John Donahue and Patrick Laperle weren't racing for the win at Thunder Road Int'l Speedbowl's Labor Day Classic last month, but they were definitely the show to watch all day. At Sunday's Milk Bowl at the Barre track, Donahue found a new boxing partner in Brent Dragon. But the stakes were much higher this time.
Donahue and Dragon were head-and-shoulders above the rest of the Milk Bowl field on Sunday, and entered the third and final 50-lap segment racing each other for the overall victory in Vermont's biggest annual race and a $10,000 top prize. Dragon, the 2006 Milk Bowl winner, held a razor-thin, one-point advantage over Donahue, and the two raced each other exactly as if that was the case.
By virtue of their ninth- and tenth-place finishes in the second leg of the race and the traditional full-field inversion between segments, they found themselves starting the final round in the 21st and 22nd positions and needing to move forward quickly. Making daring moves in traffic -- including a four-lap stretch where either Donahue, Dragon, or both was racing three-wide on Thunder Road's narrow surface -- eventually push came to shove.
And both drivers shoved. Dragon put his nose under Donahue and Glen Luce on lap 17 to complete a three-wide pass, one that Donahue wasn't fond of.
"I don't like being put three-wide, but this is the third segment, this is the Milk Bowl," Donahue said. "I said, 'Alright, my car is good enough, I can put you three-wide.' So I did."
And he did. On the next lap, with Dragon now on the outside lane, Donahue stuck his nose in an opening in the middle lane. Dragon, as a result, was briefly knocked off the track, and, he says, out of contention for the win.
"When I got ran off the backstretch there, it knocked the rear end out and instantly I knew it, I could feel it," Dragon said. "It just made the car so loose, and I was done. I was along for the ride at that point." Dragon acknowledged that his driving style at the Milk Bowl was out of character for the usually smooth, calculated racer. "We wanted it bad. We wanted to win it and that's what you've got to do in the Milk Bowl. That's just part of the deal. I wanted to win."
Dragon said he was surprised by Donahue's move, and although he understood that the lure of a Milk Bowl win fuels drivers to race harder, losing the race that way was hard to take.
"Yeah, a little bit. I didn't expect John to run me like that," he said. "I mean, I probably do in the Milk Bowl, [but] I had him pinned behind a car on the backstretch and I was in good shape, I would have gained a couple spots right there, and he just ran me off the backstretch. I can't believe I didn't crash, I got that far out into the dirt. That's the worst part of it."
Donahue saw the move as an eye-for-an-eye situation. "He says I cut him off. Whatever," said Donahue. "He put me three-wide. You know, what comes around, goes around. He might be mad.
"I mean, this is the Milk Bowl, this happens once a year. I don't know how else to put it. I wanted it more than he did. I got rough. I usually don't drive like that, but this is a once-in-a-lifetime deal."
While winning that first Milk Bowl may be something a driver only gets to do once, Dragon said experiencing Donahue's tactics was not. And it's not something he'll likely forget as the American-Canadian Tour season comes to a close at Oxford Plains Speedway next Sunday.
"No, it's the second time it's happened this year [with Donahue]," Dragon said. "I'll be good with it, and I'll keep it in my memory bank. That's part of the deal.
"We'll see what happens next week."
(PHOTOS: 1. Brent Dragon (#55) gets underneath John Donahue (#26) and Glen Luce (#7); 2. Donahue repays the favor with Dragon outside and Eric Chase (#40) and Joey Becker (#16) down low. Photos by Leif Tillotson)