BARRE -- Dave Pembroke made a statement at Thunder Road by winning the ACT Late Model Tour event on Memorial Day weekend, and he backed it up in a big way on Thursday night, winning the Ferguson Waterworks 50 to open the regular championship season for the Late Model division.
With a larger than expected field of 29 Late Models in the pit area, Thunder Road promoter Tom Curley elected to utilize the 'plus/minus' handicap qualifying system used by the ACT Late Model Tour. Pembroke drew the seventh starting position for his heat race, and in rather unexpected fashion powered up the outside lane to win the 15-lap event, scoring a '+6' rating and earning the pole position for the feature race.
"The heat race was pretty fun, I've never had a car like that in a heat race," Pembroke said. "That doesn't happen often, and I had a smile from ear to ear. I couldn't believe it. The car was actually just a touch tight on the first couple of laps in the heat race, but everyone kind of started looking for the bottom and the outside was wide open. That's not normally my spot."
While drivers like Jamie Fisher and Phil Scott have become well-known for running in the outside groove, Pembroke is a self-admitted inside lane specialist. As he returned to the bottom side of the track for the feature, the Middlesex driver led every lap and held off only brief challenges from Fisher and Nick Sweet for the victory.
"[To win] the first points race for Thunder Road in the 50th season, it's a great way to start," said Pembroke. "There's nothing easy about races here. Starting first is a bonus, but it's still hard. There are such good competitors here and 50 laps is a long time to hold them all off. My car wasn't perfect at the end, but it was a good race and I'm glad to win that one. I was driving as hard as I could."
Sweet started on the outside pole after earning a '+4' in his heat race, and ran behind Pembroke until a caution flag on lap 19 bunched the field for a restart. Fisher was able to sneak underneath Sweet and ran in second place after the restart, but the two traded their positions back in similar fashion after another restart on lap 24. Sweet held on to second place following the third and final restart on lap 29, and looked to challenge Pembroke for the lead on the outside on laps 34 and 36, but was unable to make his car stick up high and settled for the runner-up position.
Fisher battled door-to-door for third with Cris Michaud for several laps before breaking away on lap 43, but was unable to reel Sweet in. Michaud finished fourth behind Fisher, with Jerry Lesage on his rear bumper in fifth place. The top ten was completed, in order, by John Donahue, Trampas Demers, Tony Andrews, Jean-Paul Cyr, and Mike Bailey.
All-time Thunder Road victory leader Joey Laquerre of East Montpelier raised his career total to 43 with a win in the Tiger Sportsman division's 35-lap feature, but only after working his way past brothers Tim and Matt Potter for the lead. Laquerre, who turns 66 next month, tried to pass leader Tim Potter on laps 15 and 16 on the outside, then darted low to take over on lap 20 and eventually cruise to the win.
Matt Potter and former two-time Sportsman champion Shawn Fleury scooted under Tim Potter for second and third place, respectively, following a lap 23 restart and held on to finish there. Brendan Moodie completed a breathtaking three-wide move under Brian Delphia and Jimmy Hebert to take over fifth place, then got by Tim Potter with seven laps remaining to finish fourth; Potter held on for fifth place.
Laquerre said it was important to him to win in Thunder Road's 50th season, but he was more impressed with the improvement shown by the Potter brothers.
"Those kids are good. Don't underestimate them," he said. "That 28 (Tim) and the 23 car (Matt), you remember what they were like last year? This year they're really good. And everybody's good. We have very few that are slow [in the division], we're all within two or three tenths of each other, which is a good thing. It's a good group."
Defending Street Stock champion Jason Corliss of Danville turned in a miraculous performance as he held on to win the Street Stock/Junkyard Warrior 'A' feature after driving completely off the track surface with four laps remaining. As the field scattered to miss a spinning car in Turn 2, Corliss was forced to drive off the track to avoid crashing, but nearly drove off the top of the banking into the dirt. He brought the car back to the race track and outlasted David Whitcomb and Joe Fecteau for the victory. Mike MacAskill and Scott Maynard completed the unofficial top five. Warrior driver Ken Christman of Cabot finished 18th overall and was credited with the victory for his division, the first win of his career.
Street Stocker Greg Adams, Jr. of Hardwick won the Street Stock/Warrior 'reserve' feature after a see-saw battle with Ron Gabaree, who finished second. Dave Allen finished third, but opted to forfeit his position for a starting spot in the 'A' feature, where he finished 17th. Dan Lathrop and Warrior racer Troy Kingsbury finished fourth and fifth, respectively.
The New England Antique Racers made their annual appearance at Thunder Road; Pete Newsham won the Modified class driving a 1937 Chevrolet Coupe formerly driven by Pete Hamilton, while Cho Lee won the Sportsman class driving the George Hay #68 coupe, a car that was raced at Thunder Road in the 1960s by former national champion Rene Charland.
UNOFFICIAL RESULTS -- Ferguson Waterworks Night
Thunder Road Int'l Speedbowl, Barre, Vt.
Thursday, June 11, 2009
Pos.-Driver-Hometown (# - denotes rookie)
Late Model Feature (50 laps)
1. Dave Pembroke, Middlesex
2. Nick Sweet, Barre
3. Jamie Fisher, Shelburne
4. Cris Michaud, Northfield
5. Jerry Lesage, Winooski
6. John Donahue, Graniteville
7. Trampas Demers, South Burlington
8. Tony Andrews, Northfield
9. Jean-Paul Cyr, Milton
10. Mike Bailey, South Barre
Tiger Sportsman Feature (35 laps)
1. Joey Laquerre, East Montpelier
2. Matt Potter, Marshfield
3. Shawn Fleury, Middlesex
4. Brendan Moodie, North Wolcott
5. Tim Potter, Plainfield
6. Cody Blake, Barre
7. Jimmy Hebert, Williamstown
8. Mike Ziter, Williamstown
9. Tony Rossi, Barre
10. Joel Hodgdon, Craftsbury
Street Stock/Junkyard Warrior 'A' Feature (25 laps)
1. Jason Corliss, Danville (SS winner)
2. David Whitcomb, Elmore (SS)
3. Joe Fecteau, Hardwick (SS)
4. Mike MacAskill, Williamstown (SS)
5. Scott Maynard, South Burlington (SS)
18. Ken Christman, Cabot (JW winner)
Street Stock/Junkyard Warrior 'Reserve' Feature (25 laps)
1. Greg Adams, Jr., Hardwick (SS)
2. Ron Gabaree, Barre (SS)
3. David Allen, North Troy (SS)
4. #Dan Lathrop, Hyde Park (SS)
5. Troy Kingsbury, Waitsfield (JW)
(PHOTOS: 1. Late Model winner Dave Pembroke carries the checkers; 2. Tiger Sportsman winner Joey Laquerre; 3. The #61 car of Street Stock winner Jason Corliss showed some battle scars following its win. Photos 1 and 2 by Alan Ward, Photo 3 by Justin St. Louis/VMM)