"Big Al" and "Little Al" together with the 2005 edition of the #99. Photo courtesy of Converse photo
Little Al repeats at Seekonk
Winning a points championship at any level over the long grind of an auto racing season is an arduous process, sprinkled with a liberal amount of good luck. Many excellent drivers never win one, let alone two as Al Clements IV of Oak Bluffs, did Sept. 23 on the .333-mile banked oval at Seekonk Speedway in Seekonk.
"Little Al," as he is known around the track, is the son of racer "Big Al" Clements III. He clinched his second Seekonk Speedway Street Stock points title in succession by roaring back from a 16th starting position to finish 5th, beating out former Vineyarder John Hanafin, 659 points to 623.
The result was typical of a season in which Little Al failed to win a feature (20-lap) race, yet compiled four top-five and six top-ten results in 14 events to earn the title. Unlike last season, his car often performed under par and Al had to sit through six rainouts, shortening the 20-race schedule. "The rainouts definitely made it hard to keep any momentum going," Al said. "The second championship is slightly more satisfying because we had to overcome more and everyone is gunning for you when you're the defending champ."
Champions win through consistency more than anything else. They learn how to stay out of trouble on the track, rather than go looking for it.
"A lot of guys took themselves out by driving too aggressively," Al said. "You have to have a car to bring back next week."
In marked contrast to the NASCAR Nextel Cup drivers, who have multiple cars with specific setups geared for a particular track, Al has one 1979 Chevy Camaro that he purchased for $3,500 and spent two years converting into a 3,100 pound, 350 horsepower street stock machine.
He also did the work and continues to do so with the help of his father, mother Vera-Jean, sister Summer-Anne, girlfriend Rebecca Flanders, and a few dedicated friends. Ted and Louise Bernard of Edgartown have been a huge help, supplying parts. It's a grassroots effort all the way. There's no professional pit crew and multi-million dollar garage.
Currently, his ride is sponsored by Clermont Construction, MV Autoworks, his father's A.R.C. Welding, Cottage City Home Appliance, M.V. Paving and Bay State Towing on-Island and by Quality Fruitland in Seekonk. The Island Real Estate Group handles any PR.
A typical race weekend for Al starts Friday after leaving work at Cottage City Home Appliance and catching the 6:15 ferry. He drives to Dean Pettey's house in Assonet and works on his car for about four hours. Saturday morning comes early with several more hours of fine-tuning, basic maintenance, fixing damage, and checking set-ups. Qualifying races start at 6 pm, followed by the feature races at 7:30, when 62 street stock drivers have been pared down to 26 starters.
Late Saturday night, it's back to Assonet to unwind, before returning to the Island on Sunday morning.
"I can't wait until the weekend, so I can jump in the seat, slip on the belt, and start racing," Al says. "My boss [David Billings] says, 'I don't race to work, I work to race.'"
Even though his Dad was and still is a racer, Little Al's first love was baseball. One night at Seekonk, however, he caught the racing bug when he saw a car lose control and go airborne. "Wow, I've got to do this someday," he recalls saying to himself.
He helped out his father in the garage for several years before racing go-carts at age 15. At 18, in his first stock car race, he guided his father's ride through the field from 26th place to finish ninth in Lee, N.H. His breakthrough came on the spacious .625-mile oval at Thompson Speedway in northeastern Conn., when he started dead last in a 42-car event and took sixth after a mere 20 laps. "Thompson is like racing at Daytona for a street stock driver," Al says.
After racing together for 11 years, Little Al and Big Al have a most friendly rivalry. "Dad helps me so much, so if one of us beats the other, it's no big deal."
The final race this season is the D. Anthony Venditti Memorial, a non-points event at Seekonk, Oct. 7-8. In the 2005 DAV, Al moved up in class and drove a late model (sportsman) car for the first time. He would like to keep driving late model stock in the future, but that depends on the money and sponsorship available.
Any support is welcomed.
Jane Alexander shovels the ball under the pads of the Case keeper for goal number one. Photo by Ralph Stewart
The MVRHS field hockey team proved a demanding host to Case, Monday, and exacted a 2-0 win from the visitors on goals by Alexa Fisher and Jane Alexander. The make-up game win gave the Islanders a 4-3-2 record on the season
Tuesday the girls made Hannah Van Osten's goal stand up against visiting Dighton Rehoboth and nailed their fifth win against three loses and two ties.
The girls are at Case on Thursday, and entertain Fairhaven, Monday.
The Vineyard varsity boys soccer team spotted Bourne a one-goal lead when Scott Bukoski scored on a direct kick five minutes into the contest last Wednesday. But the Islanders dominated play and Ben Post headed a feed from Antulio Neto into the net, which tied the score at the half.
In the second half, Torbelly Assis converted a Post pass to put the Vineyard ahead and Davey Campbell followed with the goal that proved to be the winner as Bukowski scored his second goal in the closing minutes. MV 3, Bourne 2.
On Saturday, the Islanders overwhelmed Case, 4-0, on goals by Ben Madeiras, J.P. Oliveira, Ben Post and Davey Campbell. Goalie Nico Cuba had little to do to nail the shutout. He was credited with three saves.
Monday, at Lakeville, an own goal in the closing minutes of the game handed Apponequet a 2-2 tie after the Purple had dominated play, teetering on the brink of its 10th win.
MV was home to Fairhaven yesterday and will host Old Rochester, Friday.
Augusta Dillon contends with Apponequet for control of the ball. Augusta scored the game's only goal, the first win for the MV jayvees. Photo by Ralph Stewart
NSCAA takes notice
As of Monday, the National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA) had ranked the Martha's Vineyard boys soccer team (8-0-1) fourth best in New England behind Simsbury, Conn. (4-0-0), Shelton, Conn. (4-0-0) and Acton-Boxborough, Mass. (4-0-0) and ahead of Exeter, N.H. (8-0-0), Bishop Guerin, Nashua, N.H. (8-0-0), Mount Mansfield Union, Jericho, Vt. (7-1-0), Champlain Valley Union, Hinesburg, Vt. (6-1-0) and Gorham, Maine (5-0-1).
Girls take a soaking
The Apponequet Lakers swamped the MV girls soccer team, Monday, 5-1. Alexia Schroeder, fed by Lainie Aristide, got the Vineyard off on the right foot with an early goal, but after that it was all Apponequet. Brianna Beckman evened the count, then Keanna Santos scored a hat trick before Amber DiNucci placed the cherry atop the sundae.
The MV junior varsity won its game with the Lakers, 1-0, on a goal by Augusta Dillon assisted by Bethany Pennington. It was the jayvees' first win. Previously they had lost to Apponequet by the same 1-0 score.