51 Leftovers: ACT Late Model Milk Bowl
All of the Stories From the Fall Classic at Thunder Road
By Mike Twist
Brent Dragon (#55VT) came close, but didn't quite get to victory lane in this year's Milk Bowl.  (Leif Tillotson Photo)
Dragon Comes Close to Another Milk Bowl Victory

Brent Dragon won the first segment of the Milk Bowl.  He finishes strong in the second segment and he entered the final segment with a one-point lead over John Donahue.

But Donahue's stellar third segment run left Dragon with a runner-up finish in the race that he won back in 2006.  After the race, Dragon was visibly disappointed, but had no regrets.

“That was close, but that was all that we had.  We do all that we could and that's all you can ask for,” said Dragon.  “We knocked the rear end out I think early in the final segment.  We got hit pretty hard in the rear.  The car just got way too free and I couldn't do much with it.”

Milk Bowl Top Five is Nice, But Another ACT Title Would Be Better

Almost immediately after finishing fifth in the Milk Bowl, Brian Hoar was already thinking ahead to his next race - the ACT Late Model season finale to be held this Sunday at Oxford Plains Speedway (ME).  While the Milk Bowl was a non-points event, the Oxford race is the final points race of the ACT season - and Hoar sits in the catbird seat when it comes to winning the championship.

“I'm very much looking forward to going back to Oxford,” said Hoar.  “We've run well there the last two races there.  At the 250, we were awesome, and Beech Ridge is just like Oxford and we won at Beech Ridge.  So I can't wait to go back there [to Oxford].

“We have a pretty stout lead the way that the point system is set up now.  So we're just going to go and try to improve upon one of our worst finishes and see if we can improve six or seven points on our worst finish.  If we can come out of there with 86 or 87 points, no matter what our competition does, nobody can beat us.”

But Hoar isn't going to Oxford just to count points.

“We're going to go in there to try and win.”

Hoar has won six ACT championships in his career and a seventh one would tie him with Jean Paul Cyr as having the most championships in ACT history.  But it's been awhile since Hoar has count out on top of the points fight.  After winning the championship in 2000, Hoar spent time in what is now known as the NASCAR Camping World East Series.  He finished strong in the points in that series - finishing in the top five of the standings twice and the top ten four times - but his last championship came back in ACT nearly a decade ago.

So another championship would not just be another championship to Hoar.

“Well, let me tell you…how long have you known me?” he asked this writer.  “…Probably eight years.  It's been nine years since I've won one in the eight year that you've known me, third and fourth have been the best points finishes I've had.  There's been hardly a win before this year.  So this would mean a ton.  To win the Milk Bowl ten years ago is long forgotten.  I'm feeling a little vindication to come back with a great race team and have a great year.

“It's a big deal.  I can't wait and this team can't wait.  A bunch of these guys haven't won together.  It will be their first time.  I joined Rick and his guys and I brought a bunch of my guys.  The chemistry has been fantastic.  I've actually got guys from my team who have never won a championship because they came on in the Busch Series days and we're there for the Late Model deal.

“It would be huge for the family.  I've got kids that can finally see me win.  For years, they were like, 'Daddy, what happened, did you run out of gas?'.“

Hoar has not run out of gas however when faced with some tough competition on this year's ACT Tour.
“The competition has been fantastic.  We came on really strong in the middle part of the season.  We were really good in the early part, but we weren't capitalizing on things because Rick and I were learning each other.  Then we found what we needed together and about halfway through the year, we hit our stride.  So there were another five races where we had a car to win, but we just didn't capitalize on it.”   

It's Not Just a Race, It's a Show

The pomp and circumstance of the Milk Bowl is like nothing else in short track racing.  It's been well-documented that the winner of the race gets to kiss a real Vermont dairy cow in victory lane.  But there's a lot more to the day.

Driver introductions for most races are either in the car or out of the car.  For the Milk Bowl however, they take place in the stands.  Prior to driver intros, the starting field is assembled on a hill overlooking the racetrack.  When their names are called, the drivers all walk down through the grandstands - shaking hands and thanking fans for being there.

Then there is the pre-race show by the Norwich University Drill Team - where bagpipes are played to everyone's enjoyment.

And like at all ACT events, the teams helps get things started by presenting battle flags in their team colors as the cars roll onto the track.

Shaw Wins The Milk Bowl

Dale Shaw has won some big races in his career and this year he added a Milk Bowl victory to his lengthy resume.

Shaw wasn't behind the wheel though.  Instead, he was the crew chief for John Donahue's #26 team owned by Kendall Roberts.  The car that Donahue drove to victory was also built by Dale Shaw Race Cars.

“This feels really good.  John's been running my stuff for a few years now and I hadn't watched him that closely because if I'm not helping anybody, I don't go to a race.  But I'll help anybody who I build cars for who comes and asks question or asks for me to go to the track.

“He's a really good driver.  He gets up on the wheel and does what he needs to do and makes us all look good.  I'm just glad that Kendall asked me to be a part of the team because it was a real proud moment to put this National Guard car up front.”

These days, Shaw gets to the track most often as the man leading up his son D.J.'s Super Late Model, Late Model and NASCAR Camping World East Series entries.  But watching Donahue win was just like seeing his son out on the track.

“It felt just like when D.J. is driving the car.  We've become really good friends.  The last time that I came up here, I stayed at their house.  John and his wife slept out in their camper so I could sleep in their bed.  Everyone works really hard and John I and just have that chemistry.  We really click.  I hope that we keep it rolling going to Oxford.”

