Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Memorial Day Classic a Memorable One at Thunder Road

Dave Pembroke may not have won at Barre's Thunder Road on Sunday if he wasn't in the right place on lap 82 of the Mekkelsen RV Memorial Day Classic 100. But he was.

The Middlesex driver was running behind leader Joey Polewarczyk with less than 20 circuits remaning in the ACT Late Model Tour race when Polewarczyk spun his car off the top of the banking in Turn 3, ending his chances for victory. Prior to that, the pair had raced side-by-side at the front of the pack for the majority of the race, with Pembroke in the low groove, never much more than a car length behind.

"I couldn't believe it," Pembroke said of the incident. "I saw the dust kick up a little bit and I watched him go over the top. I was watching to see if he was going to come back down over the bank and catch my quarterpanel. It was a lazy spin. He just dipped [his tires] off there and just couldn't bring it back. It's a fine line out there."

"It was mostly me who lost it," admitted Polewarczyk. "I was just too high and got in the marbles. I did a have a left-rear [tire] going down, but I don't think that had anything to do with me going off the track. It was a good battle, he raced me clean and I was racing him clean, it was just a lot of fun. I was just too high, that's the line I was running."

Pembroke was unsure of whether he would have been able to take the victory if wasn't for the leader's misfortune.

"I don't know. It would have been real interesting to see," said Pembroke. "I could catch him and I could get to him, but once I got inside of him and just being pinched down that little bit, not being able to run up off the corner just evened us right out. I wasn't going to move him, that's just not the way I do it. I guess I was prepared to finish second."

From there, Pembroke was never seriously challenged for the win, and cruised to his second Memorial Day Classic checkers in three years. Unlike his previous win in the event in 2007, this year's victory included an invitation to New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, N.H. for the ACT Invitational in September. He will join Polewarczyk -- who earned his NHMS starting spot by winning at Oxford Plains Speedway on May 17 -- at the race.

"I was not looking forward to having to ask him for a ticket to Loudon," Pembroke laughed. "He would have had two of them. I went through all this in my head out there, I was like, 'Jeez, I'm gonna have to borrow a ticket to get to Loudon.'"

Brian Hoar of Williston posted his best ACT Late Model Tour finish since 2000 finishing in second place. Hoar and Milton racer Scott Payea had a lengthy battle for the position during the closing laps; Payea settled for his third third-place finish of the season and his fourth podium result in five starts. Cris Michaud of Northfield, who qualified through the last-chance 'B' feature, finished fourth, one spot better than Randy Potter. Jean-Paul Cyr, Eric Williams, John Donahue, Joey Becker, and Chip Grenier completed the top ten in order.


Masse Breaks Through in Modifieds

Nineteen year-old Steve Masse pulled off a major upset in winning the True Value Modified Racing Series event. Just two weeks ago at Waterford Speedbowl in Connecticut, the Bellingham, Mass. sophomore earned his first-ever top-five finish, then passed the series' reigning champion, Chris Pasteryak, with 13 laps remaining before taking the checkered flag.

One year ago, an inexperienced Masse wrecked his car at Thunder Road on both Saturday and Sunday of the Memorial Day Classic, and was also taken aside by officials at Waterford following a rough race in which he evoked the ire of many competitors and officials, and was essentially advised to not race over his head. Now in 2009, it seems the youngster has learned his lessons, and ironically, the two tracks have proven to be a godsend.

Masse also thinks his turnaround has been due to a combination of experience, attitude, and luck.

"It was just patience, just trying to pick them off one by one," he said. "My crew gave me a really good car, and Brad [LaFontaine] set it up and he really gave me a good car to work with this weekend. It's all about the mindset of just taking it one lap at a time. And I think it's a little bit of not having bad luck this year. To be honest, I think last year I had some bad situations I was in and things didn't turn out like I wanted them to, but this year it's just been one hell of a year."

