Thunder Road SpeedBowl
ACTion News 12/13/04
The PowerShift Junkyard Warriors were brought about in June 2003 as a comic relief division, a sort of antithesis to the razor-close competition of the ACT Late Model and NAPA Tiger Sportsman divisions, and the ever-increasing skill and raciness of the Allen Lumber Street Stocks. The Warriors were not designed for the short track purists, but rather for the race fans that prefer the “can you believe what that idiot just did?” type of racing, an element that had been lacking at Thunder Road in previous seasons.

Well, if that’s your bag, then you’ve been one happy race fan for the last two years. By our unofficial count, at least 11 different Warriors inverted themselves in 2004 alone, and countless others went home in a basket (or two or three as the case may be). Eric Chase of Montpelier, VT (no, not the Eric Chase of the ACT Late Model Tour) started things off the right way, with a spectacular, infield dirt-throwing, Saab 900-flopping one-and-a-half timer on opening day, and nearly pulled it off again on the opening Thursday night event. Chase raced the car – pretty successfully, even – until the end of July, when he sold the ride to 16 year-old Barre native Ashley Thygesen. After hours of pre-race hyperventilation and worry, Thygesen was coaxed into the car for the feature, only to be sent on a wild four-time barrel roll in exactly the same spot as Chase’s miscue a few months earlier.

James Dopp of Montpelier, VT was not only a two-time feature winner and 4th in points, he conducted roof bar tests on his Mitsubishi Cordia three times – count ‘em, three! – including twice on the same night. For flipping in his heat and again in the feature, then finishing on the lead lap, Dopp was rewarded with the Booth Bros. Vermont’s Freshest and Finest “Cream of the Crop” award and the hearts of Thunder Road’s car-killing voyeurs.

Chase, Thygesen, and Dopp were joined shiny-side-down by Buster Porter, Steve Bennett (no, not the Steve Bennett of the Sportsman division, although he flipped, too!), Todd Harrington, Matt Richardson, Jason Piche, Jason Perusse, Mike O’Brien, and PowerShift head honcho Joe Allen. Porter, Bennett, Richardson, and Perusse were just dinky half-rollers, but still pointed their oil pans at the sky, which is all that counts. For a bit of extra credit, Bennett and Perusse were driving convertibles. Piche, like Thygesen, went landing-gear-up in his debut behind the wheel of a Geo Metro on Milk Bowl weekend, yet finished 13th in the race, the best result by a roller.

Todd Harrington and Joe Allen each pulled what X-Games fans might call a “7” (720 degrees – twice over). The night of Harrington’s flip was interesting, as he was black flagged for, ahem, jumping the start of heat race. You see, when Bob Bigelow pulled the pace car into the infield on the backstretch, Harrington mashed the gas pedal figuring the race had begun. Problem was, it hadn’t. The other problem was, he was starting 7th. Following a brief consultation with officials in the pits, the Essex, VT driver went out in the feature and promptly ruined his Nissan Sentra. Not all things end poorly, however, as Harrington won his heat the following week.

PowerShift owner Allen, after posting the money to serve as the Warrior division’s title sponsor, drove a VW Jetta on a couple of occasions. After a combined four-race effort from Allen and car builder Jim Mandigo netted Allen’s two-timer down the front chute and a top finish of only 21st, the controls were handed over to Maynard Bartlett, who reeled off back-to-back wins. Mike O’Brien, who shares driving duties with James Needham, turned in what was by far the coolest looking flip – a four-and-a-half time side-over-side event that lasted from Turn 2 to the end of the backstretch. O’Brien, like all the rest of the flippers, was unhurt, but apparently scared himself. Needham drove the car the following week, and O’Brien sat out for almost two months following his excursion. Smart cookie, we say.

Although nobody got upside down, honorable mention goes to Paul Sayers, and teammates Dan Garrett and Kevin Utton, who together taught everyone a lesson on how to properly rearrange a Cavalier on Labor Day. In case you missed it, Garrett’s rear bumper ended up about a foot behind his seat, while the rest of his car went to stand in line and buy some Al’s French Fries. Thankfully, everyone walked away unharmed and returned (Garrett and Utton with new cars) at the Milk Bowl.

According to early rumors, Warriors Ron Gabaree, Dave LaFleche, and Shawn Sicard are headed to the Allen Lumber Street Stock division to apply what they learned about using sledgehammers to adjust toe-out. Yeah, it doesn’t make sense to us, either, but we wish them all the best. In their defense, all three drivers stayed on terra firma in 2004, and Gabaree was even the Thunder Road Champion. LaFleche finished 11th in points, and Sicard, who just announced his engagement to Sportsman driver Renee Beede, took a 3rd-place finish in his first-ever start.

Did you know…?

• We mentioned last week that former Late Model “King of the Road” Jamie Fisher’s first race car was a Chevy Chevette. Guess what 2004 Late Model Champion Cris Michaud’s first race car was. Give up? In 1993, Michaud and John Fitzgerald swapped the Thunder Road pace car and a lovely pink Buick Skyhawk Street Stock with each other every week. Believe it or not, Michaud was a feature winner that season!

• Joe Becker, who races with Michaud each week in the Late Models, has a history of winning races in style. In May, Becker won the Mekkelsen RV Memorial Day Classic after a 35-lap duel with Mark Lamberton that will go down in history. Back in 1993, Becker raced against Michaud in the Street Stock division, driving an ancient 6-cylinder AMC Spirit. His first win came that season as he wrecked across the finish line with a lapped car, hitting the wall head-on. A then-20 year-old Becker walked to Victory Lane, accepted his trophy, and rode to the pits in the tow truck.

• Joey Laquerre, the ageless Late Model veteran, began owning and driving race cars back in the 1960s. He owned the Chevrolet that John Gammell drove to the win in the 1969 Milk Bowl, and has driven in almost every brand of car, from Ford to Pontiac, Dodge to Oldsmobile. But some of Laquerre’s greatest successes came at the wheel of the VW Beetle-dominated Mini Stocks of the 1970s and early ‘80s. Between Thunder Road, Catamount Stadium, Oxford Plains Speedway, and other events, Laquerre won more than 40 races and five championships in the cars.

What do you think of the new ACT website? The weekly polls have been very popular, and we like to see that. Last week’s poll (“Who has the best nickname?”) had exactly 200 voters. Warrior driver Steve “Mudflap” Quenneville won the balloting with nearly 20% of the vote. Jamie “The Hurricane” Fisher, Willy “The Weiner” Hennequin, and “Rocket Man” Roger Brown were a razor-close 2-3-4. This week’s poll asks who has the best shot at taking their first career ACT Late Model Tour win. Check it all out at www.acttour.com, and send your comments and suggestions to justin@acttour.com.