep on his trusty #55 Caracal D, which was crunched at the ’20 Thompson finale although it made all three races that weekend thanks to some yeoman’s work by Bruce, Revolution Formula Cars’ Kevin O’Hearn and crewman/cousin Mark Snay.

Third-year man Buddy Conroy was sporting a sparkling new color scheme on his #90 Vector, and with it logged a sporty, career-best 10th-place qualifying effort. Eleventh was reliable Kenney, whose position belied his early-season pace in his familiar blue #24 Speed Sport, marked by a Sunday morning win at Palmer.

Buddy Conroy could’ve posed as “Professor Plum” but he qualified a career-best 10th

NEFV bonfire survivor Corey Young and his Citation was a great first-time grid sight

Jeff Adams fired-up his comprehensively-rebuilt, deep-blue-almost-purple #71 Citation for the first time, Friday night at 7 p.m. and was psyched to be on the back of the grid after a limited qualifying session. Ecstatic, too, was John Ferreira, who’s coming off major knee and shoulder surgeries in the last year, but never considered not getting back into his blue #15 Womer EV-3. Likewise Tom Galuardi – the racing family patriarch that in 2020 was cited with NEFV’s “Sportsmanship Award for Outstanding Commitment to the Formula Vee Racing Community” across his 48 years as a Vee competitor – had his Barrcar 004 with freshly-worked heads by NE racing legend Roger Barr, primed and ready.

So too were Irishman Charlie Doherty and Corey Young, whose Novice Permits were both signed-off to compete at Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park in April and were stoked to run their first race weekends in their respective #32 and #28 Citations – especially Doherty who, true to his kinship with the Callaghans, his fellow Irishmen, easily bounced-back from a trip into the Turn 3 tires after a mechanical issue in qualifying.

Sadly missing from the grid was Kevin O’Day, painter and wheel-man extraordinaire, who was responsible for Conroy’s sharp color scheme in the off-season. O’Day’s speedy blue-and-orange Gulf-hued #70 Caldwell D-13 should’ve been sixth, but its engine had been removed before mid-afternoon for a trip to a rebuild. Would’ve rather had Kevin on-track instead of playing shutterbug on the grid but his fire-bugging skills were certainly appreciated at Saturday night’s traditional Formula Vee bonfire / beer bash / cook-along and California hardwood cassette rack immolation… Don’t ask.

There wasn’t much to say about Race 1 that didn’t start and end, N-i-c-k. Barry and Nick Galuardi did swap the point four times early, but Galuardi took the lead for the final time on the ninth of 19 laps, and cemented his ultimate 2.587-second advantage over Barry with his fastest lap of the race, his 11th, in 1:17.967, an average speed of 73.877 mph.

Reynolds swapped third with G.O. Callaghan on the start, but Reynolds re-took the position on the second lap and then cruised to the final podium spot. Callaghan and Juhasz, who was absolutely beaming in impound after his self-designed “Gecko 2.0” was Cadillac-smooth in its debut outing and stunningly recorded the race’s fast lap, 1:17.895, an average speed of 73.946 mph on Juhasz’s 17th lap; rounded-out the top-five. Kenney, Adams, Grimes, Afzal Bashir – who warmed-up on the previous weekend with a road trip to a FVee Challenge Cup round at Mid-Ohio with his silver #69 Protoform P2 – and Genis’ red #49 Advantage Motorsports Mysterian M2 rounded-out the top-10.

The only overnight drama involved crack photographer, able crewman for his cousins Afzal and Iqbal Bashir and all-around good guy Rehman Bashir displaying some of his latest wares – allegedly, the aforementioned California hardwood 100-cassette storage cases, fireside at the bonfire. When I arrived, I was immediately accosted with the genial query, “Rodman, what IS this? And what is it worth?”

Rehman’s Custom Cassette Rack has NEFV Paddock aglow. [L-R] Bruce Rodman, Charlie Doherty, Dave Rodman, Gerard Callaghan & Robby Sammons approve

Apparently, Rehman had arrived with two of the roughly 2’x3′ racks, but one was quickly consigned to the flames, with spectacular results akin to a months-out-of-date Christmas tree being incinerated. I admit I low-balled the bid, but to me, even though it was a nice-looking piece, it had no value whatsoever, whether I could realistically fill it twice-over with my old faves or not. Rehman might’ve been posturing about entertaining live bids on Facebook Marketplace, but in less than an hour – and to the shock of “Country Dave,” who would’ve gladly taken it home for free – the second unit was toasted, to the tune of impressive 6-foot flames and general disinterest from the 30-odd onlookers, who were being plied by O’Day and his executive chef Rehman with grilled salami and pepperoni and melted cheese “bites” and spectacular whole and half-cheeseburgers… At 10 p.m., no less! THIS is what makes NEFV special, for sure.

