ACT Champion begins title defense with Merchants Bank 150 victory
Milton, VT's Jean-Paul Cyr ran away with the Merchants Bank 150 at Thunder Road Int'l Speedbowl on Sunday afternoon.  On a picturesque, 70-degree day when no less than seven multi-time champions failed to qualify, Cyr, the five-time and defending American-Canadian Tour champion, picked up where he left off in 2005, as if there was never a six month-long winter between races, as if there were no paint-swapping battles for the lead, and certainly as if his crash in Saturday practice had never happened. 
the final laps, the 24 year-old Payea chipped away a 10 car-length lead to finish within striking distance of Cyr.  With a few more laps, Payea may have been able to challenge Cyr for the win.

Payea was more than happy to finish second to Cyr. 

"To run second to Jean," said Payea, "You know you've had a good day.  It's like a win, it really is."

Cyr was complimentary of the youngster, as well.

"Scott Payea is the real thing, he's a good runner," Cyr said.  "We were still trying to save what we had, in case there was another restart, but Scott's a good, strong racer."
For Cyr, it was just another day at work, another trip to victory lane, and another successful start to the ACT Late Model Tour season.

Cyr was involved in an accident with Eric Williams in Saturday's practice, forcing his team to scrap the afternoon and rebuild the front end on their Ehler's RV/Sticks 'n Stuff Chevrolet.  They did the trick, and Cyr powered his way to the win in his qualifying heat, earning a "+3" handicap rating and the outside pole for the 150-lap feature.  Cyr and polesitter Brent Dragon, a fellow Milton native and friendly rival, waged a spectacular battle for the lead, trading lanes and positions (and maybe a
There were clear skies, a ton of racecars and a full grandstand on opening day at Thunder Road.  What more could you ask for?  (Leif Tillotson Photo)
little paint) nearly every lap.  Unofficially, the lead changed hands nine times before contact on a lap 61 restart allowed Cyr to pull away. 

"We used the car up pretty good in the beginning of the race with Brent," Cyr said.  "It was pretty intense for a while, because we were really going at it, but it was a lot of fun.  It's nice to able to race with somebody that hard and be able to trust them at the same time."

Despite the hard racing early, Cyr remained virtually uncontested for the remainder of the race.  Dragon began to fade during the next 50 laps, and was running in fifth place when he was dumped by Williams on lap 115.
"I didn't expect it, that's the worst thing," Dragon lamented.  "We raced pretty clean.  Hell, Jean and I went at it worse than that, and we didn't have any problems, but Eric didn't like it and that was the end of it I guess." 

After a pit stop under the ensuing caution, Dragon and a penalized Williams raced back into the Top 10.

Scott Payea, another Milton resident and the 2005 ACT Rookie of the Year, worked his way from the 8th starting spot to battle Dragon and veteran Pete Fecteau at the front, and eventually took over the second spot.  During
Bobby Dragon's #55 goes for a ride after a bump from behind.  (Alan Ward Photo)
"Jean sets the bar for us here," Payea finished.  "I just wanted to keep him in my sight and bring it home in one piece.  I'm fully content to finish second today, it was a great day.  This is awesome."

Fecteau finished third behind Payea, ahead of fellow veterans Dave Whitcomb and Dennis Demers.  Dave Pembroke, the 2005 Merchants Bank 150 and ACT championship runner-up finished sixth.  16 year-old Joey "Pole" Polewarczyk turned in the best performance of his young career in seventh.  Defending Thunder Road champion Cris Michaud recovered from a mid-race spin to finish eighth ahead of Williams and Dragon.
Fecteau, Payea, Cyr, and Ryan Vanasse were heat winners.  Demers and Whitcomb won the consis, while Maine driver Steve Reny made a last-lap move on the outside to win the last-chance "B" feature.  Stay tuned to for all the Leftovers in the coming days.

ACT Late Model Tour Merchants Bank 150 Finish

1. 32 Jean-Paul Cyr, Milton, VT
2. 89 Scott Payea, Milton, VT
3. 75 Pete Fecteau, Morrisville, VT
4. 25 Dave Whitcomb, Essex Jct., VT
5. 86 Dennis Demers, Shelburne, VT
6. 52 Dave Pembroke, Montpelier, VT
7. 97 Joey Polewarczyk, Jr., Hudson, NH
8. 6 Cris Michaud, Williamstown, VT
9. 7 Eric Williams, Hyde Park, VT
10. 55 Brent Dragon, Milton, VT
11. 26 John Donahue, Graniteville, VT
12. 29 Mark Lamberton, Mooers Forks, NY
13. 8 Rich Lowrey, Charlotte, VT
14. 16 Joey Becker, Jeffersonville, VT
15. 05 Ron Henry, New Gloucester, ME
16. 78 Ryan Nolin, Georgia, VT
17. 5 (R) Marcel Gravel, Wolcott, VT
18. 20 Brett Wheeler, Waterbury Ctr., VT
19. 24 Steve Fisher, Shelburne, VT
20. 4 Kenny Dufour, Bethlehem, NH
21. 96 Fred LaGoy, Morrisonville, NY
22. 85 Trampas Demers, South Burlington, VT
23. 11 Ryan Vanasse, Warwick, RI
24. 99 Roger Brown, Lancaster, NH
25. 12 Steve Reny, Boothbay, ME
26. 18 Jamie Fisher, Shelburne, VT

Did not qualify:

1 (R) Mark Anzalone, Jr., Malden, MA
9 Mike Gosselin, Derby, VT
10 Ben Rowe, Turner, ME
14 Phil Scott, Montpelier, VT
15 Joey Laquerre, East Montpelier, VT
22 (R) Mark Norris, Farmington, ME
27 Marc Curtis, Jr., Leicester, MA
45 Brian Hoar, Williston, VT
60 Dan Colby, Lyman, NH
66 A.J. Begin, Merrimac, MA
70 Michael Lavoie, Chicoutimi, QC
71 Claude Leclerc, Repentigny, QC
74 Jerry Lesage, Winooski, VT
81 Grant Folsom, Waitsfield, VT
82 Bobby Baillargeon, Nottingham, NH
91 Patrick Laperle, St-Denis, QC
92 Chad Wheeler, Waterbury Ctr., VT
98 Walter Sutcliffe, East Haven, CT
03 Dennis Botticello, Suffield, CT

Jean Paul Cyr (#32) and Scott Payea (#89) settle the victory among themselves.  (Leif Tillotson Photo)