The battle to be the 2019 “King of the Road” begins Sunday, May 26 at 1:30pm. The 57th Mekkelsen RV Memorial Day Classic is one of the oldest races at Thunder Road, and once again, it will be the opener of a 14-round Maplewood/Irving Oil Late Model campaign that spans from late-May to mid-September.
While many Thunder Road Late Model competitors start their season at the Community Bank N.A. 150, the Memorial Day Classic has been their first point-counting event in recent years. The event’s history goes back to 1962, and the winner’s name will be carved into one of the granite monuments that sits behind the main grandstands.
“My family is actually the one that goes up and sandblasts the letters onto the stones,” Graniteville’s Christopher Pelkey said. “I don’t know if we’re ready to have our names put up there quite yet, but just the thought of the chance of that ever happening is pretty neat. No other tracks really do such a thing, so it’s a pretty cool opportunity, and hopefully we can make a good run.”
Some of the top ACT Late Model racers will be on hand that Sunday for 100 laps of green-flag action. By season’s end, one of them will stand tall as the track champion for Thunder Road’s 60th season of racing.
All the drivers who took the 2018 title fight down to the final laps of the season are expected back to do it again in 2019. When the final checkered flag fell, just 30 points separated Milton’s Scott Dragon, Barre’s Jason Corliss and Cody Blake, and South Burlington’s Trampas Demers. It was one of the closest multi-way battles in track history, and this year’s edition could easily match or top last year’s.
While it was Dragon claiming his second “King of the Road” crown in three years, the other three all turned in championship-caliber seasons in 2018. Corliss had a division-leading 11 top-5 finishes, Demers had two wins and nine top-5’s, and Blake was the division’s only 3-time winner. All are determined to be on their game once again.
However, they’ll have more to compete with than just each other. The Maplewood/Irving Late Models are full of top-caliber competitors capable of winning on any given night. Last season alone, 10 different drivers visited Victory Lane at Thunder Road. All of them could potentially put together a full season and break into the circle of title contenders.
“The competition is definitely going to be there,” Pelkey said. There’s a lot of good guys, and I know we’re hoping to surprise some people and maybe put our name up there with some of the top dogs. I definitely think we’ve taken the steps this winter to improve our equipment as much as possible. Rodney Rood has given me the best chance to have the year that we’re looking to have. If we can put it together, we should be able to compete against the top four or five guys we had last year.”
Several racers are coming off career years and look to do even better this season. Barre’s Jim “Boomer” Morris finished a personal-best fifth in points while Pelkey was named the Thunder Road Most Improved Driver after taking sixth overall. Rookie of the Year Brendan Moodie of Wolcott, Graniteville’s Stephen Donahue, and Wolcott’s Marcel J. Gravel earned their first Maplewood/Irving Oil Late Model wins in 2018 and are hungry for more.
Others are hoping to rebound from a tough 2018 campaign. Former Memorial Day Classic winner Tyler Cahoon of Danville struggled for speed last year but has showed flashes in multiple non-point shows to start 2019. Westford’s Darrell Morin will try to regain the form he showed in 2017 as will Milton’s Eric Chase.
The Maplewood/Irving Oil Late Models are also welcoming several old and new faces. Graniteville’s John Donahue is returning to weekly Late Model competition at Thunder Road for the first time since 2016. The 16-time Late Model winner is still searching for his first “King of the Road” crown to join his two Lenny’s Shoe & Apparel Flying Tiger titles. Montpelier’s Josh Demers was back in action at the Community Bank 150 after a long absence and plans to run the full season. Hinesburg’s Trevor Lyman has moved up from the Flying Tigers, as has 2018 Tiger Champion Joel Hodgdon of Craftsbury Common, though the later is currently only planning a partial campaign.
The quest for “King of the Road” begins Sunday, May 26 at 1:30pm with the 57th Mekkelsen RV Memorial Day Classic. The Maplewood/Irving Oil Late Models go 100 laps while the Pro All Stars Series Super Late Models return for a 150-lap affair. The Lenny’s Shoe & Apparel Flying Tigers, Allen Lumber Street Stocks, and Burnett Scrap Metals Road Warriors join a full holiday weekend afternoon of racing. Admission is $25 for adults and free for kids ages 12 and under.