Location: Barre, VT
Track: ¼-mile high-banked oval
# of ACT Races Held: 124
ACT Pro Stock Tour/NASCAR North – 53
ACT Late Model Tour – 71
ACT Pro Stock Tour/NASCAR North – Robbie Crouch, 13
ACT Late Model Tour – Brian Hoar, 8
A Brief History of Thunder Road
Thunder Road opened its doors for the first time on June 30, 1960 with a crowd of more than 5,000 on hand. Built on former farm land on Quarry Hill, the track was conceived by local radio station operator (and future NASCAR Hall of Famer) Ken Squier and Reginald “Spade” Cooley, a paving contractor and owner Cooley Brothers Construction. Squier had been the announcer for other tracks in the state, including the Northeastern Speedway in Waterford, VT that opened the previous year. While most tracks of the time were dirt tracks that bordered on temporary, Squier envisioned a paved facility that would be constructed to provide decades of racing entertainment.
Thunder Road quickly became one of the most popular tracks in the Northeast. While the track was home to the Coupes and Midgets of the day in in its early years, they made the transition to full-fendered cars in the mid-1960s. The Flying Tigers would become one of the region’s most famous divisions, and they eventually evolved into the Late Model Sportsman as part of the NASCAR National Championship Circuit. The track also ran Hurricanes, Limited Sportsman, and other divisions to packed houses on every summer Thursday night. Thunder Road eventually became part of the Northern NASCAR circuit during the late 1960s and 1970s. Along with its sister track Catamount Stadium in Milton, VT – plus Devil’s Bowl, Airborne Speedway, and Sanair – the track became a regular stop for famed short-track racers pursuing the national championship.
After Squier sold the track in 1978 to Long Island businessman Tommy Kalomiris, Thunder Road fell on hard times. Only six events were run in 1978 before the track was shut down under an avalanche of unpaid bills and lawsuits. Squier and business partner Tom Curley repurchased the track at the end of the 1979 season, but after four events in 1981, another lawsuit closed the gates again. In 1982, following a lengthy court battle, Squier and Curley officially regained control of the track. During their 35 years of co-ownership, they returned it to the national spotlight based on the ideas of thrilling racing that’s affordable for teams and fans. The Flying Tigers were brought back for the 1982 reopening and remain in operation to this day, and the track served as the launching pad for the ACT Late Model program that is used by weekly tracks throughout New England and Canada.
The track was sold in April 2017 to former 3-time track champion Cris Michaud and local commercial real estate developer Pat Malone. The same duo would purchase the American-Canadian Tour in November 2017. At Thunder Road, they have continued to promote the same affordable, exciting racing as their predecessors, while also giving the facilities a complete makeover with new pavement, lighting, concession stands, and other upgrades to maintain its place as a showplace for short track racing.
Random Track Fact: The reason Thunder Road first chose to race on Thursday nights in the summer is that it was the day the local granite quarry workers were paid – Ken Squier wanted them to spend their newfound money at the race track instead of bars or clubs. The track switched to Saturday nights for several years in the late 1960s and early 1970s, but went back to Thursday nights and has remained on that schedule ever since (except for special events).
ACT at Thunder Road
When Ken Squier and Tom Curley took control of Thunder Road, the latter was also the promoter of NASCAR North, which later became ACT. Therefore, it’s no surprise that Thunder Road has had a prominent place in ACT history since day one. The first NASCAR North event held at the track was the 1979 Vermont Milk Bowl on October 2, which was won by Stub Fadden after rain forced the cancellation of the final segment. Since then, the various ACT Pro Stock and Late Models have visited the track 123 more times. (The number is even higher when you factor in other ACT-sanctioned tours for the Flying Tigers and Street Stocks.) Four and even five races were held annually at the track throughout much of the 1980s and into the 1990s. Even as recently as 2009, the track had four dates on the ACT Late Model Tour schedule.
Along the way, events such as the Vermont Milk Bowl, the Memorial Day Classic, and the Labor Day Classic have become part of Northeast racing lore and a must on many drivers’ and fans’ calendars. Legendary drivers such as Robbie Crouch, Dave Dion, Junior Hanley, Kevin Lepage, Jean-Paul Cabana, and Mike Rowe have all carried checkered flags in ACT events at Thunder Road. In turn, they have given way to modern ACT stars such as Brian Hoar, Phil Scott, Patrick Laperle, Scott Payea, and Jason Corliss, who have scored some of the biggest wins of their careers in Barre.
Thunder Road’s prominence on the ACT schedule has been scaled back over the past decade as the Late Model Tour has spread to other tracks throughout the Northeast. In fact, from 2014 to 2016, just one point-counting ACT event was held on the Barre high banks. Since 2017, the track has hosted two ACT events annually – the Community Bank N.A. 150 in late April/early May and the Coca-Cola Labor Day Classic on Labor Day weekend. These events will again be part of the schedule in 2019. (The Vermont Milk Bowl is still sanctioned by ACT, but is no longer a point-counting event for the ACT Late Model Tour.)
Random ACT Fact: Current Vermont Governor Phil Scott has the most ACT starts at Thunder Road of any driver. He has started 63 of the 71 ACT Late Model Tour events at the speedway.
ACT’s Future at Thunder Road
Seeing as both Thunder Road and ACT are once again under control of the same owner(s), it seems a sure bet that the track will continue to have a large role for the series in the foreseeable future. Many of the current crop of ACT Late Model stars consider the high banks to be their home track, and the locals always come out in force to take on the Tour visitors – and they often succeed. (Witness Corliss sweeping both ACT events in 2018.) We look forward to visiting Thunder Road 124 more times in the years to come.