BARRE -- "I wanted to wish him luck," Tucker Williams lamented from the technical inspection area on Sunday afternoon, looking toward the race track. The 17 year-old Hyde Park rookie had just brought his Street Stock to inspection after winning in his first-ever start at Barre's Thunder Road, and in the span between his victory lane interview, photographs, and being shuffled off the track to make way for the next event -- five minutes, tops -- Williams had missed a chance to send his father, Eric, off with a last-minute hand clasp or a slap on his car's roof.
But apparently, it wasn't necessary.
Immediately after Tucker's 25-lap score was the Merchants Bank 150, the second round of the ACT Late Model Tour season, and Eric Williams, the defending track champion, was starting fifth. An hour later, he'd be headed for the same place his son had just visited -- the winner's circle.
"Both of us winning on the same day, it's like a dream come true," Eric said. "I was kind of hoping, but I didn't want to jinx it, so I didn't think about it too much. I was hoping maybe some day that could happen in our careers, I just can't believe that it happened on the first day."
And that's how Thunder Road's historic 50th season opened: a champion defending his title, a son following in his father's footsteps.
Eric Williams raced in good company in the Merchants Bank 150 (the top ten starters alone, Williams included, accounted for more than 20 past track and series championships), and used a lapped car to execute a classic 'pick' move to take the lead from Dave Pembroke on lap 53. He then held off a couple of challenges by Milton driver Scott Payea, including a hairy moment on lap 123 when Payea briefly nosed ahead in heavy lapped traffic, and drove to his fifth career ACT win.
Strangely, almost an afterthought in the whole significance of the day for the Williams family was Eric earning a guaranteed starting berth in September's ACT Invitational at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, N.H. All main event winners on the ACT Late Model Tour in 2009 will be awarded a starting spot at the inaugural superspeedway event.
"I was just so overwhelmed I forgot all about the Loudon deal. When they showed me that plaque [in victory lane] -- boom! -- I pretty near fell over backwards," Eric Williams said. "It's just so much to take in."
But that was all he said about the Invitational. No one would have blamed Williams if he took a minute to boast about his well-driven race, the fact that he added yet another marquee trophy to his mantle in winning the Merchants Bank 150, or that he was now guaranteed a chance to perform on the biggest stage in the northeast at NHMS. Instead, he quickly went back to Tucker's feat. "We're just small-town people up in the hills around Hyde Park, and this is a big deal for us," he said. "I'm just proud as can be of my boy."
Tucker Williams, who has served as his father's crew chief since he was old enough to enter the Thunder Road pit area at age 14, was quick to deflect any praise. "It's not really hard, you go as fast as you can and turn left," he said of his own victory. Eric returns the crew chief favor for Tucker's Street Stock, and was credited with the preparation of the car. "It's a helluva car. My dad's been at it a long time and he knows a lot," Tucker said. "I knew we were going to be quick, but I didn't know we were going to win on the first day."
The younger Williams refused to take any credit for his father's win, as well. "That was all him today. In a race like that, it's all driver."
Québec racer Patrick Laperle, the 2008 ACT Late Model Tour champion, marched from 23rd starting position to take second away from Payea with five laps remaining. Pembroke, of Middlesex, followed Payea in fourth place, with Brian Hoar in fifth. Nick Sweet, Brent Dragon, Randy Potter, Joey Polewarczyk, and Glen Luce rounded out the unofficial top ten finishers.
Scott Coburn of Barre posted his second-straight opening day win in the 30-lap Tiger Sportsman feature, which ran non-stop. Bradford's Derrick O'Donnell beat Middlesex racer Pete Ainsworth by inches to finish in second place. Tony Rossi and Sean McCarthy completed the top five.
Tucker Williams defeated Mike MacAskill of Williamstown for the checkers in the first-ever 25-lap Street Stock/Junkyard Warrior combined 'A' feature. Garry Bashaw of Lincoln was third. Kevin Streeter of Waitsfield was the only Warrior driver to qualify for the main event and was credited with the victory for the division.
Another Street Stock rookie, Danny Doyle of Hancock, survived a wild 25-lap Street Stock/Warrior 'Reserve' feature, defeating Randolph's Markus Farnham and Bruce Melendy of Danville. Lance Donald of Williamstown was the top Warrior in fourth place.
(Photo: Tucker (left) and Eric Williams pose for the media in victory lane on opening day at Thunder Road -- Eric won the ACT Merchants Bank 150, while Tucker won his first-ever Street Stock race. Justin St. Louis/VMM photo)
UNOFFICIAL RESULTS -- Merchants Bank 150
Thunder Road Int'l Speedbowl, Barre, Vt.
Sunday, May 3, 2009
Pos.-Driver-Hometown (# - rookie)
American-Canadian Tour (150 laps)
1. Eric Williams, Hyde Park
2. Patrick Laperle, St-Denis-sur-Richelieu, Que.
3. Scott Payea, Milton
4. Dave Pembroke, Middlesex
5. Brian Hoar, Williston
6. Nick Sweet, Barre
7. Brent Dragon, Milton
8. Randy Potter, Groveton, N.H.
9. Joey Polewarczyk, Jr., Hudson, N.H.
10. Glen Luce, Turner, Me.
11. Dennis Demers, Shelburne
12. Pete Potvin, III, Graniteville
13. Mike Olsen, North Haverhill, N.H.
14. Joey Becker, Jeffersonville
15. Trampas Demers, South Burlington
16. Cris Michaud, Northfield
17. Jamie Fisher, Shelburne
18. Mark Hayward, Unity, N.H.
19. Phil Scott, Montpelier
20. John Donahue, Graniteville
21. Daniel Descoste, St-Joseph-du-Lac, Que.
22. Matt White, Northfield
23. Ricky Rolfe, Albany Twp., Me.
24. Joey Laquerre, East Montpelier
25. Quinny Welch, Lancaster, N.H.
26. Ricky Wolf, Jr., Northwood, N.H.
27. Jean-Paul Cyr, Milton
28. Chip Grenier, Graniteville
29. Joey Doiron, Berwick, Me.
30. Gary Caron, Colchester
Tiger Sportsman (30 laps)
1. Scott Coburn, Barre
2. Derrick O'Donnell, Bradford
3. Pete Ainsworth, Jr., Middlesex
4. Tony Rossi, Groton
5. Sean McCarthy, Williamstown
6. Shawn Fleury, Middlesex
7. Mark Barnier, Essex Jct.
8. Bobby Therrien, Hinesburg
9. Cody Blake, Barre
10. Matt Potter, Marshfield
Street Stock/Junkyard Warrior 'A' Feature (25 laps)
1. #Tucker Williams, Hyde Park (SS)
2. Mike MacAskill, Williamstown (SS)
3. Garry Bashaw, Lincoln (SS)
4. David Whitcomb, Elmore (SS)
5. Michael Moore, East Haven (SS)
Street Stock/Junkyard Warrior 'Reserve' Feature (25 laps)
1. #Danny Doyle, Hancock (SS)
2. Markus Farnham, Randolph Ctr. (SS)
3. Bruce Melendy, Danville (SS)
4. Lance Donald, Williamstown (JW)
5. Bryan Nykiel, Berlin (JW)