This wasn’t exactly what Robbie Crouch had in mind for his return to auto racing after a 10-year break.
Initially, the Vermont driver’s goal was a low-key return and ease his way back into action. The TD Banknorth 250 at Oxford Plains Speedway was not his intended coming-out party.
“It kind of worked out that this is the weekend,” said Crouch, who was loading up his blue and white No. 48 car Friday morning and making the trek toward Maine. “It wouldn’t be our choice to start with the 250, but that’s the way it worked out. We’re not going to worry about it. We figure we’re going to get a lot of track time this weekend.”
Crouch, 54, enjoyed a sparkling career before parking his race car in 1997. A six-time points champion on the NASCAR North/ACT circuit, he won 77 tour races from 1979 to 1995, including 11 races in 1988.
He was inducted into the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame in 2006.
Crouch is warming to the idea of making the 250 his comeback race. Could there be a better way to return to the sport?
“That’s what I’m thinking,” he said. “Ten thousand to 15,000 people there to watch that debut. That will be awesome.”
Prostate cancer derailed his plan to return to racing full-time this season in the American-Canadian Tour. He was diagnosed earlier this year a couple of months after announcing his comeback bid.
“Our plan was to start with the first ACT race and make all the ACT races,” Crouch said. “When that didn’t happen, we just kind of played it by ear. I told the guys what was going on and gave them the option of getting another driver.
“I didn’t know what my time frame was or how I was going to be feeling.”
He received treatment and recently was given the green flag by doctors. He says he’s “100 percent and ready to go.”
Crouch was a regular at the 250 from 1975 to 1989. He is one of only two drivers, Butch Lindley being the other, to finish second three times. Crouch was the runner-up to Geoff Bodine (1981), Mike Rowe (1984) and Chuck Bown (1986). He has seven top 10 finishes in 15 years.
“My fondest memories and my biggest disappointments are all the same – finishing second,” Crouch said. “Those were great races for me and big paydays, which you’re always looking for when you’re running short tracks and trying to keep your team going.”
Crouch gave up the sport 10 years ago. He decided he needed a break and wanted to try new things. He didn’t expect the hiatus to last a full decade.
“I was in the middle of a bad season,” he said. “I hadn’t had a break from racing for a few years. I decided to take some time off, and it just ended up being a little more than expected.”
Crouch took up golf and focused on his car-rental business in South Burlington, Vt. He said he did everything else that he’d been interested in during that time. When Dave Storey and Brian Latuch told him they were putting a car together and wanted him to drive, Crouch ended his retirement.
“Brian was my crew chief in 1989 through 1992, and Dave I’ve known for years,” Crouch said. “We used to be competitors. They offered me the opportunity, and I was ready to do it. So it was great.”
Crouch says he’s coming to Maine without the burden of expectations. He’ll have a throng of fans from Vermont following him here.
“I’m kind of thinking, just get on the race track, get the feel of things, work on the car and just kind of take it as it comes,” he said. “We’re just going to take it one little step at a time and see where it leads us.”
His plan after the 250 is to pick and choose races as the year goes on and prepare for next year. He’s looking to have fun and enjoy being involved in racing again.
“I think probably I’ll stay involved in racing,” he said. “I’m excited about it. I’m certainly refreshed. I’ve been out of it long enough that I think it’s going to be great for me.”