Thunder Road SpeedBowl
Veteran racer Joey Laquerre posted his 11th career Late Model win before the largest crowd in nearly 15 years Thursday night at Barre, Vermont's Thunder Road International Speedbowl. The throng had turned out to watch NEXTEL Cup super star take on the ACT Late Models in the 50-lap Fisher/Federated Auto Parts Dash and they weren't disappointed. Laquerre, who has won a feature race in each of five decades, started on the outside of the front row and leapt into the lead at the drop of the green. He then survived five early restarts, all within the first half of the race, without a serious challenge.

"This is probably one of the best (cars) of the year for me," commented Laquerre following his first win and second top five of the season. "When your car handles well and you win, well, that's a pretty good feeling." While the East Montpelier, VT grandfather was out front, thousands of pairs of eyes were looking further back in the field, charting the progress of visiting dignitary, Schrader.
After easily winning the consolation race, Schrader started 17th in the 23-car Fisher/Federated Auto Parts feature. "We missed a bit in the heat race," he admitted to track promoter Tom Curley as he waited to take to the track for the feature. "We made a couple of adjustments for the consi and I'm feeling pretty comfortable now. I know who to follow," he finished.
Curley, the 2004 Auto Racing Promoter of the Year (as voted on by RPM, the short track stock promoters trade group), went on to inform Schrader of the rumored existence of a betting line among many of the track's regular attendees on "Bud Hill," the fourth turn lawn seating area, "From what I hear," he explained, "There's a group that says you won't finish among the top 15, but personally," Curley continued with a grin, "I told them I thought you'd be in the top five."
When the first caution flew on the ninth lap, for Joe Perreault's spin, Schrader was in 14th. As the race settled into a rhythm, he was able to use both the upper and lower grooves to pass cars. With the halfway mark on the horizon, Schrader was in eighth, among a pack including Thunder Road regulars Trampas Demers, Dave Whitcomb, Dave Pembroke and Dennis Demers. On the 38th circuit, Whitcomb, a former Thunder Road champion, moved past the Fenton, MO racer only to cut a tire after the pair made contact on the front stretch. Schrader regained eighth place only to lose the spot to two-time race winner, Rich Lowrey, with two laps remaining.
Schrader, who races some 100 events each year including the 30-plus-race NEXTEL Cup season, is considered among the fraternity as a racer's racer. He was making his first appearance at Thunder Road, a high-banked, quarter-mile oval, a track commonly referred to as the "Nation's Site of Excitement". After the first round of Late Model practice, he inquired of the Phil Scott crewmembers helping him with his car, "What's with turn four?" They replied, "What do you mean?" Schrader, who's raced in every state in the country but eight replied, "It scares me to death!" His concern with the fourth turn wall, known locally as the "Widowmaker," was again apparent as he addressed the fans before the start of the night's racing events, "I've just been running around in circles and I like this circle except for right there," he said as he pointed toward the offending wall.
Schrader managed to avoid contact with the offending concrete although his night was not without a close call. On the 22nd lap, David Chagnon's spin in the apex of the third and fourth turns sent Schrader and several others over the third and fourth turn banks as they scattered to avoid the spinning car. He and the others were able to return to the track without assistance as the yellow came out for the fourth time. After the race Schrader commented before heading to his waiting plane which was to fly him to the weekend's Cup race at Pocono International Raceway in PA, "This is one hell of a race track. If you get sideways, you keep gassing it and you wind up where you wind up." He also apologized to the fans on "Bud Hill" for causing them to lose their bets due to his ninth place finish, "Maybe I can come back here another time and do better for you," he said and the crowd roared their approval.
Cris Michaud, the track's defending Late Model Champion and current point leader, started 16th and ran the outside line in his usual fashion to finish second to Laquerre. Cooper MacRitchie, Michaud's Williamstown neighbor was third. A pair of Lamoille Country drivers, Eric Williams from Hyde Park and Morrisville's Pete Fecteau, completed the top five. By virtue of his win in Saturday's Casella Waste Systems Trophy Dash, Fecteau started last in Thursday's 23 car main event. His charge to fifth earned him the Booth Brothers Cream of the Crop Award for the night's outstanding performance.
Completing the top ten were Ryan Nolin of Georgia in sixth, Shelburne's Dennis Demers, Lowrey, Schrader and Waterbury Center's Chad Wheeler.
The NAPA Sportsman winner, in a spectacular 35-lap race that went from green to checkers, was Essex Jct's Joe Steffen. Steffen, a former champion, started fifth and was the event's third leader. Chris Gendreau of Waterbury Ctr was second and Barre's Josh Lovely, who led laps eight through 15, was third. Completing the top five were Chip Grenier of Northfield and Ray Stearns from E. Corinth.
Joe Small, driver of Thunder Road's ethanol R&D car posted his third Allen Lumber Street Stock win of the season over Eric Badore from Georgia and point leader, Steve Quinneville of Barre in the division's 25-lap feature. In addition to preparing for the next Thursday's weekly event the Street Stocks are prepping for their second race in the Triple Crown Series, the 50-lap M&M Beverage Dash on Sunday, July 31.
Erik Steel from Barre won the Power Shift Warrior's main event, his first, with Waterbury's Josh Erwin and point leader Mike Martin completing the top three.
Thunder Road's four divisions are back in action Thursday night with the New England Dodge Dealers VT Governor's Cup, a 100-lap race for the Late Models. Post time is 6:00 pm.