-by Justin St. Louis
It should go without saying that we left this weekend impressed all the way around. Airborne Speedway's racing is better than it has ever been. The story for Thunder Road's opener practically wrote itself. Two pit areas full of race cars, two grandstands full of fans, two race tracks full of action, a little sunburn, some great race track food... the perfect weekend.
First, Airborne. Upon driving up Broderick Road to get to the race track, you get this weird "buzz" feeling, like something special is happening. It's been a long time since that existed. My ride buddy for the day traditionally hates Airborne, going back to 15 years ago up through 2008, but even he was excited to be there. The pits were absolutely jam-packed with race cars -- which makes you wonder where 30+ ACT teams are going to park this weekend -- and the stands were jam-packed, too -- which makes you wonder where an extra 500-800 ACT-only fans are going to sit. Good problems to have, if you're a race track promoter.
We waited in line at the pit area concession stand for what was literally ten minutes, but it turned out to be totally worth it: Poutine and a Michigan for six bucks? Are you kidding me? Can't beat it.
The Modifieds are always so strange to see on asphalt, but the power and speed they put down is second to none. The new Mini-Modifieds are visually stunning, and race well, and the Bombers are fun to watch, as always. But the real treat was watching the Sportsman and Renegade divisions, which ran two- and three-wide all night long, door-to-door for the lead, and never lacked for action. Given the similiarities between those cars and the ACT Late Models, the Spring Green on Saturday should be one of the better ones this year on the ACT Tour.
Then, Thunder Road. That same "buzz" feeling hits you as soon as you turn up Quarry Hill Road (or is it Quarry Street?) on opening day, year after year. This year it lasted a little longer as the VMM Neon struggled a bit to make it up the hill (thank goodness we weren't in the parade on Saturday), but it was finally time to open the Nation's Site of Excitement. And I'm telling you, the story wrote itself.
Eric Williams, defending track champion, takes his low-budget team that may not race the full season and defeats the ACT Late Model Tour's best, winning himself an ACT Invitational starting spot at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in the process. That's a good enough story on its own. But to have Williams win the race just an hour after his 17 year-old son, Tucker, wins in his first Street Stock start? Come on, even Hollywood can't pull that off. The Tiger Sportsmen returned to their classic form and went flag-to-flag in a racy 30-lap feature, and the 'Reserve' feature for the Street Stock/Warrior combo division was a bloodlust's dream. Two-and-a-half cars got upside down on the first day, so you know it'll be a good year.
And not an ounce of snow left on the ground, anywhere.
So how important is the ACT Invitational at New Hampshire Motor Speedway?
We learned that Trampas Demers will be running the first four events of the Série ACT-Castrol this season, with an eye at running the whole schedule following a mid-season review... because he wants to get into NHMS.
Demers threw us for a loop with the news, saying that's looking for not only opportunities to win a race and earn a starting spot at NHMS, but that he's also looking for track time out front to help his overall program. He is the first American racer to chase the series, although drivers Brent Dragon, Dave Pembroke, Jacob McGrath, and Ryan Nolin have each made select one-race appearances since 2005.
Earlier in the year, Rowley, Mass. racer Eddie MacDonald hinted a running a few Castrol events, and rumor has it that John Donahue will be at Autodrome Montmagny later this month.
I learned quickly on Sunday that I'm not ready to sit in my favorite spot at Thunder Road yet. And I'm sure I'd be called a 'weenie' for it. Miss ya, Pete.
Kirk Alexander made good on his promise that he would win at Monadnock Speedway on Saturday night. After crashing out of the lead with 11 laps remaining in the True Value Modified Racing Series opener at the track on April 25, Alexander fulfilled his own prophecy by taking the first weekly Modified division feature in many years, beating Bryan Shumway and Jim Boniface for the win. (Mondanock Speedway photo)
Bay-Ellsbury 2012. I don't care if Jason Bay is Canadian.
The Williams family double at Thunder Road last Sunday was the first time in 20 years that a father and son won features at the track on the same day, but it's wasn't the first time.
Back in the late 1980s, when there were just two divisions but car counts of 50+ for each, Joey Laquerre won a previously rained-out Flying Tiger 'high handicap' feature on July 15, 1988, while his son, the late Joey Jr., won the regularly scheduled 'low handicap' feature later in the evening.
The following year, on August 17, "Stormin'" Norman Andrews won the Flying Tiger 'low' feature while his son, Tony, won the Street Stock 'high' feature.
AROUND THE REGION:
Here's a new weekly feature we'll try our best to keep up with this season, honoring the top performances by Vermonters at tracks in the area.
ACT Late Model Tour/Thunder Road Int'l Speedbowl (Barre): Eric Williams of Hyde Park won the ACT Merchants Bank 150 on Sunday, with Milton's Scott Payea in third place. Scott Coburn of Barre beat Bradford's Derrick O'Donnell for the Tiger Sportsman checkers, while rookie Tucker Williams won his first-ever Thunder Road start in the Street Stock division. Waitsfield's Kevin Streeter picked up the Junkyard Warrior victory.
Airborne Speedway (Plattsburgh, N.Y.): Mike Bruno of Castleton inherited second place behind Québec's Martin Roy after apparent winner Pierre Berthiaume was disqualified in post-race insepection. Aaron Bartemy of Swanton was third. Former Sportsman track champion Jason Bonnett of St. Albans finished fourth in his division's 25-lap feature, while Milton's Rob Gordon was the runner-up in the Renegade division behind New Yorker Joe Daniels.
Albany-Saratoga Speedway (Malta, N.Y): Fair Haven's Dave Camara came in as the runner-up to New Jersey's Brett Hearn in the headline 358 Modified class, with Middlebury's Todd Stone in fifth and Vince Quenneville, Jr. of Brandon in sixth. Ed Thompson of Fair Haven won the Pro Stock feature.
PASS North/Beech Ridge Motor Speedway (Scarborough, Me.): Danville teenager Steven Legendre failed to make the start of the PASS 150 on Saturday after suffering an engine failure in morning practice.
Monadnock Speedway (Winchester, N.H.): Joe Rogers of Ludlow finished seventh in the Mini Stock feature, with Putney's Dana Shepard 16th in the Super Street class.
Twin State Speedway (Claremont, N.H.): Three Vermonters competed in the Late Model feature on Friday, led by Rutland's Dallas Trombley, who finished in fifth place. Joey Jarvis of Ascutney was the top Modified driver in fifth place, one spot better than Windsor's Robert Hagar. Chris Wilk of Mendon was the runner-up to New Hampshire's Aaron Fellows in the Super Street class, while Springfield lady Tara Tarbell won the Strictly Stock feature. Jeremiah Losee of North Springfield won a Wildcat feature dominated by Vermont racers.
Both tracks at the Canaan Fair Speedway complex in Canaan, N.H. open their gates this week, with dirt racing on Friday night and the asphalt track running on Saturday. The ACT Late Model Tour is at Airborne Speedway on Saturday night for the Furniture World of Vermont Spring Green 100, while the True Value Modified Racing Series is at Waterford Speedbowl on the Connecticut shoreline for a 100-lap event.