-by Justin St. Louis
With all eyes on Tony Stewart on Thursday, Joey Polewarczyk, Jr. and his team have a job to do. Yup, Stewart is driving a Polewarczyk team car, and that car needs to perform. But Polewarczyk is there to win. For himself.
He says he's not thinking about Memorial Day, when he spun out of the lead 18 laps from the finish, or the Milk Bowl victories that he's seen slip away.
"I want to get that monkey off my back at Thunder Road and win. The past is the past and I don't let it bother me, but I do want to win pretty badly," he said.
But Polewarczyk potentially finds himself in the precarious situation of racing against his own car for the victory. Would it upset him to lose to Tony Stewart?
"Um, a little bit... maybe... not really... kinda, yeah," Polewarczyk mused. "I mean, it's my old car that I decided I didn't want to race at Thunder Road any more, so that would make me a little upset if he won with it there. It's a good car with a lot of history for me, we got our first win with it [at Seekonk Speedway in 2007], and it still holds the Thunder Road track record. I haven't raced it since Chaudière last year, and it'd be cool if Tony won in it, but in a way I hope he doesn't.
"I'd rather win anyway and have him finish second."
Here's another excerpt from "Fifty Years of Excitement," the new Thunder Road 50th Anniversary book penned by yours truly and Dave Moody. This chapter recounts the night Dave Dion came to Thunder Road for the first time... and won the feature. What followed in the next 35 years was one of the greatest driving careers New England ever saw:
In 1972, a young Vietnam vet from Hudson, N.H. was tearing up the track at Norwood Arena near Boston, and began looking around for something new. After hearing that the regional Goodyear supplier was selling tires at a little track in Vermont, his brothers sent him up to buy a set and bring them home for their race car. But the shopping trip turned into a life-changing experience for this man Dave Dion and his family, not to mention thousands of racing fans across the northeast over the next four decades.
"I had never been to Thunder Road, I think I had only been to Vermont once, just driving through, and I sat up on Bud Hill all by myself," Dion remembers. "That track was unbelievable! There were guys bouncing off the wall, bouncing off each other, and the racing was great. I'm glad there wasn't a camera on me, I must have looked like a fool hooting and hollering at all those guys. When I got home, I told my brothers 'You gotta see this place,' and we went back a few weeks later.
"What a difference it was from the spectator-to-driver sandpoint! My brothers asked me how the car handled, and I said 'I don't know if it handles or not, you can't believe that track! The wall comes straight at you, there's no room!' I didn't like it at all, and I tried to convince my brothers to load the car up and leave because I was scared. I didn't think people should race at a track like that."
Dion stuck around, though, and the story written that night proved to be one of the most important chapters in New England auto racing history. Better to let Dion tell it himself:
"The handicappers had heard a little about us at Norwood and figured I might be a ringer, so they put us in the back of the third (high handicap) heat. Long story short, we didn't qualify. We went to the consi and were fortunate enough to make it into the feature; they started us last, and that was fine with me. There was a crash in Turn 3, and I had no idea what to do. I ended up over the bank, came back and kept going. They lined us up again and put me in front of guys like Bobby Dragon, Jean-Paul Cabana, and all the top dogs because they had wrecked, but since I kept moving they said I wasn't part of the wreck, I guess.
"So we went from 22nd to around 12th, and now I was really scared. I wanted to get the heck out of there, so I ran in fear, and somehow I got to the lead. Eventually the big guys came through the pack, and there was Cabana on my bumper, and I'd read and heard a lot about how tough Cabana was. All I know is the race wore down, there were some restarts, and I was probably all over the track, I'm sure I was, but I held him off and won the race.
"The fans were shocked. Nobody comes into Thunder Road like that and wins. Cabana was mad, he was totally insulted. We were in victory lane and he was waving his arms, speaking in French, and pointing at me.
"Some of the people there convinced us to race at Plattsburgh the next night, and we went over and everyone blew us away. We went home to Norwood and raced, and came back to Thunder Road again the next week, you know, we had to go. Well, I got outside Ronnie Barcomb thinking I knew a little more about the track now, and my right-front tire touched the wall. The next thing you know, it was one of those classic Thunder Road photos from the infield where all you could see is Barcomb's car driving by, and my roof number. The car finally rolled over and back onto its wheels by the end of the front stretch, and we decided to stay home for a while after that.
"It took a long time for me to like that track and feel comfortable. But that first night, that crowd just energized me. Thunder Road's crowd can make you do things you don't think you're capable of, you just don't want to give up when you're racing for them. I've never considered any track too tough to tame since those first nights at Thunder Road. We've run everywhere: Hickory, North Carolina; Langley Field and South Boston, Virgina; Beltsville, Maryland; all over Canada, and they were all easy to race at compared to Thunder Road."
