-by Justin St. Louis
Apologies to the readers of VMM for the lack of consistent updates lately, but we feel like we might have a half-decent excuse: we've been putting the final touches on the Thunder Road 50th Anniversary book, due for release in the coming weeks. The project, which was borne out of a meeting just two short months ago, has demanded a lot of time management, energy, and disciplined focus (none of which are things this particular writer is familiar with, by the way), and has left precious little room for much else, especially the last three weeks.
But thanks to Dave Moody, Cho Lee, John Casey, the staff at Queen City Printers, and dozens of other people, the 88-page collection, titled "Fifty Years of Excitement" is filled with stories and both black-and-white and full-color photos of the Barre track's remarkable half-century run. At just $10, the book will be available before the end of the month.
Here's a small excerpt of the book, just as a teaser. The following is from a colorful piece about Thunder Road pioneer Chester T. Wood, penned by Moody. In it, motorsports writer Mark Thomas, who grew up working on Wood's race cars, and Harold Hanaford, a competitor of Wood's for many years, tell some classic Chester T stories:
"Friday night, out of the blue, Chet said, 'We’re running the Milk Bowl,'" said Thomas. "He didn’t have a racecar, but that didn’t matter to him. He rounded up a bunch of his buddies and a few of the neighborhood kids, and we went to work."
Fueled by pizza, beer and cigarettes, Wood and his helpers labored all through the night and the next day, as well. Just 18 hours later, their hastily assembled #X1 Plymouth sat on the Milk Bowl pole, after turning the quarter mile in a then-sizzling 14.38 seconds. He took care of business in the opening segment, winning it handily, but problems surfaced in Round Two when he finished back in the pack, behind winner Moe Dubois. A win in the final 50-lapper wasn’t quite enough to claim the overall title – that went to Stub Fadden – but Chester T’s "two-day wonder" cemented his status as Thunder Road’s ultimate underdog.
While Wood was beloved by the vast majority of Thunder Road’s fans and competitors, Ronnie Marvin was not a member of his fan club.
"For some reason, Chet and Ronnie didn’t like each other," said Hanaford. "If you saw them running side-by-side, you knew something bad was probably going to happen.
"One day, they got into it pretty good on the racetrack. After the races, a bunch of us were sitting on the track, shooting the bull and waiting for the traffic to clear. Someone remarked that Ronnie was lucky not to have gotten hurt, saying, 'It would have taken an awfully big coffin to handle you.'
"My wife Florence loved to pick on Ronnie, and she said, 'Aw, if they give him an enema first, they can bury him in a shoebox.'
"Chet was eating a hotdog at the time, and he spit that hotdog about 50 feet in the air. He thought that was the funniest thing he’d ever heard."
Details for "Fifty Years of Excitement" will be forthcoming, so stay tuned.
There's all kinds of news surrounding the upcoming CARQUEST Vermont Governor's Cup 150 at Thunder Road next Thursday, June 25, including a sneak peek from the JPR Racing team of driver Joey Polewarczyk, Jr., which is preparing a car for NASCAR Sprint Cup Series point leader Tony Stewart to drive at the event.
Stewart will drive a car nicknamed "Betsy" -- the car Polewarczyk used to set the Thunder Road single-lap track record of 12.935 seconds with at the 2006 Milk Bowl. The car has been fitted with a new body and will carry the #14 and Old Spice and Office Depot signage from Stewart's Sprint Cup car.
"What more could you ask for?" said Polewarczyk. "She is proven to be the fastest car on that track."
"Tony will be driving Thunder Road with the best available equipment possible," added crew chief Joe Polewarczyk, Sr. Hudson, N.H. driver Polewarczyk, Jr., who crashed out of the lead late in last month's Mekkelsen RV Memorial Day Classic at the track, will drive his familiar #97 Chevrolet in the race.
Along with the anticipation of the Governor's Cup event came the announcement that Patrick Laperle has filed a surprise entry for the race. Laperle, of St-Denis-sur-Richelieu, Qué., has won three of the last four, Chittenden Bank Milk Bowls at Thunder Road, and becomes an instant favorite for the win.
"I can’t wait to race against Tony Stewart," said Laperle in a Thunder Road press release. "My brother and I are huge fans of his and this is going to be one of my best racing memories. The idea that I can just race and not worry about Série ACT-Castrol points or anything like that is what I love to do. I hope we come to the wire side-by-side for the win after 149 laps. It would be the thrill of a lifetime."
VMM has also learned that two-time Airborne Speedway Sportsman division champion Jason Bonnett of St. Albans will make his Late Model debut at the race driving the #32 RPM Motorsports entry driven earlier this season by Mike Olsen. Bonnett has attracted his main sponsor, Desorcie Emergency Products, to fund the effort, and will also drive the car in the Fall Foliage 300 at Airborne in September.
