Thunder Road SpeedBowl
Three of Thunder Road's four divisions will begin the hunt for this year's "King of the Road" titles on Sunday, April 30 when the ACT Late Model Tour hits town for the Merchants Bank 150. The NAPA Tiger Sportsman champion will return to defend his crown, while the battles for the Allen Lumber Street Stock and Power Shift Warrior titles are up for grabs.

Montpelier, Vermont's Shawn Fleury will reportedly debut a new sponsor in his quest to repeat as NAPA Tiger Sportsman champion. The 32 year-old racer won the title hands-down, amassing a 77 point advantage over his nearest rival, eventual Sportsman Rookie of the Year Nick Sweet (1071-994). Fleury, the defending race winner from the Merchants Bank event, looks to kick off the 2006 season with the same good fortune.
There is a long list of drivers who could spoil Fleury's quest for a second consecutive title. Among the front runners are Sweet, Pete Ainsworth, Justin Hart, Chris Gendreau, Brendan Moodie, and Reno Gervais, to name a few.
Sweet, 20, won the sixth time out at Thunder Road in his Sportsman car and finished the season with an average finish of about tenth. Additionally, the Barre, VT native was strong in the eight-race Sportsman Series and won on three other tracks before the season was over. Only the dreaded sophomore jinx could derail the young gun's quest for the title.
Ainsworth, a 29 year-old veteran, posted two wins, the lone Sportsman to repeat in weekly competition at the high-banked, quarter-mile oval. The Middlesex, VT resident was third in the '05 standings, just nine points behind Sweet. Williamstown, Vermont's Hart, winner of the Dr. G.R. Nielsen Rookie Award as the outstanding freshman driver in 2000, has steadily climbed the points ladder since moving from the Allen Lumber Street Stock division. Hart finished fifth last season.
Chris Gendreau led the standings early in the season before mid-season mechanical woes derailed his shot at the championship. The 31 year-old racer rebounded to win August's Calkins/Windshield World dash. He pushed back to sixth in the points. In spite of his tender age Moodie, who turns 21 on March 7, has several years of experience behind the wheel. The second generation racer from Wolcott, VT finished ninth in the final tally. Gervais, at 46, is the elder statesman of the group. The Island Pond, VT resident is a two-time NAPA Tiger Sportsman "King of the Road" having won the title in 2003-04. While the 2005 season didn't live up to his expectations he did post six top 10 finishes.
If history repeats itself, a new NAPA Tiger Sportsman champion will be crowned in 2006. Dating back to 1997, the division has had a cycle of repeat and non-repeat winners. Jimmy Young won back-to-back crowns in 1997-98, Dave Pembroke won in 1999, and John Donahue was victorious the next two years. Joe Steffen claimed a single title in 2002, Gervais won twice, and most recently, Fleury. Prior to Young's duplicate wins, no driver had backed up a championship in the modern era of the Tiger Sportsmen.
The Allen Lumber Street Stock and the PowerShift Warrior classes will likely crown a new "King of the Road" in 2006 as the reigning champions will each reportedly compete in a new division. Joe Small from Milton, VT, won the Street Stock title in 2004 and 2005. He has filed an application to be considered as a Rookie of the Year contender in the NAPA Tiger Sportsman class. Mike Martin, of Craftsbury Common, VT, winner of the PowerShift Warrior crown last season will reportedly move to the Allen Lumber Street Stock class for the coming year.
The Merchants Bank 150, as the first of 12-races on the 2006 ACT Late Model Tour, will not award points towards Thunder Road's Late Model championship. Instead, the quest for the title in the track's top division begins on Sunday, May 15 in the Casella Waste Management Dash.