Contributed by: ACT Staff
So, do you remember all of the pre-season hype about Jean-Paul Cyr, Brian Hoar, Brent Dragon, Joey Polewarczyk, Roger Brown, and the usual American-Canadian Tour (ACT) championship contenders?
Never mind. Throw it out. Forget about it.
Between Scott Payea and Ron Henry at Thunder Road, and Randy Potter at Oxford, the northeastern Late Model world has been set on its ear, and there really are no two ways around it.
With his stellar performance in winning the Merchants Bank 150 at Thunder Road, Payea proved to himself what ACT fans have been thinking for a couple of seasons now: he is the real deal. Driving for his family team, the former NAPA Tiger Sportsman and Allen Lumber Street Stock star found his groove with the ACT Late Model Tour early in 2005, and finally broke through for a very popular first career win on Sunday. While making a mid-race pass of leader Jean-Paul Cyr, Payea momentarily lost control of his Metropolitan Pipe Co./Ouellette Plumbing & Heating Ford, slipping back to fourth place. He regrouped, marched back toward the front, and passed Cyr for the lead again on his way to victory lane.
But the sweetest story might have been Ron Henry’s. Driving a chassis originally built by Don Letarte in the early 1980s (the car is older than the guy writing this column) and recently refurbished by Jeff Taylor, Henry turned in what is likely the most outstanding run of his nearly 20-year racing career. From 15th on the starting grid for the Merchants Bank 150, the New Gloucester, ME resident was just looking for his first top-ten finish at Thunder Road. He got it, and in fine style, passing most of the drivers in the lead paragraph on the tricky outside groove with his Wayne Excavators/Sunset Distributing Chevrolet.
“It was a dream come true,” Henry said. “One more spot would have been the ticket. I got hung up in lapped traffic and I really think Scott and I could have put on a show if I had the chance to catch him. But we’re just so happy, it really was a great day.”
It may be strange to suggest that even though he led over 40 laps, Cyr was not a factor for the win, but even he says that it’s true. The handling was never quite right on the Ehler’s RV/Sticks & Stuff Chevrolet.
“I knew from the first lap that I was in trouble,” said a humble Cyr in victory lane. “Third place is fine, and I’m so happy for Scott and Ron that it doesn’t really matter where I finished. They ran a great race.”
Other drivers that performed unexpectedly well include Trampas Demers, Marcel Gravel, rookie Chip Grenier, and Mike Bailey. Demers started on the pole with a “+4” handicap, led 50 laps of the feature, and was in the lead group of cars for the entire event before finishing fourth. At one point in the race, Bailey visibly had the fastest car on the track, and passed car after car on the outside. He pitted out of the top ten on lap 137 when his car shut down. Grenier won his heat race and ran well in the feature before suffering a flat tire. Gravel was very fast in qualifying, started in fifth place with a “+2”, and finished 11th in the Merchants Bank 150.
So what does next week hold for the ACT Late Model Tour at Airborne Speedway? Your guess is as good as ours.
Nick Sweet picked up right where he left off in 2006 by winning the NAPA Tiger Sportsman event on Sunday. Sweet, a hometown Barre boy, started 10th on the field and made quick work of passing early leader Justin Hart. From there, he sailed to his fourth Thunder Road Sportsman win, going two-for-two with his season-ending win in the Milk Bowl last October. Pete Ainsworth lost a fierce battle for second place with Joey Laquerre, but Laquerre lost in the tech line for a weight violation.
Youngster Bruce Melendy of Danville, VT drove his way around veteran Tommy “Thunder” Smith, then held off the sometimes-physical maneuvers of Lloyd Blakely to score his first Allen Lumber Street Stock win. Melendy is a graduate of the Kids Trucks division at White Mountain Motorsports Park in New Hampshire, and is in his first full season of Thunder Road competition.
Dale Bickford kept Melendy’s Caledonia County hot streak intact by sweeping the Power Shift Online Junkyard Warrior portion of the Merchants Bank Car Show and the 25-lap feature event. Bickford, a Lyndonville, VT resident with in-car tutoring from the world-renowned Bigelow stock car racing family, held his line in front of a good battle between Bunker Hodgdon and Jamie Davis for his first career win.
Did you know…?
-Scott Payea’s victory in the Merchants Bank 150 completes a trifecta of podium finishes for the youngster in Thunder Road lid lifter. In his rookie season two years ago, Payea wowed the crowd with a third-place finish. Last year, Payea ran second to Jean-Paul Cyr, and picked up the win on Sunday for the 3-2-1.
-Nick Sweet’s back-to-back victories mark the first time a driver has repeated in victory lane in the Sportsman division at Thunder Road since Chip Grenier in August of 2001.
-The ACT Late Model Tour travels to Airborne Speedway in Plattsburgh, NY this weekend for the 33rd annual Furniture World of VT Spring Green. The last time the Tour competed in the event was 2004, when Brent Dragon was the winner. Dragon’s father and uncle (Beaver and Bobby, respectively) won the Spring Green four times in the first six years of the event. Beaver won the inaugural event in 1974, when it was held at the former Catamount Stadium in Milton, VT, followed by Bobby a year later. Beaver returned to victory lane in 1977 and 1979. Robin Wood won back-to-back Spring Greens as part of the ACT Tiger Sportsman Series in 2005 and 2006.
Kids of all ages, listen up! The deadline looms for the Casella Mother’s “Officials For a Day” Contest! If you think your mom has what it takes to be an official at Thunder Road, drop us a line and tell us why. Ten lucky winners will be selected after the final entry arrives this week on Wednesday, May 9 for honorary official positions, including pace car driver, flagger, announcer, race director, and scorer. Send your entries to P.O. Box 296, Waterbury, VT 05676, email to firstname.lastname@example.org, or fax to (802) 244-1616!