Thunder Road Speedbowl opens the doors for its 58th season of competition this Sunday, April 30 with the 19th Merchants Bank 150. The stars of the American-Canadian Tour (ACT) will take on the weekly Thunder Road Late Model standouts, while the Flying Tigers and Allen Lumber Street Stocks begin their 2017 championship battles.
The event will be the first at the “Nation’s Site of Excitement” since former track champion Cris Michaud and local businessman Pat Malone officially purchased the speedway. Thunder Road had been run since 1982 by founder Ken Squier and partner Tom Curley, who are both members of the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame.
“I think Cris was a great choice,” defending “King of the Road” Scott Dragon said. “He’s been around for so long, and he grew up in the same system that most all of us have, so he understands how things operate. It’ll be fun. Most of your players are still in place, so I don’t think it will feel a lot different. It’s pretty cool that we won the last championship there with Tom and Ken as the owners, and maybe we’ll win the first one under Cris and Pat’s ownership.”
While the Merchants Bank 150 is a non-points event for the Thunder Road Late Models, Milton’s Dragon is one of many looking to tune-up for the regular season. His Richard Green Racing team will also chase the ACT Late Model Tour championship, and plans to run a new car in the first three Thunder Road races before rolling out their title-winning mount for the Thursday night opener.
“It’s going to be fun working with a different race car,” Dragon said. “All the guys are excited about it too. We’ve spent a lot of time building the new car this winter – we’re just hoping that it’s going to come off the trailer strong. Playing with a different race car will be a lot of fun, and we know the (other) car will be pretty stout when it comes out. Our main thing is trying to keep the same attitude as last year. Nothing has changed as far as attitude goes – just try to stay out of trouble and be respectful of all the other drivers out there.”
A full field of racers is anticipated to try and join the list of Thunder Road Opening Day winners. Barre’s Jason Corliss, who finished third in the 2016 track standings, joins Dragon in tackling the ACT schedule in 2017. Vermont Governor and multi-time T-Road champion Phil Scott has stated he will be in action. Other locals such as three-time Merchants Bank 150 winner Nick Sweet, former Vermont Governor’s Cup winner Cody Blake, and defending Memorial Day Classic winner Tyler Cahoon are expected to be in attendance on Sunday. They will take on two-time event winner Scott Payea, former ACT runner-up Jimmy Hebert, Lee USA Speedway winner Dillon Moltz, two-time Devil’s Bowl Speedway champion Josh Masterson, Canadian standout Jonathan Bouvrette, and the rest of the ACT regulars.
The Flying Tigers look to crown a new champion in 2017 as defending title winner Stephen Donahue has moved up to the Late Model ranks. With the throne available, 2015 Tiger champion Brendan Moodie of Wolcott and 2014 titlist Jason Woodard of Waterbury Center will both pursue a second crown. Top-10 point drivers from 2016 such as Cameron Ouellette, Mike Billado, and Rookie of the Year Kevin Dodge will also be back in action.
Defending Allen Lumber Street Stock champion Jamon Perry and runner-up Jaden Perry have both jumped to the Tigers, leaving their title chase wide open as well. Former champions Jamie Davis, Tommy “Thunder” Smith, Bunker Hodgdon, and Gary “The Farmer” Mullen have all registered for the season. The youth movement of recent years will continue with racers such as Matthew Smith, Brandon Lanphear, Reilly Lanphear, Peyton Lanphear, and Cooper Bouchard all returning.
The 58th season of Thunder Road racing goes to post at 1:00pm on Sunday, April 30 with the 19th Merchants Bank 150 featuring the ACT Late Model Tour. Admission is $25 for adults while kids 12 and under are free. The annual Downtown Barre Car Show will be held Saturday, April 29 from 9:00am-12:00pm, concluding with the race car parade to the track and an open practice session.