Thunder Road is finally ready to open its 60th season of racing this Sunday, May 5 at 1:30pm. The American-Canadian Tour (ACT) is coming to town for the 21st Community Bank N.A. 150, and all sorts of faces familiar to central Vermont racing fans will be along for the ride.
Nearly half the drivers who have committed to the ACT Late Model Tour season call Thunder Road their home track. Racers such as two-time defending ACT Champion Scott Payea, multi-time ACT winner Jimmy Hebert, defending ACT Rookie of the Year Dylan Payea, veteran Chip Grenier, and sophomore Christopher Pelkey spent their formative racing years at the ¼-mile oval. Many started in go-karts or the Allen Lumber Street Stocks and rose through the ranks. That experience makes every trip to Barre a homecoming of sorts as they try to win on the region’s biggest Late Model stage.
“It’s actually one thing we talk about a lot – how much it would mean to get an ACT win there,” Williamstown, VT’s Hebert said. “Between winning in Canada and all the other tracks we have, it just seems like our home track has always been the toughest for us, as odd as that sounds. It’s just hard with all the locals that you have to compete with – it’s definitely a lot more difficult than most tracks we go to when it comes to racing with the locals and trying to beat them.”
They and the rest of the ACT stars are hoping for a strong finish to stay on the right track. For some, Thunder Road is a chance to build on momentum from the opener at Maine’s Oxford Plains Speedway. Newmarket, NH’s Bryan Kruczek joined the ranks of first-time ACT winners at Oxford and is going for two in a row. Hebert took third in that event, while Graniteville, VT’s Grenier; Lebanon, NH’s Rich Dubeau; and both Payeas were also in the top-10. All know the importance of staying hot early.
“Momentum is huge in this sport, and it should help us quite a bit,” Hebert said. “We’re going to bring the car we ran all last year to Thunder Road, which we put on the pole for the Milk Bowl. With that and all the other success we had with it, we should have a pretty good shot at it if all goes well and we stay out of that that nice new wall!”
Other ACT stars are looking to rebound from outings that didn’t meet their expectations. Dover, NH’s Wayne Helliwell Jr. is a previous winner at Thunder Road and is eager to show his full hand. E. Bridgewater, MA’s Ryan Kuhn; Blainville, QC’s Jonathan Bouvrette; Lanoraie, QC’s Claude Leclerc; and Carver, MA’s Trent Goodrow are also looking for stronger showings.
Some of Thunder Road’s finest Maplewood/Irving Oil Late Model racers are expected to join them. Defending Thunder Road Rookie of the Year Brendan Moodie of Wolcott, VT has entered the event, as has 2018 winner Stephen Donahue of Graniteville, VT and 2018 Lenny’s Shoe & Apparel Flying Tiger Champion Joel Hodgdon of Craftsbury Common, VT. Many of the top point finishers from 2018 are anticipated to be there as well. Other names such as Groveton, NH’s Quinny Welch and St-Georges, QC’s Michael Lavoie could pull off a surprise showing.
Nearly all of them have been talking about a major change at the track. An outside retaining wall now circles the high banks for the first time in Thunder Road history. While the track looks different at first glance, expectations are that Thunder Road will be the same tough customer it’s always been.
“I remember when (other tracks have) built theirs, the first time out, it really seemed a lot different,” Hebert noted. “But after a couple practice sessions, you just kind of forget about it. I don’t think it will really change the racing much until something happens — then it will remind you it’s still there!”
The ACT Late Model Tour helps Thunder Road open its 60th season this Sunday, May 5 with the 21st Community Bank N.A. 150. The Lenny’s Shoe & Apparel Flying Tigers, Allen Lumber Street Stocks, and Burnett Scrap Metals Road Warriors are also on the jam-packed card of racing. Post time is 1:30pm with Class Day ceremonies at 12:55pm. The pit gates open at 8:00am and the front gates open at 10:00am. Admission is $25 for adults and free for kids ages 12 and under.
The weekend begins with the annual Thunder Road Car Show at the track on Saturday, May 4 from 9:00am-12:00pm. The free event also includes a pit stop competition at 10:30am, face painting, a bounce house from Sky High Slides N Such, and live music from local band Rumblecaddy. Open practice for all divisions will follow from 1:00-5:00pm.