The 58th season at Barre’s Thunder Road was one to remember. New owners, new faces, and new divisions – well, new old divisions – were just some of the things that greeted fans and teams. But the one constant was the exciting action that the “Nation’s Site of Excitement” is known for. Join us as we take a look back at the highlights of the 2017 racing season!
The 2017 Thunder Road season opened with some of the biggest news in the track’s history. For the first time since 1982, the track opened under new ownership. Longtime owners Ken Squier and Tom Curley completed the sale of the famed quarter-mile to former “King of the Road” Cris Michaud and local businessman Pat Malone on April 18, just one hour before the first practice session of the year.
Word of the sale was met by the racing community with a mix of nostalgic respect for the former owners who had taken the track to such great heights and excitement for a new era at Thunder Road. While the season-opening Community Bank (née Merchants Bank) 150 on April 30 was postponed due to rain, the upbeat attitude in the pit area was noticeable.
The month of May was a whirlwind for Thunder Road – and that was before a race was even run. Management announced on May 2 that the track would receive a new coat of asphalt for the first time since 1994, meaning a new blacktop would await racers and fans at the next event. As part of the project, the May 21 Harvest Equipment event was moved to June 4, set the May 28 Mekkelsen RV Memorial Day Classic the new season opener.
Sadly, one man would not live to see the first official event under new ownership. Thomas Michael “T-Bone” Curley, who had guided Thunder Road for 35 years, died on May 10 after a long battle with COPD. His passing set shockwaves of grief throughout the region as the remembered the man who had been in charge for so many years.
The 2017 racing season finally got underway with the Memorial Day Classic on Sunday, May 28. The Pro All Stars Series (PASS) Super Late Models joined Thunder Road’s weekly divisions in front of a huge crowd. Former Lenny’s Shoe & Apparel Flying Tiger Champion Brendan Moodie of Wolcott became the first feature winner of the 2017 season, taking the 40-lap Tiger feature by holding off Morrisville’s Dwayne Lanphear, who had returned to competition after a long absence. The win gave Moodie his track record 18th Tiger win and a point lead he would hold for much of the season.
The 100-lap Memorial Day Classic for the Thunder Road Late Models was a rough affair plagued by tire failures and crashes for multiple top runners. When the dust settled, Hinesburg’s Bobby Therrien earned a dominating win over Milton’s Scott Dragon and Middlesex’s Shawn Fleury. Therrien, a former Allen Lumber Street Stock and Lenny’s Shoe & Apparel Flying Tiger Champion, decided to run the weekly Late Model season in 2017 after several years on the American-Canadian Tour (ACT). His season-opening victory would be the first of many highlights on the season.
The PASS Super Late Model event was cut to 125 laps from the scheduled 150 due to tire and track concerns related to the high temperatures and high speeds. It didn’t matter to former Champion D.J. Shaw of Center Conway, N.H., as he led all but two laps for his first Thunder Road win. Strong, Me.’s Tracy Gordon and St-Denis, Qué.’s Patrick Laperle, two drivers with a history of success at the track, finished second and third. Duxbury’s Reilly Lanphear capped the day by earning her first Allen Lumber Street Stock win over Michael Gay and Kelsea Woodard.
Sunday, June 4
With the reshuffling of the schedule, Thunder Road was right back in action the following Sunday with the Harvest Equipment event. In the week prior to the event, the track had announced the new Myers Container Services Triple Crown Series for the Flying Tigers, and the first event was scheduled for that Sunday. Unfortunately, the weather reared its ugly head once again. Following a delay at the start of the program, another rain storm began during the Allen Lumber Street Stock feature, forcing the event to be halted after 15 of the 25 scheduled laps. Lincoln’s Garry Bashaw was the beneficiary as he picked up the win over Tommy Smith and Kevin Streeter. The Tiger Triple Crown Series event and Late Model feature would eventually be rescheduled for later in the month.
Sunday, June 11
The following Sunday saw the make-up event for the Community Bank 150 featuring the ACT Late Model Tour. The event was a wild affair, with more caution flags (11) than cars running at the finish (9). The final one of those cautions was for Bobby Therrien, who led 126 of the first 128 laps before cutting a tire and climbing the turn 4 wall. Milton’s Scott Payea, who had damage from an early-race incident himself, inherited the top spot and sailed off to his third career win in the event. Steuben, Me.’s Rowland Robinson Jr. matched his career ACT-best with a second-place finish while Waterford, Conn.’s Dillon Moltz took third.
