At the track, riding on wheels of fortune
Rowley race car driver speeding up the charts
 By Julian Benbow Globe Staff / July 2, 2009

In the time Rollie Lachance has worked as Eddie MacDonald’s crew chief, he’s learned not to expect much of a two-way conversation while the 28-year-old driver from Rowley is behind the wheel.

“When I first started working with him,’’ Lachance said, “it was pretty hard to get a read on how the car was handling because he doesn’t complain about anything. But we have a good idea now on how to read each other.’’

MacDonald is more of a listener.

“He doesn’t mind being talked to at all, but he doesn’t talk a whole lot,’’ Lachance said. “Some guys don’t want to be talked to at all because it distracts them. He likes to hear your voice in his ear.’’

MacDonald is as even as a metronome, and he prefers it that way.

“There’s not a whole lot you can do about yelling and screaming on the radio,’’ he said. “We just try and stay focused and get done what you need to do and try to run the best you can every week.’’

Lachance is the talker. The hard-time-giver on days like last Friday, when he and MacDonald figured they had a good enough car to grab the pole for the Heluva Good! 200 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon.

The one that throws out zingers, like “The car was there, the driver wasn’t.’’

They’re the kind of jokes you expect when you’ve worked together for four years.

“It goes both ways,’’ Lachance said. “When the car’s a piece of crap and we’re struggling, I can see that. It’s like any type of thing where people work together on a common deal - you’ve got to take a little kidding.’’

In truth, the pair had developed respect for each other as competitors when the opportunity arose to work together.

In MacDonald, Lachance knew he had a driver who would push cars as hard as possible in every race. MacDonald knew that he was getting a crew chief who would keep him in the best cars.

“He was the only guy I really wanted to get as a crew chief,’’ MacDonald said. “He always had fast cars and had been around for a long time, and I just knew that if we could get hooked up together, we’d be able to win some races.’’

They’ve collected their share of them on the NASCAR Camping World Series East circuit, none bigger for MacDonald than the two races he won a year ago in Loudon.

The victories were significant not only because MacDonald was able to win them in front of hometown fans.

From age 15 on, he grew up racing cars no more than 30 minutes away at Lee USA Speedway, run by his parents, Red and Judy.

“It’s special here,’’ said MacDonald of the Loudon track. “It’s awesome to see what this place has turned into. It’s a beautiful facility and it’s great for us to come here and race twice a year.’’

Red MacDonald, who once owned cars driven by a young Jeff Gordon and Kenny Wallace, also owned a parking lot near New Hampshire Motor Speedway, and would take Eddie up to watch every so often.

“I had been coming up here since before it was an oval track, when it was a road course for motorcycles,’’ Eddie said. “My father used to come up here and show me. He owned the parking lot next to the speedway. We always used to come here and park cars next to the speedway. So to finally be able to come here and win was just awesome.’’

Confident in the car he was running last weekend, he went in thinking he could make some history and become the first East Series driver to stretch his streak to three straight wins in Loudon. He wound up sixth, but it was his fifth top-10 finish of the season.

MacDonald sits second in the points category with five races left, and that’s with a spell of bad luck that’s seen him have to deal with everything from rear-end failure to motor failure.

He lost the motor during practice in Iowa, forcing him to start in the 38th position. He worked his way up to eighth only to get tangled up in a wreck in the middle of the field.

Through the stretches of tough luck, MacDonald and Lachance, in their second year with Grimm Racing, feel like they’re running quality cars week in and week out.

Coming out of New Hampshire, the schedule shows a run of tracks that have been kind to MacDonald in the past, including Thompson Speedway in Connecticut and Adirondack International Speedway in Beaver Falls, N.Y.

“We’re in the hunt for the championship,’’ Lachance said. “I think it’s tight. A lot of tracks we’re going to we’ve had success at, so we’re kind of looking to go for the top spot.’’

Playing it even-keeled, MacDonald said: “We’re just going to have to go as hard as we can. Hopefully, everything will come together and we’ll be all right.’’

Lachance knows his driver is the type to turn it on under pressure.

“When it comes down to three races to go,’’ said Lachance, “it’ll be time to bring it up a notch.’’

Julian Benbow can be reached at jbenbow@globe.com.

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