Although the fans may have been "shocked" at his win on July 13, 1972, Dion would quickly build a die-hard following at the track unparalleled by any other driver, one that would help make him one of the most popular racers of all-time in the northeast. And over the next five seasons, Dion would win 22 more times at Thunder Road alone, many of them after instantly-legendary battles with Bobby Dragon -- during that same 1972-77 stretch, Dragon won 20 times and each driver was twice crowned "King of the Road".
After much success at Thunder Road and practically everywhere else -- they were also champions at Catamount Stadium and had an Oxford 250 title under their belts, for example -- Dion and his brothers tried their hand at a limited NASCAR Winston Cup Series schedule from 1978-83, with a top finish of ninth place at Richmond, Va.
"Fifty Years of Excitement" will be available beginning Thursday, July 2 at Thunder Road's Pepsi Holiday Fireworks event. Click here for more information.
If my Yahoo! Fantasy NASCAR team was any worse, I'd be arrested for public indecency. I'm sure of that.
My team for the race at Infineon: Kyle Busch, Juan Pablo Montoya, Ryan Newman, and Robby Gordon. Safe bets, right? Busch won that race last year, Montoya the year before, Newman's on a hot streak, and Robby Gordon can just flat drive anything he wants to, especially road courses.
Busch led, then wrecked. Newman ran up front all day, then wrecked. Gordon looked like a hero, then finished 36th. Montoya, thank God, got a top-ten. Out of the 14 people in my league, I'm ranked 159th. And national standings? Forget it.
On to Loudon. I hear Ted Christopher is racing...
Gonna be nice to have a little northern rep at Loudon this weekend, as Shelburne's Kevin Lepage, Sean Caisse of Pelham, N.H., and Joey Logano of Middletown, Conn. are entered in Saturday's Nationwide Series event, plus, like we just said, Ted Christopher of Plainville, Conn. will be joining Logano and Patrick Carpentier of Joliette, Qué. in the Sprint Cup Series race on Sunday.
And from the "It's A Stretch, But We'll Take It" Department, A.J. Allmendinger will run with a Dave Dion-like orange paint scheme and sponsorship from Berlin City Auto Group in the Sprint Cup Series event on his #44 Richard Petty Motorsports Dodge. Or Toyota.
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 re-rained out on Saturday. The race has been re-re-scheduled for Saturday, August 8, according to the Waterford Speedbowl website.
Airborne Speedway (Plattsburgh, N.Y.): Jason Durgan of Morrisonville, N.Y. took a well-deserved first career win in the Modifieds on Saturday night, beating defending track champion Patrick Dupree. Mike Bruno of Castleton finished fifth, with Sheldon's Aaron Bartemy sixth. Robin Wood of Plattsburgh, N.Y. scored his third-straight Sportsman win over Milton's Larry Underwood and Richie Turner of Fairfax. Dave Rabtoy of Swanton finished fourth in the Renegades, with Milton's Rob Gordon seventh and Lance Rabtoy of Fairfax tenth.
Albany-Saratoga Speedway (Malta, N.Y.): A week after Kenny Tremont, Jr. took his 60th win at Devil's Bowl Speedway, he earned his 50th win at Albany-Saratoga on Friday night in the 358 Modified class. Fair Haven's Dave Camara finished fifth, with Vince Quenneville, Jr. of Brandon seventh. Frank Hoard, III of Manchester was the Budget Sportsman runner-up, and South Londonderry's Cullen Howe was eighth. Lori Langevin of Londonderry finished second in the Pro Street Stock feature after Cale Kneer stole the lead on the final lap. Jeff Washburn of Benson was sixth and Chuck Towslee of Manchester Center was ninth.
Bear Ridge Speedway (Bradford): Wayne Stearns of Thetford Center took his second Sportsman Modified win on Saturday night, while Gene Pierson, Jr. of East Corinth finished third in his first start of the year. Bryan King of Corinth was fourth. Josh Harrington of Topsham returned to Sportsman Coupe victory lane with his fourth win of the year, over brothers Billy and Richie Simmons of Bradford. King repeated his Modified finish with a fourth in the Coupe race; Melvin Pierson of Topsham was fifth. Thetford Center's Dan Eastman won his fifth Limited Late Model feature of the season over Bradford's Jeremy Hodge and Will Hull of East Montpelier. Ryan Dutton of Bradford and Nathan Potter of Sharon each took their first Fast Four checkers of the season in twin features, while West Topsham's Kyle Ashford and Bobby Lee Bell of St. Johnsbury split Hornet features. Brenda Atherton of Fairlee won the Hornet Queen race.
