BARRE -- Maybe being a test pilot isn't always a bad thing.
Ten years ago, Northfield racer Cris Michaud became the first competitor to use the original American-Canadian Tour 'spec' General Motors crate engine. Since then, the engine has widely been credited as the savior of the Late Model division in the northeast, with more than 400 sold since 1999. Four years ago, and again in 2008, Michaud helped to develop and diagnose problems with Goodyear's 8-inch slick tire, the tire that is run by nine weekly tracks and two touring series in the northeast.
So it seemed only natural for Michaud to be the pioneer when Ford Racing came calling with its new Late Model 'spec' engine this year. And, of course, the three-time Thunder Road track champion has delivered, taking the first victory with the new Ford powerplant in the Casella Waste Management 50 on Thursday night.
Michaud has worked closely with engineers from Ford Racing in Dearborn, Mich. this season to test and develop the engine.
"Mike (Delahanty, Sportsman Circle Track Racing Program Manager for Ford Racing), actually calls us just about every week," said Michaud. "Yeah, we expect a call from him, and finally we can tell him we won. I'm happy that we got the Ford motor and we got the first win."
Michaud, who started ninth on the 24-car grid, took over second place on lap 20, caught leader Doug Murphy by lap 37, and passed Murphy in lapped traffic with four laps remaining before driving to the win. Murphy's Chevrolet was faster coming out of the corners, but Michaud's Ford was able to cut in half any defecit Murphy applied by the end of each straightaway.
Michaud says that being sluggish out of the corners has plagued his car's performance all season at Thunder Road, but oddly nowhere else.
"It runs great at other tracks, we just have had a hard time figuring it out here," he said. "We haven't been running like we're used to. That's what our problem has been, is getting beat bad off the corners. That's the way it is at Thunder Road, but take me to Oxford (Plains Speedway in Maine) like last weekend, I mean, we were beating them off the corners or dead even, it was an equal thing, I don't know. For some reason at Thunder Road, I can't seem to get it turn right to get off the corner fast enough. I think it's a setup thing. We'll figure it out."
Tunbridge driver Murphy one-upped his performance of last Thursday with a runner-up finish; he had taken a career-best third-place effort a week ago. After starting in third place in the Casella 50, Murphy took the lead from Jerry Lesage on lap 13, a position he held until Michaud's winning move on lap 46. Reno Gervais of Island Pond finished third with South Burlington's Trampas Demers fourth and Lesage, of Winooski, fifth. Phil Scott, Nick Sweet, Jamie Fisher, Joey Becker, and Dave Pembroke rounded out the unofficial top ten.
Eric Badore of Milton took his second win of the season in the 35-lap Tiger Sportsman feature. The former Street Stock champion earned his first career Sportsman victory two weeks ago. Badore, from the fifth-place starting position, moved around rookie Neal Foster into the lead on lap 7, then held off charging drivers Ray Stearns and Shawn Fleury for the win. Pete Ainsworth finished fourth over Brian Delphia.
Rookie Tucker Williams of Hyde Park earned his third Street Stock win of the year. Jeff Martin, Jr. crossed the finish line in second place, but was disqualified for a weight violation. With Martin's disqualification, Jason Allen and M.C. Ingram each inherited career-best finishes in second- and third-place, respectively. Troy Gray finished fourth with Billy "Weiner" Hennequin fifth.
John Prentice of Northfield earned his first career Junkyard Warrior victory in peculiar fashion, finishing third in each of two segments of a monza-style event and earning a total low score of six points. The first segment was an eight-lap race with all cars running in reverse gear, while the second segment was a traditional 25-lap race in a forward, counter-clockwise direction. Kevin Streeter won the backwards race and finished fifth in the regular race for a total of six points; the tie-breaker was given to Prentice based on his better final-segment finish. Ken Christman inherited third place overall after Mark LaFleche was disqualified for illegal wheel camber.
UNOFFICIAL RESULTS -- Casella Waste Management Night
Thunder Road Int'l Speedbowl, Barre, Vt.
Thursday, July 23, 2009
Pos.-Driver-Hometown (# - indicates rookie)
ACT Late Model (50 laps)
1. Cris Michaud, Northfield
2. Doug Muprhy, Tunbridge
3. Reno Gervais, Island Pond
4. Trampas Demers, South Burlington
5. Jerry Lesage, Winooski
6. Phil Scott, Montpelier
7. Nick Sweet, Barre
8. Jamie Fisher, Shelburne
9. Joey Becker, Jeffersonville
10. Dave Pembroke, Middlesex
NAPA Tiger Sportsman (35 laps)
1. Eric Badore, Milton
2. Ray Stearns, East Corinth
3. Shawn Fleury, Middlesex
4. Pete Ainsworth, Jr., Middlesex
5. Brian Delphia, Waterbury
6. David Finck, Barre
7. Ricky Roberts, Washington
8. #Neal Foster, Waterbury
9. #Mike Billado, Essex
10. Joey Laquerre, East Montpelier
Allen Lumber Street Stock (20 laps)
1. #Tucker Williams, Hyde Park
2. Jason Allen, Northfield
3. M.C. Ingram, Essex Jct.
4. Troy Gray, Fairlee
5. Billy Hennequin, Morrisville
Power Shift Online Junkyard Warrior (two segments)
1. John Prentice, Northfield
2. Kevin Streeter, Waitsfield
3. Ken Christman, Cabot
4. Kevin Wheatley, Williamstown
5. Kevin Dodge, Barre