Before the pits opened for Saturday's Booth Bros/HP Hood Qualifying Day, a huge throng of drivers and crews congregated in front of the pit ticket booth for some bench racing. The group shared stories of their all-time favorite Milk Bowl races, their heroes who have won the event in the past and what they hope to accomplish at this year's event.

The 43rd New England Dodge Dealers Milk Bowl is largest history. Sixty-three Late Model drivers representing six states and two Canadian Provinces packed Thunder Road's pit area. Several of those competitors would be taking their first laps around the high banked, ¼ mile asphalt oval for the first time.

Tyler Cahoon of Danville, VT won Thunder Road's Allen Lumber Street Stock title in 2000. Now Cahoon is a weekly Late Model competitor at White Mountain Motorsports Park. The 25 year-old driver joins his father Stacy (48) in the chase for a starting spot in the New England Dodge Dealers Milk Bowl. “I’ve been here in a Late Model in 2001 when I attempted to qualify for the Milk Bowl. The track surface seems a lot different from what I remember.” The second generation driver has a quote on the dash of his car that states: “To finish first you must first finish.” He commented, “I’ve had that on the dash of my car since the year I won the Street Stock title. When you start with 30 cars you have to remain patient, the same will be true for tomorrow providing we get in the show.”

(PHOTO: Stacy Cahoon of St Johnsbury, VT, the White Mountain Motorsports Park 2006 Late Model runner-up exits his car following an early practice session.)

Ryan Vanasse a sophomore competitor from Warwick, RI flew in on the red-eye from a business trip in Los Angeles, California. “I’m so glad to be in Vermont at the Milk Bowl. I think that I should be pretty good in the Booth Bros. /HP Hood Time Trials. I had a good trip but it’s nice to be at the races!”

Malden, MA racer Jimmy Linardy is making his second appearance at Thunder Road. “The car needs to be adjusted a bit more, I think.” Following the ACT Tour driver and crew chief meeting, Linardy rushed back to his crew to share the news of the schedule for 2007.

Brent Dragon of Milton, VT has a lot of self-induced pressure going into tomorrows New England Dodge Dealers Milk Bowl. His father, Beaver (Harmon), and his uncle, Bobby are both former winners. Brent was leading last year's race when he had the last segment “stolen” right from underneath him by Patrick Laperle the event winner. “The car feels better today than it did at the Bond Auto Labor Day Classic. Unlike some other drivers, I wish that we could Time Trial every week. It’s just me and the race car out on the track without anyone else possibly interfering with my lap.”

(PHOTO: A pair of second generation drivers - 40 year-old Brent Dragon (facing)
and 16 year-old DJ Shaw - compare notes)

White Mountain Motorsports Park driver Quinney Welch of Lancaster, NH sat in on the meeting Tom Curley had with the Tour competitors. “Tom was very funny in his meeting, but then he became serious. It was definitely a great way to keep our attention! My impression of Thunder Road is that it’s a fun track, but a bit scary. I really don’t know what to think about that turn four wall!”

The 2006 White Mountain Motorsports Park Late Model champion is 16 year-old driver DJ Shaw of Center Conway, NH. The second generation driver makes his second trip to Thunder Road for this weekend's Milk Bowl. In his first visit the youngster hit the wall during practice and was unable to compete. “I like the track a lot better than the last time I was here! I’ve never Time Trialed in a Late Model so this is going to be a new experience for me.”

Car owner, promoter and race car driver David Avery from Lincoln, NH has taken over the driver seat from his driver Ben Rowe of Turner ME. Rowe had other racing obligations for Saturday and was unable to make the Booth Bros/HP Hood Qualifying Day. “Ben will be here tomorrow, as my spotter! I guess its better then not having a spotter” he added with a grin.

Lee USA Speedway driver Grant Ayther of Ester, NH is making his second appearance to Thunder Road for the Milk Bowl. “I could do without the Time Trials, that turn four is a bear. I guess I know why they say it’s a tough little bullring.”

The winner of the Bond Auto Labor Day Classic, Eric Williams of Hyde Park, VT didn’t spend much time working on his car in the month off from competition. “The car feels better today than it did at the Labor Day Classic. It was real loose at the end of that race. My goal for today is to race smart. Basically we have four 50-lappers. (The qualifier and the 3-segments of the Milk Bowl).” The 2003 Milk Bowl winner continued, “Everyone will just have to race smart and be patient if they want a shot at winning this race.”

In his first trip to “The Nation’s Site of Excitement,” Steve Dickey from Hudson, NH hasn’t gotten off on the best foot. Friend and ACT Tour competitor Joey Polewarczyk Jr., also from Hudson, offered some advice at getting around the track. “Joey told me that if I didn’t hit the wall, I’m not going fast enough! I haven’t hit it the turn four wall yet. Thunder Road is a tough little track. If I could have half-an-hour on the track by myself I think I might be better.”

(PHOTO: Steve Dickey (98) prefers a higher line than Daniel Bergeron)

Mooers Forks, NY racer and former Airborne Late Model champion, Mark Lamberton is glad to be back at Thunder Road following the weeks off from competition. “My car isn’t going too bad considering we are at Thunder Road and my car never seems to go too well here. I’ve Time Trialed well in the past so I’m not too concerned, but then again, at this track, it can all change within a matter of seconds.”

Youngster Ryan Nolin of Georgia, VT is confident about his chances at a starting spot in the Milk Bowl, “The car is very good. I think that I have something for Time Trials, I really believe I could get the pole position but you never know here at Thunder Road.”

Sixteen year-old driver, Mark Anzalone Jr of Malden MA who currently leads the WIX Reserve Champion and the Rookie of the Year standings, will attempt to qualify for his first ever Milk Bowl. “I have never Time Trialed before, I don’t really know how to go about doing it but I’m sure I’ll figure it out. The car is a lot better then it was at the Bond Auto race, so I think we might have a shot at qualifying.”

Shawn Martin of Turner ME admits he is intimidated by Thunder Road. “The car is really good, but the driver is not so great. I think I need a bit more seat time.”

(PHOTO: Shawn Martin holds a nice line through Thunder Road's first turn during practice. Martin is a two-time ACT Tour winner on his home track, Oxford PLains Speedway)

Further analysis of the Late Model competitors shows the following breakdown:
Vermont leads the way with 27 towns represented. New Hampshire is next with 10 communities. Maine (5), Massachusetts and Quebec each have three while Rhode Island, New York and Ontario each have one driver.

Teens in the pits - DJ Shaw (16), Mark Anzalone (16) and Joey Polewarczyk (17) are proof positive that the future of ACT racing is secure.