Canaan Dirt Speedway (Canaan, N.H.): Friday night's race card was rained out. A new clay surface has been laid down on the track and is being worked in for the June 26 program.
Devil's Bowl Speedway (Fair Haven): Bear Ridge Speedway promoter C.V. Elms, III of North Haverhill, N.H. posted his first Budget Sportsman win of the year in the 50-lap Ridge Runner Series event, with Willy Knight of Dorset and Jared McMahon of Hydeville completing the underdog sweep of the podium positions. Wayne Stearns of Thetford Center was fifth. Carl Vladyka of Fair Haven finished second to Cale Kneer in the Pro Street Stocks, with Jeff Washburn of Benson, Fred Little of Salisbury, and Lori Langevin of Londonderry in tow. Bill Duprey of Hydeville picked up his second Limited win of the year over Brandon's Mike Clark. Kayla Bryant of Rutland won the Mini Stock feature with Fair Haven's Chris Murray taking top Duke Stock honors. The 358 Modifieds were not in action.
Monadnock Speedway (Winchester, N.H.): Saturday's race event was rained out.
Pro All Stars Series: Sunday's event at Unity (Me.) Raceway was rained out.
Riverside Speedway (Groveton, N.H.): Bob Ailes, Sr. of St. Johnsbury finished fourth in the Late Model feature on Saturday night, with Lyndonville's Paul Schartner, III sixth, Steve Hodgdon of Danville seventh, and Brett Gervais of Island Pond ninth. Dilyn Swister of West Burke won the Super Stock feature over St. Johnsbury's Michael Smith. Andrew Fecteau of Hardwick was second in the Street Stocks with West Burke's Jesse Switser fourth. Ernie LaPlant of Lyndonville was second in the Dwarf Car race with Anthony Young of Beecher Falls third.
Série ACT-Castrol: Brent Dragon of Milton made a surprise visit to Riverside Speedway in Ste-Croix, Québec on Saturday night and walked away with his first career Série ACT-Castrol victory. Trampas Demers of South Burlington finished sixth.
Thunder Road Int'l Speedbowl (Barre): Dennis Demers of Shelburne dominated the Late Model feature on Friday night, with Robbie Crouch second. Phil Scott of Montpelier finished third over Jeffersonville's Joey Becker and Trampas Demers of South Burlington. Mike Ziter of Williamstown earned his first Tiger Sportsman win of the season over Bobby Therrien of Hinesburg, Barre's Tony Rossi, Derrick O'Donnell of Bradford, and David Finck of Barre. Street Stocker Michael Moore of East Haven won the Street Stock/Junkyard Warrior 'A' feature over Topsham's Tim Campbell. Joe Blais of East Barre finished third over Lincoln's Garry Bashaw and Bunker Hodgdon of Hardwick. Donny Yates of North Montpelier was the Junkyard Warrior winner. Greg Adams, Jr. of Hardwick on the Street Stock/Warrior 'reserve' feature for the second week in a row.
True Value Modified Racing Series: Thursday's race at Thompson Int'l Speedway in Connecticut was postponed by rain to Thursday, July 23.
Twin State Speedway (Claremont, N.H.): The weekly racing program at Twin State was rained out on Friday and again on Sunday.
White Mountain Motorsports Park (North Woodstock, N.H.): Stacy Cahoon of St. Johnsbury finished third in the Late Model feature on Saturday night, with Morrisville's Dwayne Lanphear fifth. Stevie Parker of Lyndonville won the Strictly Stock feature, and Concord's Rubin Call was the Strictly Stock Mini runner-up.
Thunder Road Int'l Speedbowl in Barre welcomes NASCAR's Tony Stewart on Thursday for the CARQUEST Vermont Governor's Cup 150, an ACT Invitational qualifying event at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. On Friday, the PASS North Super Late Models are at Maine's Beech Ridge Motor Speedway, the NASCAR Camping World Series East is at NHMS, and regular events will be held at Albany-Saratoga, Canaan Dirt, and Twin State. The ACT Late Model Tour is at White Mountain Motorsports Park on Saturday, NASCAR's Nationwide Series and Whelen Modified Tour are at NHMS, and regular events are on tap for Airborne, Bear Ridge, Canaan Fair, Mondanock, and Riverside (N.H.). Devil's Bowl and Utica-Rome speedways return to action on Sunday, while the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series' Lenox Industrial Tools 301 is at NHMS.