Contributed by: ACT Staff
ACT Awards Merchants Bank 150 Three StarsThe American Racer Three Star program is designed to recognize three non-podium finishers, in no particular order of performance, who had outstanding races at ACT U.S. Tour events. There are no specific criteria for deciding who might receive the award of a free American Racer Tire (value $125.00), but a special effort by a team, exceptional race, just plain old hard luck, or any other accepted reason to give the award is used to decide the award recipients.
The three stars are chosen by ACT officials and will receive certificates for use of a free American Racer tire at a race of their choosing during the 2015 season.
Thunder Road Speedbowl – MERCHANTS BANK 150
The 17th Annual Merchants Bank 150 was a hard-fought affair that saw impressive performances throughout the field. Drivers of all ages and experience levels duked it out for the top spots, but did so in a clean and respectful manner. Just two cautions for single-car incidents slowed the event, and the final 124 laps were run flag-to-flag. The hard part was choosing just Star Award recipients, as no less than half a dozen drivers were worthy of recognition. The Three Stars for the Merchants Bank 150 at Thunder Road Speedbowl are:
*Chip Grenier, Graniteville, VT – #9VT—Chip Grenier is known throughout the Thunder Road and ACT pits both for his skill at setting up cars and for his talent behind the wheel. He runs just a handful of events each year in his own ACT Late Model while working as the crew chief for fellow Late Model competitor Josh Demers, but he is almost always a contender when he takes to the track.
Grenier started ninth in the Merchants Bank 150 and quickly charged through the field, taking the lead on lap 40. He went on to lead a race-high 68 laps and at times built a big margin over his competition. Unfortunately, the long green-flag run took its toll on Grenier’s Behind the Scene Ford Fusion, and he eventually slid to fifth in the final run-down. Nonetheless, the efforts of the part-time #9VT team against their full-time brethren are worthy of a Star Award. Although one can never be sure when they’ll next see Grenier on the race track, he can usually be counted on to make himself noticed when he is.
*Emily Packard, E. Montpelier, VT – #9ME—Emily Packard finished fourth in the 2014 ACT Tour standings, and has quickly shown this year that her performance was no fluke. The high school senior has thrilled fans with her charges from deep in the starting field to score top finishes, and she accomplished this again on Sunday.
Packard started 23rd on the 30-car Merchants Bank 150 grid after struggling in qualifying. With a slew of top ACT and Thunder Road drivers already ahead of her, the Northstar Fireworks Ford Fusion team faced a daunting task. But Packard was up to the challenge, slicing her way through the pack en route to a sixth-place finish. That she did this with the benefit of only two caution flags – and none in the final 124 laps – makes her feat all the more impressive. Packard maintained her fifth position in the series standings and showed her team is now a legitimate weekly threat on the Tour. For yet another outstanding drive, Packard becomes the first two-time Star Award recipient for the 2015 season.
*Brandon Atkins, AuSable Forks, NY – #4NY—Defending ACT Tour Rookie of the Year Brandon Atkins came into the 2015 season with a new Rick Paya–built Dodge Charger and high expectations for his sophomore campaign. The 18-year-old had a disappointing first two events to start the year, but showed some of what his Northline Utilities team is capable of in the Merchants Bank 150.
Atkins came into the event aiming to improve on his previous best finish of 13th at Thunder Road. His day started with a win in his qualifying heat, earning him the sixth starting position for the main event. Atkins ran a steady race and stayed in the top-10 for all 150 laps, eventually coming home with a seventh-place lead-lap finish. A sign of a rising team is that they show improvement as they gain experience at new tracks, and Atkins did this on Sunday. For a quality performance that jumped him up to seventh place in the ACT Tour point standings, the Atkins team receives a Star Award.
Both Packard and Atkins, along with Tour point leader Wayne Helliwell Jr., defending ACT Champion Joey Polwarczyk Jr., and Merchants Bank 150 winner Brad Babb, will head next to Airborne Park Speedway in Plattsburgh, NY on Saturday, May 16 for the Spring Green 115. The combination event with Série ACT will also see Canadian competitors such as former Série ACT champions Alex Labbe, Jean-Francois Dery, and Donald Theetge. Post time is 5:00pm.