The Lenny’s Shoe & Apparel Flying Tigers saw a familiar name make a return to Victory Lane. Hinesburg’s Trevor Lyman rejoined the Tiger division in 2017 after nearly a decade on the sidelines, and he showed he hadn’t lost a step by dominating their 40-lap feature for the win. Moodie and Lanphear chased him across the line in a finish that would become a recurring theme for the season. Meanwhile, the Allen Lumber Street Stocks had a historic Lanphear family sweep of the podium. Duxbury’s Peyton Lanphear earned her third career Street Stock victory while cousin Brandon and sister Reilly took second and third.
Thursday, June 15
After the trio of Sunday shows to start the season, the Thursday night racing schedule began on June 15 with Casella Night. Double features were on tap for the Late Models as the opened the program with their Harvest Equipment make-up feature. Northfield’s Matt White brought the heat in the first 50-lap feature for his sixth career Late Model victory. His closest challenge appeared to go by the wayside after Governor Phil Scott blew an engine at the halfway point, but Middlesex’s Josh Demers got the jump on the restart. White stayed tough though and got back underneath Demers with 14 laps to go. Eric Chase took second with Demers third.
In the regularly scheduled Casella main event, it was Montpelier’s Kyle Pembroke making a late move. Sophomore competitors Christopher Pelkey of Barre and Marcel J. Gravel of Wolcott had gone back-and-forth for much of the event, with Gravel getting the jump off the outside following the final restart with six laps to go. But Pembroke following him up to second, then swung to the outside groove himself to with two laps remaining to steal his fifth career victory. Gravel settled for second with South Burlington’s Trampas Demers third. Scott Dragon took the early point lead after Bobby Therrien was relegated to 21st by a crash.
It was déjà vu in the Lenny’s Shoe & Apparel Flying Tigers as Trevor Lyman stood in Victory Lane for the second straight week. Lyman charged through the field to take the lead on lap 18, and then in a repeat of the previous Sunday, held off Brendan Moodie and Dwayne Lanphear in the closing laps for the win. Waitsfield’s Kevin Streeter earned his second career win in the Allen Lumber Street Stocks, holding off Garry Bashaw in a caution-free race. Morrisville’s Will Hennequin inherited the third spot after Dean Switser Jr. failed post-race technical inspection, while cousins Reilly and Brandon Lanphear ended the night tied atop the point standings.
Thursday, June 22
At North Country Federal Credit Union Night, it was the Flying Tigers’ turn to double down, as they began the night with their rescheduled 75-lap Myers Container Service Triple Crown Series opener. A big field of Tigers was on hand, but the night would belong to Waterbury Center’s Jason Woodard. After being relegated to a last-place finish on June 15, the former champion rebounded to take the victory in the Triple Crown feature. Woodard emerged from a lengthy duel with Craftsbury Common’s Mike Martin in the middle stages and then fended off another Craftsbury driver in Joel Hodgdon on a restart with three laps to go. Hodgdon slid across the line in second with Grand Isle’s Joe Steffen.
But Woodard was just getting started on the night. He came right back and sliced through the pack in the regular 40-lap feature, eventually finding himself running second to rookie Jaden Perry of Hardwick with less than 15 to go. Woodard then swung to the outside with five laps remaining, nosing ahead at the finish line and becoming the eighth driver in track history to win two features in the same night. Essex’s Mike Billado completed the podium while Brendan Moodie earned his fifth straight top-five finish to retain his point lead.
In the Thunder Road Late Models, it was Barre’s Jason Corliss who found himself on top in their 50-lap feature. After going winless in 2016, the young hotshot got off the schneid by getting the jump on Governor Phil Scott following a lap-35 restart. Scott finished second with Westford’s Darrell Morin in third, while Dragon’s fifth-place effort kept him on top of the standings. While Bobby Therrien finished 15th in the feature, he captured a third straight Maplewood Semi-Feature win earlier in the program, giving him points that would come into play earlier in the year. The Allen Lumber Street Stocks saw a first time winner with Essex Jct.’s Matthew Smith edging out former champion Jamie Davis of Wolcott in a thriller. Hinesburg’s Cooper Bouchard took third.
The event would end up wrapping up the month of June at Thunder Road, as Community College of Vermont Night scheduled for June 29 would be postponed not once, but twice by rain. The event was eventually rescheduled for Friday, September 8, setting up a championship night for all three weekly divisions. But there was still a lot to be decided in the two months beforehand. Triple Crown winners, sitting Governors in Victory Lane, NASCAR stars on the high banks…read all about these and much more next time in The 2017 Thunder Road Season in Review: Part 2!