Paying homage to the intestinal fortitude of our bunch, 19 cars appeared on the false grid, based on Saturday’s race finish, somewhere between 8:05 and 8:14; to line up for an 18-minute plus one lap outing. That’s when the drama started, as Dube left the grid in his multi-hued #17 Lazer, immediately lost oil pressure and with superior presence of mind darted to pit road to prevent disrupting the start. Grimes made it as far as the front stretch, but his fueling problems caused him to drop out of line, eventually staggering to pit road without taking the green.

Big Rodman,” meanwhile, had made an early-morning (as if an 8:15 green flag wasn’t early enough) trek to Turns 1 and 2 in the oval and scoped out the “marble factor.” Since there were none, at the start, he took advantage of that to jet from the back of the grid to inside the top 10 before exiting Turn 2. Meanwhile, out front Reynolds grabbed the lead with Barry in close company.

Barry grabbed the lead on lap three and held the point for the next seven laps until, on lap 10, he and Reynolds banged wheels with the contact damaging Barry’s car’s steering box and forcing him to pull into the unused North end of the oval, where he safely parked against the wall in NASCAR Turn 4, from where he was able to drive to impound post-race.

Tom Kenney [24] and Afzal Bashir were both triple-top-10 scorers at NHMS

Reynolds assumed the lead and held it for four laps, until the penultimate, 14th lap when “Little Callaghan,” on the strength of the race’s fastest lap – and the second-fastest Vee lap of the entire weekend – a 1:17.127 effort on lap 12, an average speed of 74.682 mph; seized the lead. Callaghan, who scored a stunning debut win on slicks in the rain at Palmer just two weeks before, led at the bottom of the hill at Turn 10, less than half-a-mile from the checkers, when “a rookie mistake” led to him spinning and flying off-course on corner exit, luckily missing the Armco barrier.

When Callaghan spun, Juhasz had a half-car-length lead on Reynolds, and he outran his young rival to a 1.775-second margin of victory. Kenney steadily motored onto the final step on the podium, a scant second ahead of Afzal Bashir. The fourth-place finish, a career-high, continued Bashir’s best weekend of his three-year Vee career and was a positive statement to his seeking out varied – and storied — tracks, such as Watkins Glen, PittRace and Mid-Ohio in addition to NER’s staples.

Big Rodman parlayed his aggressive start into a fifth-place finish at his best track. Rounding out the top 10 were Adams, whose pleasant new-car break-in continued with his second top 10; a recovering G.O. Callaghan; Genis, who celebrated his 61st birthday with a fine eighth place; Robby Sammons, who recovered from spinning off into the gravel and DNF in Race 1 in his white #85 Speed Sport; and Ferreira, who claimed he was “physically beat” while his brilliant smile wiped away the fatigue after a well-earned 10th.

The group was graced with a trip across the scales after an impound-all. That only revealed – not surprisingly – that the chassis AND body need some work.

That left only the weekend’s feature, another 23-minute plus one lap affair that resulted in one of the most spectacular and special Vee races possibly, in years, a last-lap pass for the win and the weekend’s closest Vee margin of victory.

Juhasz led the first six laps from pole, but with Barry raging through the field from his 15th starting spot in the 19-car field – he was seventh at the end of lap one – it was inevitable Barry would take the lead, and he did, on lap seven. Meanwhile, Grimes, who in semi-desperation had borrowed a carburetor from former NEFV champion Mike Hinkle – who’s currently on a Vee racing hiatus but as usual was ready-and-willing with support, parts, expertise and encouragement – was making a steady, if somewhat-less-spectacular, march through the field.

After starting 18th and on the last row, Grimes’ start, a la Big Rodman’s hell-bent-for-leather run around the outside, resulted in a stellar nine-position gain to ninth after one lap. But it took Grimes 11 laps to get into the top five, and three more laps to pass Reynolds for second, on lap 15 of 19.