After his winning pass on lap 87, Masse ran away and hid from the field, stretching out to nearly a third of a track lead over runner-up Rowan Pennink. Three-time TVMRS champion Kirk Alexander finished third with Eddie Dachenhausen and Jack Bateman in tow. Pasteryak faded dramatically over the final laps, finishing ninth.


Granite Memorials a Popular Addition to Thunder Road 50th

The addition of the new 'Memorial Park' at Thunder Road -- several Barre-crafted granite memorials honoring past champions and race winners, sprinkled around the track's grounds -- was a very popular attraction during the weekend. The pieces, according Thunder Road promoter Tom Curley during a pre-race address to the crowd, were carved and erected in a matter of about five days by local granite workers, and were as much a tribute the Barre community's heritage in the stonecarving industry as they were to the drivers they honor.

Thunder Road has operated primarily on Thursday nights for 50 years for one main reason: most of the local granite sheds paid their employees on Thursday afternoons in 1960, and track owner Ken Squier wanted to offer the workers and their families cheap entertainment while there was money to spend.


Tiger Sportsmen Put on a Show

Thunder Road's famed NAPA Tiger Sportsman division hadn't seen a caution flag in feature action since September 2008. That changed in a big way on lap 14 Sunday, as nearly half of the field piled up in Turn 1, including two-time champion Shawn Fleury, who slammed the temporary wall at the top of the track. Another pileup started when Mark Barnier and Tommy Therrien cleaned each other out three laps later, taking four more cars with them. The final caution came on lap 30 when Pete Ainsworth's car, which was involved the Barnier-Therrien scrum, overheated and spun in Turn 1.

The resulting restart set up an exciting showdown for the win between Brendan Moodie, Lance Allen, and Joe Steffen; Moodie had led nearly the entire distance, with Allen and Steffen running door-to-door inches apart on Moodie's rear bumper. As the green flag flew on lap 30, Allen drew even outside Moodie's car and nosed ahead to lead one circuit before Moodie regained control. Steffen nipped Allen for the runner-up spot, and the two were followed closely by Bobby Therrien, Cody Blake, Jeff French, and Derrick O'Donnell.


Street/Warrior Class Continues to Entertain

In the pit area grandstands, countless former drivers were overheard saying "I wish I still had a car," while watching the Street Stock/Junkyard Warrior main event and 'reserve' features on Sunday afternoon.

The combination of the two four-cylinder divisions this season has been one of frustration for some of the current competitors, but has quickly become a favorite of fans and former racers -- chiefly those that raced Street Stocks in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Fun-to-watch crashes and wild three- and four-wide racing familiar to that time period have made a return to the track, thanks in no small part to the disparity in experience between the 'haves' and the 'have-nots', and also no doubt to the sheer number of competitors; 56 cars competed on Sunday in the class.

And so far, the newbies have outdone the veterans: young Bruce Melendy scored the Street Stock victory in the main event, with defending champion Jason Corliss a close second. The opening day winner, 17 year-old rookie Tucker Williams, finished in third place. Donny Yates was the Junkyard Warrior winner, finishing 17th out of 30 starters in the main event. In the 'reserve' feature for non-qualified cars, David Whitcomb was the winner with rookies Travis Hull and Jamie Davis second and third, respectively.

(Photos: 1. Dave Pembroke crosses the finish line to win the Memorial Day Classic in front of a packed house; 2. True Value Modified Racing Series winner Steve Masse; 3. Thunder Road's new "Kings of the Road" monument; 4. Tiger Sportsmen Pete Ainsworth (80), Dave Finck (37), and Brian Delphia (55) get together as Bobby Therrien (4), Tim Potter (28), and Jeff French (06) escape; 5. Warrior driver Fred Schroeder (red and yellow) and Street Stocker Vern Woodard (73) crash in Turn 2 as Mike Gay (03) and Dan Lathrop (6) scoot by. Photo 1 by Eric LaFleche/VLFPhotos.com; Photos 2, 4, 5 by Leif Tillotson; Photo 3 by Justin St. Louis/VMM)

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