No stranger to New Hampshire Motor Speedway, where he has won three times in K&N Pro Series East races in 2008 and 2009, Eddie MacDonald says his familiarity with the 1.058-mile oval in Loudon, N.H., will help him feel at home when he makes NASCAR Sprint Cup debut in Sunday's Camping World RV Sales 301.
"Absolutely,'' said MacDonald, 34, of Rowley. "We're going to have many challenges, just trying to compete at that level, but at least we can take the challenge of trying to figure out the track out of the equation. I think that's going to be huge for us . . . for me, anyway.''
MacDonald made his Nationwide Series (2007) and Camping World Truck Series (2010) debuts at NHMS, in addition to making starts in K&N Pro Series and Whelen Modified Tour events at The Magic Mile. But MacDonald will complete the cycle Sunday, making him the only active NASCAR driver to have raced in all five touring divisions.
According to NASCAR officials, Steve Park, of East Northport, N.Y., was the first to accomplish the feat, racing in a Truck Series event and a pair of Busch North Series and Modified Tour doubleheaders at New Hampshire in September 1996.
MacDonald will be pulling double duty this weekend, driving the No. 71 Chevrolet in the K&N Pro Series race Friday, then, on Sunday, piloting the No. 32 Ford fielded by co-owners Archie St. Hilaire of Saco, Maine, and Frank Stoddard, of North Haverhill, N.H., a former Cup crew chief turned NBC analyst.
"It's going to take one more learning curve out of it and allow me to figure out the difference in horsepower, the radial tires, and the cars are heavier than the K&N cars that I'm used to driving,'' said MacDonald. "Luckily, I'll be able to get on the track Thursday with my K&N car and we're going to practice and qualify that. We'll get in the Cup car Friday and be able to run some laps in that and get familiar with that car.''
MacDonald will be steering an All-New England enterprise, with the efforts of driver and owner intertwining with that of a New England-based sponsor, Michael Alden, of Beverly, whose Blue Vase Marketing company paired with the No. 32 this season as primary sponsor at Phoenix and Las Vegas and as an associate sponsor at Bristol, Tenn.
"We're just looking for a respectable run, but we're realistic with our goals,'' said MacDonald, who recorded the seventh K&N Pro Series victory with a March 15 triumph at Bristol that vaulted him to fifth in driver points. He is ranked 18th in the K&N Pro Series East standings (209 points) and owns the most wins (3), starts (25), and laps completed (2,543 out of 3,014) at NHMS of any driver in the division.
“I’m just so excited that Archie St. Hilaire gave me this opportunity along with Mike Alden,’’ said MacDonald, who grew up around racing when his father, Red MacDonald, acquired the ⅜ -mile paved oval at Lee (N.H.) USA Speedway in 1986. “It’s going to be exciting that we’re going to be a completely New England deal with three New England guys racing together.’’
The idea to run MacDonald at NHMS was hatched at a lunch meeting earlier this year when St. Hilaire met with Alden to discuss the No. 32's plans. Alden asked St. Hilaire if there was any New England driver they could put in their car at NHMS. St. Hilaire initially drew a blank, but, on the drive home, came up with a perfect solution.
"That's when Eddie's name came up,'' St. Hilaire said. "I took Eddie over to meet Michael and he said, 'This is the great. It's the best of all worlds.' We had me and Frank owning the team, we had Eddie, who had been around New Hampshire and been around the area forever, and we had Mike, who wanted to sponsor it.
"It's going to be exciting and we've already had a ton of calls from people.''
Even NHMS track officials have gotten behind the effort, offering an "Eddie Mac Pack'' ticket package for $32, in honor of MacDonald's car number which, coincidentally, team officials chose as a way of honoring long-time New England racing legend, Stub Fadden.
"Everybody's jumped on board and it's super,'' St. Hilaire said. "It's not every day a guy from New England gets to race in that race. He's a great guy and he's paid his dues.''
Said MacDonald, "It's definitely a dream come true to be able to get my first Sprint Cup start in New Hampshire, to do it there just makes it that much better.''
St. Hilaire isn't placing unreasonable expectations upon MacDonald.
"Let's face it, we run every week, but I look at it like there's 12 teams that we compete against,'' St. Hilaire said. "We're what they call 'an underfunded team,' a low-budget team. We have fun and we enjoy what we're doing, but we can't keep up with Hendricks and those other guys.
"We know we're racing against 12 other guys — Front Row Motorsports, the Burger King cars, and we compete with those guys every week. We focus on being among the top third of those cars and we think Eddie can be competitive with any of those 12 guys we race against.''
If MacDonald were to turn some heads by doing so, could it lead to something more than just a one-shot deal on the Cup side?
"You know, I've got some races open later in the year on tracks that he's raced at,'' St. Hilaire said. "If this works out, I'm going to give him another shot. I love the guy. He and his Dad are just old New England racers. We all work hard up here and it's just a different type of tight-knit people, so why not?
"I'm not hooked to anybody for the season. We don't have any long-term contract with a driver. If we can put another team together for the next Loudon race or at Bristol, yeah, we'd entertain that.''
It's St. Hilaire's hope that MacDonald gets a rousing welcome during the Sprint Cup driver introductions.
"He's 34, he's been in all these series, and he's won. He wins and gets the most done with the least,'' St. Hilaire said. "I'm hoping he gets a big ovation, because he's paid his dues. He doesn't have any ego, he's just a real humble guy who wants to go racing and I'm just happy for him.''
NASCAR Sprint Cup
What: Camping World RV Sales 301
When: Sunday, 1 p.m.
Where: Loudon, N.H.
Michael Vega can be reached at email@example.com.