NEW CHAPTER WRITTEN IN LABOR DAY CLASSIC HISTORY BOOK AT T-ROAD by Justin St. Louis
53 Cars Practice on Saturday, up to 20 More Expected Sunday for Labor Day Classic 200
Since 1960, Labor Day weekend has been host to some of the most important races in Thunder Road's storied history. Hometown Barre, VT driver Norm Chaloux made off with the inaugural trophy. As the years passed, legendary drivers Ronnie Marvin, Russell Ingerson, and Jean-Paul Cabana joined the list of Labor Day Classic winners.
stage, and Brent Dragon joined his father, Harmon "Beaver" Dragon, and Uncle Bobby as a Labor Day winner.
The 2005 season brought the new ACTion Super Series with enlarged purses, extra laps, and a ton of new faces and cars. Sunday, the Bond Auto Labor Day Classic 200 will pay $10,000 to the winner, with a healthy payoff for each of the 30 starters. At Saturday's practice, 53 teams from seven U.S. states and two Canadian provinces turned laps, including a host of drivers - rookies and veterans alike - making their debut at the tricky 1/4-mile bullring.
"It's wild out there, it's a complete bowl," said former Lee USA Speedway (NH) champion Scott Bonney of North Chelmsford, MA. "That wall comes up in a hurry, it's insane! If I get in the show, I think I'll be lucky."
Fellow Lee USA regular Mike Collins of Strafford, NH agreed that Thunder Road's "Widowmaker" wall took getting used to. "The wall here sneaks up on you right around the flagman," he said. "I've heard that some guys hit it and use it as their line, but I'm all set with that, thanks."
With over 50 teams in the pits already and as many as 20 more expected to show up on Sunday, officials have planned five qualifying heats, three consi rounds, "D" and "C" features, and a last-chance "B" main. ACT's innovative "plus/minus" handicapping system will be in place for the heats and consis, and will reward drivers that pass cars with top starting spots in the Bond Auto 200.
Collins, who has a pair of Top 10 finishes with ACT in 2005, thinks the 200-lap feature will be a battle of the fittest.
The #0No of Bonney. (Justin St. Louis / 51 Photos)
Daniel Bergeron awaits the start of an afternoon practice session.
"It's banked a lot here, and you tip so much in the corner you can't look down the straightaways. Someone just spun out in practice, and I didn't see it until I saw the smoke. Tomorrow's going to be a spotter's race. We'll have to get 'em up early and feed 'em a good breakfast, because we'll need them all day."
A pair of Canadians, Dave Riopelle and Daniel Bergeron, are also making their first Thunder Road appearances.
"This is a very unique track," said Riopelle, "but we're
From 1982 to 1996, the annual Vermont Milk Bowl was held on Labor Day weekend, but the Classic was revived in 1997 with the NASCAR Busch North Series coming to town. Kip Stockwell, Tracy Gordon, Dale Shaw, Brad Leighton, Dave Dion, Mike Olsen, and Brian Hoar each carried the checkers during the Busch North Series' stay.
In 2004, the American-Canadian Tour (ACT) took center
"I think it's going to be survival for the first 150 laps, and then we'll go for the last 50," Collins said. "I'm just going to ride around and avoid it all. I'm kind of hoping we draw bad in the heat, everyone wrecks in front of us, we get a plus-eight, and we win the whole show from the pole!"
Collins stated that the unique design of the track's high banks make it tricky to see accidents ahead.
catching on. We're probably four or five tenths off now, but we just knocked a couple off in the last session."
A native of Ottawa, Ontario, Riopelle is a regular at Kawartha Speedway, and was planning on helping ACT driver Jacob McGrath, but brought his own car along.
"We just decided 'Why not?' I honestly don't think we have a shot to make the race. I mean, worst case scenario, we come down to do what we were going to do anyway, and we still get to see a good race."
Mike Collins (#08) waits to practice.
Riopelle, who traveled five hours from his home, took it all in stride. "If we don't make it, I won't be heartbroken, and if we make it, great. If we do make the show, that's pretty impressive, I mean we're up against 60 cars, and we're at a track we've never seen. And it's not just a track we've never seen... it's an ODD track."
