Sunday, at Barre, Vermont’s Thunder Road Int’l Speedbowl, Milton, Vermont’s Jean-Paul Cyr made it an every other year habit of winning the American-Canadian Tour’s (ACT) season-opening Merchants Bank 150. Cyr had previous carried the checkers in the event in 2002 and 2004 and is the lone driver in the event’s eight year history to repeat a win. Scott Payea, the 2005 ACT Rookie of the Year, served notice he was not going to be the victim of the sophomore jinx by finishing second. Pete Fecteau, the 2001 ACT Tour Champion from Morrisville, VT was third. Completing the top five were Dave Whitcomb from Essex Jct, VT and Shelburne, VT’s Dennis Demers.

Cyr started on the outside of the front row along side long-time racing nemesis and childhood friend Brent Dragon in Thunder Road’s 47th season opener. The veteran racers swapped the lead back and forth nine times in the first 62 circuits around the high banked, quarter-mile oval which kept the packed house on their feet. Cyr was able to pull ahead for good when the left rear tire on Dragon’s Dodge Charger lost air pressure which affected the handling of his car. Young Payea took advantage of Dragon’s misfortune and was able to pass him a few laps later. The 24 year-old racer set off in search of leader Cyr.

Several cautions, all for minor incidents kept the field close but Payea wasn’t able to seriously challenge Cyr. Then fact that Cyr was at and had qualified for the Merchants Bank 150 was a testament to his multi-time Championship winning team. During Saturday’s first ACT Late Model practice session Cyr was involved in an on-track incident which caused significant damage to his Chevrolet Monte Carlo. The crew packed up the pieces and returned to their Milton shop for repairs.

Ironically, runner-up Payea was involved in the same practice crash. Unfortunately for the sophomore competitor and team, they were forced to burn the midnight oil to affect repairs.

“Today’s race was a lot of fun,” remarked Cyr in Victory Lane. The 40 year-old winner was complimentary of the youngster who chased him over the half of the race, “Scott (Payea) for a sophomore proved today that he is the real thing – he really made me work for my victory.”

Cyr’s win gives him a jump start in his quest for Robbie Crouch’s record of six ACT Championships. Cyr, winner of the past three consecutive ACT Tour titles (as well those in 1994 and 1996), tied Brian Hoar’s record with the 2005 crown.

Defending Merchants Bank 150 winner, Dave Pembroke was sixth, 17 year-old New Hampshire resident, Joey Polewarczyk from Hudson was seventh, Cris Michaud, a three-time and defending Thunder Road Late Model Champion was eighth, Eric Williams and Dragon rounded out the top10.

Forty-five cars representing all six New England States, New York and Quebec attempted to qualify for the Merchants Bank 150. Among the notables not making the 26 car starting field were a pair of Quebec drivers, Patrick Laperle, winner of the ACT’s Milk Bowl at Thunder Road last October and Montreal’s Claude Lerclerc who had returned to the “Nation’s Site of Excitement” for the first time in over 10 years. Also, failing to qualify were Maine’s Ben Rowe, a multi-time Pro Stock Series Champion; former Thunder Road and ACT Tour Champion Phil Scott, last year’s runner-up at Thunder Road, Chad Wheeler from Waterbury Ctr, VT and former five-time ACT Champion, Brian Hoar.

The ACT Late Model Tour’s second event on the 12-race schedule is slated for Saturday, May 13 at the 5/8ths mile Circuit Ste-Croix near Quebec City. For many Tour of the current crop of drivers, it will be their first trip to the legendary Quebec speedplant since the Tour hasn’t raced there since 2003 when Brent Dragon was the winner.

Eric Williams of Hyde Park, VT returned to Thunder Road following an incident in the first practice yesterday. “The car feels good. We had to put some used parts back on the car, I think that they will be fine for the race, but only time will tell. We were lucky and were able to get most of the repair work done here at the track.”

The 2000 Queen of the Road Tracie Bellerose of Gorham, New Hampshire was behind the wheel of the #2 (actually the #26 John Donahue machine) during the traditional Champion’s practice, today. The Donahue squad placed duct tape over the “6” to re-create the famous #2 that has been missing from Thunder Road since her accident in 2003 which resulted in a severely broken wrist. “It felt great to be back behind the wheel. I got in the car and started shaking; it was then that I knew I still had the racing bug.” PHOTO Bellerose, the last car in line, follows the ACT Dodge Magnum pace car and other Thunder Road champs Cris Michaud, Dave Whitcomb, Phil Scott, Jamie Fisher and Pete Fecteau

Milton, VT drivers Scott Payea and Jean-Paul Cyr were both involved in incidents on the track on Saturday. Both Payea and Cyr have returned today and are hopeful about their chances in the Merchant’s Bank 150. Scott Payea commented, “We worked on the car until 11:30pm last night. I am really happy with how the car is going today. Hopefully I will make it into the show and we will have a great day!”

Rumor in the pits is that there are five ACT Late Models running 13.1’s. An average lap for an ACT Late Model at Thunder Road is 13.4. Two of those drivers are defending Thunder Road Champion (’01, ’04, and ’05), Cris Michaud from Williamstown, VT. The other driver running in the 13.1’s is Jean-Paul Cyr of Milton, VT the five time and defending ACT Champion.

Early police reports estimate that there were 5,000 fans at the downtown Barre, VT car show yesterday!