The Spotter's Stand writes:
"Looking Back - 1985: Crouch, LaJoie Go To Court"
Posted by The NASCAT on March 27, 2010
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I have seen a number of readers on this site reference the old NASCAR North Tour - also known at various points as the Stroh's Tour, Molson Tour, and Coors Tour. GOOOOO Beer! - while looking through some of the K & N Pro Series statistics and various other driver pages. Quickly, for those of you that don't know, NASCAR had a predecessor to the K & N Pro Series East that ran in Vermont, Maine, New Hampshire, Quebec and Nova Scotia from 1979-1985. Great drivers that would go onto run the the K & N series as well, such as Dick McCabe, Bobby Dragon, Randy LaJoie, Stub Fadden, Robbie Crouch, and inaugural K & N champ Joey Kourafas, ran this tour for most of its duration.
But if the North Tour ran from 1985 and the K & N - essentially the same style cars at the same tracks - began in 1987 why is there a one year gap in history for 1986 and why does NASCAR not count towards K & N statistics the North Tour stats (if they did, Robbie Crouch would be the all-time wins leader, not Kelly Moore).
For a number of years, whenever one of my readers have asked me "What happened?", I have only been able to give a few feeble lines of confusing explanation myself.
But, but, but!!!, thanks to the fact that I was recently able to compile results to that mysterious 1985 Coors Tour season (http://bit.ly/ab5iYW) and then following up with the American-Canadian Tour this month, I have finally, finally, finally, been able to come up with a straightforward explanation on The Third Turn tonight. So figured some of the R-R fans who have pondered this question for a number of years might like to see it as well. Here goes nothing:
One of the most peculiar championship battles off all-time, the fight for the 1985 NASCAR Coors Tour championship, was officially settled in the New York City Federal District Appellate Court after a lawsuit between rivals Robbie Crouch and Randy LaJoie. This lawsuit took three years to settle, ultimately giving LaJoie the championship. In the interim NASCAR, sickened over the controversy and other issues with the Coors Tour, had disbanded the ultra-popular tour. Had Crouch won the lawsuit, he would have gone onto win 6 consecutive Coors Tour championships (in 1986, the newly-formed American-Canadian Tour replaced NASCAR as sanctioning body for the series).
Entering August 1985, Crouch and LaJoie had been close championship rivals for the last season and a half. While LaJoie and Crouch's racing relationship could not be defined as being very antagonistic, a number of incidents between the two during the 1984 season played a critical role in allowing Crouch to slip to the championship by just thirteen points over LaJoie. LaJoie had appeared to have the upper hand for most of the 1985 season entering race #21 of the season, a fight at the famed Vermont short track, Catamount Stadium (which sadly would not still even be in existence by the time the lawsuit was concluded). Crouch though, as had been his pattern for the previous few seasons, was coming on strong through mid-summer and was looking to gain ground at a track LaJoie had a slight advantage at.
While few reports remain about exactly what happened that August 11th, 1985 night that caused the controversy, reading an issue of Speedway Scene gives an account along the following lines: On the first lap of the race, Randy LaJoie was involved in an accident that caught up several back-markers. Coming to pit road for repairs, NASCAR somehow credited LaJoie as being two laps down by the time the race restarted when a later review proved LaJoie had not fallen that far back (whether he was actually one lap down or still on the lead lap is unclear).
Crouch went onto seemingly win the race, but LaJoie filed an immediate protest to the chief scorer (which, unlike a legal lawsuit, is a rather typical thing for a driver to do in those days). Five days later, NASCAR offices in Daytona Beach overturned the local officials at Catamount and gave the victory to LaJoie.
While Crouch, due to the unique, bonus point-laden scoring system the Tour used during the season, Crouch actually managed to score more points than LaJoie (101-96), but Crouch and LaJoie would inevitably have had a wider gap in the points payout and, while specific numbers for what the difference would have been are unavailable, Crouch would certainly have had enough to take the championship over LaJoie. But with LaJoie's victory at Catamount now credited, LaJoie would go onto win the championship by a scant fifteen markers.
Crouch filed a lawsuit (it appears, at least, given Speedway Scene details) even before the season concluded. While the lawsuit was being kicked around the Vermont court system for the better part of 1986, LaJoie moved onto the Busch Series while Crouch went onto the inaugural championship under the ACT banner. NASCAR had dropped the sanctioning rights to the series after the 1985 season, mainly due to a number of safety lawsuits being filed against the sanctioning body and its tracks. Nevertheless, NASCAR, unable to even crown a champion properly, decided that this lawsuit was the final straw and informed teams that they were on their own for 1986. Meanwhile, it appears that LaJoie was consistently declared the champion in each ruling, but each appeal moved the lawsuit up the chain of appeals.
Eventually, in March 1987 after hearing the case, the Vermont Supreme Court made a shocking decision. It ruled that NASCAR did not have the right to overturn the rulings of its local officials at Catamount, a decision that threatened not only how NASCAR sanctioned local officials in the future but how many sports could control their referees and umpires. NASCAR, unofficially now backing LaJoie despite the fact it had dropped any interest in the Tour (in fact, starting the rival Busch North Series (now K & N Pro Series East), urged another appeal to Federal Court.
In 1988, the Federal District Court of NYC reversed the VT Supreme Court ruling, declaring that NASCAR had acted in its rights as a sanctioning body when overturning the Catamount officials ruling (it should be noted that Crouch never protested whether LaJoie had been scored improperly, only contesting NASCAR's role in the ultimate decision to award LaJoie the win). LaJoie was once again declared the 1985 Coors Tour champion.
Two side notes on these latter developments. There is no note on whether or not Crouch appealed the District Court ruling (the Federal Supreme Court, having reached the District Court level, was not out of the question). If Crouch did appeal, the appeal was not heard. Also, of interest, it is never revealed whether LaJoie parted with his championship trophy and check during the period of 1987-1988 where Crouch was legally the champion. While it is unlikely any effort was made by LaJoie or NASCAR to give any credit to Crouch during this period due to the fact the lawsuit was still being appealed, the ACT was placed in the precarious position of having to temporarily recognize Crouch.
This article, being published nearly twenty-five years after the controversy began, has the unique aspect of having hindsight into what the ultimate consequences of the infamous lawsuit would be.
* Robbie Crouch's narrow defeat to LaJoie in '85 would only be a minor blemish on his record with the heavy-bodied Pro Stock cars. He had won the 1983 and 1984 titles and would be undefeated in ACT titles for the Coors Tour until he scaled down to a part-time schedule in 1989. Crouch went onto win a few NASCAR Busch North Series races as well and can easily be considered one of the most underrated drivers in Northeast racing history.
* Randy LaJoie, of course, was not done winning titles. Despite the stigma attached to his title throughout the second half of the 1980s, he used the championship title in 1986 to being a part-time career in both what is today the Sprint Cup Series and the Nationwide Series. Struggling quite a bit with the Cup side, LaJoie surprised many when he returned to the second-tier series in 1996 and walked away as the series champion. He would win the '97 title as well and remains one of the greatest drivers in Nationwide Series history.
* Thus, the biggest black eye for this whole ordeal went to NASCAR. Having to close down one of its best young series threatened NASCAR's ability to hold its series in the Northeast. But in 1987, NASCAR made another go of it at the Busch North Series and, while the series has never quite had the level of popularity the old NASCAR North/Coors Tour had because the Busch North tour never made it into racing-wild Quebec, the Busch North/K & N Pro Series has never been quite as recognized as a collection of young talent and old veterans as it is today.
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