ACT LATE MODELS: THUNDER ROAD NOTES by Justin St. Louis
Rain Delays, Pembroke Adds to "Storied" History, Fast Rookies and More
MERCHANTS BANK 150 WORTH THE WAIT
Brent Dragon to take the fourth win of his ACT Late Model Tour career. Dragon used a late restart to slide underneath Michaud, then charged hard on the outside (and inside, and then outside again), but fell a car length short at the wire. Michaud held off rookie sensation Scott Payea and a resurgent Dave Wilcox to take third.
WILCOX RALLIES AFTER TOUGH WEEK
One week after wrecking hard out of the lead at Lee USA Speedway, Dave Wilcox rebounded to take a strong fifth-place finish on the heels of the leaders.
"Last week was rough on us," said Wilcox, "But this is a little better I guess."
Wilcox reported that the entire front end of his Ouellette Plumbing & Heating Chevrolet was replaced before Thunder Road.
"The car was really good at Lee, but we had to cut it up after the wreck,” said Wilcox. “It was decent today, though, and we're usually pretty good at Oxford. Unfortunately, I don't think I'll be there - I'm the best man in a wedding, and unless things go differently than planned, we won't make it. But today was good."
ROOKIES CONTINUE TO IMPRESS
ACT Late Model Tour rookie Scott Payea drove to his second top-five finish in as many starts this season, and has many of the veteran observers scratching their heads. For the second week in a row, Payea recovered from an early spin to drive into the lead pack and grab a solid finish of fourth.
"This is way better than (finishing third at) Lee," he said. "We got some great green flag runs in there, and I got a lot more comfortable."
Payea worked on Rich Lowrey for 30 laps before making his way by and ultimately finishing fourth. Payea handled the situation like a veteran.
"He was really loose, and I knew he was trying to hold the bottom, so I just held back until he screwed up. I figured if I gave him enough rope he'd hang himself, and
There were a sea of umbrellas in the stands at Thunder Road. (Leif Tillotson Photo)
year with my crew building two cars, I wasn't 100% sure about how things were going to go. This win is all about my crew and my guys. I can't believe how much harder it is to have two cars in the shop rather than one, and I don't even do half the work I should on the cars, they're the ones busting their butts. David had never won at Thunder Road, and now he has because my family and crew worked so hard this winter."
Scott Payea (#89) and Ryan Nolin (#78) are both getting a hang of this ACT racing thing pretty quickly. (Alan Ward Photos)
BIG WRECK TAKES OUT CONTENDERS
On lap 42, a costly three-wide mistake by lapped driver Bill Sawyer sent top 10 drivers Cooper MacRitchie, Phil Scott, and Mark Lamberton to the pits for good. Scott Payea, Eric Chase, Dave Whitcomb, and Mark Durgin were also involved, but continued in the race. Sawyer was parked for the night by ACT officials.
Many felt that MacRitchie would be a sure contender for the win in the Merchants Bank 150, as he was among the fastest in practice and won the first qualifying heat from the sixth-starting position.
35 laps later, another driver expected to be a factor, defending champion Jean-Paul Cyr, was effectively eliminated when the right-front hub broke on his Ehler's RV Chevrolet, sending him flying off the Turn 2 banking at full speed. Cyr's team changed the hub and returned him to the race, but after losing 11 laps, he was credited with a 20th-place finish.
The wrecks didn't do much for the title hopes of several of the drivers involved. Defending champ Cyr is currently ranked sixth and Scott is ninth in points, but Lamberton MacRitchie are both mired in the 17th and 20th point slots respectively.
Two weeks and six hours after its originally scheduled date, the ACT Late Model Tour's Merchants Bank 150 at Thunder Road International Speedbowl (VT) went off before a packed - albeit wet and cold - house. With 43 Late Model teams from seven states in the pits (not to mention over 100 other teams from the support divisions), more than a few people were anxious to see the rain clear up and take the green flag.
In his second start for veteran car owner David Storey, young Dave Pembroke held off 2004 "King of the Road"
[Thunder Road track champion] Cris Michaud, and later
he finally did. We ran well at Lee, but all I wanted to do today was qualify. It worked out pretty well."
19-year-old Ryan Nolin, Payea's main rival for the NAPA Tiger Sportsman Track Championship at Thunder Road last season, took advantage of a slip by four-time and defending ACT Champion Jean-Paul Cyr in his heat race to finish second and qualify for his first ACT Late Model Tour start. After climbing into the top 10 early, Nolin lost the power steering in his Mountain Air Systems Chevrolet on lap 40, fighting traffic and his own car for 110 laps.
"That was awful," said Nolin as he climbed out of his car. "The car was tight in the beginning, but you have no idea what tight feels like until you lose power steering in a Late Model at Thunder Road. After lap 50, all I could think about was finishing the race. I am beat."
Nolin indeed finished the race, in 12th place and on the lead lap.
Lamberton (#29) and MacRitchie (#68) get into the frontstretch wall. (Alan Ward Photos) while Phil Scott's #14 also was involved in the wreck. ((Leif Tillotson Photo)
WHEELER FADES AFTER EARLY DOMINATION
After earning a "+7" with ACT's new plus/minus handicap qualifying heat system, Chad Wheeler started on the pole in the Merchants Bank 150 and left the field in his wake. Wheeler handled the race's first restart on lap 42 with ease, but as the laps wore on, his Land Air Express of New England Pontiac tightened up and began to fade. Dave Pembroke slowly chipped away at Wheeler's lead, but with two quick restarts on laps 77 and 79, the door was opened. Pembroke swung past Wheeler for the lead on lap 80, and never looked back. By lap 103, Wheeler was third. By lap 108, he was sixth. On lap 150, he crossed the line 10th.
PEMBROKE GIVES STOREY FIRST THUNDER ROAD WIN
"David is crazy happy right now," said Dave Pembroke in reference to his new car owner David Storey after winning the Merchants Bank 150.
After owning race cars in various divisions for over 20 years, Pembroke gave Storey his first win at Thunder Road. The fact that Pembroke was the one able to accomplish the feat for Storey was no small, well, story. The list of drivers to steer the owner's equipment is impressive, and includes New England stalwarts Dale Shaw, Buzzie Bezanson, and Paul Richardson.
"That's something to be proud of, I think," said Pembroke.
Pembroke was the championship runner-up in weekly competition at Thunder Road in 2004, but was weary of how his team would perform at its home track in ACT Late Model Tour events.
"Thunder Road is pretty much our worst track on the Tour, if that makes any sense," said the former Milk Bowl winner. "You know, if you think about it, there's no other
place on the Tour we have to work harder at, and this
Pembroke put the #52 in T-Road's victory lane for the first time (Leif Tillotson Photo). Pembroke and car owner David Storey (bottom) talk before the race (Alan Ward Photo)