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Randy LaJoie Wins NASCAR BGN Series Championship

26 October 1997

ROCKINGHAM, NC - Randy LaJoie must have a special place in his heart for 
North Carolina Motor Speedway. 

He came into Rockingham with two races remaining on the schedule and a 200 
point lead over Todd Bodine in the overall standings. He leaves here with 
his second consecutive NASCAR Busch Series Grand National Division 
championship title.

It was a multi-car accident in turn three on lap 156 of the 197-lap event 
that sealed Bodine's fate and handed the crown to LaJoie. 

Kevin Lepage and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. were racing for position on the 
backstretch when the front fender of Earnhardt's No. 31 Wrangler Chevrolet 
clipped Lepage's rear quarterpanel. The No. 4 Phoenix Construction Monte 
Carlo turned down across the track and collected Bodine's Pontiac which shot 
into the outside wall. Flames erupted from beneath Todd's Stanley ride but 
were quickly extinguished as Bodine scrambled out the window. His day and the 
race for the championship was over. 

Lepage described the accident from his vantage point. "There were a lot of 
rookies out there today and one of them bit me," he explained. I was watching 
him (Dale Earnhardt, Jr.). He was a little rough with some of the guys in 
front of us. I kept to the outside and I got by him. The next thing I knew I
saw the outside wall coming at me."

"That's the way it goes sometimes," said a very disappointed Bodine after 
being released from the infield care center. "My shoulder is a little sore but
other than that, I'm fine. It's a shame to get caught up in a wreck like that
just trying to get by someone that was wrecking. I don't know what happened.
Dale, Jr. got a little out of control and I'm not sure why. It turned up the 
track and I started spinning around. It's tough to lose a championship because
of a wreck. We wanted to race Randy on the track for it. I know he wanted us 
to do the same thing."

It was far from a cake-walk for LaJoie as he had trouble early in the ACDelco 
200 and actually lost a lap to then-leader Jeff Burton on lap 136. But the 
36-year old driver from Norwalk, CT battled back to regain that lap just 13 
circuits later and finished the event 20th. As Mark Martin headed to victory 
lane, LaJoie turned celebratory doughnuts on the front and back straights in 
a tribute to the fans. 

"Birdie (crew chief Steve Bird) and I went to the Monster Truck show at 
Charlotte," LaJoie said. "The biggest applause those guys got was when they 
did doughnuts. So Birdie said, 'Remember that Monster Truck show?' and I 
said, 'Yes I do!' I know how particular some guys (track owners) are about 
the grass and I didn't want to get billed for messing the grass up so I did 
it on the race track. So I put a show on out on the backstretch, it got a 
little away from me and I drove into the wall! The body man is probably a 
little p-o'd at me but I think the fans had a good show.

"I think it's always easier to be the hunter than the hunted," LaJoie 
continued. "Last year we had to go out and beat David Green to win the 
championship and we did. Anybody who tells you that point racing doesn't beat 
on you and work on you is crazy. The last three weeks have just absolutely 
been tearing me up. I'm glad it's over with."

In addition to securing his second title in as many years, LaJoie gave BACE 
Motorsports an incredible third championship in a row. "This is awesome!" 
exclaimed team owner Bill Baumgardner. I don't want to disrepect Johnny 
(Benson) who won the first one -- and we was down here in the pits with us 
today -- but this one is unique. I think we wanted this one worse than we 
wanted the other two. I really do."

Lori Vizza -- The Auto Channel