Williams Works His Way to the Podium

Finishing a few points in arrears of John Donahue and Brent Dragon was Eric Williams, who quietly worked his way into third on the final results sheet with his #7VT Late Model.

“We'll take it,” said Williams of his finish.  “We got a little boxed in during the second segment and that's all it took.  I had a really good car in that segment.  If we could have gotten out, we could have gotten up front.  But that's the Milk Bowl, you can win it with a toilet or lose it with a rocketship.  It's just the way that it is.
“I'm happy though, I'll take a third.  There's some pretty heavy metal down here [for this race].”

The format of the Milk Bowl, which inverts the field between segments, is well suited for Williams' style of racing.  The low-buck racer just thrives on a short track when lots of passing is needed.

“I'm an aggressive driver…so they tell me…I'm used to driving a car that might not be as fast as the others.  It will get a little slidey on you in these races and I'm used to that.”

Williams' season will conclude this coming weekend in the ACT late Model finale at Oxford Plains Speedway (ME).

“We're going to go up there and I'm going to try that Beech Ridge set-up that I had.  We'll see if it will work and I'll try to hang in the top ten of the Tour points.” 

Two Out of Three Isn't Bad For Doiron

Joey Doiron finished 19th in the final rundown of the Milk Bowl, but that result was misleading.  The teenager from Maine actually entered the final segment with a chance to win the race, but handling problems dropped his final finish and his overall score dramatically.

“It's not the finish that I wanted because of the last segment,” said Doiron. “We battled a tight condition all day and it got worse in the last segment.  We made an adjustment, but went way too far.  I was just trying not to wad it up.”

Doiron had high hopes entering that final segment though.

“I knew that I had to beat Donahue by quite a few positions and he was starting right in front of me, so I knew it couldn't be too bad,” said Doiron.  “He's usually pretty good at making holes, so if my car was halfway decent, it wouldn't be too bad.  I could just follow him up there and get a top five.”

Still, the day was a good one for Doiron.

“It's a pretty big confidence booster for myself because we didn't make the show here for the Labor Day Classic.  When we came up here and qualified for the Milk Bowl by finishing third in our heat race, that made this track kind of fun.  It wasn't too bad today.  It just takes a lot of seat time to do well here.”
Doiron isn't done racing for the season - even as the weather gets colder up north.

“We'll go to Oxford next week and then the Mason-Dixon Meltdown. “

Welcome to Thunder Road, Wayne Helliwell

Wayne Helliwell, this year's track champion at Lee USA Speedway (NH), entered this year's Milk Bowl eyeing his first start at the tricky Thunder Road track.  Not only did he qualify successfully for the race, he also won the second segment.

“That was pretty neat.  It was definitely different,” said Helliwell. “Oh yeah, this is a good place to come.  There's always a lot of good press about this place so to be able to come up and run good is nice.  Hopefully, we can come back next year and win a couple of segments.”

An extra week of preparation could have helped Helliwell perform strong at the Milk Bowl - if he had the free time to capitalize on it.

“I don't know.  I worked much this week, it was ridiculous.  I didn't get to even work on the car.  My made a small change and that really seemed to help it.  That first segment, we ran really bad.  But it was on the same tires that we qualified with and I think it was just a bad set of tires.  Once we swapped them over for the second segment, the car was a lot better.”

Helliwell will end his season later this month at Lee's Octoberfest weekend.

“We're looking forward to that and hopefully we can pull off another win down there.”

The Weather Report

The Milk Bowl was supposed to be a two-day race weekend.  But after qualifying was held on a Saturday, the first attempt at running the race on Sunday got rained out.

So everyone came back to Thunder Road one week later.  But the forecasts for the rain date were terrible in the week leading up to the race.  Promoter Tom Curley refused to pull the plug though.  After the track was dried due to overnight showers on Sunday morning, the day almost went by without a hitch.

It sprinkled twice during the day - bringing out a quick caution during the Tiger Sportsman race even - but there were no major delays to the race program.  Somehow, the track managed to avoid showers that plagued the area.  At one point, fans could see lightning in the distance and had their seats rocked by area thunder.

The Political Report

When most racecar drivers think about “moving up” they are eyeing a higher division or a run to one of NASCAR's Big Three series.

Yet while, Phil Scott has had plenty of success on the racetrack at Thunder Road.  He's also had plenty of success off the racetrack in the state of Vermont as a State Senator.  On the morning of the Milk Bowl, it was reported in a local newspaper that Scott might be considering a run for Governor of the Green Mountain State.

Ken Squier brought that up in pre-race interviews for the Milk Bowl, but Scott didn't take the bait to discuss things further.

“We've got a great car today…” Scott began, dodging any talk of politics while he was at the racetrack.

A Pioneer Returns

Three years after Thunder Road opened, the first Milk Bowl was held.  That race was in 1962 and Harold Hanaford was its winner.  Hanaford was on hand for this year's race too.

“It's good to be here today,” said Hanaford.  “Actually, at 80 years old, it's good to be anywhere.”

Brian Hoar's red #37 works through traffic at the Milk Bowl.  (Leif Tillotson Photo)
The color guard at work.   (Leif Tillotson Photo)
Drivers get ready to march through the grandstands.  (51 Photo)
Eric Williams works through traffic with his dark red #7VT.  (Leif Tilotson Photo)
Pace laps at the Milk Bowl.  (Leif Tillotson Photo)
Blue skies turned dark at Thunder Road, but the rain was never really a factor in the race.  (51 Photos)
Wayne Helliwell, Jr.'s #27 works through the pack at Thunder Road.  (Marc Patrick Roy Photo)