Thursday night at Barre’s Thunder Road, Chad Wheeler’s fourth place finish in the Kinney Drugs 50 secured the 2006 King of the Road title for the Waterbury Center Late Model driver. His margin of victory over two-time and defending champion, Cris Michaud of Williamstown was 41 points in the final tally (1020-979). Entering the final point counting event of the season the pair was separated by 37. The difference between the two came down to qualifying – Wheeler earned points while Michaud had to resort to the Last Chance “B” feature to make the main event.
“We had more car than we showed, I was more worried about the battle,” the veteran competitor stated. He used his trademark patience to work his way toward the front. He resisted putting himself in a risky position to go for the win and opted, instead to protect his chances at the championship. Wheeler is not the first Late Model driver to claim a title without benefit of a feature win. Phil Scott previously attained the same feat en route to one of his three crowns.
While Wheeler and Michaud kept an eye on each other’s positions in the main event, Rich Lowery of Charlotte went on to celebrate his first Late Model victory of the season at the Kinney Drugs Trophy Dash. Lowery’s performance at the Barre oval paralleled that of last week’s ACE Hardware Dash. Lowrey used the outside groove to advance his position and once in front, he was able to distance himself from the field. Unlike last week’s race, where the victory was torn from his hands by a late race caution, Lowrey was able to hold off Cambridge’s Craig Bushey when the yellow flew in the final laps of the Kinney Drugs main event. Bushey’s runner-up outing was a career best for the former NAPA Sportsman Series Champion. The man on the move was Jamie Fisher from Shelburne who finished the event third after starting 15th in the 26-car starting field. Fisher used his favored high groove to work his way into contention for the third position. Rounding out the top five were championship contenders, Wheeler and Michaud.
Former Thunder Road Late Model Champion, Dave Whitcomb of Essex Jct and Rookie of the Year contender, Marcel Gravel of Wolcott led the field to the green flag. Before the first circuit was complete, Gravel, apparently not comfortable in the outside groove, was happy to settle for second and tucked in behind Whitcomb. Lowery saw the open lane and used it to his advantage to pressure the veteran for the lead. Coming out of the fourth turn on the seventh circuit, Lowery’s Chevrolet lost traction and slid up the track, which caused him to lose several positions. The Charlotte driver regrouped and set after Whitcomb once again. He worked his way into second before the first caution flag of the feature flew which put Lowery on the outside of Whitcomb for the restart.
When action resumed, Lowery was able dash ahead of Whitcomb as the pair entered turn one. He secured the lead as the pair exited turn two. From that point on, Lowery never looked back. The distance Lowery put between himself and the field was a bit like deja vu for the driver and his crew. “I thought we had the win wrapped up last week,” stated Lowery in the Winner’s Circle of his loss to Phil Scott in the final inches of last Thursday’s ACE Hardware 50, “We had a great car tonight so even if the yellow had come out like last week, I think I still would have had enough car to win, it was a rocketship tonight.”
Completing the top ten Late Model finishers was Scott Payea in sixth, Brent Dragon, pole sitter Whitcomb, Joe Becker and Ryan Nolin.
Shannon Tomasovich of Milton scored his first career NAPA Tiger Sportsman feature following the division’s 35-lap Kinney Drugs Dash. Tomasovich and Dick Lowery from South Burlington led the way to the green flag and Lowery like his son Rich had in the Late Model feature, tucked in behind Tomasovich to distance themselves from the field. The pair left the side-by-side battle to Swanton’s Kevin Boutin and Chris Gendreau of North Middlesex who together chased the top two drivers. Gendreau used the outside lane to pressure Boutin, a former Airborne Speedway Renegade racer. However, Boutin could not be rattled as he held on to the bottom groove of the track to secure his first top three finish of the season.
Rounding out the top five were Gendreau and Chip Grenier from Northfield.
“I had a good feeling about tonight from the minute I walked in through the back gate” stated Tomasovich in victory lane. “As the evening continued, the feeling got a little stronger. The season could end right now for me and this would be the polish on a fantastic summer.”
Completing the top ten NAPA Sportsman finishers were point leader Shawn Fleury from Montpelier, Duxbury’s Brian Delphia, Joe Steffen of Essex Jct, Wolcott’s Brendan Moodie and second place point driver Pete Ainsworth of Middlesex.
The Allen Lumber Street Stock feature event was a survival of the fittest. A huge melee on the 20th of 25 laps involving some ten cars dramatically altered the complexion of the race. With the top three cars involved in the incident in some way, shape or form, fourth place Gary Mullen of Tunbridge inherited the point. Mullen was able to distance himself from youngster Jason Corliss of Plainfield.
In the closing laps Corliss was able to shorten Mullen’s lead and attempted to dive below him for the lead in turn three of the final circuit however the veteran driver used a lapped car to his advantage to hold off the sophomore racer to secure his first victory of the season.
Eric Badore from Georgia made a charge to the front using every groove of the race track. However, time ran out for the point leader as he finished the event in third. Rounding out the top five were Logan Blacklock of Panton and Craftsbury’s Joel Hodgdon.
“What an incredible race” Mullen commented, “The wreck on the front stretch with only five laps to go was one of the hardest I’ve seen here in a long time; I’m glad that everyone’s alright.”
Completing the top ten were David Cusson of St. George, Randolph’s Scott Perkins, rookie contender Shawn Sicard of Barre, Barnets’s Chad Stewart and last week’s winner William Hennequin of Morrisville.
Kevin Utton of Worcester collected his first career Power Shift Junkyard Warrior feature. Runners-up were Dan Garrett of Middlesex and Wolcott’s Richard Gravel.
A special 10-lap Warrior Women’s War event concluded the Kinney Drugs race program. The special race featured 25 members of the fairer sex behind the wheel of a PowerShift Warrior machine. Participants of the event featured girlfriends, wives, crew members, friends and even strangers. The winner was Heather Gonyeau from Georgia, VT. Second went to Sarah Williams of Georgia while Roxbury’s Amanda Habel finished the top three.
The American Canadian Tour (ACT) Late Models will join the Sportsman, Street Stocks and Warriors as they continue their point battles on Sat/Sun September 2nd/3rd at the Bond Auto Labor Day Classic. The second $10,000 to win ACTion Super Series event will add another Late Model driver’s name to the historic list of Labor Day Classic event winners. Adult two day ticket is $25; children (6-12) are only five dollars for a two day fare. Advance sale discount tickets are available at all 35 Bond Auto Part locations and at the Thunder Road office in Waterbury. Spectator gates open at 10am on both days, with action beginning at 12noon on Saturday and 1:00pm on Sunday.