Practice Notes
Thirty-five Late Model teams representing five of six New England states, New York and Quebec traveled to Barre, Vermont’s Thunder Road International Speedbowl on Wed, April 19 for a planned practice session. Many teams used their on-track time at the high banked, quarter-mile oval to make sure that both driver and car were race ready, others treated their practice sessions as a learning experience and another group tested themselves to see just how fast they could go.

Veteran racer and American-Canadian Tour (ACT) regular, Mark Lamberton from Mooers Forks, NY was among the first group. He commented, “I just want to make sure nothing’s going to fall off or leak plus get my head back into racing.” Over the years, the former Airborne Speedway Late Model champion and long-track specialist has developed a fondness for the “Nation’s Site of Excitement, “The more I run here, the better I feel. It’s a real handling track that’s never quite the same twice, and experience here really counts,” he explained, adding, “I’ve come to understand that when Tom (Curley, ACT president) says seat time makes a difference, he knows what he’s talking about, especially here. My plan is to try and make a few of the Thursday weekly events to sharpen my skills for the two ACTion Super Series events at the end of the Year.”

Lamberton was joined by fellow Empire State driver, Fred LaGoy from Morrisonville who was shaking down a virtually new race car, “I’m really excited about the season, and we redid this car over the winter so it’s basically brand new. I really like Thunder Road even though it’s a difficult track to understand, it changes a lot. But with the quality of the drivers on the Tour, you can concentrate on getting your car handling right, you don’t have to worry about what the other guy’s going to do even though it’s a close quarters track,” he remarked. “It’s going to be a long weekend at the Merchants Bank 150 – I expect a lot of cars. It will be hectic as everyone tries to qualify. My goal for the season is to make and qualify for every race this year,” he finished.

Others unveiling new cars included Vermont racers Joe Becker from Jeffersonville and Hyde Park’s Eric Williams. Becker’s car owner, Rick Green, was pleased with how the car was going and the times of his driver. Becker, the 2003 Thunder Road Late Model Rookie of the Year, feels at home at the quarter-mile speedplant. His lone ACT Tour win came at Thunder Road. Even though he wasn’t among the fastest cars in practice Williams remarked, “We’ve got something we can work with. This is a much better car than I had last year. It drove really good and stayed consistent. It may take a few races before it really comes into its own.” Williams’ car has a state-of-the-art chassis from Howe Racing Enterprises which was designed specifically for ACT rules. He added, “I don’t put a lot of stock into the first practice session, the track can change so much between the practice and race weekend. I was just trying a couple of things to see how this new car would react.”

“I can’t believe how many Late Models came out for practice and from so far away,” commented Quebec’s Patrick Laperle, winner of the New England Dodge Milk Bowl at the Thunder Road last October. Laperle, who also won the ACT Tour’s event at Airborne Speedway, the Furniture World of VT Fall Foliage 150, will be one of two drivers who will perform double duty on opening weekend. He will race a Pro Stock at Maine’s Oxford Plains Speedway on Saturday night before heading to Barre for Thunder Road’s Merchants Bank 150 ACT Late Model Tour opener on Sunday (April 30). “I had to come down today because I won’t be able to make the practice after the car show (April 29). I am sending my ACT car though to be in the show.” Laperle’s machine has taken several top three trophies from the car shows in past years.

Multi-time PASS Pro Stock Champion, Ben Rowe from Turner, ME is also planning to run both events. Rowe will be at the helm of David Avery’s potent Dodge Charger and although he’s only raced once at Thunder Road and that was several years ago, Rowe is confident he’ll be able to draw on his experience to find a comfortable set-up. “I like ACT’s Goodyear tire and the spec motor – it’s a fun car. I’ve tested a bit at White Mountain (Motorsports Park, N. Woodstock, NH) and if Thunder Road’s quarter-mile is anything at all like that one, I’ll be on the right track. Of course I’m going to try and get some time following the guys who run well at Thunder Road – Cyr, Dragon, Scott, Laquerre, Fisher – and use them as my basis, try to learn which lines are the best,” the second generation racer recently commented.

Making his first trip to Thunder Road was Walter Sutcliffe from East Haven, CT who plans to run the entire ACT Tour schedule this year. “This track’s a bit intimidating at first,” the veteran southern New England pilot stated. Like so many drivers before him, Sutcliffe commented about the track’s fourth turn wall, “It’s going to take some getting used to; I’ve got to find the line coming off (the fourth turn). I’ve been told which drivers do well here so I’m going to try and do some following,” he finished.

Three-time and defending Late Model “King of the Road” Cris Michaud from Williamstown, VT stated that his car “Felt good.” His was a name that often came up when the Late Model drivers were asked, “Who’s looking good?” Others frequently mentioned included five-time and defending ACT Tour Champion, Jean-Paul Cyr; defending Merchants Bank 150 winner, Dave Pembroke; former Thunder Road LM Champ, Jamie Fisher, Massachusetts driver, AJ Begin, and Rich Lowrey, among others.

Fisher, known for running Thunder Road's high groove spend a considerable amount of time on the high side, one of the few to work that part of the track. Reports from the SD Ireland-sponsored camp are that a new car will be unveiled for the Merchants Bank 150.

Fomer ACT Tour and Thunder Road Champion, Phil Scott was his consistent self according to those on the watches. Like many others, Scott was looking for comfort, not speed at the help of his Ford Fusion.

Maine’s Mark Norris will compete as a Rookie of the Year candidate on the Tour in 2006, “I’ve been to Thunder Road so many times as a spectator that it’s a great thrill to finally take a car out on the track. I’m just hoping to qualify although it will be tough,” he said.

Just 26 starting positions are available for Sunday’s Merchants Bank 150. Qualifying begins at 1:30 following the Class Day Ceremonies which start at 1:00 pm.