Grimes then stalked Barry, while fending off Reynolds, and over the last five laps, was quicker than the leader on four of the five. Barry was more consistent, but Grimes erased a 1.816-second deficit, drafted up behind Barry onto the frontstretch to take the white flag signaling one-to-go, and then stormed inside the former NEFV champion Barry into the oval’s first turn. Grimes charged off to the race’s fastest lap on his run to the checkers, 1:18.029, an average speed of 73.819 mph.

The winning margin was a scant 1.115 seconds, while Callaghan was only 1.196 behind Barry, to round out the podium. Kenney topped off an incredibly consistent front-running weekend with his third top-six finish, in fourth while Juhasz closed a spectacular debut weekend with his third top-five, in fifth.

David Grimes faced this daunting sight approaching the main event green at NHMS

Final NHMS podium [L-R] David Grimes, Chris Barry and Gerard Owen Callaghan

Sixth through 10th were Reynolds; Big Rodman, who rebounded from his Saturday afternoon suspension miscue to score two top 10s; Sammons with another solid rebound; Afzal Bashir, who closed unquestionably the best weekend of his Vee career; and Adams, whose rebuilt weekend went exceptionally well, with three top 10s.

A feature race mid-pack highlight occurred when Gerard Callaghan “the elder” put his head down in his #48 Womer over the last two laps and ran down “Little Rodman’s” #5 BRD from more than three seconds back and nipped into 13th by .039 seconds – the tip of a nose cone. The unique aspect was, on Saturday afternoon we’d sat in Callaghan Racing’s trailer and watched a video of G.O. trying to overtake Reynolds for the podium. Dad said, “why didn’t you draft (Reynolds) off of 11?” That was all I could think of, as my car, sounding like a frikking tractor, ran to the line as wide-open as I could manage, looking out of the corner of my eye for Gerard’s inevitable, honed-in-Irish-Vees Nigel Mansell overtake to occur. And it did!

Grimes’ win was an immensely popular one in the Vee paddock, and marked the third first-time Vee winner in six 2021 races, including young Callaghan’s and impressive part-timer Ryan Soucy, who won the Palmer Saturday opener in a new car for Advantage Motorsports, a sharp #59 Mysterian M2 that was a front-runner all weekend at the mountainous Palmer circuit.

Determining Dave’s “Unofficial Weekend Top-Five All Stars” for New Hampshire wasn’t easy – particularly with Nick Galuardi rendering himself “ineligible” due to his one-day, one-race entry. But he certainly was the performance-based sentimental choice for #1 with a few bullets left over.

But without a doubt Alex Juhasz earns the U.S. Formula Vee community’s respect for designing and building the next progression of his uniquely beautiful Gecko Vee, bringing it untested to the race track and scoring a win, a fast lap and two more fifth-place finishes, along with seven laps led and all 53 laps run in the top five. El Numero Uno, indeed.

Chris Barry slots into second, based on his weekend pole, two second-place finishes and who-knows-what if not for dinging his car’s steering box while battling for the lead in Race 2. He led 23 of 47 laps he ran and 91% of all of his 47 laps were run in first or second places. That is incredible.

Our resident engineer Gerard Owen Callaghan earns third rating. He almost snatched a podium on Saturday, was one slight error away from his second career win, which included the race’s fastest lap on Sunday morning and finally earned his podium in Sunday’s feature. Incredibly consistent, he ran 48 of 53 laps in the top-four and only one lap was outside the top-five. The kid is a comer, for sure.

Tyler Reynolds earned the fourth ranking with a pair of podiums and a sixth-place finish in the feature. He ran a stupendous 94% of his 53 laps in the top-three.

Oh, what could have been for David Grimes, who earned the final ranking based on a spectacular, last-to-first run to his first career victory in the feature, marked by a nail-biting by-inches-miss of a sideways Jeff Adams in Turn 3 midway through the main event. Grimes belied his four-year novelty in Vees with a head-down drive to contend, and he cemented it with the event’s fastest lap on the race’s final circuit. He was eighth on Saturday and quite likely would’ve done well on Sunday morning.

Alex Juhasz’s exquisite Gecko earned Rodman’s “Best in Show” for the NH weekend

And now we look towards Lime Rock, always a popular venue and the site of the outrageous annual “NER Paddock Crawl,” which fits the NEFV crowd to a T – or should we say “V” – where 2020 NEFV champion John Piscitelli expects to make his season debut.

Series regular Skip Popiak made a one-day appearance at Palmer and for the sake of some damn good ribs the entire NER paddock is hoping he enters his venerable scarlet #61 Citation 95V at LRP.