Mayor says Barre is prepared for Stewart appearance
BARRE CITY -- NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Tony Stewart will come to Barre's Thunder Road Int'l Speedbowl on Thursday evening to compete in the CARQUEST Vermont Governor's Cup 150. Rumors of a Stewart appearance at the track began swirling as early as 2007, and the buzz following the announcement of his impending arrival, which was made in March, likely suprasses any promotion the track has seen since its opening in 1960.
Stewart -- one of the most popular auto racing athletes of the last half-century, in case you hadn't heard -- is expected to draw a record crowd of as many as 10,000 spectators to Thunder Road.
For track promoter Tom Curley, a crowd like that should be a nice little revenue booster. For Barre City Mayor Thom Lauzon, though, that crowd has the makings of a traffic disaster. Fortunately, he and his team have it figured out.
"I had a meeting with Jeff Blow, Tim Bombardier, Mike Stevens, Tom Curley, and Darla Hartt, and we're pretty confident that we've got the traffic situation under control," said Lauzon. Bombardier and Stevens, who are the Chiefs of Police for Barre City and Barre Town, respectively, and Blow, a Barre Town Selectman who is active in the racing community, got together with Lauzon, Curley, and Thunder Road Vice President Hartt to come up with a game plan. Signs will be posted on Interstate 89 and local routes in and around Barre directing race fans to and from Thunder Road, and hopefully, limiting delays and frustration.
"VTrans (the Vermont Agency of Transportation) has been a huge help, and they've loaned us some sign boards," said Lauzon. "There will be blinking traffic lights and directing police officers stationed at several points to ease traffic. There will be more officers on duty to handle the race traffic on Thursday than ever before. The effort that everyone on staff has and will put in is pretty unpecedented. They've all done a great job."
The team has also come up with another plan: Race fans, leave your GPS at home.
"The biggest problem that we know we're going to face is people relying on their GPS units," Lauzon explained. "We've tested several different units, and not a single one of them pointed in the best route to get to Thunder Road." Lauzon himself tested two GPS units with the same negative result.
"We are suggesting that race fans take Exit 6 off I-89 and travel straight up Middle Road and follow the signs, rather than take a left onto Route 14, or use Exit 7 and drive through the city and go up Quarry Hill like everyone is used to doing," he said. "Middle Road is actually about a half-mile longer in distance, but the difference in time, traffic congestion, and frustration is huge. The biggest problem we'll face is modern technology with the GPS. Still, we're confident that our plan will work very well. We're not anticipating any horror stories."
Lauzon reminded that, like most major events practically anywhere, getting in will be easier than getting out.
"Bring your favorite CD for when it's time to leave," he laughed. "Pack a sandwich, relax, and take your time. I go to a lot of Red Sox and Patriots games, and I'm used to sitting on Route 1 for an hour waiting to get moving. We're expecting a sort of mass exodus around 9:30pm when the 150 is getting over with and before the rest of the features finish -- maybe a third of the crowd or more -- and that's when the waiting will begin.
"We are asking drivers to use patience, especialy because it will be getting dark and visibility will be limited. We want everyone to have a great time at the race, but our number-one concern is safety."