Contributed by: ACT Staff
The Most Improved Driver awards are also a very big deal each year. Michaud is a three-time winner – Tiger Sportsmen in 1995, Late Models in ‘96 and ‘98. Chad Wheeler and current ACT race director Glen Wright have each won the Late Model award twice – Wheeler in his rookie year of 1997 and again in ‘99, while Wright won in consecutive years, 1993 and ’94. Recent winners include Tim Martin in 2002 and Trampas Demers last season. A few drivers that showed a vast improvement from the 2003 season or early part of 2004 include (but are certainly not limited to) Steve Fisher, Roger Brown, Eric Chase, Ron Henry, Jamie Fisher, Wheeler, and Michaud. Fisher and Brown each proved in 2004 that they have grown into serious contenders on a weekly basis, and each brought home the winner’s hardware for the first time during the season. Eric Chase has been a work in progress since the beginning of his Late Model career, and finally had a solid season in 2004, taking three top-10s on the ACT Tour and contending for the win in both Airborne Raceway events before fading late. First-year Tour driver Ron Henry and former Thunder Road champion Jamie Fisher suffered through a tough first half, then turned their programs around significantly near the mid-season mark – Henry with back-to-back top-5s on Tour, Fisher with a big win on Kinney Drugs Night at Thunder Road. Either Chad Wheeler or Cris Michaud could likely win their third Late Model Most Improved award this coming January; Wheeler suffered through several seasons of bent clips, dragging body panels, and failing to qualify before breaking a five-year victory drought at Thunder Road, finishing 3rd in points. Michaud, the 2001 “King of the Road”, had a terrible season in 2003, mustering only 16th overall on the ACT Tour and struggling on a limited Thunder Road weekly schedule. With a new car, crew chief, and sponsor for 2004, Michaud took four wins, including the New England Dodge Dealers Milk Bowl, and his second Thunder Road title.
The NAPA Tiger Sportsman Most Improved Driver, as it is in any year, is anybody’s guess. Past winners include Robin Wood (1992), Late Model star Dave Pembroke (1996 & ’97), Pembroke’s cousin, Eric (1999), Homecoming 100 winner Pete Ainsworth (2002), and Airborne regular Steve Bennett (2003). The Sportsman class continually oozes budding young talent and savvy veterans alike, and saw several drivers make a statement about their futures behind the wheel. Youngsters Scott Payea, Justin Hart, Ryan Nolin, and Brendan Moodie mixed it up with stalwarts Kris Grout, Chris Gendreau, and Mike “Beetle” Bailey, each of whom took their fair share of Thunder Road trophies for either the first time, or the first time in a long time. Adam Maynard pulled off a shocker win at Airborne in August, but proved it was no fluke by also grabbing a 3rd-place run at the Plattsburgh ½-mile and a pair of runner-up finishes on the Barre high banks. Competing in the Sportsman division for the first time in a decade, Robin Wood made major strides when compared to his final two seasons behind the wheel of an ACT Late Model, taking down five wins at Airborne. Veterans Skip Liberty and Mike Wells also made major improvements in 2004, with Liberty earning a couple wins and 3rd place overall, and Wells having several podium finishes on his way 7th in the final rundown.
Did you know…?
• Thunder Road Int’l Speedbowl opened in June 1960, running flathead coupes as the main attraction. Ron Marvin of Bethlehem, NH was the first “King of the Road”. It wasn’t until 1966 that a native Vermonter would win the track championship. Larry Demar of Hardwick held the honors that year, and backed it up the following season. All told, 20 Vermonters, 7 New Hampshire racers, and one driver from both Massachusetts (Joey Kourafas) and Quebec (Jean-Paul Cabana) have held the title.
• In 1974, Kourafas was hailed as the youngest track champion in Vermont history at age 20. In 2000, Tyler Cahoon broke Kourafas’ record, winning Thunder Road’s Allen Lumber Street Stock title at age 19. Two years later, Ryan Nolin, the Street Stock division’s Tri-State Series champion, set the bar at 16 years, 9 months old. Incidentally, Brendan Moodie was the Thunder Road champion that year at age 17 years, 7 months.
• The PowerShift Online Junkyard Warriors allow convertibles to race alongside conventional hardtops. Surprisingly, this isn’t the first division to allow such a thing – the original Flying Tigers of the 1960s allowed roofless racers. Believe it or not, one of the most successful convertible racers was the legendary Stub Fadden!
RULES ARE NOW FINALIZED FOR 2005!!! Competitors should be able to fall asleep in the La-Z-Boy with a copy of their division’s rules in hand while the Thanksgiving dinner settles. Schedules will accompany rulebooks in the mailing, as will license forms and the monthly off-season ACT newsletter. Things are beginning to take shape at www.acttour.com, and the site should be complete by the time you’re done reading your rulebook after the turkey nap. If you received a nomination ballot for Sportsmanship and Most Improved Driver awards, preliminary entries are due on December 1st. Send ‘em over to P.O. Box 296, Waterbury, VT 05676. Need banquet tickets and info? Give us a call at (802) 244-6963.