Thunder Road SpeedBowl
Nearly 100 At Opening Practice
Nearly 100 race teams showed up Wednesday afternoon as Thunder Road officially kicked off its 2006 race season with the first practice session of the year. Keeping track of who was in what car was a bit of a challenge as many cars were not yet in full trim – including numbers. Several teams have switched their color schemes during the off-season and while the number might have been familiar, the car’s livery belied who was at the wheel.

“I can’t believe how many cars there are,” commented Quebec’s Patrick Laperle, winner of the New England Dodge Milk Bowl at the high banked, quarter-mile oval last October. “I had to come down today because I won’t be able to make the practice after the car show next Saturday, (April 29).” Laperle will perform double duty by racing a Pro Stock car at Maine’s Oxford Plains Speedway on Saturday night before heading to Barre for Thunder Road’s Merchants Bank 150 ACT Late Model Tour opener on Sunday (April 30).

Thirty-four Late Model teams representing five of the six New England states as well as New York and Quebec were in the pits, many shaking down their cars for the first time. “I just want to make sure nothing’s going to fall off or leak,” laughed Mark Lamberton from Mooers Forks, NY. Lamberton, a veteran Late Model driver and former Airborne Speedway champion has developed a fondness for Thunder Road, “The more I run here, the better I feel. It’s a real handling track that’s never quite the same twice, and seat time here really counts,” he explained.

Others, like Walter Sutcliffe from East Haven, CT were making their maiden voyage to the “Nation’s Site of Excitement”. “This track’s a bit intimidating at first,” the veteran southern New England pilot stated. Like Nextel Cup driver Kenny Schrader who ran a Late Model race at Thunder Road in July of last year, Sutcliffe commented about the track’s fourth turn wall, “It’s going to take some getting used to, I’ve got to find the line coming off (the fourth turn). I’ve been told which drivers do well here so I’m going to try and do some following,” he finished.

Two-time defending Late Model “King of the Road” Cris Michaud from Williamstown, VT shook his car down without benefit of identification from his primary sponsor, Merchants Bank. For the fence sitters, it was fairly easy to tell it was the veteran competitor by his smooth lines around the high-banked oval.

A strong contingent of NAPA Tiger Sportsmen cars also took to the high banks for some testing and tuning. Several drivers debuted cars skinned with the new Five Star aftermarket body, which has been optioned in for 2006. Additionally, many of the Sportsmen teams unveiled significant new sponsors, namely the National Guard for defending NAPA Tiger Sportsman “King of the Road” Shawn Fleury and Friendly’s Restaurants for third year racer Jeff French. Island Pond, Vermont’s Reno Gervais, the 2003-2004 “King of the Road” looks to rebound from a mediocre 2005 with his new sponsor, System 2000, a furnace manufacturer.

Hometown favorite and last year’s Sportsman Rookie of the Year, Nick Sweet hopes to stave off the dreaded sophomore jinx. When asked whether he thought he could replicate his freshman season (he had wins in three states on four tracks) the 21 year-old replied with a grin, “Well, I’ve changed by car color to green, which is supposed to be unlucky in racing, and I’m potentially dealing with the sophomore jinx – I figure two negatives make a positive!”

Also taking advantage of the sunny, 70° day were Vermont veterans Jason Bonnett, multi-time Thunder Road champion, Chuck Beede, Justin Hart, Travis Calkins, Scott Coburn, Doug Murphy, as well as New York’s Jamy Begor and others. Newcomers Kevin Campbell and Shannon Tomasovich joined young guns Matt White, Tom Therrien and Rachel Beede. Rookie of the Year contenders Matt Potter, Joe Small and Chris Chambers all got their first shot at the more powerful Sportsman cars. Another first timer, Don Moore from Haverhill, NH, received an unfriendly welcome by the track’s fourth turn wall, known as the `Widowmaker’. Moore apparently broke a hub, which pitched him into the wall. Reports are that he rolled his machine ending his debut before it got off the ground.

No less than five freshman Allen Lumber Street Stock competitors took advantage of the available track time to try and figure out their new cars. Several have Thunder Road experience at the helm of a PowerShift Warrior machine while others have no track knowledge from which to draw. Those in attendance included Shawn Sicard, David Greenslit, David LaFleche, Alan Maynard and Maynard Barlett Sr. The more experienced Street Stock racers, among them David Allen from N Troy, VT, last year’s runner-up, Joel Hodgdon, Eric Badore, Tommy Smith, and Garry Bashaw had their hands full testing and getting used to the new Towel City tire.

The entry level, virtually street legal PowerShift Warriors also partook in the available practice time. While most in attendance were returning competitors, others were making their debuts on the high banks. Among the most notable was Penny MacAuley, one of the women entered in the class in 2006. Of the returning veterans, no names automatically move to the short list of potential champions following the departure of several of the division’s top drivers to the Allen Lumber Street Stock class. Parity is the name of the game and the title could go to any of them.

Three of Thunder Road’s weekly divisions begin their quest for the 2006 “King of the Road” titles at the ACT Late Model Tour’s Merchants Bank 150 on Sunday, April 30 (post time 1:30).