Bergeron, of St-Benoit, Quebec, was equally as appreciative of the situation he was in, and was in awe of Thunder Road itself.
"It's special, really special,” said Bergeron. “We've been a
lot of places, maybe 10 or 12 race tracks, and I've never seen a race track like this. It's not a race track, it's a big animal."
By attempting to qualify tomorrow, the French-speaking Bergeron will realize a childhood dream by competing at Thunder Road.
"This is the first time I've crossed the border to race in the U.S., and my objective is only to qualify, and I'll be really, really happy to qualify. When I was young, I came here with my father, and it was only a dream to come here and race against these great people. Brent Dragon and people like that. I'm really proud to be here, and if I only qualify, I'll be really happy."
Four-time ACT Champion and current point leader Jean-Paul Cyr of Milton, VT said he is pleased to see so many cars turn out for the Bond Auto 200, but understands the risk he and as many as 70 others will be taking.
"With all these new drivers here, it creates a lot of opportunity (for a bad situation)," he said. Nonetheless, Cyr is optimistic about his chances. "The qualifying is definitely something to think about, but I think we'll be okay. I think now we've got a great shot at the win. I'm not even thinking about the money, and I hope that everyone else feels the same way, I think they do. It would be nice to get, but you know, we're here to win a race."
Speed51.com will have more on Thunder Road's Bond Auto Labor Day Classic 200 following the event, so stay tuned.
Drivers in attendance at Saturday's practice session:
("#" - ACT Rookie of the Year contender)
0 Scott Bonney, North Chelmsford, MA
3 Cooper MacRitchie, Williamstown, VT
4 Kenny Dufour, Bethlehem, NH
5 Tim Martin, Roxbury, VT
6 Cris Michaud, Williamstown, VT
7 Daniel Bergeron, St-Benoit, Mirabel, QC
7 Eric Williams, Hyde Park, VT
8 Rich Lowrey, Charlotte, VT
10 David Avery, Lincoln, NH
11 Ryan Vanasse, Warwick, RI
14 Phil Scott, Montpelier, VT
15 Joey Laquerre, East Montpelier, VT
16 Joey Becker, Jeffersonville, VT
18 Jamie Fisher, Shelburne, VT
20 Kendell Legendre, Danville, VT
22 Charlie Rousseau, Ipswich, MA
23 Glenn Martel, Belmont, NH
24 Steve Fisher, Shelburne, VT
25 Dave Whitcomb, Essex Jct., VT
26 John Donahue, Graniteville, VT
27 Marc Curtis, Jr., Worcester, MA
29 Mark Lamberton, Mooers Forks, NY
30 Lew Fortin, Berwick, ME
32 Jean-Paul Cyr, Milton, VT
38 Gary Knight, Charlestown, NH
40 Eric Chase, Milton, VT
45 Dave Wilcox, Fairfield, VT
51 Marcel Gravel, Wolcott, VT
52 Dave Pembroke, Middlesex, VT
55 Brent Dragon, Milton, VT
57 Doug Coombs, Livermore, ME
60 Dan Colby, Lyman, NH
66 A.J. Begin, Merrimac, MA
72 Jacob McGrath, Rutland, VT
74 Jerry Lesage, Winooski, VT
75 Pete Fecteau, Morrisville, VT
81 Grant Folsom, Waitsfield, VT
82 Bobby Baillargeon, Nottingham, NH
84 Justin Hart, Williamstown, VT
85 Trampas Demers, South Burlington, VT
86 Dennis Demers, Shelburne, VT
88 David Bath, Arundel, ME
89 #Scott Payea, Milton, VT
91 Patrick Leperle, St-Denis, QC
92 Chad Wheeler, Waterbury Ctr., VT
93 Dave Riopelle, Ottawa, ON
95 Craig Bushey, Jeffersonville, VT
96 Fred LaGoy, Morrisonville, NY
97 #Joey Polewarczyk, Jr., Hudson, NH
99 Roger Brown, Lancaster, NH
05 Ron Henry, New Gloucester, ME
08 Mike Collins, Strafford, NH
09 Joe Perreault, Plainfield, VT
Dave Riopelle (#93) runs inside A.J. Begin (#66) during practice.