BARRE – The first 80 laps of Sunday’s Merchants Bank 150 at Thunder Road Int’l Speedbowl appeared to be a continuation of Dave Pembroke’s dominance of American-Canadian Tour events at the Barre track. After starting from the outside pole, the Middlesex driver had a full straightaway lead by lap 12 and was pulling away. That all changed on a lap 80 restart, though, as Patrick Laperle of St-Denis, Que., and hometown driver Nick Sweet arrived on the scene.
Laperle rode the outside line to take the lead on lap 81, then the trio waged a 40-lap battle at the front. Pembroke reassumed the lead on lap 96 before Sweet took over 14 circuits later. Pembroke and Sweet swapped the point four more times between laps 112 and 121 before Sweet took control for good. Defending ACT champion Brian Hoar of Williston arrived late in the going for second place, with Laperle third and Pembroke fourth.
“These long races are all about patience,” said Sweet, who started 12th on the 30-car grid. “You have to set up for these kinds of races. You can’t burn the tires off too soon, and I saved it. I’ve learned a lot over these past couple years, and look at me now, I’m winning races.”
For Sweet, in his third season of racing the top-tier Late Model division, the Merchants Bank 150 was his first ACT victory. For his competitors, though, it felt like a long time coming.
“I closed in on Nick the last five laps and tried to nerve him up a little bit, but he did a great job,” said Hoar. “He didn’t nerve up much. He’s definitely a future champion.”
“This is the first race we’ve had to worry about Nick Sweet,” Pembroke said sarcastically; the two are weekly competitors at Thunder Road. “We knew last year that Nick was a great, great driver.”
Mark Lamberton of Mooers Forks, N.Y., had a strong return to full-time competition by finishing in fifth place. The unofficial top ten was completed by Craig Bushey, Joey Laquerre, Chip Grenier, polesitter Scott Payea, and Mark Hayward in a career-best tenth.
With the win, Sweet became the first driver to qualify for the ACT Invitational at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in September.
Veteran driver George May of Barre won the 35-lap Tiger Sportsman feature in a caution-free event. May’s last win at Thunder Road came in 1994. Mike Ziter of Williamstown was second, followed by Cody Blake, Joel Hodgdon, and Josh Demers.
Street Stock driver Mike MacAskill of Williamstown dominated the first of two Street Stock/Junkyard Warrior combined features, with Travis Hull second and Bunker Hodgdon third. Tim Campbell of West Topsham beat Greg Adams, Jr., by two feet to win the second feature, with Barre’s Ron Gabaree third. Cabot’s Ken Christman and Kevin Wheatley of Williamstown were the top-finishing Junkyard Warrior drivers in their respective features.