BARRE -- Phil Scott knew his only chance to steal the 2009 championship at Barre's Thunder Road Int'l Speedbowl was to win the Vt. State Employees Credit Union 100 on Thursday night.
So, true to his plan, he went out and won the race. But the Vermont State Senator from Montpelier also needed Jean-Paul Cyr to falter, and that never happened.
Scott started 17th on the 28-car grid and survived -- although not totally unscathed -- a massive, 16-car pileup on the backstretch, which was triggered when Grant Folsom spun second-place runner Doug Murphy on lap 4. Four more early incidents, including another chain reaction crash on lap 14 that again briefly involved Scott, slowed the pace, but he was able to bounce his way through, continue without pitting, and pick off positions at a rapid rate.
Scott was outside leader Trampas Demers of South Burlington on the fifth and final restart on lap 39, but was initally unable to complete a pass and take command. A second attempt was made on the outside lane on lap 52 before Scott finally moved ahead four circuits later. From there, Scott stretched his legs, leading by as much as a half-lap distance over the balance of the event, which ran the final 61 laps without interruption.
The win was Scott's first since August 16, 2007.
"It does feel good to finally pull off a win here," Scott said. "We didn't have one last year and it was looking like we might not have one this year, at least in the regular season."
Cyr, the seven-time ACT Late Model Tour champion, entered the event 52 points ahead of Scott, himself a former ACT champion and three-time "King of the Road." Scott held up his end of the bargain with the victory, but his only hope for the title was to have Cyr finish worse than 24th. Cyr instead finished third, locking up his first Thunder Road title.
"We put a little pressure on ourselves, and I knew that [in order to win the championship] the only way our approach could be tonight was to try and win," said Scott. "Not that we don't try and win every other night, but it just put a little bit more emphasis on it that we had to do our part; in order to win a championship we had to win a race and see what happens from there, control our own destiny. Jean would have had to have a terrible night and we would have to win, so we can only do our part, and we did."
Like Scott, Cyr started deep in the field, in 23rd place. Cyr was never involved in any of the crashes in the early going, and was able to reach the top-five eight laps before halfway. A six-lap door-to-door battle with Brooks Clark eventually went Cyr's way on lap 54, moving him into fourth place and setting up an entertaining, position-swapping race for the runner-up position between he, Demers, Rich Lowrey, and Dave Pembroke for the rest of the event.
Slower lapped traffic took Pembroke out of the equation with 15 laps remaining, moments after he nosed ahead of Demers for second. Demers eventually held on behind Scott, with Cyr getting by Lowrey for third place on lap 98. Lowrey faded on the final lap, finishing sixth behind Cris Michaud and Clark. Eric Williams, Pembroke, Jamie Fisher, and NASCAR driver David Ragan, driving a car owned by Scott, completed the top ten finishers.
Milton racer Cyr was elated to have won the "King of the Road" title in his first full season at the track.
"[The championship ranks] right up there," Cyr said, comparing it to his previous ACT titles. "Right up there with probably the first one that I won, which was big for me. You know, it's the 50th year at Thunder Road with all the things they planned this year, and it's our first attempt at it. It definitely rates way up there."
During the winter, Cyr left the powerhouse RPM Motorsports team that he won his final five ACT championships with in order to form a new partnership to chase the Thunder Road title with owner Joey Laquerre and multi-time champion crew chief Jeff Laquerre, Joey's son. Skeptics doubted the combination, citing a team unfamiliar with itself racing a brand new car. To make matters worse, chassis construction was completed in mid-April, only weeks before the season began. Cyr and Jeff Laquerre's personalities jelled almost immediately, and after a few on-track growing pains, the team became a force.
"We got the car, like, right before the season started, so tensions were high," said Cyr. "But Joey and Jeff giving me the opportunity was really good. I really appreciate that. I'm really gratified by it. Jeff and I have had really good communication, we have mutual respect for each other. We seemed to click pretty well, I think we have a really good working relationship."
"It means a lot," said Jeff Laquerre. "New car, new team, and a great guy to work with. It came hard, and we started off the year very slow. We earned it, very much so. You couldn't ask for a better guy, too."
Unofficially, Cyr won the championship by 41 points over Scott, 908-867, with Michaud, Pembroke, and Fisher rounding out the top five point men.
To make things a bit sweeter, Joey Laquerre drove to victory in the 35-lap Tiger Sportsman feature. The East Montpelier driver's win was the 44th Thunder Road victory of his five-decade career, stretching his lead as the track's all-time win leader. Jeff Bousquet of Montpelier finished a career-best second, with Williamstown's Jimmy Hebert third. David Finck was fourth with Matt Potter fifth.
Hebert became the third different point leader in as many weeks in the division after his third-place finish, coupled with struggling performances by point leaders Tony Rossi, Pete Ainsworth, and Cody Blake.
Street Stock veteran Lloyd Blakely of Barre won the Street Stock/Junkyard Warrior main event over North Troy's David Allen and Billy "Weiner" Hennequin of Morrisville. Barre's Kevin Dodge was a first-time Warrior winner, finishing 21st overall in the race. Kevin Streeter and Bryan Nykiel were second and third, respectively.
UNOFFICIAL RESULTS -- Vt. State Employees Credit Union Night
Thunder Road Int'l Speedbowl, Barre, Vt.
Thursday, August 27, 2009
Pos.-Driver-Hometown (# - denotes rookie)
ACT Late Model (100 laps)
1. Phil Scott, Montpelier
2. Trampas Demers, South Burlington
3. Jean-Paul Cyr, Milton -- 2009 Thunder Road Track Champion
4. Cris Michaud, Northfield
5. Brooks Clark, Fayston
6. Rich Lowrey, Charlotte
7. Eric Williams, Hyde Park
8. Dave Pembroke, Middlesex
9. Jamie Fisher, Shelburne
10. David Ragan, Unadilla, Ga.
NAPA Tiger Sportsman (35 laps)
1. Joey Laquerre, East Montpelier
2. Jeff Bousquett, Montpelier
3. Jimmy Hebert, Williamstown
4. David Finck, Barre
5. Matt Potter, Marshfield
6. Brendan Moodie, North Wolcott
7. Tommy Therrien, Hinesburg
8. #Neal Foster, Waterbury
9. Joel Hodgdon, Craftsbury
10. Mike Ziter, Williamstown
Allen Lumber Street Stock/Power Shift Online Junkyard Warrior (25 laps)
1. Lloyd Blakely, Barre (SS)
2. David Allen, North Troy (SS)
3. Billy Hennequin, Morrisville (SS)
4. Bruce Melendy, Danville (SS)
5. Gary Mullen, Tunbridge (SS)
21. Kevin Dodge, Barre (JW)
22. Kevin Streeter, Waitsfield (JW)
23. Bryan Nykiel, Berlin (JW)
24. Donny Yates, North Montpelier (JW)
25. Buddy Chapman, Concord (JW)
(PHOTOS: 1. Phil Scott got a two year-old monkey off his back by winning the VSECU 100 at Thunder Road on Thursday night; 2. Like most of the Late Models at Thunder Road, Scott's car was torn up a bit after Thursday night's race; 3. Jean-Paul Cyr (bottom, center) and crew celebrate their Thunder Road track championship. Photos by Justin St. Louis/VMM)