Contributed by: ACT Staff
ACTion News – Wednesday, October 31, 2007
-by Justin St. Louis
Thursday marks the 20th anniversary of the closing of Catamount Stadium in Milton, VT. The “Grand Old Lady” was the sister speedway in Vermont to Barre’s Thunder Road, and was the site of many major events – not just the stock car races themselves, but also moments that were either immediately profound or happenings that, over time, became much larger and hugely effective (or affective, depending on how you look things).
Quebec dairy farmer Jean-Paul Cabana won the first main event held at the high-banked, 1/3-mile oval, driving a sportsman coupe on June 11, 1965. The victory paid about $200. Cabana also won the final main event(*) on September 27, 1987, the American-Canadian Tour’s New England 300. The purse was slightly higher in that one, as Cabana took home a shade better than $11,000 that day.
The asterisk next to Cabana’s “final win” is due to the fact that the actual final race ever held at the track was a 300-lap Enduro on November 1. Cult hero “Dipstick” Don Tofani of Barre, VT won that day, triumphant over a field that included nationally recognized late model drivers Beaver Dragon and Stub Fadden, as well as dignitaries from all parts of the regional stock car racing (professional and otherwise) spectrum. Tofani pocketed a cool $5,000 for his win, capping a dream season that also saw him earn a $3,000 Enduro 200 victory at Thunder Road and the Vermont State Street Stock Championship.
Catamount played a part in the chase for the national NASCAR Modified, Sportsman, and Late Model Sportsman Championships in the 1960s and ‘70s, with young Boston-area driver Don MacTavish earning the Vermont 200 NASCAR National Championship victory (they called them “NC” shows back then) on his way to the 1966 national sportsman title. Current ACT President Thomas “T-Bone” Curley finished 15th in that race. Carl “Bugs” Stevens won the National Modified title and Catamount Stadium championship in 1967, and hero drivers Ed Flemke, Riche Evans, Jerry Cook, and Jimmy Spencer were among the open-wheel winners at The Cat before its closing. Late model stars L.D. Ottinger (1975) and Butch Lindley (1977-78), won NC events on their way to national titles, and southern invader Bob Pressley and Catamount’s own “Dynamite” Dave Dion (although during the time he “belonged” to Thunder Road’s fans and the anti-Bobby Dragon crowd) were NC event winners at Catamount.
Catamount was, in two ways, the birthplace of what is now known as the American-Canadian Tour. Curley created the NASCAR North Tour in 1979 as a way to save local late model racing. In the formative years of the tour, nearly one third of the events were held at Catamount, with as many as ten in one season. Beaver and Bobby Dragon, Dick McCabe, Robbie Crouch, Dave Dion, Cabana, Jamie Aube, and Kevin Lepage were among the heroes of the day. The touring concept caught on with local race fans and teams, and is the model for which ACT is built on today.
In 1985, however, things took a major turn. Young Connecticut hotshot Randy LaJoie, a relative newcomer to the late model scene after spending some time in the modifieds, was on his way to winning the NASCAR North Tour title that year, battling Crouch for the prize. A scoring dispute erupted in the aftermath of the August 11 event at Catamount – LaJoie claiming he was on the lead lap and in fact won the race, Crouch claiming LaJoie had been lapped in the pits and that he had won the race – and was not settled until a Supreme Court ruling awarded the race win, and subsequently the Tour title, to LaJoie three years later.
Crouch had been named the winner by Curley’s chief scorer, Dr. Gordon “Doc” Nielsen (LaJoie was black-flagged for a procedural infraction and chose to ignore the flag, racing the leaders the rest of the way, but his scorecard had been pulled at lap 71 after several attempts to black flag him), but NASCAR’s office staff in Daytona Beach disagreed with the call. Curley backed his officials and Crouch, while NASCAR backed LaJoie. In the messy legal fallout, NASCAR dropped Curley and his tour, creating an opportunity for Curley to regroup with the newly-formed ACT, and here we are today.