RPM Motorsports owner Rick Paya said he is excited about bringing Bonnett into the division. "He's already tested the car, and I was very impressed by him. I always have been, watching him in the (Sportsman) cars. Jason's just so smooth and consistent. It should be fun."
Williston's Brian Hoar, who drives the #37 car for RPM, will also be in the field.
So, Sean Kennedy is headed to Loudon. Kennedy, a regular at Capital City Speedway in Ottawa, won the Série ACT-Castrol event there last weekend and earned a chance to compete at the 1-mile New Hampshire Motor Speedway for the ACT Invitational in September.
Kennedy, of Durobin, Ont., is probably largely unfamiliar to most ACT fans, due to his mostly one-track schedule at Capital City. Kennedy is a well-spoken guy with a good sense of humor, is a good, clean racer with top-notch equipment, first-class sponsorship from Waste Management, and one of the most professional-looking teams in the region, and would be an asset to any series he competes with, but his lack of experience may be his downfall at NHMS. Kennedy plans to compete at Kawartha Speedway in the ACT Late Model Tour event in July, and then will be a part of the test session in August at NHMS which will determine approval for the ACT Invitational the following month.
Nick Bigelow, Media Director for ACT, says that while the approval process has already begun, a major part of it will be finalized at the August test.
"Everyone who goes to the test in August will be watched closely, and only the ones that are able to race around the track within a certain percentage of a (pre-determined) lap time, whatever that time ends up being, will be invited to compete in the race," Bigelow said. "There are other things that will determine (eligible drivers), too."
We hope Kennedy gets in the show at Loudon. His win and subsequent invitation to NHMS is a major victory for the "little guy" and gives positive hope and encouragement for other weekly-level Late Model racers -- a la Dan McHattie at Kawartha, Guy Caron at Twin State, or Jeff White at Oxford Plains, drivers that in the right situation, could reel off an NHMS qualifier win -- and a top finish in the actual ACT Invitational itself would give an instant boost to the confidence of the Capital City Speedway Late Model division (or Kawartha, Twin State, Oxford, or where ever) and motivate more weekly racers to branch out and strut their stuff against the touring teams.
AROUND THE REGION:
Time to take a look at the top Vermonters from the past weekend...
ACT Late Model Tour: The Nutmeg State 100 at Waterford Speedbowl in Connecticut was halted by rain after 28 laps on Saturday night. Brad Leighton was leading Randy Potter, Ricky Rolfe, and Graniteville's Chip Grenier at the time of the postponement. The race will be completed this Satruday.
Airborne Speedway (Plattsburgh, N.Y.): Saturday night's event was rained out after heats were completed for four of five divisions.
Albany-Saratoga Speedway (Malta, N.Y.): As Brett Hearn won his sixth 358 Modified race of the season on Friday night, Middlebury's Todd Stone could do no better than 12th. Rob Langevin of Londonderry finished sixth in the Sportsman feature. Hunter Bates of Middlebury was sixth in the Budget Sportsman race, while Lori Langevin of Londonderry and Chuck Towslee of Manchester Center finished fourth and fifth in the Pro Street Stock event, respectively.
Bear Ridge Speedway (Bradford): Bob Shepard of West Topsham returned to Sportsman Modified victory lane on Saturday night for the first time this season. Jason Gray of East Thetford was fourth with Thetford Center's Wayne Stearns fifth. It was a top-five sweep for Vermonters in the Sportsman Coupe race, as rookie Billy Simmons of Bradford took his first win. Josh Harrington and Melvin Pierson, both of Topsham, were second and third, followed by Bryan King of Corinth and rookie Jason Horniak of Bradford. Thetford Center's Dan Eastman won again in the Limited Late Model feature over Bradford's Jeremy Hodge and Will Hull of East Montpelier. The Fast Four and Hornet features were rained out. Anthony Cain of Fairfax won the SCONE 360 Sprint Car feature.
Canaan Dirt Speedway (Canaan, N.H.): Thetford Center's Dave Lacasse finished fifth in the Modified feature on Friday night, while Dan Eastman of Thetford Center led East Montpelier's Will Hull to the win in the Street Stocks. Josh Sunn of White River Junction won the Mini Stock feature with Wilder's Andy Johnson fourth.
Devil's Bowl Speedway (Fair Haven): Kenny Tremont of West Sand Lake, N.Y. earned his 60th win at Devil's Bowl on Sunday night -- the 275th win of his career -- in the 358 Modified division. Vince Quenneville, Jr. of Brandon was fourth, with Orwell's Tim LaDuc, Middlebury's Todd Stone, and Jimmy Ryan of Whiting right behind. Frank Hoard, III of Manchester took his first win of the year in the Budget Sportsman feature with Middlebury's Hunter Bates second. Defending champion Cullen Howe of South Londonderry was third. Jeff Washburn of Benson won the Pro Street Stock feature over Manchester Center's Chuck Towslee. Rob Ketcham of Sudbury was the Limited division runner-up.