In the mean time, Catamount’s fate had been decided in 1981, as a slew of financial disappointments – bad weather, bad crowds, thin fields of weekly competitors, among them – prompted the sale of the property to technology giant IBM for development as an industrial park. A six-year, special-events-only lease was taken out by Curley and business partner and track founder Ken Squier, and Catamount Stadium flourished in its final seasons running between five and seven events in each of those years.
Sadly, the track closed its gates following the Enduro 300 on the chilly evening of November 1, 1987 and was demolished. Catamount Stadium is still remembered as the site of a lot of good times, a few bad ones, and some great races.
Twenty years later, it is still missed.
Catamount Stadium’s rich history has been preserved by several die-hard fans, competitors, officials, and media members, but none have done the grunt work as thoroughly and thoughtfully as Milton’s own Bill Ladabouche. The school teacher has created an online guide of the track’s history at www.catamountstadium.com, and his efforts were rewarded in 2006 with the Coastal 181 Award through the New England Antique Racers group at their Hall of Fame induction dinner. You can also learn more about Catamount in Ladabouche’s regular column, “Bill’s Back in Time” in the Racin’ Paper.
Season passes are now available for the 2008 season at Thunder Road! Gold, general admission, and child passes are for sale at the Thunder Road/ACT office in Waterbury, VT, or by phone at (802) 244-6963. General admission passes are $190, with the Gold pass – reserved seats at all 18 stock car events in 2008 – up for grabs at $250. Child passes are just $50! Season passes make great holiday gifts, and we encourage folks to get on board now and beat the late rush!
Third-place ACT Late Model Tour points finisher Brent Dragon has entered into a partnership with Kenyon Racing Products of Ontario that will see Dragon campaign a Kenyon-built Port City chassis on the Tour next year. “Mike and Tom Kenyon offered me a deal I couldn’t turn down,” he said. “I’m very excited for next year.”
Tom Kenyon did two tours of duty with ACT in late 1980s and early 1990s. His first stint was behind the wheel of a race car, competing in 29 events with the former ACT Pro Stock Tour from 1987-1990. Tom’s second go with ACT was behind the wheel of the pace car, a job he did for three seasons. His one final run with ACT was a 10th place finish at Sanair Super Speedway in August 1994, his only start that year.
Kenyon Racing Products was a contingency supporter for the Série ACT Castrol in 2007, rewarding the “hard charger” in each of the 12 races on the schedule.
Did you know…?
-Bobby Dragon won 52 feature events at Catamount Stadium, tops all-time. Dragon’s first 19 victories came in the first Flying Tiger division during the 1960s. In fact, Dragon took his first career win on May 22, 1966 and then won six more during the year, including the first five consecutively. He later won 33 Late Model events and a total of four track championships. Joey Laquerre ranks second on the all-time win list at 34, with 31 wins the VW Beetle-dominated Mini Stock division. Laquerre won 11 out of 12 races in 1980, and won the only four events held at Thunder Road that season as well. Laquerre’s other three Cat wins were in the second version of the Flying Tigers in the 1980s.
-In 1974, the first year of Catamount Stadium’s Mini Stock division, Laquerre, Butch True, and “Easy Ed” Orton all tied for the championship!
-Caron brothers Gary, Richard, Dennis, and Larry combined for a total of 40 wins at Catamount. Larry won 25 races across four divisions (Hurricane, Limited Sportsman, Grand American, and Flying Tiger), while each of the remaining three brothers won five times each.
While Catamount Stadium may be gone, Thunder Road is still going strong year after year. We will celebrate the 50th season at “The Nation’s Site of Excitement” in 2009, and are asking fans, competitors, and even passers-by to send along their favorite memories of Thunder Road throughout the years. By all means, please include memories of drivers you love, drivers you don’t, moments of glory, controversy, and excitement, and anything that may stick out in your mind. The older the story, the better! Send along your thoughts to email@example.com, and be sure to visit the websites at www.thunderroadspeedbowl.com and www.acttour.com.