Monadnock Speedway (Winchester, N.H.): Dana Shepard of Putney finished 12th in the Super Stock race on Saturday night, and Ludlow's Joe Rogers was a season-best sixth in the Mini Stock feature.
Pro All Stars Series: Steven Legendre of Danville finished 16th in the PASS North Super Late Model 200-lap event at Speedway 660 in Geary, New Brunswick on Saturday night.
Riverside Speedway (Groveton, N.H.): Island Pond's Derek Ming continued his hot streak in the Outlaw Sportsman division on Saturday night with a win, while Newport Center's David Ofsuryk was second. Lyndonville's Ben Bedor finished fourth in the Super Stock feature, and Brendan Hunt of Derby Line was second in the Street Stocks with Rick Utley, Jr. of Wheelock third. Ernie LaPlant of Lyndonville was second in the Dwarf Car race, and Andy Simpson of Lyndon Center was third in the Cyclone race.
Série ACT-Castrol: Trampas Demers of South Burlington finished 12th in Toromont CAT 100 at Capital City Speedway in Ottawa, Ont. on Saturday night.
Utica-Rome Speedway (Vernon, N.Y.): John Scarborough of Bomoseen finished sixth in the Sportsman feature on Sunday.
Thunder Road Int'l Speedbowl (Barre): Dave Pembroke of Middlesex backed up his Memorial Day Classic victory by winning the Thursday night opener last week, holding off Barre's Nick Sweet and Shelburne's Jamie Fisher in the process. Cris Michaud of Northfield was fourth, while Winooski's Jerry Lesage had a good run for fifth place. Joey Laquerre of East Montpelier took his first Tiger Sportsman win of the season, beating Marshfield's Matt Potter, Middlesex driver Shawn Fleury, Brendan Moodie of North Wolcott, and Plainfield's Tim Potter. Jason Corliss of Danville won a wild Street Stock feature over David Whitcomb of Elmore and Hardwick's "Super" Joe Fecteau. Kevin Streeter of Waitsfield got his second Junkyard Warrior win of the year. Greg Adams, Jr. of Hardwick on the Street Stock/Warrior 'reserve' feature.
True Value Modified Racing Series: Dwight Jarvis of Ascutney finished second to Jon McKennedy for the second race in a row on Saturday night, this time in the Connecticut Laborers Union 100 at Seekonk Speedway in Seekonk, Mass.
Twin State Speedway (Claremont, N.H.): Ascutney driver Chris Riendeau earned his first Late Model win of the season on Friday night, with Rutland's Dallas Trombley third. Joey Jarvis of Ascutney was fourth in the Pepsi Modified feature with Windham's Nate Kehoe fifth. Russ Davis of Cavendish and Chris Wilk of Mendon swapped finishing positions from last week's Super Street feature, with Davis beating Wilk for the win. Jeremy Blood of West Hartford was third in Strictly Stock feature. Jeremiah Losee of West Springfield won the Wildact feature over Rob Leitch of Cavendish and Hartland's Cody Small.
White Mountain Motorsports Park (North Woodstock, N.H.): Bernie Lantange of McIndoe Falls finished fourth in the Late Model feature on Friday night, with Stacy Cahoon of St. Johnsbury ninth. Stevie Parker of Lyndonville was third in the Strictly Stock feature, while Hyde Park's Tucker Williams won the Strictly Stock Mini race in his first start of the season at the track.
Thunder Road Int'l Speedbowl in Barre opens is in action on Thursday, with a special appearance by NASCAR legend Bobby Allison, and the True Value Modified Racing Series is at Thompson (Conn.) Speedway. Albany-Saratoga, Canaan Dirt, and Twin State speedways are all in action on Friday night, while Saturday will see regular events at Airborne, Bear Ridge, Canaan Fair, Mondanock, Riverside, and White Mountain. The ACT Late Model Tour is back for the final 72 laps of last week's rained out race at Waterford (Conn.) Speedbowl on Saturday, while the Série ACT-Castrol is at the newly renamed Riverside Speedway in Ste-Croix, Qué. The PASS North Super Late Models are at Maine's Unity Raceway on Saturday. Devil's Bowl and Utica-Rome speedways return to action on Sunday.
(PHOTOS: 1. Chester T. Wood in the X-1; 2. Smoke's new ride; 3. Jason Bonnett will test the Late Model waters at the Governor's Cup next week; Twin State Late Model winner Chris Riendeau. Photo 1 courtesy ACT archives; Photo 2 courtesy Joey Pole Racing; Photo 3 by Leif Tillotson; Photo 4 by Alan Ward)